Friday, October 31, 2008

Nuru School

One of our favourite local cafés is Nuru Design. It is a house-front workshop / gallery / café (and once a week or so there's also a hair salon in the very back). They make hand-painted clothing using Japanese-inspired motifs and styles, and sell their wares as well as a few other lines of nice artsy gift-type stuff. The coffee is excellent, the small selection of lunch things and snacks is divine, and the ambiance is great. There are three tiny tables inside, another three on the enclosed porch, and small bar counters in both locations.

This afternoon we girls were on the Nuru porch. Erin had been at school, but decided to meet us for "café school" for a break. She had worked on her writing course portfolio over lunch hour and then took off fourth block to join us. She had a mocha and worked on chemistry.

Fiona and Sophie worked on math. Both are closing in on the very end of their current level in workbooks and are keenly pursuing forward progress. They both opted for a English-toffee flavoured milk steamers, a combination Fiona came up with in Nelson a few weeks ago which is surprisingly tasty if the flavour syrup isn't overdone.

I had my usual vanilla latté and did some knitting. And browsed from one kid to another as they had questions or wanted me to check answers.

We were probably there for an hour. People came and went. We chatted with each other and with the proprietors and other patrons. A bit of math and science got done. A few rows of a mitten got knitted. And then we headed out to watch bald eagles and take photos, and Erin headed over to the school for a bit before going to her grandmother's to practice violin.

Opting out of Hallowe'en

About four years ago I realized we were "doing Hallowe'en" entirely out of a sense of obligation. I felt obligated to create unique costumes for the kids, they felt obligated to wear them and wander around in the typical almost-freezing drizzle of November's eve, and we all disliked our obligations. When I had one or two children and was much less busy costumes were fun to make. But since our fall now usually means being away during September and returning home in October to a full roster of activities and organizational obligations, while we try to work the kinks out of the schedule and get it all smoothly running, October 31st loomed far too big far too soon. I'd rather be making jelly and knitting mittens and transcribing Violin 3 parts for the community orchestra than trying to cobble together costumes for four. The kids ... well, being outside after dark in the freezing rain isn't something that appeals to them. They're up late all the time, and outside whenever they feel like it. And they are certainly not kids who relish dressing up in order to drive to town and spend 34 minutes walking around the streets there asserting themselves at the doors of relative strangers. They've also disliked the candy-crazed energy of other children's trick-or-treating when they're gone out with friends.

And so I offered my kids a deal. I would spend twenty bucks or so on costume-making supplies so that they could go out trick-or-treating, or else I would spend twenty bucks or so on candy and just give it to them. And they could sit on the living room floor and eat their hoard and watch a video and we could all be done with it.

They took the candy.

Right now they're scarfing Nerds and watching Princess Bride.

Our piano beginner

Fiona has now had four piano lessons. Her first two were with her 'regular teacher,' who has been Erin's piano teacher for the past 6 years, whom Fiona knows quite well. But her regular teacher travels a lot, and after two lessons she was to be overseas for 5 weeks. Fortunately (and it is unusual that it works out this way) there was a substitute teacher available, a fellow whom we all know a little bit because he teaches one of the advanced classes at the VSSM each summer. He is known for his flamboyant, scatter-brained personality and performing style and his passion for the piano. Some students find his quirkiness intimidating, but both Erin and Fiona find him funny and endearing. Erin has worked with him before at the VSSM, and for her working with him is a brilliant opportunity to work with a teacher who has taught and played a lot at and beyond her level. For Fiona the fit was less obvious. I'd only ever seen him work with advanced teens, and Fiona was so new to piano, it might have been the more logical choice to just skip her lessons for the month and get her back on track when her teacher returned. But I figured she's an easy-going kid -- and we'd give it a shot.

Well, she is thriving. Two lessons with one teacher, and two lessons with another with a rather different approach, and she is well on her way to building a strong foundation. She can easily go with the flow and fill in the gaps opened up by different teaching styles. The photo above is a random shot of her hands, in the middle of playing some little hands-together piece she taught herself yesterday. A month ago her wrists were down and all her distal finger joints were all collapsed. While she is loving rollicking through repertoire and teaching herself piece after piece ahead in her primer book (she finished her first primer in 2 weeks), she is also happy to do focused repetitive technique training. Her hand position and balance has improved so much in just a month. The photo above has nice neutral wrists and mosty curved fingers, even if they still sometimes collapse with lots of weight. She's about 90% of the way there.

The substitute teacher is wonderful in working with her strengths. When she came in and showed him how she could play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in C with an Alberti bass accompaniment, he was impressed and appreciative. But then, rather than turning back to the current unit in the primer book, he challenged her to polish it up so that she could do it without any stumbles, and when he heard she'd been transposing into other keys, he suggested a couple of new keys to challenge herself with -- and incorporated this challenge into some of her primer pieces too.

And when she came back doing that well, he showed her how to work on sustaining a legato touch in the Alberti bass while lifting the other hand for repeated notes and suggested she try to master that, and try to play some of her finger exercises hands together with one hand legato and the other staccato. Erin was a very precocious beginner on piano too, but her teachers have never strayed far from the standard pedagogical sequence, and she'd been at piano for almost a year before being challenged to do "staccato against legato." Our substitute teacher's willingness to go with the flow and notch up the challenge for Fiona is amazing. She has three more lessons with him before returning to her regular teacher.

She really is anyone's dream piano student -- cute and smiley, keen, diligent, flexible, highly focused and driven, with incredible ability to lateralize (send different signals to left and right hands) , good note reading ability and phenemonal by-ear skills. Look out, piano world!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I felt pretty good

I felted my first knitting project ever. Fiona found herself this lovely winter jacket at a thrift shop a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to knit some mittens to match. I wanted to try felting, so I knitted oversized mitts out of wool and then threw them in a hot wash. It was just magical how they came out smoothly felted and about 80% of the size they used to be.

The only thing I wish I'd known was that ribbed cuffs don't shrink. They lose their elasticity, which I'd anticipated, but I expected them to tighten up as they felted. So the mittens have pretty wide cuffs. If I get ambitious I'll pick up stitches inside the felted wristband area and knit a second, longer, wrist-hugging cuff on each one. But she likes them as-is.

I needle felted a little flower and heart to match the jacket on each mitten, and then added the stitched squares around. I'm really pleased -- can you tell?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fall colour

My window-sill in the kitchen. Rose-hip and apple jelly, and a few maple leaves, and some sunshine.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Origami brilliance and learning styles

Sophie really enjoys origami. It's been an on-and-off interest, but when it's on she's self-taught and self-motivated. For her birthday last year we gave her some really nice origami paper and a fantastic (though very challenging!) book of instructions. She hasn't done a whole lot with it, but she's tried a few. And lately she's been experimenting.

Today she showed me the creations in this photo. "Neat!" I said. A hollow square-pyramidal base and a cap to match. Pretty nifty. I figured she'd followed instructions out of that book.

Then she explained that she made up these folded shapes herself. My jaw dropped. From what? I asked. Out of her head, she said. I told her I was especially impressed with the base. She said that actually it was the top that had taken her the most time to work out. So that's what she'd been doing quietly in a corner of the living room for an hour or more.

I have such a hard time figuring out learning styles. Neither I nor my kids seem to fit neatly into any particular category. I did a long, involved right-brain/left-brain quiz on-line a few years ago and came out totally evenly matched. Maybe my kids take after me somewhat. Gradually I've figured that Erin is a strong visual learner (even though she lagged for a long long time in her music reading ability, learns music incredibly easily by ear and loved readalouds well into the tween years). And Noah is on balance a visual-spatial guy (even though he claims to dislike higher math and has an incredible ear for music). But Sophie is especially puzzling. So much about her seems auditory-sequential ... but then she blows me away with something like this, or with her amazing facility with understanding diagrammatic instructions for string figures or figuring out how knitting instructions create a 3-dimensional product.

So I give up. Maybe my family defies organization into categorical boxes of any sort. Oh well, we get along okay anyway.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

First orchestra rehearsal

Fiona played in her first orchestra rehearsal tonight. She's been coming to rehearsals since she was an infant. At first she came because she was far too attached to me to be left without me. Then for a year or two she came because her dad was on call and he couldn't guarantee being at home to care for her. And then for the last two years she's come to rehearsals even when her dad is not on call because she loves being there -- listening to the music, being amongst people making music, enjoying the social contact, being with her siblings.

I conduct. Erin, Noah and Sophie play in the orchestra along with half a dozen other kids and a dozen or so adults, everyone from teachers and semi-competent amateurs to recent beginners. It's a great group and there are no real egos. We're just there to make music together, striving for the best performance we can manage. I made my little announcement tonight about how the orchestra was not competitive, and how I had not placed the strongest players at the front of the sections. Instead I'd striven to place younger members with watching/listening issues closer to the front and every inexperienced player with a strong experienced player.

"And so," I said, "if you have trouble counting rests, or figuring out where '4 before D' is, you'll have someone beside you who can help."

Fiona was thrilled to be playing. She's only doing the two easiest pieces, but that's a great starting point for her. She learns music easily, can sight-read a bit, and these pieces are very easy from a technical standpoint. I knew she'd be able to play the music well. What I figured she'd struggle a bit with was counting bars and rests, figuring out starting points from verbal directions and all the specifically orchestral skills.

She shares a stand with my mom / her grandma / her violin teacher. At one point about twenty minutes into the rehearsal I said "okay everyone, let's start at the pick-up before letter-F." In the shuffling as people got ready to play my mom could be heard muttering "F, F, where's letter F... ?" All of a sudden there was a small quick movement from Fiona and a tiny thwack of a sound. She had matter-of-factly pointed out letter-F for her grandma. We all started laughing. My mom quipped "well, it's a good thing I'm sitting beside an experienced player!"

Her orchestral career got off to an auspicious start.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Christmas dinner

Our neighbours have (okay, had, until recently -- he's in the freezer now) a turkey named "Christmas Dinner." We were there when he was plucked and dressed but that's not what this post is about. Our Christmas Dinner was harvested on the ground beneath a tree.

There's a property in town owned by some non-residents that has two grand black walnut trees and a chestnut tree on it. We don't know who the people are who own the place, so we wait until they've had every reasonable chance to show up and harvest their nuts. And then we move in before the squirrels get every last one and take a bag of our own home to roast, peel and put in the freezer for use in a Christmas loaf.

Chestnuts really are the most beautiful things. And they're easier to catch than a turkey.

Dead soldiers

Over the past couple of weeks my desk has gradually accumulated this addition to its usual mess. They're the rings, labels and wrappings for all the yarn I've knit up. Time to tidy things up, now that I've got all my yarns, projects and dye lots entered on Ravelry for future reference. But I'm one of those people who, when making to-do lists, is apt to put on the list things she's already done, just for the pleasure of seeing them crossed off. So before tidying this testament to work done away into the recycling bin, I felt the need to take a photo.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rose hips

My mom is hosting a rose hip epidemic. She has a wild rose bush that has taken over a corner of her yard which produced a profusion of hips this year. I took my younger two down to help pick. We'd had a couple of hard frosts, even down in town, and the time was right. First we made a stop at our favourite chestnut tree in town and bagged enough chestnuts for a Christmas loaf. Then it was on to the rose hips. Wow ... blue sky, green and yellow leaves, bright orange-red rosehips, warm sun! Who could have asked for anything better.

We picked and picked. Fiona and Sophie kept throwing out guesses (and critiqueing each others' guesses) as to how much we had picked, estimating numbers of rose hips and overall weight. We had decided to go for five pounds, with a bit of a cushion to make sure.

When we got home, we naturally had to measure our harvest. We had almost exactly six pounds, so we were pretty pleased. But the girls also had to know how many we had picked. So we counted out a hundred, weighed them, and then divided that weight into the total to find that we had picked about 1040 rose hips.

We washed and cleaned them, simmered them in some water and then mashed them and pressed the juice from them. It was a lot of work, but I had a lot of help. For now the juice is in the fridge. In a couple of days we'll make jelly, likely by combining the rose hip juice with apple cider. It's extra yummy that way.

We all enjoy the 'something from nothing' aspect of wild harvesting. Rose hips are everywhere around here. A person could pick for days down by the lupine garden and not make a dent in the rose hips there.

It was an elderly Japanese man who moved to our town as a WWII internee who first introduced me to the wild rose pathway by the lupine garden and told me what a great tea hips make and what a great source of Vitamin C they are. I really wish that more people would make use of the natural bounty beneath their noses. There is certainly some sharing of local / traditional wisdom that happens in our town ... but we could sure use a lot more of it!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wordfest 2008

This is where Erin is this week. The Banff Writers' festival. She went with her writing class (seven students). They'll be attending plays, readings and lectures. Kind of neat, and not something she would ever have had the opportunity to do, nor would she have chosen to partake, if it hadn't been offered and somewhat expected as a result of taking the writing class she's enrolled in at school.

The brilliant part about it is that they'll be spending a day in Calgary first. Partly in order to attend a play, but partly so that the rural teens can spend a day at a big-city mall shopping and hanging out. I guess that city kids get bused to the country for a hike or to visit a farm, so apparently this is the reciprocal sort of trip. Erin was less than enthusiastic, which turned out to be fine. She'll go to the play, but tomorrow morning when the rest of the class heads to the mall, Erin will be picked up at her hotel by her wonderful Calgary violin teacher, and taken to her house for a day of violin-ing and hanging out. Then, when the mall adventure is over, her writing teacher will zip up to her violin teacher's place and pick her up so that they can all head out to Banff for the remainder of the trip.

How neat is that? Erin gets a trip to the Writers' Festival, manages to avoid a gross day at them mall, and gets bonus violin lessons to boot! Without her mom having to leave home and drag her siblings across the continental divide for three days. Best $150 I've spent in a long time!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Churning out hats

As I get quicker and smarter at knitting it gets to be even more fun. I can make a hat in a couple of evenings. I have one very favourite pattern and another that I'm about to try out that I think will also become a favourite. Then it'll be time to move on to mittens. Today we picked up a nifty winter parka for Fiona at the thrift shop, and I hope to knit her some mittens that have the same colours and motifs as the jacket. This is just too much fun.

Those are Sophie's, Fiona's and Noah's heads modelling a traffic light trio of Foliage hats.

Hanging lotus

After we installed the chin-up bar, it goes used in a variety of very unusual ways. The same seems to be true of the gym rings.

Noah is pretty flexible and a hanging full lotus was a piece of cake for him ... even after a piece of cake, the pumpkin cheesecake we celebrated Thanksgiving with.

My kids' odd creativity extends to any activity.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Must be fall...

... because I'm knitting again. Noah's sweater languished half-finished from March until September. A few days before his birthday, with crisp fall air outside, I picked it up and knitted it to completion like a maniac. Unfortunately the pattern measurements made it a little short in the arms. I was trying to finish it without him really noticing as a birthday surprise so I avoided, at my peril, measuring my work against my boy as I worked. Sigh. So I'm getting some more yarn and will frog out the sleeve caps and re-knit with two or three inches more length. But he likes the sweater, so it's worth the little bit of extra work. (Sleeves are pushed up past the elbows in the photo ... they're not that short!)

Since then I've knit three or four hats and most of a Newfie Trigger Mitten. I hope to get the mitten gauge and pattern worked out. I've loved this design since I bought a pair for Chuck at a craft fair in St. John's 20 years ago. We've lost one of the originals, and I've never been able to find a pattern for this design, so I'm using the remaining orphan mitt to experiment and try to come up with my own pattern. I think I'm doing okay so far. This one is turning out just like the original, except that it's sized down for a youth thanks to yarn and gauge considerations. With bigger needles and an aran yarn, I think it'll be a lovely pattern. It has the thumb and index finger in separate 'fingers,' with the three remaining fingers residing mittenesquely in the larger compartment.

Last week I braved the dismal little craft store in Nelson looking for some knitting needles and possibly some new yarn. Oh my goodness ... the place has a new owner and has been transformed! I spent almost an hour there drooling and came out almost a hundred dollars poorer, having spent only a tiny fraction of the money I had been tempted to spend. It is full of hand-dyed silk/merino yarn, funky bamboo-based stuff, blends of hemp and soy and wool, llama, alpaca, mohair, cotton/tencel and goodness knows what else, all in a zillion amazing colours and weights.

Why it's worth it

On the SuzukiChat list Julie (of LivingMath fame) asked if there were other parents of multiple multi-instrument Suzuki children expending as much time, money and energy as she is, and if so, what we felt the deeper value of the musical experience was that justified all that sacrifice. Her question got me thinking. Here's my partial list of things of deep value that my kids have got through their music studies:
  • the experience of committing to something over the long-term
  • the experience of small incremental gains resulting in impressive overall progress
  • experience breaking large overwhelming tasks into small achievable ones
  • a long-term community of fellow-learners
  • a meaningful daily chore / routine
  • an appreciation of the fact that everyone learns differently and at different speeds, and that there's value in all that learning, no matter the pace
  • guided experience with the supportive appreciation of others' good work
  • meaningful, authentic and non-competitive involvement in 'teamwork' endeavours -- like working towards an ensemble performance
  • the abiding knowledge that they have something they can do very well
  • something that they are expected to work very hard at ... especially important for children to whom much comes very easily
  • an arena in which to work the kinks out of the parent-as-facilitator/child-as-learner relationship
  • something to do as teenagers besides hang out at the mall or the corner store
  • a common language with children and adults from other places, other walks of life and other cultures
  • a ticket into non-age-stratified groups where they are valued for
    their contributions as much as anyone else, adults or otherwise
  • meaningful, long-term relationships with adult mentors
  • copious exercise for the "memory muscle"
  • a place where their [homeschooling] parents can figure out what makes them tick in terms of learning style and motivation
  • the chance for the child to figure out what learning strategies and learning modes suit him best
  • a window into history
  • a creative / emotional outlet
  • opportunities for travel
  • a positive visible profile in the larger community
  • a useful marketable skill ... and one that can be used to contribute voluntarily to the community, whether by participation in fundraising concerts or simply by playing a few pieces at the nursing home at tea-time
  • experience with preparing and executing a performance/presentation in the public limelight
  • a cohort of similarly-committed peers to draw on for friendships during adolescence and beyond
  • an intuitive appreciation of the mathematical patterns inherent in music
  • the sense of being part of a family 'culture' of music

Friday, October 10, 2008

Small but significant conversation

Fiona: Mommy, I wish I had an organization to my day. You know, like, 'practicing: 10:30, math: 2 o'clock.'

Me [chuckling]: Oh my, Fiona, that's a really good idea. Unfortunately I think you have the wrong mom.

I'll try, I really will. Sort of. When I remember. When it fits.

Oh, my poor children.

Finding the school groove

Officially Erin's been in school for six weeks now. Practically speaking it's been more like two and a half weeks, though. Here's how it's shaped up.

Week 1: A short week due to Labour Day and shortened school hours. Only one very brief introductory writing class, no science course available yet. She started in on Math.

Week 2: A regular week. A photocopy of the first chapter of the Science course book arrives towards the end of the week.

Week 3: Erin takes the week off because this week regular classes are replaced with arts electives. The school doesn't offer any arts courses, because it's too small, so instead they offer a week of arts electives each spring and fall. Pickings are very slim (free-form drama, or a particular textile collage project). To participate, Erin would need to skip her music lessons and choir in Nelson. The whole point of the flexible program she's doing is to allow her to continue her heavy-duty arts-related schedule. To skip her own stuff to do arts electives makes no sense, so she stays home.

Week 4: We take off for family holidays.

Week 5: Completion of family holidays.

Week 6: A regular week. The Science textbook has finally arrived. She misses class time on Tuesday as usual to go to Nelson for piano and choir, but other than that is in school on a regular schedule. Except that Tuesday morning is replaced by Liaison Day (post-secondary expo) which she skips.

Next week will be Week 7. She'll miss two an a half days -- the regular half-day skip for Nelson lessons, and then two days heading out to Calgary and Banff for a "school trip" to the Banff Writers' Festival. There's really only one full day at the Writers' Festival, which is Saturday, plus a couple of evenings, but Thursday and Sunday are travel days (8-9 hours drive) and Friday is a bonus day for the teens to spend on a Shopping Adventure at a Mall in Calgary! Erin and I and her helpful and accommodating writing class and violin teachers have managed to replace her Mall Day with a day of violin lessons, hurrah! She will be picked up at the hotel by her violin teacher, and picked up later that day at her violin teacher's place by her writing class teacher. Brilliant!

So anyway, there hasn't really been a whole lot of time to find a groove. What is clear is that she intends to be in school all day when it suits her schedule. In other words, rather than spending two or three hours in the morning, as her part-time courseload might suggest, she's spending the full six hours there on days she can, working studiously away at her three courses. [I should say that neither of us is really sure what a full-time courseload is. The school seems to sort of be on the semester system, which I think implies that a full courseload is 4 courses each term. But there doesn't seem to be enough per-course classroom time on the schedule to fill a week with only four courses for students doing classroom-based coursework. Since Erin is working independently for the most part the schedule doesn't really apply to her and we're pretty much in the dark about these details. So she may be taking a 3/4-time courseload, or a half-time courseload ... we're not really sure.]

We'll see how she does with course progress, but so far when she's in class she's moving fairly quickly through the material. She's a quarter of the way through the math course in just the scant time she's had, and is talking about picking up Math 11 as soon as she completes Math 10. Oy, who'd have thought? This girl whose math interest has been middling to negligible since age 9...

She seems to be achieving just fine. Her math test average is well in the 90's. Science has only just begun, and Writing doesn't seem to have had any evaluations yet, but her writing teacher pulled me aside at a community event to tell me that I have 'one very talented girl,' so it seems she must be showing her stuff okay there. I'd wondered if she'd manage to write to task and share her writing -- she's never done the former and always refused to do the latter, but I guess she's managing.

She seems to be really enjoying the clear sequential structure of the math course especially. She's not terribly enamoured of the content and open-ended project-oriented basis of her Science course. She's procrastinating on an ecology project and looking forward to the more didactic chemistry section of the course. I have a feeling that she's going to need some pretty strong parent facilitation of the ecology project. It would be a fairly trivial assignment to someone who's been in the school system, but to someone who is highly creative but resists evaluated-creativity-to-task and who has no concept of what a "design an informational poster" school project typically entails, it's a little overwhelmingly open-ended. I think she needs someone to explain to her what these projects are typically like. Right down to the basics -- like, "you get a big piece of bristol board, and you put a title on it, and then glue on visual and textual content in some sort of organized fashion." These are the sorts of 'gaps' my unschooler has ... cultural gaps in knowledge about what constitutes a School Project. I think they can be fairly easily filled, though there's no doubt she'll still dislike open-ended project work. I bought bristol board the other day. We'll see.

She has an intense dislike for what she sees as the 'fluff' at school. Liaison Day, School-Wide Fitness blocks, Pyjama Day, The Great Calgary Mall Adventure, the arts electives ... she has no interest in any of these offerings. She'd rather just be working on her coursework, and without any fuss or silliness. What other students see as a welcome break from the routine, she sees as an intrusion on her focus and goals.

Motivation is not an issue. She is working hard, and even though she's procrastinating on the science project, she is totally determined that she'll do it (there's no deadline). She goes to school and stays there and works hard, solely of her own volition. And I don't think we're just experiencing a novelty effect. She seems quite committed to this over the longer term. She's beginning, I think, to lean towards working for a graduation diploma, and perhaps fast-tracking the process so that she can complete her graduation a year early. She's started diploma credits a year early, albeit part-time, so I think that's do-able, depending on how her musical priorities pan out over the next year or two. Time will tell.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Field trips in Winnipeg

Besides the aforementioned symphony treat, we managed to squeeze a few other nice experiences into our Winnipeg stop. First there was Noah's birthday, which we celebrated by going out for dinner with my sister and then enjoying cake back at her wonderful apartment. It was quite a cake, too!

We really liked the Manitoba Museum. My favourite museum ever is the top floor of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, but this smaller set of galleries rates pretty highly too.

The Science Gallery in Winnipeg was the smallest science centre we've ever been to but the exhibits were well chosen and more than enough to keep the kids occupied until closing time. The K'nex slot-car track was especially fun. Noah had the physics down, quickly and intuitively figuring out how he could modify the suggested basic design to gain mechanical advantage, but Sophie and I had the treachery advantage when we modified our car with outriggers designed to swipe other cars out of their tracks:

The next day we went to the Royal Canadian Mint where coinage is produced for Canada as well as many other nations. This gold bar weighed 28 pounds, not including the chain that secures it to the display. Notice that Noah is sporting a lovely fleece jacket labelled "Jasper Canada." Remember how my kids packed for themselves and forgot a few things? Noah was lucky that he needed a new fleece jacket this year anyway, so he was rescued from the cold by this purchase in Jasper.

We had to return the van and then wait for the train, but the weather was beautiful and it was absolutely no hardship to spend a few hours wandering around The Forks area. We tried looking for three geocaches and only found one, but blue skies and interesting bridges, historic architecture and fresh air were more than enough to keep us happy.

We were extremely impressed by the richness of the arts and culture scene in Winnipeg. A professional opera, ballet and symphony, all with big busy seasons, as well as countless theatres and galleries, a beautiful museum and a strong sense of history, all in a city of just over half a million. If it weren't so flat ... and cold ... and mosquito-ridden ...

It seems you can't have it all.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Near miss

While I was off taking girls to Nelson for various activities yesterday a wind blew up at home. Noah and Sophie heard some big tree-ish noises and saw that some little branches had blown down.

What they didn't notice was that two 60-foot trees had toppled behind the carport, their tops narrowly missing Erin's cabin. It was dark when I got home and it seems I came careening around the corner of the cabin and ran over a bit of log that had flown off the top of the birch when it toppled. No damage done to either the cabin or the van, thankfully.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Hanging out watching TV

For Noah's birthday he got a set of gymnastics rings which have been installed in the middle of our fairly small living room. The ceiling fan had been broken by Noah's jumprope a few weeks ago, so it had to come down anyway. The rings will probably prove more useful than the fan was.

The rings are up fairly high, but Fiona can reach them if she jumps a little. From there was can worm her feet up, hook them in the rings and hoist herself up to a somewhat comfortable sitting position.

It's an odd way to watch the news. It's an odd use of a living room space. Oh well.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Symphony treat

We love where we live, except that it doesn't have a symphony orchestra and the sort of high-calibre musical experiences we crave. My sister pulled off a coup in Winnipeg. She informed me that an amazing Canadian violin soloist was playing the season opener for the WSO the day after we arrived. My sister is a professional violinist who subs with the WSO occasionally, and while she wasn't playing this particular concert, she knew all the ins and outs. Unfortunately due to the wedding we had to leave before the concert.

Well, my sister always finds a way. She figured she'd just talk to The Person Who Makes Things Happen with the WSO (whom Erin happened to have had some coaching from at our little town's big music school last summer -- Erin seemed to make a very good impression with her) and get us permission to attend the dress rehearsal. I'm not sure which had the most effect, my sister's string-pulling or The Person's desire to give Erin a little more opportunity than she enjoys in her rural backwater, but I'll be darned if it didn't all work out.

We were able to sit in for free on the dress rehearsal and hear the entire performance. It gave the kids a taste of the kind of work a symphony musician does, the banter, the pace, the milieu of a big-time symphonic rehearsal. The repertoire was fun, big and hugely symphonic in scope -- the Richard Strauss and Korngold especially. It was stunning. Tickets would have cost us a fortune. We would have paid gladly if we'd been able to attend, but we couldn't ... and this was better. We felt so incredibly privileged to be sitting in our lovely central seats in a sea of empty rows listening to it all taking shape in front of us.

Extended family

Chuck has 7 siblings, making for a heck of a lot of aunts, uncles and cousins, with cousins-in-law and little cousins-once-removed appearing at an alarming rate. The brief trip to NW Ontario was a chance to reconnect with some of them. Here's the long dining table in the great room of the cabin where we hung out.

The kids had their instruments along, the elder two because they were taking in lessons on the way home through Calgary, the younger two just because 12 days is too long to be without your violin. At the after-wedding brunch at the bride's parents place, they played happily for all. Alas we accidentally left Sophie's violin in Winnipeg, so she wasn't able to play, but the others did.

I expect performing gusto from Erin these past few years, and Fiona's always got it flowing too, just because of her personality. With Noah, though, performance gusto is a new thing and it took me by surprise again during this trip. His showpiece of choice these days is Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5, which he plays with commitment, energy and showmanship. He barely needed the low-key encouragement of one cousin the night before, and he was happily up on the big log staircase performing for the assembled multitude of extended family.

Everyone was very appreciative. We hardly ever see this part of the family. We'd never met a niece-in-law who has been part of the family for ten years! We are lucky to get the kids together with their grandma every two or three years. So these family events, even if they're brief, are very important.

Afterwards some nice sister-in-law took a photo of all of us. This doesn't happen very often so I figured it was worth posting here.

On to the Shield

The next leg of our trip took us to northwestern Ontario for a family wedding. We shared a large log cabin at a fishing & camping resort with some of our extended family. It was a great chance for the kids to reconnect with some of the paternal side of the family, including Grandma, three aunts and an uncle. We had a lazy morning together as well as a couple of evenings.

The cabin was huge and gorgeous. We arrived while the others were out. The first thing the kids noticed upon arriving was the acoustics of the great room. Instantly the violins and violas were out and for no other reason but the resonance of the room the kids played and played.

I have dreams of building a large open strawbale music studio at home. Erin regularly complains about the acoustics in our house. We have tiny rooms, carpeted floors, low ceilings and sound-absorbent rough-milled log walls in our house. It was amazing how intrinsically enjoyable the kids found playing in a resonant open room.

This trip was a great geography tour in that it took us through three separate geographic regions of Canada -- the western mountain region, the prairies, and on into the Canadian Shield. This was our sojourn onto the Shield, and staying at the cabin on the shores of a lake really brought the geography home to us. In the morning we walked along the shore and enjoyed the scenery as well as the flora and fauna that are different from what we find in the west.

The view from the window was stunning. We were right in the northern forest, and the view made us aware of that. The shore of the lake was a wonderful place for walks. And it was all just so very "northern Ontario." We lived in a similar area in the eastern corner of the province before moving back to BC to start our family, and this area brought all those memories back. Canoe trips, cottages, lakes and lakes and lakes.

I think I could be happy living in Northern Ontario if circumstances brought me back again. If I had a canoe.

Fall is my favourite time here.

Train scenery

Some of these photos are from the eastward journey, while some were taken on the way back.

The beginning of the trip through the mountains. Hard to do them justice with a train-top photo, but the colours were stunning, with greys from the rock, the white of fresh-fallen snow, deep greens from the evergreen trees and the brilliant yellow of aspen and birch.

As is traditional we hold our breaths through tunnels, and this trestle bridge counted as a tunnel according to the kids. There was also a brief rock tunnel which was awesome.

On the train you're away from all the travellers' services that flank highways coursing through similar terrain ... and you don't see the roadway / railway beneath you. The wilderness seems wilder and more remote.

Though I prefer to live in the mountains, I certainly enjoyed the prairie scenery from the windows of the train. A million shades of wheat and yellow.

This is our train crossing the North Battleford River. After all the flatness of Manitoba and Saskatchewan this valley was spectacular.

More prairie colour with harvest textures. September really is a wonderful month for vacation travel. Another homeschooling advantage.

Eastward on "The Canadian"

"The Canadian" is Canada's main passenger train. It runs from Vancouver BC on the west coast through Kamloops BC, Jasper AB, Edmonton AB, Saskatoon SK, Winnipeg MB and on to Toronto ON, taking about five days for the journey. It runs three times a week. Stodgy schedules, high prices and vast distances have made air and car travel the methods of choice through the country for most people, but we had always dreamed of doing the trip by train once. This turned out to be the year.

These days the train is mostly a touristy sort of thing for retired folk with fully three quarters of the train reserved for First Class travel. We went economy, which wasn't exactly inexpensive; purchasing sleeper car tickets (i.e. First Class) would have quadrupled the cost, so that definitely wasn't happening -- not for one overnight each way! There were a mere two cars of Economy passengers, and they weren't anywhere near full.

We picked The Canadian up in Jasper. It was almost on time. Noah had assumed the train would be organized in compartments in the European way, but quickly got used to the long open corridors and bus-like seating. One of the prerogatives of travelling as a family is that the conductor will, upon request, set aside sets of four facing seats for you. The train was not crowded, so we were given two such sets of seats, making for a relaxing and fairly spacious zone for the Burkholders. The kids quickly had the footrests up and had settled in for reading, colouring, sketching and game-playing.

The Skyline Car contained the observation dome as well as the dining car and a snackbar. The dome was a plexiglas windowed bubble grafted atop the train. The trip through the last part of the Rockies was especially nifty from up here.

We had brought lunch and breakfast snacks with us for the trip east, but we ate supper in the dining car. It was a welcome change of pace to sit down and order a meal and chat and eat properly with cutlery and space. The food was surprisingly good and reasonably priced.

Night was of course not ideal, but we all managed a fair bit of sleep. We developed no particular fondness for the loud woman who shared her life story for the fifth time with a passenger who embarked at the Saskatoon stop at 1 a.m.. How anyone can suffer from such a complete lack of empathy and appreciation of social cues and conventions (i.e. room full of people trying to sleep = be quiet!) is beyond me. If we hadn't been so amazed by her obliviousness we might have been more angry. I'm sure the entire rail car's worth of passengers felt the same way. Amazingly no one was rude. Her conversational target at the time was increasingly unresponsive but never overtly rude.

The next morning we enjoyed a last few hours of railway prairie scenery before disembarking in Winnipeg only an hour or so late, in the early afternoon. My sister, who lives in Winnipeg, surprised us by meeting the train and facilitating our retrieval of a rental van. We retired to a hotel fairly directly and made sure we got a good night's sleep in actual beds, to make up for the night on the train.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Travel marathon

Four hours waiting for the train. We were early. It was late. Twenty-four hours on the train. Fun, but without a sleeping compartment, sleep suffers. And we arrived late in Jasper. Hopped in the van and drove south like the dickens for 2.5 hours to get Chuck to the bus station in time that he could catch the bus back west to home (he had not been able to find a replacement for work and was due to start his on-call week the next day). Bus was late. An hour in the parking lot waiting for it.

And then another 2.5 hours driving east to Calgary. We arrived after midnight, the night after a sleepless night on the train. The kids had been laughing their heads off, singing and creating random ads for weird products all the way in.

This morning we had to be up for a variety of violin and viola lessons and various errands and visits. It was not enough sleep for anyone to catch up. Erin, Fiona and Sophie fell asleep like a toppled row of dominoes on the couch during Noah's viola lesson.

Noah has tallied up the travel on this holiday. Seventy-nine hours by the time we get home. I reminded him that in the case of the train at least (48 of those 79 hours) the travel was the holiday, not the price we paid for getting to our holiday. But it's still a lot of travel.

We will swim at the hotel pool after supper and then get a very good very long night's sleep before completing the final leg of our travels. It will be nice to be home.