Friday, May 25, 2012

Dandelion syrup

About 6-8 cups of dandelion flowers yielded about 1 cup of packed yellow petals. We mixed this with 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water, brought to a simmer and allowed to cook for an hour or so, gradually reducing in volume to a syrupy consistency. Then we added the juice of one small lemon, strained out the petals, and cooled.

It tastes wonderful! Like spring sunshine mixed with honey and lemon. Delicious on ice cream.

Art class

One of the main advantages of being part of a Distributed Learning (i.e. homeschool support) program through our local school is being able to ask for specific perks and opportunities and have responsive can-do people on the receiving end who make our wishes come true. Last spring the DL program's principal asked me if I had any ideas for arts-related workshops the homeschooled kids might enjoy. For years I'd been wishing for a way to persuade the local artist who used to run the art classes that Erin, Noah and Sophie thrived in to get back to doing some children's art teaching. How about hiring her, through the school district, to run some classes, I mused aloud? What about enticing her with funding from a grant, a classroom at the school to use, and suggesting a set of workshops focused around a collaborative community-based project? 

The principal wrote a successful grant application, and the artist said yes! And so all this year we've had monthly art workshops for the homeschooled kids. We all met in the school for a basic art warm-up, typically using india ink to focus on an aspect of form, technique or texture, encouraging the kids to think about seeing the world around them through this lens.

Then we would go out on the day's field trip, keeping in mind the morning's exercise. We'd look for shapes, or juxtapositions of light and dark, or different types of lines, or textures, or text. The kids would sketch in their art journals. Various field trips took us along the creek to the lakeshore, to a nearby ghost town in the depth of winter, to the mining museum, to the Japanese internment memorial site and on a walking tour of local architecture. 

Back in the school again, we had lunch and then got busy with the day's art workshop focusing on a particular medium or technique. There would be some examples and explanation, but only just enough to demystify ... never enough to induce the desire to copy. There was acrylic painting, gelatin plate printing, block printing on fabric, papier maché work and shibori dyeing of cotton muslin. The afternoon workshops often pulled together the threads of the morning's warm-up and field trip. For instance, after visiting the ghost town the kids created small block prints based on geometric patterns of light and dark they observed and sketched on the old metalwork and machinery. 

There were several small projects throughout the course of the year. The long-term focus of the program, though, was on the "community ABC project." The idea was to use the explorations and techniques to create an alphabetical representation of our community's natural and cultural heritage. 

We brainstormed words for every letter of the alphabet. Children chose a letter or two or three for their own. They used one or more of the words from our brainstorming session as the inspiration for a larger block print. They sketched their ideas out and eventually refined them into a 6x6" square. They traced the design through onto the back of the piece of paper by taping it to a window. They then transferred the reversed image onto a safety-kut block (similar to a lino block but a much more forgiving material for children to carve). Then the used cutting tools to cut the block. 

Finally the blocks could be printed. Most were done purely with block printing. A few were a combination of small letter-blocks spelling out words and paintings. Our last couple of classes were half-day affairs, focused mostly on printing, and on completing the last of the various lingering projects in time for a gallery showing.

Fiona made F, I and O ... and also U and V. Miranda did Q.

Last weekend we had a wonderful gallery exhibit that attracted over a hundred enthusiastic visitors. The kids' work all looked so wonderful pulled together in a single space, neatly mounted and displayed. The kids were very gratified.

Looking back on the entire program I would of course say I loved the art teacher's wonderful balance of guidance vs. freedom and the honouring of individuality. I loved the final results, and the way they validated the kids' artistic expression. But I especially loved the way the project brought together children of a huge range of ages and abilities and gave them an "all together as homeschoolers" kind of identity, a lovely way to get to know each other and each others' families.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

First marathon

It's been 10 days, and thanks to Elastoplast's moist wound-healing SOS Plaster System, my blister has almost completely healed. Which, if you'd peeked at it on May 6, in all its wretched meaty bloody glory, would amaze you.

It was a great run, and blister was really the only regrettable part of it. The day before I was still waffling back and forth about what to wear on my feet. I'd brought my old Minimus shoes, just about completely worn through in the uppers, and thought that perhaps I could run in them and discard them in a garbage can partway through if I decided to run partly barefoot. Or I could wear them the whole way. Or I could take my huaraches, and try for a mostly or partly barefoot run. By dinner time the night before I'd decided to just wear my shoes and forget about the barefoot bravado points. But by the next morning I had swung back the other direction. I set off in my huaraches.

I was early for the race, but I'd hardly slept, and it felt better to be sitting in the SkyTrain station sipping a latté and watching the runners for the Half (starting an hour earlier than the Full Marathon) piling onto trains for the start area than sitting in the hotel room in the dark. Chuck, Fiona and Sophie were still asleep and needed to head to the airport an hour or two after the race started to pick up Noah and his Corazón compatriots. So I meandered slowly out to the start area.

I had checked out the last 10k of the route a couple of days before and it had been lovely and smooth, perfect for barefooting. I'd had high hopes for the rest of the route. As it turned out the first two-thirds of the course was fairly abrasive chip-seal and old asphalt. There were a few smooth streets but mostly it was stuff that pushed the envelope on my sole-conditioning. I shucked my huaraches for a couple of kilometres twice, but soon decided it made the most sense to save my feet for later in the course.

Blister, day 10: almost gone!
I had never run more than 8k in my huaraches before, though, and neglected to snug up the laces as they stretched out over the first 20 km. My left sandal stayed in place pretty well, but my right one was loose, and I ignored the saggy fit since to my eventual peril. The ball of my right foot was riding over the edge of the sandal with every step -- although I couldn't really feel a problem with it -- and inevitably a big blister formed. By the time we reached the smooth asphalt of the seawall, my foot was in no condition to be unprotected on the ground. So I snugged up the huaraches and kept them on until the end.

Having heeded all the warnings to be sure to drink enough, I over-hydrated during the early part of the race. Stopping to pee and to put on / remove / adjust my sandals added about ten minutes to my time.

I finished in 4:24. I had figured if I ran in huaraches or bare feet, anything under 4:40 was fine, though in shoes I would have wanted to aim for 4:15. So I didn't feel like I was fast, but I was fine with my result It was a stunning course and a great run. You can view the route in this video -- really amazing. The weather was perfect: sunny and breezy, with temperatures peaking at about 13ºC.

I had hurting feet during the last 12 km, but I didn't really feel like I'd run out of energy or motivation. And my hurts were all superficial -- chafing at the neckband of my shirt, a neuritis on my wrist from my Garmin strap being too tight given the heat and inevitable bit of edema, and the pain in the soles of my feet. No knee pain, no ankle / Achilles / plantar / hip discomfort. So I think the basic biomechanics of my form are serving me well.

So in retrospect it was not a great move to go with the huaraches and the option of bare feet. Next time I think I'll try minimalist shoes. But the worst move was to head immediately from the end of the race into the minivan and do nothing but sit as we drove home in order to get the kids back in time for bed and school. What I needed was stretching, movement, ice, a shower, some massage, and lots more movement and lots more stretching. Instead I arrived home 9 hours later in time for bed and another 6 hours of relative immobility while asleep. By the next morning I was very stiff indeed.

Ah well, it only took me a couple of days to get myself limbered up. I'm happy and caught up on my sleep and running again now. And thinking about where to go from here, thinking about my next marathon.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fiona reads

The Arts & Writers School and Community Coffee House was last night. It's the culmination of a week of electives and workshops held at the school with a variety of local and guest artists. In the gallery space was the artwork the kids had produced throughout the week in classrooms, on the lakeshore, in canoes. In the main theatre area the performing arts presentations were queued up.

Fiona was among a couple of dozen students who chose to read some writing to the assembled crowd of parents and community members. She was strangely comfortable, perhaps even eager, in the spotlight. She introduced her piece casually with a couple of leading comments, and then read it clearly and expressively, pausing perfectly before the last line which brought closure and more than a few appreciative chuckles.

Then she headed to the lighting booth. I'm not sure exactly why she was asked to be the lighting technician for the high school play. Likely it was because in addition to her strong work ethic and ability to focus in chaotic situations, she was the one elementary student who was both well known to the theatre coaches and not assigned to particular full-time school classroom. Anyway, she had been commandeered on the final day of the theatre workshop to do lighting for the play. Armed with a copy of the script and lighting directions she managed the console, dimming and flooding, flickering, switching between full-stage illumination and a fixed spotlight. One of the theatre coaches helped by providing a bit of prompting but mostly he was too busy with the actors and Fiona worked on her own. She did a great job!

She was with the school kids for about three full days this week. Except for the last day with the high schoolers she was with the combined Grade 2/3/4/5 classrooms. She really enjoyed herself, but mostly for the reasons that had little to do with the other kids or the sense of being "in school." She connected beautifully with the adult mentors, and loved many of the activities. She loved the feeling of having a schedule and being busy, juggling a variety of activities, being a little independent person not part of a herd, who could get herself places and look after herself without adult shepherding. On the other side she was able to see some of the challenges of school: the early nights and mornings of tired rushing, the disruptive immature behaviour that cropped up repeatedly even amongst kids considerably older than herself, the brusqueness and judgmentalism of a couple of the adults at the school, the weird pseudo-maturity of young children trying to emulate teenagers, and the fact that school is a haven for contagious viruses, resulting in an inevitable nasty cold for her by day 5.

I think Fiona would really enjoy attending a school that suited her. For this past week, our local school with its flexible multi-age enrichment activities has suited her well. But I think it also became clear to her from this little glimpse that "regular school" here would not be a good fit for her. And I agree, so it's all good.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My working parent day

Today I felt like a working parent. I packed all three kids off to school, went to work, picked them up in time to start juggling the after-school activities and homework.

Yes, all three are at school this week. Fiona is busy finishing up the series art workshops that have been offered to homeschooled students this year, and she is also participating in the Arts & Writers Festival the local school is hosting for K-5 kids, so she's involved one way or another all day every day this week. Meanwhile the Grade 6-12 kids are enjoying their elective week, so Noah is attending full days all week (normally he is home at least two days). His elective is about mountain cultures and their spiritual relationship with the natural world. Lots of hiking and snowshoeing and learning about various spiritual practices and philosophies.

My Working Parent Day started at 5:40 when I awoke early for some quiet time on my own. I looked after the cat and the chickens. I made lunches for the three kids. I showered and had a coffee. Then I got the kids were up. I made sure they were organized for their various days. I drove them to school.

I dashed off to the clinic to see patients for the morning. After finishing up my charts in the early afternoon I headed home to check on the sick cat and then back to the school to meet Fiona as she finished up her day. I hung out with her waiting for Noah to finish, at which point Sophie headed from her Theatre Writing elective to soccer. I drove Noah and Fiona home, then dropped by my mom's to deal with some music school details. Then I grabbed a few groceries, picked Sophie up from soccer, came home, taught a viola lesson, made supper, practiced with Fiona, headed out to an evening quartet concert, came home, helped with the editing of a couple of writing pieces, and encouraged everyone to get bed.

The week has been great for all three kids, but I'll be happy when the flow gets back to normal.