Sunday, August 25, 2013

Garlic marshmallows

We thought it would be fun to learn to make marshmallows. Then we thought it would be fun to make cool, fruity or hipster flavours of marshmallows. Then we thought ... garlic marshmallows! With some product development, these might be the next big thing at the Garlic Festival!

We used a standard marshmallow recipe: 4 Tbsp. gelatin, 3/4 + 3/4 cups water, 2 cups sugar, 1 Tbsp. corn syrup, 2 egg whites, and we puréed four cloves of roasted garlic into the water that we dissolved the gelatin in. 

They're ... well, they're marshmallows. They toast up beautifully. And they're quite palatable and tasty, in the way that you might agree that garlic ice cream (another novelty item that's been known to sell quite well around here on the 2nd weekend of September) is surprisingly yummy.  

They may or may not make it to market for 2014, but they've been enjoyed here on a touch-of-fall evening, the night before Erin leaves for Montreal.


Slowly moving this blog over to a new home at I'll continue to duplicate posts for a while in both locations, but this copy will eventually become archive-only.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Our old espresso machine, acquired on grocery store affinity points, served us well. For the past few months it's often refused to operate unless nudged or tilted on its side during the warm-up phase. Then it gave up working entirely. Definitive diagnostic disassembly and attempted repair last week proved unfruitful: one of the connections had corroded through, and something else in the thermostat assembly was no longer functioning, likely as a result of all the short-circuiting that had been happening. It hadn't cost us a cent, and had faithfully made between 4 and 10 hot drinks a day for almost four years. We moved it out of the kitchen.

For a few days we tried to make do with the old drip coffee maker. It just wasn't the same. So, kijiji to the rescue: I found a professionally-refurbished Nuova Simonelli Oscar available nearby for just over a third of the original price. It still cost a lot, but it's so nice. It's a beast of a machine. It has far more pressure and steam than its predecessor, and is built for the kind of heavy use our family wants. And it has a heat exchanger, so it stays hot as you pull shot after shot and run the steamer full-tilt. It is heavy, though, and demands quite a footprint on the kitchen counter. But, wow, it does such a good job.

Running on

Telegraph Trail
I haven't written about running in almost a year.

I made running a part of my life beginning in March 2009. More than four years. I'm still at it, but am currently plagued by an ankle bursitis (the left retrocalcaneal bursa, if you care) that started niggling away at me two years ago, and got a lot worse this spring. The good news is that the bursa isn't structural in the same way that bones, tendons and ligaments are, so I'm unlikely to do horrible permanent things to myself. The bad news is that I should probably stop hiking, biking and running and immerse myself if a sea of ibuprofen and ice for a month or two.

I can't. I've tapered back: I'm only running a couple of times a week now, and nothing fast, and nothing over 10-11 km. But I can't stop. I just miss it too much.

I finally got an xray which showed no calcification, no bone spur, nothing amiss except a lot of soft-tissue swelling around the Achilles tendon. The tendon itself is strong, flexible and pain-free. So I don't suppose I'm doing damage by letting it niggle along. And among the recommended interventions are avoiding shoes with rigid or overly large heel-counters or tight heel straps (uh, I don't use shoes at all 98% of the time). That part I can do.

Last winter I did a series of weekly running clinics and learned some stuff about form -- hip extension, in particular -- that is likely to be helpful in the long term. This spring and summer I've been running with some local friends who are well-matched. They don't do as much distance as I've tended to, but they're mostly up to 10k and so far they're happy.

All my road runs are barefoot. My trail runs are occasionally partly barefoot, but I usually use New Balance WT00's. I seem to have lost my good huaraches in Hawai'i: I need to get some more, because I'd prefer to use them on tamer trails.

So I have no big race plans at this point. I'll probably do the 10k at the SufferFest this year, because my friends are doing it, but not trying for speed, just supporting them. Six months ago I had dreams of doing the [vertical mile] 45km Idaho Peak run, but this isn't the year for that.

The Fitbit Flex
Two things have made the less-running less-biking thing work for me. First, I got myself a FitBit Flex, a little wristband gizmo that tracks my walk/run activity via digital accelerometer technology. I like it for other reasons too ... it tells me neat things about my sleep, and has a silent vibratory alarm that I can use to wake me (and no one else) up, or to remind me when a lesson or meeting should be wrapping up. But because it tracks my walking and slow running indiscriminately from speedwork, I can focus on just logging locomotive activity, not necessarily running fast. When I wear my Garmin I know it's recording information about distance and speed, and I can't help myself pushing to optimize those. When I leave it at home and use the Flex, which I do most of the time now, I do a better job of taking things slowly and easily.

I've also been working more on strength. Pushups, pullups, squats, core strength, all those sorts of things. In the past I could only manage 8 pushups. Now I can do 70 push-ups in five sets. Recently I've been trying out the You Are Your Own Gym (#YAYOG) app on my iPad. So far I really like it: there's tons of challenge there, and no special equipment required.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Planning homeschooling

As has been our after-SVI routine for the past few years, Fiona and I are thinking about and planning the upcoming year of homeschooling. While she had some ambivalence about homeschooling during the tail end of winter last year, she's now firmly back on board and looking forward to another year of self-directed learning. While it seems likely that she will end up in school at some point in the future, her current plan is for an accelerated but part-time route into high school, allowing herself plenty of time for travel and other adventures.

A few factors came together at the end of last year. First, she tied for the top mark in the Grade 8-10 Spanish course at the school, and earned kudos for her contributions to the class and her strong and sensitive leadership skills. Next, she scored the top mark by far on the Grade 8 math final exam. (She had not taken the course at school, but wanted to do the exam to prove herself according to the school's yardstick.) In light of these scores, her homeschool liaison teacher articulated how ridiculous it felt for him to be writing reports for her referencing the Grade 4 expectations. He felt that her declared grade level should not be her age-grade, but whatever would suit her best from a practical standpoint, and was willing to support a multi-grade skip if that's what we wanted.

So we talked things over with Fiona and decided to split the difference. With commitment she would be capable of Grade 9 work. By age she will be Grade 5 age this coming year. We decided to declare her in Grade 7. Although nothing is really going to fit her perfectly, this seems like the best fit. Why?

Well, first, there's the issue of smoothing over grade placement if and when she decides to enrol in bricks-and-mortar school. If for example she wants to take Grade 10 or 11 in the classroom at age 13, it will be easier to argue for that if she's nominally in Grade 10 at the time, vs. being still registered in Grade 8. On the other hand, we don't want to over-reach. We don't want to set up a situation where at age 14 she fails pre-calc or senior English simply because she hasn't developed the intellectual maturity to cope with those courses. While Fiona insists that she would be totally fine taking two years to do a one-year course if it proves too much, I don't think we want to set up a situation where she is under stress because of an usually advanced placement.

A minor bookkeeping advantage is that it will be easier for her liaison teacher to report meaningfully on her learning this year if it's within the ballpark of her declared grade level. Although it's nothing but a bit of awkwardness for him to tick off that he has evidence that she has learned about division in math, it is more meaningful if her record can reflect more of what she actually learned.

Furthermore, I can envision times when the grade skip will give her explanatory short-hand for things that might otherwise be a bit awkward to explain. Why she's taking an elective with much older students, why her math and spelling skills are so far beyond those of her homeschooled friends, why she'd be better off with the older group at the homeschoolers origami workshop, that sort of thing. Not that she would ever advertise her grade placement: it's completely beside the point for her 99% of the time. But once in a while, owning up to a grade skip can be a succinct way of explaining advanced academic needs and abilities that are being questioned.

The main advantage for now, though, is in integrating with current school activities. As usual, she is welcome to attend school for whatever she's interested in as long as it is okay with the teacher in question. But the assumption of the teacher and students is that homeschoolers join the class of whatever grade they are is registered in. Because of the way the school is currently organized and enrolled, Grades 4/5/6 are lumped together and are part of the primary school, while Grade 7 is considered part of the high school. Academically and behaviourally she's so far beyond where the younger class is at that she finds it almost painful being there. Grade 7 gets block scheduling of distinct subjects, rather than the looser, more flexible cross-curricular approach of the younger grades. So it becomes possible for a homeschooler to take one or more particular subjects at school at the Grade 7+ level. And the monthly week-long immersive electives for Grades 7-12 are now available to her should she wish to take them. There are plans for electives in things that are definitely not within her comfort zone (extended back-country ski adventures, a survey of martial arts) but others that might: local ethnobotany/history/archeology, and creative dance, for example.

Which brings us to our learning plan process for the upcoming year. Because her siblings are at school, and because last year she chose to make use of some course-like structure, our discussion started out with "got any ideas for science?" and "I think this is what I want to do for math...." and such. Very school-like and subject-oriented. I let her ramble on with ideas, and we wrote some good stuff down to research further.

And then, when she kind of petered out with ideas, I said "There's this thing called Project-based Homeschooling, and it has nothing to do with subjects. It's just about things you're interested in, and you decide what those are, and how you want to learn about them. And my job is to set aside time to help you along with your project, whether every day or once or twice a week. What about that?" Then I gave her an example: if a kid wanted to learn to bake. Their project might include researching things on YouTube and keeping a board on Pinterest, and making grocery lists and practicing baking techniques, learning how to photograph food, keeping a blog, or creating a recipe scrapbook, holding a bake sale... or whatever they wanted!

 Her eyes lit up. "I already know how to bake all sorts of stuff," she said, "but ... survival skills! And meal preparation, like, three-course dinners. And I'll probably have a couple of other ideas too. I love this!"

We talked about how this is different from "just living life and following interests." Because, see, last spring she mentioned a few times that she wanted to learn some wilderness survival skills. And how much had actually happened? Not much. We built a snare. We did a few little hikes. We did a long mountain bike ride. That's all -- nothing very focused. Neither she nor I had made time for more. Other stuff got in the way, or we forgot. PBH is different because we will plan to make time for this specifically. And we will also make an effort to ask ourselves the question "How can this thread of learning be enhanced or extended or otherwise enriched?" More intentionality of time and subject matter.

She's my kid who likes organizing and circumscribing her learning (this is why she was getting boxed into a subject-by-subject orientation). So I think this is probably right up her alley. It's a more holistic, interest-based way of getting that framework of organization. Not sure how it will all play out, but it feels like we're off to a good start.

She also has plans to do some more subject-specific learning. She's going to try taking Grade 9 math at the school in the Grade 7/8/9 classroom. We'll see what that ends up looking like: the structure of the school is very much in flux. She's interested in ASL, and in continuing with gymnastics and violin. And she is cool with doing one novel study a term to exercise her written language and analytic skills, recognizing that this is a relatively painless way to generate the information her liaison teacher likes about her level of mastery of English. She wants to dabble her way through the BC Science 8 textbook, and likes what is on the Grade 7 social studies curriculum, which is ancient civilizations (we've ended up exploring mostly Canadian history over the past couple of years). We'll do that in our own way, probably with a lot of videos, some historical fiction and anything else that intrigues her.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Alpine hikes

Since Erin goes back to the city soon,
we've been making an effort to get out
into the wilderness for some big hikes.
We met a lot of pikas on yesterday's Alps Alturas Trail. 
Fiona is amazing. All 70 pounds of her.
Five hundred metres elevation gain?
A thousand? No problem! (Not that she
doesn't sometimes lose heart, or complain of
being tired. But don't we all? And she gets
to the top anyway.)
The best part is the excitement of seeing what's at the end of
the trail. Usually snow, and a basin of some sort. Wonderful
clear water. A stark world that feels near the sky.
Sophie, exploring the edge of an alpine lake, in front of
some watermelon snow.
We could actually smell the watermelon scent this time,
it was so concentrated. Chlamydomonus nivalis is the
name of the algae. 
Even amongst the rocks so near the sky, alpine
flowers flourish.
"Tourist heaven," Fiona pronounced.
The little lake seems to pour over the edge of the
world into the infinity of mountains beyond. 
Food for the summit: an absolute must. Caramel nut
brownie energy bars by Luna. Yup. Best summit food ever.

At this point Fiona thought the summit of the hike
was at that ridge a hundred metres up. How wrong
she was ... but she made it the extra 500 metres.
Truth be told, these girls ate their way to the top.
Huckleberry tongues.
Lyle Creek Basin. The most beautiful place ever.

The pour-over of the basin lake into Lyle Creek. The water
just disappears over the edge into ... nothing.

We got caught in nasty weather during one descent. We had a tarp
and jackets and could have stayed dry. But it was warm, and we were
feeling wild and crazy. We ran through the deluge, jumping smack
into the puddles, ponds and creeks that were forming as we watched.
Wind flower, or western anemone, makes seed heads that look like
aging hippies. Fiona collected seed heads along the trail and
felted this tribble. We brought it home, where it's drying on a ledge.
The Delica in its native environment.
This vehicle was made for this kind of travel,
up high into the subalpine on crazy forestry
roads. Drives that used to be impossible, or
at least hair-raising, now feel like no big deal.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

SVI 2013

Another SVI has come and gone. This year a lot of the organizing fell to me, since my mom moved away last fall. So I found myself doing my usual Suzuki-parenting, plus a lot of the this-and-that volunteer stuff I've usually added to that, plus the lion's share of the administration. I confess I didn't sleep a whole lot.

For the first time Fiona got included in the chamber music program. That meant she was in the same program as Sophie and Noah, though they were all in different quartets. Noah and Sophie had worked hard to reschedule their shifts at work to clear time for SVI, and I was a little worried about how they would transition from that grown-up world of employment amongst adults to a music camp with kids -- one that included their baby sister. But it was fine. Fiona fits in with teens pretty well, and the older kids were of course pretty lovely with the younger ones. They're Suzuki kids after all ... they've grown up in communities of fellow music students where mutual support, regardless of age and level, is the norm.

 The opening chamber orchestra performance was a string version of Handel's "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba," which showcased the experienced violinists and violists and gave the less advanced cellists a manageable role. It was a cheerful and energetic start to the main SVI week.

We had about the same number of students as the past couple of years: just over 80. And as is normal for us, a huge proportion of the students, almost three quarters, are repeat enrolees. It makes the whole thing feel even more like a family reunion than it would otherwise. But every year there are some new families shuffled into the deck, and new friendships that spring up. So much magic, both musically and socially.

Sophie and Noah have not officially been studying their instruments for the past year or two. They've continued to play when called upon, whether with the occasional regional orchestra, or trio gigs around town, but haven't been practicing regularly or working on solo repertoire. It was a tough call whether to enrol them, but they both said they'd like to be involved and were willing to work to master their music and contribute as much as they could.

And they did. And they pulled out solo repertoire to work on in master class. Sophie dug into the Mozart G Major Violin Concerto, and Noah pulled out the Bloch Suite Hebraique Romanza. They learned their chamber music and orchestra parts well and worked hard. They enjoyed the week a lot. Maybe not enough to continue working on their own throughout the year, but it was valuable for them to see that they could still use their music, and still take up active study where they'd left off and make progress.

The faculty were mostly people we knew from past years. Favourite people of ours. More of that family reunion feeling. We hung out at the faculty lounge, and Erin joined us after work for Happy Hour. One night we went star-gazing with Erin and Noah's former teachers from Calgary. Just what we needed: an even later night than usual. But it was totally worth it, and very memorable.

Erin joined in the orchestra at the Faculty Concert, and played concertmaster in the Faculty Orchestra at tutti night. The evening activities were at least available to her. She was working long days at the café, where things were the busiest they'd been all summer by a long shot, thanks to all the business generated by SVI.

Noah's quartet did a great job of a couple of movements of the Tchaikowsky Quartet No. 1, and also an arrangement of Billie Jean by Michael Jackson. Sophie was in a quintet playing Mozart K. 516 quintet in B-flat. Fiona took up viola to play the Mozart K. 157 quartet in C Major. The senior orchestra managed the Holst St. Paul's Suite. And the senior repertoire class of violins and violas did a Michael MacLean Tango.

Together with the new artistic director and the other local co-organizer, I felt pretty good about the whole endeavour. I learned some things about scheduling, and communication, and about the need for delegation. My mom arrived before the last day and seemed pretty pleased to see that the whole thing had proceeded fairly smoothly and that people seemed happy.

So yeah, there will be a tenth year. We're thinking ahead already.