Another marathon?

Screenshot 2015-11-22 16.30.50

5-6 workouts a week, totalling 3.5-4 hours. Definitely sustainable.

I’m vaguely thinking about running a marathon again this year. Maybe the one I ran five years ago in Vancouver. It was a nice route, and by running the same event I’ll be able to see how my fitness is holding up over the years. Also I have a kid attending school nearby and another one who is going to be performing the Brahms violin concerto with an orchestra in the area around that time.

Right now I’m just trying to figure out if I have the time and (more to the point) the energy and motivation to enjoy the amount of training I’ll have to do? I decided to mock up a schedule training program for November and December to test the waters. I created a schedule of about four runs and one or two cross-training workouts a week. Nothing too demanding in terms of length or speed, just an attempt at consistency. I figured if I ended up feeling tired or unmotivated with the near-daily workouts, that would be a sign not to build to a marathon. But so far it’s going well. My no-workout days feel weirdly empty, and I’m enjoying my runs a lot despite the gross November weather and the early sunsets.

A typical marathon training program has runners build the length of a weekly Long Slow Run from 10 to 32 km over about 20 weeks with a bunch of easier shorter runs filling out the week. A few of those shorter runs will involve intervals or speed, but a lot of them are just “easy 5k’s” or whatever.

Screenshot 2015-11-22 18.05.37

I expect my mileage graph will look less tilted than this.


But I know some things about myself and about the science behind distance running that are going to lead me to diverge from that typical plan. First, I’m not a beginner, so I’m starting at a higher mileage level, about 30k per week. Next, I know that I am one of those people who can push my distance pretty easily at any point. For instance I ran a really solid trail 25k in 2012, having not run anything longer than 8k in the preceding several months. I have little doubt I could finish a marathon tomorrow if I really needed to so I don’t need high mileage to build my confidence. Those really long training runs tend to mess with my running mojo when they come week after week. So I’ll avoid most of them.

I also know that slow runs between 60 and 90 minutes train your body to burn fat, the endurance fuel, and that there’s a law of diminishing returns on this count for runs of longer than 90 minutes. Not to mention an increase in the risk of injury. So I plan to do two or more slow runs in this middle range per week (or even, occasionally, the same day), rather than one massive run on the weekend.

And I know that my old stand-by workout, the 5k medium-speed run, is pretty useless from a training standpoint. It may be good for my state of mind, and it works the kinks out and helps burn calories, but from a training standpoint I’d be better off doing short runs of intervals or hills, or cross-training, or even taking a day off. So I’ll try to minimize those non-specific purpose-less runs.

Weird thing I noticed this week: my resting heart rate is really low. I got a new HR monitor after not having a functional one for a couple of years, to help me maintain my run intensity in the “low” range during endurance runs. I was lying down messing with my phone just before heading out for a run today and happened to glance at my Vivoactive watch. My HR was 46. I’ve never seen a reading lower than 50 in the past, more often around 52. Maybe my heart is just unwinding and will eventually slow to zero and that will be that? Ha, just kidding. I’ll take it as a sign of improved general fitness. Who knows why or how, but I’ll take it.

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Permission to Christmas

Practicing Messiah music

Practicing Messiah music

I give up. Now that Voices West is over, now that the first snow has fallen, now that Fiona is into the thick of preparing for holiday performances, now that plane tickets are booked for the grown-up kids to get home, go ahead and start your Christmassing, girls. Put up a little tree and ornaments in the Nelson house. Make hot chocolate and listen to Christmas music while eating ginger snaps.  Make your baking list.

I’ve always held fast to advent, or at least December 1st, as the start date for the holiday celebrations, but this year I give up.

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Choral festival weekend

Screenshot 2015-11-15 12.03.25

A fuller house…

Voices West was fantastic, even for Fiona and me, who weren’t directly participating. Two hundred and eighty singers, a performance hall packed with a thousand people, meals and billets and sight-seeing and travelling and meeting new people and finally hearing Kokopelli and Coastal Sound sing live … it was a great weekend.

We billeted four members of one of the Edmonton choirs, plus unofficially billeting one of Sophie’s out-of-town choir-mates. I love that the house now has enough finished rooms, bedding and mattresses of various descriptions to host guests. Perhaps not five at a time in future, not without adding a bathroom, but in smaller numbers easily: we even now have a designated guest room. This is something our New Denver house has never really been capable of. (The other thing I love about the Nelson house is that it has a living room that is large enough and shaped properly to function as a gathering place. What a treat!)

One-eighth of the Glory Bowl dressing we used

Our portion: one-eighth of the Glory Bowl dressing we used at the dinner

Fiona and I cooked for Voices West for the major pre-performance meal. The host choir director had responsibilities beautifully organized and distributed. Fiona had spent an afternoon a couple of weeks earlier in a church kitchen helping cook about 50 litres of Bengali Dal and get it into the freezer. We had baked our contribution of several dozen gluten/dairy-free cookies, and 3 litres of Glory Bowl Dressing at home, part of the distributed prep network. And then on the day of the big dinner at the hall, we showed up at noon and got to work. There was a beautiful industrial kitchen with four big ranges, two huge wall ovens and a floor to ceiling warming oven, a dozen 25-litre heavy-bottomed saucepans and everything else you could imagine. We set to work cooking and organizing and doling out. There were twelve of us, and so much had been prepped ahead of time that we ended up a little ahead of schedule which was lovely. Then at 5 o’clock the choirs began rolling through the serving line in waves. We served an average of one meal every 12 seconds for an hour and it worked beautifully. None of the soy, nut, dairy or gluten-allergic singers got sick. The only glitch was when a line briefly formed at the self-busing station and created some obstruction at the serving line; we got that untangled quickly.

After the dinner, the main performance

After the dinner, the main performance: audience and performers alike were packed like sardines

Once meals were served we had less than an hour to wash everything: three hundred place settings of dishes and trays, every last dish, pot, chafing pan and serving spoon, the tables and floors, and all the extra food also needed to be cleaned up, put in storage containers and packed away. We didn’t quite get it done of course, though the attempt was valiant and almost successful. Fiona worked incredibly hard, and with ruthless efficiency, as did others, but there were some details that had to be looked after during and after the performance.

It was Sophie’s birthday weekend, too, and it was a great way for her to enjoy it though we saved cake and family gifts for the following weekend. The cake had gluten, dairy and nuts in it after all!

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Front Room

Old plaster-and-lath and gaping fir flooring in the front room.

Old plaster-and-lath, upside-down receptacle and gaping fir flooring in the front room.

Oh look. I did some things. The front bedroom was uninhabitable when we took possession of the Nelson house. Over the summer Noah, Sophie and friends stripped and then repainted the two gyproc walls, but the ceiling was flaky acoustic tile and two of the walls were this stuff: plaster and lath with a bit of vermiculite behind it, being held together by many layers of paint, wallpaper and press-board panelling. At the suggestion of our building inspector we chose not to investigate asbestos status but simply to leave everything intact and seal it off. The safest way, really. So I cleaned loose plaster away, shimmed the places where it was gone completely and got the walls passably flat.

New drywall, and electrical receptacle now right-side-up

New drywall, and electrical receptacle now right-side-up

Then I drywalled over it. The ceiling required ten-foot sheets. Chuck and I did those together with a single step-ladder and, among other things, a baseball bat. Not too many corners (or arms or toes) got damaged.

Taping and mudding and painting complete.

Taping and mudding and painting complete.

I actually kind of like taping and mudding drywall. Not that I’d want to do that for a living, but a single room is a gratifying project. I’ve done it before, but it had been years. I got better at it as I went. In the end I didn’t get obsessive and do a full skim coat, since the two walls that had been done by a previous owner weren’t perfect either. But I got a pretty decent finish in the end.

Walls painted, hickory flooring and moldings done.

Walls painted, hickory flooring and moldings done.

From there it was on to painting. I went with what was marketed as a sort of chic tan-grey but turned out to be not that far off the colour of raw drywall, but whatever. Neutral, so that redecorating won’t require repainting, since we’re not really sure what this room will be for over the medium-term, and may not own the house for all that long anyway.

Then the flooring went in. That was really fun. I had picked up enough surplus engineered hickory via the regional buy & sell website for a nice price. I floated it over an underlayment, gluing the tongue-and-groove together, staggering the joints. It took me about 5 hours, and this was where the room really began to pop for me. Adding the mouldings was a time-consuming final step but brought everything up to the next level.

Looking the other way, mountain dusk in the distance.

Looking the other way, mountain dusk in the distance.

Sophie liked the room enough to move into it, vacating the larger, slightly more private room on the other side of the house. Which prompted Fiona to move across into the now-empty “blue room” that had been Sophie’s.  All of which is good because it means that the room she was in, which Noah repainted during the summer, is now empty and can get a bunch of finishing details done. Then I can move into that, meaning the entire upstairs will be empty and we can start looking towards a major renovation up there in the spring. The plan for upstairs is to add a dormer with a bathroom in it, and turn the rest into a master bedroom. The extra bathroom is definitely needed in a house with four bedrooms. Last weekend during the choral festival we had Sophie’s friend plus four billets staying with us. The eight of us had enough space, but sharing one bathroom eight ways was nuts. The girls were great about it but … yeah, it was crazy.

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Unschooled adolescents

Fiona’s primary enrolment this year is with SelfDesign, an independent umbrella program that supports home-based learners from Kindergarten through Grade 9 and their families, including loads of unschoolers. The support is primarily moral support, though there’s a little money available that can be used to fund things like sports and music lessons. I love the organization; the people are good-hearted and well-intentioned, and they really do understand unschooling. For the most part they sit back and act as cheerleaders as kids learn in whatever wild and wooly ways they want.

SelfDesign also runs a high school program for learners in Grades 10-12. Because of governmental constraints, this program actually delivers content to the students on a course-by-course basis. Assessments are required. Students interact directly with and are accountable to their teachers. Credits are awarded. Graduation with a provincial diploma is the presumed — though not required — goal. They are as sympathetic and accommodating as possible to self-directed learning, and allow some pretty outside-the-box options for meeting course requirements, but the format and expectations are still a world apart from the K-9 program. It’s not a bad thing. I think this is actually what most teens are looking for: some outside accountability and feedback and guidance as they forge outwards beyond home and family towards more independence and responsibility.

The problem is that there is nothing in between these two extremely different models, and no way to combine them. It’s as if there is a tall stone wall between them. If you’re on the K-9 side, you can’t even peek over to see what is happening on the other side; you’re just expected to keep playing in the garden with the younger kids.

The people at SelfDesign have recognized that the learners in Fiona’s age/grade group would benefit from something that spans this transition a little more proactively. But I have found myself frustrated over and over again this year by how their efforts have been wrong-headed, fallen short or been stymied by technical or organizational constraints. I’m trying not to gripe or complain; I’ve expended too much energy already being exasperated over some of the stupid things that have happened. Instead I’ve spent much of my energy over the past couple of weeks trying to nudge along some positive changes by thinking, writing, chatting, Skypeing and otherwise advocating for what I see as the needs of this group of kids. Here are excerpts from a long piece I wrote to the administrators:

Around adolescence I’ve seen my four homeschooled children develop a desire for a change in learning approaches. I know not all children are the same; some Grade 7-9 self-directed learners are happy to keep learning organically on their own in the context of home and family. But I know that there are many — my own four among them — who have begun looking for something new. They have pretty mature levels of self-awareness, understand where their interests and affinities lie and want to dig into more advanced learning with mentors and communities beyond home to help them get accountability, validation, challenge and feedback.

I think this normal adolescent tendency towards expanding one’s orientation outward is compounded by another factor in unschoolers. What I’ve noticed about learners who grow up entirely in charge of their own learning is that wanting less choice and less flexibility is a common, understandable and entirely valid choice as they grow through adolescence. They are beginning to come fully to grips with the enormity of the possibilities before them, and want to set up some constraints to at least temporarily narrow things down a bit. I don’t see this as a failure of imagination and courage in the face of self-direction; instead I think it’s an organizational strategy, one that mature life-long learners often use. They want to give themselves the clarity of some structure and extrinsic expectations so that they can move forward towards new knowledge and skills with a sense of direction and purpose.

It seems likely to me that a significant portion of your young adolescent learners are experiencing similar shifts in their needs. In a year or two they’ll probably be taking courses where they’ll be required to submit work for assessment and feedback and will be subject to external expectations. They’ll either have deadlines or they’ll have to self-structure to ensure completion of coursework. I think that they should be able to get a taste of this sort of learning if they feel ready for it during Grades 8 and 9. SelfDesign with its large enrolment and robust online interface is ideally suited to offer students the option of familiarizing themselves with structured expectations like “writing to task,” completing readings on a schedule, the expectation of contributing to a group discussion, submitting work by a deadline…

I don’t think you can get the momentum, critical mass and coherence you need for a real “community of learning” without some semblance of structure and leadership, not amongst a diverse group that has only virtual contact with each other…

I understand the desire to be inclusive and to avoid over-emphasizing a narrow academic orientation. But I see what I am proposing as broadening the range of learning approaches that are directly supported and thus having ways to meaningfully include more learners. I believe this is a crucial component of the offerings available to learners on the cusp of the transition to a course-based diploma program and something that fits well with the developmental shift that many adolescents experience in their learning orientation.

As I wrote this out, and edited it over and over again, I came to a new realization. When mainstream children are young, their learning is pretty much plotted out for them by their schooling. As they reach adolescence we encourage them to start moving towards greater autonomy, self-direction and ownership of their learning. We reduce the level of control: we stop daily homework checks and workbook corrections. We let kids fly on their own wings a little more.

But I don’t think it’s necessarily the ideal shift for a child whose entire educational life has been defined by full-on autonomy and self-direction, for a kid who has been joyfully flying about on his own wings for years. I think that many unschooled kids tend to become more focused and goal-oriented around adolescence. Yes, they’re capable of immense amounts of self-direction and autonomy, but they often recognize that in moving towards goals they have for themselves it is helpful to create some structure and accountability around their learning.

So I think that unschooled learners mature through adolescence we need to look at things differently. We need to view their desire for structure as a healthy organizational strategy rather than as a failure of self-direction. We need to view their desire for accountability to a mentor or teacher as a self-chosen commitment device, not a failure of motivation or passion.

The good news is that I think we’ve managed to give Fiona enough of a slice of life on the other side of the stone wall this year to serve her needs. We just haven’t been able to do so within SelfDesign. We’ve paid for online courses, she’s moved into a more challenging program in ballet, she’s with a much more demanding violin teacher, and with the co-operation of our open-minded local bricks-and-mortar school we’ve been able to cross-enrol her in a handful of Grade 10 courses. She’s smart, and has some disciplined artistic interests, so she’s doing okay. It just seems a shame that it should be this complicated. I feel like SelfDesign could easily offer some opportunities like this in-house.

Posted in Homeschooling, Parenting, Thinking about learning | Comments Off

House progress

I really love our Nelson house. When we bought it I was sold on it as an investment, a fixer-upper, but I think I’m falling in love now. It has a really nice feel to the living space. It’s open and light and airy during the day, and yet at night it feels cosy and welcoming: the best of both worlds! I love the absence of clutter and the simplicity of the space. I know it’s probably just a matter of time, but I’m determined to do whatever I can to keep the junk from accumulating. (Maybe it will help that Chuck doesn’t actually live there!)

Now that we’re establishing a fall routine of back and forth-ing, I’m love having repair and renovation projects I can pick away at when I’m there, rather than just feeling like I’m killing time during the girls’ activities. This week I did a fair bit of outdoor work, dealt with a couple of filthy floors and completed the stripping of a white bookcase in preparation for repainting it black. I’ve also been researching historical colour schemes for the exterior. The big project for next week will hopefully be drywalling the front bedroom. I’ve been making extensive use of Kijiji (our version of Craigslist) and have scored some lovely hand-scraped hickory to re-do the flooring in there too. Sophie is hosting three choir festival billets the first weekend of November, so I hope to have that room finished by then!

  • Finished converting my 1989 black Stumpjumper into a mountain city cruiser
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The school year, times 4

For the first time all four of my kids are officially enrolled in school.

Fiona (12) is enrolled one-quarter time, taking two courses at the local school. She’s doing math and science for two hours on each of Monday and Tuesday mornings. Age-wise she’s Grade 7 age, placement-wise she’s “in” Grade 9, course-wise she’s taking the Grade 10 courses in these two areas, and classroom-wise she’s in with all the Grade 10, 11 and 12 students. And funnily enough her main beef with the classroom experience is the immaturity of the other students. But she likes the teachers and the structured expectations, and can self-pace through much of the material, which is close to her level and occasionally challenges her, so I think it will probably work well.

For the rest, she is in a distributed learning home-based program through SelfDesign. The “program” is really just a system for reporting on whatever self-led learning she does. She likes the liaison teacher we report to, and we are hopeful that she’ll enjoy some of the camps and retreats that are offered to SelfDesign high school students. So this means that the remainder of her week is free. We are making a quick trip to Nelson on Monday afternoons for violin lesson and ballet classes. Then we head down again Wednesday afternoon for more ballet classes and stay through Thursday (for gymnastics) and Friday (for more ballet). And in the midst there’s time for plenty of other stuff: home-improvement projects, practising violin, watching movies, reading, writing, cooking, helping Sophie with her newspaper route, trips to the library, scouring thrift stores, whatever works. She is planning to attend school full-time in Nelson next year, so the combination of classroom time and Nelson time will serve as a good segué I think.

Sophie (16) is in her final year of high school in Nelson. She is flush with credits already but is broadening and deepening her transcript while participating in all sorts of other things. She’s got the aforementioned paper route, she’s mentoring 10-t0-13-year-old singers in a youth choir, she has her own longstanding choir, she’s auditioning for another one, she is working as an official TA in a Grade 11 math class as well as doing some out-of-timetable tutoring, she’s got gymnastics twice a week, after-school AP Physics 2 classes weekly and an on-line Spanish course she’s doing on the side. And of course she is dealing with all her own meals and housekeeping and the like. It sounds like a lot but it seems to all fit neatly into her week, and she still has her weekends mostly free so that she can come home if she likes.

Noah is in his second year at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology. He’s discovered that he has a real gift for coding as well as excellent skills in digital design, a combination that is pretty rare and will probably make him ultimately very employable. He has two of the toughest courses on his schedule this semester, so I haven’t heard from him much. He is living in a shared house in New Westminster this year, closer to public transit and to stores and other amenities, so hopefully that’s simplifying his life a little.

Erin is in her last year at McGill. She’s got a nice scholarship, and most of her major requirements already fulfilled so she’s filled her schedule up with a lot of ensemble playing. She’s also freelancing a bit, playing with Pronto Musica, a new Montreal chamber orchestra that’s doing some pretty nice work. She’ll be auditioning for Masters programs her teacher feels would be suitable, likely in the US, following the scholarship money hopefully! She’s planning to continue her Suzuki teacher training (which she began last year) so that she can do some teaching on the side as she continues her performance studies.

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2015 Loop

Last year I carved some time out of July to do a self-powered trip along the Silvery Slocan Circle Route. I did it counter-clockwise over three days, combining kayaking, running and road-biking. This year, with a new-to-me road bike recently acquired, I decided to do the same route all on two wheels. I rode clockwise for a switch, and over two relatively short days. The first day took me over the pass, through Kaslo, down the North Shore of Kootenay Lake to Nelson, for a total of about 112 km and 1700 metres of total climbing. The second day brought me home through the Slocan Valley, for about 100 km and a bit less climbing, about 1500 metres.

Screenshot 2015-09-16 13.10.20

Screenshot 2015-09-16 13.10.46


IMG_2517Because my overnight waypoint was the Nelson house, I was able to ride almost entirely unencumbered. I carried only water, snack, debit card, phone and my little bike toolkit. Knowing that all the comforts of home were already waiting for me in Nelson was almost as good as having a support team travelling with me!

The weather was great: cool but sunny. The seasons seemed to actually turn while I was riding. On Friday I had noticed that the birch leaves were looking paler as if they were getting ready to turn; by the time I arrived home on Sunday they were yellow and flying off the trees in the wind.

I like giving myself a multi-day solo challenge every year. It gives me time to just be with myself. I come out of it feeling like I’ve accomplished something, renewed. I think this is a tradition I’ll try to continue. I wonder what 2016′s challenge will be?

Posted in Being active, The Natural World, Travel | 1 Comment

Summer, here and gone

It was an early summer. The trees were greening up a good 3-4 weeks earlier than usual, and the season continued to unfurl early. The lake got “warm” (as warm as it ever does) in June. The wildfires were burning by the end of June. The huckleberries peaked in mid July. The wildflowers up Idaho peak were over before August began. And here it is September 2nd and the ‘late’ apples, pears and prune plums are ripening, the rains have socked in and the leaves are turning.


Symphony on the Mountain

And there has been a lot of water under the bridge. My mom came to visit. She’s really struggling with her rheumatoid arthritis, but a bit of prednisone helped take the edge off while she was here. She was able to be here when Erin performed a repeat of her grad recital locally. It was wonderful for us all to hear the maturity her playing has these days. She played the Debussy Sonata, Beethoven Sonata No. 7 and the Bach C Major solo sonata. She and I did the Symphony on the Mountain gig together in Kimberley. Kind of fun, and nice for me to get back to doing some symphony playing.

Fiona changed violin teachers. Although she really liked her previous teacher as a person, maybe the relationship was too casual: she just wasn’t feeling the drive to impress her, and maybe there was some trust lacking as well. She has had three lessons with the new teacher, and has said “She’s a little bit intimidating at first, but really nice, and she’s seasoned. You can tell she really knows what she wants, and how to explain it to me.” The new teacher is the one Erin went to for part of a year, who had to suddenly stop teaching when her husband got cancer. He’s well now, and she has returned to teaching in a very limited under-the-radar fashion. Fiona is one of three or four regular students she has. So far so good. We’ll get properly underway in a couple of weeks.

Ballet-specific physio

Ballet-specific physio

There has been physiotherapy. It has gone well. The tendons healed. The strength and flexibility have been very much compromised, though. There were several therapy sessions and lots of daily exercises prescribed. We had to drive to Spokane to get new pointe shoes and she’s now beginning some re-training exercises en pointe at home. She’s signed up for three two-hour days a week of ballet this year. Hopefully she’ll know enough to avoid pushing too hard as she comes back from this. She’s young and they start the year gradually: she’ll probably be fine. Gymnastics may be harder to approach as carefully.

The Uphill Cruiser, in progress

The Uphill Cruiser, in progress: waiting on rubber and wicker

I started building a city bike, rehabilitating the Stumpjumper I bought in 1989 to try to get a couple of years of life out of it toodling around Nelson. I figure the mountain-climbing gears will be essential climbing 10% grades with payload. Eventually I hope to get an e-bike, but that’s hard to justify now when most of my travel is to transport kids.

Helping out at Dance Camp

Helping out at Dance Camp

Fiona wasn’t able to do dance camp, but she ended up being the teacher’s assistant at both the Music Explorers and age 6-11 dance camp. She was amazingly hard-working, helpful, pro-active and mature. Put in long days … up to 6 hours straight without any real break, herding children, helping with activities, doing prep and clean-up, redirecting problematic behaviour, supervising for safety.

Sophie and Noah have spent most of the summer in Nelson at the Mill St. house. Sophie has been working full-time at a café. She’s taken up longboarding. She’s got herself a twice-weekly paper delivery route. She shops, she cooks, she cleans, she’s been taking a Spanish course. She’s a maniac hard worker. Noah has spent much of the summer getting cold after cold, and when not sick playing D&D with his Nelson friends until the middle of the night. He’s also done some renovation and cleaning work on the Mill St. house. Spackling, washing everything with TSP, painting, carpet-underlay scraping, all that fun stuff.

SVI Play-in

SVI Play-in

SVI happened. It was over-the-top busy for me. Delegation is not my strong point. But Erin and Fiona were very helpful, and overall things ran smoothly. We had 95 students this year, the most ever, and with my grip on a local team of volunteer-parents slipping away now that I don’t teach locally, I struggled even more with asking for help. I managed to delegate one area, with rather less success than might have been due to my inability to relinquish control, but there is plenty of “room to grow” as they say.

IMG_2312We went to Ontario to visit my family and Chuck’s family. All six of us went, a miracle of planning and lucky timing. Erin was completing a Suzuki teacher training course in Waterloo, so we intercepted her there and managed visits here and there.

I biked as much as I could. The new bike has been fabulous. I got much stronger over time and decided there was no need for a bigger sprocket or smaller chainring. I just bought a used trainer, a Cycle Ops Fluid 2, and plan to keep riding in the garage even through worst of the fall rains and winter conditions. I have my iPhone rigged up on the aero bars for reading books. Also in the plans is a two-day Silvery Slocan bike ride, from one home to the other and back again.

IMG_2371And there’s been a bit of trail-running and mountain biking and alpine hiking. Not as much as any of us wished, but Fiona’s limited ambulatory capacity has put a bit of a crick in our style.

But there: that’s some of it anyway. And so we move onwards into fall.

Posted in Being active, Family Matters, Music education, Travel | Comments Off

Running on

IMG_2243My six-year runniversary, celebrating the start of my informal middle-aged commitment to running, slipped by without me noticing. When I began running at age 46, I was really excited by the whole endeavour. I enjoyed the milestones, I liked noticing my progress in mileage, speed and endurance. I ran a few races, I had a few injuries, I logged everything using apps and spreadsheets and loved watching the graphs I could generate. I participated in online and in-person running communities as much as I could.

And then for a couple of years I swung the other way. I ditched all the fit-tech, the races, the goals, the groups, the tracking. I just wanted to enjoy the process of running by myself, the zen of being out there, not focusing on the numbers my activity would generate.

The Vivoactive: quirky custom watch faces... what more could I want?

The Vivoactive also has quirky custom watch faces: what more could I want?

Now my pendulum has swung back. I’ve just replaced my old Garmin Forerunner 305 with a swanky Garmin Vivoactive. It has some smartwatch features that work with my phone, is small enough and comfortable enough to wear as a day-to-day watch, does accelerometer-based fitness tracking, talks to a heart-rate strap, and most importantly to me has a GPS chip in it that tracks all my self-powered outdoor travel. It does the tracking without the help of my phone, and because it’s waterproof I can take it pretty much anywhere without any worries.

I’m not training or setting any goals at this point. But I enjoy seeing my numbers improve, particularly since I’ve just introduced regular road-biking into my life and that’s changing my fitness. Cranking up the steeper sections of the mountain roads here several times a week is building my muscle mass, for sure.

I do have a chronic running-related injury in my left ankle/heel stretching back three or four years now. It has defied all my efforts at repair and rehabilitation. It’s always there, but if I limit myself to at most 3 or 4 times a week, totalling 20-25k maximum, mostly at a 6:00/km pace or slower it stays under control. So the cycling, which doesn’t bother the heel at all, is filling in the rest of my exercise week really nicely. I can alternate an easy run with what are for me harder days of hill-climbing on the bike. This works beautifully and will continue to be a great way to stay in shape at least as long as the snow is off the roads.

Now that I’m both running and biking regularly, there’s a niggling voice in the back of my head muttering “tri, tri, tri.” But I am not a good swimmer, nor do I much like swimming,. And the lake is too cold 10 months a year. And the pool in Nelson is about to be closed for months for asbestos removal. And, and, and… So I’d be surprised if a triathlon ever happened for me but I suppose you never know.

If Erin weren't so damned fit, this result would make me younger than her.

If Erin weren’t so damned fit, this result would make me younger than she is.

Here’s a cool result from a nifty if fairly crude tool. The calculator quizzes you about your age, gender, size, weight, resting and maximal heart rates and exercise habits, and gives you a “fitness age.” I come out looking pretty healthy these days.

Just for fun I repeated the quiz with what I think were my stats just before I started running. I came up with a fitness age of 40 vs. a chronological age of 45. I’ve definitely widened the gap since then!

Lately my life seems to go like this: Cooking, cleaning, computering, RUN! Cooking, cleaning, computering, RIDE! And repeat. Whatever. It works.

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So this happened…

The placement of the pins in the OR

The placement of the pins in the OR

In an instant her summer changed. A tool in the shop, a long-handled thing with a blade on the end used for peeling logs, fell onto her bare foot. It landed on her first three toes, slicing through the extensor tendons and into the joints of two, and through the nail of the third. She went off to Trail for two hours of surgery to repair the tendons.

For five weeks she was casted with k-wires pinning her toes in full extension. No swimming, not even in the midst of our heat wave. She hunkered down in her bedroom to wait out the non-weight-bearing phase with her laptop. It was in the midst of the move in Nelson. It made me realize how much I’ve come to count on her to help out with things of the cleaning / moving / carrying nature. Suddenly she was more payload than help, and it was so easy for her to get bored just sitting around.

Look ma, no hands!

Look ma, no hands!

But she got pretty handy on her crutches, developing a pretty awesome prehensile-armpit technique that allowed her to carry things short distances.

And the time went by. The heat wave peaked with temperatures hovering around 37 C. Dance camp registration got cancelled. A lot of Netflix got watched.

Cast change two weeks in: looking good! (Really!)

Cast change two weeks in: looking good! (Really!)

We made a few trips back to Trail. She finished the preventative antibiotics with no sign of infection. Things seemed to be healing up well. Xrays showed the pins staying in place nicely, the cast got changed, the skin stitches removed.

The fibreglass cast was much nicer. More solid, lighter, and more comfortable. Still it was a waiting game: had the tendon repairs taken? We wouldn’t know until after all the splinting and pinning was done with. The surgeon had shared a case study with her of a professional dancer who had begun a return to activity after just three weeks, but since Fiona doesn’t have a livelihood depending on her speedy return to dance, he wanted to be more conservative: six or seven weeks.

Atrophy: look at that skinny little left leg!

Post-cast atrophy: look at that spindly little left leg!

At last week’s follow-up visit, the pins were removed and the cast came off. She was placed in an orthopedic boot and told that she can partially weight-bear but should not really be using the toes for a couple more weeks. The amount of atrophy in her calf is appalling for just 5 weeks.

But the good news is that she seems to be able to ever-so-gently wiggle her toes. And so we are hopeful. She’ll start physiotherapy with a therapist who has 17 years of ballet training in a couple of weeks. She needs those tendons if she’s going to continue to dance en pointe, and she will need to work really hard to get back the strength and mobility in her foot and leg.

Posted in Being active, The ugly face of reality | 1 Comment

The Other House

A 1970s manual typewriter was one of the fun surprises left for us amongst the garbage

A 1970s manual typewriter was one of the fun surprises left for us amongst the garbage

We took possession of the Nelson house about four weeks ago. Sophie and Noah are more or less living there for the summer. Sophie is working full-time at a café. Noah is (theoretically at least) working on the house, though he has spent a surprising amount of time being sick with a series of colds, and also maintaining his social life.

We were pleasantly surprised to discover that several old but functional appliances had been left behind by the previous owners, so we haven’t had to scramble to buy those.

The used sofa we bought last fall for the rental place looks fine in the bright airy living room.

The used sofa we bought last fall for the rental place looks fine in the bright airy living room.

We have had a bit of a scramble to get furniture. We had an old sofa and loveseat, and a broken metal bunk bed, but that was about it. So we’ve been busily buying bedroom furniture, dining table, futons, futon frames and chairs. We still need a few things … a bedroom and a half still need to be furnished, a desk would be nice, and the rest of the living room furniture (coffee table in particular) needs to be sourced. But thanks to the leftovers from the previous owner and the internet-based used-furniture market, it’s been cheaper than we had expected to deal with the furnishings.

The kitchen is really old, but functional for now.

The kitchen is really old, but functional for now. Chuck built the island, since there’s a serious lack of counter space.

Which is good because I of course forgot how quickly the little and not-so-little other stuff adds up. Garden hose, garbage bins, curtains, light bulbs, cleaning equipment and supplies, small appliances for the kitchen, dishes, cutlery, frying pans, shower caddy, lighting fixtures, replacement faucets and dryer ducting and door lock-sets.

It was pretty filthy, and there was lots of garbage that needed to go to the dump. It’s still pretty filthy in a lot of places, but things are coming along on the main floor. We have Sophie ensconced a furnished main-floor bedroom, and Noah is making do in another such bedroom, partly furnished and unpainted but at least clean.

With salvaged furniture, it's a usable room. Still need to lose the carpet!

With salvaged furniture, it’s a usable room. Still need to lose the carpet!

Upstairs is another matter. It’s carpeted and extremely hot in our record heat wave, so it smells terrible. Hopefully we’ll get the carpet out soon. The little bedroom that is up there is cleaner though, and we’ve thrown a cheap air conditioner in the window and thus managed to make a passable guest bedroom.

The ultimate plan is to completely renovate the upstairs, adding a dormer that will give us the space for a second bathroom, melding the little bedroom with the remaining space to create something closer to a master bedroom. Once we complete that we’ll have three proper bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small guest room or office space at the front of the house. That will work beautifully for us for next year. Sophie and Fiona can each have their own bedrooms, there will be a parental bedroom, and one more flex room that can house visitors or possibly a roommate.

Another kijiji find...

The dining set was another kijiji find…

After that there is plenty more that can be done. We’ll replace the siding, renovate both the kitchen and the downstairs bathroom. There’s some basement work that could be done. Maybe the panelling-and-wallpaper walls in the front part of the living room will get upgraded. Landscaping, fencing, rehabilitating the gardens, dealing with the fruit trees, fixing the “driveway,”… the list goes on. But the house, considering its age, the price we got it for and the filth and neglect, is surprisingly liveable already.

IMG_2210This weekend will be another work-party expedition to Nelson for Chuck, Fiona and me. Hopefully Noah will have walls prepped in a couple of rooms for painting, and we might get to some drywalling in the front bedroom, where there is currently a combination of rotting plaster-and-lath, vermiculite, pressboard, textured wallpaper and graffiti. I think we’ll actually have the luxury of being able to stay overnight.

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An unexciting photo, but at least you can see some of the equipment we were using

Fiona and I recently completed a series of indoor introductory parkour classes at the local school. Fiona has spent most of the past few years tackling new physical challenges. My experience with physical challenge has been much more mundane for many years. I’ve challenged myself to endure, but I am a big chicken with new physical skills. This was fun for us to do together and Fiona learned a few cool tricks too, but I was the one who really had to expand my comfort zone.

Fiona’s biggest challenge was to not point her toes every time she was airborne, little gymnast-dancer that she is. For me, though, there was at least one new skill every week that I found it really scary to try, whether it was kipping off an upper bar while pivoting around an arm on a lower bar, or dive rolls over the vault-horse, or cat leaps from bar to bar, or leaps into giant swings on angled bars. But I managed to achieve almost everything, and to persuade my body and my mind after a few repetitions that fear was no longer necessary. It was really cool to be reminded that my aging body can learn new tricks, and how near at hand potential accomplishments are.

Mostly I developed a renewed appreciation for what kids do day in and day out: put themselves out there, just beyond their comfort zones, in unfamiliar situations with expectations that they don’t yet understand, and just dig in and learn.

We’ll both continue with parkour classes if they’re offered again somewhere.

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Letter from college

Normally it would be odd for a parent receive an unsolicited email from one of her now-adult children’s university professors. This is different though, because this prof has been Erin’s violin teacher for four years. That includes the very first year, when Erin was still a high schooler by age and enrolment, but moved to Montreal to live entirely on her own, complete her high school courses by correspondence, and be where she could get weekly lessons with this lovely woman.

We’d gone for a visit, and I had sat in on a lesson took with her (they had met once before), and it seems all three of us had a sense that the relationship was meant to be. I had the feeling that the time come — much sooner than I’d expected — for me to entrust Erin to herself, and to the guiding mentorship of this wonderful violin teacher and human being. I believe Erin was one of only two or three “private” students the teacher had that year, and the only high schooler she had taken on in years.

Erin has just completed the penultimate year of her BMus program at McGill, and she chose to do her final “graduation recital” a year early in order to free herself up for auditions next year. It is also her teacher’s retirement year. Next year Erin will study full-time with another teacher she loves, who co-taught her this year. But it means there is a sense of closing a chapter in both of their lives, and in their relationship.

I was so touched and proud to receive this letter yesterday.

As my last academic year is coming to an end, I would like to express how well Erin has been doing during these past 4 years!

Her recital was very impressive, played with such a musical depth and involvement, mastery, and a natural stage presence.

Often, over the years , students have referred to her exemplary working habits, her amazing stamina, her determination and motivation !!!

Erin is very much «her own musical person», with a unique vision. I am always impressed by her concept of Bach !

From the very 1st  lesson until now, she has taken giant steps, and gained the respect of the full school .

For me, it was a privilege to teach such a talented and interesting young musician ; she is among the best students I have taught at McGill and she will always have a special place in my fondest memories.

Miranda, when I think back to our 1st meeting , I can only admire your trust in her and your generosity in letting her settle in Montreal. I feel sorry I did not write more often to let you know how things were going …

Wishing you a wonderful summer !

I am grateful for the reminder about the value of trusting children to learn in their own ways, and to forge their own paths in life when they feel they are ready. And I am so proud of my grown-up kid, and so thankful for the role this wonderful teacher has played in her life and her musical development.

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(Two) New wheels

I bought myself a new bike. It’s a 2005, so it’s already middle-aged as bikes go, but it is in great shape and is a world apart from my 1989 Terry Symmetry, which was decidedly elderly and decrepit. The Terry was my first step up from the world of chain-store bikes and it has stood me pretty well. But it has a steel frame (which is dinged and a bit bent) and I realized a few hundred miles in that it was probably a size too small for me. I was still happy with it for a really long time, but in the last couple of years I just haven’t been able to keep the necessary parts moving well. It has reached the point where it needs the whole drivetrain replaced. Last winter I realized, while browsing around eBay looking for good deals on parts, that the parts were going to cost a couple of hundred bucks at the least, and in the end I’d still have a bent bike that didn’t fit me well.

Unlike our home up the valley here, Nelson has a couple of pretty awesome rolling routes for road-biking. I was enjoying biking along the North Shore and down on towards Castlegar, except for the inevitable back pain from being squeezed up over a short little top tube and the grinding resistance of an aging bottom-bracket.

So I started scouring PinkBike for small used road bikes. There was nothing suitable in my size on the used market for under $1000 in the Kootenays. I hoped I’d find something in the Vancouver area when we visited Noah in March, but no, not then, nor when I drove out again at the end of April to pick him up. I looked in the Okanagan, knowing I was picking Erin up there in early May, but alas that came up empty too.

But then I found the right bike at the right price in Calgary, and because I knew I’d be taking Erin to Alberta for a rehearsal with her pianist in late May, I begged the seller to hang onto it for me. I did a kind of stupid thing and sent her a deposit, sight-unseen, and not knowing her as anything other than a username on a website. But I got a good vibe from her, did a little bit of sleuthing (or creeping, depending on how you look at it) and decided she was a good person I could trust. I had a good feeling about the whole thing.

I thought it was the right bike. I had been vacillating back and forth between a road bike and a triathlon bike. (What’s the difference? Road bikes are like the traditional “ten-speed” bikes that started being mass-produced the 1970′s with the curved drop-handlebars and gently angled frames. Though of course there are much smoother, lighter, better-engineered versions available now than a generation ago. Tri-bikes on the other hand look similar to the uninitiated, but the downward-pointing tubes of the frame are closer to vertical, and they have those dorky aerodynamic handlebars that are made for kind of lying your upper body down on your bike, resting on your forearms with your hands out front like they’re the prow of a two-wheeled ship. Triathlon bikes are generally considered to compromise comfort for decreased wind resistance, and to “save the glutes for running” in that the more vertical push by the legs favours the use of the quadriceps. ) IMG_2068

I had more or less decided that it was safest to stick with road-bike geometry because that was what I knew. But The Bike, the one that was the right size and the right price and that was being sold by the woman who I thought was lovely and honest, it was a triathlon bike. My tri-bike experience was limited to a 60-second test-ride of a similar-but-overpriced bike a few weeks earlier. I liked the aero-bar posture in that moment, but I also knew that most people find road bikes more comfortable.

The price for the new bike was only double what fixing my old bike would cost. It was almost 2 sizes bigger, yet it weighed less. And it was orange! It would (sorta) match my car! I had a really good feeling about it. So yup, even though it’s a triathlon bike, with all the pretentiousness, misplaced ambition and/or dorkiness that implies, I bought it.

I took it for a first ride in Canmore out the Legacy Trail towards Banff. I felt like I was flying. Such fun!

I should confess that I had driven alongside the Legacy Trail many times and had always scoffed: “Is that what Albertans think a trail in a National Park should be? A flat paved strip that runs beside a major highway? How lame!” But now I get it: it’s not that kind of trail, it’s a gently rolling highway-for-bikes and other self-powered wheely things, and it connects Canmore and Banff along the only corridor that doesn’t have mountains in the way. It’s smooth and fast for cycling and there’s no motorized traffic. It’s not a lame hiking trail, it’s a road for road-biking, one that doesn’t have cars and has lovely views of the Rockies. Now that I’ve mentally recategorized the Legacy Trail as a cycle path, I get it. It’s awesome.

So I flew along the Legacy. So sweet! I powered up gradual grades, never needing the low gears. I averaged well over 30 km/h without even pushing myself.

And then I came home and remembered that I live on a mountain. If I was going to ride around my primary home, I was going to have to cope with 10% grades. The 30-metre elevation gain over the entire 28 kilometres of the Legacy Trail? I get that in my 2k “warm-up” here! My first ride up the highway was not an experience with flying. I made it up, but it wasn’t pretty. My old Terry had what is called a “granny gear,” a third, smaller chain-ring that gives a range of extra-low gearing. I’m a stamina-not-strength girl; give me a low enough gear and I can spin all day, crawling up steep slopes like a caterpillar, but eventually getting there. On the other hand, ask me to summit Highway 31A in 1st-gear-is-the-new-7th and I grunt and sweat and want to throw up and the next day my quads begin 36 hours of whinging about what I’ve put them through …. ask me how I know.

At the summit

At the summit

The easy solution would be to swap out sprockets, or down-size my smaller chainring. Even before I bought the bike that’s what I assumed I’d end up doing. But today I rode again. I took it easier on the easy parts, saving myself for the nasty bits. My legs had recovered, and hey, I did better! I made it up beaver-pond rise without a break, and not once did I feel like throwing up. In fact I had a grand time. Also: no back pain! Tired shoulders after a while, but I can tell I’m still a bit too tight and hunched in the upper back in the new low position. But no back pain at all. Sweet!

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