Those teen years…

With Noah reaching the official age of adulthood, Erin now into the start of her fourth year away from home and Sophie launching into a new, semi-independent life in another city, I’ve been thinking back to the post I wrote in 2007, entitled “Adolescence? No thanks.” Back then, with kids aged 4 through 13, I wrote:

“….adolescence is a social construct that comes of shortening childhood through the pressures of media, consumerism and peer-culture and delaying adulthood through impoverished expectations of teens and twenty-somethings.”

My plan was to compress the in-between state to as short a period as possible. Adolescence is an awkward stage of being no longer a child, having adult-like physical and mental capabilities, but not yet being afforded the responsibility, freedom and self-determination of the adult world. I remembered how nasty the in-between-ness had felt when I was a teen and I wanted my own children to spend as little time there as necessary.

At the time, Erin was a shy backwoods homeschooled girl who at 13 was still not entirely comfortable being away from home and family overnight. She seemed light years away from wanting the independence, freedom and responsibility that most teens eventually fight tooth and nail for. But I said to myself that once she starting pushing for independence, I’d do my very best to grant it rather than resist. “We’re not doing adolescence around here,” I told myself. I really hoped that if I when my kids pushed up against the limits and expectations of childhood I immediately moved those boundaries, they wouldn’t need to rebel, our relationships wouldn’t become conflict-ridden and I wouldn’t have to wail and gnash my teeth. So I crossed my fingers and hoped that when the push for independence came, it would be in a form I could make peace with and yield to.

I had no idea how quickly things would shift! Within a year the girl who couldn’t endure a sleepover at a friend’s house had decided she would like to accept the invitation of some adult friends to go backpacking in southeast Asia for more than two months. From there she never looked back. Soon she was an old hand at spending weekends in Calgary, doing overnight Greyhound bus trips, working, touring with her choir and spending summers away at university campuses and on tour with the National Youth Orchestra. When she came to us at age 16 and said that she wanted to move to Montreal, we had a hard time remembering the 13-year-old who was still too tightly attached to home and family to got to a sleepover. And we said yes.

In our quest to vault over adolescence we allowed her to forge ahead whenever she felt she was ready. The more she did, the more confident she became, and so she rode an accelerating course all the way to independence. We’ve kept to the same strategy with the other kids, though their needs for independence haven’t turned on a dime in quite the same way. Noah grew his independent streak considerably later and more gradually. Sophie was more independent as a child so her blossoming into a self-sufficient 15-year-old wasn’t nearly as much of a shock to her parents. Fiona seems to be following in Sophie’s path, though time will tell.

It’s not simply that I hate in-between-ness. Nor is it that I dislike conflict and wasn’t relishing battling with a succession of teenagers for the better part of two decades. Nor was I trying to win parenting points by producing mature young adults on an accelerated schedule. It’s primarily that I think people, including children and teens, are usually right about what they’re ready for, and when we second-guess them and subject them to impoverished expectations, the resulting frustration they feel can cause them to live down to those expectations.

So we trust them and let them try what they think they’re ready for. After all, if they happen to be wrong, and they’re not really equipped for the responsibility, I’d rather they fail while I’m still there to help pick up the pieces. I’d rather they learn to make good decisions by making decisions. I’d rather they make mistakes when the costs of those mistakes are smaller. I’d rather they have to opportunity to learn from mistakes while they’re still within my sphere of influence and support.

And I won’t lie: mistakes have been made. Social and romantic relationships have blown up. Alcohol has been vomited. School suspensions have been issued. I’m sure there are a few things I know nothing about. But lessons have been learned early, and the result is that my three older offspring are strong, capable, mature, independent young people.

I’m about two thirds of the way through my career as a parent of adolescents. At this point I feel even more confident that this approach — which is really my kids’ approach, because they have the reins — is the right one.

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The lay of the land

Screenshot 2014-10-18 11.09.15
This is a sketch of how our week works. Brown travel-times are probably the first thing to notice, as they sandwich our Nelson days. We drive down Sunday evening, and back Monday evening. That gets Sophie there for the start of her week at school. We leave her there, and head back Wednesday afternoon, in time for Fiona to start her end-of-week run of activities. We stay through until Friday evening, when we bring Sophie home for the weekend.

This means Fiona and I spend three nights sleeping on couch and futon in the living room at the Crashpad, and four nights at home. Sophie’s split runs five nights and two. It also means that weekends are kind of precious, being the only days we’re all together as a family. So far weekends have mostly been about bulk cooking and baking, and spending cozy time in the living room in front of the wood stove.

An added complication is how mealtimes are over-run by travel and activities. Run your eyes across the schedule above in our traditional supper-time slot from, say 5:00 to 6:30 pm, and you’ll bump into the dark-green and mustard-yellow stuff that denotes the girls’ scheduled activities every single week-night. It’s crazy: not only are we trying to get food into various combinations of people in two separate towns, but we’re rarely available at the same, or the “correct,” time.

Meal-time and bed-hopping issues aside, what makes this work is that a fair bit has come off my plate. I’m not nearly as involved in music teaching or community volunteering in New Denver as I was in the past. And although it didn’t seem like a big deal, it is very liberating not to be running back and forth from the school in New Denver two to five times a day to drop off and pick up various teenagers (and sometimes Fiona) like I’ve done for the past few years.

I’m also finding that the spareness of the physical space in Nelson, and the spareness of the family schedule at home on weekends, is creating a kind of calm that helps a lot with this disjointed life.

The girls seem happy with their lives. Things aren’t falling apart. So far so good.

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Getting around

DSC04780Here’s our minivan. We bought it about 18 months ago and it transformed my driving experience. It made access to alpine hikes a breeze. Road trips and drive-in movies were awesome. I loved not having to hike in from the highway end of our driveway even once last winter, and knowing that winding mountain roads covered in snow were safer with our 4-wheel-drive and high ground clearance. The right-hand drive was easy to get used to, and while there are more and more of these beasts in the area, I also loved the mildly eccentric aura that it created around us. Fuel mileage has been pretty decent, and it’s a spacious and comfortable vehicle for five or more.

But the Delica is showing its age (it’s a 1994), especially since we’re such mileage-hogs. Our at-home family is smaller now, and I’m not driving five teenagers to choir practice anymore. In another month all three of my older kids will be in possession of driver’s Learners Permits (Erin and Noah having delayed attaining their full licensure due to a combination of temperament and lack of proximity to home). And really, what is the wisdom in having beginning drivers learn their basic skills in a right-hand-drive vehicle? So we’re planning to sell it and buy something new or new-ish. Something with all-wheel drive, but smaller and cheaper to maintain, considerably more fuel-efficient and with the driver’s seat on the left. I also like the idea of having airbags again. I’d like a few airbags. Hoping to make this a reality before winter hits full-force, since this is a pretty good time of year to be selling a snow-trampling monster minivan.

IMG_0042We’re now spending part of each week in a city. When we get to Nelson, we’ve been trying to leave the van parked at the house, and walk as much as we can. It’s been so much fun to poke our way around amongst the secret stairways and paths in a city where the terrain makes drivable roads a bit of an engineering challenge. Our house in Nelson is a mere 750 metres from downtown, but 100 metres above it with most of the elevation gain taking place over just 400 metres. Just getting home is a workout, and it’s a workout we tend to do at least a couple of times a day. The sidewalks run places roads can’t, and we love the feeling of winding our way amongst lovely homes and beneath hardwood trees with changing leaves, up “sidewalks” like the one pictured above.

So we’re spending three days a week in a walkable city, and when we’re home we hardly need to drive at all. We’re still doing two trips a week to Nelson, but soon that will be in a much smaller vehicle that gets double the mileage. Our carbon footprint should diminish dramatically in size this year.

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Emptiness, actual and metaphorical

Emptiness, actual and metaphorical

Our Nelson house — and our lives — feel strangely empty. Not that this emptiness is a bad thing. The empty space in both is pregnant with possibilities, and we’re looking forward to seeing how things evolve, to enjoying the process of filling them. In the meantime, we’re enjoying the space. Space to do splits and pliés and yoga and wander around playing violin. Space to breathe, to plan, to contemplate, to settle.

Currently there are five hours of scheduled activities in Nelson for Sophie and Fiona. Those five hours span four days of the week. Next week that will jump up to seven hours. The following week we’re up to 12. But without school having started as originally expected, there’s a lot of fallow time. It’s been lovely; we spent two and a half days in Nelson this week “playing house.” We can walk downtown, stop at the artisanal bakery for brioche, linger over vintage paper designs and décor possibilities in a nifty new store, meander by the library. We can drink tea and read and explore the pathways that short-cut the trip to the high school (I’m speaking literally here, though in Fiona’s case you might wonder). Currently the only utilities hooked up are electricity and water. Next week we’ll get internet, but for now things are very simple.


The house has two semi-automatic dishwashers, imagine that!

Next week Sophie will stay on her own for a couple of days, because Fiona has no real reason to be there the whole week and we’re trying to maintain a family life at home too. With little in the way of structure to her days and not much of a social network in place yet, I imagine she’ll be glad of the company when we arrive. Still, she’s relishing the prospect of solitude and the independence. The school strike has given us a very lovely way of transitioning stress-free into our part-time living-elsewhere arrangement.

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A slow start

I had anticipated that last week would be a crazy mess, trying to get all three of the older kids off to their various places and ensconced in their new schools. As it turned out, Chuck took Noah to Surrey, and I was left to deal with getting Erin to Kelowna and on her way back to Montreal and Sophie moved to Nelson. Which turned out to be a lot easier than I’d thought.

Erin, of course, is starting her fourth year in Montreal, and is an old hand at this. She organizes, packs and is ready, and then I just have to do the four-hour drive. We’re almost to the point where I don’t even bother to park at the airport, just doing a rolling stop to dump her near departures. This time I did park, but then wondered why, especially since it created stress over how I would handle passing out my parking chit at the exit, alone in a right-hand-drive vehicle with the booth on the left. Luckily I found a meter on the street and didn’t need to deal with the short-stay lot. Sophie and Fiona and I shopped a bit for things we can only get in the big city, and then headed home. It was a single, routine overnight trip.

And then it was time for Sophie’s slow start. It’s slow because there’s no school yet, and none for the foreseeable future, thanks to the teachers’ strike. We did take a trip down to get some stuff moved in and get utilities arranged. But there was no urgency: we waited until the middle of the week and went at our leisure. We didn’t eat there, and we didn’t stay overnight, and we didn’t need to leave Sophie there to fend for herself. Next week we’ll go twice, for dance classes and violin lesson and we’ll probably stay over a couple of nights, but together. We’ll get a cellphone for Sophie (no land line at the house) and at that point all our ducks will be in a row. The following week Sophie might spend there on her own. Choir and gymnastics will be starting, and I imagine there will be less mid-week work for her here (she’s still picking up shifts at her café job while the tourist season lasts).

It has given us plenty of time to get organized. I think the new place is going to work well. She’ll have a room-mate, and Fiona and I will be there a couple of days a week using the guest bed, as will her room-mate’s mom, but she’ll have a lot of independence regardless. In the meantime, we’ve been doing a few other things. We got some work done on our mud room, and a load of gravel delivered to finish the driveway levelling and make the now-complete garage more useable. And other accomplishments …

  • The war on house mice has been in high gear here.
  • Look, I got a laptop! So sweet!
  • I figured out how to make a temporary electric fence to protect the fruit trees.
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Drinnon Pass Hike

It’s becoming an annual tradition: a big alpine day-hike by the female members of this family to cap off the summer. Last year we hiked the Alps Alturas and Lyle Creek Basin areas. This year we decided to trek into the southwest corner of the big wilderness park that has formed the backdrop to our lives here over the past two decades: into Valhalla Provincial Park through Drinnon Pass to Gwillim Lakes.

The drive to the trailhead took quite a while: more than an hour after we hit gravel. The road was a bone-rattler, but not unduly steep or exposed. The hike took us past a series of lakes at various elevations within a cradle of craggy peaks and huge granite faces. Each lake and ridge brought a different spectacular view. While the Gwillim Lakes basin was our picturesque final destination the cliff edge that preceded it, with its spectacular views down over the Slocan Valley to Kokanee Glacier park almost 50 kilometres in the distance, was unsurpassed. It inspired upside-down-lying-backwards viewing over the edge. No glasses were lost.

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A working summer

Last year we managed some spectacular alpine hikes to cap off the summer. This year, so far at least, has felt much more like a working summer. There have been a few afternoons at the beach, but little hiking (yet) and it has felt like we’ve all been quite busy. Between us we’ve had multiple bits of travel, several day-camps, a kazillion work shifts for different people in different places and a couple of major events to organize and execute.

Fiona did a week as a mentor at the Music Explorers program. The video here is absolutely entrancing.

She then did a week of dance in Silverton. It was a decent experience, though she wished the group had been older and more focused on learning. Although originally intended for kids 12+, the average age of the group ended being about 11.5. So there was more in the way of games and entertainment, and less “serious” work on dance technique and physical conditioning. She’s looking forward to her fall dance schedule in Nelson where she has been bumped up a couple of levels.

Fiona at dance camp (centre of frame, pink t-shirt, leg up)

Fiona at dance camp (centre of frame, pink t-shirt, leg up)

Then she was busy preparing for SVI. She entered very well prepared this year, with her ensemble parts all solidly learned. She was definitely a solid participant in the Advanced Chamber Program this year.

SVI also, of course, took a lot of my time. In some ways I felt calmer and more confident about the administration this year: it was my second time holding most of the bag, and there were definitely some efficiencies realized. On the other hand, the feeling of ready support amongst the local Suzuki community has been slipping away. I know there are still people willing to help, but I don’t see them regularly anymore, and so there isn’t the sense of a tight Suzuki community standing right behind me. If I’m to continue helping drive this program, I need to get serious about organizing more help. Not just of the “please drop off a salad for the faculty dinner” type help. More of the “please take on managing this part of the event” type help. Carving out a few days for my Silvery Slocan circle adventure came at the cost of fuller days before and after, but was worth it for the refreshed state of mind it brought. And the SVI experience and the sense of community it created amongst all those amazing people! They were just so wonderful. It was all worth it, not just because the joy and energy helped fill my cup, but because I could see just how magically the cups of all those kids and parents were being filled.

Erin was SVI’s senior student for many years, but then missed a couple of years of SVI entirely because of NYO. For the last couple of years she’s been around during the week and has been a helpful observer and hanger-on. This year she played a stunning solo Beethoven Sonata movement with Peter as part of the Faculty Concert, as well as performing in the Faculty Orchestra. She loves being here during the week, understands very well what is involved behind the scenes, and it’s clear that she’s interested in making the leap into the administrative and operations end of the organization. I’m hoping to put her to work next spring. Unless her quartet wins another surprise expenses-paid performing trip to Europe next year, she’ll be available at the time of year when the majority of the work vetting music, assigning and distributing ensemble parts, and piecing together the thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle that is the master SVI schedule database, needs to be done.

Erin and Peter performing Beethoven Sonata No. 7, 1st movement

Erin and Peter performing Beethoven Sonata No. 7, 1st movement

Erin has also been getting very fit this summer. She’s been running the Galena Trail several times a week (thanks to my connector trail, of which we’re both very big fans), and doing strength and conditioning workouts regularly. We run together from time to time and while I probably still have a bit of an edge on her when it comes to endurance, she’s definitely at least as strong as fit as I am!

Sophie has been working 25 to 30 hours a week at a café in Silverton. The hours are better and the work more varied and enjoyable than her dish-monkey restaurant job last summer. At first she wasn’t sure she wanted a job at all after the crazy stress and chaos of spring with the deaths on the lake, the tour with Corazon in Ontario, Noah’s grad, and then all the weirdness of the teachers’ strike and whether there would be exams or not and which ones and when…. But eventually she discovered that she was bored, and so the job happened. They love her, and she’s happy for some summer income to help lubricate her increasing independence as she heads into next year.

Up, up it goes!

Up, up it goes!

She’s also got her violin out recently. She quit lessons almost two and a half years ago, although she did lip-service to some trio playing for a year or so after that. She also got did enough work to fit into the chamber music program at SVI in 2013, but it seemed like that would be her last kick at the can: she hadn’t really found the motive or the means to play since then. But in the last week or two, she’s become our treehouse violinist. She heads across the lawn, ties her violin case to a rope, climbs the ladder to the treehouse and hoists her violin up using a pulley system. Then she practices. She’s playing things she’s dug up on her own, post-Suzuki stuff that she’s researched as good stepping-stone repertoire. The Kabalevsky violin concerto, for starters. And she’s good! There’s so much more maturity and drive behind her practicing. She seems to have if anything gained technical skill during her year-or-more hiatus, and whatever ease and conditioning she lost has quickly been made up.

Emma and Noah on the day of the Big Event

Emma and Noah managing operations on the day of the Big Event

Noah has spent the summer being a grown-up. He got a job at the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre and he’s been using all his amazing tech-skills to full advantage, as well as growing a few new skills we never thought he’d master. Like setting alarms and getting up in time for things, keeping track of a moving-target schedule, answering the phone, managing his own meals and transportation (within the constraints of uphill grades and searing weather) and so on. The Centre had its big 20th Anniversary gala and community celebration the day after SVI ended, so he and all the other staff were very busy with that.

Since he’s moving away to start university studies in computer technology he decided he should have a functional computer of his own. (His low-end, aging laptop is limping along without sound or wifi much of the time: he’s relying on his Device — which is what he calls his SIM-card-less iPhone — for computer connectivity lately.) While I was typing this he messaged me to tell me that his new laptop had been delivered at the post office, asking if I could possibly pick it up for him as he’s working all day. He got the job, earned the money, decided how much to allocate, researched the product, got out his credit card and made the order, pretty much entirely on his own. My involvement is just in signing for it at the post office.

The remaining two weeks of summer might hold some R&R for us. Hopefully we’ll squeeze in at least one alpine hike. I suspect we’ll be pretty busy with summer jobs and the packing and planning for the school moves. And now, I have a laptop to pick up before the post office closes for lunch, and a homeschool planning date with Fiona.

Posted in Creativity, Moving on, Music education, Videos | Leave a comment

Four homes

Erin's kitchen

Erin’s kitchen, photo taken from the living room / bedroom area. Tiny!

By September we’ll have all four kids living in four different places. Erin will be spending her fourth year in Montreal, her third at McGill. She’s looked after her own apartment-hunting and renting since she became a legal adult and could do so, and for the past year she’s been in a hilariously tiny perfect place just a couple of blocks from school that she’s going to keep for the foreseeable future. Thank goodness she has her situation all in hand.


Noah’s bedroom

We found Noah a room in a house through a friend of a friend. It’s furnished, and cheap, and about 20 minutes walk from school, a little quicker on transit. Got that firmed up last week. He’ll need a little bit in the way of stuff to properly outfit his space, but nothing more than might be required in, say, a dorm room. I’m thankful that this has worked out, because he’s not much older than Erin was the year she went off to Montreal, and he’ll have more on his plate, schedule-wise. It’s nice that the living situation, in a house owned by a single older lady, is simple. He’ll be responsible for his own meals, but furnishings and utility bills? It’ll be nice not to have to worry about those details.


Empty: Sophie’s living room and balcony

Today we signed a rental agreement on a place for Sophie. She’ll be living in Nelson, and there’s another family in a similar situation who will be sharing the house with us. In this case we do have to worry about furniture, linens, kitchen ware, utilities and such. But at least the place is only 90 minutes away, not a full day’s travel.


Fiona’s bedroom

And Fiona will be at home still, in the bedroom she redecorated herself this past spring. She’ll be floating back and forth to Nelson a bit, since she’ll have activities there and we’ll be bringing Sophie home on weekends. We’ll probably stay over a night or two a week, in the living room on a pull-out.

Lots of changes. Lots of apartments.

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Another review in the gear-and-gadgets vein.

First I made my own huaraches. That was really fun, and they worked well enough, but I didn’t have quite the right sole material. The soles were thick enough but not rigid enough. They flopped and slapped, and if I didn’t have them laced fairly tightly the front end would flop down during my stride-through and I would sometimes catch the toe end: not fun!

Then I bought a pair of Luna Sandals, looking for something more rigid for rougher trails. Maybe some of their models are great, but I went too much to the other extreme and bought the Leadvilles which were far too rigid and clunky for my tastes. I still own them, but I honestly can’t imagine a trail that would be so rough that I’d take them over a more minimalist sandal: you really can’t feel anything through them. Miles and miles of sharp scree, maybe. Typical rough and rocky Kootenay back-country trails? Naw.


Amuri Cloud: slight heel cup, and one of the lacing adjustment sliders

Finally last fall I bought a pair of Xero Shoes Ventures. They are sort of a hybrid between a flat basic home-made-style huarache and a manufactured sandal. The have techie lacing fittings and slightly engineered soles and a manufactured toe post. But they’re super light and thin, and just barely rigid enough to avoid the toe-catching and slapping sounds I got from my home-made jobbies.

I really liked them, and used them for casual wear, beach and boat stuff, regular runs, trail runs and hiking. Until a couple of months ago, when one of the toe posts fell apart for no apparent reason. I was sad. I had really wanted to like them. I couldn’t decide what to do. I know runners in conventional shoes trade their $120 shoes out every six months or sooner, but as a minimalist runner I thought I was done with that hamster wheel.


Once the laces are adjusted they work as slip-ons. The black area is the foam, the brown the solid rubber.

Finally a couple of weeks ago I figured I might as well write to the company to ask about buying replacement toe posts. They were fabulous. They apologized profusely for the problem I’d had, said they hadn’t had much of this problem but no manufacturing process was ever completely free of defects, and they would like to send me a free replacement pair of sandals — but could they talk me into their newer Amuri Cloud style, which was a little bit lighter with part of one are of the topsole replaced with thin foam. Sure, I said!

They arrived within a few days, no small feat considering where we live. And I love them even more than I loved the Ventures. Partly because of the slight cushioning and better grip and breathability of the foam, and partly because I like the mocha/black colourway.


Gentle but secure lacing — finally!

I should say that I found both my original Xeros and these new ones quite frustrating to get adjusted at the beginning. You can adjust the overall tightness of the laces, but by sliding the knot you can adjust the angle of the forefoot lacing, and by pushing or pulling the laces through the side-holes you can adjust whether the tightness is more in the forefoot or heel. There’s no real science to what works to prevent excess tightness and discomfort while keeping the heel straps from slipping off. Maybe other people have less trouble than I do. My foot is relatively narrow and tall so perhaps I have an especially small window of optimal fit with this type of lacing. I’d think I had it, but then I’d go for a run and the heel strap would slip down, or I’d get a pressure hot-spot from the knot. Try again. Different problem. Try again.

But eventually I found it, the optimal lacing tension for me. Barely on, but always on. They’re my favourite footwear. I didn’t use them for the circle route because I know that when I haven’t done a lot of recent running in huaraches I get horrid blisters in my toe web-space if I run too long in them. Since these are new, I didn’t have time to acclimate to them. But next time — yeah!

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My Fitbit

Fitbit Flex

Fitbit Flex

It’s an activity tracker, a value-added pedometer. I bought it about 15 months ago. I got it as a way to be less obsessed with tracking the minutiae of my exercise. With my old Garmin (has it really been five years?!), which is bulky and a bit uncomfortable to wear, I tended to geek out and get all micro-analytical when presented with the detailed real-time information about distance, pace, speed, slope, calories and heart rate. It fed into my self-competitive tendencies, and I would find myself running too fast or too far, just to make the next round number. 5k in 25 minutes, or 10k today instead of the 7.2 that feels about right, or a negative split on the second half of the run. That tended to lead to injury and to focus on the data record, with less enjoyment of the actual running. The graphs were beautiful, but distracting.

I wanted to focus more on the experience of running. For a while I ran completely ungadgeted. I had dropped the iPod quite early on, but dropping the data was a big change. It was lovely when I was motivated to run, but sometimes I felt I needed a little prod to get out the door. I thought the Fitbit might be able to give me a little bit of self-accountability without feeding into my self-competitive tendencies.

I was right. It has struck the right balance. Knowing a step-count record is accumulating – or not — is enough to give me a little nudge when I need it, and yet the information it provides is minimal and delayed, so it acts more like a pat on the back when I’ve done well than a coach yelling at me to “push faster!” or “do one more lap!” I’ve worn it almost every day and I still like it a lot.

I like that it counts the about-the-house-and-yard-and-town exercise I get, which I tend to undervalue. I like how unobtrusive it is, and how it looks almost like a simple rubber band bracelet. I like the well-oiled bluetooth connectivity with my smartphone app, which means I can check historical and current-day info anytime on my phone. It has a sleep-tracking function, which I find interesting. It will show me measurements of my total sleep time, and of my times of restlessness and wakefulness. It’s not a perfect accounting, as it relies only on left arm movement, but it provides some interesting information over time. I like the way I can set truly silent vibratory alarms that alert me and no one else. The alarm will awaken me from sleep, but it can also tell me when a violin lesson should be wrapping up.

I find it has very good accuracy. I’ve tested it by counting steps and measuring distances with GPS, and it is as near to perfect as a wrist-band pedometer could be. It counts my treadmill exercise too, which a GPS-based device doesn’t, which is a nice bonus.

I wish it were waterproof. It’s splash- and sweat-resistant, but it’s supposed to come off during showering, washing dishes and minivans, while swimming and in the pouring rain.

I’ve had lots of problems with the charger. It just doesn’t make a connection as reliably as it’s supposed to. That was true of the first charger, which started getting really finicky after about three weeks, and eventually I couldn’t get it to charge at all. The company quickly sent me a replacement, but that didn’t completely fix the problem. So they sent me a whole new Fitbit, which did fix the problem, but only for a couple of months. Now I have two complete rigs, neither of which works well. The new one is much better but it only rarely charges perfectly. Usually I have to carefully construct an array of elastic bands and wedges to hold it in just the right spot in the charger to make contact. The old one I sometimes can’t get to charge for weeks. Sophie used it for a while, then gave up.

And I wish it had a watch. I would never wear a watch and the Fitbit together, and sometimes I would like to have a watch. How tough could it be to add a watch to the display? For a short time the company offered a newer model, the Force, which had a time display, but it was recalled and pulled from the market due to problems with the clasp. It hasn’t been re-released, nor has anything else taken its place. And in the meantime Nike has stopped making their Fuel Band, and it seems like everyone is holding their breath, waiting for the Apple iWatch to drop. It’s in the wind ….

I’m waiting too. I hope my Fitbit lasts until the kinks in the as-yet-unreleased iWatch get worked out and the 2nd generation hits the market. Another 18 months, maybe. Despite its limitations and the charger quirks I really do like the balance the Fitbit strikes. But I’m pretty sure I’ll be one of those keeners pre-ordering the iWatch 2.

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Almost a circle

So here’s how I felt on the third morning: revolting.

Jittery, feverish and nauseated.

The first day was amazing. I had rented a kayak from Smiling Otter in Slocan (my paddling destination) and brought it home the night before, depositing it on the lakeshore. I was on the trail before six for the short run to the lake, catching the first glints of sun sneaking through the Carpenter Creek valley.

First sun: my shadow crossing the Carpenter Creek bridge

It was a hot day but the lake was still in shade and I kept to the east side all morning, tucked into the shade of the mountains. I’d rented a solo touring kayak, much sleeker than our tandem, and made really good time. I’d allotted six to seven hours for the 27k paddle, and finished in four and change. Along the way I saw bald eagles, great blue herons, ospreys, mergansers and countless plovers, swallows, killdeers and such. The lake stayed completely calm until mid morning when some wind blew up. It was pushing me on my way, but the swells and chop were getting rough just as I was passing the cliffs at Cape Horn and knew I had nowhere I could tuck in. I kept checking behind me for the telltale “black line on the lake” that can arrive in ten minutes and capsize unwary boaters who don’t take shelter, but it didn’t come. I pushed hard the last few kilometres just in case, to the river’s mouth, and all was well. I let the river current push me the last couple of kilometres, returned the kayak, donned my shoes and pack, and set off on foot.

Lake mostly shaded by low morning sun

I took the afternoon’s run along the rail trail at an easy pace. I arrived in Winlaw by mid afternoon, hung out by the creek to cool off, then had an extended lunch/dinner at Sissies. Eventually I barefoot-jogged the 4 km to my B&B for the night. My chronic ankle problem had really flared up on the trail, and I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about the next day’s 54km run, but I had a deep sleep and woke up the next morning feeling a lot better.

Rail trail along the river

Rail trail along the river

The next 25k was also along the rail trail. I stopped after a couple of hours for a snack and was very surprised to pick up an unsecured wifi signal, presumably from a nearby house, though I couldn’t see anything. So I had a fun little chat with Fiona. Thanks, whoever you are!

I met a couple of skittish bears and a tiny fawn and a few toads and snakes as well as making a positive ID on a Lazuli Bunting, thanks to my iBird app. Love that app! It also lets me talk to the birds by playing recordings of their songs. They get very intrigued and usually come closer.

Lots of giant black slugs on the rail trail in the morning

Lots of giant black slugs on the rail trail in the morning

The southern part of that day’s run was amazingly hot. The forecast when I left home had been for cooler weather but the thermometer at Taghum at 3:30 that afternoon was in the 90′s. I was in full sun for most of the last four hours and although I stayed well hydrated I felt worse and worse. I suspect I was pretty close to getting heat stroke, as I ended the day nauseated, headachey and feeling weirdly feverish. Couldn’t stomach the idea of dinner. I couldn’t sleep, either, which was odd because I was definitely running a sleep deficit from the two previous nights.

The next morning I decided to do what I’d been toying with the night before: take the bus to my bike, rather than running the 30 km along the west arm of Kootenay Lake. I was still too nauseated to eat, which meant all I’d eaten in the previous 36 hours was a small bowl of granola, a salad wrap and a couple of Luna bars — despite having run more than a marathon. I knew I couldn’t run until I could eat again. I worked into the morning gradually, drank more electrolyte stuff, and more water, and some coffee, sat around a bit, and then hopped on the bus.

On the ferry

On the ferry. My very old bike is awesome, but is currently in need of some TLC.

I jogged to my bike, feeling a little better, and rode back to the highway. This involved a side trip across the Harrop ferry to my friend’s place, which was a nice diversion. A few kilometres later I stopped and managed to eat a bit of late breakfast.


Near the summit of the pass, looking towards home.

The rest of the day was fine. I felt better for the food. The ride to Kaslo was tougher than I expected, the hills more numerous and steeper. I’d been preparing myself for the big pass between Kaslo and home, but as it turned out the hills before Kaslo were steeper (5-10% grade) than the long slow climb over the pass (3-5% grade mostly, and no problem at all). But it was lots cooler on the third day and occasionally drizzly and made for perfect biking weather. I love that road over the pass anyway, thinking of it as my very own highway since it’s the one that our property is on, and I run on it all winter. There are no utility poles most of the way, so it feels high and lonely and wild. The descent was glorious and I whipped along at up to 50 km/h. Cutting off the morning’s run meant I got home in time to pick Noah up from work, cook dinner, eat (yay!) and get Erin to her gig. Watched an episode of The Newsroom with the younger three kids and went to bed before ten.

I’m still a bit nauseated today but except for that I feel pretty good. A couple of blisters here and there, and that yummy feeling of having done something very long and difficult with my body, but pretty much my usual self.

So yeah. Almost a circle. Not going to beat myself up over a small missing arc.

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

Circle Route

Circle RouteThis circle route is one of those off-the-beaten-path gems. We live at the northwest corner of it. Once they widened the road at Cape Horn (at km 25 on the map) in the early 1990s, the motor homes began trundling through in ever greater numbers. Motorcyclists discovered it a decade or so ago and from the May long weekend until Labour Day we hear them droning by on the highway in clusters.

When we first moved here I used to think about bicycling it. Could I do it in a day? I never tried. Life was too busy.

In the depths of last winter, while bemoaning the fact that I wouldn’t be able to participate in SufferFest this year due to family conflicts, it suddenly occurred to me that I could turn the circle route into an endurance triathlon of sorts. Rather than taking roads the whole way, I’d do my first day on the lake in a kayak and day 2 would be a trail run along the Slocan Valley rail trail. The next day would be road-running from the bottom of the Slocan Valley over through Nelson and up the north shore of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake. And the last day would have me on my bicycle heading through Kaslo and over the pass back home.

I had originally hoped to carve out time at the end of June. But family and SVI responsibilities piled on. Then I had be around to get Erin when she got back from Europe, and then Fiona was asked to help out with the Music Explorers program, and had the Dance program to do, the combination taking up two weeks. So here we are in the third week of July already and I haven’t set out, nor have I really committed to doing it. Until today.

I’ve worked really hard to get the SVI administrative stuff done. Noah is solid with his work schedule. Sophie has just started her job, but she’s confident she can get back and forth by bike or on foot as needed. Fiona and Erin will be having a low-key few days at home. Erin has one gig, but I’ve organized a ride for her. Chuck will be on call. Provided I stock the fridge and pantry with lots of food, I have their blessing to leave. So I booked a place to stay for the first night and arranged to rent a kayak and — gulp! — I think I’m going.

I have no doubt that I can manage each leg of the challenge on its own. What worries me is putting them together in the space of three or four days. What will I feel like on the morning of the third day, having run 70 kilometres over the previous day and a bit, facing 35 more and then a bike ride over the pass?

I suppose I’m going to find out.

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Trig love

Four times I fretted over what to do with the kids when they finished the Singapore Primary Math series at relatively young ages. Were they ready to move into Singapore’s high school series, or a traditional US-based high school math program? Which one? When? Should we even be using a curriculum? If so, to what extent should we be structuring the work in it?

With Fiona the issues seemed even more stark, as she had finished Singapore series even younger and was even keener to barrel ahead. What we ended up doing was to leave math very unstructured for well over a year. She dabbled a bit in Challenge Math, and of course her curiosity about math continued to be exercised in interest-led ways with questions and ponderings, but we mostly let things gel. I didn’t go out and find the next Singapore program. I didn’t really do anything.

Shortly after she turned 10 she found an 8th grade school workbook at the back of the classroom where we were having our homeschool art classes. Surprisingly it looked pretty appealing to both of us, quite Singapore-ish, in fact. It was called Math Makes Sense, and although the content was a step more advanced than Singapore 6B, it still had the spare, unintimidating layout of a workbook with lots of white space and not too many questions per page. Even better it seemed to walk a sensible line encouraging both computational clarity and deep conceptual understanding.

That book was a little below her level, so she completed it over the space of three or four months at the end of last school year. She was interested in joining the Grade 9 class for in-school math learning the following year, so she wrote the final exam with the Grade 8 kids and aced it. And so last fall she was welcomed into the classroom and given the MMS Grade 9 workbook and textbook.

As it turned out in-class learning was useful mostly in that it reminded her to keep plugging away at the curriculum when life got busy or when some sort of obsession (mainlining a TV series or reading a novel a day) threatened to trap her in her bedroom forever. It was sort of nice to know that there were a few other kids working through the same material, but the classroom was multi-grade with her at the top end academically but off the bottom end for age, so it wasn’t like there was a perfect little cohort for her to join. The other kids were moderately annoying in their distractibility and distractiveness and as the year went on she often preferred to work at home.

She finished the Grade 9 program in March or April, got 95% on the final exam and decided to move ahead. We have no expectation that she’ll rollick through the Grade 10 program as quickly as she has the previous levels. Grade 10 represents the first bifurcation in math streams in the BC school system, into academic and applied courses, so her current course is the first that’s specifically intended for students on a university track. As such it will likely be a weightier course with more challenge, and it may take her a bit longer to work through. The academic stream splits again after Grade 10 into courses intended for students planning post-secondary math and science studies and those heading into arts and humanities, so things will likely jump up a notch in difficulty again at that point.

Having said that, over and over I’ve expected Fiona to hit a wall in her math studies, where her maturity just isn’t up to the level of complexity and abstraction, and it just never turns out to be the case. She’s almost a third of the way through the Grade 10 program and she loves it! Every time she sees our liaison teacher she tells him how much she loves trigonometry. Her workbook is peppered with smiley faces and happy cartoons like the ones in the photo.

We are forever thankful to her liaison teacher and the local public school that they’ve been so open-minded and supportive of her math education. We’ll have a change of both liaison teacher and school principal next year, and are keeping our fingers crossed that the current mindset will prevail. We hope she’ll be able to use the classroom when she wishes and write tests and exams in the school environment at whatever pace works for her. I hope we will have the option to perhaps not formalize the credit and standardized provincial exam (which normally take place at the Grade 10 level in BC) on a high school transcript just yet since that can have implications for university acceptance and I don’t think she should really be under any kind of pressure at this age.

So who knows where this path will lead? She is enjoying the journey and the scenery along the way. She doesn’t spend a lot of time on math — certainly less than is typically allotted in a school environment — but it comes easily and she is always the one who decides when and whether to work at it. These days she likes to work at math on the deck in the dappled shade of a warm afternoon with the hummingbirds zipping by. Homeschooling certainly has its advantages!


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Noah is graduating from our tiny k-12 public school. He is the only student in his class who is planning post-secondary studies next year: a couple of others may attend college in the future, but they’re taking gap years to work or upgrade first. There were four graduates on stage this past weekend. Two were missing: one drowned, and one still dealing with her grief and ambivalence about schooling.

It’s been an odd year at school. Most of his friends there were actually in last year’s graduating class. There’s been turnover in staff: his guidance counsellor and English teacher is in her first year in those roles, and his principal, a former primary school teacher, was getting his first experience in a secondary school environment.

It turned out when he went to confirm his university application at the end of February that he needed a second-language course he hadn’t been told he might need, and his school has never offered such a course. His only option, other than putting his post-secondary plans on hold, was to pick up a monster full-year distance education course at the beginning of March in another school district and try to finish it in less than a third the normal time. This was of course on top of a full senior course-load, and on top of taking time off for the Corazón tour, which had been planned for almost a year and necessitated more than a week off all school.

And then there were the drownings, and everything except coping went on hold for a couple of weeks.

And there has been a rotating teachers’ strike — now a full-scale strike that will stop everything except final high school exams.

And summer job applications, and an interview, and a start-work date long before school actually finished.

And then he got his admission offer to his university of choice revoked last week because we and his guidance counsellor had misunderstood the process for submitting his interim grades. And he spent a sleepless night and the next day madly trying to get the situation reversed with emails and phone calls navigating switchboards and voicemail and trying to get through to someone who could actually do something, and dealing with high schools in two different districts on two different strike schedules and …

And he advocated effectively for himself and got it fixed.

The day he got it all sorted out was also the beginning of the two-day Graduation Celebration, at which he gave a valedictory address he’d crafted, and he was kind and wonderful. The whole community came out to support and celebrate the teens who are still here and ready to move on. It was poignant and lovely.

He made a clean sweep of the academic awards, filled his pocket with almost a dozen scholarships, and looked very dapper … but that’s not at all why I’m so proud. I’m proud of how he handled all the other stuff, how he held himself together, honoured and supported others, stayed on track and dealt with the bad luck and the tragedy and the grief and the mistakes and was strong and kept going.

He deserves a break this summer. He’s landed himself a lovely job working with lovely people at the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre and I think it will work out well.

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This spring our community lost four young souls. It was a simple canoe trip home from town that went tragically wrong in water a single degree above freezing. Noah’s graduating class was deeply affected, but this is such a small community that everyone was touched by the grief and loss. Everyone knew these kids. It is taking time to heal but pulling together with compassion is what this village does best.

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