Thursday, April 30, 2009

I'm a grandma!

I was at work this morning when the 'back door' phone rang in my office. I excused myself, explaining to my patient that my younger kids were home alone and that I needed to answer the phone which they knew was only for very important things, and had never used before.

"We have some very exciting news," said Fiona's voice from the other end of the line. "We have a chick!"

This little guy hatched from egg #10 (laid on the 10th, the first egg we suspected was fertile), meaning he's a day earlier than we expected. His cheeping had awoken Noah whose bedroom is next door. The kids had looked after him wonderfully and were really excited by the whole experience. We have at least four more chicks expected over the next ten days or so.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


It's been one calendar month since I started running. I'm still climbing the really steep part of the conditioning curve, the part where tangible gains come quickly. Going from 0.1 fitness to 0.4 is a four-fold improvement, even if you're still a huge long way from being a 10. It's fun and very rewarding at this stage. I'm past the point where I hurt for a day after every run, and yet still in the phase where I can see significant improvements from one week to the next.

Geek that I am I'm keeping an on-line log of my runs and heart rate stats. My resting heart rate has dropped from 62 to 52 in the past three weeks. (At this rate it'll go to zero by November, heheh!) I've run 55 miles since I began. Okay, I walked a bit of that during the first couple of weeks, but not too much. Distance is much easier to improve than speed, and I'd still be considered a "penguin" (slower than 10 minutes per mile) by real runners. But it's fun to watch the numbers change anyway. My first run was 3.5 km at 12:53 per mile. One month later I ran 7.2 km at 10:24 per mile. I expect I'll be a penguin for at least another month, but I think I'll eventually bust through that 10 minute barrier.

Look at my new shoes! This was how I celebrated my runniversary, at a running store in Calgary. They are lovely and light and cushiony and do not require any duct tape to make them wearable.

Fiona and I are doing BikeRuns together. She rides her bike while the dog and I run. It works pretty well and forces me to slow down on the uphills, rather than killing myself as I have a tendency to do. She often has to wait for me on the long steep downhill stretches, and that's where I get to really turn on my fairly pathetic speed.

Under the vile carpet

The dog peed on the carpet yet again. The kids said "ooh, you get to cut another hole!" I had cut away a corner of the carpet under the piano a couple of months ago when she'd peed there a few times and the smell didn't want to come out despite enzymatic carpet cleaner. And I'd been joking ever since that wherever she peed I was just going to cut more carpet out. So this morning there was a small spot of pee and Chuck is away for the weekend and we were enjoying a day unexpectedly free of scheduled activities. And Sophie and Fiona said "yeah! just cut it away!"

So we did. In fact we cut half the carpet away in the piano/computer room. It was not a small job. The carpet is, as I've said before, likely well over 30 years old. It was that cheapo stuff with foam rubber backing rather than a separate underlay. It was not tacked or stretched in any way, so I assumed we could just lift it out and dispose of it. But it turned out that the underlay had pretty much rotted and adhered to the concrete beneath. So we had the smell of rotting foam and a lot of tough manual scraping to deal with. It took quite a while.

The rest of the room will have to wait for another weekend. We still have to wash the concrete we've exposed. It smells awful. It looks terrible. But this is progress.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cold spring bonfire

It was really cold but we had lots of pruned branches to burn, some marshmallows to cook (and even the vegetarians wanted them) and the snow was gone from around the fire ring. So we had the first bonfire of the year.

We carried the solar garden lights out to the fire ring on their stakes like torches. (Separated from their stakes they had been very helpful as indoor lights during the big forest fire / power failure a couple of years ago. I think we must get more of them. Very useful.) It took forever to get the fire going. We ended up using some proper dried-and-cured firewood to start it. Eventually it caught and burned hot enough to give us marshmallow coals.

The stars were brilliant, the moon not yet out. The kids poked and fed the fire, waved glowing sticks around, ate lots of sugar, the usual bonfire fun.

We got sticky with marshmallow stuff, hot and cold on our fronts and backs respectively, and smoke-stinky. Everything just as it should be.

Incubator update

We made a very primitive egg-candler out of an office lamp, some duct tape and a piece of cardboard. It doesn't give a very good light seal, but we're using it as best we can. There is a stark difference between some of our eggs, and so we believe that a number of them are fertile. We've been candling every 2nd night or so. The eggs are labelled by the date they were laid and put in the incubator.

Eggs 5, 6 and 9 look like the did the days they were laid, with a bit of a yellowish cast from their yolks and an air space and that's all.

Eggs 10, 12 and 13 are definitely different. They had spidery blood vessels a week ago and are now almost completely opaque, except for the air space.

Egg 17 is showing some blood vessels and seems to be well on its way. It's too soon to tell with eggs 19, 20 and 21.

I guess it makes a certain amount of sense that the hen's first three eggs of the season were infertile. We always think of those first eggs as "practice eggs." Often we find a soft-shelled, misshapen or unusually teeny egg amongst those first few of the season.

One one side the eggs have suns drawn on them in pencil, with the date written in the sun. On the other we have drawn a crescent moon. This way we know whether they've been turned yet in the morning or evening. This works well, since our incubator-tending is a collaborative thing. The kids are fairly sure Chuck will remember to look after the eggs while they're in Calgary later this week, turning them twice a day, checking the temperature and humidity in the incubator and adjusting as necessary. I am hopeful. They're due to start hatching around May 1-3. So far the incubator has worked like a charm, keeping the temperature very stable at exactly 100 °F.

PP attacked me today when I went to clean the water trough out. He seems to have discovered his roosterly self. Good news from a breeding standpoint, thoough I would not wish to be locked in the coop with him!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

We live here

Geek that I am, I've been mapping my running routes. And so I've been having lots of fun with on-line mapping applications like Google Earth. Resolution increased dramatically even in our neck of the woods a couple of years ago. We can now see our house, and even make out our fruit trees on the lawn when we zoom in. The higher resolution gives out once you stray just 2 km further up the highway, so it seems the Province of BC, which contributes the hi-res images to GoogleEarth, thinks we live on the very edge of what's worth looking at.

Above is a screen shot of where we live. Not much here except the forest.
  1. Carpenter Creek, flowing off the bottom of the image on its way from mountains higher up the pass towards New Denver and Slocan Lake. It's a raging river at this time of year. "Creek" is a bit of an understatement even in October. It passes through a deep canyon at its nearest point to our house. It's no more than 200 metres, horizontally speaking, from our house, and we can hear it, but it takes a good 45 minutes of hiking down steep switchback trails to get to it.
  2. Turris Creek, a tributary of Carpenter. We get our water supply from just above this spot. Every spring a snow slide comes down on our water intake and cuts off our water supply. It happened this week. Chuck is an old hand at jerry-rigging solutions until the snow melts enough that he can get in and properly clear the debris.
  3. The highway. Two lanes, steep and winding, it connects New Denver to Kaslo, 44 km away. During the summers it is one leg of an amazing road tour that is very popular among motorcylists and RV'ers, meaning a couple of vehicles a minute go by during peak hours. Most of the year it's more like half a dozen an hour. The Nature Boy avalanche that closed the highway for more than two weeks this winter was another mile off the top right of the map.
  4. The Galena Trail. A linear regional park, basically just a trail, built upon the old K&S Railway bed which was abandoned 80 years ago. The views are amazing, the exposure overlooking the creek is quite something, and the grade is a gentle 2-3%. The trail is my favourite running route, and it is also the location of the geocache we maintain. So far there's too much snow to run more than the lower half of it. The cable car (2005 post & photo) that crosses the creek is farther up and I'm looking forward to getting there as the snow melts.

Another fine day

It wasn't as warm as the other day, but the sunshine and 9°C made it a perfect day for the first healthy junk food adventure of the year. Erin, Noah and Sophie got on their bikes and headed down the hill to town with $5 each. After a hair-raising descent they headed directly for Mountainberry, the gas stop / convenience store. They spent almost every penny they had on junk food (chips, crackers, candy and ginger ale). They hung out in town a little bit, and dropped in on their grandma, who snapped this photo of their candy-dyed tongues.

After a bit more hanging out, they headed home. The elevation gain is almost 250 metres (800 feet) over 3.4 kilometres (a steady 7% grade) so this did not go quickly, but they had a very good time. They took frequent breaks as they grunted up the hill and laughed themselves silly, suffering from both short-term and long-term wobbits. I can do the ride home in about 25 minutes if I really push, but Sophie has only 5 gears on her small bike, and with all the rests I think it probably took them almost an hour. The exercise they got constitutes the "healthy" part of "healthy junk food." The food itself wasn't the slightest bit healthy.

I had done my run in the morning (I'm now doing 12-14 miles a week, tada!) and so Fiona and I stayed home during the afternoon's adventure. We got out in the garden for a while and did some rehabilitating of overgrown raised beds and planted some peas. We had a nice time together. Then we made pizza for supper, much appreciated by the hungry people returning home on their bikes.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

One fine day

Two girls, two novels, one roof, lots of sunshine, on the first gloriously warm day of the year.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rooster masculinity update

We'd been questioning our rooster's masculinity. He isn't exactly overtly assertive with the ladies and while we are optimistically incubating eggs that we hope are fertile we haven't actually witnessed mating activity. Andrea told us that when she was raising PP from a hatchling she thought for at least a couple of months that he was a hen; perhaps he's been confused about his sexuality ever since. He's a quiet fellow too. Doesn't crow loudly or much at all. He's not mean. He consents to being picked up. Doesn't aggressively patrol the coop the way most roosters do. He has no history of territorial attacks like the one portrayed in my friend Cindy's awesome CBC Outfront radio spot Life and Death in the Chicken Coop (go listen to it -- her kids are amazing, and so funny).

Today I was in Nelson, Chuck was at work, and Sophie, home alone with Noah, went out to the coop to collect eggs. It was cold (there was snow last night), she was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and so she was in a hurry. She ran into the coop through the little people-door and slammed the door behind her to keep warm. The door just pushes open and closed, but there's a hook-and-eye lock on the outside to help foil wily predators. When she slammed the door, darned if that hook didn't swing wildly and plant itself right in the eye. Locked.

She had told Noah she was going to collect the eggs, but she does that every day and often wanders the property for a while afterwards. I wonder how long it would have taken him to get worried enough about where she had ended up to go outside. A long time, likely. Hours, maybe. And there she was, locked in.

Luckily she's a very skinny kid. She recently grew into to some Size 7 pants. There is a tiny little door designed with chickens in mind that gives them access to the outdoor run. Sophie realized she was going to have to squeeze herself through that and her slight size made this a possibility.

She hunkered down on her hands and knees, and then her belly upon the dirty straw and chicken poop, and proceeded to start squeezing herself through the tiny opening. That's when PP sprang into action. This was no longer a friendly human come to deliver feed and water -- this was a sly slithering predator-like creature! He launched himself at her bare skin, beak and claws going in for the kill.

Poor Sophie! She grabbed him and held him down. Which was helpful at quelling the attack, but made it darned near impossible to wriggle through the little door. Every time she let go for a moment to try to worm her way through, the rooster would renew his attack. There was a rather extensive contest between the two of them, played out on the floor of the locked coop.

Eventually she got through. She was crying and bleeding with chicken manure on her knees and hands. She opened the gate and let herself out of the caged run. By the time she had walked the hundred paces back to the house where Noah spotted her through the window, her jitters and tears had turned to laughter. She's been laughing about it ever since.

It seems PP is a Real Rooster after all. So we'll keep turning those blue eggs and keep hoping.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Running discoveries

Things I've discovered in the three weeks since I began running:
  • Duct tape is a good solution for blisters.
  • Don't buy nice new pants just before starting to run. After three weeks they'll be too big. Guess that's a good thing, but it's still sad.
  • Where I live motorcyclists will almost always wave at a runner. Car drivers' rate is about 30%, truck drivers' rate is negligible, unless the truck driver is Blake, whose personal rate is a solid 100%.
  • Even if nice spandex running tights from 18 years ago still fit they should be tossed, because something seriously oogy happens to spandex after that length of time, something sort of dusty and sticky at the same time and devoid of all elasticity.
  • Once an over-achieving control freak, always an over-achieving control freak. Fifteen years of granola-style laid back parenting will count for nothing when it comes to something quantifiable and personal like running distances and times.
  • U2, the Talking Heads and Lloyd Cole make the ultimate running soundtrack. 1980's here we come!
  • These guys, who chronicled their journey from couch-potato geekdom to half-marathon geekdom through weekly podcasts, are seriously funny and endearing.
  • My dog is in way better shape than I am.
Mysteries that remain:
  • How did anyone manage to run before iPods?
  • What is that evil by-product of spandex decay?
  • How can one run 103% of one's Maximum Heart Rate?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

We have lawn!

The last few days have been gloriously warm, finally! While running yesterday I actually regretted not wearing shorts. It was 11 C (52 F) and sunny and absolutely wonderful, warm enough in the sun for me to feel overheated in pants.

The snow has been melting like crazy. The southern-sun-exposed parts of our property are now almost completely free of snow. We still have over a foot left in the more shaded areas, and all up the driveway, but as for the property in front of the house -- we have most of our lawn again!

It's grey and matted and soggy, but it's enough of a lawn to encourage the kids to get out with the Speedminton gear and have some spring fun.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Quartet Strides

Go and have a look at this video, and compare it to the one above. Holy Toledo, these kids have come a long way in a year. It's not great coaching or loads of woodshedding ... they've probably only rehearsed together twenty times since February 2008. But they've matured; they listen better, they care more, they pay attention and play with their inner critics engaged. This was their dress rehearsal run-through.

Danny Boy

At the orchestra concert we always like to have a few small ensemble numbers. Noah's quartet played, but we were short on other stuff so I told my family we'd play something. This was the first time we'd performed as a sextet, with Fiona as well. We had one fifteen-minute rehearsal plus a run-through in the hall. It came off pretty well, I think. The tune is "Danny Boy," a.k.a. "Londonderry Air," a.k.a. "London Derrière," a.k.a. "London Butt" (by my kids -- who else?).

Egg incubator

Last fall we acquired a lovely Ameraucana rooster from some friends of ours, a quiet complacent guy named "Peepee" (or "pp" as in musical "pianissimo" since he has a quiet and infrequent crow). We'd had bad luck with roosters -- mysterious coop deaths, predation by bears or raptors. And our collection of Ameraucana hens dwindled from three to two to one little lady named "Toy" last year.

But we had this idea that we'd like to breed more purebred Ameraucanas. They lay lovely blue-green eggs, and are pretty to look at with their varied colouring, but are expensive to buy, since they're a "rare heritage breed" and can only be purchased through the mail in lots of 24 or more, far more than we need. So a month ago we purchased an inexpensive Hovabator incubator in the hope that we could actually hatch some chicks of our own.

Then it remained only for Toy to resume laying. She is not a good layer. She's two years old now, which doesn't help, and she has always been the last hen in the flock to start laying. By March there's plenty of daylight, and we were beginning to lose hope of getting any eggs out of her. But finally yesterday the first blue egg of 2009 showed up ... and today, another. She was just taking her sweet time about things.

Are these fertile eggs? We don't know. Peepee's masculinity is unproven at this point; he's certainly not very assertive with his flock of ladies. But we are hopeful. We've set the eggs in the incubator and are studiously monitoring the temperature (aiming for exactly 100 F, with good stability so far). We penciled a sun on one side of the eggs and a crescent moon on the other, to facilitate twice-daily turning. And we've marked them with the date they went in the incubator, so that in 21 days we'll know which ones to watch. Ideally we'll hatch 10 or 12 chicks between the end of April or the beginning of May. In reality we'll be happy with just one -- especially if it turns out to be female.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Weird facts

For our orchestra concert today I asked all the performers to write down on a cue-card one unusual fact or anecdote about themselves. I then read them aloud in the breaks between numbers and asked people to guess who they belonged to. I like to do something fun like this at all our orchestra concerts because what I love about this group of people is its heterogeneity. For example my mom, a former professional violinist and a teacher of violin teachers sits between an 80-something lady who began fiddling in her 70's and her own 6-year-old grand-daughter. I like to give the audience an invitation to appreciate all the diversity and quirkyness that comes together to have fun making music together.

The "weird facts" were great. Among them:
  • When I was young I bet my cousin I would never like pink or boys. Now I owe him 10 bucks.
  • I was almost arrested by Thai police in a Bangkok hotel.
  • I once sang in a vocal quartet with three males that was called (to my shame and embarrassment) "Three Guys A Broad."
  • While touring Universal Studios in LA I was stopped and asked for an autograph by someone who thought I was a famous actress.
  • I have a tendency to randomly fall off chairs. (Sophie)
  • I once shot my mother between the eyes with a home-made bow and arrow. (Noah)
  • I have an irrational fear of CBC broadcaster Rex Murphy. (Fiona)
  • I mysteriously attract airborne lizards. (Erin)
  • My first-year university transcript contains 5 F's, four of them in music. (Me)
  • I was Canadian Junior Formula Racing Champion.
  • My first (roundly unsuccessful) experience driving a car came at the age of three.
The music was pretty good too. We put a blurb in the local events newsletter, put up a few posters and had a full house of enthusiastic audience members. And then the lady who is in charge of renting out the community hall called me to say she'd enjoyed the concert so much, and she would like us to have the hall for free. How sweet and small-town-ish is that? I've insisted on paying the rental because our donations collected at the door were generous as usual and the hall is in desperate need of a bunch of renovations and restoration that I want to support. But it was sweet and small-town-ish anyway.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


Running is such a pure sport, isn't it? All you need is a pair of shoes and you're good to go.

Well, except that you also need an iPod loaded with the sort of podcast that gives you music to pace yourself to and reminders to change from run to walk and back to run at appropriate intervals to match the Couch-to-5k training program.

And at least once you need the old Garmin GPS receiver so that you can work out your distances along your route. Because how will you know when you've reached your 5k goal if you don't know where 2.5 km is on your out-and-back route?

And then you'll buy yourself a new toy, because all those miles you're putting on must surely entitle you to something fancy and new. The Polar heart rate monitor that arrived in the mail today will help you pace yourself properly, something that's a little tougher to do when your route is part of a mountain pass than if you were running city blocks.

And then you'll need new shoes, because you're now using duct tape on both your shoes and your right foot in order to avoid blisters in the spot where the uppers on your seven-year-old shoes are all caved in. But keep the duct tape handy -- that purchase will have to wait until the next big-city trip when you can try things on. And keep the credit card handy, because there's no telling what might happen once you get inside a real running store.

Gear-lust aside, I'm having fun. I'm in Week 3 (of 9) in the C25k program now and I know I've gone out hard sooner than I was supposed to but no problem so far. I'm following the program pretty much, but I didn't really give due consideration to the fact that I'm running part of what is essentially a mountain pass. That means, for instance, that what the program intends to be a simple starting 3-minute jog interval on the level ends up being for me a lactic-acid generating grunt up a long steep hill. After about 1.5 km my route flattens out a bit except for one very small hill; I can (and typically do) run the remainder of the distance, the flat stuff and all the downhill, without any walking. No shin splints yet, though.

Sophie came part of the way with me today. Fiona "ran" with me last weekend on an in-between day, and we had fun building rock cairns at 0.5 km points along the way, measuring things out with the GPS. The dog is always my eager companion. She is great on the leash and enjoys the excursions immensely. It drives me crazy though that she trots rather than loping. As if she's determined to point out to me how slow I am. Yeah, well, if I had four legs I'd be twice as fast, I know I would. But I have two, and I'm slow. Big deal, you rude mutt.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Where do the days go?

It's that time of year, spring concert time. The orchestra concert is this weekend, the quartet performs, our family will be playing an ensemble number as well. Everything else is in high gear. The school's March Break provided a brief reprieve, but it's full-on again now. Right now I should be doing math with somebody, but something has to give. I've got a cough and laryngitis and I'm not sleeping very well. It's either give up math or my sanity.

Today I slept until 8, got up and did some leftover kitchen cleanup from last night. Got Erin up, made her a lunch. Drove her to school. It being an even-numbered day (March 32nd) I did not go for a run. Instead I sat with a coffee and did my morning internet work, checking the message boards I administer, posting an update on one of the non-profit websites I manage, checking in with our SelfDesign homeschool program. Then I got Fiona and Sophie up and helped them get breakfast and get themselves organized for violin lessons.

Then it was off to violin lessons for the rest of the morning. Home at lunch time. Made some lunch and London Fogs all 'round. Steam-cleaned the carpet in the basement. Started making supper. Worked on some desktop publishing, making a poster and handbills for the orchestra concert. Helped Noah with his viola practicing. Picked Erin up from school. Printed off the posters and handbills, cut them to size. Went off to the basement to do my afternoon viola teaching. Then finished making supper, served it, got everyone organized for orchestra rehearsal. Drove to rehearsal in time to set up the room (move all the tables, set up the chairs and stands). Ran the rehearsal. Cleaned up. Got home just before 9. Cleaned up a bit from supper until my feet got too tired. Sat down here. Wrote this post.

Normally this would be math time (9:45 pm), but the younger girls like me to read to them for at least an hour before bed, and I have to be up by 6:45 in order to have time for a run before work, so I'm taking this 15 minutes and that's all. I really want to be in bed by 11:30 in the hope that I can actually sleep tonight. But I can't remember the last time I did math with Noah and Sophie. It's been at least a week -- and they really would rather we did it every day. I feel badly.

I really think I've made some good progress ensuring that I don't get over-committed. But there are these months in the spring that produce unfortunate conjunctions between various parts of my life -- work, board meetings, kids' activities, musical performances, web work, taxes, housework ....

With luck I will now be able to rally the kids to help finish the kitchen cleaning.