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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A dart-board, in the shop, on a door, a gust of wind, some bare feet, acceleration due to gravity. Suddenly summer changed.

IMG_2094It was clear her foot needed some stitches. But once the local anaesthetic kicked in and our colleague was able to have a proper look, it became apparent that Fiona’s injury was more serious. She got a big dressing, an IV, some antibiotics, and off she went to the regional hospital. There the orthopedic surgeon did what he could during almost 2 hours in the OR. The extensor tendons to two of her toes had been severed, the joint capsules cut. He did what he could to get things back together. He was satisfied with the repair the big-toe tendon; the other one seemed a little more iffy.

She was discharged after an overnight and a couple more doses of IV antibiotics. She now has pins through the bones of both toes, holding them in extension to keep the tendons as slack as possible and give them the opportunity to heal. She’s casted. She’s non-weight-bearing and on crutches for six weeks. No gymnastics, no showers, no swimming, no hiking, no dance. And after six weeks there will still be unknowns. She’ll likely be off the crutches, but we’ll have to see how effective the tendon repair was, and start rehab to see whether she is able to resume dancing en pointe in the fall.

Posted in Being active, Miscellaneous, The ugly face of reality | 3 Comments

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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Building Rat Park

Screenshot 2015-05-16 14.58.28

Image credit: Stuart McMillen Stuart McMillen

At a recent unschooling workshop, the issue of technology use came up. Some parents expressed concern over the potential addictive nature of technology. With unschoolers having far more autonomy over their lives, the risk of excess use seems much higher, particularly without the natural time constraints of school attendance and homework.

“Video games and social media are as addictive as drugs,” someone said, to nods of agreement from other parents “They’re designed to reel kids in and keep them hooked.”

I thought immediately of Rat Park. Because if we accept the parallel between drug addiction and technology addiction, we need to do so while understanding the implications of Rat Park.

We all know the story of rats in little lab cages demonstrating severe addictive behaviour when offered drugs like cocaine and morphine. Experiments like these supposedly proved the biologically-driven nature of addiction, and helped spur the entire war on drugs. But then there was the Rat Park experiment. I’d encourage everyone to read the story on Stuart McMillen’s site. It’s beautifully explained there, but in essence a researcher at SFU named Bruce Alexander wondered whether the severe environmental deprivation of the experimental rats in their lonely cage-and-drug worlds might be playing a role. He provided similarly tempting drug cocktails, but instead of solo cages he put the experimental subjects in Rat Park. It was a larger complex of interesting play-things, various terrain, hidey-holes, and other rats. The rats were able to do normal rat stuff. They could climb and run about and play, engage in ratty social lives, hunker down in a private place if they wished, and then return to engage with others.

While the rats in Rat Park did drink some of the drug-laden solution, they avoided it until it was made so sweet that they couldn’t resist, and yet still their intake was minimal and they didn’t exhibit hallmarks of addiction. The drug just wasn’t a problem for the rats of Rat Park: it had no demonic hold on them.

Maybe we got it all wrong. Maybe the problem was the cage as much as, or even more than, the drug.

The take-home message for me? If you have a child who has an apparent addictive relationship with technology, don’t demonize the technology. Instead look at his environment. Has he unwittingly ended up in the human equivalent of a little wire cage? Does he need meaningful, self-actualizing activities and variety of social relationships? Does he need someone to help him build his own Rat Park?

Posted in Parenting, Thinking about learning | Comments Off

A foot in both places

Yesterday we went to court. Thankfully we ended up being spectators only. The occasion was the seeking of approval by a foreclosing banking institution for the sale of a real estate property to us. A property in Nelson, comprising an old home with four bedrooms and a bathroom, a lovely lawn, and a walkability score of 83%.

The foreclosure process is odd. Our offer on the place was accepted over a month ago, but our offer price is publicly available and at the point the court is asked to approve the sale, anyone is free to submit a sealed, unconditional bid to out-price us. We can submit a further bid. Then all bids are unsealed and the court awards the sale to the bidder who has placed the most attractive offer.

Foreclosures here are not usually priced much below market value, because they are sold through the same realtor process as any properties. This sealed-bid process is a slight deterrent to interested parties though, and I can certainly see why. It would have been demoralizing to have the whole thing fall apart weeks after an accepted unconditional offer due to failed strategizing under a few minutes’ pressure in court. It almost happened to another property that morning: the original purchasers got the property, but had to raise their offer on the spot to outbid another party. They went up by 10% only to find out when the bids were unsealed that 5% would have sufficed.

2015-03-27 11.17.51So anyway, we have approval of sale, with a closing date of June 20. So from that point forth we will have properties in both New Denver and Nelson. The Nelson place is something we’re looking at as a five-year investment. We got quite a good deal on it, probably because it needs quite a lot of work to bring it up to the standards of the neighbourhood, but the inspection we had done didn’t point to any nasty deal-breaker type structural issues. It was built in 1901 in a neighbourhood full of similar houses, many of which have seen extensive gentrifying upgrades in the past couple of decades. It will need a new roof, and it will benefit from having a second bathroom installed. It needs some help with water drainage to solve two leaks into the basement, but we’re pretty clear on what needs doing, and it’s not going to be expensive. The walls and flooring could use an upgrade. An exterior makeover will probably be worth doing before we sell it.

It’s got checkmarks in all the right places as an investment property that we can fix up whilst living in and likely make some money on. And given that otherwise we’d likely end up paying $1000 rent a month for the next four years to keep Sophie and then Fiona challenged and engaged by their opportunities, I think we’ll definitely come out ahead.


The common living space is in pretty decent shape

We’ll have the summer to get it comfortably liveable for three of us for next fall, hopefully with three separate functional bedrooms, a situation which will improve everyone’s state of mind immeasurably. No doubt we’ll be living in a state of ongoing renovation for a while, but that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? Having work to do on the Nelson place will help keep me busy, and will give Fiona a bit more to be involved with besides just the internet. Noah’s summer job may be “labourer” for the first few months of this endeavour. We expect that Chuck will be able to spend his every-other-weekend-off working away with us throughout the year as well. And we’ll hire contractors as needed, of course.

For now I need to get busy finding good deals on used major appliances and furniture.

Posted in Family Matters, Moving on | Comments Off

The data-driven runner

Screenshot 2015-04-16 21.17.01


Look, data! Running data! I admit I readily get too obsessed over this stuff, to the point where I forget why I run. (Note to self: I run for the happiness it brings, to clear my head, to learn how to be in the moment, to stay strong and fit, to be out in the natural world, to challenge myself physically, to improve my physical and mental stamina.) In the interest of not distracting myself with data I’ve given away my Fitbit and retired my ancient Garmin; I don’t even own a functional watch. I confess that sometimes I still run with my iPhone tracking my route and my pace, but I make sure I don’t check my stats until after I’m done.

But now I have this little runScribe device I’m beta-testing, and it is pretty awesome. It gives the standard kind of feedback about pace, speed, splits, number of steps. But then, oh, but then…!



It tracks detailed kinematics of my running gait, step by step. Above is a hilly run I did yesterday in my New Balance Minimus Trail shoes. The hills add a lot of variation to the information, which makes for a very complicated but interesting data set. You can see the hills most clearly in the orange line, which shows linear deceleration due to braking. Where that line is high, I’m running downhill, putting on the brakes. The green line shoes my stride rate which slows considerably below the optimal 90-ish per minute during and for a while after the downhills — not surprising. And the yellow line, which is my contact time with the ground, is roughly inversely proportional to the stride rate, meaning the more quickly I’m stepping, the shorter my contact time with the ground: no saggy, exhausted shuffling showing up. In general I think things look pretty good, which probably because I’ve paid a lot of attention to my running form over the past five years. It’s nice to see some evidence of the good stuff. The blue line shows that I’m clearly a mid-to-forefoot striker rather than a heel striker, and my cadence/stride rate on the flats is pretty close to 90.

RunScribe was a Kickstarter project which is just reaching fruition. It’s available for pre-order only at this point. I volunteered to participate in beta-testing, so I’ve got an early release device. It mounts on the laces or the heel of the shoe and talks to a smartphone via Bluetooth, and from there to the internet. Among other things I’m helping them look at creating a FootStrike Processing Software Engine that accounts for barefoot running, since the current software doesn’t do a good job with this. Overall the interface is a bit buggy but improving quickly as the team tweaks things at their end. It’s working really well for me now, at least when I run with shoes.

Next week I’ll start collecting data from my left foot and comparing. That will be interesting and probably quite confusing. I have a chronic bursitis behind my heel. Ideally I’ll get some clues as to why I’m having such trouble with my left foot, but I likely won’t be able to tease apart the causative mechanical habits from the resulting compensations due to pain and stiffness. Still, there will be graphs, and they will be epic.

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Pergola completed

2015-04-17 23.42.49

With lights and wattle railing panels installed

Posted in Out on the property | Comments Off


  • A little help from Limpet
Our “new” deck is almost five years old now. I always had bigger dreams for the square apron that extends towards the trees, but at the time we opted to put up a minimalist railing for safety reasons. Of course that had the effect of eliminating all the urgency of doing something else with the space.

A couple of weeks ago at Fiona’s behest I ordered some nice globe lights to string over the apron. We spend a lot of time walking around Nelson and, being new to the whole business of neighbourhood rambles, we enjoy noticing the neat things people have done with their homes and businesses. We were admiring a lovely lighted patio and suddenly the push was on to enact some similar ambiance at home.

Over the Easter long weekend, with all four of us home and available, we decided it would be an opportune time to push to get the project both started and [hopefully] completed. I had spent a few hours the previous week digging the screws and bolts out of the under-inner-side of the old uprights. Chuck had got busy reclaiming lumber from the remains of our old carport, cutting it down to the right dimensions.

When we got home from Nelson mid-day on Friday the girls immediately got busy with the measuring tape, some cardboard templates and the jigsaw. Spring is still toying with us: while the sun shows up from time to time, temperatures tend to otherwise hover just above the freezing point, and today was definitely on the cool side. The fire pit helped warm our hands up when we needed. Between them Sophie and Fiona did almost all the 40-odd decorative ends for the beams.

The first afternoon we got all the beams prepped and ready for assembly.

Then we hit a couple of snags. First … it snowed overnight. It took a few hours for the snow to melt. And then we realized that the 8″ lag bolts weren’t quite long enough to anchor the two corner posts that had to be mounted into diagonal braces. Eyeballs and guesses had been substituted for trigonometry. That’ll teach us! The building supply store was closed for the holidays, so we were stuck.

We did still manage to do a fair bit of assembly, using clamps and braces and gravity and what hardware we had. We got to the point of having the main structure standing, with the cross-beams laid overtop but not secured. The next time we have a chance to do some work, we’ll substitute in the proper bolts, attach the cross-beams, work on wattle railings and attach the light strings.

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Spring Forward

2015-03-08 14.13.44

The cat is learning to go outside. Hyper-vigilant much?

The time changed yesterday and today it felt like spring. Spring has been teasing us for at least a month. Yes, a month, since the beginning of February. We’ve had almost no winter this year and almost no snow since the week of Christmas. I’m grieving the missed skiing. But at some point you just give up and make your peace with the lack of winter, and decide it’s best to get on with spring. Which is why the cooler temperatures of the past couple of weeks were leading us to feel impatient. And then today here we are: it really felt like spring.

We got the trampoline out. Sophie and Fiona bounced and flipped. We raked leaves. I pruned the centre out of the pear tree. (It’s 18 years old this spring, being the tree we planted Noah’s first spring. It produced well last year but was due for a hard pruning.) We dragged some of the pruned branches over to the fire pit and burned them. We threw in some books.

2015-03-08 16.02.01

A good old-fashioned book-burning?

Books in the fire? Yes, we’re in purge mode. We’re getting rid of things that we don’t need anymore. If they’re likely to be valued by others, we’re trying to find ways to pass them along or donate them. If they’re dated, in poor condition or of limited use, we’re throwing them out. And in the case of some of our books, that means throwing them into a bonfire.

And then I started trying to get the corner posts off the deck apron. I want to replace them with tall posts that support an arbour. I already have the string lights on order.

And I started turning over the soil in pots and small garden beds. My recent interest is in hydroponics (more on that soon, I hope!), but I am hoping to also do a better job of raising a kitchen garden than I have for the past several years. I need to keep my ambitions in check because there’s no water or fencing out in the far garden, and that means there’s just no point in even trying. So I’ll focus on herbs and greens, and plant small beds and pots close to the house where there is water. Basil is germinating on the mantle.

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A time and place

Tech Club hackerspace

Tech Club hackerspace

Fiona started coding club this week. It was held at the Nelson Tech Club’s hackerspace. Three kids, all about 12, two of them on the autism spectrum and with their workers along for support, the others being boys. There may be a few other kids who come out of the woodwork as the program goes on. A homeschooling mom as the facilitator. They didn’t do anything particularly unique: they just fired up laptops, registered at and starting working, each at their own pace, through the course on HTML and CSS.

Fiona really didn’t need help from the facilitator, certainly nothing that I couldn’t have helped her with. She asked a couple of questions specifically in order to make the facilitator feel helpful. She could easily have sat at home and worked through exactly the same content in exactly the same course. 

But there was a simple kind of magic which helped elucidate exactly what she seems to be craving right now. Because did she sit at home and decide she wanted to learn to code, and register at Code Academy and sit down and spend two hours enthusiastically teaching herself? No, she didn’t. It was not until I said “there’s this class happening …” and she said she’d try it out, and I took her at the appointed time, and left her in the company of others in this designated space. She emerged feeling happy and enthusiastic, having spent the full two hours glued to the course, making tons of progress. It was two hours she wasn’t moping at the house complaining that there was nothing to do, or else watching Netflix.

And will this experience result in her working on Code Academy at the house rather than moping and Netflixing? I highly doubt it. There’s something about the tidy compartmentalization of going to class at the Tech Club that makes it work for her.

We talked together and decided that what works so well is having:

  • a designated time
  • a designated place
  • a designated learning focus
  • fellow-learners present with a similar level of interest
  • a benevolent outside-the-family facilitator, willing to help if called upon, providing positive feedback for good work
  • attendance and participation entirely voluntary

I’m pretty sure Fiona would like three or four half-days a week exactly like this, covering a range of learning areas: math, science, writing, music theory, maybe a few things she hasn’t yet imagined. Sort of a homeschoolers’ study hall. Maybe throw in some facilitated discussions based on readings about philosophy, world religions, political issues, psychology, all voluntary of course.

We can dream, I suppose.

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

Looking ahead

1521721_834043066656083_7306683100154554155_nLast year Fiona had two siblings at home full-time, and lived in a home with all her stuff, reams of amenities and a bedroom of her own. This year she has no siblings (or siblings’ friends) around home, and half her life is spent sort of killing time at a house in Nelson that we share but don’t feel at home in, bereft of “stuff” and personal space. Dance is great. Gymnastics is good. Violin and choir are going fine. But in between there are a lot of hours.

Next year she wants to do more ballet, and Sophie will still be in school in Nelson, so we’ll still need an place there. But it’s clear we need two bedrooms, damn the expense. That will help.

But she’s also wanting more than just a comfortable place to watch Netflix or practice braiding her hair. She’s craving some organized and challenging learning opportunities. Opportunities where there’s a bit of external accountability, some new experiences and relationships, and the intellectual challenge she wants. She dreams big, and she feels the constraints of her chronological age keenly. She would very much like to be attending university in, say, Edinburgh or Auckland, preferably studying psychology or architecture.

She knows that’s not practical, though, because she is only just turning 12. And the baby steps (working through the Khan Academy MCAT psychology lectures online, for example) are not sufficient. While she finds open courseware and other online learning aids interesting, she isn’t so much craving the content of university as the experience.

Yes, she’s probably romanticizing university a bit. But I get it. Her current unschooling doesn’t feel connected enough to the larger academic world nor is it providing a framework for her to challenge herself against. High school will only go part way, she knows that. She’s looking further ahead.

And at first, that university aspiration seemed impossibly far away. Even thinking about it made her feel hopeless. She wants to go the route of a high school diploma, and that requires completing 20 full courses at the Grade 10-12 level. She’s only “Grade 6 age.” So young still. But then we sat down, figured out where she’s at, and looked at what the options are ahead. That seemingly endless path from now to then got a lot shorter as we connected the dots.

This year, thanks to a double grade-skip in the DL program, she’s considered an 8th grader. She’s already got most of what she needs for a high school music credit in hand; she’ll just need to schedule the actual theory and practical examinations at some point in the next year or two.

Next year, as a 9th grader, she can register at SelfDesign as a DL student and take up to two high school courses. If we made those English and Science, that would give her two more courses prior to actually officially being in Grade 10.

The following year, as a 10th-grader, she could challenge the Math 10 course. (Since she’s already halfway through the course, that’s a no-brainer.) Then she could enrol in Math 11, and a slate of 7 other courses to make up a full course-load. She’d likely do the first semester through SelfDesign High, and the second semester in the regular high school in Nelson, where she could get labs and options that benefit from in-person learning.

That puts her up to 12 courses. That will mean she’ll only need a further 8 courses to graduate, and that’s a full course-load for one year. So the upshot is that within a few months of turning 15 she could have a high school graduation diploma.

Now, I doubt that she will actually want to head off to university at that point. I expect she’ll want to instead fit in some AP courses, some work, some travel and various other educational options and life experiences. I’m no way convinced that continuing to accelerate her academic learning to this degree is ideal.

But seeing that it is at least possible? That woke her up in a big way.

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I’d never heard of them until a couple of weeks ago when a booklet of college extension courses and workshops showed up and mentioned a weekend class teaching this “beautiful Japanese art of decorative embroidered thread balls.” I was curious, so I made a short stop at the University of Google and was entranced. True to my DIY nature the thought of signing up for the workshop never entered my mind. I ordered a book which was probably unnecessary, but it was nice to have a reputable guide to the basic tricks for establishing the geometry. And then I pulled out my stash of embroidery floss, some thrifted yarn and serger-thread spools and dove in.

Keeping the dorodangos company

My two completed temari keeping the dorodangos company on the window sill.


Dogwood design, a work in progress (ran out of white embroidery thread).

I’m running out of embroidery thread already. These things are addictive! Sophie suggested that at my current rate of 3 temari a week I could easily complete enough to fully decorate our Christmas tree (and the rest of the house) by next December. I’m pretty sure I’ll run out of steam soon, but for now it’s really gratifying.

I’ve been starting with 8 cm styrofoam balls. I wrap them with about 5 mm coating of light wool yarn, and then start with the “mari wrap,” which is done using regular sewing thread. You can see it as the bright pink layer in the dogwood design shown above. It takes a long time to get the mari layer opaque and consistent. The mari wrapping can be boring if it’s all you’re doing but is easily accomplished while listening to a podcast or chatting to your family.

Then with pins, marking threads and folded strips of paper you mark poles, map the circumference of the ball and start dividing it into sections in various orientations. Temari designs are organized by their basic hemispheric geometry, the commonest being quarters, fifths, sixths, eighths and compound eighths.

Years ago we had great fun making dorodangos. Temari and dorodangos are sort of the yin and yang of Japanese decorative spheres. They look pretty neat together on the windowsill.

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At the crashpad

SIMG_0009haring our lives out between two residences feels good in a number of ways. The travel doesn’t feel onerous: Fiona and I are doing two trips a week, just like we did all last year.

For Sophie I think it’s turning out to be an unqualified success. She’s happy, she has a nice social group, she’s challenged at school, she’s involved in peer tutoring and another support group for girls, she’s really excelling academically, she loves her teachers, she’s able to be involved in more extra-curricular activities. And she’s getting comfortable and confident with a certain amount of self-sufficient living, up to a few days in a row.

For Chuck and me it’s fine. I wish I had more to do in town. I’ve been running, and knitting, and reading, and catching up on my continuing medical education, and I do a lot of the housekeeping and all the shopping for the two households and a fair bit of taxiing of girls. Chuck spends a lot of evenings home by himself. Fiona and I are normally away two or three overnights a week, but there are another two days that we get back well into the evening. We got a kitten, christened Leopold Leopoldovich. Chuck and Leo seem to be fairly deeply bonded.

For Fiona, there’s good and there’s bad. The really good stuff is how much she’s been able to take advantage of activities in town. She’s been using the library, doing three hours of dance a week, two and a half hours of gymnastics, three hours of sewing workshop, an hour of choir and an hour of violin lesson. Dance is where she’s really been able to soar: doing the ballet technique class has resulted in huge leaps in her ability, and now in the New Year she’ll be adding two more hours of ballet. She really loves it, and without the crashpad there’s no way she could have poured herself into this with such talent and interest.

The not-good part is illustrated in the photo above.  This is what Fiona does most of the time she’s not at a scheduled activity. The house is too small and under-furnished to contain any of her personal possessions: we live out of overnight bags and carry just a few things back and forth with us. We don’t have any personal space: we sleep in the open kitchen/living area, so we don’t feel right spreading out and taking over, especially since we’re sharing the house with Sophie and another girl and sometimes the other girl’s mom. So it doesn’t feel like home to Fiona at all, and she just parks herself in front of her computer and watches videos, and tells me she doesn’t feel like doing anything else while she’s at the crashpad. And since dance classes wrapped up in early December, right now it feels especially bad.

And of course, introvert that she is, when she gets back home to her own bedroom, she loves to cozy up in there and decompress from the crashpad experience of feeling like a guest in a shared space. So … I worry. So much solitary time. So much screen time. So little creativity and initiative.

Like I say, it’s felt especially troublesome in the last week or two because she’s not as busy with dance, and that will get back in full(er) swing again in the New Year. But I think we will need to figure out a way of living a bit differently. She is not happy either about how the fallow time at the crashpad feels.

Still, on balance there’s more good than bad. We’ll figure it out, I’m sure.

Posted in Family Matters, Homeschooling, School | Comments Off

Orange is the new black

So we got a new vehicle. Compared to the old one it’s less boxy, less black, cuter and smaller. It’s also less backwards, having the steering wheel on the left, a fact that makes my three (yes three!) kids with Learner’s Permits much happier. I think that we now have some hope of actually getting one or two of them to the next stage of licensure.

IMG_0008The new car is a five-seater Subaru CrossTrek. Now that we’re rarely a family of six, or even five, we no longer needed the passenger space the Delica offered. Since the Deli was reaching its 21st birthday and beginning to show its age, we decided to opt for something newer, smaller and more fuel-efficient. I love the CrossTrek so far. It gets an extra 160 km from a tank of fuel compared to the Delica (and it was actually pretty good) and has the high ground clearance and AWD that are necessities where we live. Furthermore it has all sorts of nice safety features like airbags, ABS and traction control, things that are pretty standard these days but which the Deli was missing.

IMG_0011So we’re a three-L family, and I think we’ll be hard-pressed to share the driving experience out over the holidays. By rights Erin and Noah should already by onto the next stage in the graduating licensing, but it hasn’t happened. I really don’t know what it is about this generation that they don’t relish getting their driver’s licenses the way my generation did. It may be that this is regional, and that in other parts of the country it’s different. But here, there doesn’t seem to be a headlong dash towards learning to drive the instant kids turn 16. A few kids, sure, they’re in a hurry but a lot seem to have no interest. For my kids and the majority of their friends it’s just not a priority.

I wonder about a few factors. First, the graduated license program, which I completely understand the reasoning behind, has had the effect of pushing full licensure out of the high school years. In BC if you move quickly, you can have a partial license as early as your 17th birthday, but full licensure (meaning being able to carry more than one passenger without restrictions on time of day, etc.) has to wait until well into legal adulthood. So driving just isn’t part of the high school culture. Kids don’t see their slightly older friends enjoying the perks of being fully licensed, encouraging them to look forward to becoming so themselves.

Then there are the economic constraints. When I was 17, gas cost 23 cents a litre. Around here we’ve been paying more than five times that much. Inflation only accounts for about half that change. So cars are more expensive to buy, insure, fill and maintain, even taking inflation into account, and higher education costs more than ever. How likely is it that a university-bound young adult these days will own a car? Not very!

And then there’s other fallout of the graduated licensing system: it makes it expensive and inconvenient for teens to get enough practice to prior to doing their road tests, since (at least in our case) they’ve moved away from home by the time they’re age-eligible. Living in big cities, with ample public transit, thankfully, on shoestring budgets and with no access to a family vehicle, they are mostly limited to few weeks of rural driving in the summer to get the driving experience and confidence they need to do their first road test.

(I should say that I have a similar beef with the practice in some jurisdictions of pushing the legal drinking age well into adulthood — particular as old as 21. It means that it’s difficult for parents to provide support and guidance as their offspring venture forth into these new areas of responsibility. Hey kids, there’s something we think carries a bit of risk, so we’re not gonna let you try it until you’re a bit older and completely on your own.)

Finally, for my kids at least, there’s the fact that they’ve had a lot of autonomy and independence already. Erin travelled to SE Asia, and took herself to Alberta once a month when she was 14 and 15. Noah went to Cuba as well as various other Canadian locations with his choir and has couch-surfed a bit in Nelson. Sophie’s already living on her own a few days a week. All three kids made their own educational choices, whether as unschoolers or by choosing to attend school. Maybe a driver’s license doesn’t have the same symbolic value for them as a marker of the passage into independence and autonomy.

At any rate, it’s not part of high school culture because you now have to be older, and that makes getting enough learn-to-drive experience is awkward and expensive, and my kids have already got a fair bit of independence, so what’s the big deal with driving? Why bother to learn? In our case if you then add the disincentive of learning in a boxy high van with the steering wheel and controls all on the wrong sides and you’ll understand why we’re all stuck at the L stage here.

It turns out it may be Sophie pushing the older siblings forward here. She turned 16 recently, got her L and has actually seen the wisdom in knocking off as much of the learn-to-drive process as she can while she’s still living at home, even if the payoff may end up being many years down the line. Perhaps several years after graduating from university she’ll finally having enough income to buy her own car, and won’t have to pay to take a several-months-long Driving School course at that point.

She’s pushed herself past the “freakin’ stressed out” stage of being behind the wheel and is now to the point of enjoying our lonely rural drive back and forth from Nelson. She’s getting experience with all kinds of weather and is learning to keep her eyes peeled for black ice and deer eyes glinting in the dark. What she’s not getting enough of yet is dealing with traffic patterns in city environments, but Nelson is big enough that she’ll accrue that over time.

Posted in Family Matters, Moving on | Comments Off