Monday, March 30, 2009

Video O4L

My mom got a new camcorder and let us borrow it this week. Fiona and I decided that for this week we would do her reporting for the SelfDesign program by way of video. There are some fairly random snippets here, just showing off a few different activities that illustrate the range of things she puts her energy into over the course of a week. We put in some of her detail-slogging on violin, because I wanted to show how much more mature she's getting in her practicing. She was really enthusiastic about demonstrating Hands-On Equations, so we put a fair bit of that in too.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Odd-numbered days

There was a time in my life when I really loved running. It probably started when I was interning in Newfoundland. I'd bike to Logy Bay Road and run out to the cliffs at Middle Cove. The feeling of being out on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, between rock and sky, really hooked me. My running really kicked into high gear when I moved to Halifax and discovered Point Pleasant Park. And when I moved to BC it continued all over Monte Christo peak right up until I was 22 weeks pregnant with Erin.

And then .... I remember running shortly after she was born, but it just wasn't the same. Whatever vessel running helped fill inside me was being drained at least as quickly by the juggling required to leave my very attached little baby behind. Mountainous trail-running was what I was doing, definitely not conducive to a baby-jogger. So that was that. I didn't really miss it. I had a baby. And then another, and another and another.

Eventually I was missing my running. There was a period of time after Sophie was born where I felt a terrible need for something like running. I tried getting out a few times. Various kids wanted to come with me. I tried running slowly with a 6-year-old sidekick who got tired after 300 metres. I tried letting two kids bike along beside me while pushing one in the stroller but our only road was a highway; we were a convoy of fragile wobbly beings sharing the road with logging trucks. It wasn't good. With Chuck on call so much and various nurslings needing me throughout the night it was not so simple to just "get up early and leave the kids with dad." I tried a few times with the desperation borne of feeling my precious running moments were being borrowed from the rest of my life. I got shin splints. I gave up. I turned into a couch potato. Or a mouse potato, actually, as we refer to my species here.

My friend Debbie has inspired me. Having never run before in her life she has gradually over the past two months worked herself along the Couch to 5k program. Two or three weeks ago she began to even really like running, and now she's finding herself enjoying (of all things) running outdoors! As she shared her progress it suddenly dawned on me that most of the barriers to my running had disappeared over the past year or so. My kids can now be safely left home alone in various combinations. They don't even mind. Even Fiona, who loves going everywhere with everyone, can be persuaded to hang out at home with her siblings without too much effort.

So I'm following Debbie on the C25k path. I figure if I start really slowly I'll avoid the shin splints I've encountered the last few times I tried to start running. I started right at the beginning of the program, with the leisurely walk-run-walk intervals. So far the only injury I've encountered was a nasty blister on Day 2, thanks to my old worn-out trail runners -- and I barely even noticed it until I got home and noticed all the blood (the kids thought it all quite hideous). I'm cheating a little. I ramped things up to Week 2 a day early. But so far I'm keeping things pretty sane, going slow, giving myself a recovery day in between, running for now on the odd-numbered days.

I love the excuse to get out all by myself into the wide outdoors for something as energizing as a run. I've promised to run with Fiona on any of the in-between days if she wants, but odd-numbered days are mine.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


The five marked written subtests of Noah's Foundation Skills Assessment test came back in the mail today. I was assuming I'd quietly tuck them away and not reveal the results unless he happened to remember to ask about them, something I figured was unlikely. He's a real perfectionist and I figured he would be unhappy with whatever score he got. He's never had his academic skills measured before, and I know he's getting to an age where he's starting to wonder whether he stacks up okay against school's expectations, likely expecting evidence that he doesn't.

But his scores were perfect across the board.

So I told him.

"Does this mean I'm awesome?" he asked gleefully.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Can't find Fiona

Fiona began sounding out words at three, and at age 4 1/2 could read pretty much any word, or collection of words. But surprisingly her pleasure-reading didn't really take off as I'd expected. She was very close to becoming a fluent reader, and certainly wasn't sounding everything out any more, but she didn't seem interested in reading to herself.

We didn't discover her profound far-sightedness until she was 5 1/2. Her uncorrected vision at that point was 20/200, on the threshold of "legally blind." When she got her glasses last summer, she improved to 20/70 immediately, and 20/40 in her best eye by last fall. And that far-sightedness was obviously what was preventing her from truly becoming a reader. Late last fall (once she reached 20/40) things really started taking off. Now that she could decipher the smaller fonts she was happily reading to herself from easy chapter books like Magic Treehouse, Boxcar Children, The Littles and Catwings. She would bring books with her in the van, to rehearsals, to meetings, anywhere she'd need to amuse herself for a little while.

A few days ago I went to pick up a novel Erin was borrowing from a friend to use for her English 10 assignment. As I drove home Fiona, in her car seat in the back, apparently picked it up and read a few pages. When I noticed what she was doing I laughed and told her it was a Grade 10 book. "Really?" Fiona asked. "So I can read a Grade 10 book?" I guess so.

That night she told me she wanted to start reading novels, not "chapter books." She said she was finding her easy chapters books kind of boring and repetitive and asked me to help her look through the bookshelves for some proper children's novels about animals. She enthusiastically packed all the Beginning Reader Chapter books into the Donation Store box. We dug up Avi's Dimwood Forest Chronicles, William Steig's "Abel's Island," some Redwall, the first "Guardians of Ga'hoole" book and a few others. And she dived in, with great delight.

She now disappears for long stretches of the day, during which an eerie quiet descends on the household, and can be discovered cozied up in her bed-nook reading her way through whatever the latest book is. She has been totally thrilled (and surprised!) to discover what a strong reader she now is.

Car wash

This post is for my friend K____ who always takes Fiona under her wing while Noah and I are busy at quartet rehearsals, sometimes sitting down with her to look through this blog and read and talk about the stuff they find here ... and who bugged me about not posting about the bottle drive her family and mine worked a couple of weeks ago. "Well," I said, "I forgot to bring the camera, and I don't write blog posts if I don't have a photo to get me started."

So this morning when we headed out for another community fundraiser I knew I'd need to remember my camera or lose all credibility. I brought it to the car wash and it only got a little wet. The kids worked hard from 11 until 3 pm. I guess we must have washed more than 50 cars. The car wash is an annual spring event run by the community club, with monies donated to groups who help provide manpower. This year a significant part of that manpower was provided by the local members of Corazón Youth Choir and their families.

Fiona enjoyed her special role as Keeper of the Keys, hanging onto the ignition keys during the pre-wash, wash and rinse stations, and then returning the keys to the vehicle's owner over at the BBQ & beverage waiting area.

Everyone got rather wet, despite rubber boots and rain gear. The high pressure spray (hooked up to a fire hydrant without an excess of pressure down-regulation) was enjoyed by all the kids, and wearing soapy mittens was pretty fun, especially if you applauded! The weather was thankfully very mild on this first day of spring, and the sun even poked out a few times -- though the propane-powered mini-handwarming station was much appreciated.

It was another one of those pretty cool community workbees where adults from various walks of life and children of various ages worked cheerfully alongside each other having fun and doing good work. I'm so glad we live in a small town where these sorts of opportunities regularly present themselves.

Corazón leaves on their tour tomorrow. Another week without Erin!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's not spring

Look how much it's not spring at our house. An early spring here means the snow is gone by April 1st. We are way beyond hope of an early spring, methinks.

Other people's mistakes

Noah's writing has really taken off in the past 18 months or so. He actually enjoys writing and has got quite good at it. He can build a story, turn a phrase, express himself well. All the building blocks of good writing are well in hand -- with the notable exception of punctuation.

His writing is fresh and new; he wrote nothing at all until he was 10. He is so perfectionistic and sensitive to expectations that I don't want to suggest corrections. I want to leave him to write to satisfy his own muse and to enjoy the process. But it's true that ultimately I would like him to understand the function of apostrophes and commas and full stops.

As happens more often than I'd care to admit I was mulling over advice I was about to give to someone when I realized that I'd do well to take my own advice. Another homeschooling mom had posted about a perfectionistic reluctant writer and I was going to suggest practicing editing other people's mistakes. And then I realized that I'd long intended to try that tactic with Noah and I should probably give it a whirl, and maybe, just maybe, someone published a program like that. A quick look led me to the "Editor in Chief" series from Critical Thinking Press.

We've started with the beginner book because it's the one that systematically teaches the rules for proper capitalization / punctuation / etc., and introduces editors mark-ups. Noah, who has never had any interest whatsoever in bookwork other than math, perked right up when I showed it to him. "Other people's mistakes!" he said, "I like finding those!"

The exercises take five to ten minutes each so it's easy to do a few in a session. There's a short bit of text to read which contains some errors. Then you either play detective, finding "5 grammatical mistakes, 3 punctuation errors, 2 spelling mistakes and 2 capitalization errors" or else answering some multiple choice questions about appropriate corrections to particular phrases. Noah doesn't need the work on spelling or grammar, but I'm glad those errors are in there, because he takes great delight in the obvious stupidity of these mistakes. The punctuation is of course the area that he's learning the most from, and having to work the hardest at. But after just one day he's already learned a ton -- in a manner that has been completely non-threatening and non-judgemental to him.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

London Fogs

This family has become addicted to London Fogs. The kids and I are prone to drinking two to three a day -- each! They started out as a BC lower mainland invention, quickly spread to Washington state and the interior of BC, and we are doing our best to export the contagion elsewhere. Here is our recipe, refined for ease of production by children:

1 Earl Grey teabag
1/2 a mug of boiling water
1/2 a mug of steamed milk
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Set tea to steep with water. Steam milk and add this along with the other ingredients. Mix. Remove teabag and begin drinking as soon as the fog reaches a nice medium brown tea-like colour.

We sometimes use a Tbsp. or two of vanilla syrup, the kind cafés have on hand to make vanilla lattés with, in lieu of the brown sugar and vanilla extract. That's the official barrista way of making them. And because our dairy consumption has gone way up since we discovered these, we've recently begun making a soy-based London Fog premix. We make 2 litres of soymilk, add a 1/4 tsp. of salt, 3/4 of a cup of sugar and 3 Tbsp. of vanilla extract. Then all we need to do is combine one part Earl Grey tea with one part premix for a quick and easy dairy-free version.

We highly recommend London Fogs for greasing the wheels of family meetings, for improving math concentration, and for cozying up with for a readaloud.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Note naming

Noah has been working hard to fill his note-naming gaps. He's got some history on this one. Way back in 2004/5 when he was taking piano he was really struggling to name the notes on the grand staff. To the point that anxiety and a sense of failure on this count contributed directly to his decision to quit piano. It probably didn't help that he was learning three clefs simultaneously -- treble and bass for piano, and alto for viola. I was sure that he was just taking his own sweet time learning to read music and that it would eventually come. His viola teacher was happy to keep teaching his new repertoire by ear; his piano teacher was not. So piano fell by the wayside.

He did learn to sight-read just fine. Over the next year or two his viola reading skills came along nicely. The first year he was in the community orchestra he struggled to learn his parts. By the second year he wasn't really needing any help. He's been the section leader now for two years now and is a strong player who learns his parts quickly and is a capable leader. In quartet he does beautifully. Summit Strings is the same. The first rehearsal he sometimes muddles around a bit, like everyone, and by the second rehearsal, with almost no work at home, he's got it nailed. He functions in ensembles as if he's a very strong sight reader, and that's true even if he's alone on his part.

But then this year he's begun learning more complex viola repertoire without any aural context. No recordings, no ensemble rehearsals. And he's been having lots of trouble. He can get the gist of a piece from the written page, but without some sort of harmonic and rhythmic context that he can hear, he can't sort out the details. About three months ago, as I helped him along with some of his repertoire learning, I suddenly discovered that he cannot name the notes. He sees a note on the page, and while he may know what it should sound like and how he would produce that sound on the instrument, he still does not know the letter-name associated with it.

It turns out that this is a problem. You cannot communicate easily about music without this nomenclature. And some aspects of music theory, and hence the details of music reading, really require some sort of note-naming system. Note-naming is helpful and necessary for certain musical tasks, especially at advanced levels. It's become an issue this year as he's been working with a new teacher at a new level.

The graphic above illustrates the four related aspects of pitch that a viola player, or any instrumentalist, needs to put together. Clockwise from top left:
the location of the note on the musical staff
the letter name associated with the note
the location of the note on the instrument
the sound of the note
What has become clear is that Noah connects three of those aspects just fine, but none of those three are properly connected to the note-name. When shown a note on the staff he can hum it and he can find it on his viola. When he hears a note he can tell you how it's played on the viola and where it would lie on the staff. But the note-name? Nope. Not most of the time.

Only six or eight note names have much meaning for Noah -- the names of his open strings and of three or four other landmark notes. And so when he needs to name a note he relies on an inefficient and intellectually taxing work-around. He figures out the interval between the unknown note and one of his "landmark notes" by mentally imagining himself fingering the notes on his viola or by imagining the sound of the unknown note and the landmark note and comparing them. He knows the name of the landmark, so he then runs through the alphabet as he counts his way back up or down the interval to the unknown note. What a lot of steps! No wonder he used to get all anxious and teary when asked to do speedy note-naming quizzes at his piano lessons, poor boy!

So anyway now that we've honed in on exactly where the difficulty is, we're more than half way to solving it because we can now target the precise connections he needs. He has four or five daily exercises we've devised for strengthening the connection between both the written and the played aspects of pitch and the note names. He's making good progress even though the work is difficult for him. It's as though he's a boy who has been taking the long roundabout route to his friend's house for years, not knowing there was a direct short-cut through the woods, so that he's created a well-worn roundabout path that seems comfortably familiar and obvious. It's hard to veer off into the undergrowth of the woods even though we know that's how he ought to be going. So now he's doing the hard work of trail-building in the woods. It isn't a whole heap of fun, but he's doing it anyway -- because he wants the ease and efficiency it promises, and because he trusts his teacher when she tells him he needs this pathway.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


It means "a seminar retreat," or "training and living together." At our dojo, for the children, it's an aikido intensive that, while it doesn't involve any overnights, does include shared meals, activities, chores and classes over the course of a long day. This is Sophie's 4th gasshuku, including the summer aikido camp. She tested for and received her yellow belt at the last one. And for the first time Fiona was welcome to try the gasshuku, provided I could be available to take her home at mid-day if she was running out of steam. She was keen to give it a try.

They started by cleaning the dojo floor, and then with a double class. The first hour was devoted to including the younger children (the age-group Fiona is technically in), the ones not doing the gasshuku. There was a lot of stretching and review of simple skills, and a couple of games. After a quick break the next hour was more focused on practicing and refining skills. I was in the kitchen prepping lunch but I could hear them working really hard. By lunch time they were all rubber-legged.

After lunch they had outdoor activities for an hour or so. Then it was back into the dojo for more skills development. By this time one other under-8 had joined the class, so Fiona had someone a little more her size to work with when partnering up. They worked on balance, stance, focus, co-operating, sensing and responding to partners, wooden sword skills and a variety of throws and movements.

Despite a snowstorm the gasshuku was fairly well-attended. There are two sets of aikido classes in the region taught by the same two sensei, but the dojo near us is the real thing and the kids from the other program love to come out here for special events like this.

At the end of the classes they played some more games like shark, spider tag and sumo, all favourites with the kids. The kids were all dragging by then with rubber legs and sore knees.

The last event of the day is the belt-testing. No one was actually testing for a belt this time, but all students go through the testing for their upcoming level at every gasshuku. Fiona had decided in an advance that she wouldn't do this part, but when it came time and all the big kids were doing it she just went ahead an did what was in essence mock testing for her yellow belt.

At the end everyone was presented with a certificate of participation and the group photo followed.

Fiona was asleep by the time we got home in the van. A very self-satisfied sleep, though.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Eleanor Rigby

Noah's quartet has always been interested in moving beyond the boundaries of classical music. They've played folk tunes, video-game themes and movie soundtrack themes as well as good old Bach, Haydn and Mozart. Last year they also had fun with arrangements of the Beatles' "Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby."

I'm in my mid-forties, and the Beatles were retro even when I was a kid. But I owned almost all their albums when I was a teen because the music was so great, and because the Beatles had sort of "come back" into the realm of cool even amongst my metal-head friends. And they're back again in our little town a generation later -- or probably they never went out at all. At last weekend's bottle drive they provided the soundtrack of choice for the two 13-year-old girls we were sorting skunky beer cans and pop cans with. And this season we're working on Eleanor Rigby with the community orchestra. Which means that our motley crew of 50-somethings, teens and tweens, and everyone in between and beyond, are suddenly sharing pop music, and loving it. And Eleanor Rigby is one of the pieces Fiona chose to challenge herself with learning to play in the orchestra so even she is getting a piece of the Beatles.

All of which led me to a downtown independent Calgary record store at 8:45 on a Friday night with a little girl in tow to purchase a Beatles compilation CD. "I play Eleanor Rigby on my violin," she explained to the greasy-long-haired guy in a black Aerosmith T-shirt who rang through our purchase. "No way, cool!" he responded, asking her how old she was. She grinned and told him she was six, and then eagerly took the CD and receipt from him, tucking it under her arm. Probably not his typical Friday night clientèle.


It took her forever. She was rather cautious and overly cerebral about learning to swim. She really didn't much like getting her face wet and wanted to master "swimming on the surface" first, she said. She'd get around to dunking her face later on. A tough way to go about it, especially given the fact that she has scant bouyancy due to having next to no body fat. But she kept at it, in good cheer and with serious commitment, eagerly grabbing an hour or two every month or two in the hotel pool in Calgary.

Finally just after Christmas she started to get it. She set herself the challenge of swimming the length of the hotel pool after which she figured she could call herself a real swimmer. And she practiced and practiced, swimming along the edge of the pool time and time again, making it another 30 centimetres each time before grabbing the side. And after a few dozen tries she finally made it. Since then she's become more and more of a fish. She's now happy swimming in the deep end on her own even when I'm watching from as far away as the adjacent hot tub.

This trip I finally remembered to bring the camera to the pool to document her solo swimming for her dad. Which was great, because this was the trip where she really lost all fear and felt like a true fish. She was pretty pleased with herself, I think.

As an aside, you'll see that she even swims with her glasses. From the moment she got her glasses last summer she has been unwilling to live without them for a moment. If a lens pops out (as they are wont to do, being rather thick and worn on the face of a pretty active girl) she weeps. This stoical little girl who hardly ever cries ... she becomes despondent at the thought of having to do without her glasses. Last summer we lost a screw on the floor of a rehearsal room and the entire rehearsal ground to a halt, as it was clear to everyone in the room from the look on Fiona's face and the quivering of her lower lip that finding the screw was an immediate priority. Find it we did. Having been thus reminded how far we live from an optician, we now carry a full emergency optometry repair kit everywhere we go. Everywhere.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Copier miracle

I loved my multifunction copier/printer. Truly loved it. For almost a year and a half I wondered how I, a homeschooling mom, music teacher, music arranger and ensemble director, arts volunteer, society board member, etc., ever lived without it. And then it suddenly gave me an inexplicable error message. A seemingly terminal irreparable error message. On-line troubleshooters and tech support sites inevitably led to that horrible screen that says "Contact your local service rep." Horrible because really, how likely is it that an inexpensive 21st century piece of technological hardware can be repaired? For less than the cost of shipping it across the province and back? Odds are 10 to 1 that if I paid the $40 to ship it out, it would be a one-way trip. And on the remote chance that it could be repaired, well, it would very likely cost more than the replacement would.

After a month of limping along without a printer or copier, I prepared for the inevitability of replacing it. I had packed it away on the floor in the corner of our room of chaos. I decided to do just one last test before heading out to Calgary. Maybe I would swap the toner cartridges one last time, or try some random combinations of buttons that might reinitialize the firmware. I plugged it in.

It works! For no reason at all, it works again. Like a charm. The error message is gone. I suppose it was just getting a little discouraged, it being February and all, and needed a break.

Of back burners

It was gone.

Now it has returned.

The interest in math. She is barrelling ahead in her Singapore book again, easily internalizing things that I expected a child so young would really struggle with. The efficiency of her learning still surprises me. She's excited to be mastering new concepts and algorithms, to be filling in pages, starting new sections, seeing her progress through the program. But that's not what this post is about. This post is really about three or four months of Fiona not doing math.

Blogs and on-line communities present a very distorted view of homeschooling. You frequently see only the "best of". You don't see the long stretches of nothing. For three or four months Fiona's interest in math has been negligible. For more than a hundred days over the past few months I could have posted "another day of no math." But I didn't. Why not? Because I wasn't worried so I didn't feel the need to speculate about what was going on. Because it's hard to take cute photos of a kid "not doing math." Because I was just not struck by the urge to write about how she had barely touched a pencil since Hallowe'en.

But today, recognizing again how easy it is to inadvertently present a distorted image of homeschooling on-line, I am posting this cute picture but instead choosing to inform everyone of the many many recent days when Fiona did not do any math at all. The scene above is a change from what has been our recent "normal."

Why do kids go through phases like this, when they suddenly lose interest? I think there are two main reasons. The first is that they recognize that they're not as ready as they'd like to be for what's next in their learning. The second is that they've got something else they're busy learning that is taking precedence. I can see that Fiona has struggled a little with the multi-step word problems Singapore introduces at this level; the bar-diagram method of pre-algebraic problem-solving for these sorts of problems just doesn't sit well with her yet. And there's no doubt that piano is where her intellectual drive has been flowing. This time it's been easy for me to see why math shifted onto the back burner for a while.

However it's not always clear to me what the reasons are. Not at the time. Sometimes I only see it in retrospect, because during the loss of interest phase the stuff that's instead come to the front burner hasn't necessarily revealed itself yet. But I now, after years of watching children learn, know it's cooking. I've seen it enough times -- several months of aimlessness and loss of apparent interest followed by a sudden bursting forth of new abilities, motivation and productivity. I don't doubt it any more.

Asia photos

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Erin's visit to Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. What else but Saint-Saëns could accompany this?

Monday, March 09, 2009


Dear parent who is asking about the latest and greatest disciplinary techniques:

Discpline (which really means "teaching") isn't about techniques, IMO. Techniques tend to be about finding ways to make your child do what you want and not do what she wants. Disciplinary techniques tend to put behaviour ahead of relationship, correction ahead of understanding, authority ahead of empathy.

True discipline is helping your child internalize the desire to behave compassionately, respectfully, empathetically, responsibly and in accordance with social customs so that she wants to behave well and has the tools she needs to do so. As I see it this desire to behave well is built upon a strong respectful relationship with parents who walk the talk. In other words parents who behave with compassion, empathy, responsibility and respect, who treat the child with the understanding and grace that should be accorded any fellow human being, young or old.

No techniques required.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The race that is childhood

Message board copy & paste:

"One of the bragging points is 'My little Johnny doesn't watch those shows anymore. He's much too mature for Barney and Dora. He much prefers watching Arthur and Spiderman.' "

My, everything has got so competitive, hasn't it? Even child-rearing is a race.

It breeds something I call pseudo-maturity -- the adoption of pop-culture affinities, behaviours and attitudes of people who are older than you. Kids are considered "ahead" of their peers if they like the pop icons, clothing, music and friendship of kids older than they are. And so we have 4-year-olds who are too cool for Treehouse, thongs for 8-year-olds, and Grade 5 classes where everyone has a "crush" on someone.

But none of this real maturity, which I would define as a strong sense of values, a secure sense of self, and the impulse control and sense of responsibility required to act on those core values. I've noticed that often it's the kids who exhibit relatively "young" likes, meaning they still play with stuffies at age 10 or admit to enjoying Treehouse at age 6, are the ones who end up demonstrating the most real maturity.

(Do I dare admit that my kids have occasionally vegged in front of "Treehouse" up to the age of 10?)

An iPod family

We are an iPod family, it must be said. With the addition of Erin's new Nano, and the passing down of her old Nano, everyone but Chuck now has one. (He's been repeatedly asked if he's interested in one, and has said no every time. He seems more interested in broadcast radio, which the iPods don't have. But a few days ago he saw an ad for the Touch and expressed an interest ... but I think he only wants the cool games, so I'm pretending I didn't hear.)

Erin bought the first iPod, a 2nd generation Nano. She called it "my precious" (LOTR reference) and used it endlessly, for both her violin/piano repertoire listening and for pop and classical entertainment music. A year later Sophie, who had been hoarding her allowance for years, bought our family's second Nano. She uses hers for classical music, Vinyl Café podcasts and the occasional audiobook.

After becoming addicted to podcasts on my computer, I finally caved in. I bought a used Nano on eBay for thirty bucks and was hooked. But then three or four months later something tragic happened. I left my iPod in the hotel in Calgary. We were about 20 minutes out of town on our way to pick up some rabbits, when I realized. I called the hotel. They retrieved my iPod and promised to hold it until my next visit. I barely made it through the month. When I returned to Calgary -- horrors! My iPod had been stolen from the lost and found room! Thirty bucks and I'd only got three months of ecstasy.

I held off for another month. But when Fiona's furiously hoarded allowance had accumulated sufficiently that it was time to head to the electronics superstore for her first Nano I realized I could hold out no longer. I bought myself a new iPod Classic. It was an incredible extravagance for me. I have great difficulty spending money on myself. For six months afterwards I carried a little piece of paper around in my wallet, ticking off lattés that I had not ordered when taking the kids to lunch, cafés or whatever. Once I accumulated 80 ticks I figured I had done an iPod's worth of financial penance.

Erin had long outgrown her old Nano. We'd never given our kids a little hunk of technology before, but she had made such careful and thorough use of her Nano that for her birthday this year we bought her a new one, eight times bigger and two generations newer. Noah, who used to play the iPod luddite and mutter about how there was nothing you could do with an iPod that you couldn't do some other way, and what a frivolous little gizmo it was, received Erin's old one and is now an enthusiastic convert.

We bought a little cassette tape adapter and now have iPod connectivity in the minivan. And last week I bought us an inMotion speaker dock. I listened to the Bose SoundDock (for three times the price -- I certainly wasn't going to spend that much) and this little guy from Altec Lansing and I honestly couldn't hear the difference, and I am pretty picky about sound. It charges all our iPods, gives us portable speaker output and even has an FM radio for the dad-guy.

But the main reason I'm writing this post is to recommend some of the things we love to listen to on our iPods. I'm into lists lately; have you noticed?

1. Suzuki repertoire recordings. I think every Suzuki family should start their "career" with a notebook, instrument, music book, a listening CD and an iPod to rip the CD to. It makes that daily listening so easy.
2. iTunes downloads of multiple recordings of advanced music repertoire so that students can listen to various interpretations of the pieces they're learning.
3. Mike Ford's "Canada Needs You" Volumes 1 & 2, for a fun, funny and catchy musical introduction to various characters and episodes from Canada's history
4. RadioLab's podcasts. Science, curiosity and a quirky fun production style.
5. Vinyl Café podcasts. Stuart Maclean's Vinyl Café storytelling has had this family laughing for years. Now the CBC publishes a podcast every week.
6. Audiobooks from Here's the real reason I don't mind driving to Calgary every month. A new audiobook will keep me happy through hours of boring driving while the kids nap. Recently I've enjoyed Eleanor Updale's "Montmorency" (a YA novel), Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" and André Dubus III's "The House of Sand and Fog."
7. This American Life podcasts. I look forward to these every week. A characteristic style of storytelling and the interweaving of themes and ideas. A breath of fresh air from south of the border.
8. Boomerang Audiomagazine. They offer a free podcast from time to time, but you can also subscribe to the magazine or download backissues. We subscribed in CD format for a few years but the iTunes route is so much simpler. It's an intelligent, entertaining and informative audiomagazine for children 5-12.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Violin Fingers

Mysterious pictures sometimes show up on my camera. Sometimes I don't know who took them or why, but this photo was easy to figure out. This one tells the story of a girl who has just been given the go-ahead to start work on the Fiocco Allegro on violin and has been having lots of fun playing lots of notes really fast. So much fun that for the first time her fingers show big grooves from the pressure on the strings after her prolonged practicing, and the tell-tale discolouration resulting from skin chemistry mingling with metal winding on the strings.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

One dozen Asia snippets

Things we have learned about Erin and her trip to Asia.

1. She seems to magnetically attract airborne geckos and other lizardy things.
2. It takes a few nights to learn to sleep restfully in a hammock.
3. I am not the only person who finds Erin difficult to go shopping with!
4. She can handle a whitewater kayak through Class 3 rapids after just a bit of coaching.
5. While she's not a fastidious packer (what? fold clothes? what for?), she's also not big on unpacking, so she's a reasonably tidy traveller.
6. A 14-year-old from a town of 600 in Canada can explore Bangkok, a city of 9 million, on her own without incident.
7. "No meat please" is a useful phrase to learn in Burmese, Thai and Laotian.
8. Four thousand stupas near Bagan make a wonderful playground.
9. A travelling companion falling out of a hammock or a kayak can trigger at least 24 hours of gut-splitting laughter explosions, and aftershocks that carry over even to Canada.
10. Our girl now has a taste for beer. And mushrooms. Though not together.
11. There's an Italian restaurant in Chiang Mai that serves the world's best pizza.
12. You can give a girl a camera but you can't make her take photos. Good things her buddies took lots!

Top ten books

In a homeschooling on-line conference we were asked to list our top 10 favourite picture books, novels and non-fiction books. I didn't spend very long at it. For the most part these are not carefully considered choices, just off-the-top thoughts; I can already think of a few I'd like to substitute.

Picture books
1. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
2. When Sophie Gets Angry by Molly Bang
3. The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau
4. Old Turtle by Douglas Wood
5. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
6. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
7. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
8. Flotsam by David Wiesner
9. Weslandia by Paul Fleischman
10. Ten Seeds by Ruth Brown

Novels (too many faves to list, but here are some)
1. Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan
2. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
3. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
4. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
5. Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath
6. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
7. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
8. Lizzy Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt
9. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
10. The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff

Non-fiction books (a wide-ranging sampling of some of our favourites)
1. Hungry Planet & Material World by Peter Menzel
2. The Kingfisher Encyclopedia of World History
3. How People Live by Dena Freeman
4. Joy Hakim's Story of Science volumes
5. Kids Knitting by Melanie Falick
6. Penrose the Mathematical Cat by Theoni Pappas
7. The Cartoon History of the Universe (and others) by Larry Gonick
8. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
9. Stretching by Bob Anderson
10. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Jet lag

She boarded at noon in Bangkok and arrived in Vancouver about 16 hours later, just after noon on the same day, the dateline being what it is. Almost no sleep on the plane. Cleared customs in just over an hour. It was the only place she was ever asked for the lawyer's letter giving her permission to travel without her parents. And oddly enough she was also for the first time questioned about why she hadn't been in school for the past two months. She answered, muttering something about independent study, to which the woman responded "oh, homeschooling, right!" and seemed satisfied.

We drove three quarters of the way home, caught some fitful sleep overnight at a friend's place and then on towards home this morning, arriving on the dot of noon. And she's still awake. Her biological clock is all off-kilter but she's wrestling it back into submission very effectively -- it's now almost noon tomorrow in Thailand and she's still up.

We had an almost-two-months-belated 15th birthday celebration tonight. I gave her the sweater I had knitted for her which fits fine and looks great on her, and we had also got her a Thai cookbook and the new iPod Nano she'd been lusting after for months. What a spoiled kid! She had a beer with dinner (to help soften the culture shock, since she'd become rather accustomed to and fond of beer overseas) and we enjoyed lemon cheesecake. And now she's getting to know the new computer games Noah had procured in her absence.

I expect she'll sleep pretty well tonight!

Two arms

One arm belongs to Erin, and has been outdoors in SE Asia for the last two months.

One arm belongs to Fiona, and has been indoors or inside a parka for the last two months.

And now both girls are side by side again. And there's a lot of giggling going on here today.