Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Only Fruit Salad

I don't much like fruit salad. When I grew up fruit salad was pretty much limited to after a Christmas dinner gorge when I wasn't really in any fit state to enjoy any more food. Maybe that's why. For whatever the reason I have an aversion to pineapple, banana slices, grapes, tinned peaches, pears and mandarin oranges mixed together in a large bowl.

But this, this is different. This is the Only Fruit Salad I'll ever love. And gosh, do I love it. So does the rest of the family. We discovered it last summer. I couldn't make it through until August again without it, so I confess we're occasionally buying California fruit.

The Only Fruit Salad

4 nectarines
4 peaches
1 1/2 cups of blueberries
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup sugar (or less, to taste)
1 Tbsp. fresh-grated ginger
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh thyme

The thyme is the odd ingredient here. It really works. Really really. This salad is enough reason in and of itself to plant your lawn over with thyme.

The neighbour lambs

Our neighbours have a tiny homestead which comprises a huge veggie garden, dairy cattle, rabbits, turkeys, chickens (meat birds and layers), goats and sheep. The goats and cow have birthed already and we're into a (late) lambing season now. Sometimes we get a phone call when an animal is birthing. Sometimes we just happen by.

The other day Fiona and I were finishing a run when we noticed a sheep grunting in the field. We stopped by and watched the rest of the process. And the same day Sophie, Fiona and I all visited with a couple of the newborn lambs.

These two are twins -- one strong, one weaker. The darker little boy was easily following mama around within a few minutes, poking around and figuring the udder thing out on his own. The white little girl lamb needed to be helped to stand and nurse. So far she's doing well, getting stronger.

We like this vicarious homesteading experience our neighbours are providing us with. They're new to it all themselves, and their enthusiasm and resilience in the face of misadventures is a pleasure to observe. Certainly they've debunked for us most of the romance and glamour of the self-sufficient lifestyle. We are inspired by their hard work and resourcefulness. But it's not a simple life, that's for sure.

Still, in a greening meadow in the spring, lambs are rather fine.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Running girls

Another 2 km today. Faster pace by a good bit. Fiona's legs are now officially sore. Rest day for her tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fiona's marathon

Fiona is running a marathon. A kids' marathon. Her own private one.

She started tonight. She and I went to the little spur of the Galena Trail that is exactly 1.0 km long and ran it both ways after supper tonight. We ran a pretty decent 9:00/km pace, which included a couple of shoe-tying stops and some "silly running".

She had a lot of fun. We talked the whole way, with the respiratory demands of her bubbly conversation helping set a do-able pace. She wore the heart rate monitor for a while and liked that. She felt very strong and grown-up to be running with me and finished feeling strong.

When we got home we made two small footprint stamps, one left and one right. Then we printed off a calendar. For every kilometre she runs she'll put a stamp on the calendar. When she gets up to 42 stamps we'll run the extra 195 metres and call it a marathon and then we'll do something special to celebrate.

I first read about this approach at kidsrunning.com. Often programs like this are put on by an organization with a lead-time of 6 weeks, and kids get together on the final day to run the last 1.2 miles (or 2.2 kilometres or whatever) for the big finish, and then everyone gets a medal. It would be great if there was something like that for her to take part in, but we'll do okay on our own I think. Sophie is also planning to take part, which will be nice.

Indoor climbing

Sophie has been taking advantage of a well-timed homeschoolers' climbing program, coming to Nelson with us on Tuesdays and hitting the indoor climbing wall with the help of a couple of instructors and a the companionship of a couple dozen homeschoolers.

Chuck and I climbed a lot before kids. We've done the tiniest bit of outdoor climbing with them over the past couple of years. But we're short on shoes and harnesses not to mention simple places to set up a top-rope, so this seemed a nice way to get Sophie a lot of vertical experience in a short period of time. Indoor climbing is very different and I admit I don't quite understand the attraction when compared to rock climbing, but it's sure a lot better than nothing!

Sophie seems pretty confident and capable. She enjoyed climbing a lot. Piano was cancelled today and Fiona and I got to watch part of the last climbing class which was nice.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Yessir, yessir...

... one bag full.

A bag as tall as Fiona.

It's from a white sheep, not black, but that's all the better for dyeing. It's amazing what teaching a few violin lessons will get you in the Kootenays. I love barters!

We have hand-carders and a drum-carder we can borrow. Our only spinning implements are a couple of drop spindles. This is going to be a long-term project.

Predatory near-tragedy

The seven hatched chicks, now heading into adolescence and standing 8 to 10 inches tall, were moved out to the chicken coop a week or so ago. They hunkered inside the henhouse at first, intimidated by the older generation. Overall things were going well. The big chickens were scarfing the little ones' higher-nutrient food, but other than that they'd been respecting each other pretty well and there wasn't any undue aggression.

Today I guess the little guys finally got comfortable enough to start looking for adventure in the far reaches of the outdoor corral. And alas, they discovered a crack large enough to allow for escape. Noah noticed a couple of small chickens sallying around the smithy and sent up the alarm.

We ran outside in the chilly downpour and quickly had four of the five escapees back in the coop. But one was missing, and ominously so was the dog. We knew right away that they were together and that the scene wasn't going to be a pretty one. After quickly securing the escapees, stopping up the crack, we found the dog on the lawn with a small feathery lump. The lump wasn't moving and was soggy and significantly defeathered. I looked closely and it was apparent that it was still breathing but there was blood and flesh showing. I picked it up and resigned myself to breaking its neck to put it out of its misery, something I knew was going to be horrifically difficult to do.

But then I looked more closely. Its eyes were open; it moved its legs a little. What had looked at first to be an open neck wound was just a large raw defeathered area. There was a similar area on one wing. A little blood, a lot of missing feathers, but more mess and slobber and baldness than actual damage.

We brought the poor fellow inside and put him under the heat lamp to dry out. Initially he looked like a monster-sized freshly-hatched chick with the addition of blood and bald patches. Unable to stand, he lay trembling and limp in the box, still a sodden lump. I told the kids I thought he probably wouldn't still be alive in a few hours.

But gradually he's drying out, warming up and looking much better. With his remaining feathers dried out a bit and some muscle tone returning the raw bald flesh on his neck doesn't look like the gaping wound it did at first. He's eating and drinking now, getting up on his feet and shuffling around a bit. Maybe he'll make it. If he escapes without infection he'll likely regrow some plumage in a few weeks and be ready to rejoin the coop. We're all rooting for him.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Performance Weekend

Summit Strings played at the official grand opening of the newly-refurbished Silverton Memorial Hall on Friday night. The hall is beautiful. The washrooms are no longer located at stage right, opening almost onto the performance space, behind thin doors through which much could be heard. Now they're sensibly located at the back. There's portable staging, new chairs, a brilliantly refinished floor and a fully equipped commercial-style kitchen. Not to mention audiovisual bells and whistles, from a sound system, video screen and projector, satellite TV and internet capability. Wow! The Summit Strings kids have grown up playing in this hall. It houses the first grand piano to reside in the community (ours is the second) and is the only venue big enough for large audiences. Erin performed her Bach piano concerto movement with orchestra here back in 2004. The community orchestra cut its teeth here with an early performance in 1999. Most of the videos I've ever posted on this blog take place at this hall, whether at recitals, ensemble performances or summer programs. We are thrilled that the hall has had new life breathed into it.

And so the kids provided musical interludes for the open house quite happily, knowing that they were lending support to a venue that has and will continue to provide them with many opportunities.

The next morning we starting rehearsing for the recital. With sixteen students performing and our accompanist arriving just the day before there was a lot to fit into Saturday. And then Sunday we were back at the hall with its shiny floor and lovely acoustics.

Fiona performed Humoresque, a piece she had learned a year ago, a comfortable old favourite. She played it with the shifts, with her vibrato, and nice phrasing and articulation. I had remembered only today that she had bailed out of her last recital performance after 16 bars. Today there was no hint of worry; her piece was comfortable and secure and she enjoyed performing.

Sophie played Fiocco's Allegro. It was a solid clean and confident performance. You can see from the rehearsal photo above that Sophie really looks like a violinist now. She sounds like one too! A year ago she was a tentative player who didn't like to use full bows or big tone. She's now projecting confidence in her tone and musicianship in a huge way in her solo performances. She plays in a way that really conveys the beauty of the music. She's got a good heart, this girl, and it now shines through her music and sparkles with her tone.

Noah played the first movement of the J.C. Bach Concerto in C Minor. This has been a real transition year for Noah, as he's moved from weekly lessons with his grandmother to monthly or bi-monthly lessons in Calgary. He didn't have the maturity, self-teaching skills and advanced musicianship that Erin did a year ago when she made the move, so he's still trying to find his stride and make the infrequent lessons work well for him. But boy oh boy, something's working! His J.C. Bach, on which he'd had little guidance in polishing up for performance, was stunningly musical and technically flawless. He'd never played it with piano until yesterday and after he heard how it fit together with the accompaniment there was an instant blossoming of all his musical smarts. Contrasts, phrasing, dynamics, articulations ... everything just fell into place by the second run-through. By today's performance it was more amazing still.

As of two weeks ago Erin had been planning to play a well-learned unaccompanied Bach solo partita movement. But at her last lesson her teacher told her she'd rather she played the 2nd and 3rd movements of the Bruch Concerto in g minor. Poor Erin! She hadn't even really finished learning the 3rd movement and neither movement was anywhere near polished. She's been working mostly on Mendelssohn and another Bach, not Bruch! She also had her first-ever final school exams coming up, three of them, a couple of lingering English assignments and a bunch of shifts at work. But at her teacher's urging she set to work with a vengeance.

As it turned out the two movements were too long for the program. They would have made up 17 minutes on a program that was supposed to fit 16 students into an hour and a bit. And rehearsal time was limited. So she opted to do the 3rd movement, the one she been scrambling hardest to learn. It's an incredibly technically demanding fast movement, the most difficult of the three by a long shot. She was stressed. It wasn't how she likes to perform, without the security of fully-developed mastery. She was still firming up her fingerings and memorizing it at the rehearsal. But by this morning the improvement was dramatic and this afternoon she really nailed the performance!

Fiona is always impressively precocious, sweet and petite. Erin is always the advanced student who blows everyone away with her proficiency. Today, though, all four of my kids shone. Each one of them made me so happy and proud.

Bach eats a cracker

Discovered on the camera today when looking through it for photos of the recital. Action-figure J.S. Bach eats a cracker. While standing on the piano, of all things. Naughty fellow.

Runniversary 3

It has been almost 3 months since I started running. I'm so hooked! Last weekend when I finally finished the accounting and the taxes for the year my treat to myself was a late evening run. Far from feeling like a fitness obligation, running is now the high point of my day.

Remember me mentioning how satisfied my geeky self is about all the on-line training logs and technology available? Here you get to see some of the graphs I have fun playing around with.

This first graph shows my weekly mileage since the end of March. The yellow and green bars are walk/run sessions of various sorts. Pink is a fast "tempo" run, light blue a hill run, and the dark blue bars are my "long slow runs." My mileage has gone from about 10 miles (16k) a week to 26 miles (40k) a week. Note my attack of sensible-ness two weeks ago, when I took a step-back week and reduced my mileage to help prevent injuries and allow my body an easy week to recover strength. I plan to repeat that every 4-6 weeks.

This is the graph I'm even more pleased with. It shows the improvement in my pace on the 5k distance. My pace (minutes per mile) has dropped from almost 13 minutes to about 8:30. In metric units that's an increase in speed from 7.54 to 11.3 km/h. (That last speediest 5k was one where I drove down to town and ran there on a fairly flat route in order to see how fast I could push myself.)

Last month I mentioned that I was thinking about training for a Half Marathon for next year. I'm now wondering about running in one in October of this year. I ran the 21.1 km distance on my long (hot!) Saturday run a week ago so I know I could finish the race. We'll see if the logistics work out. The race is a few hours away and on a weekend that I know is likely to be problematic.

I've now logged over 200 miles on my total. My goal of 500 miles in 2009 is feeling like a pretty conservative one right now, assuming I stay motivated and injury-free. My goal for the next couple months is just maintenance. "Building a base," they call it. Giving bones, muscles and ligaments a chance to fully adapt to running by maintaining a consistent schedule. I might get the chance to do a 10k Fun Run in a couple of weeks. There's been one nearby in years past but publicity always comes out at the last minute. I'll do it if it happens.

New things I've learned about running:

1. Audiobooks are great for long slow runs.
2. A cold cold bath for the legs whilst sipping a London Fog is the best way to smooth recovery after a long run.
3. Bears meandering around on the side of the road will usually run off when you wave your arms and shout "get lost, you stupid bear, this was supposed to be my fast run, and you're in the way!"
4. GU energy gels are pretty disgusting to eat but they actually don't taste bad when you're salt- and sugar-depleted. Allow me to recommend the Espresso Love flavour.
5. Rain. Rain is wonderful. Nothing beats running in the rain.
6. There are far too many motorcyclists on our road who have been inspired by this video. (Yes, that's my running route. Since the road is 40 km in its entirety, the video has probably been sped up. A bit. Still, it's insane how some of these guys ride.)
7. There is no natural limit on how much money one can spend on running gear.
8. A long run on a hot day will result in visible salt encrustations on one's skin.
9. BodyGlide anti-chafing product is mighty awesome stuff.
10. Dogs who can shame you with their spry fitness in March don't do so well past 7 kilometers or any time the temperature is over 20 C. Neener, neener, neener, Limpet! (She now stays home most of the time.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Spring dinner

I love this time of year. Garden fresh lettuce, chickens laying like crazy, the rhubarb is still plump and vigorous. Down the road it's calving and lambing time.

Tonight for dinner I think we'll have lettuce and wild greens with a sweet vinaigrette made with garlic and dandelion syrup, and crêpes with rhubarb filling. Mmm... dessert for dinner is a special treat!

On writing, within school and without

In an on-line discussion someone wondered whether her observation was something that others had noticed -- that homeschooled children tend to be "behind" in writing skills, particularly in the elementary years. I think that's probably very true.

In school writing needs to be an early priority, because it's used for evaluation. Imagine trying to evaluate knowledge and skills orally, through conversation, in a classroom of 24 kids! So schools need to push writing down into as early a grade level as possible to serve their administrative/evaluative needs efficiently.

I see that as artificial, and harmful to many children. I think the proper motivation for writing is to have something you want to say, and and audience you want to share it with.

Erin is an incredibly gifted writer. However in school this year she has really struggled with the idea of writing not motivated by the desire to communicate with an audience, of writing merely in order to have your knowledge and ability evaluated.

Her first 400-word essay answer in English took her 13 hours to complete. And oh my, it was painful to watch. At one point I recall her frustration and annoyance getting so overwhelming that I suggested that she just drop the course. She stuck it out, though. The biggest thing she's learned this year is to write to serve the evaluative needs of the school. When she called me yesterday for a ride home after her English 10 provincial exam her brag was "I finished third." Meaning, she was the third student in her class to complete her exam, well before the extra hour allotted for slower writers began. So she's learned that lesson well, albeit with much existential wailing and gnashing of teeth. More power to her, I say. She's absolutely right -- it's an necessary schoolish evil, this type of writing, and not the slightest bit authentic.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A School of Common Sense

The comments in response to my post about all-day junior kindergarten got me thinking again about what we could change about our society, our communities, our lifestyles, our institutions and our values to promote Gross Domestic Happiness rather than Gross Domestic Product. As I wrote in my follow-up comment, there's no simple answer; systemic change is required. But sometimes, I think, systemic change takes root in a thousand small simple answers. Tipping Point and all that.

So here's what I think is one of those simple, common-sense pieces of the puzzle. A Common Sense school. We have one in our community. This school provides K to 12 educational schooling to about a hundred kids. It's feeling the economic belt-tightening like so many schools. Declining rural enrolment has made it tougher here than many places. But still it remains a vibrant pillar of the community.

From 8:55 a.m. to 3:11 p.m. about a hundred and eighty days a year, the school serves its primary mandate. And more. The now-surplus classroom is rented out to the preschool society for their programs. Anyone is welcome to come into the library, browse, sign out books. Anyone. For free. Anyone is welcome to attend special events like performances, special assemblies and the like. Retired adults have taken part in the instrumental music class. Parents and other community members come in and share their knowledge and passions. Homeschoolers are welcome to attend class for special workshops, festivals, field trips. Not because they generate funding (they don't), just because it makes sense to allow them to attend if they want. Classes are involved in community service and in outdoor education, including extended canoe, hiking and biking trips. There's a beautiful garden area that's cared for by students and staff. The school created an amazing intergenerational education program that had 9- and 10-year-olds attending part of every school week at the local nursing home, integrated with the daily routines, activities, social milieu and living history of the residents there.

And then the bell goes to end the school day and rather than standing empty the building is used by the community. The grounds play host to community soccer games. The gym is used for community basketball and an evening a week by an informal group of badminton players. The classrooms and library are used by music groups, literacy groups, for community college extension classes, for meetings, community cooking, round-tables, rehearsals, discussions, social activism, fundraising. During the summer the entire school is used for three solid weeks by a non-profit music education society for a nominal fee. Any of these activities could be sidelined by concerns over liability or security, by fees charged or paper-work required, by administrative hoops to jump through. But they're not.

There are schools elsewhere in our province (and in other provinces) that have been given the designation of "community schools." They get extra funding, administrators, protocols and guidelines and they do much of what our school does. Our school applied for the designation, but already the funding had dried up. You'd think they'd just give up on the idea. But no. They just became a de facto community school anyway.

So when Noah's quartet needs a place to rehearse on a Sunday afternoon in October, I can just call up a teacher and I'll be told "oh sure, just come, I'll meet you there and let you in; we'll find you a room to use." Or when Erin's youth choir comes to town to do a fund-raising concert and we need a place to host their lasagna dinner of course we just use the school Foods Room. How blissfully sensible.

If there were more of this community-minded common sense, if we were less driven by fear and more interested in removing barriers to the generation of grass-roots energy, I think we'd be increasing our GDH.

Monday, June 15, 2009

All-day Junior Kindergarten

It's our annual tax deadline today. Which means that I've spent much of the last week wretchedly catching up on the accounting, and most of today on the computer trying to drag my way through tax return preparation. And which also means I've made some enthusiastic diversions into heated discussions on various message boards for no other reason than that they're not columns of numbers.

So someone asked if anyone cared to share their thoughts on full-day schooling for 3- through 5-year-olds. This is something the province of Ontario, which already pays for half-time schooling for kids from September of calendar year in which they turn four, is considering. And, craving some [virtual] human contact, something to throw some emotional energy at and a creative outlet for my left brain, I replied thus:

As a society we're institutionalizing our kids more and more, younger and younger, contracting out parenting responsibilities to beat the band, and standardizing the little holes we drop our kids into so that almost any child with any uniqueness needs a label to cope. All in order to serve the relentless drive to increase GDP.

It's all about money. It's about getting parents out earning and spending, and kids turned into consumer-oriented compliant workers, so that everyone can continue to drive the economy towards higher and higher numbers, plundering the planet and exploiting poor nations as we do so.

We live in a society where most families need two working parents, so full-time schooling makes economic sense for them. But if we examine that "need" for two working parents more skeptically it becomes apparent that it's a "need" only as defined in reference to a 21st century lifestyle, the one we've been led to by that same economic machine.

"Need" now means cable TV, high speed internet, a computer, separate bedrooms for every kid, a vehicle, two TVs, a DVD player, two bathrooms, a cellphone or two, ballet and swimming lessons for the kiddos, a dishwasher, BBQ, microwave and automatic clothes-dryer, eating out a couple of times a month, and a recorded music collection that would take several days to play through once. How many of these things did our grandparents or great-grandparents need as young parents? Probably none of them. Yet we're institutionalizing our kids at 3 because we can't imagine living without them.

I make it my business to imagine living without them. And to question this slippery slope ride towards a society that institutionalizes kids at birth so that their parents can continue to consume resources at unsustainable rates.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Spring gasshuku

Today was the end of the aikido year and the spring gasshuku. There are three gasshukus during the year, each one a day-long intensive schedule of training, meals, working, playing and more training together. The end of the day involves testing for the next belt colour for eligible students.

In our Aikido club there are three criteria for belt testing -- positive attitude, skill level and commitment (meaning 40 to 60 classes and at least two gasshukus attended since the last level was achieved). Generally speaking it's the classes that define the rate of progress through the levels. It is expected that it will take the better part of a year to progress to the next level since there are about 80 classes available per year. We knew Sophie was close to testing again. She had got her yellow belt late last fall, but due to Calgary trips and a double-whammy of extended illnesses in the winter she missed a lot of classes. So she'll test at summer camp for her orange belt.

What we didn't realize until last week was that Fiona was eligible for yellow belt testing. None of the kids in the 4- to 6-year-old class has ever had a colour belt, so we just assumed belt testing didn't begin until a student officially joined the Children's Class for the 7-year-olds and up. But it turns out they've just not had a student in the younger class in recent times who has had the skills, the required number of classes and the stamina necessary to fully participate in the gasshukus. Until Fiona.

So today was the day. It started out badly at 2:30 a.m. when she awoke feeling nauseated and with a low-grade fever. She eventually came and got me, threw up a little, felt better and then she and I spent a restless remainder of the night together cuddling and trying to get back to sleep but not managing much. She did sleep for a couple of hours around 6 a.m. and awoke feeling just fine, no fever, hungry for a bit of breakfast and, although tired, totally psyched to go to the gasshuku.

She wasn't really herself all day. A little stuffed up. Not much appetite. Tired. But she wasn't floridly unwell and she was determined to stick things out. And she enjoyed herself and worked very hard. And at the end of it all she was awarded her yellow belt, along with one of her good friends and a whole bunch of other aikido buddies. She was pleased enough to put her dogi on again to model her belt outside at home.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lupine garden

Every year we make a special point of visiting the wild lupine garden down on the lakefront in early June. It's a magical place. It's hard to get to, even though it's on the lakefront. It's flanked by walls of nasty prickly wild rose bushes. When the lupines are in bloom, the water is so high that access along the lakeshore is cut off by high water. Few people find it accidentally.

Last year I wrote:

"I forget how we found it the first year, but we've gone back every year since. For a few years the full flush of the lupine garden coincided with our end-of-year Suzuki recital, and I will forever associate the smell of armloads of lupines in giant vases with my kids' violin performances -- especially "Humoresque" which was performed by my three older children at three of those lupine-infused recitals."

It'll be four for four. Next weekend Fiona will be performing "Humoresque" accompanied, no doubt, by the scent of lupines.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Nothing to say

I seem to have nothing to say.

Nothing to blog about.

No photos to post.

I'm not sure why. It's been two or three years since I've gone this long between posts without the excuse of computer access difficulties. The blogging muse seems to have left me for now. Perhaps once the taxes are done this weekend I'll she'll return.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The working world

Erin is now juggling work and school. Who'd have thought, a year ago? She's training at work this week. She'll be working four short shifts a week at this café, clothing boutique and ice cream shop. Great place to work. Nice boss, nice clientèle.

The café is half a block from the main intersection in town and the same distance from the school. Today she finished her shift at 2 pm and was in English class by 2:05. Zinged on caffeine and chatty as heck.

She only has a few hours of school left. A couple of exams to write, a few English classes to attend. Then she'll be in beach / violin / work mode. She's packed a lot into the year and I think she's going to be very relieved to close the books on her last three courses.

What next year will bring is still an open question. At this point she intends to continue attending school, though on a more limited basis.