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). 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 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 | Leave a 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.

Posted in Being active, Running | 3 Comments

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!


Posted in Homeschooling, Mathematics | Leave a comment


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.

Posted in Community, Moving on, School | Leave a comment


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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School Next Year

This is where Sophie will be next year. We toured, we emailed, we examined the (scant) alternatives, we perused course offerings, and we applied. We did it above-board, having her apply as an out-of-catchment, out-of-district student, rather than “moving to Nelson” and registering her as in-catchment. Out Plan B would have been to move her to Nelson over the summer and do the latter in September, but that would have given her last-minute choices only when it came to course selections. So the former approach was preferable if they were willing to take her. We applied in March and got the district’s approval at the end of April. She’s done her course selection now. Imagine: they not only offer Physics 11 as a classroom course, but Physics 12 as well, and also Honours courses at both levels. As an elective she won’t be taking Foods yet again with little to learn other than how to instruct others on helping with food prep: instead she’ll be taking Psychology, and Ceramics, and Dance. Wow!

We haven’t found a place to live yet, but there are lots of possibilities and we’re just waiting for exactly the right one to fall into place. She’ll probably be in an apartment, with Fiona and me three nights a week and without us for two. She’ll be home on weekends. She’s so excited! She’ll be able to continue with Corazón easily, and plans to fill the rest of her after-school time with gymnastics, time at the pool or gym, cooking and whatever other extra-curriculars pique her interest. 

And Noah will be here, at SFU’s gleaming Surrey campus. We haven’t found him a place to live yet: hopefully we’ll be able to take time in the summer to go there and find an apartment.

He’s having to accrue an upper-level credit in a second language in extremely short order to satisfy their admission requirements; his school does not offer such courses, and he was not told last year that a smattering of universities ask for them. Naturally the university with the perfect post-secondary program for his interests that happened to be one of the few that does, a fact he only discovered in March.  So along with all grad ceremony preparation he needs to do, including buying a suit and writing some sort of valedictorian speech and putting together yearbook pages and slide-shows, and a week-long trip to Ontario with Corazón, and finishing up Chemistry 12 and PreCalc 12 and writing his English 12 and Socials 11 Provincial Exams, and finishing all his other courses, and applying for scholarships and summer employment and do presentations, he’s also having to cram 150+ hours of German language learning into 12 weeks. He does not seem to be getting much sleep. Go Noah!

Posted in Moving on, School | 1 Comment

Five years of running

I run. Come rain or snow or slush or all three, I run. I have no particular goals. I have no races planned, I don’t track my mileage any more, nor do I measure my pace or keep track of how often I run barefoot, or how many days a week I run. I’d guess that on average this winter I’ve run about 5k a day, sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes not at all. But usually I run.

It was almost exactly five years ago that I started making time to run. I’ve done a Half Marathon, a few 5 and 10k races, a Marathon and a couple of 25k trail races. I’ve usually placed pretty well, in the top 25% in my age-and-gender group, sometimes higher. But this year I don’t think I’ll be doing any organized runs or races at all. That’s just the way it’s worked out: there’s not much happening in the region, and what is available is at impossible times for me. Nor do I feel like spending hundreds of dollars, working out countless family-oriented logistical considerations and travelling hundreds of kilometres in order to test myself against someone else’s timer and a bunch of strangers.

I’ve had my share of injuries, that’s for sure. I suppose that’s the price I pay for jumping into running at age 45 after fifteen years of not doing any such thing. The first year I had a mysterious deep hip pain that kept me from running and carrying heavy objects for almost three months and then miraculously resolved. A year later I hurt my foot scrabbling about barefoot (not running) and had to quit running for a couple of months to let it heal. And the then I developed a waxing and waning discomfort in the area of my left achilles tendon that has kept up ever since.

A bunch of numbers that mean something or other.

I have never really been able to figure out what’s going on in my ankle, because it didn’t behave a lot like a tendinitis or a bursitis. So I finally sought out a physiotherapist with a special (barefoot-friendly) interest in running biomechanics. She found a few little things in my biomechanics that needed work (my left hip abductors were much weaker than the right, which was weird but consistent), and I had a lot of mobility loss in my ankle as a result of two years of favouring it. Eventually after a bit of bewilderment she decided I was possibly suffering from a tarsal tunnel impingement, sort of like the ankle equivalent of carpal tunnel syndrome. Whether she was right or not, the active release therapy she did helped a bit, the prescribed exercises drastically increased my strength in some of the stabilizing muscles, the ankle problems are currently mild and manageable, and they no longer seem to be significantly aggravated by running. So that’s good. I still hurt a bit sometimes, but it doesn’t seem likely that I’m doing damage by continuing to run on an occasionally sore ankle.

Ink’nBurn pretend-denim-jean capris and butterfly camisole. So nice!

These days the stuff I use to run is as follows:

  • minimalist footwear most of the time: New Balance Minimus Trail shoes or Xero Shoes Sensori huaraches. Otherwise, if weather and terrain promise to be kind, bare feet.
  • my Fitbit Flex, because I like the feedback I get about overall activity level throughout a complete 24 hour day
  • For clothing, typically stuff from Lululemon and Ink’n’Burn. Most people are familiar with Lulu, but I think I like INB even better. Such amazing designs, with all the clever tech features I like. Neither are cheap.

That’s all. No GPS, no stopwatch, no iPod or earbuds, no heart rate monitor. Not unless I’m on the treadmill.

Would you run here?

Speaking of the treadmill, I’m so grateful for it. It’s boring as heck, especially situated where it is against a wall and a door in the dark basement, crowded in from all sides by paint cans, home repair stuff, Chuck’s various hoarded things, old sports gear and the bokashi bins. But I feel crappy when I don’t get to run, and on days when it’s too late or too gross or too complicated to get outside for a run, it’s a great substitute. I also think that being able to do ten- or fifteen-minute runs two or three times a day has really helped my ankle improve this winter.  Running outside is just a big enough production in winter to make it best-suited to runs of 30 minutes or longer.

Where am I going from here? Well, nowhere, really. I’m just going to keep running, doing what feels right from day to day. I definitely want to explore more of the amazing terrain in this area, whether by running, hiking or camping. And I want to continue to be able to move myself over long distances under my own steam, inspired by the wisdom of this quote from Born to Run:

“You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running.”

Posted in Running | 1 Comment


Inspired by the introduction to shibori that Fiona got at her homeschoolers’ art class, I began sewing and tying a couple of dozen squares of cotton fabric to do my own experiment with the technique. I started this in July of 2012 and then set it aside, about two-thirds completed. I recently dug it out, finishing sewing and tying the last few squares, and then did the dyeing. It was so exciting to pull out the threads I had tied almost two years ago, not remembering what I’d had in mind at the time, not knowing what designs and patterns I’d used.

Shibori is an old Japanese resist technique for fabric dyeing. It was originally developed by peasants who hadn’t the means to purchase woven patterned fabric. Traditionally indigo dye is used. In my case I have an idea for a quilt sashed with various washes of indigo-dyed recycled denim, punctuated by bright eye-catching squares of various shibori patterns, so I chose a deep red for the dyeing. I will probably regret my choice of denim, because of its heavy weight and the technical problems that will create when piecing a quilt top, but I suppose if it ends up feeling impossible I can buy some chambray and use that instead.

There are numerous shibori stitching, folding and tying patterns. I gleaned some of my ideas from the internet, and invented or adapted others. Perhaps the quilt top will take another couple of years to come together, but I’ve had a lot of fun already and feel really satisfied with the results.

Posted in Creativity, Fibre arts | 1 Comment

Courtesy of the wayback machine

The other night I was looking for some content from my personal website back in the late 1990s that someone had requested. It was two computers ago, hosted on a different ISP, and long gone from my files. But I found it, courtesy of the Wayback Machine at, and while I was there I found a series of blog-like webpages from 2001 that I had built to document our road trip to the Yukon. I’ve copied and pasted that series of posts into this blog and back-dated them to thirteen years ago so that they fit chronologically into this blog. If you’re interested, you can read them starting here.

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Creative Arts vs. Pure Sciences

It feels like things are starting to fall into place for Noah. He’s in his final year of high school, and hadn’t until recently been terribly forthcoming or taken much initiative concerning his plans for the future. Part of that was no doubt due to the delightfully flexible but exceptionally vague school he attends: there wasn’t a lot of clear direction coming from there. And of course Noah has never been renowned for his pro-active decision-making ability. But also there was the fact that his interests and abilities straddle both the arts and sciences in ways that don’t necessarily lend themselves to tidy categorization within post-secondary programs.

What does he want to do? He’d like to combine all his musical and design skills with his computer software and coding passions. He wouldn’t fit well into a university Computer Science program because although he’s pretty good at high school math, the heavy load of advanced math courses typically required for CompSci degrees would be a buzz-kill for him. On the other hand, the straight-up art and music programs, although they usually offer a few courses in digital media as options, are typically set up for students whose primary aim is to hone their artistic skills: their starting point is an audition or art portfolio. Regardless of which one he chose the supporting courses extend deeper into the realm of “artist” or “mathematician” than Noah wants to go. What he wants do at university is continue the unique work he’s been doing on his own time during the past six or eight years: to synthesize his artistic and info-tech interests, to find the overlap, the middle ground, the connections between the two.

It’s a brilliant set of skills and interests to combine. He’s an amazing logician when it comes to the logic of computer programs, but he also has an amazing ability to think creatively, to integrate, to envision, to synthesize. The skill set he’s building is amazingly well-suited to what the world will need over the next few decades. Yet in post-secondary education, there’s still this divide between the creative arts and the hard sciences like math, physics and computer programming.

During their last couple of years, students at his school are required to do three one-week “career exploration” placements. Noah did one week working in computer repair and a second week auditing digital media courses at a nearby community college. Then, for his third week he got a mentorship placement with a self-emplyed web-design guy in a nearby community.

This latter week proved to be incredibly rich. His mentor just happens to be a musician as well as a tech guy. Noah was asked to bring his viola (equipped with the electronic transducer he got for Christmas) and MIDI keyboard, and be prepared to do some musical improvisation, and work on logo design and web-design projects, and learn how to manage a DAW (digital audio workstation) and go for hikes, and attend work meetings at cafés, and do some web photography, and hang out and jam and edit music tracks …

And it was perfect. When I came to pick him up at the end of the first day, his mentor said “I’m not sure I’m ready to give him back yet.” That set the tone for the week. On the last night Noah stayed until deep into the evening. He came home with not only a bunch of new tools and tricks, but a clear understanding that it is possible to be gainfully employed doing the sorts of things that he loves, and a game-plan for enhancing his particular combination of skills through post-secondary learning.

He found himself a program that unites his interests: it’s a BSc program in “Interactive Arts and Technology” at Simon Fraser University in Surrey, BC. Areas of focus include programming, interactive systems, media arts and design. He came home from his work experience week, took the plunge to apply, and received an offer of acceptance in the mail two business days later. Considering the mail normally takes three days from the Lower Mainland, that was pretty fast! He had hoped for the support of a university residence, but although this downtown campus doesn’t have that option, he’s still pretty set on the program. Honestly, it’s the best fit of anything we’ve found by far. And he toured the campus and audited a class a year and a half ago during a school trip, and was completely entranced by the challenge and the intensity of what he saw.

Here are a few little tastes of what he’s been up to musically recently.

Posted in Creativity, Moving on, Music education, Videos | 1 Comment

Owl encounter

We heard that an injured owl had been found semi-conscious being mobbed by crows in the parking lot of our local grocery store. It had been whisked away and left with Rob, who, along with his wife Linda, is a bit of a birder. So we dropped by the café Rob runs to see if we could have a look. The owl was being kept quiet and warm elsewhere while Rob tried to figure out what to do with it. It turned out that the Orphan WildLife (OWL) rehab centre on the coast was willing to take the owl, and that transport had been arranged through the Trail airport, but that someone was needed to take the owl there for a 4 pm flight.

Having already planned to swing through Castlegar at about 5 pm to find Fiona some dance wear on our way to gymnastics, we volunteered to go a couple of hours early and drive the 25 minutes out of our way to drop the owl off.

He was a great horned fellow, alive and thumping around a little bit in his closed box, but mostly seeming quiet. We were warned that these guys have nasty talons and a grip strength of up to 300 psi, and so not to open the box under any circumstances. We loaded him into the back of the van and headed out. We didn’t get to really look at him, since he was all enclosed, but I did push my iPhone through the breathing hole and take this picture. All puffed up from stress, shying away from the light of my phone. I left him alone after seeing that. Poor guy. But beautiful!

When we arrived in Trail we were surprised to find a local friend waiting for her own medical transport on the same flight. They departed together.

After they left we spent a few minutes updating Rob and Linda, and the veterinary clinic that had offered to overnight the bird if there hadn’t been room for him on the flight, and the OWL Rehab centre, whose volunteers were amazingly helpful and efficient and were already en route to meet him at the other end.

Then we bought dance shoes, tights and leotard (very exciting!) and went to gymnastics.

Although our friend did well with her surgery, we found out a few days later that the owl did not fare so well. He was vastly underweight due to a broken leg that had presumably been preventing him from hunting for some time. He did begin eating well, but an xray revealed that his leg was shattered beyond repair, so he had to be euthanized. A lot of people did their best to help, but it just wasn’t to be.

If you’re in the Lower Mainland, I’m told that the OWL Rehab Centre has excellent educational tours. That will be one of our stops the next time we’re in the neighbourhood.

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When I watched Fiona’s participation in the high school dance elective before Christmas I realized that her persistent desire to get involved in some sort of dance class needed to be brought to fruition. With her gymnastics class now on a different day from the middle kids’ choir rehearsal she had been enjoying spending choir day at home alone, but she enthusiastically traded that privilege for a couple of dance classes. So she’s now making [at least] two trips a week to Nelson.

With the help of a wonderful friend who has her finger on the pulse of the dance scene in Nelson, we were able to get Fiona inserted into a ballet class and a jazz class that seem to be meeting her needs beautifully. She joined Ballet Level 4, which is mostly 9 and 10-year-olds. She has since turned 11, but because she’s an absolute beginner, she’s feeling challenged amongst a class of slightly younger girls, the majority of whom have been doing ballet for a couple of years or more. She’s picking things up incredibly quickly, and I suspect by next year she’ll be “caught up” with her age-group.

The jazz class is a larger group with a wider range of ages and abilities. It’s super fun and again fitting her very well.

I have no idea where this will go, but she seems very committed and enthusiastic. There’s still the possibility that there will be a local extra-curricular high school dance group for her to join, and I think she’d love doing that as well. I have a lurking fear that her dance interests may continue to grow, and will not always be quite so convenient to fit into an already-planned week. But as always we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I’m the mom who drove one of her other kids 8 hours each way for violin lessons, after all.

She continues to enjoy the greater challenge of her current gymnastics class. She had a non-competitive meet last weekend and was actually ticked off that her adjudications were just full of kudos, rather than giving her hard feedback on things she could improve. She loves uneven parallel bars is doing particularly well with this apparatus. Perhaps if Sophie is going to require us to rent an apartment in Nelson next year, Fiona could work it out to get more than one gymnastics class a week.

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365 in 2014

A few of Fiona’s January photos, some from the iPod, some from the Sony.

Fiona has been interested in photography for a while, but in the past month or two she’s become more active and intentional in learning more about it and improving her skills. She’s been reading on-line and from books about composition, depth of field, shutter speed, negative space, ISO and so on. And with her iPod she’s been having lots of fun editing photos and using various filters.

The state of photography these days is pretty amazing. I recall when I was her age saving money for months for an instamatic 110 camera with fixed shutter speed and no flash, and then carefully planning every precious shot, waiting weeks to fill my 24-exposure film and then paying more money to have it processed in order to learn a little more from experience. Point, shoot, wait, spend money, maybe learn something. The learning curve was incredibly slow.

These days while the complex intricacies of photography are far more available, the opportunities to learn about them have multiplied a thousand-fold. Take a picture, look at it right away, for free, adjust, reshoot, repeat and over and over. Got a problem you think adjusting the white balance or mid-tone hue might fix? Google a tutorial and try it out. You can climb the learning curve in no time! Combine that advantage with a pretty good natural eye for design and you’ve got a kid who can learn to shoot awesome pictures at age 10.

The new Sony NEX-6. Coffee mug shown for size comparison (we don’t normally put drinks on the piano!).

And now… we’ve bought a new camera. The Nikon D50 we’d purchased when she was a baby was upgraded to a mirrorless compact-interchangeable-lens camera. Now I’m every bit as stoked about photography as she is. Compared to the Nikon it’s tiny; it fits nicely in the palm for one-handed shooting and with the standard 15-50mm lens it will easily tuck into a running backpack. The quality of the photos is amazing and it’s incredibly smart. It arrived last week and we’ve only just begun to explore its capabilities, but already the photos we’re getting are so gratifying.

We’ve joined a Facebook group challenge to take a photo a day during 2014. She has her album and I have mine. When we go out together and shoot the same subject with the same camera we sometimes have to bargain over who gets to post to their album from that series, but it’s a good-natured collaboration and we’re having a lot of fun. She really does have a great eye, and it’s going to be very fun to see how her photography evolves as the year rolls on.

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In the cherry tree

The same cherry tree that Fiona’s picking the fruit from: Sophie is climbing amongst its tangled branches. I love our local school. The teachers and staff are fabulous: interesting, passionate people with wonderful talents and the best interests of their students at heart. The school is tiny — about forty high schoolers, and a similar number in K-6. The small size leads to amazing amounts of flexibility and individualization. In both philosophy and practicality the school is open-minded, community-spirited and characterized by integrity and common sense.

This year the high school end of the school moved to a new instructional model for academics with primacy given to Independent Directed Learning. This approach to academics is combined with electives, many of which are done as Immersion Weeks where students take time away from regular schooling to do nothing but the elective topic of the week. The academics are largely self-paced with the work done independently from textbooks or computers during numerous study-hall-like blocks. These are punctuated by weekly or biweekly Seminars which are a chance for occasional group projects, discussions, labs or more traditional teaching.

Unfortunately the school’s tiny size and remoteness create limitations for a certain kind of student. Sophie is that kind of student. While she is very adept at the organizational and self-teaching skills needed for independent work, she is beginning to want for the sense of learning community that she would get in a larger school. She’s nominally in Grade 10, though her academics are pretty much all Grade 11 courses, and the classroom groupings include Grade 10, 11 and 12 students. For this year she does have some others working at her level amongst the Grade 12 students, but they’ll be graduating next spring, and her fellow Grade 11′s are mostly in applied-stream courses. So after this year she’ll essentially be in a classroom of one.

A classroom of one worked well for Erin, because she was challenged and engaged by everything she was doing outside of school. She was busily practicing violin for hours a day, travelling extensively for her violin and piano lessons, working part-time, travelling abroad. If some of her school courses were done independently that only worked in her favour because it gave her the flexibility to work on her own time wherever she happened to be. Noah has done fine in the same school partly because he’s more of a lone wolf by nature, and partly because the demographics were different for him: he was swept along during his Grade 10 and 11 years by a lovely cohort of bright and highly motivated older students who created an intellectually vibrant environment in his classes. With just a year to go following their departure last spring, he’s managing to keep himself going — and he does have a few quirky but interesting Grade 12 peers.

For Sophie independent learning in a classroom of one would be fine if she had just a year to go after this year’s grads leave, but she needs to complete two more years of school after this spring. She’s only just turned 15, so is in no rush to graduate, but it does make one wonder exactly how she’ll fill her final two years. Her core academics will be easily completed next year.


Being academically accelerated offers the advantage of being able to broaden out a bit and challenge oneself with a range of enrichment options during the final couple of years. The problem is that Sophie’s school doesn’t even offer some of the courses that are considered basic high school fodder (French, Calculus, English Lit., Geography and Physics, for example), let alone fancy academic electives like Law, Latin or Psychology. And the non-academic electives tend to be introductory courses considered suitable for the Grade 7 and 8 students, with a bit of differentiation for older students. They were great for Sophie when she was younger, but three or four years later the same type of introductory Drama or Foods course is not going to optimally enrich her education, especially not when she’s taking the course for the third or fourth time. It’s true that she can access a wide variety of courses on-line, but already most of her course-work is independent in format.

Sophie seems bound for a post-secondary career in the sciences; she is a very high achiever, especially given her acceleration. She wants challenge, she wants a richly academic high school education, and she wants to be amongst a community of fellow-learners who are similarly engaged in their learning. She feels rather miserable when she contemplates her prospects at the local school once the current Grade 12′s graduate.

And so we are beginning to look at alternatives for her last two years. Obviously homeschooling would be an option, but she is the sort of person who prefers the straight and narrow course to university. Having dedicated more than two years already to the high school pathway, and basically liking the structure and community that a school can and should provide, reverting to unschooling isn’t her preference. We’ve talked about international travel, and the costs, and the academic unknowns, and her age. We’ve thought about whether she could live with relatives elsewhere. No easy answers present themselves. A nearby school looks like it could give her the right environment, but it’s only nearby in the rural Canadian sense of the word and it would require her to live away from home during the week. Still, that possibility is at the top of the list right now.

I love our school, and somehow it feels dreadfully disloyal to consider pulling Sophie from their roster to place her in a different school. Especially while they’re offering Fiona such a feast of perks and accommodations. Enrolment is declining, and several Grade 10s and 11s have already left for larger schools elsewhere. But I guess we’ll flee this cherry tree for another if Sophie’s social and educational happiness depends on it.

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Snow sculpture

I am in awe of this guy, created one night over a period of five our six hours by the light of headlamps, by Sophie and Noah and a friend.

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