Sunday, October 04, 2009

Therapods, travels and More-Fun Parents

Chuck's clinic partner needed to be away this week, kind of at the last minute. I had planned to take Noah and Erin to Calgary for their lessons and to leave Fiona and Sophie home with their dad. But with Chuck taking 24-hour call and covering for his partner in the clinic, that was going to mean up to three days of them being home alone. So we went back to last year's Calgary regimen -- taking everyone along and spending two overnights in the motel so that the younger kids could relax and enjoy some R&R between the big drives. We picked Erin up after Writing Class at school on Thursday morning and headed out, catching the 11 a.m. ferry.

On the trip to Calgary we played a lot of word games. That's the great thing about having Sophie and Fiona along -- when Erin decides to nap most of the trip we still have enough people to play some fun games. We played a lot of Twenty Questions, but the game we spent the most time on was Categories. We used to call this the Camping Game, but we've broadened the challenge so now we just call it Categories.

Someone thinks of a category and gives a word that fits. Each other player guesses a word and is told whether theirs fit in the category or not. Then the person who is "it" gives another example that fits the category. From the right and wrong guesses the players gradually discern clues about what the category is. I love this game because it's not really competitive (it ends when everyone has guessed the category, or when everyone gives up) and because it's useful therapy for perfectionists -- only by making 'wrong' guesses can they get the clues needed to identify the category. Among the categories utilized by creative kids on our trip:

~ hollow things
~ things made famous by the internet
~ words where the last letter is 'e'
~ translucent things
~ things wider than they are tall
~ words with an odd number of syllables
~ words with 'r' in them
~ things that are often found in pairs
~ words from the lyrics of a particular song

The fun thing about this game is that the category seems painfully obvious to anyone who knows it, while the others get easily led astray by spurious associations suggesting completely unrelated tangents. When the starting word given is "apple" and both grape and orange are deemed correct, while truck and igloo are deemed wrong, you're unlikely to consider the category likely to be "words ending with the letter e." You'll be thinking fruit, or food, or plants.

In Calgary we ate and swam and shopped at IKEA. And watched Discovery Channel. And got Noah to his viola lesson, and Erin to her first violin lesson of the weekend, as well as to a rehearsal with her accompanist.

Discovery Channel was playing a lot of shows about dinosaurs this weekend. We've done dinosaurs in the past in this family. Far in the past. Noah was four the year we all learned the difference between centrosaurus and styracosaurus, between sauropods and therapods. It's been a while. Sophie caught only the tail end of dino-mania in this family, and Fiona missed it entirely. When I suggested that the Tyrrell Museum was only a couple of hours away and it might be a good opportunity for a repeat visit I expected Fiona and Sophie to be enthusiastic but figured it would be a hard sell with the older two. Suprisingly, though, Noah was keen; the Discovery shows had awakened a certain nostalgia in him for his days of dino-love and Tyrrell Museum rapture. And Erin was facing a dull day in Calgary otherwise, as her More-Fun-Parents (which is how she refers to her Calgary teachers / billet hosts) were both busy all day. So we decided to head east to Drumheller instead of driving straight west home on Saturday morning.

The museum was absolutely and totally fantastic, of course, just like the last time. It added a good 7 hours to our day, what with four extra hours of driving to get there and back to Calgary, and the time in the museum itself. Then there was the 7-hour drive home, during which we played more Categories, talked, listened to music and podcasts and such. So it was a long day. But it was fine. With the early start and the time-zone change we were home by 9 pm.

Erin usually claims the back bench in the minivan and typically spends more than half each trip slumped over asleep. Part way home Noah craned his neck towards the back seats and asked "where's Erin got to?" He had forgotten that the main reason we'd gone to Calgary was to drop Erin off there -- she hadn't been with us for hours!

The new arrangement with Erin living part-time in Calgary seems to be working well so far. She's motivated, practicing 4 to 6 hours a day. She began work on the Mendelssohn 1st movement last month (as well as a couple of new unaccompanied Bach movements) and is planning to perform it at the end of this month. I haven't heard it, but her accompanist says it's coming along just fine. The two of them also hatched some plans for piano coaching for Erin; Erin has been suffering ambivalence about piano. Julie gave her a bit of a nudge, suggesting she bring a couple of specific pieces to work on in three weeks, a movement from a Mozart Sonata and the Bartok Rumanian Dances. She's getting about four hours of violin teaching each time she's in Calgary and is being treated to dinners out, concerts, social opportunities and occasional extra violin classes here and there. While I wish there were a way to give her orchestral and chamber music experience that's pretty much impossible on a part-time basis. We can't have it all. I'm thrilled that she's getting consistent teaching with regular follow-up so that she can actually make significant technical and musical progress.

Dealing with the all-day eastbound Greyhound bus, and the overnight westbound bus, is getting pretty routine for Erin. On her trip to Calgary at the end of September she also had to deal with some fairly complicated and somewhat unpredictable public transit routes and schedules within the city -- after dark on her own with suitcase and violin in tow. And she managed.

Noah is getting monthly lessons only. This was not optimal for Erin, and it's not optimal for him, but he's getting better at making it work. He's done some excellent remediation of his note-naming and pitch-reading skills. He's paying more attention to details and to consistently implementing the guidance he's given at his lessons. Taking more responsibility for working on things that don't come easily. There's been a big jump in his maturity over the past few months.


  1. I am so impressed by your children's commitment and passion toward music.

  2. fond memories indeed of the Tyrrell museum - and i was a\ late teen!


This blog is moving to archive-only status. Please consider posting comments instead at the active version of the blog at

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.