Monday, September 29, 2008

Kids packing

My sister and I were talking about this the other day. My kids pack for themselves when we go away. This time around Noah forgot to bring a jacket. Erin forgot socks. Well, she remembered, but somehow they didn't quite make it into the suitcase. Same thing.

My sister was sure our parents never trusted us to pack. I don't honestly recall, but she may be right. Perhaps we did some of the work ourselves, but my mom probably went over everything to make sure we had done it properly. It's true that my mom and I differ in our Compulsivity Quotients, she down near the max end of the scale, me hanging out down just this side of obliviousness.

I help if my kids want help. This trip, being longer and different in character from our usual monthly Calgary trip, precipitated some questions and resulted in me producing a list of suggestions. Wedding clothes. A couple of short sleeved shirts, 2-3 long sleeved shirts. Undies for a few days. Socks. Swim suits. iPods. Math books. Games. Reading books. I think I forgot to put 'jackets' on the list, assuming that they were common sense. Some of my kids used the lists. Some didn't.

But I didn't check their packing. And so Erin has no socks and Noah froze in Jasper without a jacket. We have no conditioner and no nail file (things that seem to be fairly important to one of us), no sheet music for the J.C Bach viola concerto. Small omissions. We've made do.

I'd like to say that this is part of an over-riding parenting philosophy, that I am giving my kids experience and trust so that they can experience responsibility and make mistakes when the mistakes are small and easily dealt with. I'd like to argue that this sort of responsibility is good for children, that it gives them a sense of freedom and autonomy that help prevent adolescent rebellion and sneaky efforts to grab power from parents and exercise the self-determination they desperately want.

But while I might be able to make that case, I think I'm basically just too lazy. That I'm "just this side of obliviousness" may be closer to the truth.

Life in a hotel

Over the past year, since we started our monthly trips to Calgary, we've got really good at hotel life. For us the ideal hotel arrangement is a suite with a kitchenette. We spend $40 a day on convenience-style groceries we never buy at home, like "salad kits" and sugary breakfast cereals, but we probably save twice that by not having to eat out. We watch TV -- Discovery Channel for hours on end. This is something we never do at home, but watching in a hotel fills our tank so that we're not tempted at home, and it's novel enough that we enjoy it when we're away. With two double beds and a pull-out, we have a bosy' bed and two girls' beds and nights work fine. We take turns on the limping laptop. We read through the stack of books we always end up buying upon visiting a mega-bookstore.

There aren't that many "suite hotels" that offer family-sized suites at a reasonable price. Most "suite hotels" are actually pricey office-away-from-home suites for solo business travellers. A few of the Clarion group of hotels offer family-sized suites, and in Winnipeg we were lucky enough to stumble across Place Louis Riel, a reasonably-priced downtown all-suite facility with comfy large suites.

The train only runs three times a week, so we have a couple of extra days in Winnipeg before heading west again. I have lots of photos but this silly laptop refuses to receive them, so I will save the posts chronicling our travel adventures for a time when I can include the images too. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More train vignettes

A rare sight -- Noah with pencil and notebook. He was creative and self-directed as he enjoyed working away at sketches for a long time on the train. Of course I should point out that he was sketching creatures and machines from computer games.

String games first caught on in this family last summer during the SVI. During this trip a simple looped pink string kept various members of the family amused for hours. Sophie, Erin and I all managed to master the Dog, a complicated little asymmetrical string figure that if pulled gently looks like a little dog. It will travel across the horizontal strings ("here boy!") and can then be pulled back to the other side to repeat the trick.

Erin, reading late at night, cozied up with a regulation VIA Rail pillow and blanket, by the little overhead reading light. This would be several hours before the loud lady would recount her life story yet again at high volume for a new passenger come aboard in Saskatoon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Travel conversation

There's something about long days of travel that brings out the quirkiness in my children. Early on there was a discussion about how people resemble their pets. The consensus was:

"We're like [our cat] Pippa. We stay up all night, wreck the furniture, and run away when people try to hug us."

Good thing they aren't all also prone to leaving mouse livers on the living room floor.

Noah commented "I'm like [now deceased Lab cross dog] Stikine ... greasy and shy."

Erin quipped this morning "I'm too lazy for my life."

Fiona, after sharing in a large box of Timbits, "Whew, I'm all sugared up, and I didn't even have the maximum." (Where does a five-year-old get sentences like these?)

Sophie described someone as having a "loose temper," from which phrase the term "temperrhea" was coined. We know some people afflicted with it.

Jasper tonight. Train tomorrow. Whoo-hoooooo....

Monday, September 22, 2008

Backpacks ready

Ready to roll. First to Jasper, to hop on the train which we then take through the rest of the mountains and across the prairie. A day and a night later we'll be hopping in a minivan and getting set to drive a few hours to a family wedding. After that we drive west again and spend a couple of days' visiting and hanging out in Winnipeg, hop on the train again and head west. After that we'll make a stop in Calgary for lessons and head home.

The kids have packed their backpacks for use on the train. They're full of knitting, card games, books to read, string games, math books, paper, iPods and drawing implements. Erin has her Illife Analysis of Bach's Preludes & Fugues. Fiona has brought the Kana de Manga book to study the Japanese alphabet. Violins and violas are ready to go too.

I'm psyched about the train, almost as much as Fiona.

Family gym nights

On our Google Calendar we blocked in two family gym nights a week. We've never scheduled it in like this. In the past we would just "try to go on Saturdays and maybe one other evening" or something like that. For a few weeks we'd go now and then, and then life would get in the way and it would fall out of our routine. So far the scheduling is turning out to be a good approach. In the morning I remind the kids that they'll need to fit their practicing into an earlier part of the day because it's a gym night, and they do.

In the evenings the gym and fitness centre are usually empty. In fact there seem to be only two or three regular users besides us these days. I imagine that once winter hits things will pick up a bit. But we love the way it is now. We can pretty much count on having the place to ourselves, and that means that the 'rules' designed to minimize liability (like kids under 12 not being allowed to use the little dumbells or the rowing ergometer ... the latter of a brand that is advertised as being suitable for children under 8) can be treated a little loosely. There's a fitness centre shown in part above with a couple of weight machines and a variety of fitness machines, four of which are quite lovely. And there's a small gymnasium with basketball hoops and plenty of playground balls and assorted other projectiles. We usually bring our Speedminton equipment along, and informal running, stretching, tag and ball games often take place. Four-squares is also a longstanding favourite.

Sometimes it's hard to get everyone out the door, but once we're there we usually have a great time. There's lots of laughing and just plain playing, and the kids (and their mom) feel really good about getting in a couple of hours of serious aerobic activity no matter the weather. I hope we can continue this as the months roll by and the rest of our lives get busier.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Porridge morning

It was a good morning for porridge today, with the leaves starting to turn and a crispy feel to air, but our box of Red River Cereal was cobwebby and showing the telltale signs of invasion by little hungry six-legged things. I'd kept meaning to get around to dumping it in a mason jar, but somehow it was one of those things that never got done. So the last couple of cups (and any yummy grub-like things therewithin) went out for the chickens to eat. And I was left wondering what to cook up for breakfast. For whatever reason oatmeal porridge is not thought very highly of here, so that was out.

When I looked at the ingredients on the Red River Cereal box, though, I suddenly realized what anyone else with a Family Grainmill probably would have figured out at the outset ... I can make this stuff! So I threw in a cup of hard red wheat, half a cup of rye grains and another half cup of spelt. I cracked them in the mill. Then I ground a couple of tablespoons of flax seed, and tossed a couple more tablespoons of whole flax seed in.

It cooked up beautifully, just like the packaged stuff, but fresher-tasting. With a teaspoon of brown sugar and a drizzle of milk, it was a perfect fall breakfast. I can't believe I never thought to grind my own porridge meal before.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

The colour of our week

Hello, Google Calendar, I love you.

Everyone's schedules can be done up independently and then superimposed, or made invisible, according to one's preference at any given moment. Here is the full picture of a typical week, a week that doesn't involve a trip to Calgary or a workshop in Nelson or a field trip or an all-day board meeting or an Aikido seminar.

Don't panic. The big swaths of purple stuff is just Erin at school. I'm not involved there at all. The green blocks are family activities that involve me and the kids -- and some of those, like the later-evening gym blocks, are discretionary. Red stuff is my work, whether at the clinic or Suzuki music teaching. Once we remove the red that only affects me, and Erin's school, we end up with something that looks much better:

Isn't that nice? Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays are terrific. Plenty of down-time.

The only problem is that now that I've got this over-scheduling problem licked, I seem to finally have on my hands a couple of kids who enjoy busy days with other people. Sophie and Fiona would like a little more in the way of activities. On my Google Calendar Sophie is yellow and Fiona is turquoise, plus they're also involved in the green (family) blocks and the brown (driving) where relevant. Honestly, they'd love two mornings a week of art class, aikido, music classes or something -- heck maybe even of school, if an appropriate program could be found. But none of these things are possible where we live. I suspect this is just a temporary situation, though, due to the fact that some regular activities are still gearing up. Once orchestra, aikido and Calgary trips begin in October, and the inevitable weekend workshops, concerts and recitals begin getting slotted in, I think they'll be happy.

I figure a good balance has been struck if life sometimes feels a little over-busy and sometimes a little under-busy. We're just going through a little phase of a couple of us feeling under-busy. The pendulum will swing the other way, I don't doubt it. But I think it would be fair to say that the pendulum isn't swinging widely these days, just a little to one side or other. We've got it pretty close to right for us, I think.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tenting grandma

Well, believe it or not, she didn't figure it out on her own. The tent thing. She phoned. "Hi, I'm back... and by the way, is that your guys' tent on my lower lawn?"

As I say, the previously posted exchange had been trivial little bits of larger e-mails about more pressing concerns. And the back-and-forth had concluded a full week before she flew home. While it had loomed large in my family's awareness, somehow it had slipped out of hers in the midst of goodbyes to other grandchildren, trans-Atlantic flights and jetlag.

But when I responded "Ah, well, yes, the tent ... that's where you're staying," she got it.

Oh my, she laughed. It was even better this way, because I got to hear her first reaction once she got the joke. She laughed so long and so hard I eventually pulled the phone away from my ear and had plenty time to answer my own kids' eager whispers "who IS that? is it grandma? did she see the tent?" I think she laughed all the harder because of her own obliviousness to the joke when she first saw it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Nocturnal tent-pitching

It takes Erin 55 minutes (downhill) to walk to school. There's no school bus service or public transit, so she's on foot in the mornings. Her grandmother lives 2 minutes' walk from the school, so the plan was that Erin would finish up at school each day and then head to her grandmother's where she could use the spare room to do her violin practicing. Then she'd call for a ride home.

Everything's working well and going as planned. Grandma is actually out of the country for the first two weeks of school, though, so Erin has been going to an empty house. And quite enjoying the combination of the new adventure of school and basically having a house to herself for the afternoon. In amongst other e-mail correspondence between my mom and myself has been the following exchange:

Me: Erin is very much enjoying your house. Nothing personal, but she's wondering if you could find somewhere else to live when you return.

My mom: Tell Erin that she can have the house if she looks after cleaning and my laundry, provides all meals, tends the garden (including lawn cutting) and pays an exorbitant rent. I'll live in a tent on the lower lawn. (But I will need to come in and out to use the bathroom.)

Me: Erin is trying to figure out how to get a job so that she can pay you rent on your place while you live on the lower lawn in a tent. She will leave your meals and laundry at the top of the steps.

My mom: I really think the meals and laundry should be delivered to the bottom of the steps.

My mom is due back tomorrow. So this evening we went and put this on her lower lawn:

Yes, that's a tent. It looks rather diminutive amongst the trees in the dark, but in full daylight it will be quite obvious as she arrives home by driving right past the lower part of her property on her way to the parking area. We also placed a Bathroom Sign-up Schedule on her door, with 90% of it X'd off as "not available" and most of the remaining time marked as "Erin." There are four one-hour time slots still available. Alas, there is no time available on Sundays or Fridays. I guess she'll just have to manage.

Here's hoping she doesn't kill some airport time at an internet café and happen to check my blog on the way home. That would ruin all the fun of the surprise.


We're done! We're still not sure what it's for, but is certainly was fun putting it together.

Friday, September 12, 2008


We were getting ready to leave somewhere and couldn't find Sophie. This is common and not worrisome. She's usually nearby, quietly busying herself with dirt, sticks, stones, leaves or grasses. On this occasion she had used twigs and grasses to build a miniature woven fence.

"I'd like to build a real fence like this," she said.

So the next day I helped her select and pound in some wattle posts. In the process of looking through Chuck's collection of straight-medium-sized-sticks-that-might-someday-prove-useful, we found the hidden stash of eggs that our hens had been laying earlier in the summer. We knew the eggs had to be somewhere, but we hadn't been able to track the sneaky hens down. So it was fun to finally discover a couple of dozen blue-green eggs in a corner of the big open shed behind the aforementioned sticks. Finding hidden eggs a month or two after they've been layed means they have to be disposed of, and around here the disposal method of choice is to pitch them off the edge of the plateau that is our property and far into the forested slope below. Very fun.

After we got the fenceposts in I was dispatched in the role of chief hazelwood harvester. The prize sticks are 3 metres long and straight. I cut them and Sophie, with Fiona as her assistant, stripped them of leaves and twigs. Then they wove them along the posts. It's been slow going, particularly at my end, but gradually the fence is growing.

It performs no function at this point, beyond the oh-so-obvious aesthetic function of gracing our yard with its beauty. But it's been a fun project so far.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My Pony Duet

Two of my kids, these two, have never had a piano lesson in their lives, and today they're trying to play a piano duet together. Sophie has taught herself to read some piano music this summer, and yesterday she taught Fiona to play "My Pony" from an Alfred 1B Primer Book. Sophie spent some time today trying to learn the (teacher's) accompaniment part so that they could play together. So tonight they're trying to put together the duet.

Fiona is already a very sophisticated ensemble musician. She is playing the 'easy' part, pretty much all by ear, and she adjusts her tempo, waiting if Sophie needs some extra time, waiting to move ahead until a chord has been corrected or a note found. Oh boy, do they have fun working on this! They are totally on their own, coaching each other, trying to figure out how it all fits together and how to help each other make it work. It's funny, silly stuff.

They finally get it, after half an hour of hilarity, section-by-section work, sophisticated pulling apart of bars, adjustments in tempo, bursts of giggles, brilliant co-operation and mutual support. There's still a little rough stuff in the middle section, but Sophie is now totally bombproof in the opening and closing sections, including the troublesome bar 3 where Sophie's ascending bass line has resisted fitting itself with Fiona's contrary scale. Fiona finishes up by commenting supportively "Sophie, that scale part is much better now, I think. You really learned your part."

Now they've gone off to the kitchen together to mix up some celebratory juice.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Math is on again

Erin is doing a math course at school with enthusiasm and dedication, and it's contagious. The other three are back in a big math zone. To be fair, they had already moved in that direction late in the summer, even before Erin hit the books, but there's a synergy taking place now too.

The other day we actually had a family Math Party at Fat Kat's bakery/café. Four kids, four math programs spread out across two pushed-together tables, two pots of tea, five chocolate chip cookies and one mom circulating, circulating. I think we got too many comments from other customers and passersby to do that again on a weekend. The comments were all positive, but it was too much attention for all of us. Next time we'll go on a weekday morning.

Normally math is done at home, on the kitchen table, late at night, with tea, as the photo of Sophie shows. Note the rabbit peeking from her cage beneath the table. Often there are two or three children busy at the same time. It's that contagion thing again. I'm not particularly invested in the idea of my kids doing formal math in any systematic way, but during increasingly rare bouts of PUPD it does give me some comfort that they seem to feel it's worth doing and enjoy it. At least every now and then, in spurts.

Noah is still enjoying Life of Fred Beginning Algebra. We're only about a quarter of the way through, so it's still all review, but he loves the rabbit-trails and humour and is enjoying the journey. The main drawback I see with LoF is that it uses the American scope & sequence (see comments below). But for now it's a good fit.

Sophie is doing all the leftover review exercises from Singapore 6B in order to make sure her pre-algebra skills are well in hand before embarking on the next phase of her math learning. We're still not sure what path she'll choose. I'd love to have her travel a different path from the one Noah's on, but I want something at least as appealing and mathematically robust.

Erin is using the school's textbook and working right now on applications of rational exponents. The problems and "investigations" are pretty complex and lengthy for this level -- far, far beyond where Teaching Textbooks, her last regular curriculum, assumed a 14-year-old would be. I continue to be much more impressed by the standard Canadian math curriculum than I am by the U.S. standard scope and sequence. I think that the Canadian academic stream math expectations are pretty much in line with the Singaporean ones in terms of depth and breadth, if not quite their equal in pacel. By contrast, the US math curricula, even the fairly robust ones, seem stodgy and more concerned with the execution of formulaic problem-solving than with developing creative logically complex mathematical thinking processes.

Fiona is plugging away through the end of Miquon Blue and the beginning of Singapore Primary Math level 2B. She enjoys math so much and works at challenging parts eagerly and with determined focus. She will have so much fun with Hands-On Equations, which I'll order in October when our SelfDesign funding comes through.

I am thankful that Erin is now providing the younger kids with a model of self-motivated learning. I'm sure she's been learning lots for the past three years, but it's been the sort of learning that's often hard to see. These days she's actually adding positive energy to our family's learning lives. What a lovely change.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

But what's the point?

Erin and I had an interesting and very funny conversation last night. She is absolutely loving the structure that school is giving her days and is feeling ambitious and hungry for plenty of challenge both musically and academically. But last night she asked me "why am I doing these courses? what are they good for?"

She knew what the answers might be ... because you enjoy the subject matter, because you want the intellectual challenge, because you like the structure and busy-ness you now have in your days, because the goal of course completion helps motivate you, because some day a few official credits might help prove your academic potential to an admissions office or an employer, because you might decide to pursue a high school diploma. And so I told her all this and she laughed and said, "yeah, I know, but what's the point, really? There are other ways to do that. Why do people do this stuff?"

And so I told her that she was much farther ahead in her understanding than 99% of school students, most of whom just assume that there must be some fundamental meaning to school, even if they can't see it themselves. She, on the other hand, knew there was no de facto point to school coursework, that the value in schooling is something that has to do with how well it serves your goals, needs, desires and aspirations -- it's something that is best discovered and defined for yourself.

So she said "yeah, but what do I get -- what's the point?"

She was just being a goof. She was laughing.

I said "oh, sweetie, that's an answer you'll have to find deep within your very own self."

By that point we were both laughing.

But it was a very deep and meaningful conversation anyway.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Puttering day

We puttered today. I got up, made coffee, baked some scones, packed Erin a lunch, drove her to school. Came home, answered some e-mails, cuddled with Fiona. Fed the chickens. Sophie got up. We woke Noah up and watched a compilation of animations on DVD. There's an animation festival here each spring, and we are becoming quite aware of and appreciative of different animators and styles. Today we watched a new-to-us collection we'd rented through Zip. Noah was in raptures over "Balance", the Lauenstein & Lauenstein Oscar-winner from 1990 that somehow we had never seen before. It's typical that Noah latches onto the spare brooding philosophical work in a line-up that is full of variety.

Sophie was on her way to a friend's house for the afternoon, so I offered to take Fiona to town for a bit of hanging out. We went to the Donation Store. It's sort of a thrift store, but instead of price tags they just ask for small cash donations on the honour system. We always run into people we know well but haven't seen in ages, so we never expect to get out in less than half an hour. Today we scored a Trivial Pursuit game and a box of Young Players Edition cards as a bonus, a pairs of nice jeans for Fiona and me and a nice cotton waffle shirt in steel blue for Noah.

Then it was time for café math. There's a bakery café that we rarely go to except to pick up bread. But because there aren't a lot of stay-in customers it's the best place to go to spend an hour sharing a pot of herbal tea. We had brought Fiona's current her math book and had a lovely time exploring nine-timestable patterns, working on memorizing the 4's and reviewing the 3's, and doing a lot of mental-math subtraction. We tried the lime tea which was lovely for a little girl of five and nice enough for her mom too. "They have sugar cubes instead of sugar," she commented. "That's kind of unusual." Unlike my other kids, Fiona's thoughts spill out of her mouth. I love that I have this way to see into her mind. I am privy to every delighted observation she makes. She makes it so easy for a parent to share in her sense of wonder. It was lots of fun dropping a sugar cube in a cup of lime tea and watching it dissolve.

We ran into Sophie and her friend then, so we went back to the Donation Store and found Sophie a couple of pairs of jeans. We showed her the Trivial Pursuit, and her instant reaction was "Calgary!" Meaning that reading and drilling your siblings on trivia with the cards will of course be a perfect activity for the many hours of driving to and from Calgary each month.

We said goodbye to Sophie and her friend and headed home. I cut Fiona's hair. We puttered some more. Erin called for a ride home, having finally finished school and violin practicing (another five hours of math today, plus two hours of violin), so we headed down and retrieved both Erin and Sophie. Erin, when informed of the Trivial Pursuit acquisition, immediately said "Calgary!"

After supper we had the usual line-up of practicing, imaginative play, computer play, math time for the kids who had missed out earlier, and readaloud time. I had hoped we'd squeeze in an episode of Michael Palin's "Pole to Pole," but it's already eleven and with the early mornings schoo is imposing on Erin and me, it's clearly too late to be putting that on.

Then again Erin would probably love to stay up and watch. In writing class yesterday one exercise was to write a ten-word biography. Erin wrote "I practice all day, then I don't go to bed." Very pithy!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Homework non- issues

I just read a post on parenting message board about "homework issues." Now that I have a kid in school, I'm more interested than ever in discussions about school issues and the approaches different families use. Here are the sorts of homework issues parents are having: "How do I get my 12-year-old to do his homework without it turning into a major battle?" Or "My 6yo is so tired and burnt out by the end of a full school day that he's too distractable and tired to do his homework." Or "At what point do I just let my teen sink or swim on the issue of homework and assignments? He's never done any of it without me needing to remind and nag."

My smug silent response is "maybe you should have just waited until your child was mature and craving systematic academic study before sending him to school." Erin seems to be handling 'homework' with enthusiasm and drive.

Averaging the past five or six years out I'd probably say that Erin has done less than 10 minutes a day of academic work. There were spurts when she'd do half an hour or an hour a few times a week. But there were also long stretches of many months when not a stitch of such course work was undertaken.

And so this week when she headed off to school for some academic rigour, reaching beyond her age-grade level for extra challenge, it was a big departure. Consider math. She hasn't thought much of math since she was quite young, and I was surprised that she wanted this to be one of her areas of study. But she's full of surprises, including this one: What I thought would be part of a morning at school has turned into all day. Why? Not because the school is expecting lots of her -- in fact two of her three courses haven't started yet. I certainly expected her to be lighting out by mid-morning each day, at least until Science and Writing have kicked in. But she's staying because there's math to do, and she likes working hard at it, working systematically, doing every exercise, reading every paragraph, filling pages with tables and calculations. She has been spending all five available hours of school each day on math ... and coming home with work she wants to do at home as well. Not because anyone is setting up these expectations, but because she has always learned best this way, full-on and self-motivated, immersing herself in something. And because this coursework is something she wants to be doing.

She's got gaps to fill in math ... she hasn't really completed any math curriculum levels since she did Grade 7 Singapore a few years ago, though she dabbled her way through the better part of an algebra text. The academic-track Grade 10 course is a bit of a stretch for her in that she sometimes needs to find ways to fill in her gaps before she can move ahead. This is only her second full day at school and she's already more than 10% of the way through the course.

Shall we just say "homework is not an issue"?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Creature creating

There are times I despair over the computer use in this family. I wonder what good can possibly come of it. Then there are nights like tonight.

Spore is due out later this week. I've never seen such a sure-bet piece of software on the horizon for my kids. It's going to be totally their style -- especially when it comes to collaborative computer play. Imaginative play with character and attitude, in a bizarre world where almost anything is possible. It's like Sim Euwy World. They've been messing around with the Creature Creator this week. They're coming up with critters that remind me so much of the little Euwian critters...

they've been known to create out of plasticine, except that the Spore Creatures move and dance and engage in mating behaviour and snort and roar. All of which results in the kind of moments of hilarity and wonderful sibling togetherness you see above.

A boy and his new viola

Noah is growing. Though still quite small for 11, he's at last outgrown his half-sized (12" vibrating string length) viola. His spanking new 13" Sabatier arrived today. He is thrilled. The A-string has a lovely viola timbre. His smaller instrument sounded very much like a violin on the upper strings, and of course there's more depth, more volume, more 'oomph' all the way down to the bottom of the C-string, as expected. The finish is lighter and yellower his old 12". Otherwise, though, it's obviously the big brother to his old one -- it has that distinctive Sabatier workmanship and shape, the light weight and the curiously strong sound.

He got it out of the case and tuned it up. Oddly enough, he decided to test it out first by playing an artificial harmonics scale! Of all the things ... I can't imagine anything less likely to show off the tone and timbre of a new viola. But to each his own. For what it's worth, the harmonics are at least twice as easy to play on this instrument. And once he'd tried that out, it wasn't long before he was playing a meaty 'forte' on all four strings, pushing to find the more distant limits of his newly available sound.

Here you can see the unique shape of the instrument. Noah's equivalent-to-3/4-size viola is on the left, and my full-sized violin is on the right. I think the resonating volume in his is a little bigger than that of a full-sized violin, even though length- (and weight-) wise his is still clearly a 3/4-sized instrument. The resonating chamber is pulled over to the 'low' side of the instrument, under the C-string, all of which makes for a very viola-type sound. This is definitely not a violin dressed up like a viola, it's a viola to its core.

The biggest difference to Noah with the new size is in the bow that came with it. His 1/2 sized viola came with a clunker of a fibreglass stick, which was heavy and got a decent sound from a viola when playing basic strokes but didn't do much else. This time around he's got a responsive octagonal wood stick which, wonder of wonders, actually likes to perform ricochet, spiccato and sautillé! Noah is thrilled. The bowing techniques which were causing him grief last month are suddenly so much easier.

Life is good in our little corner of viola-land.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

First day of school

She was a little nervous, I think. When it came down to it, today was mostly about administration, orientation and assemblies, a half day that was pronounced tedious and boring. She found out where she was supposed to be by just wandering into the Facilitated Learning Centre and waiting until someone showed up. Dug into a bit of math. There is no Science 10 textbook yet. The curriculum has all changed this year with much of Physics 11 being downloaded on Science 10, so new textbooks are a must. They're back-ordered, and no one is sure whether that means they'll be here in time for second semester (for the handful of in-class students) or now (for Erin). Writing was more of a brief, slightly lame orientation session than an actual class. She stayed until dismissal at 11:30 am.

Then she headed to her grandmother's house, just a couple hundred metres from the school, and practiced violin for a couple of hours. Her grandma is away this week and next, but the plan is for her to avail herself of the spare room in the late morning / early afternoon throughout the school year. Phoned home when she was done and I came and picked her up.

She has a locker. Cool. There was a school newsletter that came home. Meeting on Thursday evening for parents about fall electives.

I had totally forgotten about school supplies. (Was I in denial?) I found a pen in my purse to toss her as I dropped her off at the front door of the school at 8:54. Otherwise she had only the clothes on her back. Poor undersupported kid.

I have managed to find a decrepit 3-ring binder and a few sheets of lined hole-punched paper for tomorrow. Plus a calculator.

Erin's Learning Plan 2008-2009

Erin will be using our local K-12 school to structure some of her learning this year, and has several big plans for herself that have taken shape over the past few months. So we really didn't have much to plan when we went out for lattés and brownies to discuss her Learning Plan. We talked about what resources she might be needing, how she might structure her school-days and her year overall, possible additional projects, and any new directions she might want to go. Then I looked at the headings I'd created, and what I'd slotted in under each one. We had a bit of a laugh:

High school writing class
Reading ad lib

Science 10 course

Trip to SE Asia

2nd Language
Trip to SE Asia
French -- look for a textbook to complement Rosetta Stone / or possible high school course in spring

Math 10 course

Gym 3x/week

Violin lessons -- in Calgary, monthly
Accompaniment sessions -- investigate this in Calgary
Corazon Youth Choir -- weekly, plus tour in April
Valhalla Community Choir -- weekly
Osprey String Quartet
Community Orchestra
Possibility of doing Schubert Trout Quintet?
Piano lessons -- in Nelson, weekly
Violin group classes
Summit Strings chamber ensemble
Accompaniment workshop -- November
Joint piano violin/piano recital project with J. (friend) in late spring?

Anyone else see this plan as hilariously lopsided?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Folded fabric factory

One bottle of Stiffy down, who-knows-how-many to go. At the request of my fabric folding fiends, I helped with the application of stiffening medium to more than a dozen pieces of fabric today. They dried quickly outside.

Three boxes complete with lids and internal dividers have been completed to date. Now there is enough fabric for probably a dozen more. We must start eating more breakfast cereal, as the box board comes in very handy for strengthening the boxes.