Monday, January 31, 2011

Grace and Atomic Fireballs

My son brought home a gift for me from his most recent sleepover. He tried to pass them off as jawbreakers, but I knew their true identity from the grin on his face (not to mention the wrappers.) 17 Atomic Fireballs—a most beautiful present. I ate one immediately.

Oldest. He is teetering at the edge of 10 ½, feeling a desire for more independence, striving for his own identity, and—well, he loves me, but I’m sort of a hassle. I’m his connection to childhood, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad thing. I insist that he do math, and grammar, and write neatly enough that others can actually read it. Daily. I have this annoying tendency to push things like vegetables, sharing, getting your work done, keeping eye-rolling to a bare minimum, and being nice to sisters. He knows by now that I am in no way a perfect mother, and that we both have bulldog instincts when it comes to an argument (Who me? Let go? You first.)

There is a part of me that will always want to be a cool mom. I try to do what’s best for my kids, and I take un-cool stances all the time, but I can’t say I always do it with confidence and without hesitation. I know without a doubt that my kids love me, but I really like it when they like me, too. Honestly, it’s painful being a drag. So maybe it’s silly, but I find a huge amount of grace in the fact that I can raise my esteem in the eyes of a ten year-old boy by eating an Atomic Fireball with a smile. Want one?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts

Can I just say once more that there is so much wonderful stuff out there?  I hate to admit it, but I didn’t know about this DVD set until last week.  I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet, but I intend to, somehow.  It sounds like a treasure.

Bernstein started conducting Young People’s concerts almost immediately after becoming Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958, and continued directing them even after he stepped down in 1969.  They were televised programs, broadcast on Saturday mornings, Sunday afternoons, and even during prime time for three years.  He gave 53 concerts in all, until 1972.  Twenty five of those concerts are on this 9-DVD set, with titles like, “What is Orchestration?”, “Musical Atoms:  A Study in Intervals”, “The Latin American Spirit”, “What is American Music?”, and “Berlioz Takes a Trip”.  It sounds like the recording quality varies, but the music, the topics, and the way Bernstein presents them to his audience all have rave reviews.  Words like “passion,” “brilliant,” “witty,” “enthusiastic,” and “genius” keep popping up in the Amazon reviews, along with the fact that this series can be enjoyed by children and adults alike and that it is an excellent, un-condescending introduction to symphonic music

Something new to add to your list of things to add to your must read/watch/listen to list!  Life is too short.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Shake-up Time

Routine is a very, very good thing. Without it, I’m pretty much lost. I may not have a color-coded flow chart to follow each day, but there is always a schedule, a routine, a way-things-have-to-work. I consider routine to be a powerful educational tool—for learning new skills on the violin, for teaching my kids how to read, write, and do math, for keeping us on track with school and chores. Routine is how I carve out time to read and write, as well as make meals and do laundry. If you interfere with my routine, I get twitchy, and grumpy, and rather difficult to deal with.

But breaking routine is powerful, too. I don’t do it easily, but I’m usually glad when I give in and let it happen. Friday was a day we found it necessary to throw out our schedule and devote to getting ready for the Science Fair the next day. Even though we had had it on our radar, and even though we worked and prepared steadily towards that day, things did not go as planned. We needed a cram day. And it was beautiful! It was an amazing day—relaxed, but focused, full of good, hard work and inspired learning. We even had an extended read-aloud, lingering over lunch to finish an amazing book before getting back to work. I can’t tell you how much I wish every day could be like Friday. If every day were like that, I wouldn’t ever pause to weigh my answer when people ask me why I homeschool, or if it’s going well, or how long I will do it.

This time of year, when it’s cold and gray and stale-feeling, strikes me as a great time for shaking things up a little. So I’m curious—how do you break up your routine? What do you find refreshing, or inspiring, or just plain necessary for your family or your violin studio or life in general?

For our part, I love deciding to devote a bigger chunk of time to a read-aloud. Or doing a big, messy art project. Sometimes we dance. Or drop everything to read the magazine that came in the mail. I’m looking forward to making valentines this year, and decorating cookies. What about you?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Just One of Those Weeks

I love my many different roles, and I feel blessed with the opportunity to choose which ones I play throughout the day. So I’m not complaining. But are all my ducks in a row? Not exactly. They are all accounted for, and they (usually) get where they need to go, but they tend to wander along the way.

Here’s the thing. It’s very easy to look around at other people and think they have it all together. I look at other women and think, “Wow, she’s doing x, and y, and z, and she grows all her own vegetables, and she volunteers, AND her children’s hair is always neatly combed. I’m such a loser!” At the same time, I am sure that all the ways in which I am a loser are obvious to everyone around me. Do I need to just grow up and get over it? Probably. I know nobody’s perfect. I’m starting to realize that I’m not the only woman who looks around and thinks that every other woman around her is doing a better job. And I know that comparing oneself to others is a useless, unwinnable game. Every woman I know is amazing in a different way.

Let me just say, though, that it’s been one of those weeks. Potato batteries, a Shostakovich symphony, books, homemade silly putty, what-are-we-going-to-eat-tonight, five new students, three dreamy kids, math drama, art projects, and not enough sleep—they’re all there, but they just won’t be put in a neat, tidy row right now. And all together, they are stressful. But I love them.

Last Saturday morning I was cramming for book club, baking muffins and boiling an egg. I was feeling slightly pleased with myself for juggling all these things while remaining calm and cheerful, even though I hadn’t gotten enough sleep. Then Middle walked into the kitchen and noticed smoke pouring from the cookbook I had left on the stove (right before I turned the wrong burner on high in order to boil said egg.)

A picture for you, in case you, too, are having one of those weeks:

Let’s hear it for the ducks, in a row or otherwise! I’m thankful for every one.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tools for Introducing Classical Music

I am a great fan of learning by exposure. There are definitely subjects for which you need a lesson plan and/or a teacher who knows their subject well, but there are also plenty of subjects for which the “Hey-look-at-this!” method works beautifully. Music appreciation is one of those subjects. I am continually surprised by how much material exists out there that helps introduce classical music to children. My biggest frustration is that I can’t just go out and buy all of it. (Libraries are such a blessing.)

Take a look at these CDs and books with CD that introduce kids to classical music (this is just a taste):

Bernstein Favorites: Children's ClassicsBernstein Favorites: Children’s Classics (CD)
Recordings of Peter and the Wolf, Carnival of the Animals and Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.

Classical ZooClassical Zoo (CD) 
Itzhak Perlman narrates poems by Bruce Adolphe, accompanied by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

The Young Lutheran's Guide to the OrchestraThe Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra (audio CD) Garrison Keillor with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
A young man tries to decide which instrument is best suited to his personality.

Can You Hear It?Can You Hear It? by William Lach, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2006
Art and music appreciation rolled into one book with CD. Each track of music is paired with a corresponding piece of artwork from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as questions that are designed to point out musical details and images. Copland is paired with Remington, Vivaldi with Brueghel the Younger, Rossini with Currier and Ives. Includes an introduction to musical instruments and notes on both the art and music.

Carnival of the Animals: Classical Music for KidsCarnival of the Animals: Classical Music for Kids by Camille Saint-Saens and Barrie C. Turner, illustrated by Sue Williams

The Composer Is Dead (Book & CD)The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket, music composed by Nathaniel Stookey, illustrations by Carson Ellis, Harper Collins Publishers, 2009
This is a picture book with companion CD featuring Lemony Snicket and the San Francisco Symphony. The music and story are clever and imaginative, and introduce each instrument in the orchestra in much the same way as Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, giving listeners a chance to hear each instrument and learn something of its role in the orchestra.

Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf: With a Fully-Orchestrated and Narrated CDSergei Prokoviev’s Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokoviev, adapted by Janet Schulman, illustrated by Peter Malone, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2004

The Remarkable Farkle McBrideThe Remarkable Farkle McBride by John Lithgow, illustrated by C. F. Payne, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2000
A musically gifted boy grows disillusioned with each instrument he masters, until he finally finds fulfillment as a conductor.

Tubby the TubaTubby the Tuba by Paul Tripp, illustrated by Henry Cole, Dutton Children’s Books, 2006
Tubby the Tuba is sad because he never gets to play the melody, until he meets a bullfrog who inspires him. This is a remake of a story for narrator and orchestra that was written in 1946. Definite vintage feel.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Awesome, but not Very Awesome

Youngest is lovingly referred to by her grandparents as “a force of nature.” She is exuberant, strong, passionate; she is a joyful handful. I started her on violin with not a small amount of trepidation because I could imagine the sorts of power struggles we would have over it. But she saw her sister playing, and she loves music, and—believe me—I had to teach her.

Now, I am a believer in parental authority, but she is not completely convinced. And our daily practice session is very often centered on who, exactly, is in charge. Because she gets excited, and she has ideas, and she is passionate, and she wants to run with whatever pops into her head. She also really, truly, wants to play violin, however, and the only way she’s going to learn that is by listening. To me.

We are making progress. We almost always manage to get down to business, finally, and I can see that our work is paying off. I think she can, too. And we have some great philosophical conversations about it in the car after dropping her brother and sister off at Taekwon-do. The other day we were driving along, talking about violin and how well she was doing and I said, “Do you see how awesome it is when you listen to Mommy? You do so well when you do what I say!” And she countered with, “Well…it’s not very awesome…but it’s awesome.” I’ll take that as an encouraging sign. And from now on, I’m shooting for very awesome.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Links

I've added a few new links--check them out the tab above or click here for information, fun games, and general artsy/musical goodness!

Monday, January 10, 2011

One Teachable Moment

The otherwise-dry-but-very-helpful phonics book I have used with each of my children is host to a cute, large-eyed, wormish sort of character. He pops his head in on virtually every page of exercises in order to offer us reading hints and motivational quotes. Each child has been fascinated by him, and has in turn demanded to know what he is “saying.” Oldest, especially, insisted that I read the contents of each and every balloon. I dutifully catered to his desires, hoping that besides learning to read he would absorb all sorts of wonderful truths about hard work, leadership, and good behavior. (Heh—I know!) So one day, our little friend made this pronouncement:

There are THREE KINDS of people in this world… 1-those who MAKE things happen, 2-those who WATCH things happen, 3-and those who WONDER what’s happening!

“Well,” I thought, “this is a helpful lesson in leadership,” and I decided it was a perfect teachable moment. So I asked him which kind of person he wanted to be. He thought for a bit, and informed me that he wanted to be one of those who wondered what was happening. “Great,” I thought, “my otherwise brilliant son has no ambition whatsoever.” I admit it, I wheedled a little: “Don’t you want to be a doer? A mover? A shaker?” No. He wanted none of that. He wanted to be a wonderer.

I admit, that bothered me. Most of the day. Why would he answer that way? There was so clearly a right answer to my question.

But no, there really wasn’t, once I thought about it. Because wondering what’s going on around you doesn’t necessarily mean you’re clueless. There have always been those who wonder—those who have eyes to see and ears to hear—those who ask questions and think deeply and share what they learn with others. The ones who look to shed or reflect light: the poets, philosophers, storytellers, musicians, artists, and scientists.

Maybe my son will be a doer. Maybe he will be a leader. Maybe he will be a wonderer. Maybe he will be all of those things. And maybe I will learn not to discount the things I value for the sake of having the right answer. Even if there are only three kinds of people—and really I think there are as many kinds as there are people—don’t be tricked into thinking that the list in the phonics book is a hierarchy. We need leaders, followers, and wonderers. Can you imagine a world with one of those types left out?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

Looking Back

This reminder appeared in November, without fanfare or announcement, after my husband returned home from the funeral of a beloved friend and mentor. The man’s name is on the other side, along with the years 1951-2010. It hangs on a wall sconce in our bedroom and quietly exhorts us to live faithful and purposeful lives.

2010 was a year we lost several loved ones. There were other things, both good and bad, about the year, but this is what sticks out. And along with the accompanying sorrow and memories, each passing brought a necessary taking-stock of one’s own life: how much has passed, how the rest can be spent, and what is truly important.

I’m all for resolutions. But I have to remind myself that more than I want an organized house, I want one that is open and welcoming. More than I want to be in great shape, I want a body that is strong and healthy and loving. More than I want to be relaxed and well-rested, I want my life overflowing with good work and people I love.

I don’t want to lose my focus.