Monday, March 28, 2011

Montreal visit

Random wrought-iron work
Erin and I went to Montreal together this past week. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, how it was that she went last fall to "check out the University and get some lessons" and came back saying that she needed to move there now.

Well, not really. I already understand where her cravings for the move come from. I understood the allure of independent living. And I understood the lack of appropriate musical opportunities she's been dealing with in our hometown for the last three or four years. We made this trip to try to develop some understanding of how the logistics of such a move might work. Still, I was genuinely curious to see the city and its musical opportunities through Erin's eyes.

Day One in Montreal was the most telling. We walked around in the morning to check out some apartment possibilities. Oh my! Even on a frigid late-March day, with the accumulated trash of an entire winter revealing itself in the remnants of dirty frozen slush on the sidewalks, the heritage and character of this city revealed itself. People live in apartments above restaurants, boutiques and cafés. They live in row houses with astonishing turrets, wrought-iron spiral and straight staircases, colours and stonework and huge high ceilings. And dumps and dives and rickety fire escapes and tiny one-room studios with sloping floors. But character is everywhere!

Row houses near Carré St-Louis
Erin had a lesson scheduled that first afternoon with one of the teachers she had worked with last fall. We walked from our cute little B&B near the university to the teacher's home on the Plateau. I sat in on the lesson. The working relationship the two of them had was amazing. They clearly like each other a lot, and Erin responded so well, and with such good humour, respect and focus, to everything she was asked to do. She played her new repertoire (Wieniawski Concerto #2 and the Bach g minor Sonata) and there was an excellent mix of repertoire-specific musical polishing, technical development suggestions and instruction about practicing technique. So much to leave with after just an hour! I kept imagining "What if Erin could get this kind of lesson every week? Would she ever go places!" That was when I really understood why Erin came home from her Montreal visit last fall telling me that she needed to move now.

Possibly Erin's future home?
At the end the teacher told me that Erin is a very special student with incredible promise, and that I needed to make sure that she had a very good teacher for next year, her last pre-university year. I reminded her about our remote location and the unavailability of regular lessons and ensemble experience, and told her about Erin's hope to live and study in Montreal next year. Erin had alluded to this in her e-mail but hadn't been very specific about it. Would she consider taking Erin as a private student, outside of her McGill teaching? She said that doesn't really teach a private studio (she has one private student), and is very busy and doesn't yet know her schedule for next year, so she wasn't able to promise, but she said she would very much like to. Very much. By the end it sounded like an almost-for-sure to me.

We also met her husband, a world-renowned violin maker, as she sent us to him for a sound-post adjustment. Erin had spent a lot of time in Calgary over the past several months trying to get some acoustical issues with her violin ironed out, with only partial short-term benefit. A few minutes in this Montreal workshop and everything was perfect! He too was extremely encouraging about Erin's playing after hearing her try out the adjustments he had made. He asked who she studied with. We explained we were from BC and had just been trying to talk his wife into taking Erin on as a student. He promised to try to twist her arm for us!

We met some friends and friends-of-friends here and there, met with my brother and sister-in-law who drove up from Ottawa for the day to meet us, and Erin had another lesson, this time with the concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony. (He was very positive about her ability, and it seems would be willing to teacher her regularly, but the interpersonal chemistry didn't feel like it was there the way it was with the other teacher.) We ate bagels, travelled the metro, wandered around a bunch of different streets and neighbourhoods. And we talked to the conductor of the most advanced Montreal youth orchestra, who agreed that given the logistics of travelling from BC to Montreal to play for 20 minutes at the beginning of May, a DVD audition would be sufficient -- a wonderful option to have procured.

So ... a few leads, a lot of possibilities, and a feeling that we're moving forward with the right contacts towards the kind of experience Erin has been needing for some time.


email received by Erin this evening:

"It was a pleasure to see you again! I have to tell you that my husband was very impressed by you and your playing ... he came back home encouraging me to take you as a student (usually he wants me to be less busy); that means that if you decide to join my studio next year , I will make sure to keep a place for you."


Monday, March 21, 2011

Minimus warning

My New Balance Minimus shoes may not look radical, but they come with a radical warning.  I just discovered this on the tag I eagerly tore off them when I picked them up.

So far I have done 100% of my running in them. Oops.

But for the better part of a year have done a substantial part of my running barefoot or in other types of minimalist footwear. I've been through the phase of owly complaints from my calves and Achilles tendons and have come out the other end. So I figure my exemption from the manufacturer's suggested limits is well-earned.

I've done about 15 km in them so far and really like them. They have lots of room in the toe box, so much so that it almost feels like there's no shoe in the forefoot at all. Cinching the laces up gives a well-fitted feeling in the mid- and rearfoot while not reducing freedom in the forefoot. I have not had any trouble with blisters, despite the lack of a cushioned heel counter. They feel light and secure. My ITBS issues have not been a problem at all in these. And my Achilles troubles, which seemed to finally resolve themselves for good during January and February, have not recurred. Mechanically they feel very close to barefoot.

"Ground feel" is not as good as in my very thin huaraches, nor quite as good as in my VFFs, but is considerably better than in the New Balance WT100's (the minimalist shoes Erin has taken over as her own). And of course ground feel is light years better than in traditional running shoes. Step on a sharp piece of gravel and you feel it: it doesn't hurt, but you're aware that it is there. This protection has advantages and disadvantages. I can run comfortably over sharp rough terrain that my feet wouldn't otherwise tolerate, but on the other hand this protection makes it possible to "pound the pavement" in a manner that puts more than natural amounts of stress on the joints, the kind of bad biomechanical form that traditional running shoes do so much to encourage. Not to the same degree, of course, but I can still tell that it's possible to be lazier with my form in the Minimuses than barefoot of in huaraches.

The sole has round lugs and the rubber is fairly sticky. I expect that it won't have quite the longevity scuffing along on pavement that a harder rubber would have, but it seems like it will be ideal for trails. On snow its grip is so-so: better by far than Vibram Five Fingers, bare feet or huaraches, but not as good as the deep angular tread on a traditional trail-running shoe.

Altogether I'm very happy with these. Now, if only the snow would melt. We still have a couple of feet on the ground. The community kids' soccer program is slated to start in less than a week. Hmmm.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Felafel fun

I scoffed for years at the idea of a panini press. As if we needed another counter-space-hogging specialty appliance. Pah! Chuck felt differently: he purchased them as gifts for others, and occasionally expounded on their presumed virtues. But I kept our own home free of this silliness.

Finally last Christmas I caved. We got a Cuisinart "Griddler." I rearranged things in the pantry and made enough shelf space that the darn thing could at least be put away in between uses. The kids were thrilled. Chuck was happy. I coped.

But now ... I'm a convert. I admit I love the ease of serving paninis for supper: healthy food that everyone enjoys, which can be prepared in under 20 minutes. Our favourite sandwich is fresh basil leaves (garden fresh purple basil shown, from last summer), thick slices of tomato, some sweet onion, a little mayonnaise and some cheese. Our press has the traditional ridged grill plates for the paninis, but also flat plates. And last week I discovered a wonderful use for these: felafel.

I love felafel. Except for the hassle and mess and oil of shallow-frying them. I generally make big batches, and I have to fry them a couple of dozen at a time. It takes ages to drop them in, flip each one at the right time, take them out, drain off any excess oil, heat the next bit of oil, drop in the next batch.

With the griddler, though, I just drop 15 rounded tablespoonfuls of batter onto the lower plate, close the press, wait five minutes, open it and sweep the golden yellow-brown little fellas off. Repeat, repeat, repeat. While making and enjoying a cup of tea. So easy! And totally low-fat too.

Felafel (adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook)

1 1/2 cups dried chick peas

3/4 cup chopped onion
4 large cloves of garlic

2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup rice or wheat flour
Approx. 3 Tbsp. water

Soak the chick peas overnight. The next day bring to a boil, then simmer 30 minutes and drain. Once cool enough, transfer to food processor. Add onion and garlic. Process until the consistency of very chunky peanut butter. Transfer to a bowl and add the salt, spices, parsley, lemon juice and flour. Add enough water to make a playdough-like consistency that holds together easily. Use tablespoons of this mixture and form into balls with your hands, then flatten slightly. Cook for 3-5 minutes on a flat grill-press at medium heat. Consume immediately in pita pockets with raita, olives, tomatoes and cucumber. Or cool, then store in the fridge for future meals or snacks.

Yup, love the panini press.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Second Runniversary

It's been just over two years since I took my first tentative running steps from the proverbial couch towards a 5k. I feel like I've made running a part of my life, though I've had a fair number of set-backs ... some sort of hip injury that sidelined me for three months the first year, recurrent mild achilles' tendonitis all last summer, a plantar fasciitis that hit after the SufferFest 25k trail run, and most recently a bit of ilio-tibial band syndrome. My body isn't as invincible as I thought it was; I'm prone to doing too much too soon, to pushing myself hard for no particular reason. It takes me longer to recover than I'd like, and I much prefer to try to strategize myself through a recovery from injury rather than wait it out.

The first year I was driven to make gains in cardiovascular fitness. It was fun. Gains came quickly. Not only was I not as out-of-shape as I thought, but my body seemed to have been poised to respond enthusiastically to the higher demands I was putting on it. I was thrilled to improve from 13-minute miles to 8.5-minute miles in the space of just four months. I loved that with my pace controlled to a little under 10-minute miles, I felt like I could run indefinitely; I enjoyed soldiering on like that for a couple of hours at a time. I began to feel like maybe I was built for endurance. But I got hurt while pushing myself to prepare for a Half Marathon.

The second year, coming back from that hip injury, I was careful not to push myself as hard. I slowed my pace on my regular runs, and increased my mileage more gradually. I had read "Born to Run" and began to experiment with changes in my running form, moving to what felt like a more natural running style. I dispensed with my high support Asics Gel Kayano shoes and moved into the transitional Nike Lunarglides for about half my running, with the other half done in Vibram Five Fingers, huaraches or my bare feet. I increased my cadence (stride rate) to try to control any overstriding. I trained myself to use a forefoot or midfoot strike. I had a pretty good year. I ran a nice Half Marathon in Canmore finishing in under 2 hours. I was disappointed with my time at the SufferFest, but I did earn an age-group medal.

However, looking back on it I think I made the same mistake I'd made the previous year, just in a different domain. I wasn't pushing myself too far or too fast, but I made the changes in my form and footwear too quickly and my body didn't have time to adapt. I got into trouble with my achilles tendons, probably the commonest difficulty for transitioning runners. The kicker was the SufferFest run in October which I did in my new WT100 minimalist trail shoes. A 25k mountain trail race is probably not the best way to encourage your legs to adjust to a completely new type of shoe. I paid the price afterwards for quite a while. Plantar fasciitis and the first bit of ilio-tibial band syndrome (ITBS) on top of achilles' tendonitis.

Through this past winter I didn't run much. It was just as well: my legs needed the recovery time. Generally I ran at least once a week, but not my customary 3-5 runs a week. It has been a cold, snowy winter. I've mostly been back in my Lunarglides for their warmth and snow repellancy. I've managed a few barefoot runs when the roads were clear enough of slush and gravel and the temperatures were not too far below freezing -- but those conditions haven't presented themselves very often this winter.

Recently the snow has been melting more than it's been falling, and the temperatures have mostly been above freezing. So in the past couple of weeks I've been running most days again and doing a couple of partial barefoot runs a week to start to condition my soles to the terrain. I run a couple of kilometres in the Lunarglides to warm up my feet, kick my shoes off at the side of the road, run on for a couple of barefoot km, turn around and retrace my route, donning my shoes once I meet up with them again. (I've discovered that 95% of people don't notice my bare feet unless I happen to be carrying my shoes in my hands. If I'm carrying my shoes they think I'm very strange. So it's best to leave them somewhere and then put them on when I get back to where I stashed them.)

Erin has been running a bit with me. She and I are struggling with the same kind of ITBS. She seems to have it a good bit worse than me. She's in her first season of distance running she is definitely her mother's daughter: too much too soon. A scant three weeks into it she was up to 10 miles! Anyway, she's taken over my WT100s, so I took that as an excuse to buy myself the next incarnation of New Balance's minimalist shoe models, the Minimus. Kootenay Mountain Sports ordered them in special for me, and my friend Janis, the co-owner of the store, was intrigued and ordered herself a pair too. I picked mine up today.

On the footbed is printed: < = >

Translated: less is more. Perfectly geeky and enigmatic for my tastes.

I like them. They look a lot like regular shoes. They weigh scarely more than the VFFs, but offer a more aggressive lugged sticky sole intended for trail-running. I like the VFFs for smooth trails and asphalt. But we don't have many smooth trails around here, and on asphalt I'm more inclined to run barefoot. So I was really wanting something truly minimalist for rough and rocky / rooty mountain trails. The Minimus seems like it will probably fit the bill. I haven't run in them yet. I'll probably take them out on the road a few times this week. The trails are probably at least a month, if not two, from being free of snow. (Hard to believe I had already been running the lakefront trail for a couple of weeks by this time last year. What a different winter we've had this year!)

Yesterday Erin and I did a long run together. I guess with the snow and ice disappearing I should have thought to pull my Vibrams out of the box where they've been since the end of October when winter started, but I didn't: I pulled on my Lunarglides like usual. Most of my runs so far this year have been under 10k but we planned to do about 16k at a nice leisurely pace. As usual by about about 9 km I was feeling my ITBS pain. Not too badly, but enough to wish for less of it. I knew I'd be okay to finish, though, so we kept going. Wanting to continue toughening up my soles, I kicked off my shoes at a strategic point before a loop-back to fit in 4 or 5 unshod kilometres.

Within sixty seconds my ITBS pain was gone. Completely gone.


This year I'm not going to try to get stronger and faster. I'm happy with where I'm at. I'm not going to try to adjust my running form any more. I'm happy with where that's at. Instead I'm going to try to follow Barefoot Ted's advice:

"I say don't obsess about distance and speed...rather seek out that sweet spot of joy in running and let that be your guide.  In the end, joy is a great teacher ... of both your mind and body."

Yeah. That's where I'm going.

Only ... does this mean I have to give up using my Garmin?

Friday, March 11, 2011

She's in!

Yesterday we aborted our trip to Calgary after 6 hours on the road, getting turned back by avalanche closures on the passes. And then we went for a night-time run in town and a couple of hours at the gym. So she was still sleeping at 9 this morning when the phone rang.

I woke her up and handed her the phone.

I wasn't even thinking about anything a few minutes later when she showed up in the living room looking like the cat that had swallowed the canary. Guilty smirk and all.

"What?" I asked.

"I got in," she said.

National Youth Orchestra starts June 18.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Survey says...

Google Stats tells me some odd things about what people are looking for when they land on my blog.

Most popular keyword searches:

nurtured by love
hairy oven
beakman motor
nutured by love (note the surprisingly common and rather, uh, interesting mis-spelling)
companion cube tissue cozy
corazon choir nelson
huaraches stealth rubber
audience manners children

Most popular posts / pages:

Cuisenaire Discovery Book from 2008
Us 2011
Unschooling in a nutshell 2011
PUPD (Periodic Unschoolers' Panic Disorder) 2008
Dorodango tips 2009
Maturity and pseudo-maturity 2006
Why it's worth it (Suzuki music) 2008
Seed crackers 2007
Barefoot Runniversary 2010

Milky swirls

Fiona is enjoying learning how to use iMovie and iStopMotion. We made this one together. A couple of her other projects are on her blog.

DL program thoughts

We had our mid-year meeting a couple of weeks ago at the local public school to discuss how the new Distributed Learning program they created for homeschoolers is working out. If you're new to the blog, or an occasional reader, and want some background on the creation of the DL program, you can read this post.

The local DL program hasn't fit us as smoothly and comfortably as a well-worn glove. The SelfDesign program was like that; we slipped right in and we felt at home. Their staff shares a common philosophy, very much aligned with ours. If we bristled at the Ministry of Education's expectations, the SelfDesign staff would bristle right alongside us. They seemed to have a lot of latitude in how they satisfied the Ministry requirements and administered the program. They were very skilled at figuring out ways to turn natural learning into the kind of documentation that would keep the government happy.

With our local DL program we've got good, open-minded people on our side here. That's a huge bonus: real people whom we get to know very well, who interact regularly, face-to-face and personally with the kids, rather than some internet-mediated substitute. But they're totally new to this sort of learning, and to being the interface between homeschoolers and the government. They want to make us homeschoolers happy, and they see the value in what we're doing, but they're not necessarily going to go out on a limb for our philosophical beliefs, especially when the Ministry of Education is doing its tough-guy posturing with this new program. They feel a need to play by the rules. And they're also sensitive to appearances within the local community. For instance, we are requested to spend our learning allowance money discretely, to avoid provoking ire or jealousy in parents of schoolchildren.

For Fiona things are working quite well. She enjoys academic work even when it's challenging, and tends to accomplish it in ways that provide ample documentation and evidence of learning. She loves making things, and filling in worksheets, writing and doing projects. Our liaison teacher finds it a breeze to document her learning in all areas, so there is no tension between her natural learning and the government's expectation that specific subject areas and content be covered. Fiona actually really enjoys having seeing the liaison teacher face-to-face a couple of times a month. She likes saving stuff to show him, enjoys blogging knowing that he reads her blog and is interested to know what she is doing and learning. She's liked having access to the BC Science 6 curriculum materials and website-based quizzes through the school and I can see her really enjoying the independent study courses that will become available to her at the Grade 8 level and beyond. She has also been really pleased with some of the opportunities she's had to be involved in the bricks-and-mortar school. She will likely attend the Arts & Writing Festival in April. She loved the month of downhill ski instruction and Wednesday ski days. She's enjoyed field trips, being part of the Reader's Club and participating in the Science Fair. For Fiona the DL program is entirely unintrusive, and offers her a few extra-curricular perks.

Sophie is fitting the program pretty well too. She is young enough to be part of the ski program, which she has loved, but old enough to be able to take advantage of independent study courses which she also enjoys in moderation. She has benefitted from using the animation facilities at the school. She recently wrote the Grade 7 Foundation Skills Assessments with the Grade 7 class at the school (she'd done this type of testing in Grade 4 as well) and I think in a lot of ways it was easier and more enjoyable doing so with a crowd of kids. She is neither here nor there about the interface with our liaison teacher; she likes him, and is willing to jump through occasional small hoops to make his job of documenting her learning a bit easier. But she's not one to produce a lot of written output, nor is she so much the eager pleaser. I find myself having to nudge her into doing an occasional bit of writing (a book review or an explanation of a mechanical project on her blog), to keep clearer records of her math learning, to persist and document the Rosetta Stone work she's doing. The reporting requirements of the DL program are minimally or mildly intrusive with her, and the advantages feel like they're worth it. I can see Sophie enjoying more independent study academic courses in the next year or two, and benefitting from being able to easily accrue high school credits by completing those courses, as well as being awarded credits for her learning in other areas: foods, music, PE, etc..

Noah is considered a Grade 9 student which means that he is sort of a high school student, but the diploma credits for high school don't start to accrue until the Grade 10 level. He's got a few Grade 10 courses on his roster, including a couple of structured academic ones, and because they're diploma credits the expectations are higher. We're running into a little difficulty with respect to his reluctance to write. He types well, but the structured courses (math: mostly algebra and geometry so far, and science) are pretty much paper-based, using written exercises, workbooks, quizzes and tests for documentation and evaluation. That's proving to be a consistent hurdle. It's awkward or impossible to use the computer for most of this written work. As a result he procrastinates and resists. He's done very well on the math tests, and is halfway through the course. But really, it was all review ... he should have been able to fly through the material in a few short weeks. The writing resistance has slowed everything right down. Science has been even more problematic: again, the content is easy, but the first unit on ecology was full of tests with short-answer questions and that got put off and put off. By both of us. I share the blame, certainly: I find I dread nagging and coddling him through the writing. He is not at all motivated to do it. It honestly feels to me like high school academic course work is not right for him at this point in time, not unless we find ways to deal with the expectation of written work. We are considering having him undergo an assessment to formally identify his areas of challenge and elucidate any additional tools and/or accommodations that might be helpful.

Noah is also not interested in taking advantage of extra-curricular offerings at the school. He is too old for the ski program, not interested in the high school electives or field trips. He is definitely not a pleaser who enjoys generating and then showing off output to our liaison teacher. They have a nice relationship, but it is not compelling Noah to produce school-like output to make Scott's job easier. Noah likes the fact that his string ensemble work and his computer capabilities are being validated through advanced credit in Orchestra and InfoTech. But there are few other advantages to him for being involved in the DL program. I hope that he ends up feeling successful in Math and Science. His grades are very good: I just hope that the struggle over the written work doesn't leave him with a bad taste in his mouth.

Next fall he'll probably have to make at decision to work towards a Ministry of Education Graduation Diploma, in which case the DL program will be very helpful, and has already enabled him to have advanced standing, or else to dispense with the DL program. I'm fine with either option. At this point I expect he'll choose the latter. But a lot can change in six months, so I'm not making any predictions.

So there we are. It's a mixed bag. Not a great big headache, some clear advantages, but a few things that aren't necessarily a perfect fit. Overall I think we're all glad to be affiliated with the local school rather than an out-of-district program.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Science Fair

Another perk the result of our affiliation with the local public school and school district -- the kids were invited to participate in the science fair. We didn't have much notice, but Fiona was keen and we lucked into a terrific idea. She chose to investigate the changes in rhododendron leaves in response to cold temperatures. We have a large rhody bush in front of our dining room table, and enjoy using it as an informal thermometer. Over the last couple of weeks the outdoor temperature has swung wildly between -10 C and +2 C, which made for some very impressive leaf changes.

Fiona photographed the same leaf cluster at a range of temperatures over a couple of weeks. We printed the photos and she used a protractor to measure the angle the outer leaves formed. Yesterday we worked to plot a graph showing the relationship. We also found an article on-line which postulated several explanations for the phenomenon. Fiona typed up her summation of some of these explanations. She also created illustrations. We topped it all off with a fake rhodo plant in a pot ... really just a recently pruned branch stuck into some dirt.

The science fair itself was fun and a little wild. Projects were presented by children from age 6 to 18. There was everything from baking soda and vinegar volcanos to frog dissections and metal alloy demonstrations. The primary teachers had created some simple hands-on science explorations for the younger kids. Fiona was just getting over a nasty cold so she faded quickly, but she had fun. She ended up with a "gold" penny from one of the secondary demonstrations, and enjoyed the activity tables.

The highlight was bumping into her DL liaison teacher who had finally managed to procure a copy of the textbook to go with her BC Science 6 workbook. She was thrilled, as she had been waiting patiently for a long time. We had to dash home and set to work with it.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Seventeen years of awesome

You may have noticed that as the years roll by I post less and less about my older kids. That's because I sense that they don't necessarily want every moment of their lives chronicled in public through their parents' eyes. They're their own people, and they have strong sense of privacy about things that are personal and important to them. I don't want to intrude on that.

The other day Erin asked me (with a smirk) why I hadn't done a post around her birthday, "You know, the one you do about each of us on our birthdays about how awesome we are and everything?"

I don't actually do birthday posts like that, at least not anymore, but that sounded like invitation to me. And it got me thinking about how awesome my big girl really is. Especially in the past few months. So here we go...

She's still tenacious and driven relentlessly to pursue her own precise agenda. Things were very foul indeed around here when her violin was misbehaving due to sound post issues. When she accidentally oversleeps, or gets blisters, or can't find something, or runs out of time for practicing, or someone walks off with the black wet-erase marker (never mind that the other 14 colours are sitting right there) she is no fun to be around.

But so much is truly sweetness and light around here with her lately. She gets up early of her own accord. She is working diligently at coursework for school, knocking off courses quickly and efficiently.  She earns amazing grades. She is fit and healthy, spending up to two hours a day at the gym and/or running. Lately she eats vegetables like they're going out of style. She's working hard on the violin. She's been accompanying the local Suzuki students in their performance pieces and is the (well-paid) accompanist for the local community choir and does a fabulous job for them. She comes cheerfully to Suzuki group class to support the younger less advanced students. She's got a pretty nice relationship with each of her younger siblings. She doesn't do drugs or hang out with wayward friends. She's sure of who she is and what she wants to do. She's confident and capable but humble, and she doesn't look down on people who are less capable than she is. She writes short stories that leave her Writing 12 teacher's mouth agape in awe.

How sad that just when they become easy, fun and helpful they want to move away from home...