Sunday, November 30, 2003

Weekend in Kelowna

Chuck had a medical conference in Kelowna (a small-to-medium-sized city) on Saturday and we decided to tag along. Originally we assumed it would be Christmas shopping weekend, but I worked really hard to simplify our Christmas gift-giving this year and am making almost everything and cutting back, so there was no shopping to do. We decided to go anyway, because the kids have been dying for the chance to swim, and we know a good motel with 2bdrm suites and a nice pool.

So on Thursday we picked Erin and Noah up at art class and headed out. Chuck just got himself a laptop with a DVD player, and we plugged it in in the back of the minivan so that the kids could watch "Blue Planet" episodes throughout the 4-hour drive. This was a huge hit.

True to predictions, the kids spent 3-6 hours a day in the pool. Noah went from being a "barely swimmer" in the shallow end to doing proper dives in the deep end on the first day. Erin was a little frustrated that it took her longer to learn to dive but she managed. This has definitely been Noah's year to shine. Lots of things are coming easily to him all of a sudden, including piano, composition, reading, gymnastics and now swimming.

We did the usual juggling of needs and priorities when it came to choosing venues for meals out. We spent a great couple of hours in a mega-bookstore. Sophie got lost, though, which was sad. She wandered out of the children's section when she lost sight of me around a bookshelf. I thought dh, who had gone off to wander through adult non-fiction, had her. Then I got paged. She was a little teary but none the worse for wear. We had a reiterative discussion about rules for staying together and about what to do if you think you're lost. I'd forgotten to go over that one in a while. Noah and Erin know it all, but Sophie's still just barely five. She needs to hear it regularly. Anyway, I tried to stay low-key. She was a bit upset and already knew she'd made some mistakes.

We got some great books. Can't wait to get started on Cornelia Funke's "The Thief Lord".

I went shopping consignment clothing. I stopped at the music store to get Grade 6 level books for Erin and Grade 1 stuff for Noah. They were both very excited. They're being "promoted" this month by their piano teacher. We bought some dishes and did a warehouse store stop.

On the way home the kids watched LOTR "The Two Towers" on DVD (a new purchase).

Friday, November 28, 2003

Piano takeover

Recently our home has been taken over by the piano. It has crept up on me but it's quite astonishing, and is perhaps the most persuasive argument for a monolith of a real, acoustic piano rather than a more portable digital one. It's always there, en route between the bathroom and the computer, between the toys and the kitchen, between the dining room and the bedroom. It's always on. It has an inviting two-person bench, good lighting and the warmth of the woodstove radiating from across the room. You can't miss it, and it wants to be played.

My guess would be that it gets played at least once an hour by someone in our household. Noah probably sits down and tinkles away on it at least four or five times a day. He's there for a couple of minutes playing through a new piece he's working on or running through an old one, or dabbling away at improvisation or sight-reading for ten or fifteen minutes. Sophie is often right there, or taking turns with him, trying out melodies, imitating what she's heard the other kids do. Erin is there at least two or three times a day, often for long stretches of playing through old pieces or sightreading through supplementary stuff. Then there's the daily practising.

It's a delightful state of affairs. I feel so lucky. We have a lot of violin music around here too, and sometimes the violin catches a bit of momentum from piano, but piano is definitely a different kettle of fish. It's relaxing and sociable and inviting by its physical presence in the living room, and maybe because I'm not a pianist, the kids are free to have a greater sense of "ownership" over the piano than they do over their violin studies.

Sophie and Noah participated in the regional Suzuki Group Class last weekend. Noah was the more reluctant of the two, but he was fine once he got going. They were the two littlest kids there and held their own very well indeed. The event was mostly for the benefit of a group of 11-18-year-old violin students who will be participating in a youth exchange program to Ottawa, Canada, this spring. They've been meeting to rehearse for a couple of months already. This class was their chance to include, and also show off a little to, the younger students who aren't doing the exchange trip. Because Erin hasn't been involved in the (competitive) music festival or the youth orchestra in Nelson (she does our community orchestra in New Denver instead), she'd had little to no contact with these "older, more advanced" students. It was nice for her to have a chance to play her more advanced repertoire in a group. In our local group classes we focus on the Book 1-3 repertoire because we have so few students beyond that level. Anyway, there was a lot of ogling and pointing at all my kids, but Erin especially, because she's considerably more advanced than many of the teens who thought they were the "senior students" in the region. And she's so petite. Fortunately she was having fun during the snacktime afterwards with some of the younger kids she knew, and seemed pretty oblivious to the attention. I hate hearing "yeah, well, they homeschool, so that's why" muttered defensively by other parents and students. Honestly... yes, she practices more than she would if she went to school. But on the other hand, we chose to unschool in large part so that our kids could delve deeply into things (like music) that inspire them. And just because she has more time to do more work doesn't negate the fact that she actually does more work. It's not an "unfair advantage"... anyone else is free to homeschool for the same advantages. (Sorry about that little rant.)

It's snowed a fair bit here this week. There's been lots of outdoor play and lots of great discussions. Olives aren't a good choice for a snowman's eyes, because their salinity melts the snow. Who would have thought that a snow day would lead to "science lab"? Well, I'm sure it comes as no surprise to those of you reading this board. We have about 15 cm of nice fluffy stuff on the ground, with more falling today. We've starting packing snow and levelling a surface for our annual outdoor skating rink. If the weather is cold enough after the weekend, we might start flooding then.

Today we're heading to "the city" (Kelowna) for a whirlwind weekend. We'll be there Friday and Saturday, returning Sunday. Chuck is doing a medical conference part of the time we're there. The main reason we're going is to do a holiday-stockpiling bulk grocery shopping, get to a big bookstore (where Cornelia Funke's novels are at the top of my list) and to hang out at a nice motel where the kids can swim in a pool for 8 hours a day! Chuck will have the vehicle Friday and part of Saturday, which is just fine since I don't relish packing the kids around department stores and malls by myself. I hate shopping anyway.

Our current readalouds are "Eragon" (finally almost finished! and it's great!) by Chris Paolini, "The Golden Goblet", set in ancient Egypt, and "Winnie the Pooh" (which we last read in its entirety when Sophie was too little to remember much of it). Bedtime has been slipping later and later as the kids demand more and more reading. We have to start sooner in the evening! I'm falling to sleep by the time we get to the second chapter in the third book!

Noah has become a "read in bed reader". So I guess he's quietly crossed the threshold into "independent reading for pleasure". He still prefers stuff with pictures but is comfortable with smaller and smaller fonts and more words per page as the weeks roll by. He's feeling really good about his skills.

Must go pick Erin and Noah up from art class and head across the mountains to the big city!

Saturday, November 22, 2003


Tuesday night was orchestra. Erin is playing very well now in the first violin section. It took her a while to feel comfortable there (she was a 2nd violin last year, a 3rd the year before) but now she's got confidence and is playing nicely. Wednesday was violin lessons. I mentioned the difficulty I've been having getting Erin started on her practising, and her occasional categorical refusal to practice. My mom (her teacher) asked her what the trouble was and Erin said "It takes too long." So my mom, bless her, made up a little schedule for this week's practising that has every minute mapped out, and is so completely bare-bones that it only totals 20 minutes of practising (Erin's been expected to do ~an hour a day for the past 2 years, at least on "good days"). She drew 6 circles at the bottom of the schedule and said "Fill one of these in every day you practice. But only do 20 minutes! And come back with all circles filled."

So since Wednesday, Erin has done two twenty-minute practicings a day. She's quite delighted at the idea of surprising her grandma with the extra work. Hurrah! Something is working on the practising front this week!

It snowed here this week, and the snow has stayed on the ground. The kids have been outside for long hours every day, sledding, throwing snowballs, playing games. Perhaps the added light and activity have helped make Erin a more agreeable member of the family.

We've been teaching Fiona to say "cat". She now says "gha!" or "kha!" with considerable delight when she sees our cat (or, I confess, our dog). She knows it's a crowd-pleaser. She says "Kha!" and then looks for a sibling or parent with a big grin on her face, waiting for the smiles and squeals of approval. Our little performing seal. Way fun!

Art class this week was paper maché. We've done lots of that at home, so it was less exciting than usual, but Erin was pleased with how much faster she was getting her layers on than the less experienced kids.

Erin read "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King" (2nd and 3rd books of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy) in less than 24 hours. She slept about 6 hours, had a violin lesson but otherwise read almost straight through. Then she wanted to watch LOTR1 on video again... twice. So more screen-time than usual this week, but with all the outdoor play that seemed okay. We've agreed we'll buy LOTR2 on DVD while we're in the city in a week and watch it on Chuck's new DVD-equipped laptop. Erin also wrote a neat opening paragraph for a novel. I can't remember every word exactly, but it was more or less this:

My name is Esel Isingdorot and I am the last of my kind, the race from which all others are descended. Father used to tell me I had the courage and strength of the dwarves, the beauty and spirit of the elves, the wisdom of the wizards, the caution and speed of the horses, the humour of the hobbits and, when provoked to anger, even the firey temper of Sauron himself. And well it may be so.

I laughed at the temper bit. Yup, that's Erin . The nice thing was that she hand-wrote this in a spiral notebook. Her handwriting is finally getting to the stage where it doesn't derail her creativity. She did some dedicated work on handwriting a year or so ago which I guess gave her enough of a foundation for further gradual improvement. (Her printing was extremely primitive before that, especially for a kid who had all sorts of strong literacy and fine-motor skills.)

Noah asked about starting Singapore Math. He found Erin's old 2B workbook and loved the pictorial stuff. He's been struggling a bit with Miquon at the Red Book level. We went through a Singapore placement test. I was expecting him to place somewhere around 1B since Miquon hadn't touched on a lot of the stuff in the placement test, but he got almost every questions and is easily at a 2A level. Not only that but he loved the way the problems were presented and really grasped them easily. So I wonder if Miquon, much as I love its manipulative-based "fuzzy math" approach, isn't the right program for him. He never wanted to use the rods, and I think sometimes Miquon's efforts to make the computation simpler (through manipulatives or patterns or arrays) stymied him; they were like clutter in the way to him. He seems keen on bookwork lately... sits down with a music theory book all on his own every day ... and is asking for Singapore 2A so I think I'll order it for him this week.

Erin's making envelopes out of recycled orchestral scores. Together we made a trace-around template (discarded X-ray films from the hospital are great for this!). She's cutting, scoring, folding and gluing. We found a recipe for licky-sticky paste on the internet. It uses white glue, vinegar and oil of peppermint. I thought "eww... licking white glue?" but when we mixed it up it smelled (and tasted!) just like the real thing. So she's using it. Our white glue is non-toxic, after all. These will be a Christmas gift for her grandma. She's made a dozen or so. The pages we're using are from nicely yellowed 50- to 70-year-old orchestra parts, the last page in each part, which is blank on one side. The music is printed on the inside of the envelope; the outside is blank for the address and stamp. They look really nice.

Sophie's done some really hard work on violin with me this week, practising getting the double-up-bows in "O Come Little Children" working consistently, as well as the bow division and finger independence. She's doing so well! She's taught herself the upcoming few pieces by ear. It surprised me when Erin did this, at about the same stage. But now I've watched all three kids suddenly "click" with the by-ear learning on violin, and it's no surprise. Still it's fun to see it happen. She feels confident and happy about what she can do.

I dyed some wool that I'd drop-spun earlier this month... my first foray into both ventures. It turned out fine and I didn't accidentally cause it to felt up. I'll try to knit Fiona some mittens and maybe a hat for Christmas. I'm not so great at finishing knitting projects, but this one is small enough to be achievable I hope.

Tomorrow is a regional Suzuki violin group class out of town. It will be interesting to see whether Sophie and Noah are interested in participating. They've both become comfortable in our home group classes only relatively recently.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Canadian Composers

We had a Canadian Composers Workshop this past weekend and it went fine. Noah played very very well. In some ways he's shining brighter than his ever-so-precocious sister these days. Erin played fine but Noah's compositional skills and his cute extra-small size won a lot of hearts. (He's not as small for his age as Erin is for hers, but being almost three years younger he is still a good bit smaller than she.) There was a game-show-like format to the "learning about Canadian composers" component, and that made Noah a little stressed. He hates winning-losing games. But he coped okay... in some ways better than Erin, because he is willing to speak in public. He asked a question or two out loud. His team "lost" but he liked the losers' prizes better than the winners' anyway, and he found that funny. It was only very gently competitive (sit down if you get a right answer, keep answering if you don't, team against team, no score kept, a fair bit of silliness) and I think it was probably a good demonstration for him of how competitiveness doesn't necessarily have to be emotionally toxic.

Sunday was the composers' dessert recital we were hosting in our living room. We cleaned the house like crazy, made some food and got everything organized. Lots of people came and the kids and grownups all had fun. Afterwards Sophie "composed" a little piano melody and wanted me to transcribe it into written form. I did and she was pleased.

Everyone was really tired for our regular Nelson drive the next day. But we made it to gymnastics and once we got there we were all glad we went. During the little kids' class, a few of the older kids (7-13) got a little rowdy in the waiting area and on the floor of the gym. I wasn't really comfortable with the social stuff that was happening. There's one rather high-energy family of three kids who have been bringing a couple of cousins with them to hang out. The older brother and sister get into verbal sparring (words like b%&ch and f*%k come up as well as gestures) and they draw a number of other kids into a boy vs. girl thing. At one point the older boy told Noah that he was going to punch "his girlfriend" (i.e. Erin) in the face when she came out of the changing room. Noah came and told me this in tears. I went to find Erin and she emerged grinning like she was enjoying this fun boy vs. girl game. The boy had run off somewhere with his buddies and was probably totally unaware he'd upset Noah. I asked Erin if she was having fun and if it was all "just kidding" and she said yes. I told Noah that he was right to be upset, and right to come and get me, but that he didn't need to worry about Erin getting punched, because it was just a bad joke.

Afterwards we talked about the aggressive energy and the lack of respect for others' feelings. Erin didn't feel strongly either way... she was just playing along with the running and chasing and thought it was "sort of fun", but clearly it was too much for Noah. Some of the other parents weren't comfortable with it either. As a family we're going to make an effort to prevent the pack mentality from taking root... step back or take a walk outside if things start getting rude or aggressive or disruptive. Sophie (who is in the gym in her class during this time) is now comfortable enough that she doesn't need me in the gym, so we are free to leave if that proves most sensible. This is the first time this has happened. Mostly the social time has been very respectful and positive in the waiting area at gymnastics.

Piano lessons were fine. Sophie played her composition for Erin and Noah's teacher. Noah taught his teacher how to use the recording feature on the digital piano she has in her warmup room. She was pleased to have someone show her how it worked. Erin had a very good lesson, having pretty much mastered her new Grieg Waltz in one week, and "passing her Grade 5 technique test" (a little formality her teacher likes to use before moving into the next repertoire level).

On the way home we got talking about the roots of English words in Latin and Greek and what English and French share with each other and with these classic languages. We tried to tease apart the meanings of classical roots by brainstorming words that shared those roots (eg. television, teleport, telephone, or contract, tractor, traction, intractable). I told Erin about the Rummy Roots card game and she expressed a lot of interest. Might be a birthday present.

In the evening I finished my first bookbinding enterprise. My first book looked brilliant but Erin noticed that page 2 came after page 5, so I had to pick apart the sewn binding and re-do it. Grr. Ah well, a good lesson in comfort with mistake-making.

Today we spotted the weasel that's eaten all our hens :-(. Except he seems too big to be a weasel. So we're thinking fisher or mink. Now that we've looked in the guidebook, we need another peek through the binoculars to figure out exactly what we were looking at.

Chuck had a long housecall to do this morning so he wasn't able to take Fiona for the hour or so we normally count on in the mornings for "getting stuff done". So we've been very unproductive. I should get off the computer now and help get the last of the practising going.

Saturday, November 15, 2003


Erin's been wanting me to practice with her on violin the last couple of nights. She's feeling really mired down in her violin study, and it's really affecting her motivation. Last spring she discovered she could sight-read and play all of Suzuki Book 6, even though she was only technically "studying" the first couple of pieces at that stage. With her grandpa's death and her grandma's travels, she only had a handful of lessons between April and October. She continued to bash through all that Book 6 repertoire but without guidance, without thought. So now, six months later, she's still working on the same 8 or 10 pieces. They're challenging, but she's tired of them because she's been playing them forever. She wants something new. But they're not up to snuff - she hasn't really mastered them with the kind of control and musicality she needs.

So anyway, I told her the other night that her grandma (a.k.a. her teacher) would feed her appetite for new pieces, but only if she was willing to eat what was on her plate first. It's now cold and unappealing, but it really has to be eaten before dessert... it's healthy stuff. I offered to help her organize her practising and make it a little more efficient so that she can more easily get that sense of progress through her meal. And she agreed! She really wanted my help! We've had two practices together. I've tried to be very gentle. Today she balked just once, we took a break and came back and worked together well again.

Her piano teacher is making noises about moving her up a 'grade level' by next month. (She uses the Royal Conservatory of Canada's graded syllabus.) Erin is pleased about that. She really loves these benchmarky things. I'm sure glad she's not in school. It's just full of them. I think she'd lose touch with her own reasons for doing anything.

Sophie decided to join group class this week. She's five now, I guess she figured what the heck. She took the plunge. She played everything she knew (up to O Come Little Children, for any of you Suzuki violin types) even though I'd suggested just trying some Twinkles. She'd never played in a group before and I thought she should step in gently. But there was no holding her back. She smiled, she played, she raised her hand, she offered ideas. She loved it. Wow! Noah played a lovely solo at group class (Musette by Bach). Erin was disappointed she didn't get to play any Book 6 repertoire. But with a group class that covers ages 5-48, from O Come Little Children to intermediate concertos, it's tough to fit something in for everyone every week.

Sophie is writing and really making connections. Today she wanted to write "shaky" on some sort of list of toys or things she wants to buy. Don't ask me what it's about; I have no idea. She wrote


Noah said "that's shake. If you put a Y on the end, it'll be shaky." So she added a 'y'.


Then she wrote


Translation: "Machine, bubblegum, sleeping bag." What I like is how she took what Noah suggested about adding a Y to an E to make the long-E sound and used it in "SLEYPEYNBAG". Isn't that neat?

Noah is working on a more challenging left hand accompaniment for his composition "Achilles' Death." He has it all worked out, but because he's a beginning pianist he's finding the playing a bit of a challenge. So he's practising like crazy, playing through it six or eight times a day, because he wants to play it at the Canadian Composers Workshop he'll be attending on Saturday. He is, as his teacher rightly pointed out, a Canadian Composer. He'll also be performing a piece by Canadian composer David Duke. Erin's doing a Jig by Violet Archer. It's from "Habitant Sketches." She read a bit of Canadian history after being prodded a bit by her teacher to find out some background information on the composition. Habitants were essentially feudal serfs in New France in the 1600's. I had long forgotten this fact.

Every Tuesday David and Jaya come for supper. They're a father-daughter team, and they come for violin activities from way out of town. They have a lesson before supper and group class alternating week by week with orchestra afterwards. We enjoy visiting with them. Jaya is unschooled as well, a smidge younger than Erin and everything that Erin isn't (extraverted, socially gifted, extremely verbal, vivacious, non-academic). They get along great! David wanted me to scan some photos for him. They're photos of his sand sculpture. Sand and snow are new for him. He's a self-taught sculptor who has taken up sand sculpture in the past year. He's applying for jobs and needs an electronic portfolio he can send out by e-mail. The kids spent a long time looking at his photos, including some amazing snow sculpture, and asked to come and watch the next time he's doing a big snow project in our area. (For photos of his sand work, you can go here: and click on Photo Gallery Doubles and Solo.) Erin played lots of piano while David and Jaya were here. I think she did this to show off, but she just matter-of-factly sits down and starts playing in the background and doesn't demand attention, so I guess that's fine.

Time to go read stories!

Friday, November 14, 2003

School math

Wednesday was violin lessons. I was so wrapped up in the fun of bookbinding that I lost track of time and we almost forgot to go! I'm hand-making some hardcover picture-books for Christmas and was having a delightful time seeing my first one take shape before my eyes. I also made some little "jelly-bean books" for the kids. These are about the size of a teabag packet and have 32 tiny pages and a decorative fold-and-tuck softcover. They're bound with hemp or embroidery floss, decorated with beads or baubles on the binding string. I'm using leftover scraps of decorative cardstock from my scrapbooking. I made one each for the kids and suggested that they keep them in their violin cases for lesson stickers.

Their violin teacher, who happens to be my mom, knows how I feel about rewards and incentives, but she's had this ritual of giving the kids a little sticker at the end of every lesson. Because it's not contingent on anything except showing up, and even watchers/listeners can have stickers if they want, I'm okay with this. It's a nice way to keep track of how many lessons they've had, to make the weekly work a bit more tangible. But we always lose the stickers, so now they each have a tiny booklet to stick them into.

Violin lessons went well. Sophie had her second lesson ever, and it was a hard-working 20 minutes or more! Noah had a fairly ordinary lesson, and did some hard repetition work on some of the sixteenth notes in his new piece ("Hunters' Chorus"). Erin had a good lesson where I think she felt some tangible progress had been made and was being recognized. That's great, because she and I had actually worked together on some of her assignments this week, and her being interested in my help was a real departure. She's planning to record the Handel F-major Sonata No. 3 in its entirety (four movements, slow-fast-slow-fast) for our annual Christmas CD in early December. It's well in hand and she's doing serious polishing work on another piece.

Noah has mastered the playing of the new left-hand pattern in his composition, so he's planning to play the "enhanced version" at the Canadian music workshop tomorrow. He's worked hard at it. Another piano task he's worked really hard at this week is doing a simple invention the way his teacher asked. An invention is like a conversation between two people where they're both talking at the same time saying kind of the same things but at different times. His teacher wants him to be able to play one "voice" while singing the other, and then switch. It's *exceedingly* difficult to do. Noah was in tears a couple of times, not so much over it being too hard, but because he hates to sing and so couldn't even bring himself to try. Finally we hit on a solution. He whistles the singing part. It's coming.

Art class was a big hit this week. Erin and Noah got to cut lino blocks with real lino blades. The lino blocks were actually "Safety-Kut" blocks, softer and easier to work with. They printed on paper, cardstock and fabric, using small square stamps, and creating repeating patterns. When they came home they expressed enthusiasm for the idea of doing more at home. Erin spent some time designing decorative monogram rubber stamps she could carve as Christmas gifts. We haven't had time to do any of this, but we will next week.

Noah recounted a conversation he had with a rather condescending older girl at art class. Upon finding he was homeschooled, she asked him if he knew his colours and numbers. (Noah's newly 7, though he looks a bit younger... like maybe a young 6, so I suppose this question wasn't quite as "out there" as it might seem.) He answered yes. She asked him his favourite number ("nineteen, because it's a pretty big prime; prime numbers are my favourite") and his favourite colour ("green, because I really like Greek mythology, and it's the colour of the Greeks in 'Age of Mythology'" and then proceeded to quiz him on simple addition questions. When she lost interest and couldn't fool him with the typical "two thousand plus three thousand" stuff, she lost interest in further questions. So he asked her what 8 - 20 was. She said "you mean 20 - 8?" And he explained no, 8 - 20, and that it was negative 12. I think that shut her up for good. She said she only liked "school math, and that's not school math." Okay. Noah recounted all this as just an interesting social diversion. He's so easy-going and tough to ruffle. It's refreshing. He's also, I'm coming to realize, just a delight in a classroom. He's eager but polite, compliant and patient. He speaks up appropriately, offers up ideas and suggestions where appropriate. He smiles a lot, uses his manners, initiates friendly conversations, offers to help clean up. He's just full of social graces and picks up social cues naturally. It makes me wonder where we went so wrong with Erin. Many of these things are a significant challenge for her.

Noah, who a year or so ago, would matter of factly talk about his expectation that he would "probably go to school when [he is] older" has almost zero interest in school at this point. Today we were packing and sorting dried fruit and nuts for a music fundraising project. We spent most of the day at our friends' place. They are two teens and two schoolteachers and of course weren't home until about 4 or 5. Noah spent the day anxiously awaiting their arrival home. He commented on what a pain it must be to have to get up and right away go to school, and be there so long every day. The fruit and nut sorting was fun. We had a small work party. The kids helped label, weigh, carry and sort. They now have a pretty good sense of what constitutes 2 lb. and 5 lb. and 25 lb. and they know their nuts!

Tonight we watched two episodes of "Blue Planet", the excellent BBC documentary about marine life. We deserved the break because of all our fruit-and-nut work, and this kids had all done their practising first thing in the morning. Erin read a very clever short story an adult friend had sent her, written about a woman writer with a non-functioning key on her computer keyboard, a missing vowel, the one "attached to the hungry self", who decides to try to write around the letter. The whole story is written without the letter 'i'. Very clever!

Tomorrow is an extra "town day" because of the music workshop Erin and Noah are attending.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

More and more

The more I write, the more I realize there is to write. Yesterday Noah was noodling around on the piano while Sophie was noodling on her violin in the other part of the house. Noah started playing the horn solo melody from the end of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, a haunting theme he’s played many times on piano. It’s on the Naxos Jr. Audiobook version of the Illiad that we have, just a few seconds of it, and he loves it. Anyway, he happened to be playing it in the key of A. All of a sudden I heard Sophie trying to sound it out on the violin, and she managed just great. So Noah ran off and got his violin and the two of them played the four-bar theme together over and over, wandering around the living room giggling. Then Noah went back to the piano and started trying to harmonize an accompaniment.

Noah’s harmonizing ability is quite impressive. After only 6 spotty months of piano lessons, he’s able to harmonize simple melodies from the Suzuki violin repertoire in A major. He does other tunes too... Christmas carols, nursery songs. He uses tonic triads and dominant seventh chords very capably in a number of keys. No one has taught him to do this, though he has learned the I-V7-I chord progression by working through the Dozen-a-Day technique exercises. Subdominant triads and their inversions are a bit more hit and miss, but I’m sure they’ll click in the next month or so.

Tonight we finished reading "Abel’s Island" by William Steig. What a great story! One of those that's definitely as much for the parent as the children. We still have on the go: "A Single Shard" and "Eragon".

Erin finally finished the last couple of incomplete bits in Singapore Math 5A today. She’s been dabbling in 5B and level 6 stuff a bit for a while, but now she’s enthusiastic about starting to go through 5B systematically and filling in any holes there too.

Sophie helped bake muffins today. She made some neat observations about the array of 3x4 muffin cups. Her math abilities impress me... not so much her conceptual awareness, but how willing and capable she is when it comes to translating observations about mathematical patterns in the real world into arithmetical symbols. She continues plugging mostly self-directedly through the first Miquon Math book. She’s into multiplication now.

Noah is definitely less of a "wow!" kid in academic areas. He has tons of conceptual mathematical smarts, especially of the visual-spatial sort, but he’s actually finding the end of Miquon Red reasonably challenging. A year or two ago I thought he’d be done the program by now (six books; he’s only on the second). But things are clicking like crazy for him in other areas right now, so that’s fine. His violin sight-reading is going great guns, and of course I’ve written at length about his phenomenal piano composing and the leaps he’s taken in his playing ability in the last couple of months.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Sophie's Birthday

Lately Erin, a horribly picky eater who says she'd like to be cook when she grows up (go figure... maybe she wants to develop new ways of putting cheese and bread and rice together?) has been doing lots more cooking. I was making baked beans the other day and doubled the amount of beans I prepared and turned half over to her. I showed her two or three baked bean recipes (none of which she'd ever be caught dead eating) and let her start improvising, adding ingredients that appealed to her to her pot. She came up with something that was not only palatable (though pretty salty!) but which passed her own standards. She ate some! So did the other kids. I opted for Mary's Curried Apple Baked Beans myself, but I tasted Erin's and they were pretty good.

Yesterday was Sophie's birthday. Since most of her buddies live an hour and a quarter away (where we do homeschool activities) and her grandma was away, we did our typical low-key nuclear family birthday celebration. I had made her a skirt to go with an eBay sweater/tights combination that I had bought for her. I also bought a Ravensberger "Mandala Maker" kit, sort of a cross between plastic stencils and spirograph. We have a family tradition that one birthday gift is for all the kids, and this one was a sure hit with all three older kids. There was a book and a soft doll from Grandma. Erin made her a hemp-and-bead anklet. Noah gave her a piece of art he'd made at art class, repeated black and gold patterns on rice paper. I did (if I do say so) a nice job of mounting it on foamboard as a checkerboard array. He had five 9x9 arrays each with a different pattern but the same process, and I made a 3x3 array of arrays (a centre square, then four more at each corner) with cardstock "matting". Noah was really pleased with how professional it looked and wants to take it to art class next week to show his teacher what it looks like all mounted.

The funny thing was that he had a big meltdown over how many gifts Sophie was receiving. His birthday was 6 weeks ago and in retrospect I think maybe he was disappointed with the pile of gifts placed in front of him. He'd chosen to open the one from his Grandma a couple of weeks early, and it was just one of those birthdays when we didn't go overboard. We had a long discussion about why we give gifts... I said that the proper reason for giving is because it gives us pleasure to give to people we love. We don't give because we'll get in trouble if we don't, and we don't give "in order to show how much we love someone". I pointed out to him that if the gift-giver knows that the person getting the gifts expects a certain amount, or might be angry if the gifts don't meet his expectations, that's going to reduce the pleasure the gift-giver experiences, and so it sort of interferes with the right reason for giving.

He got a little angry about that and ran away for some cooling off time. I guess it came across as a lecture, or a threat that I wouldn't give him stuff if he acted the way he was. I was clearly taking the issue very seriously, where I think he'd just felt a bit whiney as a result of the attention being on Sophie. He came back in a few minutes and said he'd changed his mind and he was okay about it all. I pointed out part of the reason Sophie was getting "so many gifts" was because he was offering her a gift. I don't know whether I should have just let it go, or whether it was an important teachable moment to grab. I have strong feelings about gift-giving taking precedence over gift-getting and have put a lot of thought into maintaining the focus on giving through the holiday season. But I'm sailing in uncharted waters here.

The funny thing was that at supper, Chuck explained to Sophie that "we give gifts because we love you" which sounded a lot like the opposite of what I'd been trying to explain. We both had to kind of backpaddle around that one. What a mess. We decided the crucial phrase was "how much". We don't give to show "how much" we love you. We give since, because we love you, it gives us pleasure to give.

I have an on-line friend who had asked if anyone had infant girl clothes for her aunt who has a new baby girl and no money at all. I had offered some of Fiona's outgrown clothes, and while I was packing them up yesterday afternoon I remembered that Tina has an almost-4-year-old herself who is facing a very financially-strapped Christmas, so the kids and I ran around collecting gifts for him to tuck into a shoebox. I didn't realize until I was typing this that this was a well-timed coincidence... a little exercise in giving on the heels of a meltdown over getting. Anyway, Tina's son is getting lots of craft materials, books, finger-puppets, a sprout-growing kit, some Canadian stamps and coins, a music story cassette, a glass prism, some other nice little things.

We tested out our nut milk recipe (which is great with cashews and macadamias and walnuts) with hazelnuts and almonds and decided we either need to win the Vitamix we're bidding on on eBay or strain the pulp off when using harder nuts. We're spearheading a music education fundraiser this fall. We've taken orders for organic dried fruit and nuts and ordered wholesale. When we repackage the orders, we're going to include a set of 4 recipes. We wanted to test how flexible the nut milk recipe is before sending it out.

After supper Sophie opened her gifts and we ate cake and the kids drew and coloured mandalas and then watched a video.

At bedtime we're reading "A Single Shard" by Linda Sue Park, set in medieval Korea in a potters' village. My kids are asking about working with clay. We have clay but no kiln. Our town has a number of skilled artisan potters, one of whom is a really excellent teacher of children. Erin did a workshop with her about 4 years ago. I might see if I can get another 4 or 5 homeschoolers interested in a morning workshop or two.

Today we're doing more fruit and nut recipe testing.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003


The last week has felt rather unproductive but I'm sure some useful stuff has happened. We had a day or two of Hallowe'en costume preparations. I had great fun doing Dobby's eyeballs. I had made a paper mache mask anchored on paper plates and bits of cardboard, and left two round holes for those "tennis-ball-like protruding eyes". I plugged a loonie into one of those gumball machine things that gives you a prize in a plastic bubble, and used the bubble for the eyeballs. On the inside of the plastic half-spheres I masked two concentric circles, one for the pupil and one for the iris. Then I painted the pink arterioles, and the white sclerae. I unmasked the first circle and used a combination of gold, green and iridescent paint for the iris, using radial brush-strokes. Then I unmasked the last circle for the pupil which I left clear (and therefore "black") for Sophie to look out through. The effect was terrific!

The kids went trick-or-treating. Erin had a medusa head-dress with immensely bobbly wobbly snakes with googly eyes and forked tongues, and only one person knew she was a gorgon. The others had never heard of the creature or the myth, or only nodded with vague recognition when we explained what she was. Sometimes I wonder if these little brushes with "mainstream" society make the kids aware of how unusual their interests are. Noah's decided he wants to be a "mythology teller" (i.e. storyteller) when he grows up because there are clearly so many people who don't have a clue about these stories that have become such a part of the fabric of our family life. I don't know if he's planning to go door to door or what.

Everyone came down with a cold on the weekend. Blech. Lots of laid-back freeplay and computer time and not much else.

On Monday we went to Nelson. I probably would have cancelled except that Sophie was totally well and really wanted to go, and we had a lesson scheduled with a substitute piano teacher whom I didn't have a contact number for. And I had agreed to courier a violin down to someone, and to drive a kid 2 blocks to her house after gymnastics. So off we went.

It was Sophie's 3rd class and she was in from start to finish, even playing tag, something which had felt a little intimidating to her. Erin decided to do her class. Noah was feeling not so great so he sat part of the class out but joined in for the latter half. He managed a chin-up-pullover at the bar, the first in his class to master it. Erin's next closest to getting it (I think maybe small size helps?) but she didn't quite. This is the first time there's been such a stark and public reversal in their relative mastery of something. Usually Erin is better, quicker, more able and Noah does his best. I was interested to see how Erin would react. She asked why he could do it and she couldn't (a good sign, because when things bother her she doesn't talk about them) and I just said that he's really strong for his size and picks physical skills up very easily. She was fine with it. There really isn't a shred of competitiveness between my kids.

Piano was interesting this week. Our regular teacher, a straight-laced 60-ish woman who is quite a stickler for clean technique and carefully thought-out playing, was off being a spectator at a music competition. So we had "Eric", a recent university grad, cuurently trying to pull together a meagre living through piano accompanying in the area. The Wayside School stories we'd read recently had three Erics in the class: Eric Fry, Eric Ovens and Eric Bacon. Noah wanted to know Eric's surname to see if it was Ovens, Bacon or Fry , which it wasn't, but it turned out piano-Eric had read the books as a kid and loved them, so that was a connection right off the bat.

Eric was amazing... everything that our regular teacher isn't... young, male, silly, an amazing performer, and full of musical spunk and drive. As a regular teacher I'm sure he wouldn't have the vision and organization necessary to build solid skills, but as an occasional substitute, he's certainly got a refreshingly different spin on piano lessons. He had the kids improvising and sharing their compositions. He had them "driving" and "crashing" the piano, reaching deep inside themselves to find excitement and momentum in their music. He (like everyone else) told Erin she needed to slow down when practising, but rather than explaining that it would help her fix her stumbles, he told her that it would help her play faster... that appealed to her. Then he played a Beethoven sonata passage as he's been practising it... a lyrical contrapuntal thing, and then he played it at his target tempo... prestissimo, about 8 times faster. The kids' eyes just bugged out as they watched his fingers.

Eric will be teaching them for two weeks in December when their regular teacher is in Hawaii (her husband is the semi-retired owner of a travel agency... must be nice!). I've also booked him to accompany the kids for their violin selections for the annual recording of musical output we put together as a Christmas gift for relatives. I think the contact is really inspiring for the kids. They have lots of violin role models in their lives (family members, older students they play in orchestra with, etc.) but little in the way of piano ones. Eric will fit the bill very nicely indeed. I hope he stays in the area.

The other day all three kids were sitting on the couch giggling and reading Harry Potter 2. Sophie read the first two words ("Not for"). Noah read the first half page, fairly fluently at times. Then Erin took over and read a couple of pages. It was pretty cute, and a very informative illustration of their relative reading abilities.

Erin and Sophie made cookies together yesterday with no help except for getting the sheets in and out of the oven (we have a wall oven which, because of its cramped access, requires very long arms to reach into it from the side... if you saw our kitchen you'd be amazed that anyone can use it!). That was a first. Usually I help, and I'm way too controlling, micromanaging how they're pouring the vanilla, scraping the peanut butter, etc.. So I just got the heck out of kitchen and I'm sure they learned a lot more doing it all alone.

I'm scrapbooking like crazy, making a big memory book for mom for Christmas of our big musical family reunion before my dad's death. It's coming along wonderfully. Erin's making hemp bracelets and chokers for Christmas gifts.

The kids have been playing with Duplo a lot again (the chunky "toddler Lego"), because it's safe for Fiona. They're using elastics with it to make strange seige weapons that fling or bash. Over and over I notice that my kids are far more creative and happier when the raw materials they're working with are simpler. I think they'd be blissfully happy playing with a piece of construction paper and a stone. Give them a pile of K'nex or Lego and they muck around for a while and then leave it all over the floor. Nothing much happens except mess.

Today's plan is to make pumpkin pies from a pumpkin and to finish a couple of little gifts for Sophie's 5th birthday this weekend.