Friday, September 30, 2005

Day in the Life -- Friday again

Friday was a good day for music. Everyone did lots of good practising, and both Erin and Noah did some entertaining / showing off on the piano during the evening. The kids had decided that they were going to work double-hard at their practising today, and they did just that. Piano lessons start next Monday, so it's nice that they had a hard-working day.

Friday was also a day of instant-messaging. Noah was jealous of the IM capabilities Erin's been enjoying on the Wondertree Homeschooling Village. He's feeling a sense of regret that he didn't sign on with the program too. But he doesn't want the learning goals and reporting and interaction with liaison teachers, so I think it's good he didn't sign up. Anyway, it was his birthday celebration day so I figured I'd set him/us with MSN to give him some fun.

I signed myself up first. Then I typed in the address of an 18yo friend of the family who is away at college this fall. She was on-line and thrilled to chat with me and the kids. They were instantly hooked on this form of chatting. I busily went to the other computer and got Noah and Erin set up with MSN and then abandoned the bunch of them to their chat with Rosie. She's a wonderful friend and mentor whom the kids have been missing a lot. She's also Erin's touchstone with the world of teenagehood ... a sensible and down-to-earth girl who has given Erin a model for gracefully coping with all the social and emotional stuff of adolescence. We know her through music; she's been the only violin student in the region at/beyond Erin's level, and Erin especially is missing her. She talks to Erin like a peer, and yet understands her age and emotional maturity. So that was a very nice connection to re-establish. We'll see her in real life in another week when she comes home for Canadian Thanksgiving, but we'll have more contact with her before and after through MSN. The kids spent piles of time chatting to her. Erin is a lightning-fast touch-typist and gifted writer. Noah is a hunt-and-peck kid with relatively rudimentary writing skills. His spelling and punctuation and typing skills seemed to improve even in the course of the afternoon. Erin and he chatted between our two computers for a while.

I made lasagna for dinner.

We had the birthday celebratory dinner. Last year Noah hosted a bonfire on his birthday... his first experiment with a party with invitations outside the family. It was wonderful. He asked for no gifts, but donations to the Heifer Project in lieu, and he was able to buy a goat with the money he received. Kids came with their families, and we roasted marshmallows in the dark, the kids played flashlight hide-and-seek and ran through the forest. We ate cake, looked at the full moon through the telescope, etc.. He really enjoyed it. But this year he was feeling more like a homebody after our holidays, and less like a big energetic gathering, and decided to go back to just a family birthday. So we had a nice supper with my mom in attendence. He opened his gifts. He got a nice swiss army knife and a pair of Heelys (very extravagant compared to our usual birthday fare!) from his parents. Erin gave him a watch she'd found on the beach that he'd wanted but she had claimed as her own. When his watch fell off while kayaking last month, she secretly decided she'd give this one to him for his birthday. He was thrilled. And he got a Viking activity / exploration pack from his grandmother, something that will no doubt become part of the Euwy world, since many Norse gods and goddesses already have alternative existences there.

I forget (already) what else happened throughout the day.... The kids did some dishes. There was talk of renting a video (we almost never watch TV, but it seemed like a fun special thing to do on a birthday) but the kids totally forgot to follow through on this. The Heelys got lots of play; Erin and Noah have the same size feet, and we just renovated our kitchen/dining area, giving the kids a good 15-foot-long expanse of glossy smooth rolling room. So even though we have no pavement near our home, they managed to become pretty capable on them. Noah and Sophie worked together to start building a cardboard model of a Viking longship. Noah read jokes aloud to us for a while. Erin cooked porridge and macaroni & cheese for us for breakfast and lunch.

A nice, family-centred day. Noah thought it was a brilliant birthday, and the 'gift' of an MSN Messenger account was his favourite, with Heelys and mocha semifreddo cake a close second and third.

I'm finding Oppel's "Skybreaker" a thrilling book to read aloud. Unfortnately I was dropping off to sleep before we finished our chapter, as were the kids. A big, long day.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Day in the Life -- Thursday again

Dreary unproductive day. Last night after I logged off and went to brush my teeth, Chuck realized the water pump was cycling, and cycling. There were no taps open. He couldn't figure out where the problem was. He eventually flipped the breaker to shut it off.

This morning I woke up knowing we had no water. Fortunately we have a back-up gravity-fed system, so we switched over to that, but it bypasses the filter and doesn't get enough pressure up to the shower for it to be useable. So I had to forgo my morning shower.

Erin was up and on the computer, making lists of names for fiction works she'll someday write. Fiona woke up. I made breakfast for everyone. Sophie and Noah awoke just before I left.

Then I headed out to work at the hospital. I'm not really sure what transpired during the morning. It was cold so they built the first fire of the season in the woodstove together. Erin played piano. Sophie and Noah tidied, cleaned and vacuumed their bedrooms (weird!). Erin cooked eggs, toast and veggies for lunch.

I got home at 1:30. I checked my e-mail and message boards and did bit more unpacking and laundry. I started some pizza dough. I had brought home the tablet PC from work to get it to do some voice recognition training. I did that. The kids were very interested. Noah set up a profile for himself and went through all the training stuff. It entailed reading aloud for about 10 minutes while the computer "learned" his speech patterns. I was very impressed with his fluency with the pretty advanced, technical text he had to read. Then the kids played a 21st century variant of the old "Telephone" game. They spoke a sentence to the computer and let it do its voice-recognition thing. It has about a 15% error rate early on in the process, so there were lots of inaccuracies. They would then read back to it what it had transcribed, and of course there would then be errors on top of the errors. And then they'd read that transcription. And so on, until the sentence was totally unrecognizable and quite bizarre. Very fun. Lots of hilarity.

Erin went on the Self-Design Virtual Village and discovered she was getting chat requests from other students. She figured out the chat module on her own and chatted away. Noah and Sophie read over her shoulder for a while; then she shooed them away.

Then I let Noah log in as me on the other computer and he and Erin chatted back and forth for a while, from a distance of 5 feet. Noah got a lot of writing/typing practice. They were very silly, laughing and sending each other insults and crazy stuff.

I made pizzas. We had supper. After supper Chuck tackled the pump issue. Bled off the pressure tank, installed a new pre-filter that we'd been waiting for an opportunity to install, and then tried to figure out what's up with the pump. He called a plumber friend who was too busy to come and do anything, but suggested that the problem, as we had guessed, was likely in a backflow valve. He helped Chuck figure out where the backflow valve was and what it looked like. We will try to replace it very soon, but it may take a week or more to get the part. We switched to a "manual electric pump" regimen, where we open a valve and turn on the pump to pressurize the water supply every time we notice water is barely dribbling out of a tap, then shut everything off again.

Erin was back chatting. I logged on and she and I chatted for a while, doing tag-team silly story-writing while Sophie and Noah read over our shoulders and laughed their heads off.

It poured rain all day, and I felt like I had had little productive time at home with the kids, so I decided we should just vegitate for the rest of the evening. Sophie played with hinged locker-mirrors and pattern blocks. Noah answered some e-mail and phoned a friend (using the phone for personal calls is a new thing for him). Erin read. Lazy evening which finished with the standard readalouds and journal-writing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Day in the Life -- Wednesday again

I got up early-ish (6:30 am) with Fiona, and Erin was already up. The middle two kids slept another hour and a half. So we seem to be reverting to our usual sleep-wake cycles. Erin likes to be up before everyone else (this after years of being the night-owl to end all night-owls) so she generally tries to get to bed so that she can awaken at 5 a.m. with a gentle nudge from her alarm clock when necessary.

She was doing Sudoku puzzles on-line, challenging herself with hard ones. To think that she laughed at my obsession with them during one week of our holidays. She then spent some time entering books from the children's/young adult novels section of our [extensive] home library into the database she's set up on the computer.

Noah and Sophie got up. Noah has turned 9 today but opted to wait until his dad is home later in the week to celebrate. Sophie, Noah and Fiona played with Duplo and Playmobil in the attic. Sophie has been using fabric in her Duplo creations lately, with impressive results. The kids had breakfast. Erin started playing a bit of piano.

I needed to get the dog to the vet, but darned if I couldn't find the van keys anywhere. I retraced my steps from last evening a dozen times but couldn't locate them, so I phoned and cancelled the appointment. Then I found the keys in the crack between the front door and the deck ... just a little bit of keyfob was showing -- I can't believe I found them! They must have fallen out of my shirt-jacket pocket as I was feeding the dog in the dark last evening, and got kicked into the space.

So all was well. We headed off to violin/viola lessons. Fiona has a 5-minute "lesson" where she shows off her pre-violin skills on her cardboard violin exactly the same way every week. Then Erin gets an hour; she's polishing up the Czardas by Monti and a couple of Suzuki Book 8 pieces and working on spiccato and sautillé bowing and finger flexibility. Noah gets 45 minutes; his lesson was focused on 3-octave scales, sight-reading, vibrato and polishing up a Seitz Concerto movement. Sophie gets half an hour or so; she worked on polishing the "Theme from Witches' Dance" in Suzuki Book 2 and on left hand position and technique.

Afterwards I spent some time with my mom (their teacher) discussing ways to integrate the new crop of ready-for-orchestra violin students into the community orchestra I run. The kids played in her guest room with the toys I grew up with.

Then we went to the post office to collect the mail, and to the grocery store for ingredients for Noah's birthday cake a Mocha Semifreddo that he requested specially. There's a good reason we normally shop in the town 75 minutes away on the days we have piano lessons there (piano doesn't start until next week) -- it took us trips to three different stores in two different villages to find Oreo crumbs and whipping cream. Then we delivered invitations to the GRUBS club harvest festival to some of the community members who had volunteered services or donated supplies to help get the community garden off the ground this year.

We decided to stop at the Donation Store. It's sort of a thrift store run by a community association, but there are no prices ... you just donate money as thanks. They had immense amounts of clothing, so we picked up 6 items for Erin, 3 for Noah (including a beautiful cotton sorta-golf shirt and some awesome Umbro tearaway pants) and one each for Sophie and Fiona. The younger girls had just got piles of hand-me-downs from cousins, so that seemed fair.

A crow was trying to open a hazelnut, dropping it on the road in front of the store in an attempt to smash it, I think. The kids chased down the rolling hazelnut and stole it! Poor crow.

We went home and grabbed a very late lunch. Erin went back to the piano. She spent an hour or two playing only the left hand part of every piece in the Royal Conservatory Grades 5 through 8 albums ... I have no idea why; sometimes she is so weird. She pulled out a loose premolar in the midst.

Noah was off reading. Sophie played a bit on the computer. I called my friend and had The Talk about the kids' Sleepover Issue, which went just fine. Sophie and Fiona and I cooked up Noah's mocha semifreddo.

I cooked supper while the kids did the day's accumulated dishes. Noah went out and ran some energy off the dog and discovered 3 fresh bear poops on the corner of the property. Apparently our puppy isn't yet as attentive to intruders as we'd hoped she'd be. We don't really mind the black bears, except when they take all our apples. These poops were pure apple sauce. (TMI, I know, sorry!)

I managed to get a block of time booked next week with our cider-press friend.

After supper Erin went on-line to the Wondertree SD Village. I had her read through the weekly report I'd done on her behalf for the program for last week, as a sort of example for future reports I expect she'll do on a weekly basis. She seemed satisfied with the format and content.

She did another Sudoko puzzle and then grabbed the very book of Sudoku puzzles I was working through while we were on vacation ... the one she teased me about being obsessed with ... and obsessively did another couple of puzzles.

Noah and Sophie played with Duplo and Playmobil again, doing more "Euwy World" story-telling. Sophie spent some time typing into the computer a list of all the novels she's been reading lately. Noah and then Sophie played on Neopets for a while.

We watched a packrat (a western woodrat, actually a member of the squirrel family, if I'm not mistaken -- cute with a bushy tail) chasing moths on the outside of the window of our family room, after climbing up on the woodpile. It was fun -- he was nutty, and didn't seem aware of our presence.

We started the readalouds earlier tonight, since the kids wanted more chapters. My voice is now hoarse.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Day in the Life -- Tuesday again

Chuck left at the crack of dawn for a two-day training session out of town. Today felt like a chaotic, wasted day for me, but in retrospect there was a fair bit that got done. Erin learned how to cook scrambled eggs. Noah and Sophie prepared their own lunches and one for Fiona too. Noah spent a good bit of time training the dog. I installed the new digital camera software and the kids spent a delighted half hour or more using the slide show feature to examine every family photo on my hard drive (over 750 of them). Erin wrote a few messages on the Wondertree Village message boards, including offering up a nice introductory paragraph for a fantasy novel she's hoping to write, inspired by Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy and the "Dark is Rising" series by Susan Cooper.

"On a dark, misty winter's night a shadow walked lightly across the snow, taking care not to make a sound. Around it there were black buildings made of stone, where no one lived, and no one worked. If you had seen it by daylight, it would have seemed deserted, but at night, it teemed with shadows such as this one. It crept around a corner, and under a tree. As it rounded another curve in the street, it stopped, muttering to itself. It looked around, confused. Then, seeing it's target, seemed to regain confidence and slipped into the shadow of a hedge. It was a hedge that hadn't been green in years, and obviously hadn't been tended for longer. It was just a tangle of twigs and thin sprigs that would whip at your face angrily if you tried to touch it. But the shadow found a gap in the bush and slipped through. The moon, just visible through the fog, caught the profile of the shadow for one instant, before it slunk into the darkness again. It's head was bent and it's back hunched, like an old man, but somehow it managed to be quicker than a hare as it snaked through the city."

Not all the practising got done. Noah has a birthday tomorrow, and we have a family tradition of no practising on your birthday. But he has a viola lesson tomorrow, which is considered equivalent to practising, so I suggested he skip his viola practising today in lieu. He did take a few minutes to go over the ensemble music that had been assigned for group class. Erin did a brief piano practising and an even briefer violin practising. Sophie and I practised together but it was a challenge ... her first goal-directed practising with me in 8 or 9 days.

I taught two violin lessons this afternoon. My mom has taken over the lion's share of the local Suzuki teaching, so I only have 3 regular students. Two of them came today. My kids fended for themselves, amusing Fiona.

I managed to unpack one more suitcase and do one more load of laundry. I managed to cook a meal and host our Tuesday dinner guests (family friends who have two unschooled girls, 8 and 11, the elder of whom plays violin ... they need a place to hang out and get a meal between her violin lesson and the evening group class, so they come to our place for supper every Tuesday). As it turns out, the student I teach before supper is a Wondertree unschooler, as are the two girls who come for supper, as it Erin. All of us are new to the program, so we parents had a good talk about it at that pre-supper transition time.

After supper we went to violin group class. My mom taughtit, knowing I wouldn't be properly prepared after just returning from holidays. All four of my kids participate in this group class. Fiona enthusiastically scrubs away on her cardboard violin until she tires and retreats to the book nook in the corner. Sophie and Noah are sort of in the middle of the pack in group class, being in late violin book 2 and mid-viola book 4 respectively, and aged 6 and 8 in a class spanning ages 4 to 15. The group class is probably most relevent to them. Erin is the most advanced student, and one of the oldest, so there's little challenge for her, though she's always gracious about attending. She and two of the other older, more advanced students got sent away to work on a trio piece on their own for 20 minutes. Then they had to return to the group and perform it. There's a really nice comraderie that showed amongst these three and they did some good work.

The Suzuki families in town are my kids' pseudo-extended-family. They had a wonderful time reconnecting with them after the summer and our holiday. The half hour afterwards was filled with conversation and play. Noah especially seemed to have really missed his Suzuki friends.

After group class we came home and unwound. I did a bit of tidying and the kids gravitated to the computer. We had a family meeting, something we do once a week or so, over hot chocolate and biscuits. On the agenda: Noah's birthday celebration, keeping the house tidy, dealing with our over-boisterous new puppy, fitting in enough readaloud time and a rehash of the sleepover issue. Dh phoned from his hotel room, and everyone talked to him, even Fiona.

Afterwards the kids played on the computer for a few minutes and Erin did some Soduko puzzles, explaining to the other kids what she was doing.

Readaloud time now beckons us all, and it's nearing 11 pm.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Day in the Life -- Monday again

I woke up at 6:30 even though I went to bed quite late (still on eastern time, I guess). I fussed around for a while with a web-like interface being used by the hybrid homeschool - independent school program Erin is using this year. Because we've been away, today is really our first day with the program. The independent school is Wondertree in Vancouver, a sort of free school, and the hybrid program is their home-based "Self-Design Learning" program. The basic idea is that they get some government funding on behalf of enrolled students, and pass some of that on to us in terms of receiptable expenses. They also provide a virtual "Village of Conversations" in which parents, students and teachers interact, learn and explore various things. The Village looks very much like a very safe, accepting, tolerant and very slick set of message boards, with teachers, students and parents all conversing with little to no regard for hierarchical formality of school. In other words, parents and teachers are just as likely to be learning from students as the other way around. We are required to report both a log of hours of learning and "observations for learning" which will be Erin's own reflections on her week's learning activities. Erin was very keen on the idea of the village, and was willing to do her own reporting, so the money we get from the program for expenses ($1000 Cdn) will be simply a bonus.

She woke up soon after I did and installed the software on the kids' computer and then spent an hour or so exploring the Village and posting a few messages.

The younger three kids all woke up between 7:30 and 8:00. The computer is proving to be a kid magnet right now, as the kids just spent three weeks with no computer access while on holiday. Noah went through his e-mails and replied to a couple of friends' messages, then deleted a few hundred pieces of spam. Sophie and Noah spent a few minutes at Neopets.

I cooked breakfast : oatmeal porridge, since there's little food in the house. Chuck (who has the day off) and I installed some new lighting in the kitchen.

Erin helped me create a grocery list, since she's going to cook a couple of suppers this week. Chuck went off to do the grocery shopping (this requires an out-of-town trip, and about 51 weeks a year it's me this falls to, since he normally works long hours).

Sophie and I sorted through her fall clothing and added a bunch of hand-me-downs from her cousins once we'd created room in her drawers. She went off to read a Spider magazine that had come in the mail while we were gone. Erin was reading a Calliope magazine (ditto). Noah was off in his bedroom reading a Philip Ardagh Eddie Dickens book. Things were quiet so I started unpacking (three people travelling for 6 weeks means a lot of stuff in suitcases). Managed to get a couple of loads of laundry through and one of three suitcases emptied and put away.

The kids made themselves rice cakes, veggie sticks and Ramen noodles for lunch while I jumped in the shower.

I got called to work an out-of-town clinic tonight so I tried (and mostly failed) to get the kids motivated to do anything that needed my help during the afternoon. Did a bunch of phoning to get appointments and classes geared up for the fall. Got the three older kids registered for a wonderful weekly art class starting next week; Erin has been doing this class for going on four years now, Noah for two, and Sophie just started last winter. I puttered around trying to organize my own life for the fall a bit. The older three kids went up to the attic to play with Lego and Playmobil and work on their extended story-telling/mythology-creating. They built Euwy characters, buildings and landscapes. Later Noah and Erin played around in the Age of Mythology (computer game) editor, creating virtual worlds for the Euwy world.

Sophie went off to practice her violin. She practices without my help about a third of the time. She has a hard time getting started with me helping her, but we both recognize that she usually ends happily and makes much more progress when I help her. So we try to reserve alone-practising for days when she needs something "easier" for her emotionally. Today was one of those days, being the first day back at home after three weeks away and pretty spotty practising while on holiday.

We had a difficult visit from some friends of ours. They're fellow unschoolers, and wonderful people... mom and 5 kids from 1 to 12. But they have such high social needs and are so much more extroverted than we are... and after 3 weeks without seeing us they were just in our faces and loud and excited -- the energy level was just overwhelming for me, and for the kids too. A few nice things did come out of the visit ... the 12yo boy helped Noah take apart a defunct mini-RC car and extra the motor and rechargeable battery and test them with his electronics kit, Erin played her new violin for our friends, and we began talking about putting together a half-hour radio show about our organic gardening / environmental club for the homeschool timeslot on the co-op radio station nearby.

After they left Sophie continued pestering me to schedule a date for her to host her friend for a sleepover. I was worn out by all the chaos and mess and noise from the visit we'd just finished, so I sighed and admitted that I really find sleepovers hard. Sophie said "me too," and there was this pregnant pause, with me and all the kids looking at each other all having a sort of epiphany. "Does anyone like hosting sleepovers?" I asked. "Nope," they all said.

"Then why are you always asking me if you can have sleepovers?" I asked.

"The other kids always want them," they said. And laughed a little self-consciously, realizing how silly it was that they were so often whining and pestering me for something they didn't even like.

We talked about it and decided that I should have a frank but diplomatic discussion with the other mom, explaining that much as we enjoy their friendship, none of my kids really enjoy sleepovers. They're introverts and find time away from home draining -- they need their evenings and nights to recharge. Big sighs of relief from my kids. They've "endured" a year and a half of monthly-or-thereabouts sleepovers, because they felt they were supposed to like having them.

My mom dropped some ensemble music off for the two elder kids for them to read through and have ready for violin/viola group class tomorrow night. Chuck arrived home with groceries for the pantry and quotes for snow tires for the van. The snow will start flying on the higher-elevation roads here within a month or two.

I offered the kids the choice of doing dishes or collecting apples. They chose apples, so I started the dishes. Outside they began throwing the hundreds of mushy scabby windfall apples into the agri-fab cart, and then sorting the keepers into "eaters" and "cider apples". We had a visit from a black bear this morning so it is crucial that we get the apples in. We've had a bumper crop this year, but they began ripening and falling while we were away. Hundreds of lovely apples are still on the trees. We'll get lots of cider! They worked for an hour or so in the orchard.

I made supper, with Chuck's help (another lovely treat -- he usually doesn't get home until very late). We ate and I ran off to my evening clinic.

Erin and Noah did their violin/viola and piano practising (two practisings each) while I was gone. Then they watched the second Harry Potter video.

When I got home we read aloud from "Skybreaker" by Kenneth Oppel and "Inkspell" by Cornelia Funke. Great books.