Saturday, July 31, 2010

ACM Program

The Advanced Chamber Music (ACM) program which prefaces this year's Suzuki Valhalla Institute has begun. It's a weekend of intensive quartet, octet and chamber orchestra rehearsals for twelve advanced  students, including Erin, Noah and Sophie. These are kids who easily participate in non-Suzuki events and ensembles as well. Often their Suzuki-ness is incognito in these situations, as they read and play Beethoven and Mendelssohn just as any traditionally trained student would. We thought it would be nice for them (and for all our future advanced students and their parents) to have t-shirts that would not simply indicate that they attended the SVI summer camp, but spoke to their musical roots in the Suzuki method. There are certain bastions of traditional music education in Western Canada where it is thought that "Suzuki is okay for little kids, but you should move on to something else pretty soon." And yet, unbeknownst to them, these same teachers are coaching (and raving about!) advanced Suzuki students in ensembles and master classes without knowing that they are Suzuki students.

So above is the 2010 SVI t-shirt. I love it! My friend did the artwork. My kids helped choose the colours. So far reaction has been very positive.

Last night the ACM program began with a tutti rehearsal of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. Fantastic rehearsal, fantastic group of kids. None of them seem to be in over their heads, the overall match in abilities being good, and they seem to be enjoying themselves. Which is lucky, because they'll be working pretty hard, and spending a lot of time together, especially over the next 36 hours. They perform the Brandenburg tomorrow. Quartet and octet rehearsals will continue throughout next week, as these dozen students are joined by more than seventy more for the main SVI.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Outdoor shower

Look what we have! I LOVE outdoor showers. There's something about short bursts of warm water to lather or rinse in, accompanied by warm summer breezes, that leaves me ten times more refreshed than a shower in some sort of indoor stall.

Most of the kids think that my penchant for outdoor showers is fueled by latent exhibitionist tendencies, or else just plain weird. But hey, we have a very private property. And they do appreciate that when I return from a run 10k run in 27ºC weather I can shower before I enter the house!

We have owned a solar water-bag camping shower for a while. It helped get us through the prolonged power outage three years ago due to forest fires. But to use on a daily basis it's cumbersome. You have to lower it, fill it, leave it in the sun to warm, and then hoist it up into the air somehow to use. Lather, rinse, dry, repeat.

We had a lot of extra poly pipe lying around in bits, left over from the years when we hadn't figured out how to optimally maintain our water system in the winter. The extra poly pipe could be used in an emergency to get us household water in the event that a segment got frozen.

So I snailed a bunch of poly pipe together, bought some hose and faucet fittings and rigged the whole thing up to a cast-off showerhead. The poly pipe lies in the sun and heats the water up due to its dark colour. It holds a few gallons of water, easily enough for a couple of quick showers. It refills itself automatically from the tap as water is pulled out of the other end. And for really sunny days, there's a way to mix in some cold water directly from the tap to prevent scalding.

Alas it has been mostly overcast and thunder-showery today. I haven't yet been able to give the shower a real test run.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The importance of kindergarten teachers

A recently published study casts a new light on the value of kindergarten. The study revisits participants in a 1980's study where children were randomly assigned to kindergarten classrooms of differing class sizes. The benefits of smaller class sizes were impressive during KG, but faded out over subsequent years so that by middle school measurable effects on performance had faded to 2-3%. The new study revisits the study but uses a wider lens. It compares the now-grown study children on measures like annual income, college attendance, home ownership, retirement savings and so on. And the effects are found to persist.

The conclusion that the media seems to be drawing from the new study is that a kindergarten experience defined by small class size and teaching excellence is an important factor in long-term adult success. And I'm hearing a lot of wavering and guilt and second-guessing based on this study from parents who had been intending to homeschool their kindergarteners. If kindergarten is as important as this study suggests, should they really be opting out of it for their children?

My take on it is this: Kindergarten is crucial because it's first the year we subject kids to the incredible stress of immersion in a peer-saturated, authority-driven environment, separation from home and family, academic rigors, achievement standards, and large-group learning. As a society we've decided that age 4 or 5, children should leave loving homes during the majority of their waking hours and make their way in an institutional world separate from family and community. That crucial first year comes far too soon for the developmental capabilities of the vast majority of young children and is a poor educational fit for many.  Therefore there are many factors which can be seen as "protective," as helping ease the transition and insulate kids from a portion of the stress and poorness of fit.

Those protective factors include caring, innovative, creative teachers, small class sizes, a holistic classroom environment, and particular demographics to the peer group. Things which mitigate against the stress and anxiety of something that is terribly unnatural in the grand scheme of humanity -- separating children from the flow of family and community life.

This is all common sense to me. If you're going to buy into this institutional model of child-rearing and education, it will help your child to have the best classroom and teacher you can possibly find.

And homeschooling trumps it all, in my opinion. Rest easy, all you wanna-be homeschooling parents. Your kids will have all those protective factors in spades -- and little of the stress that calls for protection in the first place!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Old Cedars

Today we went off to do some rock-climbing and Goddess-Questing. First thing this morning Fiona and I met up with another family with young kids and did a few quick climbs at a rock face half an hour south of us. It was my first roped climbing in 17 years, I think! I did okay -- got up a 5.6 pitch of 35 metres or so. Most was easy, though there were a few moments that made me pause and think. It was enough to remind me why I used to like climbing so much; it's cerebral, and the internal conversation with yourself and your body are so much of what it's all about. Fiona Mad-Monkeyed her way up to the second anchor and quite enjoyed herself. She could be a really good climber, I think: she has a great combination of determination, intellectualism, physical agility and emotional resilience.

Goddess Quest was totally cool. A local potter had spent the last few years creating little goddess figurines whenever she had a few minutes and a bit of extra clay. Each one is totally unique in design, expression and symbolism. Yesterday 333 of them were clandestinely placed in 14 different parks and hiking areas throughout a 200 km loop in our region. This morning the Quest began. If you found a goddess you could keep her. Each one was numbered and tagged with website information so that she could be paired up with her name and a quote. We found Goddess #088, the Goddess of Expectation. Publicity had been thorough -- people were out in impressive numbers and by mid-morning almost all the goddesses, even in the out-of-the-way locations, had been found.

Despite the law of diminishing returns, we continued to visit GoddessQuest hiking areas into the afternoon. We met a lot of people we knew (and one reader of this blog, whom we didn't know but do now: hi Ann!) and continued to be amazed at how a few brochures scattered throughout the region, and a couple of preparatory local exhibits in a village of a thousand souls could generate so much interest! We never did find another goddess, but we particularly enjoyed our hike through the red cedar old growth area a mere 15 minutes from our house. I can't believe we haven't done this hike in the past few years. It's short, easy and other-worldly. The ground is springy with centuries of slowly-rotting fallen cedar logs. There is little undergrowth beyond a bit of moss. The trunks are massive, the silence is arresting.

And halfway along the trail is a wonderful bear den. According to our local bear biologist, this den is used every winter, typically by a mother and yearlings or by a pregnant sow bear. It's quite huge inside; I believe we once packed 8 or 9 children inside it at once. Fiona did not want to go in too far. Here she is standing right near the opening doing her best "mama bear protecting her babbies" imitation.

Tonight we're mixing and freezing up a batch of Chai Latté Ice Cream, then settling in for another Battlestar Galactica episode. We're currently nearing the end of Season 3. Season 4 should arrive next week. I'm as addicted as the kids now.


On the way back from the third of today's short hikes, we stopped at a lake at the summit to see if there were any tadpoles. We were in luck! We quickly scooped about a dozen out of the reedy shallows. We put them in a cup in one of the van's cup-holders and drive home slowly without any spills.

(Our tires are bald, so we need to drive slowly anyway.)

Tadpoles are usually a spring phenomenon, but at lakes high up on mountain passes, "spring," meaning warm water in the shallows, comes in July. The largest of these fellows are beginning to get hind legs. They are currently acclimatizing to our little pond. We have raised tadpoles successfully in the past, but Fiona was too young to really remember it so we figured it was time to do it again.

These will turn into western toads. We have a few gigantic western toads who show up occasionally in damp corners of our property. I think they may be some of our former tadpoles.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

iPad iPocket

I got my iPad a week ago. I'm happy. It is just as I'd hoped. I haven't begun to tap into all the possibilities, but I've taken meeting notes, am using the calendar, have a few dangerously addictive games that amuse me and the kids while we're driving places or waiting around, music and eBooks. For months I held off on buying real paper books, figuring I'd buy some through iBooks. Fortunately iBooks opened its Canadian store a couple of weeks before my iPad arrived. Titles are accumulating rapidly! We haven't yet had an out-of-town trip, so my wifi-on-the-road experience is limited to the funky café we stopped at on the way to Nelson the other evening. I like being able to read recipes from the internet in the kitchen without printing them off the desktop computer. I like puttering in the kitchen while reading, turning the touch-screen pages with a sweep of my elbow when my hands are mucky.

I wanted a way to protect it, so I got out some cast-off mat board, my bookbinding cloth and a few bits and pieces and made a folio for it. The foam sheet on the left will be covered by a microfibre cloth once I locate a suitable one. For now it looks terribly unfinished, but I think with a dark grey cloth glued over the inside of the left cover it'll be great. I managed to cut out all the requisite holes for buttons and plugs on the right side so that it can be plugged in and the controls managed without removing it from the folio. The iPad slips in from the left and when closed the cover is secured with the strip on the far left, using a magnetic clasp (I sacrificed two fridge magnets, smashing them with a hammer, retrieving their teeny rare earth magnets).

The display on the iPad swivels, and except for reading books in bed I generally prefer the landscape orientation. For this, the front cover flips back on itself and a cunning joint and reverse application of the securing strip allows it to create a wedged cant to the screen for easier viewing.

The iPad is great for reading books in bed without keeping Chuck awake with page-turning and adjusting LED book lamps. The first night I used it, I put it into sleep mode rather than powering it right off when I went to sleep. An hour or so later it pinged loudly, notifying me that an e-mail had arrived. My iPad may need to receive e-mail while it sleeps, but I certainly don't! I powered it off.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rainbow rocks

Just some ordinary rocks, each like hundreds and thousands of others on the beach. Amazing how the colours jump out at you when they're arranged together.

Another Goldsworthy-inspired diversion between swims at the lake today.


Here's another chapter in my minimalist footwear adventure story. I made these sandals in the traditional huarache style out of a bit of 4mm rubber outsole material purchased from a cobbler in the area. I traced my feet, cut the sole with scissors, punched three holes and added a leather boot lace. The materials cost about $15. I may have to replace the laces once a year (for $3), but the soles look like they'll last ages.

To lace them, I followed the directions at Invisible Shoe. The knot under the base of the toe has compressed to negligible thickness and I don't feel it at all. I find these really comfortable. I was never one to like flip-flops; the prong between my toes felt intrusive and tended to give me blisters. But I find the thin leather lace unnoticeable after the first minute or two of wearing these.

Each sandal weighs less than 80 gm (3oz.), which is less than a third of what even the lightest running shoe weighs. So they're very light, but the sole material seems to be very durable -- it's good Vibram stuff, sturdier than the softer rubber typical of running shoe soles.

I've been wearing these around for a few weeks, but only just started running in them. Last night I did part of my speedwork in them. On fast downhills the lace rubs a bit between my toes. I think that if I'd gone out and done 12 miles of steep trails on my first huarache run I might have got blisters there. But with a gradual approach I'm sure my feet will get used to that. No blisters last night, anyway!

They feel like almost nothing. I feel bits of gravel through the soles, so that I'm aware they're there, but there's no discomfort. They're so open and airy that perspiration dries as quickly as it's produced. So I don't feel the need for a suede or foam footbed on top of the sole material.

The only thing I didn't like was the sound. The thin soles are floppy enough that no matter how lightly I place my feet, when I'm running quickly the rubber tends to slap the asphalt. One of the things I love about barefoot running is its silence. But last week my barefoot stealth style allowed me to inadvertently startle both myself and a young bear by getting much closer than I normally am comfortable with before either of us noticed. So a little "slap, slap, slap" probably isn't a bad thing in the big picture.

I did half yesterday's speedwork in bare feet and half in my huaraches. I definitely prefer the feel of barefoot, but I can see the huaraches being useful for gravely surfaces where barefooting isn't yet comfortable for my still-somewhat-tender feet.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Excavating the Lump

Since we finished our deck, the space directly in front of it has been dominated by The Lump of Dirt that was excavated back from the house. I never purposely photographed The Lump. It did show up beneath Fiona in one of my dorodango posts, but mostly I cropped and used oblique camera angles to avoid memorializing it in photos. It certainly wasn't lending a picturesque appearance to our lovely new deck or enhancing the view from the front of the house.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have finally moved The Lump and distributed it in various places in need of soil. We shovelled it into the tractor bucket and moved it across the property. And this is what we were left with. A lovely oasis of flat ground nestled in the concavity of the deck, bordered by some flagstones, a mere 4 metres from the front kitchen door. Crying out for an earth oven.

This morning we graded and tamped and sketched out our 1.25-metre circle. And we scavenged the first load of rocks from a roadside pile a mile up the highway beyond our place. You can see those to Fiona's left, tucked behind the rhododendron. It remains to procure some more rocks, some drain rock to fill the foundation as we build, some mortar to glue the rocks together, and then we'll be setting to work building our oven.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Earth oven

I spent some time this weekend learning how to build an earth oven. When we wrecked our old deck and built a new one in a slightly different orientation, we ended up with a vacant sunny spot 4 metres from the kitchen door that was just crying out for an outdoor oven. When I heard about a workshop to learn to build an earth oven, I signed up right away.

The earth oven begins with a foundation with a layer of fire bricks, upon which a dome of damp sand is constructed. This is the form upon which the oven is built. For this oven we built a dome 27" in diameter, which with 10" walls will end up being about 4 feet in diameter once completed. Shown in the first photo is the thermal layer (which is made from a 2:1 mixture of sand to clay, with just enough water) which has been applied over the sand form to a thickness of 3". This is the most exacting stage of the construction. The sand, covered in a couple of layers of wet newspaper, isn't exactly very strong. The sand/clay mix had to be applied with just the right amount and direction of pressure to get it to bond to itself but not put undue stress on the sand. The door was then cut away and everything left to set up a little overnight.

The next day we pulled some of the sand out to help speed up drying the oven and began adding the first of two insulating layers of cob. Cob is a mixture of sand, clay, straw and water. The straw adds tensile strength and also helps insulate the interior of the oven. We mixed ours on tarps with our feet.

Applying the cob was much less exacting than working the sand/clay mix onto the sand form the day before. We wetted down the outside of the thermal layer and applied clay "slip" (a clay-water mix) to help the cob adhere, and then we stuck it on and pressed it in. We tried for about 3" of thickness, and intentionally made the surface very lumpy, since there will be a whole other layer to go on in a day or two once this layer has partly dried.

The cob layer can be used to add sculptural qualities to the oven. I've seen illustrations of ovens that are in the shape of snails or phoenixes or dragons. This oven is to be a basic dome shape. Ultimately the main cob layer will be a total of about 6" thick.

Once the main cob layer has reached a 6" thickness and the whole oven has had a few weeks to dry thoroughly, a final smooth "plaster" layer of finer cob is applied. This cob is made with chopped straw or manure instead of the longer strands, so it is much smoother and easier to slather on artistically. We were able to practice a bit of this on another oven at a later stage of construction. The final plaster layer of cob can be smoothed on with a wooden trowel and as you can see at the top left of the photo it gives a nice smooth finished appearance to the oven. This layer can be made from coloured potters clay and washed sand if a different colour is desired. It can also be inlaid with ceramic tile. Because we don't live in the desert, earth ovens here need to be protected from the elements to some extent to last more than a few years. This one is tucked just inside a lean-to shed with its own supply of firewood.

Cob ovens like this are fired for an hour or two before baking. The door is left open during firing, as there is no chimney. There's a bit of smoke at the beginning of this burn. The oven above has been used weekly for the better part of a year, and you can see that there's a bit of soot that has collected above the door, but not much. Once the fire has burned down to just a few coals, the coals and ash are raked out into a metal pail, the firebrick cleaned off with damp rags on a stick, and a wooden door is placed in the opening. The interior of the oven will be somewhere around 600ºF and will gradually decrease over the next three or four hours to 300ºF. You could bake four pizzas and eight loaves of bread in that time (things bake very quickly in an oven like this), and then throw in a pot of beans to finish up.

Kiko Denzer's book is the bible of earth oven construction. I've owned the book for years and it's very comprehensive. The workshop we did followed the instructions almost to the letter. I think a person could probably do a decent job with nothing more than his book. Still, the process was very much demystified by some hands-on experience, and there's no substitute for squeezing getting your feet dirty mixing cob, or for holding it in your hands and learning when it feels just right.

On the way home from the workshop I stopped at a rock pile and picked out a few nice-looking rocks for the beginning of our own earth oven foundation. This might be a project for 2011. We bake a lot of pizza and bread in our house.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Not normally impatient

I'm not normally an impatient person, but when it comes to my iPad all bets are off. This is my tracking info. It was picked up at the factory in China on the evening of July 8th. Within thirty-six hours it had made its way from Shenzhen, China to Hong Kong, on to Anchorage, Alaska, from there to Memphis, Tennessee and then onto Mississauga, Ontario. What efficiency! Okay, there's an international dateline in there somewhere, but still, I'm impressed with both the complexity and the speed of the shipping. The paperwork for passage through Canada Customs had even arrived a day earlier in anticipation.

But now it's up to the brokerage firm and Canada Customs.

Clearance in progress.

Two days later: clearance in progress.

Fourteen hours later: still showing clearance in progress.

I guess I should be catching up on spring cleaning or something this week. Not clicking "refresh" on my FedEx tracking information page.

Building a gaming machine

Noah has always been the heaviest computer user amongst or kids. He's a self-made geek who has become a whiz at tinkering with software. Recently he's been straying into the realm of hardware, trouble-shooting connections and adding secondary drives.

But all the tweaking and upgrading of a five-year-old heavily-used computer hasn't been quite enough. The games the kids like to play demand high-end processing, lots of hard drive space and excellent graphics capabilities. The old motherboard and operating system weren't really up to the task, the hard drive had tanked, the computer was officially non-functional, and the patchwork approach of repairing and upgrading no longer seemed like it was the most sensible route. It was time for a new machine.

Noah spent a lot of time researching products, compatibility and pricing. Because some components could be salvaged from the old computer, he figured it would be most economical (and most fun) to build a machine himself. He managed to cobble together the components for a pretty awesome gaming machine for under a thousand bucks Canadian. And this morning the bits arrived. He and Chuck set to work putting it together. As I type he has the assembled tower whirring away installing Windows 7, flashing all its funky multi-coloured LEDs.

Day off work

Erin's day off work is laundry day for her work shirts. The place she works is great. It's a little café / gallery / gift shop that has great food as well as great staff shirts. It's at the T-intersection of the two secondary "highways" in town, and gets lots of tourist traffic. But it also has a loyal following of locals, many of the funky/artsy persuasion.

She scoops ice cream, makes lattés, washes dishes, cleans, works the till. She knows more people in town than I do now by a long shot. Her boss is a great first employer: fun, but direct and prescriptive about responsibilities and expectations. Erin, who wouldn't open her mouth in public for the first six or eight years of her life is now a cheerful, chatty service-industry worker.

Erin has been working here for over a year now. During the winters she works a shift a week. During tourist season it's several shifts a week, up to 30 hours a week. Last year she saved up and bought herself a laptop. (It recently gave her the blue screen of death. She offered Noah $20 to fix it, which he did. I'm not sure if she paid up.) This year she's developed a sudden burning desire for an electric violin. Perhaps that's what she'll spend her money on.

In the meantime I'm working on getting her to take responsibility for her own Day-Off Laundry.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Hard cheese experiment

We get nice organic milk from a friend's cow. The kids don't much like the taste of milk that hasn't come through a factory (whatever!), so I try to do other things with it. We've made kefir, yogurt, panir and mozzarella cheese. Sophie is actually our family mozza expert, having been taught by her friend and brought the skill home.

Today, with a gallon of nice whole milk to use up, we opted to try a hard cheese, in this case a Monterey Jack recipe from Ricki the Cheese Queen. We started by pasteurizing the milk, bringing it to 145ºF for half an hour. Then, once it cooled to the lukewarm range enjoyed by mesophilic starter culture, we pitched in our culture and half a rennet tablet. Then we kept the milk lukewarm and waited half an hour or so.

At that point it had curdled nicely. Still maintaining the even 90ºF temperature, we cut the curds. They were more like yogourt in consistency than cheese curds, but it's like they're born with little muscles that instinctively contract. We warmed this liquidy mess of lumpies up to 100ºF gradually, stirring every once in a while and gradually the muscular little curds pulled into themselves, contracting and squeezing out more and more of the whey.

After an hour or two we had begun to see how a four-litre jug of milk turns into nothing more than 400-odd grams of cheese. The curds were much smaller and more rubbery and there was a ton of whey.

At this point we decanted off the whey by pouring the whole business into a cheesecloth-lined colander.

This is what the curds looked like without their bath of whey. Finally we could let the curds cool down. We salted the curds, mixing the salt in with a spoon, or our hands.

Then we wrapped the curds as tidily as possible in the cheesecloth, placed it in the mould and added weight on top. We started with a pound for 15 minutes, then flipped the cheese over and bumped up the weight to four pounds overnight.

The next morning we unweighted and unwrapped the cheese and began letting it dry for a couple of days. After that we'll wax it and then we'll age it for at least a couple of months in a cool area in the basement.
Here's where some of the whey went. Our dog loves this stuff! (As an aside, this action shot revealed a lot more tongue than we thought she possessed. How does that thing fit inside her mouth?) Unfortunately due to the lactose, it's a little tough on her digestive tract, so she's being rationed. Whey is also great for bread which is perhaps where the remainder will go.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Underwater Rock Garden

I love the rocks at our favourite beach. I think I have reached the point where I actually enjoy the rocky nature of our local beaches more than I would sand. The rocks are weathered and varied, many of them flat disks perfect for skipping. I have been collecting my favourites for years, and they now populate the karenagare I began last summer.

While the kids are swimming, playing, running along floating logs and climbing the cherry trees at the beach, I am invariably enjoying the rocks. Fondling them, perusing, polishing, collecting, searching, piling, arranging, admiring them wet, watching them dry.

I've long loved Andy Goldsworthy's work as well as the idea of natural ephemeral art. At the same beach years ago the kids and I made a Goldsworthy-inspired twig-and-feather sun. Yesterday I had a great time assembling an underwater rock garden. Then I spent the rest of the time warning everyone not to walk near it or skip rocks towards it. They decided I did not have an attitude appropriate to one engaged in producing ephemeral art and proceeded to get great enjoyment from threatening my garden and laughing at my reactions. Rotten kids. Even Chuck got caught up in the fun. Rotten guy. Nevertheless I managed to keep my circle intact long enough to return with a camera today and take a picture.

I also tried a connect-the-lines approach with quartz-veined rocks on some driftwood. You can see a little of this in the upper right of the underwater rock garden as well if you look closely. This is something I'll work more with in the future. I think that with enough searching I could come up with the rocks for a really intricate set of lines, merging, intersecting, spiralling.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Goodbye spring

Last weekend I did an evening run. It was chilly and damp. I wore shorts with a long-sleeved thermal shirt. It was just about right. I definitely needed the insulation.

I came home, and shortly after that the power went out. We lit candles, including putting a tea-light in this thumbtack-pierced spritzer can that Sophie had made. It was still dark, and it was chilly, so we actually lit a fire in the wood stove. In July!

Then, over the next 24 hours, summer finally showed up. In the past few days we've gone from quickly closing the door to keep the 12ºC chill out to quickly closing the door to keep the 32ºC heat out. There seems to be no middle ground at all in the weather this year.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Suzuki Family

Left to right: S., Noah, M., B., Erin, Fiona, Sophie and (down front), D.

Just a somewhat random sub-set of the Suzuki kids here in town, after the recent Performance Party (a.k.a. casual recital). These kids come in all shapes, sizes, musical levels, ages and personalities. And yet they support each other unconditionally, feel connected, enjoy being together, know and accept each other's quirks and enjoy watching each other grow and increase their abilities. "Creating Learning Community" is the Suzuki Association of the Americas' slogan. I think these kids are doing so.

Rain, and runs, and races

The rain, the rain. We had almost no snow this past winter, which led to a spring which really took hold in early March rather than mid-April. And yet here we are, five days into July and it still feels like spring. There have been a few short stretches of warmth and sun, but it is currently a mere 14 degrees outside, and pouring rain and today is pretty representative of what we've been dealing with.

At least the risk of a nasty fire season is dropping and dropping. And at least the temperature is amenable to running...

A couple of weeks ago I decided I needed a goal for my running. Or some sort of structure. The blue graph shows my monthly mileage since my hip improved last fall. Fits and starts. Some pretty pathetic months. It's not so much that I'm trying to improve my speed and endurance as that I feel better and am happier when I'm running at least every other day. Yet without structure or a goal, running was the thing that fit into my life after everything else. And often it did not seem to fit.

Last year and this spring I had tried to find a race or two to run. My Half Marathon hopes fell by the wayside late last summer when my hip left me hobbling around for three months. And somehow nothing seemed to fit into the spring. Music Festival and Provincials and orchestra concert and Suzuki recital ... these thing seemed to happen on all the weekends when there were suitable races within 8 hours drive.

So I have decided to turn over a new leaf and make running one of the priorities in my life. Scheduling it in first, or at least as one of the first few things, so that when work and meetings and volunteer work and lessons need to be scheduled, I can take running into account.

I have planned two races for the fall. The first is an official Half Marathon in September, which I've put money down on. The second is a 25k trail run in early October (registration not yet open) which I'll treat more as a fun run I think. These race plans have propelled me to taking up a running schedule of sorts. I have six runs scheduled into every week. Two are optional but the other four are not. The other four are varied, a mix of interval workouts, easy runs, long runs and tempo runs. I've used this schedule before and I like it for its variety and its structure with flexibility.

I've discovered RubiTrack, a great computer-based running log for Mac users, similar to Sporttracks, one of the few programs I really missed when I made the move from PC to Mac. That's a basic window RubiTrack screenshot above. I'm a graph geek and I especially like the graphs it gives me. In the lower right you can see my pace in half-kilometre increments (green bars), my heart rate (red line, with a bit of spurious mis-reading at the beginning of the run due to poor contact on my monitor) and the elevation profile of the run (purple line). The pace bars are topped with colour according to zones I've defined. Orange is a little faster than my Half Marathon race goal. Red is a little faster than my fastest-to-date 5k speed. Green and blue are good training zone for longer runs, a notch or two slower than my HM goal. Of course everything varies with terrain. Uphills here are steep and really slow me down, as you can see in the first 2k of the run above. The best indicator of a well-paced run is a steady heart rate tracing, which I think I managed pretty well in the run above.

My Garmin and RubiTrack are also a lot of fun for tracking activities the kids and I do. We can log hikes and bike rides, tally up distances and view our routes at various scales using the Google Map window which shows in the upper right.

On the barefoot front, progress is slow but continuing. I can now run 7k easy in my Vibram Five Fingers, and 5k easy, or 2k quickly, in my bare feet on asphalt. My midfoot strike and a faster cadence are becoming habits, things that I do naturally even running in traditional shoes, even when I'm in the second half of a ten-mile run. My calves and achilles tendons are still acclimatizing to the new style, but the little pulls and tears aren't happening any more, just a mild over-use soreness that persists for 24-48 hours. My habit lately is to do my fast runs in shoes, and then finish up with a cool-down in bare feet. That means running a mile or two along the highway with a shoe and sock in each hand, which leads to some curious stares from tourists in their lumbering RVs.

Saturday, July 03, 2010


Erin was the first one to develop a love for the new Battlestar Galactica. She watched as much as she could on-line and bought episodes for her iPod.

Then we began renting Season 1 episodes from and gradually the rest of the family got keen. None got as keen as Fiona, though. For whatever reason, she loves loves loves BSG. She spent much time and energy engaging Erin in conversation during our recent trip to Calgary about who was the favourite / funniest / most pathetic / coolest / bravest / nicest character. When we made the decision to cancel our Zip subscription and put some of the savings into DVDs for purchase, including seasons 2 and 3 of BSG, Fiona got truly giddy.

It's fun to see Fiona and Erin sharing an interest like this. The other two kids (and their mom) like BSG, but with Fiona it's an obsession, and Erin has that history of passionate fan-dom that allows her to support and share some of Fiona's glee.

After we placed our order Fiona continued to go through giggling spells of anticipatory glee. And then ... our boxed sets started arriving. There have been two or three marathon viewing sessions so far. She is completely thrilled. She generally sits in the same chair as Erin, almost on top of her. Erin doesn't normally like people in her personal space bubble, but somehow BSG and Fiona manage to soften her up.

If you haven't seen the new Battlestar Galactica, while I wouldn't recommend it as a rule for 7-year-olds, I do think it's an impressive series. The premise, re-imagined from the original series, is of a rag-tag bunch of human survivors fleeing into space after their planet was destroyed by cylon robots. The robots, originally developed by man, have evolved consciousness and the ability to impersonate humans, and infiltrate and attack their creators. The acting is pretty good, and the character development is impressive, the treatment of political, religious, moral and social issues is thought-provoking.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Family Trail Ride

It was Canada Day. Chuck and Erin and I were all off work so we took advantage of the day. No photos. Despite the awesome opportunities. What was I thinking?

This morning I drove the truck out to the north end of the lake with my bike in the back, then rode back home. Got the family up and mobilized. Then I biked uphill from our house to pick up the very top end of the Galena Trail with the three older kids. Chuck and Fiona took the freakin' flyin' shorter route down the highway hill on their bikes to pick up the trail a third of the way along. Fiona managed the braking demands capably by all reports. She had been keen to ride the big hill and had proved herself on shorter downhills over the past week or two, so it was a good chance for her to try it with adult accompaniment.

We eventually all met up about halfway along. We shared some hippie bombs. Then we headed north along the lake for the last 9 or 10 kilometres. Through mud, over rocks, amongst wildflowers and bracken and pine and alder.

Fiona and I arrived at the truck about three and a half hours after we started. The others had been waiting a while. We loaded the bikes in and I drove the three younger kids home, then whipped back out to intercept Erin and Chuck who were riding back along the highway. Found them before they had to deal with the up-hills, so that was good.

Home for some food. Noah madly trying to solve a computer hardware problem. I'm trying to tweak a web gallery and get a video edited. The kids managed to practice. We ate dinner.

Then we had a bonfire and s'mores. Used quality chocolate and Nillas which I think far more suitable than graham crackers.

And then it was off to the fireworks, which were truly fabulous. And home again, and the kids are watching Battlestar Galactica episodes on DVD while enjoying London Fogs. I can't believe Fiona is still awake.

Fiona's bike ticker is sitting atop her mostly neglected blog. She started logging her miles on her bike about 10 days ago. When I suggested a goal of 250 km for this year her eyes got big. I told her that I thought the kilometres would add up faster than she'd expect and she might just surprise herself. As of today she's logged 53.6 km. She's amazed!

Sophie and Noah rode the entire trail from top to tail today. With the little bit of highway uphill to the trailhead, that's a total of 28.2 km. Sophie has amazing stamina; she's not 60 pounds dripping wet, and her bike weighs more than half as much as she does. She's wishing she had her older siblings' power, but I think she'll just need to wait a couple of years until she hits her growth spurt. What she lacks in speed on the uphills she makes up for with stamina on the flats and manoeuvrability on the tight turns of the downhills.

Noah still had juice in his legs at the end. He's getting stronger by the week. Along with his voice dropping a perfect fifth in the past couple of months, he's started scarfing down baked potatoes as a snack. Maybe we'll be seeing a growth spurt soon; he is certainly looking more like a "guy" than a "boy" lately.

Erin did the full trail plus an extra 8k or so on the highway at a her dad's faster pace. For someone who has been so sedentary for much of the past couple of years, she seems to have maintained a fair bit of endurance and strength.