Friday, January 30, 2009

Sophie's Noro Scarf

You can click on the photo to zoom in and look at the lovely serendipitous interweaving of alternating stripes of varied-colour yarns. And to look at the lovely cute face of the girl who took the two colours of Noro Kureyon yarn she was given for Christmas and knit a long cozy scarf for herself.

Look up

Please don't look down. Please don't see the carpet.

When we moved into our home 15 years ago there was a really grotty carpet in the big room, the room which at that time served as a bedroom for three, home office, storage area and family room. The carpet looked like it had been installed (using the word "installed" very lightly here) 15 years earlier and was already used at that point. It wasn't stretched. There was no separate underlay. It was probably the cheapest stuff available way back when it was purchased. The only point in its favour: at least it wasn't shag. We decided to just live with it, knowing that with young kids anything new and lovely we put down instead would likely get trashed.

Here are the wrinkles. Three large ones run across the entire width of the room. For a while they bothered us, because they prevented the Brio train track from lying properly and staying together. But we bought enough bridge pieces to get over these geological obstacles.

Here's what I mean by "installed," putting the word in those little sarcastiquotes. The thing was sort of trimmed to match the shape of the room, but where it didn't quite fit there was really no attempt to solve the problems.

Rust stains. Some kid likely spilled a jug of water which seeped under the file cabinets and refused to dry until it participated in a colourful chemical reaction. The standard remedies were ineffective at removing this. And really, why would anyone pay professionals, and bring in questionable chemicals, to remedy the sort of carpet we're discussing here?

A year ago when our old vacuum cleaner broke I bought a Dyson figuring that we might experience a partial rejuvenation of our grotty carpet as the result of its exceptional performance. Alas while our grotty carpet is probably cleaner than it's been in 15 years, and the newer bedrooms carpets are loving the treatment, the Dyson is actually sucking up the grotty carpet. It's happening all over the living room too -- the poor carpet there is being plucked bald as whatever crusty bonding material decays and releases its pile. That one is a Berber, so what lets go is not shaggy tufts, but long strands of knobby snythetic fibres punctuated by decaying clumps of whatever used to hold it together. And I spend an inordinate amount of my cleaning time cutting and unwinding these from the beater bar of the vacuum. The living room carpet now suffers from a sort of punctate metastatic alopecia, as we'd describe it in the medical field. Raging divots in the golfing world.

In the case of the grottiest of all carpets in the big room, though, the damage is more of the macro variety. Whole edges and corners of the carpet are ready to surrender to the thirsty call of the Dyson's suction. We've even had occasions when entire sections of perfectly flat carpet have been called up to meet the beater bar, causing (thankfully!) the Dyson's clutch to disengage, resulting in a nasty sound by no stinky melted rubber belts.

I'm the sort of person to just make do. I don't much like making issues of things, I don't like spending money, I care more for function that appearances. But gradually a resolution has been forming in my mind, expedited by certain unmentionable deposits the dog made beneath the piano to celebrate the rest of the family's overnight birthday adventure for Fiona.

The carpet has got to go.

There's nice engineered hardwood available these days that is certified for use over radiant heating and over concrete slabs. We need some. We live in this room. I do the taxes, my web-publishing, photo-editing, blogging, desktop publishing, arts administration, music publishing, homeschool reporting (times three), bookbinding, sewing and paper-crafting here. My kids do math, handwriting, music theory, blog, play on the computer, talk and play imaginatively together here. The piano lives here too. This room stores our craft and homeschooling supplies, the computers, fax/scanner, laminator, chalkboard, microscope, office supplies, children's artwork. It's our largest room, about 15 x 15', and it gets the majority of the our time and use.

I'm tired of not looking down.

So it remains to map out how we'll tackle this. The subfloor will need to be patched and levelled and someone who knows what they're doing will need to work out how to lay flooring over the edge that doesn't really have a subfloor. We'll need to tear down and replace the loft stairs which are sinfully ugly and are currently installed right on the concrete. And we'll need to find some way of installing without having to hire piano movers from 4 hours away to come (twice) to move the grand piano out of the room in question. Stay tuned. It may take a while, but I think it's got to happen.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nice things

Fiona attended her first flock-of-agemates birthday party last weekend, having declined to throw such a party for her own birthday, and within 2.5 days both she and I were sick. Back before we'd begun homeschooling I believed that keeping kids out of virus-ridden preschools and daycares was just postponing the inevitable, that ultimately children needed to come down with virus after virus in order to develop their immunity.

I don't buy that any more. My older kids have endured maybe three colds a year (and no lice!) as they've grown up -- and that shows no sign of changing as they hang out more and more away from home. Tweens and teenagers do not share nasal secretions in quite the same way as young children do! But alas 6-year-olds, with their runny noses, unfettered sneezes, touchy-hands and shared balloon-blowing are lovely vectors for germs. And so Fiona and I both got sick. Thankfully it's not the 'flu, though we were worried at first, since the prodrome had the same sorts of symptoms. But we're rallying today. Just sore, tired and cranky.

All of which led me today to make an effort to appreciate the nice things I encountered.
  1. "Honey I Washed the Kids" soap from Lush. I heard how great this smelled and since we're hooked on Lush's solid shampoos and conditioner, last time I was there I bought some HIWTK soap. Upon a first sniff I wasn't too impressed. But the smell has grown on me somethin' fierce. I soaped Fiona down with it in the bath today and she smelled good enough to eat.
  2. The colours of my latest knitting project -- see photo above.
  3. Leftover vegetarian French Onion Soup for lunch. Comfort food, yeah.
  4. Our cozy woodstove with the glass window and heart- and body-warming flames licking away.
  5. A light, clean and beautiful new snowfall dressing the cedar boughs with billows.
  6. All the kisses and cuddles I could give Fiona because I already had the germs she might have given me.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Two favourite things

Today Fiona and I discovered two of our favourite things in the same place: night-time outdoor skating, and a café. What fun! We haven't flooded our backyard rink this year because somehow it takes me a couple of years without to work up to the purchase of an expensive new liner. But this is almost as good -- and it's right on our route to Nelson. We had the rink to ourselves and watched the stars come out, especially the Butterfly Constellation (a.k.a. Orion) and then when we were red-cheeked, refreshed and tired all at the same time, we went and grabbed a hot drink to fortify us for the ride home. Fiona's favourite steamer, chocolate-mint, was apparently quite delicious in her new travel mug.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

6th Birthday Celebration

She'd been planning it for months. Just before supper time we headed to town with our swimsuits, toothbrushes, pyjamas and a whole heap of food and checked into the Dome Cottage #2. Fiona's two favourite don't-live-with-her grown-ups were invited.

Chuck and her guests showed up in time for supper. Things were mighty crowded around the dining table, but it didn't matter. We ate a lot of food and then retired to the loft for gift-opening. Who'd have thought that a stainless steel travel mug could bring so much joy to a little girl? She is my café buddy on Mondays in Nelson and now she can get her peppermint- or toffee-flavoured steamed milk 'to go' without being "bad for the environment." She's thrilled. There were other gifts too, all simple and thoughtful.

The kids spent quite a while knee-walking up and down the stairs to the loft in lotus position, with their feet tucked upon their opposite thighs. I have no idea how they managed this -- or why! -- but they had a blast and no injuries resulted.

And afterwards we headed to the outdoor hot tub. It was hot! Especially because we had to walk through the snow and ice to get to the spa and remove the top. By then our bare feet were thoroughly icy and the contrast of the water was quite something. Fiona did a lot of dog-paddling. We all got hot enough to enjoy rubbing snow on our bodies -- or our bodies on the snow.

After our guests left we spend a lovely few minutes in the sauna and then headed back to the dome cottage. The domes are quite an experience. They seem bigger inside than outside -- I think that's the effect of most round buildings -- and they have bizarre acoustic nodes, such that everyone on the upper level becomes a ventriloquist once they stand in the right place.

We stayed overnight (the kids fell asleep within about 1 minute of their heads hitting their pillows), then packed up our leftovers and Fiona's new gifts and headed home. Total driving time: 4.8 minutes. Birthday fun: 5 stars.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blog nod

I mostly blog for selfish reasons -- to muse aloud, to enjoy my children's growing and learning through reflection and to create an archive that my kids and I can look back on in the future. For me blogging isn't really a form of social networking, though I do enjoy the comments and questions of those of you who comment, stimulating me to further reflection or pointing me to new ideas and resources.

So I don't normally do the "blog nod" thing. But I make an exception today to point you to Erin's blog. It's been in my sidebar for a long time, but she rarely posted, and even when she did, she was guarded and calculatingly elusive in her style. So I didn't visit there much, and anyone who followed the link would probably not have found much much entertainment there.

But when she travels, things change. She becomes more herself when she writes from afar. You won't find much travelogue-style writing. If you want to know about daily life in Laos, her blog will not give you that. But you will get a potent glimpse of her wit, incisiveness and creativity.

People ask me around town all the time whether I miss her. I do, of course I do! But those feelings are far outweighed by the immense sense of glowing pride I have over what she is doing and who she is proving herself to be.

This morning in an e-mail one of her travelling companions wrote "We sure do like travelling with your lovely daughter; never any whining and sniveling and always game to try anything." Isn't that nice to hear? Apparently they are all happy and healthy, though I do wonder whether Erin is in her right mind because "Erin is a changed girl. Going to bed at 8:30 sometimes and getting up between 6:00 and 7:00 on her own! She accused me the other day of messing up her life. Eating three meals every day, up early, to bed early. Oh my!" Wow. Is this my kid? (Of course, 6:00 a.m. in Laos is 2:00 pm here, and that sounds more like her! Perhaps she's still on Pacific Time.)

They're heading to Bangkok tonight, then flying into Burma (Myanmar), behind the "bamboo curtain" tomorrow. We won't hear much of anything from there, because the ruling junta controls the internet with an iron fist and access is difficult to impossible. So enjoy Erin's blogging while it's happening!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Expanding to fill the space

When Erin was planning her Asia trip last fall I was actually looking forward to the space that would open up in my life with one less child to taxi around to lessons and activities. Erin's always been labour intensive in that respect. As of this fall she had monthly violin lessons in Calgary, weekly piano lessons in Nelson, combined with weekly Corazón choir rehearsals, also in Nelson. Wow ... the thought of not having to get her to all that stuff sounded really enticing.

It hasn't exactly turned out that my life is less full since her departure. It's true that I no longer have to make daily drop-off and pick-up trips to town to get her to and from school. But those were easy brief trips. The longer ones have continued. Last fall Noah had begun combining his local viola lessons with monthly viola lessons in Calgary "because we were there anyway." And as time went on it became clear that he really wanted to focus on the Calgary lessons and drop the local weekly lessons. Which has meant that of course we need to continue our Calgary trips in Erin's absence. And Fiona, who had begun piggy-backing her own piano lessons onto Erin's last October was on a roll and couldn't begin to think of alternating weeks, so we're going to Nelson every week and she is loving having longer lessons now that she isn't having to squeeze in around Erin's time.

And then there is the Children's Choir. She couldn't do it before, because Erin's choir and the piano lesson schedule had us in Nelson on the wrong day. But now we aren't tied to Tuesdays, so we switched piano to Mondays and Fiona has joined the Children's Choir. Their winter term ends the week after Erin gets back, so the schedule and timing are pretty perfect. When I asked the director, who knows Fiona from way back, about the age-guidelines for the Children's Choir she smiled and said "well, technically 7 to 11, but certain 5-year-olds are way more focused than a lot of 10- and 11-year-olds, so I would love to have her." She is thrilled! Click on the photo and zoom in to take a close look at the front row. Fiona is just in front of the director's hand, the tiniest body in the front pew. And as predicted, in contrast to almost all the other under-8's, Fiona is totally focused and on-task.

So there you have it. I am still driving to Nelson for piano lessons and for choir rehearsals and to Calgary for viola lessons. Where is all this extra time I was going to have, and all this extra gas that was going to be left in my tank?

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Noah has recently become very interested in machinima and is planning on working seriously to create some of his own -- especially now that he received a fast new graphics card for Christmas and bought a new, larger hard drive of the "kids' computer." I've been vaguely mystified by the genre and its attractions. Heck, I didn't even understand what it was for the longest time. Machinima is the process of using computer game sequences and video-screen-capture software to create short videos. Rather than drawing animations or using stop-motion techniques, you set up the computer game and its events and characters in such a way that you can play your way through and cause to happen on-screen sequences which can then be captured and pasted together into a video. This may involve scripting through the game's map editor or level editor in order to create the virtual environment or "movie set" that your video needs.

Noah loves the creative aspects of machinima creation -- the edition of clips and transitions, the adding of soundtracks. He's done a few little tests and has been waiting for his hardware upgrades in order to do more. He also likes it because the raw material of the machinima is the computer games of which he is so enamoured -- and that creating a machinima invites the him to exercise the scripting and editing skills he's developed over the past year or two. So far he's mostly been testing his software, and hasn't really got around to creating a storyline, but you can see what he's experimenting with at this link -- capturing video, editing it together and putting it with audio tracks.

He really enjoys watching machinima on YouTube. I would be embarrassed to report Noah's YouTube lifetime videos-viewed stats. Here's a link to a machinima that's not particularly slick, but quite creative and funny -- done by an on-line friend of Noah's for a school history project. Just beware -- recently a regular reader of this blog clicked on one of the thumbnails in one of Noah's blog-embedded links that was apparently quite inappropriate. It's clear that machinima, while nothing like pornography itself, attracts some of the same teenaged boy audience, and so the "related popular videos" links YouTube presents through statistical analysis sometimes lead to questionable content!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Unschooling for the summer

"I have heard homeschoolers say they were going to unschool for the summer months for a break and then get back to real homeschooling. Erg. "

Or here's one I have heard: "We did really well this fall and finished school three weeks early, so now we're just going to unschool until the first week of January." Erg indeed.

Unschooling is not just what's left when you take away all the school. It's something unique and amazing that gradually germinates, takes root and then springs to life -- in the presence of ongoing whole-hearted trust and freedom.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Calgary miscellany

Calgary pool. Fiona is finally getting it. She's swimming more than a couple of strokes. Monthly aliquots of cheerful persistence have finally paid off. She can almost make the length of the small hotel pool. Her goal for this trip is to do the whole length.

Sophie figured out treading water and is trying to work herself up to two minutes. Her first try was 30 seconds. By the end of tonight's session she had done two minutes! That should give her under-vigilant mother time to notice she needs rescuing if she ever gets into trouble in the water.

Noah opted to stay in the room and take a shower. He was in sorry need of a haircut and we hadn't got around to it before leaving home. So I brought the trimmer and scissors along and we cut his hair while he stood in the motel tub. I think it's normally only fugitives who cut their hair in motel bathrooms. Perhaps we can find him a stick-on beard and some peroxide to complete his disguise.

Today during the drive to Calgary we were trying to recall which weird words we use on a regular basis are ones we actually invented. We could only think of two, but I am sure there are more.

Buttsloosh - noun
(Etymology: a garbled mispronunciation of "boot slush," the grotty salty sandy stuff that ends up on the floor of the minivan in winter time) ... toilet water backsplash, or the messy results of a "backfiring powerflush"

Wobbits - noun
The state of giddy weakness that occurs when one laughs too hard. Often leads to falling off chairs, or the inability to pick oneself up after a hilariously embarrassing physical misadventure. "I was trying to tell him to stay back, but I had really bad wobbits and so I couldn't talk or point or anything."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Orchestra music is ready!

I have this little community orchestra thing. Twelve years ago someone came to my house and said "I play cello, and I hear you play violin ... and I'm trying to start a little orchestra." Erin was about 18 months old and I was happily busy being a mom, but I agreed to come along and give it a try. It was pretty dreadful for a while. A handful of wind, brass and string players, some of whom were nowhere close to playing in tune, tooting and scrubbing along with no leadership.

I started offering some suggestions, and doing a little of the music arranging. With time and experience it got somewhat less painful. Eventually we decided some conducting was a good thing, and I began sharing the directing with a couple of other folk. They preferred if I did most of it. Gradually, reluctantly, I was eased into a leadership role.

After Sophie was born I resigned for a year. The leadership and organization was too much the year I had three kids under five. I expected others would step forth to fill the leadership void, but nothing happened without me. There was no repertoire, there were no rehearsals, there was no concert. People began pestering me to start things up again the following year. I decided I would be willing to come back and take the helm again, but I had my own terms, terms that would make the endeavour manageable for me.

It had to be a string orchestra only. The intonation, balance and transposition issues were just too huge to stay 'symphonic.' Four clarinets, no violas, nine violins, a trombone, two trumpets, two cellos and an alto sax just wasn't working for me. And I wanted a flexible ensemble that could welcome my young violin students, and eventually my own children, for a selection of easier numbers.

And so the Slocan Community Orchestra was reborn the year Sophie turned one, with a couple of extra letters in its acronym. An "I" for Inter-generational and an extra "S" for String. It's been fun. My older kids have gradually slipped into the ensemble, taking on two or three easy numbers their first season, slowly gaining experience to the point where they're anchoring their sections, performing solos, helping hold things together and providing leadership. Sophie eased in a couple of years ago and is now really solid. And Fiona is now part of the orchestra this year too, playing a handful of the easier selections. The group is fantastic to work with. They're eager, respectful and hard-working, but with no egos on the line and a lovely atmosphere of humour and mutual support.

The orchestra has a lot of consistency now. There's a tradition we've built up. The same people come out every year, a few come and go, kids join when they reach Suzuki Book 3 or 4, and grow up in its midst. We have rehearsals on a schedule that everyone knows, and concerts at about the same time every year. Keeping the organization afloat is a lot less work now than it was when we were first trying to find our groove.

But there's always a crunch as I try to pull together repertoire for the first rehearsal each season. I need to have a range of styles and a range of difficulties for a huge range of players. I like to find special things for some of the students to do -- solos or other unique roles -- while also trying to ensure that the long-term adult amateur members are not feeling ignored. We're small enough in number that I need to be sensitive to the limitations of individuals and the strengths and weaknesses of particular sections in choosing repertoire. I often have to re-arrange music we purchase to accommodate for these idiosyncracies, and sometimes it's easier just to start from scratch, working by ear or from a public-domain score to pen a new arrangement.

So here we are, the day of 2009's first rehearsal. And I have the music done a full five hours early! The simplified cello parts have been penned, the abridged Corelli Concerto Grosso has been created, the solos distributed appropriately, the cello solo redistributed to viola, the Violin 3 parts have been transcribed from the viola parts where required, decisions have been made about seating and about which numbers only the most advanced players will play. And the music is all collated, stacked and ready to hand out. It's a stack of parts about 2 inches thick, and I'm really happy I'm done with this job until next year!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

An invitation

We mostly have 'family birthdays' here. Meaning we do something special as a family, usually with Grandma along, sometimes with other extended family or those lovely adult friends who are as-good-as-family. Because really, we're pretty introverted here and have never build up the expectation that one must throw a big social event on one's birthday. My older kids both tried out the social event thing a couple of times, and we did some pretty neat stuff, but mostly they've got more enjoyment from creative family-oriented things at home and away from home.

Fiona wanted to go to the Domes. Dinner, with some time in the sauna and the hot tub under the stars, and then a quiet family sleep-over in the large dome-shaped cottage at Villa Dome Quixote. Of course Grandma must come to dinner and for a soak, but she also wanted to invite one of her very special favourite adult friends.

And so she made up a tiny invitation, and together we folded a matching envelope. And then, to seal the envelope we decided to use sealing wax. We have a couple of brass seals and a few sticks of traditional sealing wax. They're kept in a wooden 'writing box' which I stocked a few years ago with pens, paper, envelopes and postal accoutrements in order to inspire the kids to write letters. I confess we entirely forget to use the post for correspondence most of the time (in this family even the youngest members have their own e-mail accounts) but it is so quaintly fun to dribble wax and affix a beautiful-even-in-its-globby-asymmetry seal to an envelope.

These folks sell lovely stuff. Wooden handles or Murano glass on brass monogram seals, pens and ink, deep red wax candles. Just promise me you'll stay away from the hot-melt glue-gun "wax" and the peel 'n stick seals they also offer.

The math watershed

This issue is one that has been coming up lots on message boards, blogs and within the discussion community at the SelfDesign program we're part of. What do we do with young children who have quickly and efficiently mastered the primary mathematics curriculum? The obvious answer is to move ahead into the secondary mathematics curriculum. But it's not quite that simple, for two main reasons.

First, the presentation of the material, when intended for a teen audience, often becomes dry and dense all of a sudden. Our beloved Singapore Math curriculum is a case in point. Look at the difference in presentation between the end of Primary and the beginning of the Secondary NMC books:

Goodbye friendly cartoon kids. Goodbye white space. Goodbye clever self-checking 'secret code' exercises. From a book which covers two problems in a two-page spread, we move to a book with over 70 short problems on a single page. My unschooled 8- to 10-year-old kids, who think of math as a nifty brain game occasionally aided by some fun pencil-and-paper exercises, have not been ready to make the transition illustrated above. It just looked too nasty and grown up, even though they were ready for the mathematics.

The other major issue is that the vast majority of homeschool curriculum choices out there are US-based, and follow the standard US practice of discarding almost all the interesting mathematical threads for two years in order to delve deeply into one particular thread, that of algebra. Variety and the discovery of inter-relationships between different areas of mathematics has always been what has kept math interesting to my kids. To set aside probability, number theory, geometry, statistics, series, patterns, algorithmic logic, topology and all that in order to focus exclusively on algebra seems such a misguided approach, particularly for fairly young children for whom math has typically been interest-led, capricious and playful.

I wish I could say that we'd found the solution. We have found a few non-solutions, and maybe a mix of partial solutions. First, the things that didn't work:

  1. Singapore's secondary programs. Though Erin did eventually get through Book 1 and part of 2, these were too dry and killed her interest in math for about four years.
  2. Teaching Textbooks was mathematically shallow and too slow-paced. The computer-based presentation was fairly friendly, but my computer-loving kids preferred their math not to be dressed up as computer entertainment (just like they prefer to just eat their broccoli, rather than having it sneaked into something else) and opted to use just the textbook. We all detested the algebra-only mono-diet as well as the excessive repetition and review.
  3. Life of Fred was a refreshing change. The humour and quirky narrative approach grabbed Noah's attention for a while. But again it was that algebra-only mono-diet that tired him out. And after a while the narrative thread began to feel like broccoli being disguised as something else.

What I've decided so far for certain is that for young pre-teens a straight algebra course is not the best way to go. That pretty much eliminates most US-based math curricula. And that's not a bad thing, though it makes for pretty slim pickings. In terms of English-language offerings it leaves Canadian school curricula, the Singaporean selections, and a few eclectic American offerings. (There may be some British or Australian or New Zealand stuff out there, but I haven't stumbled upon anything yet that has been readily available or impressive enough to warrant ordering sight-unseen from overseas.)

Eclectic is really where we're at right now. Over the past year and a bit, as Sophie closed in on the end of the Singapore Primary Math sequence, we've done a lot of eclectic grazing. I wish we'd done more, and I intend to keep grazing with her for a while. By the time I take Fiona through this transition maybe I'll have it down!

Here's what we have used, or have on hand, or are planning to use for our eclectic grazing.

  1. Calculus by and for Young People. Sophie delved into this at age 8 and it was great fun.
  2. Theoni Pappas' children's books. Delightful exploration of mathematical topics through stories, explanations and demonstrations.
  3. Hands-On Equations by Henry Borenson. Wish I'd had this for the older kids. Fiona is loving it.
  4. Alge-Tiles manipulatives and resource binder. Great fun for factoring quadratics and exploring negative unknowns and integers.
  5. The Man Who Counted by Malba Tahan. A story about a fictional mathematician full of brain-teasers woven into the story.
  6. The Number Devil by Hans Enzensberger. A very fun fictional story which romps through some of the basic concepts of number theory in creative ways.
  7. Art of Problem Solving introductory books. These are US-based but unique in that various topics like number theory, probability, geometry and algebra can be taught in parallel. I can't see us working systematically through the whole shebang, but we'll likely keep at least two or three of these around as resources. We just received our first AoPS book in the mail today and we'll see how it pans out as time goes on.
  8. MathPower textbooks. Overall these are the best systematic texts I've seen for my kids, and I found them right under our nose at the local public school. They're Canadian and cover a variety of topics at each level, but are friendlier and more varied that their Singaporean counterparts. They're visually busy though, with some classroom-oriented garbage ("discuss with a classmate and formulate a hypothesis, then present it to your class...") but they feel less intimidating than the book above. And mathematically robust? To a degree. They are conceptual and expect a fair bit from students, especially in the sidebar challenge projects and exercises.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Vivaldi at five

It's not a race. It's never a race. It's about how you play, not what you play. It's about becoming a violinist, not consuming repertoire. It's not about how old you are, or how advanced for your age. None of that. It's about growing as a human being through the discipline of music study.

But I will say this. I am amazed and proud to be the mom of a 5-year-old girl who is growing as a human being through the study of Vivaldi's violin concerto in a minor.

Vivaldi always feels like the real thing, the beginning of the big time. Go Fiona!

Notes from Asia

Some of you have been curious for word of Erin, and I realized that while I've been forwarding tidbits to extended family, I haven't shared much here.

All seems to be well. Every few days one or another member of their party seems to manage to snag a few minutes at an internet café and something trickles back to North America. Here are some quotes:

From Erin, upon arrival in Bangkok:

"OK last night we had New Years Eve in Bangkok. Khaosan Road was so insane. We were going to go there for midnight but we had to leave because it was just so ridiculously packed and rowdy. At the end of the street you couldn't even move (I am not even close to exaggerating) and you basically had to stab people or something to make any headway.

"Holy cow everything is so cheap here. There's 30 baht to 1 US dollar, and you can get a super nice meal for like 25 baht. I'm going to throw out all the clothes I brought at the end when we come back to Bangkok (except my preshy SVI shirt) and just buy a zillion new awesome clothes. When I go shopping at the end of the trip I'm going to keep track of how much everything cost me and then you can all be jealous of my super awesome bargaining skillz.

"I'm so over jet lag now because of all the coffee I have in the mornings and the beer I have at night. But tomorrow we have to get up at 4:00 or something so I'll be tired again."

From F.:

"We are eating good food off the street, pushing peoples comfort zones. We are quite proud of the girls for trying anything that comes along. The beer is good, the ice coffee is great and the swimming pool is perfect. Erin is really enjoying the pool as well as everything else. "

From T.G.:

"Today's your daughter's 15th birthday! We haven't been able to find her a violin to play on for a while, had to settle for some unique Laos crispy spicy snack and some very cool looking candy so far! She's been a wonderful companion and roommate and I dearly hope C. and I are not driving her too crazy! You have a lovely daughter and I'm enjoying how easily she laughs and krinkles her nose when she's pleased."

Again from F.:

"We were able to book a 2 day 1 night [kayaking] trip with the night being spent in a village. What a great trip we had. To begin with the river was wonderful, full of grade 1-2 rapids and lots of them. The scenery was spectacular. Beautiful forests the whole way. Of course we stopped off in a couple of villages along route before stopping for the night in another village. The village prepared dinner and breakfast and we had a thatched house for the group to sleep in. Lots of laughs along the way....

"Erin's only request for her birthday was that she wanted to sleep in and that is what she got to do just by sheer chance since we have been on the road early just about every day. She read, wrote stories and just basically relaxed. Tonight we have a donut cake with with candles for her. She seems to be settling in fairly, still can't get her to take any photos, but we are working on it."

Friday, January 09, 2009

Long walk for a veggie melt

After a few days of pretty much being stuck at home I decided today deserved a winter adventure. We begged a ride to town with Chuck and then headed to a café for lunch. Veggie melts are a favourite, though today it was only Noah who opted for this choice, the rest of us trying other fare.

And then we started walking home. The snow had begun falling again, after two days of rain and melting, and the white began to make things pretty again.

The only place to walk these days is on the highway, the shoulders being heaped up with half-frozen mounds of snow and slush, but the road is closed so there wasn't really any traffic -- just an occasional Ministry of Highways vehicle or machine.

It took about an hour and a half. Fiona walked the whole way -- I was so proud of her. It's not easy walking relentlessly uphill over almost 4 kilometres of snow and slush and ice with heavy winter boots on your feet.

What did we do today? We went to town and had lunch, and came home again. That was about it. But it was pretty big for us.

The really good news was that the UPS and mail trucks got through today, and Sophie's Rosetta Stone French arrived, as did the new hard drive Noah bought for the "kids' computer." So there are some happy kids here tonight!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Roads closed

This is the road to our house. Two of the three roads out of our area have been closed for a day already, the third in treacherously poor condition. We drive around this avalanche arm to get home -- the avalanches are much higher up the mountain than our place. Still, we feel a combination of adventurousness, privilege and defiance as we drive around it.

Not that we're driving around it very often. We managed to borrow Chuck's truck for a couple of hours to get to Aikido this afternoon, but otherwise we're pretty much stuck at home. He's on call so he really needs the truck. When we took it today he had to spend the time sitting at the hospital in case an emergency came in.

So we're at home. There's lots of math, yoga, reading, baking, reading and snow-shovelling happening.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Fourteen? Fifteen?

Due to the quirks of the International Dateline, Erin will be 15 for about a day and a half longer than she was 14. Weird.

She's already 15 now, in Northern Laos. Her birthday is tomorrow, here.

Snow on roofs

The snow is so high that in places the kids and the dog can just hop up onto the roof. So there they were, building a snowman and having a blast. A snowman now graces our ridge-line like a weather vane.

That roof is plenty strong. The one that comprises the carport -- not so much. So we headed over there and started shovelling a winter's worth of accumulated soggy snow off the, oh, maybe 600 square feet of roof. It took four of us two hours. It's a shed-style roof and after a while the pile of snow we'd shovelled off was in a continuous slope with the pitch of the roof. So of course the kids brought the Zipfys up and tried sledding from the top of the carport right off and down into the woods. I eventually nixed this, not because of the risk of skull fractures from collisions with trees, but because of the risk of untreatable skull fractures, since we can't get out, and an ambulance certainly couldn't get in.

But we got the snow off. So the carport won't collapse, crushing the van and forcing us to purchase a swanky little Delica.

Snowed in

We've had a lot of snow in the last couple of days. There's now more on the ground than we've had at any point during the past twelve years, I think. This photo looks out from the kitchen window over the sink. The billows of snow in the foreground stand almost 4 feet high -- and they haven't been shovelled that high, that's just what's fallen.

See the pear tree just to the left of the play structure? Its trunk is completely obscured, as are some of the lower branches.

But it's warmed up a lot today. The snow is now too wet and heavy to snowblow, too plentiful to plough (there's no longer anywhere to push it), and an hour and a half of shovelling by hand cleared only about 30 feet of our 200-metre-long driveway. I've given up.

Unfortunately our new snow tires haven't solved the piddly-ground-clearance issue on the van. We have 8 to 10 inches on the driveway, and that's way too much for the van. We are snowed in for the forseeable future. Chuck's truck can get in and out, thankfully, so he's able to get to the hospital. But for the rest of us ... it'll be a while.

(A Delica could get up the driveway, of course. But we don't have one of those.)

The power is still on, amazingly enough. We've had a few flickers this morning, but no outages that have been sustained.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ten muffins

We used to bake a dozen muffins at a time -- two for everyone. These days we leave two cups empty. We all get bigger chocolate-millet banana muffins!

So cooking for five rather than six has its advantages.

We cook pizza at least once a week. Our previous routine was two large pizzas and that fed six comfortably and fit in the oven. We have enough room in the oven for five personal pizzas but not six. So the other night I made up small pizzas and let everyone dress their own. Fiona was thrilled.

"I like personable pizzas!" she exclaimed.

We chuckled. Yup, and they like you too, Fiona.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Shooting craps

Sophie was working through some number theory and probability problems from "The Art of Problem Solving" today, things way beyond her working math level, and doing pretty well at exploring them creatively and coming up with some valid approaches and correct answers. She really enjoyed the challenge. So this afternoon after she finished some algebra work, we headed off into the probability section of her current textbook to see what we could find.

In there was some basic work and a few dice problems. She had fun with that, but as usual we pushed beyond the learning there, recalling the probability dots on the "Settlers of Catan" board game we have. We decided to mathematically work out the probabilities of different rolls from two six-sided dice and then compare to the actual frequency. Once we started rolling dice Fiona got involved too and for a while I had two girls fanatically rolling dice and calling out their sums while I marked them down.

It was the sort of thing that would have flopped with the kids if I'd told them I had a lesson plan. But because it grew out of Sophie's own tangent of interest there was lots of enthusiasm. We rolled the dice over 500 times.

The graph shows our tallies over time. The lowest line is the plot of our snapshot above. Each successive line was taken from a subsequent snapshot. Eventually our tally did approximate the nicely triangular predicted pattern, but there was a mysterious lack of 9's and a surfeit of 7's. I suspect that either our dice are a bit loaded, or Fiona occasionally mis-called her sums, opting for speed over accuracy. I guess you'd call those experimental variables.

Supper was a little late as a result of all our crap-shooting.

On another tack, today represents Noah's first day back on the math horse. We had one amazing spurt of math progress, he and I, a couple of years ago, when he completed four grade levels of Singapore Math in about 6 months. But since finishing Singapore Primary Math we have found it tough to hit our stride again. We've tried a couple of different programs with middling success. When we'd hit a little bump my tendency was to give it a few days and try again. But that didn't work well. He would dread the trying again, and I would dread his disinterest and anxiety, and we'd put it off, and it would be harder than ever to find a groove when we tried again.

We now think that the real ticket to math success with this boy is the same as it is with viola -- do a fair bit of it every day so that it gets easy, because when it's easy, it's fun. Noah easily gets discouraged and panicky if stuff feels at all unfamiliar, and that makes it hard, and then the fun is gone. So we're on a quest for math momentum now, trying to prime the pump that results in self-reinforcing success and enjoyment. Today went well. All review, but with a fresh outlook and some interesting brain teasers and some solid independent self-checking work that left him feeling confident and independent. Onwards!

Knitty girls, and dog

This photo is from before Christmas (and you can see "Erin, the couch-prop," as Sophie has been known to refer to her, under the laptop to the right) but I had to wait until after Christmas to post it because a couple of surprise gifts are shown. Sophie's and Fiona's knitting skills are continuing to improve.

Sophie is now a member of Ravelry and is brilliantly capable. She can knit a gauge swatch, follow a pattern, adapt it, do fair-isle stranding and all sorts of other fancy stuff. She is working here on the scarf we made collaboratively for my sister, using alternating stripes of different balls of Noro Kureyon yarn. She was so enthralled by the serendipitous interweaving of colours that she's started a similar scarf for herself.

Fiona contributed a little bit of her own knitting to this same scarf and in the process learned how to purl. This gave her a renewed zeal for knitting and she returned to a languishing project, a bean bag that she wanted to make for her grandma. The bean bag was intended as a teaching aid for violin lessons. She became much quicker at knitting and her mistake-rate dropped to minimal levels such that she now finds knitting gratifying. She finished the bean bag in time to give it as a Christmas gift upon her grandma's arrival back from Ontario.

Sophie, Fiona and I all felt somewhat at a loss once our Christmas knitting projects were completed. But gradually we're finding new projects to turn our needles to.