Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Long-Awaited Euwy Map

A few months ago the kids started talking about their desire to create a more detailed and comprehensive version of their map of Euwy World. They had a lot of sketches of various areas, and a lot of pretty clear ideas. I suggested a relief map, similar to what we had done years ago on a paper maché globe back when Erin first got interested in geography (photo on this page). But since Euwy World is, unlike our own world, affixed to the inner surface of its spherical planet (this fact explaining why science has yet to discover its existence), a globe presentation would not be terribly enlightening. So they opted for a flat projection, on a 30" x 50" piece of particle board.

Noah, Erin and Sophie sketched in the land masses. Sophie and Fiona made the first mountains and other relief features. Noah and Erin added some others a month or two later. Fiona, Sophie and I gesso'd the entire surface a couple of weeks ago. Then three days ago Fiona and Noah set about painting the oceans cobalt blue (see previous blog entry for reference to cobalt blue). And over the last two days the bunch of us have spent several hours painting the contour colours. It's amazing how this task has entertained us all. We almost missed soccer today because our "little bit of Euwy Map painting" turned out to have been almost two hours worth. Where had the time gone?

The contour painting has been very instructive. It sure beats instruction about the nature and purpose of contour lines. The kids understand that a ring of dark green will always surround a ring of light green, that in riverbeds and chasms the contours tend to form V's, that gently sloping areas have broad swaths of contour colours, they can spot a plateau easily from its colour and shape, understand what a watershed is and can create logical watersheds based on contour colours and patterns.

We're about two thirds of the way through painting the contour colours. No instruction has been given. A lot of discussion has happened, natural, un-teachy conversation, advice has been given and graciously received, questions have been asked, jokes and ideas shared.

Noah has a lot of trouble with the fine work (of which there is much) in this project. He did a lot of sighing and looking away and eventually opted to focus on the plateaus. It was a wake-up call for me. I think we need to look into getting him glasses; he's quite far-sighted (though Erin is even more so and is an insatiable reader -- go figure) and we were told that if he wasn't having difficulty with reading, he probably didn't need to bother with glasses. At that point (two years ago) his reading ability had just leapt and he was easily managing Harry Potter level stuff. He muttered something non-committal like "yeah, my eyes sometimes get tired, but it's not really a problem." We left it.

He who loves stories and loves alone-time is not the passionate reader I'd hoped he'd be. He struggles with small fonts when sight-reading on viola, and it was note-reading on piano that he really struggled with. His reading speed has not increased as Erin's and Sophie's have, and it's become apparent in the past week or two that he's exceedingly self-conscious about this.

It all fits. I think we need to see about some glasses for him.

Once we finish the contour colour painting, we'll be adding place names. The kids have scores of names in their heads, awaiting the completion of the map. New names are coined almost daily.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The things you learn!

Every day with children is a learning experience. For mom as much as the children. Today I learned:

1. That cobalt blue acrylic paint and three-year-olds don't mix. Wait a second, that's not right. They mix ... only too well.

2. That two children snacking on chives in the community garden will cause an entire minivan to reek of onions for more than an hour.

3. When you leave gardening club 8 minutes late, get caught behind a road-painting crew for 12 minutes, and discover that you need to stop for gas, that if you know the highway really well you can still get to piano recital on time by engaging in judicious use of excess velocity.

4. Twelve-year-olds with high levels of performance confidence can smirkily pull of dynamite performances of under-rehearsed Scarlatti sonata movements when inspired by an audience.

5. That good piano teachers always bring enough helium balloons for all the younger siblings too.

6. That helium balloons are terrific accelerometers when left to their own devices inside minivans.

7. That when you're the fourth Suzuki violin kid in your family, your first ever start-to-finish "Twinkle Variation" might as well be the rhythmically awkward and tough-to-co-ordinate Variation B. Who knew?

8. That suffixes are fun when compounded for sport ... like in words like "agilitousability" and "beautyishfullness".

9. That the benefit of a bath is pretty much negated if you decide afterwards that it would be fun to wriggle your naked body up over the edge of the toilet bowl rim and through the toilet seat ring.

10. That three-year-olds who get up at 6, spend the day trying to keep up with their older siblings, don't nap and believe they're staying up long enough for a pre-bedtime family readaloud should have their teeth brushed before they snuggle up on the couch to wait for their siblings to finish practicing. Zzzzzz.....

Friday, May 26, 2006

Water levels

The danger of extensive flooding has dropped on the Slocan River in the past few days. I've been watching the government's flood watch website all week. Middle of the night on May 21, where the big spike occurred, was the night Chuck got called out by Search & Rescue to do evacuation traffic control. It has been very fun to watch the data.

Anyway, while the danger on the river has abated a bit, the lake levels are higher than they've been in 40-something years. I don't understand why this isn't playing out as rising levels on the river downstream, but there it is. Lucky for people in the river's floodplain!

The GRUBS garden is on the lakefront but normally the lake level is about 1.5 metres below the garden. Today it's about 15-20 cm! The adjacent hospital has dusted off its evacuation plan. The nursing home is on evacuation alert. Pumps are running full-time from the crawl space under the hospital and the main electrical box is only 30 cm above the water level. Fortunately there are concrete barricades up to prevent waves from washing up ... because there were some pretty big waves happening yesterday.

Here is one of our post holes at the GRUBS garden. The water level is holding steady over the past 24 hours, despite rain on and off. The kids' sprouts haven't floated away yet! The photo at the top is of the newly dug area which we were going to put a liner into (to keep water from exiting the soil) and make into a marsh garden. As you can see, the lake has seeped up through the soil. The kids call it "The GRUBS hot tub".

The forecast is for rain for the next 24 hours, but temperatures are also cooler, which bodes well. Here's hoping the kids' seedlings stay rooted where they are now.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Stinging Nettles

For the first time in many weeks we had nothing to do today. Well, Erin had a soccer practice at 9 a.m. but that hardly counted since I just drop her off at school for that and pick her up an hour later. Fiona decided to stay home with Noah while I dropped her off -- a first! One of our mail order book orders came; both Erin and I had picks in this order so we were very pleased.

The day was rainy. After a week of scorching temperatures intent on melting the alpine snowpack all at once we've been hit by a deluge. People farther south in the valley are evacuated or on evacuation notice due to the flooding, but we are sitting pretty up on our mountainside.

Sophie and Noah wanted some help starting work on building a printable paper pinhole camera so I did some cutting and glueing with them. Sophie and Fiona wanted to prime the large relief map of Euwy World that the older kids had started a couple of months ago and done the final relief work on a couple of days ago.

Then the phone rang and it was a friend of mine about to set off to go nettle-picking at a big nettle patch not too far from where we live. She has two kids about Erin's and Noah's age and wanted to know if we'd all like to come along for the fun. Surprisingly everyone was up for it. We dressed in long sleeves and long pants, found five pairs of gardening gloves, consulted our herbal books for inspiration and loaded ourselves into the van.

The patch was amazing -- several acres of what is a winter-time avalanche chute, just full of stinging nettle plants about a foot high. We were only there for about twenty-five minutes but managed to collect two sizeable cardboard boxes full of the plant tops. The kids seemed to have fun. Only one got 'stung' above the wrist of a glove and she was pretty brave about it.

Back at home I adapted a recipe for Nesselsoppa, a Swedish Nettle Soup. It was delicious, like a cross between spinach and asparagus with overtones of mild seaweed.

2 litres of stinging nettles, washed and slightly chopped (with gloves on!)
6 cups of water
2/3 cup of fresh chopped chives
2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
2 cubes of vegetable (or beef?) bouillon
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Place nettles in water and bring to boil. Boil until green and tender, approx. 5 minutes. Strain off and reserve liquid. Purée chives and nettles together in blender, adding as much reserved liquid as necessary for efficient blending. Dissolve bouillon cubes in remaining reserved liquid.

Melt butter, stir in flour over medium heat. Add reserved nettle water a little at a time. Add in puréed greens. Add balsamic vinegar and salt. Add pepper to taste.

I made a double batch of this soup and still have about two thirds of our nettles in the fridge. I'll dry some for tea, and make another batch of soup for the freezer.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

First GRUBS salad

Here is Fiona enjoying her first garden salad of the year. It was just a perfect "Fiona-sized salad", made up of 6 or 8 shoots of fresh chive, a few snippets of fresh parsley, the first harvest of garden cress, planted 2 weeks ago, the tiny slices of the radish thinnings from her garden plot and two chive flowers as garnish. Served up with Fiona's favourite ranch salad dressing it was a fitting way to celebrate a round out a busy gardening day.

The GRUBS had a wonderful afternoon together. First we planted out about half of the seedlings that we had started in early April. There was a bumper crop of pickling cucumbers and basil, healthy numbers of lettuces and assorted other things, many of which had been labelled under conditions of relative chaos and were clearly not what they said they were, but could not be identified. So a number of mystery plants.

Then we went for a tour at the home of a "friend of the GRUBS". R. is a real-life acquaintance of mine, and an on-line friend. We live just a few kilometers apart, read each other's blogs religiously and exchange ideas and inspiration but rarely meet in person. But she invited the GRUBS up to tour her luscious garden paradise amidst the rocky scree of her mountainside homestead and baited us with some magnificent seedlings of pepper and tomato varieties I'd been lusting after. The kids (and adults) also pored over her birds nest collection.

Then we headed back to the garden to transplant the new seedlings and finish planting out the innumerable basil sprouts in any vacant nooks and crannies we could find. We noticed that the post holes I had dug a mere 24" deep a couple of weeks ago had water in the bottoms of them. And the amazing thing was that they were not wet from rain or irrigation but from the rising lake level. Our garden is less than 24" from being flooded out completely! The water is very very high and levels here are uncontrolled (i.e. the lake and river are undammed). However, the lake is massive, and we are optimistic.

I came home with a few dozen baby basils. Somewhere amidst the weeds in the fallow garden beds at home I will find a place for them.

On potties and adolescence

On a parenting message board someone mentioned that her 2-year-old son had no interest in the plastic potty she'd bought for him, and preferred instead to use the regular toilet. She asked if she was alone in skipping the potty stage with her child.

I wrote a simple, factual reply. No, we didn't use a potty either, though we owned one at one point. It just seemed like an unnecessary intermediate stage. Then I realized that we hadn't made much use of a lot of the other "intermediate step" trappings of childhood, especially not with the younger kids ... strollers, cribs, toddler beds, bottles, sippy cups and the like.

Upon thinking it through, I realized that this is a common thread in my parenting approach. I let the kids be little and dependent as long as they want, until they're truly ready to be more grown up. As a result they don't seem to need the intermediate step, nor do they then get 'stuck' at the halfway stage.

This is how I'm approaching adolescence too. I'm the mom who kept her shy 5-year-old home and homeschooled her, rather than push her to adjust to half-day kindergarten. But I'm also the mom who gave her 12yo her own cabin to live in and lets her hike in the wilderness alone. When my kids were 8 and under they were almost never out of my sight, even in group situations, something that other parents probably felt was over-protective. But by the time the eldest was 10 I was happily leaving them home alone for significant periods of time, something that many other parents feel is downright negligent. I'm trying to help the important aspects of childhood to last as long as I can, and then allow the kids to grow into all the independence they want as soon as they want it, thus shrinking the awkward middle ground of adolescence into as brief a transition as possible.

I suppose time will tell whether this is a successful strategy for the teen years. It was certainly very successful for helping the kids attain toileting independence!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hiking, biking, paddling, ho!

Every year about this time the kids and I vow to get out into the great outdoors more and enjoy the natural mountain terrain that we're so blessed with. Somehow obstacles seem to spring up. Most have to do with the varied stamina, interest and ability my kids have when it comes to self-propelled activity. The year Fiona was small enough to tote around in a backpack, Sophie was still too little to last long. As Sophie gained more stamina, Fiona grew bigger, and heavier, and less willing to be toted.

But so far this year we're finding ways to work around the issues. In the canoe we share paddles around and take turns and Fiona stays amused by chattering and dragging her hand in the water. Last weekend we paddled to Silverton for a picnic and then back again. Provided our hikes are short and not too steep, Fiona will walk about half the time and I can manage carrying her the rest. We hiked the Galena Trail from home to town with a friend earlier this week (picnic on the way) and finished with a swim. I've discovered that we can fit four bicycles and the Burley trailer in the minivan (have I mentioned lately how much we love our Sienna?) so today we drove to Rosebery and rode the slowly but relentlessly climbing railgrade to New Denver, and then the highway back to Rosebery. We came pretty close to reaching the limits of Sophie's endurance, but she managed, and thankfully we finished with a long long downhill. Being able to drive the bikes somewhere helps a lot, since our home is situated on a highway grade that's too steep for cycling enjoyment.

Noah and Erin are so strong this year! Everyone seems to be enjoying the outdoors and the adventurousness of our as-yet-fairly-tame expeditions. I hope I can continue to develop the kids' outdoor interests and abilities. Goodness knows, this is good for me too!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A day outdoors

Today ending up being a day spent almost exclusively outside, the first of the year. First up was Sophie's soccer game. She and Erin were car-pooling with another family to Nakusp (40 minutes away) for their games there while Noah and a child from the other family had their game here. So we were up early to make the swap of children in time for the first game.

The entire morning was taken up with soccer games and transportation. Noah's team lost their game, but this was after donating two of their decent players to the other team who were short, and having those two score the two goals that put the other team ahead. The donation of players really helped keep the game collegial and mutually supportive. Very nice to see. Noah had some great saves in goal and did a great job as centre-forward in the second half.

After his game, we came home with two of his team-mates, one the product of the earlier kid-swap, the other a fellow violin student who was planning to spend the day with us. They played outside a bit, waiting for Erin and Sophie to get home.

When the girls got back, we were left with our four kids plus the extra violinist-cum-soccer-player friend. Erin, Noah, Sophie and their friend D. are all in the same art class which is holding an exhibit next weekend. They have agreed to be the musical entertainment at the Hidden Garden Gallery, so they spent almost an hour practicing outside, working out a "set" of pieces gleaned from the Suzuki repertoire for the most part, but with harmony parts. Fiona was obviously wanting very much to be a part of things.

More outdoor play followed, while I got supper prepared.

After supper the kids retreated to their bedrooms for a quick bit of practising on their current lesson assignments. Then we headed down to the GRUBS Garden for an evening meeting. We did a bit of digging and weeding and then inspected our bat house by torchlight (still no residents), watched for other bats coming out for night feeding (there were a few), played flashlight tag on the lawn and in the woods, and dug small lagoons out of the pebbles at the interface between the beach and the lake. We had planned to float a whole series of floating candles in the waterfront lagoons, but it was a little to breezy to keep the candles lit so while we got a couple lit, we decided to try again another night. The stars came out; we chatted and snacked on popcorn.

Then we headed home. The kids wanted some hot chocolate. Erin, who is getting a big kick out of the geometry problems in her math text lately, insisted on doing a bit of math. She got to work on that while I read "Hat Full of Sky" by Terry Pratchett to the other kids (Erin, as usual, has already read it). Everyone was really tired when they headed off to bed! Hopefully they get enough sleep to be in good humour and well-focused for tomorrow's orchestra and ensemble performance.