Monday, June 28, 2010

The Chinook

Erin's new mountain bike. It's already seen some hard riding through mud, up ramps, over rocks and roots. It has disc brakes and RockShox, a nice light aluminum frame, and they haven't cut corners on the basic componentry.

MEC has recently begun carrying bikes and they've clearly put a lot of thought into fleshing out their bike line. They don't have many models but those they have are well-thought out to economically meet a needs niche rather than simply trying to grab some market share with a few flashy features. As you'd expect from a co-op. For Erin the need was for an entry-level bike for real trail riding, sometimes fairly technical in nature. Her Chinook is perfect.

She was riding before, but on Noah's bike. Now they can ride together, which is really sweet.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Evening ride

Yesterday Noah, Sophie and Erin did their own ride along this trail while Fiona and I did some running and biking on the highway at a tamer pace. Today I offered to take Fiona and Sophie along the trail at a Fiona pace.

The way we do this ride is that I drive to the lower trailhead, park the van and run home partly along the trail, then up through the forest to our house. Then we all get on our bikes and head up the highway, riding 4 km to the upper trailhead. This is the grunt part of the ride; the sun can beat down on you and the grade can be steep in places.

At the upper trailhead, the hard uphill work has mostly been done and we stop and reward ourselves with a Hippie Bomb. Then we cross the first bridges to the south side of the creek and begin freewheeling down the lovely single-track creekside trail.

After three or four more kilometres we reach the cable car. This is definitely a highlight of the ride. The car has to be reeled in from the centre of the creek. It will hold up to two people and two bikes, so we have to take at least a couple of trips across. Here is Fiona waiting her turn on the loading platform while Sophie navigates her way across. The cable car is the simplest and most exciting way to create trail access that crosses to the north side of the creek here. The water can be high and despite being called a creek and not a river, it's pretty wide. A bridge would have been very expensive to build, and difficult to maintain, isolated as it is a few kilometres along a very narrow trail. And the cable car is such fun!

Sophie soloed across and managed to unhitch her bike at the far side on her own. Fiona and I followed in a subsequent trip.

From there on the trail becomes more familiar to us as we often run or bike it from the other end. After another 3k or so it runs below our property (though you can't really get there from here). We maintain a geocache along the trail here and Fiona and Sophie wanted to stop and check on it. Lots of people have found the cache over the years, yet it remains in good shape.

From there we head on along the last part of the trail back to the van. It is pretty exposed in a few places with precipitous drops and the creek raging almost 50 metres below. Fiona found the trail a little scary in a couple of places, having never ridden it on a bike. She is brave and is not a wobbly cyclist, so she did just fine and finished feeling pleased with herself, with new confidence in her riding skills.

Erin and Noah ride really fast and aggressively. Sophie is much smaller than they, and her bike is smaller and heavier. She cannot match their pace. So it was nice for her on this ride to be the fast kid riding ahead and waiting for the slower riders.

And for me it was a lovely way to spend an evening with my younger two girls. They're good company and fine little mountain-bikers.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Body Worlds

Having been to Calgary for lessons only once since March, we decided to extend this week's trip to include lessons for both kids on each of two days, giving them a little more music for their mileage. Erin's been practicing like a maniac ever since it became exam time at school and work picked up. Seems like she needs to be busy to get busy. Noah had done some good work on his viola since the Provincials too.

So we had lessons on Wednesday and then again just before dinner-time on Thursday. That left us almost a full Thursday to fill in Calgary. We had already shopped for a bike for Erin, and for lighting for the kitchen and assorted other odds and ends at IKEA. I'd already done my scheduled runs and taken Fiona swimming at the hotel pool for ages. Erin and Noah had watched more than enough sci-fi on TV. So we decided it would be a good day for a trip to the zoo, or maybe the science centre.

By consensus we decided to try the Science Centre. Once we arrived I remembered that the Body Worlds exhibit was there for the summer and figured we were unlikely to get in. I had looked on-line a month or so out of curiosity and found most weekends were sold out already at that point. But when we walked through the door all times except the evening were available, and so we ponied up and waltzed right in without a second thought.

Having done anatomy in medical school much of the "wow!" factor of the science and anatomy was lost on me. But as art, and presentation, even I was impressed. For the kids it was a very novel experience. They didn't find it disturbing -- except perhaps the first moment holding one of designated touchable kidneys, but even that they found pretty cool. Fiona was very impressed by the coal miner's lungs. Noah observed, deadpan, upon viewing a skull with the bones all separated and mounted in an "exploded" arrangement "Whoa, he must have divided by zero or something." Erin and I laughed so hard at that. What I loved most about the exhibit was the expressions of vitality of the "plastinates." In that respect it was all very far removed from my medical school anatomy lab experiences.

We felt really lucky to have stumbled on the exhibit almost by accident.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fallow days

We're enjoying a well-deserved few fallow days. Besides the bike rides, runs and swimming days, we're attending to a few lingering jobs at home.

We finally finished disassembling the play structure. This involved sawing timbers away from seized bolts and digging out the four concrete footings. Now it only remains to transport the sandbox sand to the garden and fill the hole in with dirt from the mound left over from when we built the deck. I began this job today and it turned into an exercise in paleontology. There were several dinosaurs (plus a bull and a much-cherished rooster) discovered deep in the sand.

When I took some of the sand over to the compost pile, where we mix up soil for raised garden beds, I noticed that the manure pile was full of red wigglers. So we donned rubber gloves and picked through the pile until we had half a pound of the lively little guys, enough to start back at vermicomposting. We had a worm bin for a couple of years, until our former dog overturned it in the baking sun and chawed down on the container.

So we started our worm bin again. The theory is that by keeping the food waste in the worm bin we'll avoid attracting bears to the large open bins in the corner of the property. Those will just be for garden waste. Hopefully we can secure the worm bin and keep it close enough to the house that bears will be deterred from getting into it. Right now it is stored inside the empty rabbit hutch. You can see a few lovely red worms in the photo at left. It's almost impossible to get a good photo of them outdoors because they dive away from the light as soon as you uncover them.

In the winter I think we might be able to keep the bin in the shop, which Chuck keeps slightly heated, and keep our little friends alive that way. We've kept it in the basement in the past, but inevitably despite our best efforts to the contrary we seem to get into problems with flies. For now, outside is perfect.

Yesterday I managed to take a hand-me-down double foam mattress apart, altering the cover on the sewing machine and cutting the foam down to size, re-assembling it as a twin-sized mattress that fits Sophie's bunk beautifully. She's been complaining of being uncomfortable in her bed for years; I don't know what her problem is: we spent a perfectly good $99 on that mattress 14 years ago. Anyway, she is a happy camper now and slept way past her 6:30 am alarm this morning.

Sophie has been baking today: chocolate coffee cake I believe. Fiona has been inventing recipes for savory dips and dressings. Creativity in the kitchen is always fun. The other day we made several dozen of these Hippie Bombs (renamed; formerly Energy Balls), which have become an instant hit.

Hippie Bombs

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups sesame seeds, toasted
2 cups sunflower seeds, toasted
2 cups chocolate chips
2 cups dried cranberries
2 cups goji berries
1 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp. salt (omit if PB contains salt already)
4 cups peanut butter
1 cup honey
3 cups flaked coconut, toasted, for coating

Combine all ingredients except coconut. Mix with spoon, spatula or hands as required. Form into balls with your hands. (They can be anywhere from truffle-sized to 1/4 cup in size depending on your preference. Ours are about 25 ml in volume.) Roll in coconut. Store in airtight container between layers of waxed paper. You could easily substitute almond butter for the peanut butter, or other dried fruits like chopped dates or raisins for the ones we used. The kids are trying to convince me that to be real energy balls these need to have a chocolate-covered espresso bean at the centre, but I've not been convinced.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Trail ride

Who needs a Van de Graaff generator? This is Erin's hair after (a) a short hard mountain-bike ride (b) a shower and (c) lying about in the sun on the static-electricity-generating trampoline for 45 minutes.

She's an awesome mountain-biking buddy. Enjoys going fast on the narrow single-track we've got around here. Has lots of stamina. Doesn't complain about anything the trail thrusts in her path. So far she's using Noah's bike, but has designs on a nice model of her own. Today we rode out to the top of the linear park / trail that runs through the canyon near our house, and then rode it down all the way to town. It's a route I run pretty regularly but it's a totally different experience on a bike with speed on your side and so many fun obstacles and woop-de-doos up banks and around tight curves. Crossed the cable-car, zipped over bridges and boardwalks and deked between boulders and old railway ties. We planned our route to avoid the blow-down we had to carry our bikes over last weekend. Nothing like scrambling through brush and climbing over massive logs up a 20-degree slope ... while lifting a bicycle over every obstruction, pedals catching on everything.

My purchased-used-20-years-ago Stumpjumper got a tune-up yesterday and despite a couple of seized adjustment screws seems to have a few more miles on it yet. I have to kick the chain into the inner two cassette rings with my foot but mostly I just avoid those gears. Maybe next year will be my buy-a-bike year. There's been such an evolution in mountain-bikes over the past 20 years; I've never even tried front shocks, an innovation my kids take for granted.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Twenty kilometers

My transition to minimalist running continues. It hasn't been entirely smooth. My calves really missed the heel raise of running shoes, and learning a midfoot strike also put a lot more stress on my calves than they were used to. For a while I was getting a bit of a strain in my calves almost every time I ran in my Vibram Five Fingers. I've been going back and forth between regular shoes and minimalist footwear, trying to maintain the same running form both ways.

Sometimes I run with a metronome set to 180 bpm to keep my cadence up. Lately I've been using the "Run One Eighty" playlist on my iPod, an eclectic mix of music that has only one thing in common: eighth notes ticking along at 176-183 bpm. And when I say eclectic, I mean it. I've got Benny Goodman, Dire Straits and Owl City in a big mish-mash with Dave Brubeck, The Academy of Ancient Music and David Bowie.

Gradually my leg and foot muscles have seemed to acclimatize. I've had two injuries relating to uneven ground, both small tears in my calf muscles. One happened as I ran up a curb near Vancouver (we don't have curbs here in the boonies). The other happened when my heel dropped suddenly into a mini-pothole on the road near home. But those setbacks aside, my legs seem to be getting used to this.

In the past week or two I've begun running unshod a bit and I've now got 20 kilometers logged on my bare feet. The soles of my feet are beginning to acclimatize. My first barefoot run was three quarters of a kilometer and even that gave me a blister on my big toe. But now I'm up to 5-6 kms and my feet are getting much tougher. This is my foot after today's 5k run. My feet aren't exactly lovely, but they aren't covered in calluses and blisters either. I got a new little blister on my 2nd toe today, mostly because the asphalt was hot and I think my feet were sweating a bit. But I expect they'll get used to that too.

Because I love trail running so much I'm still using my Asics Kayanos. Maybe in another year my legs and feet will be ready to run the rough long trails around here with just VFFs. For now I just keep my cadence up, concentrate on not heel-striking, and wear shoes.

Lawn boy

At home, where we have an acre of grass and a little Toro tractor, he does it as a ride-on deal. Fortunately for us he mows willingly and without pay, despite having to drive through the curtains of wee green worms dangling from the fruit trees. I think he mostly likes driving.

In town, though, he's using push mowers and mowing other people's lawns for money. As usual he needed a bit of a nudge to take on this new role, but he's now happily into it and is enjoying the income and the sense of responsibility.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Carrots for dinner

The kids get all excited when they see that this is what's for dinner. Just this for the main course, plus a dip. It's a "Carrots for Dinner" night.

My kids like their veggies raw, so that's part of the attraction, but only part of it.

Mainly they love this kind of dinner because it generally means there is a really decadent dessert coming! Tonight we're having Tiramisu Triple Layer Cake and Espresso Gelato.

We're celebrating Erin's completion of her last exam at school. Despite the pouring rain and 10ÂșC temperatures, it feels like summer. Orchestra is over. Homeschooling reporting was completed a few weeks ago. Taxes are done. Group classes are finished. Piano lessons are on hiatus. Erin is done at school. My teaching is almost done.

Some breathing space begins to open up in our lives again. Fallow time. We've been waiting for this.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A good enough reason to homeschool?

In an on-line discussion a mom mentioned something about her child and then asked "is this a good enough reason to homeschool?" I replied...

It sounds like you're thinking to yourself "Generally kids should go to school, so I need to have a good reason not to send them there." I question the first premise. To me school isn't a default that a parent needs to come up with excuses to opt out of. Instead my default is home. I know my kids can thrive in an individualized learning environment staffed by people who know them inside and out and love them with all their hearts. I watched them thrive as little tykes. As they got close to "school age" I thought to myself "Kids should get an interesting, enjoyable, humane, meaningful and relevant education. Do mine need to go to school to get that?"

My answer was obviously no. Maybe yours is no too. I think that's good enough.

Mosaic table

It's done. Grout is curing. Sealant will be added in a couple of days. Now, if the rain would stop, we might just be able to use it on the deck. I think a tall glass of lemonade or frappuccino would look just great on this.

Home-Made Frappuccino

8 shots of decaf espresso
3/8 cup of sugar
6 cups of low-fat milk
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, to taste
1 tsp. xanthan gum

Combine first four ingredients in blender. If there isn't enough room, leave out some of the milk until the blending is done. With the blender running, gradually sprinkle in the xanthan gum, blending very well. This last ingredient is not strictly necessary, but allows you to get a rich creamy texture out of what is a pretty low-fat beverage. Store in fridge. Serve over ice. Yum!

If you didn't get your kids an espresso machine for Christmas, you can substitute 1 1/2 cups of very strong brewed coffee amplified by about 2 teaspoons of instant coffee. Starbucks Via instant is far and away the best instant I've ever tasted and almost comes close to brewed coffee, and it comes in decaf too now. Which is important, because in my experience most kids love this drink.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Keeping it local

I've written before about how much I love our local school for its common sense community-mindedness and for the flexibility it has granted Erin in her funky high school program. I haven't mentioned the amazing generous creative people who teach there, but that's a big part of it too. I believe in public schooling whole-heartedly. Much like I believe in hospitals. I think both types of institutions should be vital, friendly, healthy, well-funded, humane places. I don't plan to need either for my family much of the time. But I think that it's important that we have both, for those who need or want to avail themselves of such services.

While I love the SelfDesign DL program that we're part of, I've always felt guilty that being involved in SelfDesign means that government education funding on my kids' behalf was going out of district. It wasn't supporting our local school. With enrollment dropping I often wished there was a way to homeschool while still supporting the local school in some tangible way.

A few weeks ago a bunch of parents, staff, students and interested community members were invited to a round-table discussion at the school to discuss ways to keep it viable in the face of further declining enrollment. As the parent of a high school student I was invited to the round-table. There were some open-ended discussion topics and small-group sessions. It was kind of fun. The administration, including the school district superintendent, were very interested in hearing ideas from others.

At the meeting I raised the possibility of our local school offering a Distributed Learning program. I explained briefly what a DL program is, and that we're part of one based elsewhere, and that if such a program were offered in our town, I'd be all for it. Eyes lit up. Enthusiasm was expressed. The consensus seemed to be that a DL program would totally fit the community-minded tradition of innovation the school has built, and that there were staff who would jump at the possibility of facilitating a "beyond the walls, family-based" educational program. The principal and guidance counsellor both called me the next day. We talked back and forth. I sent them samples of reports and learning plans to illustrate the kind of program my kids are in right now, and a couple of long letters detailing what I value most about the program and what concessions I would be unwilling to make in joining an alternative local program.

Basically I tried to give them a crash course on homeschooling, to open their eyes and make it clear how much of the schoolish mindset can be dropped in a homeschooling context. You know it all already, I'm sure... My kids don't learn by grade levels. They don't learn by subjects. We don't try to "cover prescribed outcomes." We don't test. They don't produce output for grading. I know they're learning because I live with them, we have conversations, I see them happily engaged in things. I didn't want the school to set up a program for homeschoolers full of expectations for school-like output and evaluation. I though maybe I'd scare them off, but it didn't happen. In fact, a couple of them lit right up: "This is exactly what I wish we could do more of within schools too! It makes so much sense."

So a couple of weeks ago there was a meeting between the school and homeschooling parents in the area. It was long, because they invited us to talk about our kids, and talk we did! We talked about who are kids are, what they value about homeschooling, what their interests are, their personalities, their learning styles, what they are looking for in the future, what role the school might play in their lives. "Just so it's clear," said one of the organizers, "this isn't a veiled attempt to reel your kids in as fully-enrolled school students. We just think we can support you in what you're doing." They asked us what we wanted from them. They listened. They took copious notes.

There was another meeting today, and it's all in writing. They have created pretty much exactly the program we asked for. It looks like we will be getting a program very similar in its flexibility and open-mindedness to the SelfDesign program we've loved for so many years. And on top of this are additional perks if we want them: easy access to courseware, textbooks, learning tools, school facilities, tutoring, field trips, extra-curriculars, busing, electives, the downhill ski program, increased social connections with local kids, and so on.

It looks like there will be 8 children from three families jumping aboard this program. The numbers sound very small, but we'll increase the school's enrollment by almost 10% in one fell swoop so from a community standpoint it's very significant. While I am a little wistful about leaving SelfDesign, it's a no-brainer for me. We love this local school and the people who comprise it ... and the community it supports and invigorates. We can now support it with our tax dollars.

I still feel a little weird that it was my voice at that meeting in April that started this whole thing. I dream big, but I'm happiest acting in small ways. It was slightly terrifying have someone pick up my dream and quickly turn it into a reality that now affects me, my family and numerous other people. I think it's a good thing we've got going, though.

Deck Furniture

Fiona, noting our dearth of deck furniture, set to work with a hand-saw, hammer, nails and some scrap wood a couple of weeks ago. She managed to create a nice little bistro-height table. It was terribly wobbly, so together we measured, cut and added some cross-braces like the ones on the dining room chairs. She primed it but was stalled on inspiration for additional finishing. Until I mentioned the possibility of putting a ceramic tile mosaic on top.

We had done mosaic tile pavers back in 2004, as part of our GRUBS gardening club, but Fiona was just an infant then. We got out all the old tools and supplies, and whatever cast-off ceramic tile bits we could muster (you might notice a bit of colour similarity to our kitchen backsplash) and she set to work on the top of her table. It was a great project in the sunshine of a warm June day.

Now we're waiting for the adhesive to dry. Tomorrow or Wednesday we'll add the grout. By Thursday we'll have a lovely place to rest our home-made frappucinos while sitting in our grotty $5 resin chairs.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Twinklebell Canon

At the orchestra concert last weekend, I invited my Suzuki Group Class to come and play just before the interlude. I had a hidden agenda: I wanted them to hear the orchestra concert. But I also think this is such a fun piece, and they hadn't performed it locally yet. It takes the opening phrase from "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" with the dominant substituted for the final tonic, and repeats it over and over, melding it with an abdriged and simplified Pachelbel Canon. It allows the little beginners to play a piece that provides some additional musical interest for the older kids. My three elder kids have all done Pachelbel in the original, so this was a piece of cake for them, but I think it's really valuable to have them support and play with less advanced students. Fiona learned one of the Pachelbel parts too and proved herself strong and secure playing contrary rhythms and melodies on occasions when she didn't have the support of other players.

The front row of this ensemble is comprised of the extra Suzuki group class kids who are not part of the orchestra -- yet! We were missing a half dozen but I was pleased we got the numbers we did on short notice on a Sunday afternoon. Noah is the second player to enter. He plays the main viola theme alone once. Erin is the farthest forward of the two 1st violinists who enter next. Sophie is in the dead middle of the group (in the black strappy shirt) and she enters as a 2nd violin with the main mass of players. Fiona is in the white shirt, behind Sophie's scroll and she comes in as one of two 3rd violins last of all.

Summer beach day

Towels are drying on the line. Finally we had a summery day at the beach. It came after yesterday's Corazon double-bill of final concerts in Nelson -- fantastic and euphoric and tear-jerking all at once. One final recording session left and it's all over for the season.

Today I made good progress in the book-keeping and then we all went to the beach. The water was cold, but I made it in for a swim not once but twice. Quite something for me; having grown up in Ontario I prefer my lakes warm. Though I confess I only went in the second time because everyone left me on the floating dock and paddled back in aboard the kayak or the inner tube. "You're a grown-up!" said Chuck. Easy to say from the stern of the kayak.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Lesser of Two Evils

Amazing how much I feel like housecleaning when the book-keeping and taxes need to be done.

Girl duet

Sophie's friend brought her flute by this morning to play for us, wanting to go through a dry run in preparation for her recital this weekend. "One of the pieces is a duet I play with my teacher," she said "so it'll sound kind of weird without the other part."

Sophie got her violin and read through the teacher's part. They sounded really good!

These girls are close friends and have been for years. A. has only been playing flute for two or three years, piano being her first instrument. Discovering that they can play duets together now was pretty cool!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


We're getting some work done on the van this week. A lot of work, considering it's a 2005 Toyota. Replacing one sliding door. Replacing the latch on another door. Doing the brakes, again. Pulling the whole front end apart to replace both hub joints or something. We'll defer the catalytic converter replacement until next time. Routine servicing on top of all this.

Anyway, the dealership is 90 minutes away and some of the work involves co-ordinating with a body shop, so it's going to take a while and they promised me a courtesy car for the week. This is the car they gave me, the one with the EVA license plate.

They are definitely on to something using Priuses (Prii?) as courtesy cars. Yeah, I feel like a mobile billboard, but I'm in love. I'm wandering around intoning "Eva" just like Wall-E in the movie. I take people for rides. I brag at the convenience store about my loaner and how much I love it. I take perverse delight in putting $20 in gas in the tank and knowing it'll last me the whole week, including the trips back and forth to Nelson.

Our Sienna has its limitations. It has little ground clearance, and it doesn't have AWD. The Prius doesn't address either of those concerns. But it does get double the gas mileage. And it is so freaking cool! It has a power button and proximity security rather than an ignition key-switch. It has satellite radio and a direct connection for my iPod. It is dead silent. It has a back-up camera and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.


Saturday, June 05, 2010

Running buddy, the 2010 edition

Today the rain stopped for a bit and the sun peeked through and we got hopeful. Then, sun still shining, it began raining again. Fiona decided it would be a lovely time for a run. We haven't done any trail running together since last summer. I was busy trying to finish typing up the programme for the orchestra concert tomorrow but a break for a run in the sun and rain seemed like a great idea.

Last year Fiona was six years old and forty pounds. She was Little Miss Stamina the Persistent. But she wasn't fast. Most of her runs were at a pace of almost 10 minutes per kilometre. I enjoyed running with her because she was so cheerful and talkative and because the slow pace and the repetitiveness of the run encouraged me to really immerse myself in the moment with her.

This year she's seven years old and has put on about four pounds and added about 7 centimetres to her height. We ran our same 2 km spur for old times' sake. I took my Garmin along at her request and I ran barefoot beside her. Recently I've got my barefoot mileage up to 2 km on the road, and I figured that I could manage 2 km on the trail if I did it slowly. It turns out that Fiona runs about as fast now as I can run on the trail in my tender tootsies. Her 10-minute kilometres from last year were run at a pace of 7:48/km today -- and she still talked the whole way! I normally run about 6 minute kilometres on the trails, but in bare feet over rocks and roots I'm a lot slower, so her pace was perfect. We are a well-matched pair.

The new water feature

I've decommissioned the pond under the apple tree and in breaks between the rains have begun assembling the rock surround for the new one. This pond is tiny, really just large enough for a small waterfall. You can see the water flowing if you click to enlarge the image.

I removed a board from the deck, passed the electrical cord for the pump down through the hole, sent Fiona underneath the deck to pull the cord through, chiseled a little groove in the two-by-four for the cord, replaced it, filled the pond and turned the pump on. The pump, the cable and the hoses are hidden beneath the deck so everything looks pretty natural.

Despite its tiny size, we like it. It makes just the right sound and you can hear it beautifully from the deck. If we ever get any deck furniture we'll be able to sit up there and enjoy it. For now we're limited to standing, kneeling and perching, as you can see Fiona, Noah and Sophie respectively demonstrating.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Another self-starter in the kitchen

Sophie has shown incredible talent in the kitchen. Around age 9 she developed an interest in baking on her own, gradually mastered a huge variety of different recipes and developed her understanding of culinary techniques. She has the right combination of attention to detail but willingness to experiment. If a recipe says "in a small bowl, cream half the margarine with the brown sugar," she never needed advice on what they mean by small, or whether it's truly okay to substitute butter for margarine, or whether this brown sugar would be considered lightly or firmly packed. She's always confidently made those decisions herself and moved on, figuring out quite easily which directions need to be followed precisely and which allow for estimation and adaptation.

Now I've got another kid like this. Fiona is just 7 but works on the assumption that anything the older kids can do she can learn to do too. I came into the kitchen the other morning to this sight.

"What are you doing?"

"Baking something."

"Oh, uh, okay... what?"

"Almond squares. I found this recipe here to try. We have everything we need -- I checked."

She needed a bit of help getting the mixer out of the pantry (it's heavy!), and figuring out which pan was 8x8" (she's a metric girl, this one). Other than that, she did it on her own. It wasn't the simplest recipe either. There were three layers, the instructions involved operations like cutting in and folding, there was whipping of cream and separating of eggs and grinding of nuts involved, and two stages of baking and cooling. She managed it all.

And they tasted just like they were supposed to!