Thursday, September 30, 2010

Recital, and other plans

Erin is planning a violin recital in November. A full program. She'll be performing as part of the Valhalla Fine Arts Community Concert Series. Usually these concerts feature guest artists, but this time it's a home-grown one. She's also going to play the same program in Kelowna the week before. Her accompanist lives there and she will take that opportunity to do a "warm-up recital."

On the program will be Bach Partita No. 1, Wieniawski's Polonaise Brilliante, Saint-Seäns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and the entire Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in e minor. Well over an hour of repertoire, none of it easy stuff in the slightest, all at the ARCT level.

A week ago she spent her elective week at the high school planning her recital and practicing her fingers off. We managed to get to Kelowna for a first rehearsal with her accompanist. Today she went off for a publicity photo shoot. Glossy full-colour posters will be forthcoming. Tomorrow she's heading off to Calgary again for more lessons. She's trying to practice 5 hours a day. It's tough. She's at school for up to 6 hours a day, and then there are all the extras like group class, and Summit Strings, and shifts at work, and assignments for school, and photo shoots and choir rehearsals. But she's doing remarkably well.

Next month she'll be flying to Montréal to check out the campus at McGill and to get some lessons with some of the members of the Strings Department at the Faculty of Music. That's where she wants to go to university for violin performance. That's what GH recommended to her, and it certainly doesn't hurt that she loved Montréal when she travelled there in 2008 on the quartet exchange program.

After that she'll be working on auditions for summer programs. Though it pains her greatly to have to look beyond SVI for next summer, the time has definitely come. National Youth Orchestra is in her sights, and she might also do auditions for the Britt Institute, Domain Forget and possibly some others. NYO would be her first choice, I think. All that heavy-duty symphonic experience, plus choral singing! What could be better?

She's working hard to pack away credits at school this year so that she can spend her Grade 12 year more focused than ever on violin. She's got a lot of work ahead of her due to a very light course-load last year. She has a few Grade 10 credits to mop up, those pesky required ones like "Planning" and social studies and PE, the ones that are mostly just hoop-jumping for the diploma she's decided she'll graduate with after all. And then she'll have some Grade 12 math and science and possibly a couple more Grade 11 credits to fill in. She's being driven to distraction by the busywork involved in the on-line version of Social Studies 10, but she's barreling through, having completed three assignments in the past 24 hours. (Only twenty or more to go?!)

So she's very driven and very motivated to achieve these days. Most impressive of all: she's talking about cleaning up her bedroom soon!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

After the tree

I wrote previously about our family photo session and the tree that suddenly fell right where we were supposed to be taking our seats. Here's one of the after-photos. That light-coloured thing poking out of the foliage behind Erin's head is the bottom part of the fallen-over tree, the rest having crashed to bits on the bench where we're sitting. Not a great photo of all of us, but I love how it shows the tree!

Field trip report

Fiona returned home happy. She was glad she went on the field trip.

The bus ride was long and noisy. She talked with the kids she shared seats with and made some new friends.

She loved looking at the fish anatomy. They cut open a recently deceased salmon and she got to see the heart and intestines and everything. "That was epic!" she said. Besides that, though, she didn't find the trip particularly educational. The information shared was mostly pretty basic and there wasn't much. She expected that there would be more to learn and was a little disappointed, I think. They stopped at a playground for some physical play and it was "a total swarm." The kids were loud and crazy, exploding with pent-up energy. She didn't like that much.

Fiona would be such an amazing school student if there was a school of eager precocious students like her. She does well with structured learning, loves group-based experiences, produces "output" easily, enjoys working with teachers. She has expressed a lot of interest in school over the past couple of years, but has accepted what I've said, which is that a regular school wouldn't be a good fit for her due to where her interests and abilities lie. She would thrive in a college-like situation aimed at 7-year-olds who have interests and abilities that are more typically seen in 11-year-olds, and an equally precocious level of maturity and motivation. But that's not typically what school is like, of course.

Yesterday confirmed for her what I'd been saying. She could tell that she was not a good fit with the group-based dynamic on the trip. The other kids weren't interested the same way she was. There was a lot of time spent directing and redirecting. The physical and social entropy didn't sit well with her.

She would like to go on other field trips if they seem likely to be interesting. (Meaning, I suppose, if they involve fish guts or similar.) But the take-home message for Fiona was "that was a pretty okay day, but going to school with these kids would not be for me."

So I guess it was a pretty okay day.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Big yellow bus

I should have a different photo here. A photo of Fiona in her shorts and current favourite T-shirt, a neat braid, her smiling face, with school lunch stuff in her bright-coloured backpack, hopping on the school bus. She was cute as a button.

But I didn't bring the camera.

Instead I have this old photo of spawning kokanee salmon spawning at Kokanee Creek near here, because that's where the school bus is headed today with the kindergarten through Grade 4 classes plus three or four homeschooled kids, including Fiona.

The other homeschooled moms went along on the trip. That's not an option for me; I'm the designated driver for the four local teens who need to get to Nelson for their Córazon youth choir rehearsal later. After arriving back at the school, she'll walk to her grandma's house. Then she'll get a ride home and hang out with Sophie until her dad gets home from work. Fiona loved this plan and liked the idea of all this independence; she was quite happy that I wasn't going along.

Happy until the middle of the night, anyway.

She had been looking forward to this since we heard about it a week ago. She'd been counting down the days and complained yesterday that she was having trouble waiting because she was just so excited. Sophie had a sleepover buddy over last night, so Fiona was sleeping in my bedroom. She got to sleep okay but at about 3:30 a.m. she woke up and a bunch of different feelings washed over her. In a lot of ways it was a triple whammy. The trip itself was unknown territory -- the bus ride, the format, the expectations, the destination -- and that was a little disconcerting. It was also like the first day of school for her, with all that nervous excitement -- what will the teacher be like? who will I be with? And thirdly, it was also like being the "new kid at school." (The other homeschoolers had mostly attended the school in the past, so they were returning rather than starting anew.)

She confessed that her happy excitement had turned into worried excitement, and she couldn't get back to sleep.

After a few minutes of cuddling didn't calm the quivering lower lip, we got up together and made some chamomile tea. We sat on the couch and talked and drank our tea and cuddle under a big quilt. We decided that after getting the second half of our sleep, we'd get up, have breakfast and see what kind of excitement she had then. If it was still more worried excitement than happy excitement, she would stay home.

She got back to sleep. I awoke her in the morning. She had breakfast.

"I think the half of my brain that had the worried excitement is sleeping today," she said. And cheerfully headed off and boarded the big yellow bus. I hope she has a great time. I'm pretty sure she will.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fire and pizza

We tried the oven for pizzas last night. We don't yet have a pizza peel, so we stuck with small personal pizzas on pans. We got the fire good and hot for an hour or two first.

The oven is finally pretty much dry, thanks to three recent firings. We've got a bit of cracking, but nothing we won't be able to fill in with the top coat of cob and nothing that seems at all structural. 

After a couple of hours of fire, we raked the coals out. Chuck emptied them into a little grill he put together and used them to BBQ meat. The vegetarians just looked the other way and got on with the pizzas.

We inserted the pizzas and placed the wooden door in the opening. The door is just rough-cut at this point and doesn't fit very well. There's almost an inch gap at the top of the curve, which means the oven loses heat quickly. The first pan of pizzas took 6 minutes, the second 9 minutes and the third 15 or so. Hopefully once we have a fitted door our baking times won't escalate so quickly. Even so, our three successive batches took only a few minutes longer than it takes us to cook one batch in the electric oven.

The bottom crust is exquisite! Just what I was hoping for.

Friday, September 24, 2010

How do I love thee?

Let me count the ways, o iPad of mine. 

Kids' violin lesson notes. Homeschooling report notes on the fly. Photo slide shows at information booths. Plants vs. Zombies played round-robin by the kids for six hours of amusement in the minivan. Episodes of awesome video series available instead of crappy TV in motels. StarWalk, an amazing star chart, held up to the sky to identify stars and find constellations. The super smart metronome that I use when the the kids are practicing. Notes taken at meetings. The amazing animation creativity it has encouraged. A lovely e-book reader for anytime anywhere access to scores of books -- and it works beautifully in bed when one's sidekick is asleep, without the need for a reading light. And of course the mobile internet access. The only negative ... I still dislike typing on it. I'm getting faster, but it's four-finger typing without a wrist rest, and fussy. I use my iMac keyboard when I'm doing extensive note-taking.

I do not own a smartphone, or a laptop, or a netbook, or a portable DVD player, or an e-book reader, or a portable gaming device. Considering the amount of time I spend travelling with kids (to Calgary, to Kelowna, to Nelson), and the various organizations I'm part of that need internet contact with me on the road, the iPad seemed like it might be a multi-tasker I'd get a lot of benefit from. So far that's definitely been the case. 

I like the size, although I haven't yet got myself a bag/purse/satchel that fits it, my only such accoutrement being teardrop-shaped and not quite wide enough at the top. The iPad is just big enough to be luscious as a video player and web browser, much more ergonomic as a touch-screen keyboard, and yet small and light enough to not be a burden to carry about. 

I bought the 32GB model. I haven't been particularly conservative in loading it up with anything other than music and podcasts: those I've kept to a minimum, because I do, after all, have an iPod. So far it's barely half full and there are a fair number of apps I downloaded just to check out that I could delete to free up space.

Good apps: 

  • Star Walk. $4.99 An amazing interactive, time-and-location-customizable star chart with all sorts of linked information.
  • Plants vs. Zombies $9.99. The kids love this and have played it on-line for ages. It's quirky, weird and endlessly challenging. It's even better on the iPad with the touch-screen, they tell me.
  • Trundle HD. $Free. A game played out in a sort of virtual physics playground that makes good use of the accelerometer function of the iPad. (Quick overview of accelerometers here.) 
  • Harbour Master HD. $Free. Seriously addictive simply multitasking game. Direct boats around a harbour to unload without crashing. Easily played co-operatively by two players.
  • Pages $9.99. A workhorse word processor for the iPad, with a file system that can be synchronized with your computer. I take meeting notes and lesson notes on the iPad and can then upload, print, modify, append and re-synchronize them. 
  • iBooks $Free. The application that lets you download and read books from the iBook store. So far the iBooks Canada store has limited selection; if you go there wanting something specific, odds are you won't find it, though there are lots of good reads available. The reader is no-nonsense, and has very adjustable tint, brightness and font size attributes.
  • Animation Creator HD. $1.99. Truly creative and fun. Draw animations frame by frame, with layers and "ghosting" of the previous frame. Just needs the ability to rearrange frames to be perfect. A lovely creative diversion. Sophie has done some wonderful work with this.
  • AD Jewels HD $Free. A Bejeweled knock-off. Works well. Unsurprisingly addictive.
  • Subdivide Metronome $Free. A very full-featured metronome, entirely customizable by metre, subdivisions and tempo. Also allows you to measure the tempo of a particular song or piece by tapping along. A great practicing tool.
  • Osmos $4.99. Zen-like newtonian bubble play game. 
  • Notes, Mac Mail, Safari (and bookmarks) and Calendar. These are just standard pre-loads on the iPad. They synchronize with appropriate applications on my Mac. I love being able to update whatever I need without needing to sit at my desktop computer, and trust that it will all be copied and updated between computer and iPad, whenever I change anything. 
Whether an iPad will fill an empty niche in another person's life, I can't say. Given my dearth of mobile devices and my extent of travel, it has certainly filled a niche in mine.

Gravelling a trail

In a week Fiona, Sophie and I are running races in Kaslo at the first annual Sufferfest. Today we decided that our nature walk should be a run along the creekside trail that makes up parts of the kids' race and the 25k trail run I'll be doing. It was a trail we'd never done together, and I had only ever done part of it. It was a lovely memorable outing. We crossed the darling pink covered footbridge. We saw a snake, which Sophie almost stepped on before it bolted. (Can snakes bolt? Or does bolting require legs? Anyway, it was outta there!) We stumbled on a little stone labyrinth in the garden behind a church on the edge of town, which entranced the girls. We found a pitchfork within and through a growing birch tree. Saw a neon orange fungus, and a bright orange and black woolybear caterpillar, and sparkling light-blue pools of glacier-fed water in the creek, huge steep slopes of lush moss, dark passages through quiet old cedar forests devoid of understory.

But the most memorable thing was the gravel. At the trailhead on the south end of the river where we did our turnaround, we found the little lean-to shelter above. The sign reads "Please help. If you are walking the trail towards the bridge, please take one or two bags of gravel with you and empty bags at the designated site." In the shelter are a dozen or so strong bags made from recycled blue jeans, and a couple of metal scoops. And to the side of the shelter, a very large pile of gravel. Obligingly we decided to turn our run into a walk and carry some gravel. We filled a bag each. They get heavy fast! And we didn't know how far we'd have to carry them.

At first the trail was wide and flat. We followed the signs that said "River Trail" and "Gravel" with arrows pointing us helpfully along. Eventually the trail became narrower and steeper, precluding the passage of the ATVs that would have made moving the gravel easy.

As we walked along we noticed a fair bit of gravel underfoot to prevent the trail from getting soggy and messy after rains and to provide traction on the steep slopes. It's clearly maintained by a very dedicated group of volunteers.

Our shoulders started to get tired from the straps of the denim bags, but we carried on. Everyone was sporting fairly new shoes. Fiona has some little Salomon trail shoes that she hasn't used much yet. Sophie has some new Nikes that were the least rigid, built-up youth running shoe I could find urgently last weekend after we realized she'd outgrown her old runners and was planning to run next week's race and join the school's cross-country team. I was in my recently purchased New Balance WT100's. So it was good to be doing a variety of types of walking, climbing, running and carrying to break in our various footwear. We probably carried our gravel for almost a kilometre.

And suddenly we arrived at the Designated Site. There was a tarp and a pile of probably a couple of hundred pounds of gravel. Trailbuilders' work parties are every Saturday morning, so I'm guessing this is the gravel that has been carried in over the past five days. Not peak hiking season by any stretch, especially with all the recent rain, so an impressive pile considering. As expected there was another little lean-too inviting us to leave our denim bags, and asking anyone heading back towards the town-side trailhead to carry any bags they found there back to the Designated Site there.

The entire trail is clearly being gradually gravelled in just this manner. Every week I expect that the small pile of gravel is spread a bit further along the trail and the lean-to and tarp are moved another 25 metres up the trail. An amazing amount has already been done. And it's thanks in part to people like us carrying small bags of gravel. Day after day, kilo after kilo.

As we walked on, having deposited our denim bags as instructed, we admired the progress of the gravelling. It may take another year or two, but I have no doubt that the entire trail will end up gravelled. We thought back to the mountain of gravel at the trailhead and how it is gradually being removed and spread along the trail. The work of hundreds upon hundreds of people, a few at a time, willingly and optimistically, can indeed move mountains.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book report

Our experiment with homeschooling whilst registered with the local school's brand new "school within a school" Distributed Learning program continues to be quite successful. Noah has settled on Science 10 (heavier on physical sciences) and Math 9 as his first foray into coursework, quizzes and exams. Sophie is doing Science 8 (heavier in biology) and Math 9 as her venture. Access to the bricks & mortar school's events and activities is a nice perk. Sophie was out of town yesterday on a school trip to hear David Suzuki speak and had a blast. She'll be joining cross-country running next week. Fiona will be heading out on the school bus next week for an all-day trip to a provincial park nature centre to tour of the kokanee salmon spawning grounds and she is excited as all get-out. A long ride on the big yellow bus, a school lunch, hanging out with a bunch of nice somewhat older kids she knows.

They're still building the program, even while they're implementing it. The virtual communication system hasn't been created yet. The learning allowance system for the purchase of educational materials isn't in place. The staff are busy with the administrative work involved in setting up the program. Today we had a first "progress meeting" with the liaison teacher. It was fine. We brought in some of the materials we've been using to show, and some of the work the kids have done. We talked about learning plans, resources, after-school activities, upcoming special events and field trips.

And Fiona submitted her book report. Last week the school librarian had enthusiastically showed her his "Reader's Club" system and explained that it is as much for the handful of homeschoolers as it's for the schoolchildren. The deal is: read a book, write down what it's about, why you like it and what sort of audience you think would enjoy it, submit your report to go in the big binder, and get your name added to the Reader's Club list. A couple of days ago Fiona said she'd like to do a report. She's just finished re-reading the Hunger Games trilogy so I wondered if she'd want to review one of those. But no, she decided it would be too difficult to explain how it could be that she loved the books but wouldn't recommend them for anyone under 11 or 12. Quite perceptive of her, I think. So she settled on the first Percy Jackson book as one she could recommend broadly. She hand-wrote her one-page report, asking for a bit of help brainstorming how to articulate what made the book so enjoyable and assistance in spelling a couple of words.

And today she sauntered into the library on her own, found the librarian, and handed in her report. It went directly into the binder and her name went up on the Reader's Club list. The first and only name there so far. She was thrilled to be the first. Not an ounce of self-consciousness over it.

It's another first too, though. I think it's the first book report any of my kids has ever written. Kind of funny.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First firing

The weather has been unrelentingly cold and wet for the past three weeks. So the cob oven hasn't exactly dried out. The outer layer of the south-facing wall is partly dry: you can see the lighter colour in the right of this photo. But the rest of the outside, and all of the inside, is still damp. Not really wet, just not dry. And as fall settles in and the weather continues to cool down, I'm not hopefully that the oven will dry slowly and naturally.

It will probably crack a bit as it dries, and that cracking should ideally happen before we put on the last layer, so that we can cover and fill the cracks with it. And I'd love to get the last layer done this fall rather than next spring. Not essential, but I'm hankering for a sense of completeness.

So today we decided to fire the oven for a short time to speed the drying from the inside. We laid a fire inside and watched to see how much smoke there would be and where it would travel. At first there was lots and it blew straight at the kitchen door. But then as the fire heated up there was less, and it mostly blew up and over the house.

The spiders were amazing. There were hundreds of long-legged ones in residence on the outside of the dome. I suppose they like the texture. They got all excited when we made the fire, just from the activity of humans nearby, but they couldn't really figure out what to do. So for a while the dome was host to a milling crowd of excited arachnids. I don't mind spiders in the slightest, so I was quite entranced by the spider rave.

So far the dome hasn't exploded into dozens of super-heated fragments of hardened clay. Which is nice.

I'm currently looking for an old pre-digital-age TV satellite dish, a 6-foot diameter one. My plan is to use it to build a roof over the oven, mounting it dome up on vertical posts and then planting it with a living roof. All the pictures I've seen of lean-to or peaked roofs look completely incongruous with the round, organic shape of cob ovens. I think a round, grass-covered roof will look nicely hobbit-like.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A minimalist find

I needed a winter shoe. Much as I love barefooting, it isn't going to work in snow and ice on minus 10 days in January. My Vibram KSOs were purchased to fit my naked foot; they don't fit toe socks and are mesh-topped, so they won't keep frostbite at bay. And they have no real tread to bite into the slippery stuff.

I did a lot of research into what might suit me and settled on the New Balance WT100. It's a kind of obscure shoe. While wildly popular among minimalist runners, it's not the sort of thing regular running stores carry. Most runners and running-store managers work on the assumption that trail running is where you're most in need of thick soles, serious cushioning and a ton of support. After all, the ground is rough and uneven, so protection needs to be the name of the game, right? So I wasn't surprised that these shoes were nowhere to be seen on the shelves at the Canadian running chain stores I checked. And of course they weren't at the general sports stores either. I looked on-line. They were available at a small handful of on-line retailers in the US, but none of them were able to ship to Canada. And on-line in Canada? Nothing. I found a New Balance store in Calgary and made a special trip across the city to check it out. It wasn't there either.

And then later that day I had to go to a little independent running store in the city to pick up my race registration package. And on my way out I scanned the wall o' shoes with little hope. Nothing. Not a minimalist shoe to be seen.

"Can I help you?" asked a salesguy. I hate shopping mostly because I don't much like dealing with salespeople. But he seemed nice enough. I figured I'd humour him.

"I'm looking for a minimalist trail shoe," I said. "Super lightweight, no support. Just something I can wear socks in when I can't run barefoot in the winter."

"Hmm, tall order," he said. "We don't generally stock anything like that. But what size are you? I'll check in back. We sometimes get some special orders returned and I can look through those."

I told him my size and he disappeared. I was pretty sure he'd either be back empty-handed, or worse, he'd come back with something I didn't want and give me some sales spiel about how it was really what I should be using, and was much like a minimalist shoe, but it wouldn't be. And I'd feel all awkward and resentful about the pitch and I would wish I'd told him I was just browsing and high-tailed it out of the store.

A minute later he came back. "Well, we lucked out. I have one in an 8." He passed me a box.

"What is this?" I asked.

"It's the New Balance WT100. The best minimalist trail running shoe we've seen. They're pretty popular lately, so we're doing a fair number of special orders for them. I guess these ones were the wrong size for someone."

"Oh my gosh!" I said. "These are the shoes I had given up hope of finding. These exact shoes." I tried them on. They fit. And they felt like nothing -- which is a good thing in minimalist footwear.

Compared to my Asics Kayanos, these cost well under half as much. Compared to my Asics Kayanos, these weigh just a shade over half as much. A mere 174 g per shoe. Less than a small family-size bag of potato chips. (The Asics, which are on the light side as conventional running shoes go, are 300 g each.)

I wore them around for a few days to get used to them and make sure they wouldn't give me blisters. No problem. Today I did my first run in them, an easy 6k. They feel great. I think they're my favourite shoes already. My only complaint is that there's still a significant bit of heel rise -- 8 mm, which is less than in traditional running shoes, but still more than I'd like. But I can deal with that for now.

Because guess what? There's an even more exciting New Balance shoe on the horizon called the Minimus. And "my" running shoe guy says they'll be stocking that one at their cool little independent store in March when it comes out. I should be just about ready for a new pair of shoes by then.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Canmore Rocky Mountain Half Marathon

It was race day. My first ever timed race. I got up and left Erin and Noah in the motel room with instructions to vacate themselves to the café across the street, and thence to the van, packing the rest of the luggage in, by 11:30. I had my doubts -- they looked like a couple of teenagers hankering for a good, late lie-in, which I guess they were. But they managed to get out by check-out time.

It was a chilly 1 degree C, but I had an awesome new mid-weight long sleeved running shirt with integrated mitties to use, so I wore my shorts and set out for the 15-minute jog over to the start.

I had bestowed a single dishwater motel coffee upon myself an hour and a half before race time, after two and a half weeks of no caffeine. I was jittery and feeling weird and half nauseous about an hour later. I think it was the coffee, because I didn't feel the slightest bit nervous as far as I could tell. To think I used to drink two or three double cappuccinos in a morning and not notice a thing!

It was so much easier to keep up a decent pace with people running all around at a similar pace. I had set my Garmin to give me kilometre splits -- measures of the pace of each kilometre in succession. I needed my splits to average around 5:35/km to make my goal time. Early on I was running at about 5:10, which was probably partly due to the caffeine. I tried to slow myself down a bit, but 5:10 felt comfortable and easy. By about 4 km I had burned off the caffeine jitters and was feeling great at that pace. The course was super flat there, so I decided to just run semi-conservatively by feel and gave up checking my pace. By 8 or 9 km the course became more rolling and my pace slowed a bit. I had started out a bit behind on fluids, since I hadn't brought any water and there wasn't any at the start line, and that started to catch up with me by half way through the race. I drank a bit at every water station, but it took a while to absorb and for a while I was a little dry. For a few kilometres of rolling hills the dehydration took its toll and my pace fell back to 5:35-ish. But then by the last few kilometres I was better hydrated and picked things up to below 5:25 again.

So I finished in 1:53:55, well under my two-hour dream goal, and 16th out of 97 in my age-group, 172/967 overall. Not too shabby I guess for a first race by someone who has felt like a total non-athlete for most of her life.

The volunteers were all super friendly and the race had a nice feel to it. People were nice and smiling. It was pretty well organized (except that there were no kilometre markers from 11 to 19 kilometres). And it was awesome to be running with all those people! But still, it was weirdly lonely being there in a sea of runners and spectators where I was totally anonymous and didn't recognize a single face. So many people had friends and family running and cheering. The 20-minute walk back to the motel, all by myself, was odd and anti-climactic too. As was jumping in the van with two bored teenagers and driving for 8 hours to get home. The dead battery in the no-phone-zone at the ferry line-up was certainly no fun. Missed two ferries, but a nice guy boosted us and we got home without further incident, though the cause of the problem remains completely mysterious. It died last week too; at the time I had assumed a door had been left open. Bad wire? Alternator? Battery? That's a mystery to sort out tomorrow.

All told it was fun, but I don't think I'll do too many races unless I can register with friends and/or run somewhere closer to home. I think I just like running. A race is nice once in a while, but I don't think that races will ever be what really motivate me to run.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Convenience store quip

Have I mentioned lately how supremely flexible and wonderful the high school is about accommodating Erin's music, travel and work-related learning? Well, yeah, they have been great. She can take Tuesday afternoons off for choir, and alternate Fridays and Mondays off for violin, and the latter three quarters of Wednesday off to work at her part-time job. Two months in Asia? A week or two for a choir tour? A random trip to Montreal? No problem. The school sees the value of this for her and just makes it work.

So today being Wednesday, she was working at the café during school hours. And she had to go from there on an errand to the convenience store for whipping cream. She knows the convenience store cashier from dozens of similar runs she's done at work over the past year or so. So they chat while Erin's checking out and the cashier asks "Are you homeschooling again this year, or going to school?" And Erin says "Going to school, but they don't make me actually be there all the time. They basically let me come and go as I please."

Some guy, a customer, is lingering around the cash too. He quips "That's not going to prepare you very well for a job."

"Uh, well," says Erin "I'm at my job right now, actually." And pays for the whipping cream and heads back to the café.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Main cobbing done

The main cobbing is all complete on the oven now. The walls of the oven are about 8 1/2" (22 cm) thick. See how the cob has come out almost to the edge of the foundation all the way around? And yesterday I added a lip to the doorway. Cob is so easy and enjoyable to sculpt. No wonder the Build Your Own Earth Oven book is full of photos of sculptural ovens like this one. I like the look of the little rim, and it may serve to protect some of the detailing on the main oven from getting too sooty. There's no hurry to add the final top coat of smooth cob, though I'd love to get to it this fall sometime. Mostly now we just wait for the thing to dry out a bit before firing it up. The way the weather is these days (very cold and very wet), that's going to take quite a while. Today beans are baking in the indoor electric oven.

Saturday, September 04, 2010


I surrendered to the world of Facebook about a year and a half ago. Mostly to keep track of what my elder kids were up to. I like it okay; some parts are great, some not so great. I do enjoy the little peeks into my kids' thoughts and their writings.

The whole family is on Facebook now. Sophie is planning to take a high school course soon, so she qualifies on a technicality. Fiona is really younger than Facebook members are supposed to be. But she loves being a part of whatever the rest of the family is, and I know that the "rules" on Facebook are about preventing lawsuits from parents rather than any real need to protect children from content. I like that by friending my kids I know that they are learning and abiding by rules concerning netiquette and internet safety. We are old hands at the internet, and I have no worries, but it's reassuring to see them behaving respectfully and expecting the same of their friends.

Fiona first joined a year or so ago. Eventually her account was terminated, presumably because she seemed younger than allowed. The other day I gave her a new e-mail address and got her set up again. She's been having a great time messaging her dad and keeping in touch with people from near and far, especially ones she met over the summer at SVI. Some of her old friends posted how glad they were to see her back on Facebook, and some asked why she'd been gone. I particularly liked this exchange with an older friend from aikido:


We were out for a walk and rockhounding session today when we chanced upon a bunch of paragliders on their way down from Idaho Peak to the ball field in the park at the lakeshore. First came a big tandem glider with a woman on her first flight with an experienced flyer. We were able to vicariously enjoy her exhilaration and euphoria at the experience. We watched them pack up the glider, folding it up cell by cell, packing it into a rucksack. Next came smaller solo gliders, with some pretty nifty landings -- beautifully controlled, almost like dancing out of the air onto the field. We watched long enough to see a few more launches off the top of Idaho.

In my next life I want to do this.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Still standing

We got back from a quick camping trip this morning and removed all the sand from inside the oven. Wonder of wonders it didn't all fall down! In fact it seems incredibly strong inside. The gradual arching shape of the dome means that the hundreds of pounds of weight are compacting and tightening up the walls. Although the thermal layer comprising the inner wall is by no means dry, it feels solid as rock when you rap on it with your knuckles from the inside. And it fits our extra-large 14 3/8" pizza pan easily. Four loaves of bread should be no problem.

We also did a fair bit more cobbing. We completed the first insulating layer at the back of the oven and began work on the second and final such layer. You can see the cob comes right out to the edge of the rocks at the front now.