So far no gas, electrical or water lines have been accidentally cut. A few more trees will come down this afternoon.
Armed with three hand-tools — a mattock, a rake and a saw — I have been gradually building a trail from our yard to the Galena Trail. For years I’ve been frustrated by the can’t-get-there-from-here dilemma that separates me from my favourite running trail. We planted a geocache down on the trail more than ten years ago, and the GPS co-ordinates proved what maps had led us to suspect: while it took 25 to 40 minutes to get to that point on the trail, it was only about 175 metres away as the crow flies.
The problem with getting to the trail more directly was two-fold: the grade, and the vegetation. The direct point-to-point grade was about 47%, which puts you somewhere in the realm of a black diamond or double-black-diamond ski run: definitely not the right way to build a trail. And of course trees, bushes and undergrowth had to be circumvented or moved. I ended up with a trail of about half a kilometre long with an average grade of more like 15%. Definitely hike-able both down and up.
It was a curiously addictive process. I would go out planning to spend 45 minutes touching something up and return to the house three hours later. There’s something about actually changing the landscape, of creating something useful out of nothing — well, not out of nothing, but out of nothing that looks like a road or a trail, nothing useful from a human locomotion standpoint. It was like having a superpower: I bisect the wilderness with roads, using my own two hands!
Next year I’ll get to work extending the switchbacks to allow it to be closer to bike-able. If it was manageable on a mountain bike, one could get to town quickly without needing to hit the highway at all.
I’m sure there will be places where the soil will settle and the edges of my trail will need shoring up. I’d love it wider in some places, even for hiking, and there will be oregon grape and wild rose and bedstraw and devil’s club to be tamed continually. But the route is laid out and for now it’s useable on foot. Meaning my favourite running trail is just four minutes away (eight huffing-and-puffing minutes on the way back).
We’re building a garage. Well… no, more to the point: we’re having a garage built. An important procedural distinction, one which will likely ensure the timely and effective completion of the project.
The aging carport will come down. A year ago, expecting it to collapse under the weight of a fairly ordinary snow load, I enthusiastically parked the old minivan under it whenever I could, hoping for a catastrophic collapse that would crush the van. Alas, when spring rolled around, the carport was still standing, and the minivan still belonged to us.
Now we have a minivan I treasure. I have no desire to crush it. I do, however, have a desire to park close to the house, avoid hours of windshield-scraping, and have a place to store bicycles and skis and camping equipment. You’d think with all the sheds and shops we’d have ample storage space, but somehow that isn’t the case. Almost all that space is filled with Chuck’s tools and machines and workspace and materials and might-come-in-useful-someday stuff. So yeah, I’m actually looking forward to having a garage.
After we built the addition to our house back in 1997, the one that took us from four rooms to a dozen and gave us actual bedrooms for ourselves and our children, we realized we had almost no photos to remind us of what the house looked like before we so drastically altered it. We took pictures of the building process, but not of the “before.”
Will I miss the way the reverse grade inside the carport allows for the formation of unexpected downhill sheets of ice? The kind that encourages vehicles to continue to exercise the Newton’s First Law of Motion as one attempts to gently apply the brakes in order to cease movement before striking the end wall? Will I miss the impossibility of reversing up a sheet of said ice? Or the door-obstructing upright posts? The leaky roof that supposedly performs the duty of keeping our firewood seasoned and ready to burn? The endearing 2-foot cedar tree trunk that is integrated into the whole contraption in some sort of organic and semi-structural way? Will I miss the overstatement of the term “carport,” when it is in fact merely a “front-end port,” meaning that rear windshields still need to be shovelled off and scraped free of snow and ice? Probably not. But just in case, here are two photos.
Yesterday we went to the Nakusp Hot Springs, and I had Chuck drop me off in town to run the trail out to the springs. It ended up being about 11 km because the access road was closed due to logging and I had to do that part on foot. It ended up taking me longer still because about halfway along I got distracted by pine mushro
oms. They’re everywhere this year, and even this well-worn trail was not entirely picked over. I brought back as many as would fit in my running cap, including a couple of really beautiful number-ones (large, fresh, heavy, and with the gills still entirely covered).
And then today Fiona and I attended a “Know Your Mushrooms” workshop. It was led by a pair of mycologists from the area and was very helpful. I’ve been pretty good with shaggy manes and pines/matsutakes, but hazy on the rest so I was keen to learn more. The day started out with a slide show and a lot of information about anatomy, ecology and (most importantly) edibility. They also had tons of samples on hand: much better than just looking in a book, because we could touch and smell them and turn them over and hold them up to the light and bruise them. And then we went a-picking, followed by a huge professional ID session, then a frying up and sampling party.
Without the presence of a professional mycologist I’m still sticking to the safest and easiest to identify half-dozen species, but I’m now confident with Pine, Lobster, Puffball, Shaggy Mane, Chanterelle and Gypsy mushrooms. Maybe not so much with the Gypsies — they have some nasty look-alikes, but I did pretty well identifying a couple of specimens today and I was sure at the time.
Right now the whole house smells like pine mushrooms as today’s collection dries on the dehydrator. I’m pretty sure I could pull in a five year supply in the space of a good afternoon’s hunting: it’s that kind of a year for mushrooms. Fiona and I had a lovely time in the dappled sunshine of a mossy forest hunting today. Hard to believe we were Sufferfesting last weekend in the cold and sleet!
It’s Kootenay Sufferfest weekend. Chuck is away but the girls and I got involved in volunteering the first day. Fiona and Sophie volunteered as marshalling assistants. Fiona was marshalling up-mountain at the halfway First Aid and Marshalling station. She and I sat right at the snow line with slush falling for 7 hours. Plus it took us almost an hour each way to drive the logging roads to get there. So a very long day. But she was awesome: she saved the day a couple of times when the adults had got too distracted by communications issues to note a bib number on a racer.
The experience played right into her wilderness skills homeschooling project what with the various pre-race first aid and marshalling planning meetings, the communications relaying (we’re way out of cellphone range, and sat-phones were unreliable in places because of terrain) and keeping an eye on runners and riders for signs of hypothermia, and watching and helping them avoid succumbing to the elements. We had a market tent, which helped keep us from getting soaked the skin, and also took our Biolite stove and made hot chocolate for runners and volunteers alike. I was working first-aid, and thankfully there was nothing more than minor stuff; a few of the bikers who looked in danger of getting hypothermic during the first loop judiciously dropped out of the race before attempting the second pass, and none of the die-hards got into difficulty. Not that there weren’t some serious worries by the organizers. It was so cold, and there was a lot of snow up high. The Idaho Peak Run came off just fine: 14 runners finished. But the early snow made for a lot more challenge and hazard than had been expected. I’m glad this hadn’t turned out to be the year for me to attempt that run.
Sophie helped marshal the first and last runner aid stations. She and her marshalling buddy were on foot, carrying water and food since there was no road access. The race director and I had used backpacks and bike trailers to haul in some of the gear the day before, but they still had to carry some. They also had almost no radio or satellite phone contact, so were very isolated. They had a really long day. Sophie had left home by 7 am, and hadn’t surfaced again by 4 pm. I made a thermos of hot mochas, and took to the trail to run out and meet them. I met them at the halfway point of their hike out. I was very glad to see them still upright and coherent!
Today I went over to Kaslo and ran the 10k Sufferfest trail race. I did surprisingly well: I got 1st place in my age-group (40th place overall). It wasn’t a big race — under 200 participants — but I was really pleased by how strong I felt. I haven’t run much the past few months, but I have done a bit of strength training, which is new for me.
I haven’t run a race shorter than a half-marathon in more than 3 years and I really enjoyed the shorter distance. It was rainy, mucky and slippery, with lots of little steep hills, so the times weren’t that fast, but I got in in under an hour. The push up the hill for the finish left me feeling spent, but within ten minutes felt pretty much fully recovered and felt like I could have run a lot farther. Maybe next year I’ll go back to running the 25k. Or maybe not. At this point I find that a 10k doesn’t really require any training more than my haphazard recreational running, and that’s nice.
This gallery contains 8 photos.
As part of her learning about backcountry survival skills, Fiona wanted to plan a self-supported backpacking trip. Ten days later than we had originally hoped, having missed the glorious summery early September weather, we headed out. Fully laden, we wanted … Continue reading
Look what lives in our basement now. I’ve been wanting one for ages, seriously doing price comparisons and reading reviews for the past 4 years. For whatever reason, we reached the tipping point. Maybe it was my need to revert (after next week anyway!) to a more carefully controlled and scaled-back running schedule in order to try to heal my bursitis. Maybe it was the impending cold wet fall gloom and the narrow slushy highway of winter. Maybe it was definitively getting Sophie on-side in the treadmill camp. Anyway, there is is.
So here it is, squashed into the basement. The hope is that with the construction of a garage we’ll be able to get a bit of the junk out of the basement and clear room to both walk to the door and run on the treadmill. For the time being it’s either/or, and the treadmill folds up to allow one to get to the seldom-used back door. It doesn’t have fancy internet connectivity or a full-colour tablet with terrain-mapping or many other bells and whistles. It is quiet, and strong, and has the basic functionality we wanted. So theoretically after Sufferfest and any other fall hiking I ill-advisedly decide to do, I can start gently trying to rehab my Achilles area. It’s quiet enough that Sophie can use it in the mornings and any noise we hear is quiet enough to be in the “comforting white noise” category.
Already I’m amazed at how it allows me to fit running in more easily. So much of my week is spent knowing I have one or another child to pick up sometime in the next hour. Without the treadmill, I couldn’t run at those times, since running would take me away from home and phone range for the better part of an hour. Now I can just take that window of opportunity to hop on the treadmill. If the phone rings, so be it: I hop off, answer, and then drive to town to retrieve whichever teen or pre-teen needs a ride. If the phone doesn’t ring, I can finish a nice 5k while watching my way through a Downton Abbey rerun.
What a difference this year! A new violin teacher has arrived in the area and I have relinquished all my private lesson teaching to her. This means that Fiona is not dragged to a furniture- and electronics-barren teaching studio for hours each week to sit and wait for me to finish working. It’s the second year that Sophie and Noah have both been full-time students, so our house doesn’t feel suddenly much emptier than usual. And last spring, for whatever reason, Fiona made her peace with homeschooling not just as a necessary accommodation but as a gift, an opportunity.
I feel relaxed and present in both my own life and in hers. We are finding a good balance between intentionality and serendipity. In the past we’ve defaulted to a style of serendipity that felt more like “we’re too busy to really think about what we’d like to do,” a tidal wave of chauffeuring, scheduled activities, volunteer and work commitments that left our discretionary time entirely spent in recovery mode.
Last spring Fiona joined the Grade 7/8/9 class for an introductory Spanish course, where she excelled both academically and socially. At the end of the year she wrote the Math 8 final exam (at home, under no pressure) and completely aced it. These two accomplishments were sufficient to allow her to be easily welcomed into the Grade 9 math course at the local school this year, where she is spending two or three hours a week. The format of those hours is rather in flux. For now some of the time is spent on group projects spanning several grade- and ability-levels from basic Grade 7 to advanced Grade 9, and most of the time is spent working independently through the course syllabus and workbook in a classroom with a range of grades and a teacher and aid circulating to support and assist as needed. She ended up somewhat accidentally seated at the slightly raucous Grade 7 table (I think she had forgotten that while nominally a 7th grader, she was there to do Grade 9 math — perhaps she’ll get moved), but nevertheless she’s enjoying working on her own in the midst of a group of similarly engaged math students. She likes the course and is moving quickly through it.
So that’s and hour, two or three mornings a week. Her other scheduled once-a-week programming is a violin lesson (yes, with a real teacher!), violin group class, gymnastics and homeschool art class. She still has three days a week completely free, and every morning is empty until 11 am. For her, for now, this is exactly the right balance. And here’s what she’s busy with in her unschooled time, in addition to the usual eating, housework, playing, hanging out, being active outdoors, etc.:
- KhanAcademy math, totally for fun
- violin practicing — which is daily, independent, and enthusiastic at this point, thanks to the novelty of having a ‘real’ teacher
- exploring human evolution, human genomics and pre-history
- learning a bit of ASL
- reading for pleasure
- historical fiction readalouds (me to her)
- science textbook reading / browsing
and she’s also busy with two “projects,” in the style of Project-Based Homeschooling. For now she’s chosen backcountry survival skills and meal preparation. The main difference between the autonomous interests she’s developed and pursued in the past and what she’s doing with these interests is that she and I are intentionally devoting regular energy and time to these projects. I think the most important thing that results from this approach is a change in me: she and I are clear that these projects get some regular priority in our lives. This keeps the momentum going, at least so far. We’ve enjoyed several amazing Fiona-dinners, and have a backpacking trip planned together later this month.
The weather is still mighty fine, we are luxuriating in the additional time and energy we have at our disposal, and we are feeling optimistic and full of energy. It’s a wonderful time of year.
We flew Erin out of Kelowna to go back to school. Kelowna is less expensive from a flight standpoint — and much more reliable in the winter, when the Cancelgar airport earns its unendearing nickname — but it involves eight or nine hours of driving instead of three and unless one is masochistic the necessity of an overnight in a motel. So we’ve tended to fly her out of Castlegar in the summer, and Kelowna in the winter. But this time, with a significant shopping list and two growing girls needing new clothes, we decided to drive to Kelowna and make a bit of a road trip out of it. The Delica makes road trips quite lovely with its bright and airy interior, flexible seating and iPod compatible stereo system.
So we got up early the night after a spectacular thunderstorm and headed out. We dropped Erin off at the airport and headed into the land of big box stores and malls.
Sophie is wealthy from her summer of restaurant work, and even Fiona has accumulated a nest egg from her various bits of paid work in the community and her allowance. So they were happy to meander the mall with their debit cards in hand, sometimes with me, sometimes together, sometimes on their own. Sophie has a self-described addiction to frugality and such a conservative intuition about her finances that budgeting is sort of beside the point: she’ll never spend too much. We first tried releasing Sophie into the wild a couple of years ago on a similar trip and the results were successful beyond my wildest dreams. She spent so little, and bought so much, and what she chose was really neat stuff: appropriate, slightly funky, stylish, and well-balanced to her needs. With Fiona it’s hard to say how she’ll do managing all her own purchases; right now she’s so limited in choices by her tiny size (girls 8) and relatively sophisticated sense of style that there’s a completely justifiable tendency to snap up whatever works. (In our area, the only store selling clothing in girls’ 6-14 sizes is the Walmart 90 minutes away. The consignment and thrift stores there rarely seem to have much either, as I suppose there are scores of girls facing exactly the same dilemma who live nearby and can snap up things as they come in, while we can only check every few weeks.)
We spent the night at a nice motel with a pool and waterslide. The next day we meandered around the city, shopping for the various household items on our list. And we checked out the most amazing hole-in-the-wall-of-and-industrial-area diner-type restaurant.
Then we headed north, taking the long way home. Our first stop was in Enderby where we snagged a cheap motel and then went to the drive-in. I had last been to a drive-in in about 1990 with Chuck in our cranky VW Westfalia. We’d found a spot in the back row, popped the top, and watched Dick Tracy from the upper-level mattress, propped up by pillows and frosty beverages from the fridge below. Even then it was a sort of retro experience that we felt lucky to be able experience. Now, 23 years later, that theatre is closed and the Starlight is one of few remaining drive-ins in Canada, one of only three in BC, and the closest to us by far. It seemed like something the kids should experience at least once.
We parked backwards near the back of the theatre, opened the hatch and laid the back seats out flat. We made a trip to the Snack Bar for all the standard fixings. The rear bumper of the Delica made a lovely shelf for drinks, and the popcorn bags fit nicely in nooks to the side of “bed.”
It was a pretty awesome experience. The weather was lovely: we were warm with just regular clothes. The audio channel broadcast 1950s and 60s tunes about cars and car culture. The van was comfy as heck. The girls’ favourite part of the showing was the 1950s cartoons beforehand, complete with little animated chocolate bars doing tight-rope dances, and reminders every sixty seconds that “the show starts in ____ minutes.”
We watched Pacific Rim, which was fine. The content of the movie wasn’t why we were there, of course. We were super tired, so we didn’t stay for the second show.
The last day we drove north again to pick up the TransCanada highway before heading east and then south again to get back home. This brought us alongside the CPR at the site of the completion of the trans-continental railway in 1885, the famous Last Spike locale in Craigellachie, BC. Fiona and I have been reading our way through pieces of Canadian history over the past year or two, and it seemed only right that living so (relatively) close to this site we should stop and visit. After that we went on to visit the Revelstoke Railway Museum to complete the day. We had driven by it many, many times on our trips to and from Calgary getting Erin to her lessons there, but we’d always been focused on just getting the trip over with and the kids had never wanted to stop and explore. So this time we did and while it wasn’t exactly the most mind-blowing museum we’d ever been to, Fiona did get her model-building ambitions extremely excited upon viewing the huge model railway on display, as well as some of the other diorama exhibits.
Then it was a familiar hop-and-skip across the ferry to home. Noah had finished his last couple of shifts in Sandon. Sophie has a weekend of restaurant and baby-sitting work but has Labour Day off. And then the big kids are back to school and the rhythm of life will change and it will truly be fall. It felt lovely to grab a last few footloose days of summer.
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!
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 (ano
ther 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.
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.
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.
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 Grade4 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.
Since Erin goes back to the city soon, we’ve been making an effort to get out into the wilderness for some big hikes.
|View down towards Valley of
|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
|“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.
|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.
|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.
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.