Monday, December 24, 2012


It was the morning before I had to leave for Kelowna to pick up Erin. Noah, Fiona and Sophie had to be got up, the lunches had to be made, everyone had to be fed, coffee had to be made and drunk, suitcases had to be packed for Fiona and me for the overnight, art class supplies and sewing machine had to be readied for the morning's class. In other words, it was the usual chaos plus a bit more. And of course the chicken feed and water had to be topped up before I left. Ten minutes before we all had to depart, I ran out to water the chickens, and saw something leap up towards the fenced roof of the outdoor chicken run.

And there he was: this guy. About twice the size of a house cat, meaty and substantial with strength and claws and attitude to match. He was trapped there, startled by my presence. I couldn't see how he'd gotten in, but getting out wasn't proving to be easy.

I saw no blood or feathers around, and the chickens usually stay inside the coop where it's warmer, so I wondered if he had maybe just arrived. Perhaps the chickens were still alive, cowering inside. Regardless, I wanted to get him out. I cracked the gate to the outdoor chicken run, just wide enough to admit a camera lens, and took this photo. He growled, hissed and growled some more.

I cracked the gate a little wider and then went around to the far side of the coop, prodding him from behind with a long stick in an effort to encourage him to leave through the gap I'd left him in the gate. He was spitting mad and didn't want to move. But finally he made a grand leap and ran for it: straight through the little chicken door and into the coop.

I suppose I wasn't thinking entirely sensibly. I was only thinking of the poor chickens that he might be about to kill. So I ran around to the coop door and quickly opened it, peering into the relative dark, hoping that my appearance would scare him out the little flap-door at the back by which he had come in.

The image was like a split-second landscape revealed by a flash of lightning. I saw, and I slammed the door shut, only really understanding what I had seen after the door was closed. I had seen chicken carcasses: it was already all over for our rooster and four hens who had been faithfully contributing lovely blue-green-shelled eggs to our pantry for a year and a half. But I had also seen the cat, a mere 14 inches from my face, sitting in the nesting box closest to the door, growling his horrid growl, crouched upon his deadly claws.

We now had two minutes until we had to leave for school/art class/Kelowna. Like any reasonable person would, I spent that two minutes uploading the photo to Facebook (thereby alerting Chuck) and then simply drove away, trusting that the cat would eventually leave by the open gate. Which it seems he did.

We dealt with the chicken carcasses another day. I suppose we'll be back to raising new chicks this spring.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fear and locked doors

Dear Ms. School District Superintendant

I'm writing to express my distaste for the recent board-level changes in school security policy. 

I chose to raise my children in this area in large part because I wanted them to grow up in an environment free of pervasive media-drive fear. Not free of risk, of course: none of us can ever live entirely free of risk. But I wanted them to grow up in an environment uncontaminated by the sort of fear and distrust that is rampant in larger centres and other countries. I wanted my children to believe that the world is by and large a good place filled with good people. I wanted them to learn to keep risk in perspective. 

[Our community] and [our K-12 public school] seemed to provide that kind of environment. The school and the community are friendly, open and trusting. Not to the point of stupidity, but they provide a balanced openness and acceptance. We have not fallen prey here to a paranoid distrust of each other or of strangers. Children in our area who are asked for directions by tourists respond helpfully rather than cowering in fear. The school has had an atmosphere of welcome acceptance. School staff have worked hard to build connections between school and community, between living and learning, between the natural world and the people living within it. Children attending school have felt part of a school community that encompasses the larger world, rather than held in an institutional community turned inwards, insulated and protected from the larger world. 

The new security policy strikes at the heart of this openness. It creates an atmosphere that draws a firm line between the scary outside world and the supposed safety of school. It is also a terribly unscientific interpretation of risk. Considering that schools are supposed to be helping children learn to critically examine and interpret information, this sets a very poor example. The risk of a Canadian school student dying in a motor vehicle accident on the way to or from school is hundreds of times higher than the risk of dying in a school shooting. Why are we letting a media frenzy relating to an incident in a different country with a radically different health care system and firearms law dictate which doors we can walk through?

If the school district is truly concerned about reducing the risk of school shootings from negligible to even-more-negligible, they should consider the factors that are commonly cited by experts as motivating such gunmen. School shooters tend to be isolated loners who are fearful and disempowered, and they tend to take out their anger on institutions where they perceive their isolation and disempowerment to have begun. Surely it is no stretch to see that a school lockdown policy -- which inhibits the free interaction between school and community, which symbolizes the isolation of students from the wider world and which restricts student movement and location -- will tend over the long run to increase the likelihood of disturbed individuals choosing that school as a target. It is no mystery why US rates of school shootings continue to rise as schools get more and more controlling and "secure." Such policies are dehumanizing. They put up barriers. They isolate. All factors that play into the disturbed thought patterns of future potential mass-murderers.

For goodness sake, let's keep risk in perspective. The risk of a school shooting here in our corner of rural BC is virtually nil. The risk of choking on a piece of food at a school lunch or dropping dead of cardiac arrest on the soccer field is higher. We're not rushing around banning team sports or grapes. Why is the school district buying into media-driven fear, and in doing so eroding healthy attitudes towards community and the wider world, the sort of healthy attitudes that are protective against violence? I hope that the recent directive was a misguided attempt to comfort families by being seen to be doing something in light of the media hype surrounding a shooting in a nation very different from ours, and that upon realizing that parents do not need or want this sort of "comfort" the administration will revise the policy.

I urge you to rescind the current directive so that the wonderful healthy openness between students, families, school staff and communities can be preserved. Barriers build fear and resentment and reduce student security both real and perceived. A policy of openness serves our students, and their security, best.



Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Matcha White Chocolate Truffles

Matcha White Chocolate Truffles

1 lb. good white chocolate
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup matcha powder

~ 1 lb. white chocolate chips or buttons for dipping

Melt and stir together the first four ingredients. Chill for several hours.

Roll into 1 tsp. balls, dip in melted plain white chocolate. Store in airtight containers in a cool location, well away from dog.

Note: Sophie describes the above recipe as Matcha Truffles: Extreme Edition. Unless you really love green tea, you might want to tone this down. Start with a couple of tablespoons of matcha powder and work up from there to taste. We decided that wrapping a bit of the truffle ganache around a macadamia nut balances the flavour beautifully, so that the extreme mix works well.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Moot court

Our workshops exploring aspects of law and government have continued since last spring and concluded this week with a moot court. We've made a special trip to Nelson for each one, and even though we do far too much driving at the best of times, it's been worth it.

Our Lawyer Mentor has employed an consistent and unique theatrical style which the kids have played along with happily. He reads a narration of the events of our fictional country aloud. As he does so he non-verbally appoints certain kids to certain roles. "The head of security .... [grabbing a police hat and dropping it on the head of a likely-looking 9-year-old, then gesturing for her to come onto the rug which is serving as the centre of the theatre space] .... went to the king [she walks to where the king is standing] and said 'I will make sure your laws are followed!' [nodding for her to repeat this line, which she does]," And so on, with the story evolving at each session.

Here's how the story of our country has evolved:

In the beginning there were no rules. The people were free to do whatever they wanted. Everything was wonderful. There were parties with lots of singing, people rode horses all over the country and built wonderful houses. Except that people who wanted to sing would sometimes sing all night when others wanted to sleep. People who wanted to ride horses would sometimes ride them through fields where farmers were tending their rows of carrots. Big strong people who wanted nice houses would sometimes just take them away from smaller people.

While it was nice to be able to do what you wanted, some rules were needed to help keep order. A lady  decided she would make rules to control the chaos and she came to be called Queen Henrietta. She made laws about not riding horses through carrot gardens, and about not singing all night when people wanted to sleep. But she also made laws that said the people had to give her presents all the time. She became very powerful and rich, and the people, who disagreed with some of her laws, were not very happy.

Her evil nephew Prince Henry saw that the people were unhappy. He saw that the Queen was very rich. He decided that with the help of some of the people he could get rid of Queen Henrietta. And so he did. He told the people that he would help them be in charge of their own country, so they agreed to sneak into Queen Henrietta's castle at night very quietly and then suddenly yell "Boo!" This frightened her so badly that she ran away. Now Prince Henry told the people that they could vote to choose someone to make all the laws. But he got his friends to give all the people O'Henry candy bars so that they would vote for him. Once he was elected, he began to make laws to keep himself in power.

The new laws meant that the people had very little freedom. If they disagreed with Henry they were arrested by his security force. There were no parties allowed, no singing, not even any talking a lot of the time.

Finally the little people sneaked up on Henry and scared him away with a big "Boo!"

They chose a nice guy to be the head of the country and called him King Fair. King Fair agreed to make only the laws that the House of Laws told him to make. The House of Laws was made up of one person chosen from each family. They talked together and then decided what laws King Fair would pass. "So it shall be passed," King Fair replied every time the people from the House of Laws told him about a new law they wanted. If it seemed like laws were broken, the police would arrest people. The court would listen to evidence and decide if they were guilty or innocent.

The country also created a list of basic rights and freedoms that should not be interfered with. And so the court also kept an eye on the House of Laws. If they made any laws that interfered with those basic rights and freedoms, he would strike down the law. And the government worked very well for several years.

But rumours began surfacing that the Evil Lord Voldesnort was planning to take the country over with the help of collaborators. So the government took the unusual step of making a far-reaching security law. Among other things the Security Act mandated the installation of wireless video surveillance cameras in every living room in the kingdom. The Brown Family refused to allow the camera to be installed. They were arrested and charges brought against them.

And so we ended up in a provincial supreme courtroom last Friday. In all honesty the defence lawyers didn't do nearly as good a job as the prosecution. While the unconstitutionality of the security act was clear-cut in most people's minds, the defence didn't do a great job of demonstrating this in court. But in the end the judge found for the accused and the Browns were set free.

Fiona had the role of a witness for the defence. She was Miss Matters, an expert on the health and safety issues pertaining to microwave radiation. She read a prepared statement and was examined by counsel for the defence and then cross-examined by the prosecution. She wore and then presented to the bench Exhibit C, a tinfoil hat used by those concerned about the health effect of microwaves.

I'm so thrilled that we've had this opportunity. It has spawned some amazing discussions afterwards as well. It has been the nidus of broad, far-reaching exploration of the philosophy and practice of law and government.