Saturday, March 27, 2010

New family vehicle

... and even Fiona has got her learner's permit for this one.

It has already graded our driveway and will apparently (so I am told) be helpful with innumerable other tasks around the property.

It sure is orange, is all I can say!

Monday, March 22, 2010

One-year runniversary

Not a year of running exactly. I took two months off last fall due to my hip injury, and almost a month off in the late winter what with travel and Sophie's illness. But it was March 23rd last year that I started running using the Couch to 5k (C25k) program. The first two weeks just about killed me. I was 45 and hadn't really run since 15 years earlier, when I was pregnant with Erin. Every muscle from my navel down hurt. I had blisters that bled in my (crappy) shoes. I wasn't in terrible shape, but running on mountain highways with their steep long hills I needed the walking intervals at first, and I was slow.

It's a year later and running is definitely a part of my life. I miss it when I can't run. My weekly maintenance mileage is about 20-40 kms depending on the weather. My pace has improved from 11-minute miles at the completion of C25k to 8.5-minute miles for a Tempo run, and 9.5-minute miles for long trail runs of 10 miles or more (a bit faster on the roads).

This spring my push is to develop more balanced strength, especially in my core and upper body. The form-filler in me was inspired by the nifty hundredpushups, twohundredsitups and twohundresquats programs. I did the Initial Tests for all three and the results were kind of telling. On pushups I ranked in the poorest of six categories. Situps I was mid-range. And squats -- I maxed out, graduating from the program before I even started. So there you go -- my upper limbs are wet noodles, my trunk plastercine and my legs, well-trained from a year of running mountain highways and trails, are (relatively speaking) well-oiled pistons.

As spring arrives and the trails are free of snow and muck, I'm increasing my running mileage again, and I'm making good progress on my quest to become something other than a bunch of flabby noodles on a pair of legs. I'm well on my way to that goal, and the bonus is that I'm not losing as much weight as I did last summer when I was also running lots. I was happy about the first 15 pounds of weight loss, but when it kept dropping I was starting to get worried. During the fall and winter, with less running, I gained back to where I'm happy, and I'm staying there now.

I'm on my third pair of shoes now. My Asics Kayanos, bought last fall, were a godsend. The day I put them on my hip pain, which had scarcely improved at all despite two months of complete rest, began to disappear. I'm already keeping my eyes peeled for a deal on my next pair. I will never wear anything else. For me they're the right shoe. Best hundred and forty bucks I've spent in a long time.

My celebratory run to round out the year was a lovely 10-miler along a fabulous trail in the woods on the edge of the lake. It's low elevation and therefore entirely free of snow already, and yet virtually unpeopled (and unbeared) at this time of year. The woods and the lake scenery were amazing.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Fiona's interest in math has re-ignited the past few months. She is definitely thriving with Singapore Math. I'm already dreading the day she finishes it and we need to find something else. It's just her style and just her pace. She loves the friendly unintimidating style of presentation, and the conceptual approach usually fits her to a tee. Not only that, but when she is muddled or confused by something, the sort of explanations that make sense to me work perfectly for her. It's so easy guiding her through math learning!

Since November she's completed a year and a half of the Singapore program. Every time she started a new semester I would look at the upcoming syllabus and think "Ah, here's where she's finally going to hit concepts that aren't going to come easily." But I've been wrong every time, so I don't even bother thinking it any more.

Recently she began the book (4B) that covers decimals in depth. She has an awesome grasp of place value, which I credit partly to the way her mind organizes things, but partly also to the use we made of cuisenaire and base-ten manipulatives back when she was four. I thought that might be a good starting point as we began exploring place value on the other side of the decimal, so we got them out again. Shown in the photo are the large orange 1000-cube (back right), three orange 100-flats (middle left), five orange 10-rods (upper middle) and seven white 1-cubes, all from our cuisenaire and base-ten sets. 

The new fun came with the miniature and near-microscopic new manipulatives we created, shown to the right of the white 1-cubes. We got a piece of cardboard of the appropriate thickness and cut it into 1-cm squares. Stacked up, ten of them were just about exactly the size of a 1-cube, so these were our tenths. Fiona was very impressed. She thought it was hilarious when I started cutting one of the tenths into ten miniature rods. And when I then cut one of the mini-rods into practically microscopic 0.001 cubes that look more like grains of sand than math manipulatives, she thought I was crazy. 

But it was fun, and it worked. She could see that, just as we could (theoretically) combine 1000-cubes to make bigger and bigger manipulatives denoting 10,000 or 1,000,000, we could (theoretically) continue to slice and dice our sand-grain 0.001's into smaller and smaller bits. And she had fun creating manipulative representations of numbers like 1425.174, and 20.32, and even 1000.001.

Once she has explored concepts concretely or symbolically, Fiona easily internalizes those ideas and rearranges them in her imagination, developing short-cuts and seeing patterns. The manipulatives will be put away now, possibly for good. But I don't think we'll bother saving the 0.001's to pass onto another homeschooling family!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


My four kids, and their friend Danika, after a music rehearsal held at the school last night. Listening to and/or participating in a dramatic reading of the last few scenes of Hamlet.

Why? I don't really know. But they seemed quite enraptured.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Truly it is spring. The first skinned knee of the season has arrived.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The dress II

Sophie has set to work with the fabric for her dress. After tracing pattern pieces the other afternoon she had to wait for me to get out of town and purchase thread. Fortunately Erin's departure for Calgary was well-timed, the five hour round trip to the bus station taking me through a town with a store stocking sewing notions.

Next was the pinning of the pattern pieces to the fabric. Sophie chose a lovely lightweight organic cotton-bamboo with generous spandex for her fabric. The colour, a dusty green, is not what I would have expected her to choose but it's quite lovely. The light weight and stretch of the fabric made for fussy pinning and cutting, but she -- unlike her mother -- is patient and meticulous with manual work. She did a great job of the cutting.

Next she headed to the basement with me for a quick refresher course on the sewing machine. It had been almost three years since she'd used it! She clearly wants to do this entire project on her own, without help, and it's a much more complex project than what she'd done in the past. But she seems ready and motivated. She quickly got the knack of the machine, and has a nice touch on the fabric feeding. Good thing, since this fabric is not forgiving! Tonight she got a start on the main construction, sewing the front seams.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

This would work

It is March Break and it is not a Calgary weekend. I am all caught up on web work for the non-profits I volunteer with. There have been no Valhalla Fine Arts meetings, no clinics to work, no choir performances out of town, and even orchestra is cancelled for the school break. The past two days have been Nothing Days.

Nothing other than supervising the music practicing of various offspring on various instruments, organizing and administering school work for three kids, laundry, meal prep, yard work, housework, tidying, reading aloud, doing weekly homeschooling reports, going for a run, helping the younger girls with their various sewing and baking projects, practicing my viola, tending the chickens, wrecking the play structure and so on. Half my violin students are away for the break so my teaching load is down. I've even actually been reading a book, just for my own enjoyment, rather than relying on the audiobooks I can listen to while driving all over western Canada.

It's just about right. Without all the extra out-of-home responsibilities I feel like I have time to be an attentive parent and look after myself and the house. Imagine if this was what my life was like on an ongoing basis! I would be running marathons and my house would be spotless. I would be erudite and fit and relaxed. Probably infuriatingly so. Maybe it's better this way.

Still, I like the flow of these "nothing days." These are days that actually give us an occasional opportunity to think "hmm, what could we do now?" Fallow time is precious.

Saturday, March 06, 2010


In the sandbox, the dinosaurs are going extinct. In a swath of desert that was once an imaginary Egypt, a grassland is now taking hold. The mighty Tonka dumptruck that used to haul muck, dinosaurs and even siblings across Egypt sits abandoned, weathering.

The sandbox was a magnet for my children for many years. Hours were spent there, long past the age that one might expect, especially for the older two who played happily alongside their younger siblings through many summers. Sandbox play was happy and comfortable and free of complications.

But for at least two years the winds of time have blown over the carcasses of dinosaurs and the grasslands have grown up undisturbed. The play structure above became rickety and lost its allure. The toddler swing hadn't been used for years, the plastic slide buckled, the tire horse swing was lame and the trapeze, a mere four and a half feet off the ground, held no thrill.

And so today, the kids and I began disassembling it. With a certain wistfulness on everyone's part, I confess. But we hope to reclaim some of the lumber to build a pergola-like structure over part of the deck, and wrecking stuff is always fun, so we overcame our nostalgia as we worked.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Turning March's Corner

Some signs of spring, inside our house, evidence of the inevitable annual rebirth of creative energy, intellectual hunger and interest in doing stuff.

Fiona stirs the foam atop her London Fog with her finger while doing math. We now make our London Fogs with decaf earl grey tea, a tablespoon of café-style vanilla syrup and proper steamed milk from our espresso machine. Math and London Fogs are both comfort foods for Fiona, who has been delighted to learn of the invisible fraction hidden in every whole number. Who would have guessed that 5 is actually "five oneths"? But it makes her cackle with delight over the logical good sense of it all.

Sophie has been struck by the urge to sew. It's been at least a couple of years since she's done a major sewing project. True to her nature she's taken on a  big project. She's found a lovely organic cotton-bamboo-spandex fabric out of which she wants to make a sleeveless swing dress. She's madly tracing off pattern pieces, laying out and cutting her fabric. The pattern is filled with infuriating options like "matching line for sleeveless option" and "cutting line for tunic option." She's figuring it all out.
And Fiona is as I type this working her way through our favourite Ginger Crinkle recipe, stirring in molasses, rolling out balls of dough, dredging them in sugar and lining them up on a cookie sheet. 

Ginger Crinkles

1 cup sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
1 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp. dried ground ginger
1 tsp. each of cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
a extra 1/4 cup sugar

Whisk together oil with 1 cup of sugar. Whisk in egg and molasses. In a separate bowl mix together flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Dump into oil-sugar mixture and mix well. Form into 2.5 cm balls and dredge in remaining quarter cup of sugar. Place on lightly greased cooking sheet and bake in 375˚F (190˚C) oven for 12 minutes.

A box of cheesemaking supplies and instructions arrived in the post this morning too, so we may soon be kneading our way to mozzarella and squeezing out discs of gouda. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


My friend Karen says that no homeschooling family should ever, ever make any decision about homeschooling or anything else important based on what is going on in February. Words to live by. Our February had a lot of warm sunny weather, travel adventures and complications, but it was still February. We languished. I'm glad it is over.

I don't think it really ended until March 2nd, when I dumped on Noah during our drive to choir rehearsal. I unloaded my frustration and resentment about his February. I didn't make him very happy. I didn't feel very good. But I think we needed to recognize how much our working routine had devolved in order to get things on track again. Sinking deeper and deeper into frustration and avoidance wasn't serving anyone's needs well.

As is so often the case, musical instrument studies are where our issues come to the fore, where they're put in sharpest contrast, where the difficulties loom largest and we are forced to deal with them first. And fortunately what we do there, what we learn, how we cope, what we change typically has a beneficial trickle-down effect in all other areas.

Noah does well with minimal but consistent routines and clear unyielding expectations. He is normally very good at practicing every day. But that vacation got in the way. And all the travel. And he was sick. And other people were sick. And then there was more travel to Calgary. He easily slips into a habit of "going through the motions." It is reassuring to me that motions are happening, but it is easy for me to miss that they are becoming smaller, briefer, and singularly unproductive. I too easily assume that nothing more than a good attitude is required in order for him to attend carefully, engage creatively with his own learning process and initiate his own problem-solving. Four to eight weeks is a long time between lessons for a guy who hasn't had a whole lot of guidance in these areas. Having been through years of assisting my various kids in practicing I assume that these habits are basic and well-mastered. But truly Noah has had very little direct guidance this way, having resisted most parental input into his practicing beginning around age 8 or 9. He understands how to practice at an intellectual level, but the habits of doing so himself haven't got a lot of reinforcement.

And it is amazing how easily a loss of momentum in one area with one child contaminate everything in our house. When Noah, my normally uncomplaining daily practicer, starts missing days, it feels like everything has slipped off the tracks. It has been weeks since anyone in this house has done a diligent job of practicing any of their instruments. The daily blocks of structured academics which served us so well through the early part of the winter have dwindled despite our efforts to get them back on track and inject some new interest and enthusiasm. Our entire family routine, and the affirming sense of productive accomplishment that accompanies that, has begun to fall apart. Once one bolt comes loose, the whole thing gets progressively more wobbly and the other joints begin to loosen and rattle too. It's often difficult to pinpoint the first loose joint, and it doesn't really matter what it was. They all need to be snugged up.

And that's February. In its depths it is easy to despair and cry out that nothing is working and that we need some sort of radical new solution. That we're all useless layabouts and hate our lives and everything is boring and uninspiring and no one has any energy or initiative. That's when Karen's words of wisdom come in. This too shall pass.

The answer to February is really just March. We don't need to build a new family structure. We just need to recognize that things have rattled loose and then work together to tighten the bolts and snug everything up. Then we climb back on. A few little adaptations don't hurt either. Creativity and new ideas are always welcome here. But in general, what we had was serving us pretty well. February did its usual number on it, but that's okay. It's March now. The days are getting longer. The "cabin fevers" will settle down eventually. Wrenches in hand we check the bits and pieces of our daily lives and pull things together again.