Friday, May 28, 2004

Month at a glance

Gosh, it's been a while. I can't possible include all the details of the last month, but here's an overview.

My mom has been overseas, so I've been doing all the local violin teaching, with Fiona in tow. It hasn't been easy, but I only have a week to go in this fashion. I think I'm going to make it.

The older three have relished their added freedom and responsibility while I'm teaching. I've hired them to manage Fiona a couple of times when the weather has been nice and they've taken her outside to play. They've managed their own issues, fed themselves, entertained themselves, etc..

Erin broke her arm 3 weeks ago, so she's not been practising violin. She's been doing a bit of piano and some music theory bookwork to fill the void. She's finished her Singapore Primary Math studies and is taking a break from formal math (I suggested she just "play" with math until she turns 11 next year, at which point she could consider starting a high school program). She's been listening to audiobook re-runs in her bedroom for hours on end over the past month, and reading a fair bit on her own. She seems emotionally a bit more fragile. Mostly she's happy, but there's clearly some stuff running pretty close to the surface inside her. I'm not sure if it's just the temporary loss of her music-performing identity or if there's something else. She doesn't seem to know either. Maybe it's good... normally she reacts to stress with stoicism and/or anger. So see her weeping because Sophie pushed her and grabbed a book out of her hands is kind of refreshing in a way.

About Sophie grabbing a book... this reminds me that my elder three are all now sharing much of their reading material. The gap in reading fluency has closed a lot in the past month for the middle two kids. The other day they spent their allowance on an Asterix comic book and they've all been taking turns curled up on the couch reading it. Given their current fascination with cartoon books I've ordered the three volumes of "The Cartoon History of the Universe" by Larry Gonick. Looking forward to getting them.

Noah's penpal came to visit a couple of weeks ago ... from Holland. The boys had been corresponding through the post since last summer. Their family has just got their landed immigrant status and came to Canada to get it validated. They hope to move here in a year. The boys had a blast running about outside and playing on the computer, despite not sharing a language. They are definitely two peas in a pod. They really enjoyed each other. Erin and the eldest girl in their family are both 10. They were the big surprise... they'd never been in touch, but they yacked away at each other, the other girl mostly in Dutch, though as the day wore on using more and more English, and Erin in English... and they even understood each other! They really hit it off. Sophie ran around sucking up the energy. We had a pretty cool visit.

We were part of an exchange visit between two dozen violin kids from around our region and two dozen from Ottawa, Canada's capitol. We had four billets who took over the kids' rooms and the kids and I slept in the camper. We had three 12-year-old girls and a 14yo. One of the girls noticed the Grade 7 piano book and asked who played, because she was using the same book. So Erin and she took turns playing for everyone on the piano. Sophie's violin was lying around (the billets' violins had been locked up at the school for the night) and one of them got it out and started playing. Noah got his out and played for them, and then they took turns playing duet parts (on Sophie's violin!) with him. He was in his element! I got my violin out, and the girls showed off for each other and for my kids. Erin played her violin. Lots more passing around of violins, trying out pieces, kids clustered around the piano. Pretty neat.

Our baby chicks had arrived a week before, and the billets loved carrying them around. At one point we had 7 chicks running around the living room and perching on kids' laps and shoulders.

The next day the Ottawa crew performed at the school. Erin, Noah and Sophie sat with a friend in the school audience. I got the day's activities set up. The exchange kids were split into three groups to rotate through three activities and my kids were able to participate, either fully or organizationally. They got a tour of the Nikkei Centre, a "living museum" of sorts dedicated to remembering the time during WWII when Canada interned Japanese-Canadians away from the Pacific Coast. The fellow leading the tour was 14 when he was relocated there himself. Nice guy and full of stories. We had toured "the Centre" several times in the past, but not since Noah and Sophie were old enough to get anything much out of it. Since we know personally several people who were relocated and interned here, it was a really meaningful bit of history.

There was an art workshop. They were creating a multi-sided puzzle of 4"-cubic wooden blocks, one block for each student, with a different theme / technique on each face of the block. The last activity was a walking tour of New Denver I created, featuring a cache hunt. A "passport" contained clues to the location of small plastic tubs containing custom-made rubber stamps hidden at points of interest around town, and information and anecdotes about the area, as relevant. The walking tour included a half-hour lakefront trail hike and several stops on the downtown strip where ice cream and postcards could be purchased, etc.. Everyone seemed to really enjoy this. My kids had had a lot of fun setting it up and had really wanted to do the tour with the exchange kids to watch them hunt for stuff, but it was in the midst of that day that Erin broke her arm, so we were at the hospital (where her dad was the only one available to put her cast on).

Capping off the exchange week was a large group performance at the "big" theatre in Nelson. Sophie and Noah did me proud playing on the big stage. Noah played with the orchestra for two numbers, a first for him. And they played their Suzuki repertoire confidently in the big group.

Our baby chicks are thriving. We have a "mystery chick" who is much smaller and whiter than the rest. She seems healthy. It's quite fun speculating how she'll turn out. She's definitely not going to end up being an Isa-Brown like the rest... a hatchery error we're delighted with, since it adds an element of mystery to the whole hen-raising endeavour.

The garden in coming along and the kids are still interested in helping out from time to time. I'm not putting any pressure on them to help, but one or two will drift out and help from time to time.

We've done some tie-dyeing. We've been watching Colonial House on PBS. Gymnastics classes and piano lessons continue. The violin practising goes on. Art classes wrapped up last week. The kids have been writing to their penpals.

Readalouds at this point include "the Sands of Time" by Michael Hoeye, "Surviving the Applewhites" by Stephanie Tolan. Our current audiobook is "Guards! Guards!" by Terry Pratchett, which is hilarious, but the humour is mostly going over Noah's and Sophie's heads.

We're taking a family weekend in the city (Kelowna) this weekend, where Chuck has a medical course to attend. Erin has a waterproof latex sock to put over her cast so she'll be able to swim in the motel pool. We're taking Chuck's laptop in the minivan so the kids can watch a DVD during the drive. This was a real hit last November when we did the same trip.

I'm reading "Mitten Strings for God" and thinking a lot about simplicity and building family relationships. It's very inspiring.

That's the month at a glance!