Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mac Love

The uncharacteristic silence from my keyboard is more apparent than real. I'm not blogging much because I'm in love with my iMac. After plugging it in I decided to see how much I could do without buying replacement software for all the things I'd enjoyed working with on my PC.

We bought our first PC in 1990. It wasn't my first computer -- that had been a Commodore 64 back in 1985. But the PC was my first home office tool. The three commercial task-oriented pieces of software I bought for it were Adobe (then Aldus) Pagemaker for desktop publishing, CorelDraw for vector graphics and Finale for music publishing. I upgraded over the years, and eventually switched to PaintShop Pro for graphics, but otherwise stayed fairly loyal to my software and fairly consistent in what I used my computer for. I got into web publishing, video-editing and photo-editing and added bits of software for those things. More and more open source software, as it turned out. But the bulk of what I was doing was graphics and publishing.

In the meantime I had fallen in love with my iPod. And iTunes. 

It dawned on me that the sorts of things I was doing with my computer, and had from the start, were the sorts of things that Macs were renowned for. I wasn't gaming, or crunching numbers. I wasn't buying tons of commercial software.

Then I saw a Mac ad at the moment that I was just beginning to think about the necessity of making the leap to a new PC, of leaving Windows XP behind and take on Windows 7. It was an epiphany moment. The timing was right for me.

My music publishing program, which I love and will never leave, is cross-platform, so that was the first thing I loaded. And it was really the only piece of commercial software I installed.  Everything else has been open source, or included with the Mac, and it all functions so much better than the commercial PC software I'd been studiously upgrading for years. Gimp, iMovie, iPhoto and Scribus are keeping me happily busy learning to do things that I never imagined possible -- for free. This week I'm especially enamoured of Scribus which is so much more robust than Pagemaker ever was.

So yeah, I'm in love with my Mac. Forgive the blog silence.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


We like our new espresso machine, "bought" with grocery store points. It was our family's Christmas Eve treat for ourselves. The kids have a penchant for steamed milk, London Fogs and decaffuccinos. The adults like their lattés and cappuccinos. So far it has seen a whole lot of use. Everyone in the family now knows how to run through espresso shots and steam or froth milk.

Next, below, Sophie is playing with our new sudoku board. Sophie really likes sudoku but finds the physical/tactile version much easier and more fun to use. Especially fun are the little drawers on each side of the board for storing the number tiles.

At the bottom, a bloom of Two Hills art tea, in this case Jasmine Fairy Flower Green Tea. We recently discovered Two Hills, a local importer of quality organic Chinese teas farmed and processed ethically. The regular Jasmine Tea is like something from another world. The art tea version, which "blooms" in your cup, adds visual appeal too.

Our Christmas was as usual a fairly simple affair. Perhaps a little simpler than usual this year. On the gifting front there were a half dozen inextravagant gifts for each of the kids, a couple for the parents, plus a handful of "family gifts" like the ones pictured. Few gifts cost over $30, none over a hundred. Mostly useful things -- clothing, things for the bedroom, books. We had the usual cinnamon buns for breakfast, and a nice supper which included a small turkey for the meat-eaters. No extended family or friends over this year. Chuck was on call, though he only had to go into the hospital once during the day, which was nice.

Sometimes I wonder if we have simplified too much. For many years we focused on special things to do through the holidays, on making things by hand, on contributing good deeds around the community and beyond. Lately we don't even do that much, besides participating in the flurry of Christmas performances and doing a fair bit of charitable giving. So it's just not that big a deal, Christmas. It's a time to be together as a family, to focus on the value of giving, and participate in a few special rituals.

I'm not sure if it should be bigger. My kids' friends' families mostly make a much bigger deal over Christmas. The gifts, especially. Do mine feel embarrassed when their friends ask what their favourite Christmas gifts were and they have only a small humble few to choose amongst (a pair of mittens? a book? a jar of marmalade?), none of which rate next to the laptops, wii's, iPhones, iTouches, X-boxes, Kindles and such that the others got?

We had a nice Christmas. It wasn't the pinnacle day of the year (that would be the first Friday in August every year, the last day of SVI). No one's complaining. I guess we're doing okay.

And this year we had only a tiny handful of paper and plastic, plus two cardboard boxes, to dispose of.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Winter running

When you add two to three hours of structured homeschooling to your family's already pretty full daily life, something's got to give. And in my case, it's been the running. I've only run a handful of times in the past month.

Daylight only lasts about eight hours here now. Running at night is really not a realistic option. We're in the middle of nowhere, no streetlights. When it's dark, it's truly dark. When we were in Calgary I ran at night and it felt like it was practically daytime there was so much light. Streetlights every 20 or 30 metres, plus residential lighting and headlights and that urban glow in the sky. But at home it's scary running at night. It's hard to see your feet properly, even with an LED headlamp.

So daylight is short, and with the schoolwork we're doing added to the other daytime business, there really isn't much time for running. I was making progress at getting back into the habit after my two-month injury-related hiatus, but the additional structured daytime activities with the kids is really making things tough. Somehow I'm going to have to fit it back into my life, though, because running really was making me happy when I was doing it regularly.

Lately when I do run, I love my YakTrax. I use the Pro version, which are secured by Velcro on the top and are so light and flexible that I barely feel them at all. They're fabulous in snow, slush and ice. I have some awesome gloves and just bought myself some wind pants to go over my tights for the really cold days. Along with my hat and neckwarmer and a thermal shirt or two on top, I feel really comfortable even at minus 12.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Choir and Quartet

Noah's quartet doesn't really exist anymore, since the 2nd violinist has moved away. However, the remaining three quarters of the quartet, together with Sophie, were invited to help accompany a piece the local community choir was performing at their Christmas concert. They had only one very short rehearsal with the choir, so I thought it came off very well considering.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sophie School

Of the three at-home kids, Sophie is the one who has come up with the most unusual approach to structured schooling. She has gravitated to setting her alarm for 6:30 a.m.. This is the girl who often used to still be in bed at noon. Now she's up before it's light outside. She makes a fire in the woodstove and, until that warms things up, she wraps herself in a quilt and turns on Phillip, the (Phillips brand) space heater.

She does almost all her work independently now, though it didn't start out that way six weeks ago. She's relishing the independence and the quiet time before anyone else is up.

Her morning regimen always includes math, which is pictured at the bottom of the further stack. She's using the Art of Problem Solving Introduction to Algebra text and solutions manual. At first this book was a huge challenge which resulted in regular tears. She needed a lot of help, but didn't want to need help, which made her sad and angry. But a couple of weeks later things had changed. She's now working totally independently through Chapter 4 and understanding it. The depth of this book is very impressive. Far beyond the level of the first in the high school series of everything else we've looked at -- Teaching Textbooks, Life of Fred, MathPower, Saxon, Singapore NMC. If I'd known how challenging it was I'd never have bought it for a 10-year-old. But despite my concerns she's doing fine. And gosh, she's getting a very robust math education! We'll be branching out into Statistics and Geometry in the same series in the months to come.

On top of the math is Campbell's "Biology: Concepts and Connections," the other big challenge in Sophie's learning program. This is an AP / intro university level text. She's had it for a while but only skimmed and browsed in the past. Now she's working systematically through it. It's beautifully set up for self-teaching with lovely detailed text and illustrations footnoted by CD-ROM or internet-based activities, explorations, virtual labs, self-evaluation quizzes, links and additional tutorials.

Then there's Theory Time Grade 5. There's some challenge in here for her, to be sure. The bass clef work, and all the circle-of-fifths stuff. It was a good place for her to start working in this series.

Rosetta Stone French. Sophie likes total privacy when doing RS, because of the oral work into the microphone which makes her self-conscious. So she isn't doing Rosetta Stone very often -- maybe once a week, while the rest of us are away in Nelson -- which is a shame because it really needs to be used at least every other day. We're trying to figure out solutions to this.

The bottom of the nearer stack is L'Art de Lire, a systematic grammar-based written approach to French. It's a good companion to Rosetta Stone which is aural and immersion-like.

Next up is the Editor-in-Chief Level A1 book. Sophie blew through the beginner book in 2 weeks, so we've just started the next one. She enjoys these even if they're easy and "below her level" so we'll continue. She doesn't do much writing, so this is a nice way of giving her experience editing other people's writing for clarity and accuracy.

On top are episodes from the two Teaching Company Lecture Series she's enjoying. The first is "The Joy of Science," intended for university non-science-majors. The second is "Introduction to Biology" which just arrived this week. She does like her biology, this girl!

Every day includes math, most days include a bit of Campbell's Biology and typically she'll do one or two other bits of written work. Rosetta Stone and the DVD's come into play maybe once a week each.

In addition there's violin practicing, independent reading (Twilight series most recently), our nightly fiction readalouds, and the evening regimen of history readaloud and/or videos (the latter of which has lately shifted firmly to the back burner). And all the serendipitous stuff that comes up in the course of daily life.

Because she starts her schoolwork at 6:30, Sophie is usually ready for a nap at about the time the rest of us are getting up. We often find her on the couch looking like this. But that's okay, because she's had a productive morning, the evidence of which is strewn all about her, and the house is warm thanks to her fire-building skills.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fiona's Morning School

This has been a homeschooling blog for years, but now that we're finally doing some structured schooling I thought it would be appropriate to post about what we're doing. Fiona's morning starts at about 8:30 am. She usually grabs some breakfast first and then settles in for some bookwork. These days she is pretty happy with what we're using and is moving up levels almost as fast as I can order them. Left to right, in photo...

Real Science 4 Kids Biology I. This is pretty lightweight stuff, but it's clearly presented, not patronizing in its narrative style and lovely in its layout. The author is apparently a Christian fundamentalist but this book is perfectly fine in a secular context.

Editor-in-Chief Beginner Book. Nominally for Grades 3-4. A little challenging for Fiona, suitable for older kids filling in gaps. I've written about this before. It's a great approach for helping kids, especially perfectionistic ones, learn to write well by having them find and correct other people's mistakes.

Singapore Primary Mathematics. Fiona did a good bit of Miquon Math but preferred the clarity of Singapore Primary Maths and so she transitioned into that after the Blue Book. Singapore PM works beautifully for Fiona because she has a very intuitive understanding of math, easily handles the mental math demands and needs very little practice. It also stays refreshingly friendly and to-the-point right through to the 6B level (approximately equivalent to Grade 7 in North America).

The Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting series. I first bought these years ago because they seemed likely to work well for Erin who is a lefty and who liked the look of the italic font. They seem to work well enough for the other kids, who appreciate the fact that there's almost no transition to cursive once the manuscript font is well-learned. Fiona is my first kid whose handwriting hasn't lagged behind her supposed age-grade. She's just beginning Level C which is I think 2nd grade level and can print reasonably neatly with proper letter formation. What a surprise, after three late-bloomers!

Theory Time Grade 3. She started with this at the Grade 2 level and enjoys it. It's friendly and unintimidating, the best theory program I've seen for kids and pre-teens. She's pretty advanced in her instrumental studies, so she's encountered a lot of the theory in this book already in informal ways. But it's nice to do a little systematic gap-filling.

We don't do all this every day. We do math and one to three of the others.

Most days also involve violin and piano practicing, and some independent reading (currently Harry Potter). And although we've been slacking lately, we were also reading a bit of Story of the World Volume 2 most evenings, and/or watching the corresponding Teaching Company High School History DVD course lectures. And we always have a nightly family readaloud on the go. Currently that's the first Percy Jackson novel, the Lightning Thief.

And then there's all the unstructured stuff, the learning I've mostly been writing about for years, which still seems to fit in around the edges.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Not all fun and games

Someone commented to me (about our recent changes in daily structure):

"Life is not all fun and games and shouldn't be treated as such, sometimes there are things that we have to do even when we don't want to..."

I think this is a little simplistic. I agree that life is not all fun and games. However, my approach has been to try to help my kids look beyond immediate wants to more abstract wants. For instance, Noah wants to be able to play Beethoven, Dvorak and Schubert string quartets, to get the thrill of performing those great works, to experience the joy of working with others on that common goal. Those are abstract, long-term goals. In order to have those 'wants' satisfied, that means practicing scales and studies on the viola today, and tomorrow, and every day. And that may not be intrinsically enjoyable. But does he want to become a better viola player? And does he recognize that this is part of that process? Yes! And so it's no hardship to motivate himself to do the daily scales and studies. He has made the connection and he actually wants to do his practicing even if he doesn't always feel like doing it.

So rather than saying "sometimes we have to do stuff we don't want to" I prefer to say "sometimes we have to do stuff we don't feel like doing because it gets us stuff we really want." I think that's a much healthier long-lasting message to get, because ultimately it facilitates self-regulation and doesn't rely on other people setting rules for us.

Helping kids forge those connections between immediate action and big-picture wants is one of the most difficult parenting tasks, I think. My kids definitely want more balanced lives; they want to be healthy, helpful, good people with strong relationships. They're just not yet always naturals at connecting their immediate actions to those bigger-picture goals. I think that they needed a little remedial teaching in this respect -- someone to forcefully point their gaze at those longer-term goals, and give them a little experience with the habits of behaviour that serve those goals, so that they can re-affirm the connection between them -- and strengthen it within themselves.

At least that's what I'm trying to do. Time will tell.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Rum Balls and their friends

Fun and easy. We do both types at once in two separate bowls.

Rum Balls

The main deal:
4 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup dark rum
200 g chocolate cookie crumbs
1 1/4 cups finely chopped walnuts
1 tsp. vanilla

For coating:
1 more cup of finely chopped walnuts

Melt chocolate in a saucepan over very low heat with the sweetened condensed milk. Remove from heat and stir in other ingredients. Chill in fridge for at least an hour. If leaving overnight, cover tightly to prevent the top from drying out.

Shape mixture with hands into teaspoon-sized balls. Toss in remaining finely chopped nuts. Allow to sit out for a few hours to dry out slightly on the outside. Store cool and dry for a couple of weeks. May be frozen for longer, but thaw without opening to prevent condensation from making them soft and sticky.

Hazelnut Balls

Follow the same procedure as for Rum Balls, but substitute hazelnut liqueur for rum, and hazelnuts for walnuts.


These are a perfect for young children to make, so long as they can keep their fingers out of their mouths for the duration!


1 egg white
300 to 350 gm of sifted icing sugar (varies depending on egg size)
1 tsp. mint extract
a few drops of food colouring, if desired

Whisk the egg for a minute or two. Add mint extract and food colouring if used. Sift in icing sugar half a cup at a time, mixing with a wooden spoon, until mixture is very stiff and stops being shiny and sticky. Knead by hand if the wooden spoon becomes onerous. It should eventually have the consistency of playdough. This is the best part! Try to the resist the urge to play with your candy fondant for hours before making your minties.

Form into balls the size of a large marble and place on baking parchment. Leave them for a minute or two, then flatten gently with the tines of a fork. Or you can be more creative with your creations, making little animal shapes, combining batches of different colours, whatever you like. Just don't make anything too big or it will crack as it dries. Leave to dry for an hour or so, then flip over and allow the same drying on the other side. Store in a closed container away from heat and moisture.

Makes about 30 small mints.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Yin and Yang of Computer Cables

I used to laugh at people who got panicky when they needed to set up their own PCs. They'd worry what would go wrong if they plugged something in the wrong way.

I'd reassure them that it was really easy. The cables only connect one way. You can tell by the plugs and jacks how they fit together. You just have to match up the shapes of the plugs to the shapes of the jacks. Of course you needed to figure out how all the audio cables work; the microphone and the speakers are sometimes colour coded. If not, you pay attention to which peripheral the cable is coming from and you look for the little icon on the back of the CPU and choose the correct one. And the webcam and the printer are best to hook in while you're down on the floor with a flashlight looking for the correct jack. The mouse too. Match up cables and their plugs to the jacks in your CPU and you'll be all set.

You should end up with something like the photo shown here. A bunch of different cables heading down through a hole in your desk to the CPU beneath. The last step is to hook your modem or network cable up from the CPU.

Yesterday I unpacked my new iMac. Here's the sum total of the cable connections required to set the thing up: one AC power cord heading to the wall. End of story.

Almond Crescents

These are another classic treat that we never do without at Christmas. We use fresh Rancho Vignola unsprayed almonds, blanching and skinning them before turning them into crumbs. There's not a lot of sugar in these, but there's more than enough butter to make up for that!

Almond Crescents

2 cups whole blanched almonds
1 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
pinch of salt
2 cups flour
an extra 3/4 cup of icing sugar for dusting / dredging

Finely chop almonds; a food processor works best. In a bowl, beat together butter, 1/4 cup of icing sugar, almond and vanilla extracts and salt. Mix in flour and almonds, using hands as necessary. Refrigerate one hour.

With 10-15 mL (two or three tsp. worth) of dough, shape into a ball, roll gently into a log, and then form into crescent shape. Place crescents an inch or two apart on baking parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake cookies in 350F oven for 18 minutes, rotating trays partway through baking. Cookies should be firm to touch and barely golden on the bottom.

Cool slightly, until cookies can be handled easily but are still warm. Dredge in remaining sugar. Place on racks to cool fully. Makes about 4 dozen.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cranberry Hazelnut Biscottini

Yesterday we went an sorted, packed and distributed our wholesale dried fruit and nut order, bringing home a good hundred pounds to our own pantry. And thus the holiday baking has gone into high gear.

Cranberry Hazelnut Biscottini

We like these small so that they more closely match the size of our other holiday fare -- the truffles and the like.

1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. grated orange rind
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup chopped hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 325F.

Cream together butter and sugar util fullffy. Beat in eggs, vanilla extract and orange zest until blended. In another bowl, stir together flour, baking power and cloves. Add to butter mixture and mix well. Stir in cranberries and nuts.

Shape into logs about 8" long and 1 1/2" in diameter. Flatten each log slightly to make a slab about 1/2 an inch high and 2 inches wide. Place on parchment on baking sheet and bake in 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

Remove from oven and transfer to a cutting board. Allow to cool for 8 to 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Use a chef's knife (quickly and decisively!) to slice the logs into 3/8" strips. Place back on baking sheet in upright position and bake for a further 15 minutes at the lower temperature.

Makes about 6 dozen.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The wheel keeps spinning

How beautiful is this?

To think that it started out as this...

Living in bulk

With a family of six, two chest freezers, a lot of pantry space and a penchant for whole foods, we end up buying a lot of things in bulk. And this is definitely the time of year when our bulk buying habits kick into high gear. Yesterday I picked up 100 pounds of locally grown organic wheat, 20 pounds of groats and 20 pounds of lentils. Today 80 pounds of citrus fruit has arrived.

On Friday we'll take delivery of 100 pounds of organic dried fruit, nuts and (for the first time ever) chocolate. At that point we'll be perfectly primed for the Christmas-treat-making marathon that takes place from late November to mid-December.

The treat-making has actually already begun. On Saturday we started with 8 dozen pfeffernuessen, the German spice cookies made with (among many other spices) black pepper. Fiona suggested I take a picture of the spices on the flour because they looked so enticing.

We'll be adding double batches of a dozen or so other recipes to our repository in the basement freezer as the weeks progress. Every year we try at least a couple of promising-looking new recipes, added to the many that have become annual traditions -- pfeffernuesse, almond crescents, the vile-but-nonetheless-required Christmas strawberries, candied fruit peel, shortbread, gingerbread, chocolate rum balls, penuche, cashew brittle, and fruit and nut balls. This year's new recipes will probably include pignoli and sesame snaps since we have lots of pine nuts and sesame seeds in our pantry.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nine Days Debriefing and Re-Assessment

Our nine day experiment with structure was up yesterday. This morning we got up and did math, handwriting, biology, physics, chores, music theory and the like just like we had for the previous nine days. The experiment was over and awaiting re-assessment, but we kept working away anyway. Hmm.

This evening we had our official meeting to talk about it. Zowee. Who would 'a thunk it? To wit, the kids' input:

  • Yes, let's keep the 11 pm bedtime. In fact, some of the kids would like to make bedtime earlier, but that's always an option, so an 11 pm rule is fine.
  • Yes, let's keep the Structured Schooling. A couple of hours a day is about right.
  • Let's buy more workbooks and DVD lectures so that there are more resources available as the year progresses.
  • No-Screen Day. It's cool. But once a week is probably too often to keep it 'special.' Let's have a biweekly No-Screen Day.
  • Things are better now. Let's keep working on this. We're getting somewhere.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Nine days

We had a family meeting a little over a week ago. It was a more significant meeting than usual, because Chuck was part of it: he wanted to express some concerns he's had about how people in this house are choosing to spend their time. These are concerns I share, though I tend to see more of the 'good stuff' than he does, and have spent a lot more energy learning to look at the apparently-not-so-good-stuff through different lenses. I look at these same issues through the lens of unschooling, of autonomous learning, peering far outside the box, seeing the occasional breathtaking efficiency of learning driven by authentic engagement. I have quelled most of my concerns through years of studiously nurtured trust and big-picture viewing. But the concerns were still lurking under the surface of my mind. And so when Chuck put them into words I thought "Wow, he's expressing some interest in how things work around here, and he's saying a lot of things I've felt over the years." I figured he ought to say those things out loud to the kids -- partly so that they know he cares about their learning and growing, but mostly so that we can all understand and take into account his frustrations, concerns... and feelings.

The main issues ... that the kids are as a group quite sedentary, fairly withdrawn, spending an inordinate amount of time in front of the computer and precious little time contributing to the well-being of the family. The creative chaos which has in the past spawned such amazing things as HTML websites coded from scratch, stop-motion animation, the vast imaginary Euwy World, deep conversations late at night about the ethics of war and how to nurture friendships, well, these days the creative chaos isn't as creative. The activities we used to do together don't happen much any more. Since the older kids have been able to stay home alone they've pretty much mostly done so. Concerts, hikes, shopping trips, errands, social visits -- once they became optional the kids stopped coming.

And overall they don't seem to really feel that good about themselves. They have good intentions and fine ambitions and solid values. But when it comes to actually doing virtuous things there's always tomorrow. There's not a lot of bubbly joy and energy in evidence around here. There's a certain amount of inward-turning and detachment from family that one would expect during adolescence. That accounts for some of it no doubt. But it seemed to go deeper than that. There was a lot of aimlessness and 'flatness' for lack of a better word. And a prevailing sense amongst the kids as well that a lot of worthwhile stuff that took just slightly more energy than playing on the computer wasn't being got around to.

I've put a lot of work into supporting the kids in self-structuring. We've gone over this ground a lot in family meetings, at learning plan meetings, in casual discussions. There's a weird paradox that often arises in such conversations. A kid would say she wanted structure, and would like me to create it for her, and administer it, somewhat forcefully, but I should allow her to decline if she really didn't want to comply with the structure. And I should also take the blame if the refusal is habitual and I eventually gave up trying to administer the structure. I feel like a pushmepullyou -- asked for structure, reviled for giving it, refused over and over, and then blamed for not giving it forcefully enough.

Collaborative problem-solving can be a great thing. But maybe there's such a thing as too much of it. Sometimes kids can listen to their parents say "do you have any ideas on how to fix this problem?" and instead hear "I'm your parent, but I don't know what to do -- can you fix things for our family?" Understandably that can provoke a lot of unease, anxiety and discomfort. Kids shouldn't have to bear the full responsibility of stuff like that. (And of course they didn't -- but I think maybe they perceived it that way on some level.) Sometimes I think the pushmepullyou response I got when trying to support the kids in self-structuring was their way of saying "Sheesh, mom, you're the parent! I don't want to have to tell you how to be a parent -- just do it."

We reached a bit of a stalemate at our family meeting. There were no lines drawn in the sand, but there were six people standing in different places on the sand not sure what to do to find some common ground. The kids didn't have any suggestions on how to remedy / appease / co-operate / change or try something new.

So I basically instituted a unilateral experiment with parent-imposed structure. The experiment would last nine days. Bedtime 11 pm. No computer time until daily responsibilities have been completed. Daily responsibilities include household work of various sorts (i.e. chores) and a selection of parent-administered tasks derived from the kids' self-designed learning plans (a.k.a. homeschooling).

There were some initial moans of protest. There were a few tears on Day 1. By Day 3 the protests were gone. The bedtime rule was lauded by the very same boy who had moaned at first about no more all-night gaming jags. By Day 5 children were saying "I like this system." By Day 7 they had all decided it should stay in place after the nine day trial. Perhaps with some tweaks, but basically as it stands.

Years ago I would read on homeschooling message boards comments like this: "I'd love to unschool, but my son really thrives on structure." Unschooling seemed to be working beautifully for us at the time, but I would chuckle and think to myself "If my kids were the type to thrive on structure, how would I know?" Maybe it was kind of like Fiona's eyesight -- she was profoundly far-sighted and couldn't see properly, and had no way of knowing it because she'd never seen anything clearly.

I'm not chuckling any longer.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hug a Chicken Day

A few changes in progress around here lately, worth a few posts, but today is rushed -- more about those another time.

Today, though, we celebrated Hug a Chicken Day. The kids are in the midst of creating a randomizable selection of 365 special celebrations, one for each day of the year. Amongst the more peculiar days: Loose Temper Day, Feed Liquor to Children Day, Wide-Eyed Day, Foraging Day, Notice Weird Things About Your Body Day and Worship a New God Day. Zany, irreverent, out of left field these celebrations are. Just like my children.

Today's festivities were roundly enjoyed by all, with the possible exception of the chicken.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Spinning girl

We are YouTube and Google spinners, self-taught with the assistance of low-resolution videos and superior keyword choices.

Sophie as usual is intuitive with her fine-motor skills, particularly as pertaining to fibre crafts. So far we are practicing on the undyed fleece, saving our four fleecy colours for a skein of multi-coloured Noro-style single ply.

Repeat copier miracle

I bought my copier / printer / multifunction machine a couple of years ago. I loved that machine. As soon as I got it home I was questioning how all the music teachers and homeschooling parents and society board members of the past had ever survived without one.

Then it died last February. Nasty error messages concerning the toner cartridge that responded to none of my resourceful trouble-shooting. I put the thing on the floor for a month. I despaired. But after some time passed I plugged it in and tried it again -- and there was a miracle! It worked.

Until the middle of September. Same error message. I tried all the same trouble-shooting. I turned it off for a couple of weeks. I moved it onto the floor. I put it back. I turned it on. I tried everything all over again. No miracle.

I was talking to a friend today about the lack of a repeat miracle, and how I'd ask for a new one for Christmas except that I couldn't bear to landfill a great hunk of glass, plastic and metal after just a couple of years. Jokingly I said I'd try turning it on again.

A second miracle has occurred.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Fleecy colours

A friend of mine re-iterated her offer of the loan of a spinning wheel today. We're getting closer ...

Unschooling is for parents too

Cedar Basket"... we are currently on the fence about sending our child to public school in a very small rural town or homeschooling ... One of my biggest concerns is wondering if I have the ability to teach my children. I don't feel like I remember/know everything and also don't know how to teach."

If the teaching/learning equation were really about the teacher knowing it all and passing her knowledge on effectively to the student then clearly the public school system failed you (since you don't remember everything!) -- and why the heck would you entrust your child to the very system that failed you?

But really, I think that's a rather misguided educational paradigm. Children are not empty vessels into which 'experts' pour their knowledge according to some pre-ordained system or method. Children are people, and incredibly capable learners at that! Given a reasonably nurturing environment and a bit of freedom they create, they invent, they question, they respond, they engage, they explore, they infer, they grow, they learn. They don't need you to know everything and dispense it to them according to a time-tested system. They will show you or tell you what they need. Because you as their parent are in love with them, you will listen to their needs. And because you are a human being too, you will do your own exploring, creating, learning and growing in order to give them what they are asking for.


(who can now ice-skate [backwards!], understand a fair bit of Japanese, weave cedar baskets, conjugate Latin verbs and dye wool thanks to the impetus her children have provided her with)

Viral trends

This is the story of our past week and a half. Lovely, isn't it? Three of the kids have been sick twice. Erin had the worst of it initially -- likely the H1N1 thing, contracted in transit back from Calgary that week. She quarantined herself quite effectively in the cabin and we essentially didn't see her for three days. She slept, I delivered fluids, and we all washed our hands after her once or twice-daily trips into the house to use the toilet.

The younger girls then got something that I'd feared might be Erin's flu, but turned out to be much milder. Erin then got sick again with cold-like symptoms which I assumed was the milder virus Sophie and Fiona had had. But then today Sophie and Fiona have come down with exactly whatever Erin now has. And Noah is in the midst of a nasty thing that's somewhere about mid-range in severity.

Two significant blessings: Sophie was in a small window of relative wellness on her birthday, and the viral trend curves of the parents in this family (not shown) are nice flat lines at the bottom of the graph.

In the midst we managed to (mostly) participate in the Baroque Dance workshop, and to perform at the Baroque Concert. Tomorrow brings a Remembrance Day quartet performance for the middle kids at the local school. I'm hoping they'll be able to play during the laying of the wreaths, even if we have to wheel them in and prop them up.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Baroque Dance

This is fun! We have a visiting clinician in the area this weekend running a set of workshops for music students, teaching them about baroque dance. For years these kids have been playing minuets, bourrées, gavottes, sarabandes, gigues, courantes and the like. Now they're learning about the historical roots and kinesthetic forms of the dances they were meant to accompany. The afternoon was the session for kids under 12, during which Fiona learned to dance a minuet. In the evening, and continuing tomorrow, is the session for older and more advanced kids and adults. They learned the minuet, gavotte and sarabande tonight. Tomorrow will bring a bourrée as well, and a few other fun movement games and no doubt a lot more interesting background on the social conditions and traditions these dances evolved in.

Music students are such cool kids. There were about a dozen and half in the school gym on a Friday night, pretending they had frock coats and frilly shirts on and pointing their toes in stately steps -- focused, attentive, having fun, getting to know each other, learning, laughing, being totally respectful of the teacher, each other and the space they were in.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Five hundred

I was putting on about 100 miles a month through the summer and would have finished my 2009 goal of 500 miles by mid-September if I hadn't been injured. But I was about 30 miles short when I had to take a long hiatus. Finally this week I managed to jog my way to my goal.

Today's goal-reaching run fit into a warm spell which has melted most of the snow, so I ran what will likely be one of the last trail runs of the year. My route took me over a carpet of yellow and brown leaves, along a trail deserted by the fair-weather tourists. Just me and my dog, the sounds of our feet and our breathing, and of the forest itself. The hip still bothers me a bit, and oh, I've got slower for the long break. But I am so much happier to be running again.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Carding jag

Thanks to a borrowed drum carder, this phase is going reasonably efficiently. But it still takes ages. We've spent hours at it over the past couple of days.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Fall and fibre

It's fall. Every fall for the past few years I am struck by the urge to get out yarn and needles and start creating things. The kids have all got sweaters and hats, countless Christmas gifts -- socks, hats, mittens, scarves -- have been knitted for various people. And it starts every fall, sometime in late September or October. I think it has something to do with the wood stove. Its cozy glow invites knitting.

And now it seems that Fiona and Sophie share my annual awakening of knitting passion. Sophie even has her own Ravelry account which she diligently updates. I suspect Fiona will want her own before too long. I'm working on a cardigan. Sophie is finishing up the back of a felted cushion for which she did the fair-isle top last year. She's also gone into production with korknissen. She can finish a hat and sweater, and do the gluing to the cork in the space of about 20 minutes. Yesterday she made four. Her ambition is to create enough of the cute little guys that she can assemble a battalion for a surrealistically sinister effect. Her demented sense of humour invades even this.

Fiona has begun work on some leg warmers which will match some of her Lands' End outfits. Yesterday she successfully reviewed the knit stitch, then learned the purl stitch and did the two inches of 2x2 ribbing at the top of her first leg-warmer. She was thrilled with the success.

This sketch shows Ms. Knit with her furry-collared coat and Mr. Purl wearing his scarf. It was my attempt to show Fiona the difference between the appearance of a knit and purl stitch on the needle, so that she could more easily keep track of her ribbing. I drew the yarn pattern, then the faces got added by Sophie and we went on embellishing until we had little friendly-looking characters. It's fun to see how much more capable the girls get in their knitting from year to year. Fiona is much faster than she was last year, when it took her the better part of a month to knit a bean bag! And she makes fewer mistakes. Even better, when she makes little mistakes, Sophie is incredibly capable at helping her fix them by un-knitting, picking up dropped stitches, undoing accidental loops and the like. So I don't even need to be around.

We're also busy with washing, carding and dyeing fleece. Our fleece adventures are moving slowly but relentlessly forward. Most of the immense bag of raw fleece is now fully washed. About half has been carded. Dyeing has begun. Spinning, well, we're still thinking about that.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Math mornings

Two of my kids have caught the school bug. The last few mornings have looked like this. At 8:30 a.m., no less! Sophie likes to be a night-owl, but she is pushing her bedtime back and is now up by 8 in the morning.

Unfortunately Sophie and Fiona also seem to have caught the flu bug from their big sister, so I doubt tomorrow will look like this.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy feet

New running shoes, again. On the advice of my chiropractor, who is also a distance runner and seems to really know his stuff, I bought myself some shoes with ultimate stability and cushioning for over-pronation. (I got them off eBay so they were actually cheaper than the basic shoes I bought last spring, so that's something.)

I'm not a gross over-pronator when you look at my feet and my gait. But for whatever reason my hip problems seem to be very sensitive to slight over-pronation. The hope was that really serious stability shoes might help my hip.

I've been running again since a bone scan earlier this month ruled out a stress fracture or anything else sinister that I could wreck by running through a bit of pain. So after almost two months off I started out with walk / run intervals three weeks ago. Sometimes I ran in my old worn-out Asics shoes. Sometimes I ran in my newer Nikes. My hip only got a little worse after each walk/run, then got enough better over the next four days that I could run again.

Then I got the new shoes this week.

Now I run and my hip doesn't get worse. And it has continued to improve gradually between runs. For the first time since the end of August I no longer feel like crying when I think about running. I actually believe now that things are going to improve for good. I've gained back 5 of the 20 pounds I lost. Not that that's a problem -- I like this weight better on balance. But I can feel that my muscles need a bit of retraining. So I'm doing easy runs, a maximum 6 km and no faster than the 10-minute miles I was running in May. I don't want to jinx it and say these things are magic bullets for me, but right now I sure feel that way.

Mountains from molehills

There was some snow, but not much. Three or four inches, maybe. In an effort to preserve it from expected above-freezing temperatures of the next few days, the kids heaped it up. And up. And up.

Our frosty Mt. Vesuvius is much festooned with unraked twigs and leaves. Noah has his suspicions that the remains of the facial bone of a deer, which Limpet retrieved from the woods a few months ago and furiously gnawed for quite some time, got rolled up in one of the giant balls comprising the foundation.

I wonder how long this will last. Rain is in the forecast for the next little while.

Hanging over our heads

The first colour, the first twenty per cent of our washed and carded fleece, hanging to dry above our heads at the apex of the living room ceiling. This is about 250 gm or half a pound. We have a spinning wheel we can borrow, provided we can self-teach (the owner has never used it).

We're still not sure what we're doing with all this wool, but it sure is looking pretty! More colours to come.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Calgary trip

Noah and I have now made three trips to Calgary this fall. Erin has made four. It feels like it's working for us. Here's this week's trip:

On Thursday morning I drop Erin at school for writing class. Then I go home and get Noah mobilized, pack the van. I say goodbye to Fiona who is feeling a little sad about my leaving. She has Sophie and her dad home with her, and arrangements have been made for a visit with her grandma while her dad's at work on Friday. She has an aikido class. I remind her about the fun things she has to look forward to. I've also made a list of ten things for her and for Sophie. Things to do, and check off, while I'm gone. Some chores, some creative stuff, some personal-responsibility jobs, a couple of novel ideas for things to do. She'll be okay. I promise to phone her before I relinquish the cellphone to Erin the next day. Noah and I hop in the van. After Writing Class Erin heads to the independent study centre and picks up enough coursework to keep her going for a few days. Noah and I swing by the school and pick her up.

We head north. It's an hour's drive to the inland ferry that takes us across Arrow Lake. The ferry service is a bit out of whack because the main ferry is in drydock. We wait for half an hour, then spend half an hour on the boat. I begin knitting, a project I abandoned in March. The days get short, I start knitting. It's an annual thing for me.

After the ferry we drive for 45 minutes and then stop for lunch. We stop at what is for us a recently-discovered favourite café in Revelstoke and a woman behind the counter says "Oh hi! What are you doing here?" and that's when we discover that the co-owner of the place is an SVI mom who comes to New Denver every summer. Small world. The food is fabulous. The coffee is bold and delicious. Caffeined and caloried up as appropriate, we head east through the Rockies.

Erin and Noah chat, or read, or write, or (mostly) sleep. I have my iPod loaded with Margaret Atwood's new novel and so I don't miss their company when they nod off. We roll into Calgary around 7 pm (it's an hour later there). We pull into the motel where we are so well-known, such loyal customers, that we now get the rate that's reserved for employees' families. Liz grins when we come in. She has our keycard ready to go, with the wireless internet access code written on it. Check-in takes 20 seconds.

We dump the instruments and Erin's laptop and head out for an evening of bookshopping. I drop Eirn and Noah at Chapters bookstore and do a few errands. I pick them up at 9 pm and pay for their armload of books. No one's really hungry, so the kids just have smoothies at Starbucks. We head back to the motel. Watch a bit of TV.

The next morning we grab coffee and head to Noah's viola lesson. He's doing so much better! He seems to be able to take home the instruction he gets during his monthly lesson and really do something with it. Rather than procrastinating, practicing mindlessly for three and a half weeks, and then panicking two days before we leave for his next lesson due to his lack of preparedness, he seems to be working well with a month-long view. His teacher also feels like things are going much better this year. Noah is developing the planning, sight-reading, self-assessment and problem-solving skills he needs to make a go of it with only infrequent teacher input.

After Noah starts his lesson, I drive Erin over to the University where she meets with her accompanist. They spend most of the time rehearsing Erin's Mendelssohn, which she's performing this weekend, but they also spend some time working on Erin's piano piece. She's learning a Mozart Sonata movement to play with a violinist friend of hers. I hear one run of the Mendelssohn but miss the rest, because I need to head back to Noah's lesson. I hear a few minutes of his work, but they're still going strong and aren't done when I have to get Erin. I run back to the University to get her. By the time I get back, Noah's lesson is finally done.

Erin moves her suitcase and violin up to "her room". Her violin teacher and Noah's viola teacher are the "More Fun Parents" whom she lives with in Calgary. Erin is getting an accompaniment session or two a month, plus 7 or 8 hours of teaching a month. She's practicing lots, and getting plenty of guidance. She rarely goes more than 10 or 11 days between lessons. She seems very motivated and is certainly mastering repertoire and technical points quickly. Unfortunately she's not getting chamber music or orchestral experience. But she's getting far more training than she was a year ago and is happy about that.

We say a quick goodbye. Noah and I head out. We do a couple of quick shopping errands on the way out of the city.

Noah plans to sleep the whole way home. I put "The Year of the Flood" on my iPod and drive. We make really good time. Noah is keen just to get home, so we decide to put lunch off until mid-afternoon and get through with just one meal break, even though we skipped breakfast.

When we get to our planned lunch stop the timing looks good for catching the next ferry, so we just blow off that meal. But the ferry is seriously backlogged. We end up waiting almost three hours to get loaded. Normally we drive on within 10 minutes. We eat a few candies we have in the van, and a granola bar or two. We are starving. We haven't eaten a proper meal since lunchtime the day before and it's now 8 pm. At the next town, a mere half hour from home, we buy a bunch of junk food when we stop for gas. By the time we get home we are regretting the indulgence.

Erin will get some lesson time, play in her recital and stay in Calgary until Monday evening, when she'll jump on the overnight bus. She'll arrive in Nelson at a civilized 8-ish in the morning. Fiona's piano teacher (Erin's former piano teacher) will pick her up and dump her in her guest room for a long morning nap.

At noon I will load Fiona, Noah and two other local teens into the van and head to Nelson. I'll leave Noah and the teens downtown and drive to Fiona's piano lesson where I'll awaken Erin. After piano I'll drive Erin to choir, where she'll meet up with Noah and the other girls. Fiona and I will do the grocery shopping and stop at a café for a London Fog. Then we'll pick up the four choir kids and drive home, arriving at about 7 pm.

That's one Calgary cycle. We'll repeat that in four weeks.

In two weeks, we'll do a Revelstoke cycle. These fit between the Calgary trips. They are similar to the Calgary trips except that (a) Noah is not involved at all and (b) to get Erin to Calgary I drive only a third as far, dropping her off at the bus station in Revelstoke from where she does the rest of the eastward journey herself. There's no overnight in a motel, and I'm home before dinner the same day.

It's amazing how it all fits together. Like a jigsaw puzzle that doesn't fit any other way. Erin doesn't miss any of her writing classes, ever. She still works a shift a week at the café. She is in Calgary for all the recital Sundays. She gets her violin and piano coaching while she's there. Fiona's piano lesson and Erin's choir rehearsal are on the same Tuesday afternoon in Nelson, and Erin can always get to Nelson on Tuesdays, whether she's coming from Calgary or home. Erin is always home on Wednesday evenings for group class and Summit Strings. Fiona never has to miss an Aikido class. Noah gets to choir with no extra driving required. Sophie gets her much-treasured days home alone. My clinic half-days fit into the weeks I'm not in Calgary. My teaching fits into Mondays and Fridays, and when it doesn't fit into Friday, it fits on Saturday.

Last of the apples

And still the processing of fruit continues. Just a few more batches of apples to push through the dehydrator. Gallons of juice are frozen. Litres of sauce grace the pantry shelves. And jars and jars and bags of dried fruit fill cupboards and shelves in the kitchen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fashion show!

Outfit number one of many for each girl. They made good choices, and sizes are perfect -- room to grow but not too big.

The role of home teacher

Copied from a message board, where someone asked "how important is it to be like a teacher when homeschooling?"

I think it's important to recognize that institutional schooling represents a sort of contracting out of the academic education portion of the responsibility for raising a child, and that this is a relatively recent practice in the scope of human history. The idea of having separate roles for "teacher" and "parent" is a little artificial.

Imagine if you will that the government began providing universal free meals for children. Cafeterias would be set up in neighbourhoods and three times a day children would be delivered there to receive the meals cooked and served by trained nutritionists. These nutritionists attended special training in handling the cooking needs of large groups, and in managing the crowds of children, their table manners, their social behaviour during meals and so on. This quickly became the norm, with almost all children reporting to their nutritionists for their meals. If you as a parent decided to feed your children at home that would be allowed but considered a little unusual.

So if you decided to feed your kids at home, you would not say "It's important to be clear about my dual roles -- at certain times I'm their mom, and at certain times I need to act like their nutritionist. I need to learn how nutritionists act in order to successfully feed my kids at home."

A little silly, don't you think?

I see the distinction between "being a mom" and "being a homeschool teacher" in a similar light. They're not separate roles. We tend to see them as separate because culturally we have made an artificial separation, assigning the roles to different people. If they're not going to different people, they don't need to be different.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Thirteen staples per gram. Seventy-three point eight grams of staples this afternoon, meaning just under a thousand. Combined with yesterday's now-disposed-of staples, I suppose I must revise my staple estimate to more like three thousand for the whole chair.

Still, when every single one must be pried out with brute force (read: two-hand grasp, feet planted, twist and grunt) that seems like a lot. This is a well-made chair.

The chair

This chair was removed from the living room to facilitate reflooring three months ago. I couldn't bear to return it. Partly because the burgundy / green / blue upholstery is pretty weird with our orange and red walls. Partly because of its state of repair.

It's a nice reclining wing-back chair. We bought it more than 16 years ago. A good-quality classic piece. I loved the upholstery for many years, and I'd still love it, if it wasn't permanently filthy and full of holes and if we didn't have red and orange walls. But it is, and we do.

So this weekend we're beginning to disassemble it with a view to re-upholstering it ourselves. I've put my
crew to work with pliers and screwdrivers. It seems that our chair is made of some nice fabric, some foam, some wood and about 47,000 staples. We're now something like 29,000 staples into the endeavour and we have blistered fingers and thumbs and sore wrists.

I'm taking a zillion photos in the vain hope that I'll be able to efficiently retrace the dis-upholstering path backwards with the new fabric.

So far we've discovered where all the potato chip crumbs, popcorn kernels and Christmas tree needles have ended up over the years. We've discovered why the wing on the left was wobbly -- only the fabric was holding it in place. We have yet to discover where the broken wire is from, but that will probably reveal itself around staple number 42,145.

Here's what we're thinking we'll re-upholster it with. We'll pull all the old fabric off, lay it out and measure the yardage we need. This new fabric works nicely with the wall colours and the floor. And it has the added bonus of pulling the couch into the décor, because the blue in it matches the blue couch almost perfectly. And since the couch is somewhat less bedraggled looking than the chair, and likely has over 100,000 staples, it's going to be a while before we re-upholster it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Stranded stringless

Erin is possessed of the type of independence her mother has -- the ability to tough things out on her own. The type her mother lacks, the ability to approach people and ask for help, she also lacks. Especially on the phone. It's a generational affliction; my mother is scarcely better at it than I am.

She's on a school trip to the Banff Writers Festival this weekend. She has a performance of the Mendelssohn 1st movement next weekend; the piece is very recent for her and she's brought it up to speed in very short order, but she does need to be practicing. So she took her violin along on the trip.

She called last night to whine -- her A-string was unravelling, and she hadn't brought a spare. She was so mad about her predicament. Banff has no music store. She knew I couldn't do anything to fix things. I guess she just called to share the misery.

It turned out that the guy who runs the home-based fine instrument dealership where we bought her violin two years ago had moved to Banff, though, so I gave her his number. Oh, the agony! She knew she would have to call him, introduce herself, explain her predicament, talk to the trip chaperones and ask one of them to take her to his place to pick up a string. It was probably one of the hardest things she'd ever had to do -- harder than performing the Mendelssohn, harder than travelling to Asia for two months without her family. She knew she had the option of just waiting two days until she got home, where we have plenty of spare strings. But she wasn't willing to forgo the practicing. (This is the kid who played her violin for six hours straight through the night earlier this week, because she really felt like practicing.)

So she called him. And there was no answer.

So she looked up the number of a friendly Banff Suzuki teacher, someone she knows a little bit through summer workshops but doesn't have any sort of personal relationship with. And called her, and explained. And was rewarded with caring generosity. Wrote down directions, found a map, asked one of the chaperones for a ride, found the place, picked up the Evah Pirazzi A-string, and got back to the hotel suite to start practicing, all by 10:30 in the morning. She was very proud of herself. Very proud. I asked her if this signified that she was now ready to move out and live independently. She laughed and said yes.

I have a deep personal understanding of how difficult this was for her. As I say, I share many of the same hangups, though maturity and experience allow me to cope pretty easily these days. It may be seem like a small thing compared to her many other accomplishments, but I am at least as proud of her as she is of herself, which is saying a lot.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The big spree

Unlike their older sister, Fiona and Sophie kind of like clothes. They think the clothes in the Lands End kids catalogues are cute and really cool. But they recognize that we are more of a thrift store family; we don't spend that kind of money on clothes very often. However, both of them are very good at saving their allowance money, and it suddenly dawned on them that they had a lot of savings that could be spent on whatever swanky new Lands End clothes they wanted. They spent at least a couple of hours going through the catalogue, circling things, adding up prices, putting in question marks, revising their lists, recalculating. They needed to also estimate US dollar conversion, duty and shipping.

We agreed that "need to have" clothes would be purchased out of family resources from the usual thrifty sources, while they could buy the pricier, more frivolous things for themselves.

Eventually they decided on their order and went on-line. That's when we discovered on-line pricing and the fall sale. Most things were on sale. Sometimes it was "Buy 2 or more and save $2.50 on each." In this case she and Sophie negotiated with each other to buy different versions of similar items and get the savings.

"Okay, so if I buy jeans instead of yoga pants, will you get some of the leggings so that I can get the cheaper price on those?"

Some things were 60-80% off if you bought them in particular colours. They were persuaded to purchase the cheaper colours. And some items just had standard sale prices.

Fiona had planned to spend just over $100. Her order came in at just less than $70. So she bought a couple more sale items. Sophie's savings were similar. Then I remembered a coupon that meant if they bought one more regular-priced item, they'd get $25 off. So they basically got one expensive item for free.

We had to discuss how to share that coupon fairly. They both recognized that although it seemed like it was the last item of Sophie's that we got "for free" that really the coupon should be shared more equitably. It turned out that the $25 pretty much equalled the shipping cost. So that was easy. Each girl was billed for the cost of her items and neither paid shipping.

The order shipped yesterday. They're really excited. I'm happy that a big chunk of their allowance savings has been spent on something other than gum, iPods or computer games.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

This rarely fails

Dreary day, pessimistic mom, kids testy and unambitious, aches and pains, chores needing done. The solution? A hike. We went up Payne Bluffs. It's a short hike of 5 km, but with pretty unrelenting verticality. It starts a mere five minutes from our house, so the drive to the trailhead was short and painless. There was a fair bit of snow, and we were under-dressed a bit considering the lack of muscular ambition we were suffering from. But we weren't uncomfortable. And there was lots to see.

Bear scratches show up beautifully on the birches. They're like cats, bears are. They have their favourite scratching posts.

As we ascended we climbed through various types of forest and differing stands of trees. Some were ghostly and skeletal, with dead limbs, lichenous Old Man's Beard, dried twigs and cones.

Some areas were lusher with hardy deciduous trees. The birch, hazel and aspen have turned yellow and at higher elevations are dropping their leaves already. The larch will turn brilliant yellow in another month. The first few fallen leaves are always worth admiring. Especially the unusual worm-like patterns on these ones:

The reward came once we reached the railgrade up at Payne Siding. There was more snow, but the trail was flat. Thrillingly, an hour off a remote secondary highway, a thousand feet up a mountain, signs of history were everywhere.

We eventually reached the location of a famous photo ...

and were rewarded with a view overlooking a thousand-foot sheer drop.

And then we turned for home. Despite bad cases of jellylegs on the way down we were glad to have got out and about in the mountains today. A hike in the mountains rarely fails to lift our spirits and energize us.