Monday, August 31, 2009

Other uses for the deck

So far the deck has been used for hula-hooping, playing with the dog, playing guitar, practising violin, holding a good-bye party for some friends, barbequeing dinner... and this family past-time, reading.

Fiona has rollicked her way through both Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, plus another easy reader type chapter book, in less than 5 days. Like with her kids' marathon and her violin practicing she's always been good at slow-and-steady stuff. These are not the most challenging nor the biggest books she's read. But she's reading so much faster now, and for much greater lengths of time, so that the brief time it's taken her to read through these is unprecedented.

The last few days she's been making me laugh so hard with her impetuous little admonishments. She really 'gets' her mom and knows how to make me laugh and get what she wants at the same time ... clever little thing!

Example 1:

F: (is nattering on about something, asks a question ...)
M: (distracted) Hmmm.... I don't know.
[a minute of silence ... M is on the computer and has forgotten F is even there]
F: (in M's face with that glint in her eye -- she already knows the answer) Mommy, do you really not know, or were you just not paying any attention to what I was saying?

Example 2:

F is reheating waffles in the toaster. This part she does by herself, but she doesn't like pouring the maple syrup and always asks for help. I am nearby, but busy with cleaning and tidying.
F: My waffles popped up!
M: Mmm-hmm.
[silence ... M continues with housekeeping]
F: (in M's face with that glint in her eye again) Isn't that supposed to mean something to you?

I poured the maple syrup.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Feet up

A day with nothing scheduled for me and the kids! Erin went to work. Fiona and I practiced together. The other kids did their practicing -- outside, in some instances. Dirt got shovelled and raked. Chickens got fed. London Fogs got made, and drunk.

Fiona and I went for a hike. We collected special rocks, as usual. There was hula-hooping on the deck. There was a teenager on the phone on the deck for almost two hours. Said teenager also did four hours of practicing, so who's complaining? Not I.

I tried a slow, easy 6km run today. SI joint pain was a minimal 2/10 and I'm stiff and a good bit more sore afterwards. But overall it's nowhere near as bad as it was last week, so I think I'll do another easy run tomorrow.

Supper was green salad, sweet potato fries with curry yogourt dip, and Essence of Waldorf Salad. Mmm. We haven't had the latter for ages, but our Gravenstein apple tree is overflowing with crisp tart green fruit and I decided to give this salad a whirl again. The kids were fairly unimpressed, but Chuck and I loved it as always.

Essence of Waldorf Salad

5 large sticks of celery
3 medium-sized tart green apples
1 cup lightly toasted walnut pieces
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. mild prepared horseradish
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard

Chop celery. Core apple and chop. Put apple and celery in a bowl with walnut pieces. Mix together remaining ingredients to make dressing. Dump over the salad and mix.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Around the deck

Minimalist railings. We opted to install them just in the area with the significant drop. It's less than a metre's drop off the area in front of the chairs. The kids have done aikido; they ought to be able to handle a fall like that. We're thinking that hemp rope horizontals between the railing uprights might be nice. It might take a while.

The apron area at the far end is tentatively where we'll put our deck table and chairs, if we ever purchase any. But we realized it's also the perfect size for a string quartet to rehearse or perform. Perhaps someone makes those huge canvas and teak market umbrellas with a quartet of music stand desks attached to the upright, you think?

I've been busy moving rocks again. A year ago I moved them all away, now I'm moving them all back. But this time they'll stay. Coincidentally the flagstones originally came from up Retallack way, just a couple of kilometres east of the part of the running map I showed on my last post.

What's not shown in this photo is the lump of dirt. It's about as tall as me and the apron of flagstones leads directly to it. It's what was created when the machine graded the earth back in front of the house to make space for the deck. As soil goes it's not bad -- it's just in a bad place. Gradually, shovelful by shovelful, I'm moving it into the area just in front of the deck to create a garden of shrubs, flowers and herbs.

You can probably imagine that the endless shovelling and rock-hauling are not the best things for a person trying to rest her inflamed sacroiliac joint, but hey, call me stupid, I'll answer.

The planters on the deck contain the herbs we salvaged from the herb garden that used to be where the main part of the deck is now. I made dozens of pints of mint-jalapeno and mint-rosemary jelly and still there was mint left over, much of which got mashed by the machine. I expect it will be growing up between the decking before long. It's already begun springing anew from the lump of dirt.

This walkway (photo: right) is protected beneath the roof overhang and will therefore remain dry and clear of snow. However the drip line of the roof is directly in front of it. To prevent a muddy trench from developing, I'm creating a karenagare, a dry stream bed. It's a good place to put all the rocks I'm pulling out of the lump of dirt, but it also looks nice I think and softens a bit of the harsh geometry of the deck lines. It'll get bigger as we work, and it will ultimately be the place we put all the "favourite rocks" we traditionally bring home from the beaches we visit.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Runniversary 5

Sad update. I'm currently sidelined by inflammation in my sacroiliac joint (lower back / hip). Tried to run through it. Ran 14 miles last weekend, quite fast, and that turned a twinge into an injury. Speedwork on Tuesday made it worse. Even an easy run on Thursday was too much. It doesn't actually feel bad while I'm running, except just at the very beginning. Afterwards is a killer though. Can't roll over in bed, can't lift my leg to get out of the van.

So I'm being sensible, even though it's just about killing me. Rest. Ice. Stretching. No running. It's now improving, quickly. Almost no pain today. Good.

I started my 10-week half marathon training schedule two weeks early just to build in a contingency for things like this. So it's okay. But I really miss the running. I'm going to wait until Tuesday and try an easy run, then take it from there.

Month 5 has been good overall though. Even during the music school weeks I managed to get my runs in. My speed has continued to improve. Last week I ran the first 21.1 km (half marathon distance) of a hilly long run in 2:01:03, which is just a minute and four seconds over my dream goal for my not-hilly October race. I am absolutely loving my Garmin GPS running gizmo. The image above is an example of part of one of my routes, plotted automatically by the Garmin and its on-line software, using GoogleEarth. The Garmin keeps me on track with my pace, preventing me from pushing too hard on easy days.

This week I ordered some winter running gear. Gloves, a hat, an insulated water bottle holder, some grippy things for my shoes, a long-sleeved tech shirt. My race in Calgary in 6 weeks could begin at temperatures as low as freezing, and I won't be anywhere I can shop for this stuff before then. It seemed judicious to plan ahead. I know I won't need the grippy things until November at the earliest, but heck, any excuse to shop for running gear. But fall is coming. Already the temperatures here are moderating; one recent night up on the pass I could actually see my breath. I love running in cool temperatures. Then it got up to 31 C again yesterday. August again! It was a good day to be resting.

My goal of 500 miles by the end of 2009 is looking ridiculously conservative now. I'm sitting at 451 miles completed. Once I'm back on a regular running schedule I'll hit 500 in less than two weeks. Time to start thinking about new goals.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Decked out

Big progress. Steps and railings to follow. Some day, maybe soon.

Worthy furniture somewhat desperately required.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Doctor thoughts

I've been given this thing, a doctor award, for my involvement in the sexual health clinic in a neighbouring town. I've been providing them with physician services for 12 years, about once a month. It's a very quiet clinic most of the time, with a small client base, but the teen pregnancy rate has dropped dramatically since we started it. I don't mind the work; I actually like working with adolescents, which is what most of our client base is, and this little corner of medicine is something I'm reasonably competent at.

I am, however, humbled and disconcerted by the award. It involves an all-expenses-paid trip to Vancouver, an awards ceremony, a bio and headshot published in a brochure and the opportunity to say a few words. Yikes! I don't at all like being publicly recognized for my work. I had no idea my clinic had nominated me, and would have asked them not to if I'd known this was in the works. The award is in memory of an MD who died while doing a medical evacuation of a woman in labour in a remote corner of our province. He too worked in his community's sexual health clinic where he was known for his compassion and his ability to make his co-workers feel valued and respected.

I feel inadequate being recognized for my doctor work with an award in memory of this guy. I am, as I tell people, "barely a doctor." As the years have gone by my maternity leave from full-time medical practice has become fairly permanent. First I chose to return only to an extremely part-time practice. A few years later I stopped covering the ER and let my hospital privileges drop. A year or so I decided that due to a lack of ongoing breadth of experience with general medicine I needed to limit my scope of practice to well-woman care and sexual health issues. And so my medical expertise and contribution continues to shrink.

Yeah, I think I do some pretty okay work with young teens, I'm open-minded in providing prenatal care to people who are drawn to natural and alternative medicine and birth plans, I'm slick with Pap smears and I can juggle birth control pills and insert IUDs. I have good relationships with my outreach clinic staff and volunteers. I drive 40 mountainous minutes each way through winter nights to staff a quiet clinic in a town that doesn't have anyone else to do the job. I feel a sense of obligation to the clinic I helped start. But I do so little of it! Even if you do something well and reliably it seems unjust to be honoured for it when there are so many people who work so much harder at it than you do.

So can I make my peace with this? My preference would be to plead parenting obligations and bail on the trip to Vancouver but I know that I owe it to the staff who nominated me to accept it with gratitude and graciousness. Sometimes I wish I didn't have this other life as a doctor; it can be awkward.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

VSSM wrap-up

It was a very good week at VSSM. Usually the VSSM (traditional strings & piano camp) feels like a bit of a let-down after the SVI (Suzuki strings) week that precedes it, but this year there was minimal foot-dragging and sighing, and a lot of good things happened.

Fiona did the junior piano class. She had barely touched the piano since her lessons had ended unexpectedly in early June. It was a nice opportunity to re-kindle that interest. She was the youngest in the class by a couple of years but held her own beautifully. She loved the teacher. The 3-hour-long morning class flew by for her with a combination of four-hands duet coaching by a senior student, solo master-class instruction, theory and history games and activities, singing and dancing to learn about baroque dances and inventions. She also did Allison's lovely Family Choir with me in the afternoons.

Sophie was one of the junior-est students in Orchestra 1. On Monday I wondered if we'd made a mistake. Because she'd been in the senior orchestra and ensemble during SVI, and had been placed there in her first string quartet to boot, she hadn't got around to doing any work on the VSSM orchestra music until the day before. The tempos were fast, and the part full of divisi, double-stops and sudden tempo / pizzicato changes. But she's a strong reader for her level and has a good ear, so by Wednesday she was doing just fine. This was certainly the most advanced orchestra experience she'd ever had and she really seemed to enjoy it in the end. Orchestra was scheduled at the same time as Family Choir, and Sophie didn't feel quite old enough or confident enough to join adult choir instead, so that was the extent of her enrollment. She had fairly easy days and lots of down-time.

Noah was also in Orchestra 1. He had played most of the music (Warlock's Capriol Suite) before and so the lack of preparation time was not a big issue for him. He also participated in Adult Choir, which he had done last year. And of course he's sung in the adult Community Choir for a year, so this was a comfortable thing for him. He did really well in the choir, looking confident and blending his voice really nicely. He capped the week off by doing a successful audition for Allison's Corazon youth choir. He's equally thrilled and terrified, I think. He'll be one of three boys with unchanged voices and one of the youngest people in a huge mass of older teens.

Erin was doing the Advanced Piano class in the morning, playing piano in a Mozart violin-cello-piano trio in the early afternoon and doing Adult Choir with Noah in the late afternoon. This is the same kind of roster she's had for the past few years and I expected her to be the sigh-er and foot-dragger, since her piano motivation was at an all-time low. She was certainly not jubilantly enthused by the week, but she got some pretty strong encouragement from the advanced piano teacher, practiced piano for the first time in recent memory, and had a very successful performance of the Mozart as a result of her cramming. She also squeezed in a lesson with one of her Calgary-based violin teachers, a sort of technique-diagnostics lesson, in order to help her teacher begin to formulate a plan for advanced technique development over the next year.

Yesterday began with the junior piano duet and solo recital for Fiona at 9 a.m., continued with Erin's advanced solo piano recital at 10 a.m., broke for lunch and then final rehearsals for chamber groups, orchestra and family choir, continued with an afternoon concert for choir and piano duets in the big hall, then the final adult choir rehearsal and the evening concert featuring Erin's chamber trio, the Adult Choir and Noah's and Sophie's orchestral suite performance. It was nice to sleep in this morning.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A plan

It's a preliminary plan, but here's the general idea.

Week 1: I drive Erin and Noah to Calgary. Stay overnight at motel. Noah has a lesson early the next morning and then he and I drive home. Erin stays for four days at her teachers' home getting at least two violin lessons and possibly a piano lesson (with whom? no idea...), accompaniment session, recital etc., then comes home on the overnight bus. She arrives in time for choir, and can take part in Summit Strings.

Week 2: Erin is home, attends the school's Facilitated Learning Lab part-time. Practices her brains out, attends choir, accompanies at group class, plays in the community orchestra.

Week 3: Erin buses to Calgary, spends four days, repeating the lessons and other sessions. Buses home, does choir and Summit Strings.

Week 4: Repeat of Week 2.

Bus schedules are not ideal, but workable. I'll be doing an extra 10 hours of driving a month to get her to and from towns served by bus routes. Will it kill me? Who knows. I'll still only be driving to Calgary once a month at most, for Noah's lesson. I'll be spending one day a month less in Calgary too, saving a night at the motel, since we'll be doing the turnaround the same day. She'll be able to continue all her local activities with the exception of Community Choir. It's a sacrifice she's willing to make even though she loves that choir. Will this work for her Calgary teachers/billeting family? They seem more than willing to have her, amazingly, generously enough.

She's very excited about this plan. Lots of discussing, exploring and arranging left to do, but this is a post which has only three question marks, so that's some sort of progress.

Out the kitchen door

We used to call it the "front door," except that for the past couple of years it hasn't been easy to navigate, with a 2-foot drop into sand and gravel. So we've just been calling it the "kitchen door" and almost everyone has come in and out the back door from the carport.

But it may be the Front Door again soon. Look at what is gracing it! A deck is taking shape with impressive speed.

Where's Erin?

Photo by Fiona

Music education decisions -- the next phase

It's been almost two years since we began monthly or bi-monthly violin lesson trips to Calgary for Erin. She'd outgrown the local teachers, had taken five months off lessons entirely after the sudden retirement of her Nelson teacher, and had then discovered that she really did have the drive and motivation to pursue violin. She had an excellent summer-workshop relationship with a terrific Calgary-based teacher and seemed willing to do almost anything in order to be able to study with her. So we started doing the big drive. Once a month, except when scheduling was impossible.

Alas, 8 or 10 lessons a year are not sufficient for a 15-year-old who is considering a performance career. The world of string playing is extremely competitive; the kids Erin will be compared to if/when she applies to music schools are practicing three hours a day (as she sometimes does) but are also getting weekly private lessons, chamber group, technique classes, regular opportunities to work with accompanists and perform, youth orchestras. Mostly they're getting very focused attention to the refinement of their technique through weekly diligent overseeing by teachers who are preparing them for future careers in music. She needs to be getting the same type of experience.

Erin's current lesson arrangement is really that of a self-taught violinist getting occasional bits of input on repertoire from guest teachers. That's how it's felt for everyone involved, I think. It's just not going to be enough to ensure a performance career. If that's what she wants, which she seems to.

Then there's piano. She has had little to no interest in piano for the past 18 months. Practicing has averaged half an hour a week. Her long-time teacher has a little experience teaching at her level, but isn't a performer herself, doesn't play at this level, and has no accompanying expertise. Accompanying is really where Erin's interest, what there is of it, lies. Lessons have been spotty due to travel (by both Erin and her teacher) and lack of motivation.

At the beginning of this week Erin had finally decided to announce her decision to quit piano lessons. She's doing the Advanced Piano program at the Valhalla Summer School of Music again this summer, but is feeling like a hypocrite, having played almost no piano since last fall. I had a short conversation with her teacher explaining that it was pretty clear this was Erin's swan song on piano.

This week Erin has been taken aside for chats by both a visiting piano professor and by her Calgary violin teachers. The [pretty well-known] piano guy has worked with her in chamber groups for two summers now and basically told her that if she was indeed interested in pursuing music at the post-secondary level he'd love to work with her ... especially in collaborative piano (accompanying), which she's clearly got a talent for. He asked how old she was, how many more years of high school she has left, gave her his e-mail address. She didn't have the heart to tell him that her interest in pursuing music at university was not in piano, or that she'd just decided to finally quit piano. Truth be told she was very flattered, and rightly so. "Darn!" she told me afterwards. "He just messed me up. I'd finally decided to quit, and now this!?"

Her violin teachers, a husband-and-wife team, have been up-front about her prospects for ongoing musical development. If she wants to really dig in and work for a music career she needs weekly lessons. Or close. They've offered to let her stay with them in Calgary. Wow. Maybe this is something she can do part-time, for a few days every other week or something, busing back and forth? She's now old enough to travel the long bus routes without an adult escort (younger children can travel unaccompanied but only on daytime routes less than 5 hours). Does she feel ready to move? Not really, because not having school or some other program to slot right into, she would be a kid living with two very very very busy adults who can't really act in loco parentis. It would be a lot of arduous travelling for her to go back and forth like that, but maybe she could do it? She could probably continue with her self-directed schooling here, using the Facilitated Learning Lab when she's in town, working from afar when she's in Calgary.

But how would she do chamber music? Or get orchestral experience? And could she keep up her two wonderful choirs?

And what about piano?

Have I ever used this many question marks in a blog post?

Summer job proceeds

Erin's summer job at the café has netted her this. She had accumulated enough savings to purchase the very first personal kid-computer in our home. The four kids share a desktop computer, but it's used almost entirely for collaborative gaming rather than personal work. Erin has long pined for her own laptop with which to curl up on the couch or in her cabin, and write, surf the internet, manage her immense iTunes library, do schoolwork and so on. She's made use of Chuck's cast-off laptops limping along on their last legs, but the last of those expired a few months ago and since then she's carved out a Documents folder on my computer and used it. I'm almost as thrilled as she is that she now has her own computer -- less competition for my computer!

Her Dell Inspiron arrived by Purolator yesterday. In the middle of the Valhalla Summer School of Music. She's managed to find a few minutes here and there to configure and install things.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

SVI Images

It's the fifth annual Suzuki Valhalla Institute, bigger and better than ever. It feels like we're spending 15 hours a day there, soaking it all up, wishing there was more.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Kid's Marathon

This morning Fiona completed the final 2 kilometres of her 42.2 km Kid's Marathon challenge. Her parents had ordered her a medal to commemorate the accomplishment.

We found a little spur connecting two longer trails that has a reasonable grade, is relatively shaded and exactly 1000 metres in length. We've run it, back and forth for 2 km, approximately every second day for the past 5 weeks.

It's been a wonderful exercise in simplicity and in the value of time spent with a child doing something together over and over. Over the weeks we've felt the temperatures and humidity increase. We've smelled the wildflowers and fruit blossoms and noticed how they've changed. She's learned to pace herself, to feel the subtle difference in the uphill and downhill grade and adjust her pace accordingly. She's got stronger and more fit. She's learned the landmarks of the run, and how to estimate 100 metres, or half a kilometre. She's able to identify bear scratches on the trees, deer hair on the ground, to differentiate purple asters from purple knapweed (the latter a noxious weed, which we pull by hand every time we spot it along the trail). We've watched the cherries along the trail swell and redden and used them to power the return leg of our runs. Fiona named them Original Organic Sport Cherries. We've tasted their sweetness day by day as it peaked. We've watched the leftover ones darken and wrinkle, or show up in the bear scat along the trail. We talk when we run; heck, we often run holding hands. But what we talk about is mostly what we notice. And as the weeks have gone by, we've noticed more and more.

And still there's always more to notice. What a rich world we live in.

That fiery glow

It was two years ago to the day that we were cut off by a wildfire to the south that threatened our community with evacuation and almost shut down the Suzuki Valhalla Institute.

The 2009 SVI starts today and overnight the smoke has rolled in again. I smelled it all night and this morning when the sun came up it threw an eerie yellow-orange cast rather than its usual transparent light.

The fire is a long way from us, probably 70-80 kilometres, but it's uncontrolled, and they're attempting prescribed burns to help contain parts of it. So there's a lot of smoke. We can barely see the top of the mountain we live near the base of through the haze, and everything smells like a campfire.

It certainly brings back memories of 2007.

This year's SVI T-shirts are royal blue, a cooling, cleaning, water-inspiring colour. Let's hope that helps.

Stupid run

Once a week I do an LSD, a "long slow distance" for my run. Yesterday I went looking for a flattish 13 miler and decided to run a loop out a secondary highway I know well and back along a trail I don't know well. I'd biked the trail a few times 10+ years ago and remembered it as a lovely gradual downhill meandering along a creek and through subalpine meadows. I'd also skied it in the winter and I know it's still used a fair bit by skiers.

Well, a lot can happen to a trail over the years. My first clue should have been that the first 100 yards required me to hold my arms in front of my face to push the bushes out of the way, crouching to keep my eyes on the trail. But then it opened up; there were some bike tire marks and ATV tracks. Perhaps I should have considered the likelihood that they had been there for quite a while, since before things started growing?

It turned out most of the trail was really overgrown with lush summer vegetation. I doubt anyone had been through there in a couple of months. Weeds, including burdock, thistle and wild rose, up past my knees, slashing at my bare shins. Lots of places the alder and other bushes had me bushwhacking again. And then at mile 3 the bridge was gone, the bank having washed out, leaving me with a 3-metre wide mucky bit of thigh-deep water to ford. Backtracking would have turned my 13-miler into an 18-miler, so I went on. Plunged in.

Then to top it off the end of the loop I'd plotted out had "no trespassing" signs on the spur I needed, so I had to run an extra mile and a half, down into a gravel pit and then up a nasty grunt of a hill in full 9 a.m. sunlight. Uggh.

So I ran 14.65 miles, through marsh and weeds and muck and water, and it took me forever. Just over 2 1/2 hours. Epic.

My shoes will likely never forgive me, but they're almost ready to be retired anyway, so that's okay. They used to be white and silver. Now their worn greyness is cast in sharp relief by the ambitious bright-blueness of their successors-in-waiting, my Nike Lunarglides.

I guess the take-home message is "know your trail."