Sunday, May 29, 2011

First teas

Tea packaging proceeds. Two herbal blends have been bagged and labelled. She's going to start out with just these two, plus "pot-sized teabags"of green sencha / wild-ginger intended for iced tea.

She's decided to sell six teabags or 20 g of loose tea for $2.50. The origami paper was her idea and I think it looks lovely.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New shoes

Fiona had outgrown all her shoes from last year and for some reason those in the hand-me-down box were mostly too big. And of course my sensibilities about footwear have changed in recent years. The clunky high-support traditional running shoes I put my big kids in when they were Fiona's age no longer seem like the best option.

Last weekend Fiona came and ran a 5k race with me. She did phenomenally well, and she ran with the unadulterated great form of a mostly-barefoot kid, even in the clunky shoes she had to don for the event. I sure don't want her losing that form, or her enthusiasm for running.

In light of her need for new shoes, her nice natural form and her interest in running, a couple of weeks ago I took the plunge and dropped a lot of money on shoes untried and unseen, but which seemed from my research to be the best of the very slim pickings in kids' minimalist shoes.

These Vivo Barefoot Aquariuses from Terra Plana arrived this morning. They are very impressive, exactly what I wanted for her. They fit nicely, feel comfortable on the inside, have thin, zero-drop soles with grippy treads and a puncture-resistant membrane. And they're wonderfully flexible, very much like the little siblings to my New Balance Minimuses.

We're going to squeeze in an inaugural run together this afternoon.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tea progress

Fiona's tea business is taking shape. Some organic ingredients have been purchased. These have been combined with wildcrafted ingredients like rosehips, peppermint and wild ginger. The wild ginger in particular has entailed several trips along trails for collecting but we now have heaps of the stuff.

Two herbal blends are shown. On the left is Ruby Red, a combination of hibiscus, goji berries, dried apples and rosehips. On the right is the Kootenay Wildcraft tea, a blend of wild ginger, rosehips, peppermint and lemon peel.

This morning the teabags arrived!  We'd ordered 500 heat-sealable teabags. She will sell some tea loose-leaf, but most of it will go into teabags. Two grams of tea goes inside each bag, and then a few seconds with the iron along the open edge seals it up for good. She enjoyed making up a few today.

Next she's going to have to figure out packaging. She could just put 10 teabags in a ziploc bag, but somehow that seems a little conventional and dreary. She's had thoughts about labels and origami boxes.

In the meantime, it's fun to test out the teas, and to serve them up to guests for feedback. The Ruby Red is really lovely to behold in a glass cup.

And she's carefully tending all sorts of other herbs in flats and in the garden: lemon bergamot, peppermint, marigold, chamomile and lemon balm are growing, and lavender and anise hyssop starters are on their way to us by mail.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Schedule thoughts

So here's the thing about me. I have a terrible ambivalence about schedules. I love their tidy organizational clarity. I like fussing around making lists and spreadsheets and calendars. But I know that when it comes to living my life I much don't like clocks, and I much prefer freedom to structure. So I rarely schedule anything in my life, because it seems so pointless. My mantra throughout my years of parenting has been "a rhythm, not a schedule."

Outside activities impose a certain amount of scheduling on us. Today for example, I had to run Erin to town at 8:45, there are violin lessons from 10:30 to noon, I teach from 4:00 - 4:45 and pick Erin up at 5. But other than those fixed elements I've always thought "rhythm, not structure," the sort of rhythm that says that creative time tends to happen in the early afternoon, and practicing is usually in the early evenings, and tidying fits in just before and just after supper. Theoretically.

The problem is that the rhythm isn't working very well with six people in this family whose needs and desires are increasingly divergent. The reality is that while I tend to envision daily rhythm as being like a confluent ebb and flow of waves on a seashore, our rhythm is like a confused set of wakes overlapping and resulting in splashes, peaks, troughs and unexpected forces pushing us all this way and that, occasionally threatening to topple us into the drink.

Evenings chez Burkholder, for example. Chuck likes to chill and watch TV and play guitar (yes, often simultaneously). I like to run. Fiona prefers to practice violin, which she should do with my help. Noah is just getting going for the day and would prefer that I be available to facilitate his academic work in the evenings, but not until after he has practiced, which is usually after a bit of time on the computer. Sophie likes to practice and then get busy in the kitchen. Erin uses her evenings for schoolwork, practicing and an early-ish bedtime. Fiona likes doing math or science with me after she's done her practicing. And we're all living in the same relatively small space. And then somehow we forget that two or three evenings a week are devoted entirely to rehearsals, work or other such pursuits. Since supper doesn't usually finish until at least 7 pm I can't possibly ensure that I do all the necessary inititation and facilitation in the same three-hour window every day.

So running gets squeezed out. Fiona often practices alone. Noah rarely gets the academic facilitation he prefers, so he's not getting through his coursework. Fiona's bookwork is hit or miss. The kitchen is a mess. And particularly as reporting for our DL program looms I realize that we're not doing terribly well at fitting in the things we want to do.

Last week I signed up for a running program. It handed me a schedule. Wonder of wonders, I am fitting in the running. And it almost feels as if there is more time in my life, rather than less. Is there a lesson to be learned here? Is it time to admit that while our family doesn't like schedules, we need to impose one on ourselves to ensure that we are happy and productive?

An further object lesson presents itself in the likes of Erin, who for years seemed as resistent to schedules as anyone in this family but but now as a self-sufficient self-motivated older teen has opted to impose on herself some pretty rigid scheduling. She doesn't like being tightly scheduled, but she has discovered that it's a necessary evil as she juggles in-class courses, independent study courses, provincial exam deadlines, dozens of assignments, endless sets of rehearsals and performances in various ensembles, exercise, learning endless NYO orchestra and quartet parts, eating and sleeping and other necessities.

I suppose it's time for a family meeting.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Barefoot running

Just for fun. A presentation I put together about barefoot running, pulling together a variety of resources. There's a lot more interest around here than there was a year or so ago. Be patient while it loads, and then use your > arrow key to move through the slides. There's one quite long video embedded near the beginning which I find fascinating, but you may feel differently ... feel free to click past it. Obviously this is intended to go along with additional explanations and demonstrations in places.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Making hard candy

Here is Sophie's system for making hard candy. Her basic recipe is from the LorAnn Oils site. They make great concentrated oils and dozens of awesome flavourings, though natural foods stores are a good source of basic essential oils as well.


2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup corn syrup (use clear or amber as desire: only colour will be affected)
3/4 cup water
5 – 15 drops of liquid food colouring
1 tsp. essential oil or other concentrated flavouring (use half as much for clove, cinnamon or peppermint oil)
For dusting: 1 cup of icing (confectioner's) sugar

Small to medium sized clean, heavy-base pot with heat-proof handle and lid. (Mixture will bubble up to approximately twice its initial volume, so you need to have a good bit of room to spare.)
Accurate candy thermometer (We use our laser infrared digital thermometer which works great but a decent analogue one will suffice.)
Heat-proof spatula
Molds (sprayed with light cooking oil) and lollipop sticks if desired
Dough scraper (lightly oiled)
Marble slab or other heat-proof surface (lightly oiled)
Heavy-duty scissors or kitchen snips (lightly oiled)
Pan or rubbermaid container in which to toss candies in icing sugar
Basic metal kitchen sieve
Damp cloths for quickly wiping up spills.
A source of water for rinsing hands as needed.
A well-organized workspace that will not risk a person carrying a pot full of extremely hot sticky syrup tripping over a child, a stool or a dog whilst moving to counter area to pour candy.

The beginning of the Butter Rum candies
Place granulated sugar, corn syrup and water in the pot. Stir gently just enough to dampen the sugar. Put the spatula aside and resist any temptation to stir again until mixture is done cooking. Heat on medium heat on stove until mixture starts to simmer. Put the lid on the pot and let it simmer away covered for a couple of minutes at least. The condensation on the sides of the pot will was down any lingering sugar granules and help prevent crystallization later on. Remove lid.

Monitor temperature periodically as the mixture boils. It will likely hang around 212ºF (100C) for a while until the water boils off and then beginning climbing gradually. The rate of increase may increase as the temperature increases, so be vigilant. 

A deep red for Cinnamon candies
At 260ºF (125C) add drops of liquid food colouring as desired. Just sprinkle them on the boiling syrup. Don't stir! The boiling action will mix the colour in.

As soon as the syrup hits 300ºF (150C) turn off stove and remove pot from heat. Wait for boiling to subside. Measure out your flavouring and pour on top of syrup. Use spatula to stir it in. Warning: some flavourings, especially the natural oils, let off a lot of harsh sinus-penetrating volatile aromatic hydrocarbons. Stand back while stirring!

Lovely shiny ribbons
Pour one to three ribbons of syrup onto your heat-proof oiled surface and then place saucepan back on stove on lowest heat to keep remaining syrup liquid. Don't touch the ribbons at first. 

Use dough scraper to fold them over on themselves once or twice. After they begin to hold a more rolled, three-dimensional shape, they are ready to start handling. 

Work quickly! Touch lightly with clean hands and keep your hands and the candy ribbons moving so as to avoid burns. We like to twist ours a dozen or so turns and then roll the twisted rods like snakes a bit between our palms to compact them. 

Snip into candy-sized lengths into icing sugar while still warm and pliable. Toss to cover with icing sugar. Repeat until all the syrup has been turned into candy. Sift off excess icing sugar.

Alternatively you can pour all your syrup onto a rimmed cookie sheet lined with lightly oiled foil, wait a couple of minutes and score your clear lake of candy into bite-sized bits with the back of a lightly oiled dinner knife. If the scores fill in, the candy is still too hot: wait a couple of minutes and repeat. Allow scored candy sheet to cool completely, then break into bits along the scoring lines.

Sophie gets three beautiful lollipops and this
many candies from a single batch
Or you can use lightly-oiled candy molds. (Not the kind made just for chocolate: they won't stand the high heat of this syrup. You need the kind intended for hard candy.) Pour. Cool. Turn out.

Candy should be stored in a cool dry area, inside something moisture-proof.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Candy shop

Sophie has been busy making candy. From left to right:

Root beer, mint, anise, maple, tangerine and lemon.

Next up: butter rum, raspberry and cinnamon.

She's also making lollipops which are turning out very nicely. She can do three large lollipops from each batch of candy, leaving the quantity shown in the lemon drop jar for lozenges. Each batch takes about 45 minutes from start to finish, including clean-up.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Mother's Day Run

There was a notice in the paper about a 5k run in a town to the north of us. There's haven't been running events up there in as long as I can recall, so it seemed like something worth going to. I figured I'd use it as my first official barefoot event. I haven't been running a lot this spring, or particularly hard, but I'm doing it all minimalist style and feel like I'm finally past all those niggling calf and foot troubles and have completed the transition to barefoot and barefoot-style running. Time to do something official totally barefoot.

Yesterday I was picking Erin up from the gym, where she had also done a bit of running on the streets around town, and I said "Oh, hey, there's a 5k I'm going to run in Nakusp tomorrow. Want to come and do it with me? We'd need to leave by about 8:30." She said yeah, sure, and would I please make sure she got up in time to eat something and get changed.

So I woke her up this morning and she ate breakfast and got her running stuff. And I mentioned that she should bring some warm stuff to cover up with, because we'd probably end up standing around for twenty minutes or so and that would make us cold.

"Standing around? Um, what are we doing?" she asked, clearly very confused.

"We're going to run that 5k Fun Run in Nakusp," I said. "We'll have to register when we get there, so we ...."

"A race?" she interrupted, laughing. "I thought there was just some 5k trail you wanted to run. You never told me it was an organized run!"

"Oh. Oops, sorry. Want to do a race?"

"Yeah, sure, whatever."

So we went. We ran. The weather was lovely. I managed barefoot. My lack of shoes slowed me down a bit on the downhills and on some of the gnarly chipseal asphalt, the kind you don't really pay any mind to unless you're barefoot. My feet were a bit sore by the end but nothing that won't be back to normal by tomorrow. All in all it was a successful barefoot run. My Garmin didn't triangulate until after the first long straight stretch, so it didn't record my time, and neither Erin nor I noticed that there was an official race timer at the finish line. Duh! We were definitely in the "fun run mindset," I guess. Extrapolating from what my Garmin did record, I think we both finished under or around 28 minutes, she about twenty seconds ahead of me, which was a pretty reasonable pace for a fun run for us.

It was a great way to start off the day.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mother's Day Concert

Need I say more? It was a great concert. They are great kids. The music was fabulous. And then after it was over, Erin and Sophie did a quick presto-change-o and became choral accompanist and soprano and did the community choir performance as well.

Saturday, May 07, 2011


Sophie is our only soccer player this year. She hadn't played in a couple of years but was keen to go out this year. Her team has an awesome coach. They're actually learning strategic skills, and practicing using them in scrimmages.

There's no league per se. Just one local team for Sophie's age level. The organizers called around to similar small-scale community soccer programs in nearby villages and arranged a short roster of Saturday morning games. So far there are five games scheduled. In past years our local soccer teams have been part of the main roster of the larger town 40 minutes north, where there's a big soccer program. That meant games every single blessed Saturday, most of them up there. For a family whose May and June tends to be packed with end-of-year musical performances the weekly out-of-town games and twice-weekly practices were an onerous time commitment. This feels much more managable.

Sophie has come so far in the first three weeks of practices! It's amazing to see her digging in and handling the ball and running and really kicking. Age-wise she's "Grade 7" on a Grade 5/6/7 team, albeit one of the youngest Grade 7's, so even though she's small for her age she is no longer the tiniest kid on the field. She is really in her element skills-wise as well: challenged, but not over her head by any means.

But as an aside: how come my kid of all people has a heel strike like this?

High school

Erin returned from Corazón tour to a whole slew of English assignments. National Youth Orchestra starts before the school year ends because it's built more around the university academic year than the high school one, so somehow she not only has to get caught up in English and her other courses, but she has to get a couple of weeks ahead so that she can do school final exams and the provincial exams before she leaves.

She has a couple of performances on piano and violin this weekend, rehearsals for the pit orchestra of a full-scale musical production in Nelson kicking into high gear, and 60 or so pages of NYO repertoire to learn too. Plus Suzuki, quartet and several more Corazon performances to round out the year. And hopefully enough time to do some serious work on her solo repertoire.

And for all these reasons I am feeling exceptionally grateful for the open-minded flexibility of the K-12 public school she's enrolled in. I say "enrolled in" rather than "attends" for good reason. Over the past three weeks a combination of tour, choir rehearsals, school special events and such has meant that she has attended exactly one double block of English and that's all. This is less school attendance than usual for her, but even at the best of times she goes to school less than half the time. In a typical week during the winter she might have attended for Tuesday morning and all day Wednesday. Some weeks she might have gone two other full days, or another morning, but often not.

She is not scheduled into classrooms for most of her coursework. In fact, only English 12 is a classroom-based course for her this semester. That means that technically she is scheduled to be in the Facilitated Learning Centre at the school, where students who are doing on-line courses, individual project-based courses or teacher-directed independent study courses with teacher supervision and assistance as needed and those school attendance rules satisfied to a tee. But the reality is that she is a de facto homeschooler, and the school recognizes this. She has so many musical/travel commitments, and works so well when away from the school building, that they see no reason to impose rules that make no sense for her. Why would you take a teen who submits one to three Social Studies assignments a day during Christmas holidays so that the entire year-long course is more or less wrapped up in two months, and force her to attend school to prove that she is working and learning? It would make no sense. And the school recognizes that. They're not worried about rules for the sake of rules. They're not concerned about "setting a precedent" by allowing this. They want to serve the best interests of this particular student. How refreshing!

And so here is what she did to catch up on schoolwork during a precious warm sunny school day this week: she sat on the deck at home. This is how she works best. She took her poetry textbook out with her, and she wrote poetry and interpretive essays. Spending a day like this within the walls of the school would give some people the satisfying sense that she was "being schooled," but fortunately Erin, her parents and her teachers all recognize that her learning is far more efficient like this. Independent immersion-like work in comfortable surroundings.

Next year she won't be doing any classroom based courses, and she'll do her last few credits exclusively through on-line courseware. So she will be enrolled not through the bricks-and-mortar school but through its Distributed Learning program, which is administered through the same building and by, as it happens, the same two people who have supervised the bulk of her in-school courses. So little will change.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep

Our new batch of Ameracauna chicks arrived via the post office this morning. While we had had success breeding our own stock in the past, we lost all our chickens when we left the homestead undefended by both human and dog while Sophie's appendix was bursting on our non-vacation last year.

So we're starting from scratch again, if you'll pardon the pun. This batch is nicely varied in colour with a number of lovely coppery chicks as well as the standard yellow-black stripey sort. Our basement is full of cheeps and chirps and it glows with the red of the heat lamp.

Sunday, May 01, 2011


The recording above was made at their first performance of the season, a couple of weeks ago in Silverton. That's Erin you see in the title frame, second from the left in front. Noah figures a few times in the course of the video, one of the guys in the front row. The performance was pretty good considering where they were in their preparations i.e. just starting to pull things together for their tour and main hometown concerts next month. Zulu Mama is one of their "just have fun" songs; even though it's not one of the most polished or impressive ones, I put this one up because it shows their happiness so clearly.

Over the past week they've been through some really intensive rehearsing, workshopping and participating while on the road at the Banff Festival. They sang one of the Showcase Concerts, as their reputation from previous years secured them this honour. By all accounts they were tremendously successful.

I got an email from the manager shortly after picking my kids up off the tour bus in Nelson and driving them home. "Your funny, bright, caring, responsible kids made the Banff trip really amazing," he wrote. "There was a really remarkable session with an adjudicator which I am sure they will tell you about." Indeed, they had told me right away. The adjudicator had been brought to tears during their main festival performance. During their adjudication session she mentioned how moved she had been earlier, and how special the dynamic within the choir seemed to be. "Tell me about your director," she asked. "Who is this Allison?" And members of the choir began pouring out comments with all the warmth and love and caring they feel, speaking about how strongly they feel bound together by her leadership in this endeavour. And before long Allison was in tears, and so was half the choir. Including, I suspect, many of the guys.

This is a youth choir in a small rural town of 10,000. Not a city of a hundred thousand with a robust system of feeder choirs where the senior choir skims off the cream of the crop of scores of experienced singers. Allison accepts almost any teen who is keen and can sing in tune. No prior experience is required, no note-reading is necessary. And somehow, out of this  motley and unseasoned crew she pulls together a group that produces a sound in turns so joyful, tightly honed, caring, emotive, austere, attentive, exhuberant. My kids are so blessed. This will be Erin's last season with Corazón. Next year may be Sophie's first, and one more of Noah's many. I hope the choir is still going strong when Fiona is a teen.