Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Resorting to Violins · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 530: First Day Back

We began our school day with a back-to-school assembly. Our principal, Mr. December, welcomed everyone back and gave a special welcome to E, who is beginning grade one and is now a full-time student at our homeschool. As part of the welcoming tradition, E had to run around the room getting high fives from everyone. It was adorable and she was so excited.

Of course, no assembly is complete without the school song. I wrote this one to the tune of Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.

We wear pants at our homeschool
we don’t show our bare behinds
but when we say “bare” our mascot gets scared so
we’ll just say “behinds”

We can learn what we want to
just as long as we’re wearing pants
because as you might know it’s our school motto:
Wearing pants leads to excellence.

Put on pants, put on pants
Everybody’s waiting for you
Put on pants, put on pants
It’s the smart thing to do.
Put on pants, put on pants
Even if they show off your shins
Put on pants, put on pants,
That’s how excellence begins!

Oh, we wear pants!
Excellence!
Oh, we wear pants!
Excellence!

I am proud to say, by the way, that 100% of our student body was wearing pants today, as were all staff.


I can’t speak for E, but I had a lot of fun in Grade One today. In only two hours we were able to cover science (criteria for life,) reading (phonics program and storytime,) handwriting, math, and Hebrew. Oh, and grammar. The only thing we didn’t do was flute, but I’m inclined to let that slide for today because she practices every day without being told.

In fact, we had a trial lesson with a flute teacher yesterday. E’s excitement is so endearing—she played a few songs for her teacher and tried everything the teacher showed her. Her lessons begin in earnest a week from Friday; in the meantime I’ve gotten her a subscription to Little Flute Magazine, which contains a recipe for flute-shaped cookies, some fun puzzles, and other flute-related content. Anything to keep up the excitement, right?

I haven’t had the same kind of luck finding a viola teacher for K. One teacher had no space in her schedule; the next only works out of her own studio and we’re committed to finding teachers who will come to us—or at least teach online—so that’s not going to work. I’ll keep looking, all the while hoping that K doesn’t lose the excitement for viola that she gained at camp.

Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Resorting to Violins

Day 440: 440

Ah, 440.

More accurately, A440. It’s the pitch to which orchestral instruments are tuned—unless you’re one of those weird European orchestras that prefers A438. You’d think a difference of two Hertz wouldn’t make much of a difference, but apparently it causes some consternation for trans-atlantic orchestral collaboration.

Closer to home, we’re working on our latest musical collaboration—the arrangement of Ode to Joy that I was working on back in April. We’ve gotten to the point where fifty percent of us know our parts quite well, roughly 16 percent are just sight-reading their way through it, and the remaining thirty-one percent aren’t really comfortable with their parts yet.

I started working with everyone on their parts in late April. E took to it immediately and was playing all 32 bars of her part within the week. N took a bit longer, rhythmically-challenged as he sometimes is, but he gradually got up to speed. R is still working on her chord changes; to be fair, she is learning a new instrument, whereas N has been learning piano for four years.

And K… well, we had some…unpleasantness…early on. I had written the viola part to be a bit more interesting than just a string of quarter notes; she objected strenuously. The first roadblock was the dotted quarter note at the end of the fourth bar. She didn’t get it. I explained. Then she explained to me why it was a stupid way to notate a beat and a half. Volubly, and at length. Then she refused to practice it anymore.

(Yes, I pointed out to her that she was arguing about musical notation to someone who has a university degree in music. She was unmoved.)

Words were exchanged—many words—about the possibility of me just writing an easier part for her. To put it mildly, she was not in favour. I did it anyway. No “weird” rhythms, nothing too crazy.

Today she sight-read it fairly easily, and we practiced together for half an hour (which in and of itself is a minor miracle.) Then we called in the rest of the kids and tried the piece all together.

It was… not terrible. As you may know, amateur music groups can sound rather awful; we sounded unpracticed, very rough around the edges, but not bad—especially not for a first run-through.

At this time yesterday I was feeling less than positive about K’s progress in music this year. Tonight I’m feeling a lot more hopeful. As long as the part is mainly quarter and half notes—and let’s face it, many viola parts are—she can sight read it with little trouble. Maybe once she can sight read a little better she’ll be able to develop a solo repertoire. For now she’s happy playing music with other people… as long as she approves of her part. But that’s a fight for another day.

Darn Tootin' · Just the two of us

Day 418: What I can’t stop buying.

Some people just can’t stop buying books (*cough*Mr. December*cough*.) I have a similar problem, but it’s a bit noisier than the books; I can’t seem to stop buying musical instruments.

After buying E’s Nuvo Toot (beginner flute) and really liking it, I started looking at their more advanced student flutes. I read the reviews. I watched YouTube videos where professional flautists played the Nuvo flutes and their $10K professional silver flutes back-to-back. I started lusting after those flutes. And when I saw that they come in a metallic indigo colour… well, sign me up!

But wait! I already have a flute… don’t I?

Okay, fine, I do. But it’s a silver flute and the pads are all dried up and it’s a bit leaky, and repairing it would cost just a bit less than buying it brand new. In fact, the Nuvo flute was about half the price of fixing my silver flute. Not to mention the fact that it’s waterproof, washable, practically indestructible, and has silicone key pads that never dry out. It seems like a slam dunk from every angle, right?

As I considered these issues, I began to notice that Mr. December was frustrated when playing his clarinet. Like my flute, it went many years without proper maintenance. Like my flute, it would cost close to the purchase price to fix it. Unlike my flute, it had a crack in its bell. Combine those problems with the need to transpose music on sight when he played with us, and Mr. December was not having a good time, clarinet-wise.

Of course I noticed that Nuvo has an instrument that is essentially a C clarinet. I floated the idea to Mr. December and he was not opposed. Several days later, I’d ordered both instruments.

They took their sweet time coming… but tonight at dinnertime we received a box that was very light. Inside were our flute and clarinet. We ignored our children in favour of trying out the new instruments.

It was kind of disappointing. The clarinet is pretty small and doesn’t have all the same keys as a concert clarinet; Mr. December will have to spend some time with the fingering chart before he plays anything with the rest of us. The flute is beautiful (it actually camouflages very nicely in our library) but it feels a bit harder to get a sound out of—not what I would expect from an instrument geared towards students.

There’s a decent return policy on these instruments, so we’ve decided to try them out for a week or two and then decide whether they’re worth keeping. In the meantime, K gravitated towards the blue flute and spent some twenty minutes trying to play it.

“You know,” she ventured, “It gets boring only practicing one instrument all the time. If you keep this, will you teach me flute as well as viola? I really like the idea of having a few different instruments to choose from.”

So do I, kid. That’s how I got into this instrument-buying addiction in the first place.

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Day 396: Worth it.

Today was one of those full days that ends with a feeling of great satisfaction. Unfortunately, the fullness of the day has also left me with a feeling of significant pain; still, I feel like I made the right choices.

I can barely believe how much E has been practicing her flute. Anytime nobody else is in the library (which is also our music room,) she’s in there with her music on the stand and her flute at her lips. Her work really shows: she’s sounding better and better every day. Now I just have to teach her about eighth notes.

When I finally got my hands on the three older kids—which is getting to be later and later each day as Mr. December gets carried away with whatever he’s teaching them—I sat them down and assigned them some substantial writing, which they immediately started brainstorming for. Later we had art class, where we once again tried to make pottery in the style of Ancient Greece.

Last week I taught the kids the coil method for making a pot. This week I took a slab-building approach, using balloons as our moulds. It wasn’t particularly successful, and only N’s pot was still standing by the end of the hour. Mine looked beautiful, but I tried to smooth “just one more lump” and… POP. With the balloon gone, my whole pot collapsed in on itself.

Around 5:00 we all went to the park. I was there on a mission: the apricot trees in the community orchard are already in bloom, but tonight’s snow and freezing temperatures threatened to kill all the blossoms and any fruit they might bear this summer. An email went out this morning asking for volunteers to bring tarps, plastic bags, and tie-downs and help cover the trees. That’s why we found ourselves in the park, tying multiple tarps together and then raising them over the trees—like a giant chuppah—before tying them down. The best part was that, once again, my kids were doing useful work to benefit the community they live in. There’s no substitute for that experience.

After dinner we started watching Animal Farm (the 1954 animated film, not the 1999 live-action one.) The kids were riveted. Our next step will be a read-aloud of the book, as part of our literature studies.

And then it was bedtime. I could hardly believe that it was 8:30 already. Where did the day go? Oh, yeah… we did stuff today. Lots and lots of stuff.

I definitely overdid it today. And yet I did it knowingly; sometimes I need to feel normal and functional (especially if I’m not) more than I need to be pain-free. Besides, these past six (or seven?) weeks have taught me that resting won’t guarantee me a pain-free day anyhow, so I might as well do at least some of the things I enjoy.

Now… if anyone needs me, I’ll be in my bed with a heating pad and my banana popsicles for the next day or two.

Image description: three tarps are spread out on the ground, tied together with twist ties and zip ties. A child is squatting near the far corner of the tarp, tying it to a pole. Grass in background.
Darn Tootin' · DIY · family fun · Homeschool · Resorting to Violins

Day 395: Finally, the Payoff

Yesterday I used my Music Therapy degree for the first time in what feels like ages.

I painstakingly transcribed the main theme of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (aka Ode to Joy) using some musical notation software. Then I listened over and over again to the original orchestral piece, stopping every few bars, humming, transcribing the parts to solfege, and then notating them in C major, the only key in which E can play her flute.

It brought back memories of a fourth-year assignment we had in one of our Music Therapy classes: to take a piece of orchestral music and arrange it for a hypothetical group of clients, using common music therapy instruments. I chose Also Sprach Zarathustra (a.k.a. the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and arranged it for three reed horns, metallophone, bass drum, and piano.

This time I’m arranging a piece for my family to play; the kids all seem to enjoy playing music together and it teaches them how to listen and respond to each other, so I’ve made it my goal to do some ensemble work with them. Several hours spent on a musical arrangement seems excessive—but then again, how else will I be able to get an arrangement for flute, clarinet, guitar, viola, and piano? And if I could find such a thing, I highly doubt that the parts would be perfectly matched to the kids’ disparate levels.

No, this was definitely a job I had to do myself. Finally, all those years of musical dictation and transposition have paid off!

Darn Tootin' · family fun · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Resorting to Violins · whine and cheese

Day 383: Doin’ it with flare

How does one homeschool their kids in the middle of a fibromyalgia flare-up? It turns out that the answer is: as little as possible, as honestly as possible, in as much comfort as possible.

It was a gorgeous day today, so I pushed all of us out the door and to the nearest park. We did our workout on the playground equipment. At one point N got lazy and started lolling around on the climber instead of doing the exercise. I set him straight: “Listen, mister. If I can do it today, then you sure as heck can do it too. Get moving.”

I find one of the most difficult things about fibromyalgia is gauging how hard I can push myself. Exercising during a flare-up doesn’t do any damage to my body; it just hurts. So I guess the question is how much pain I feel like tolerating, given the expected payoff. Going to the park with the family improved my mood substantially, but it didn’t help my pain level at all.

Mr. December worked on chemistry and math with the older kids while I helped E with her writing, reading, and flute (which is going really well, by the way.) The rest of my morning was spent ordering groceries on Instacart and sitting in a hammock alternately reading and spacing out.

The kids joined me in the living room to discuss their next writing assignment. I stayed cocooned in my hammock with my furry blue blanket and patiently answered all their questions. Then I went upstairs to lie down for an hour. I have no idea what the kids ate for lunch, but I think it’s safe to assume that if they were hungry they would have eaten something.

We reconvened in the living room after my nap and I read aloud about Ancient Greek democracy. Then, for art, I asked them to bring over all the sketchbooks and markers and introduced them to meandros, those Greek key designs that you can draw without lifting your pen (did you know the word meander comes from the name of a river in Asia Minor? I was today years old when I learned that.)

By 2:30 I was done. I went to the back porch and cocooned myself in the outdoor hammock for a bit of a change. Groceries arrived around 4:00 and I dispatched my child labour force to bring everything in and put the perishables away. Dinner—rotisserie chicken and potato wedges from the supermarket—was at 5:00 and by 5:30 the kids were clamoring for more screen time.

“Not until you’ve practiced your instruments,” I stared levelly at R and K, “You haven’t done that for a week or so.”

I’m proud (and a bit surprised) to say that both R and K went off and practiced on their own. After a while K invited me to join her on the back porch for her practice; shockingly, she was very receptive to my suggestions and did some really good work.

And now here we are, after an hour of British reality TV about kids of varying backgrounds having playdates at each other’s homes (E loves this show,) and I’m about to tuck in three of the four kids.

Everything still hurts, possibly more than this morning. But I did it—I managed to preside over some learning, music practice, and dinner, which feels like a massive accomplishment right now. I think a warm bath and a cup of tea is what’s needed now, and then maybe if I get lucky somebody will tuck me in.

Darn Tootin' · education · family fun · Kids · Resorting to Violins

Day 334: Darn Tootin’

“Now that you’re six,” I told E, “it’s time for you to really learn an instrument. Is there something you’d really like to learn?”

“Drums!” she shouted.

“No way.” Mr. December and I said at the same time. “Pick something else.”

Here I’ll interrupt the narrative to explain that E started learning violin pretty much from birth. She had her own solid wood violin to hold and play while her siblings practiced. She was just starting to play a real violin—and to complain about practicing—when I got my concussion. We shelved violin lessons after that and picked them up again in September 2019. I don’t think I have to tell you why the lessons stopped in March 2020. Anyhow, E’s been dead set against violin lessons since then.

I play six instruments, three of them reasonably well (guess which ones!): Voice (my major through high school and university,) guitar, piano, viola, violin and flute. I know from personal experience that people can feel very drawn to one instrument and thoroughly hate playing another; I hated piano lessons for the ten years I took them, but was immediately drawn to the violin and viola, which I could practice all day if my hands didn’t protest. That’s why I decided to give E a choice of instruments instead of forcing her to continue with violin. And now, back to the story.

“Oh, I know!” her face lit up, “flute! I love flute! I play it at Savta’s pool!” (She was talking about those bath toys that you fill with water to change the pitch. In case you didn’t know, it doesn’t matter how much water you put in. Invariably a small child will blow as hard as possible, which will always result in a loud screeching sound.)

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll see what we can do about getting you started on flute.” At that, E went into raptures.

I found an instrument designed for small kids as an introductory flute. It’s called a Toot, and after reading all the reviews and advertising copy, I decided to buy it along with the introductory music book. E got to choose her colour (black with blue keys). She was thrilled.

The following week I said, “I can’t wait til your flute arrives!”

“I don’t wanna play flute!” E declared crossly. “I HATE THE FLUTE!”

This is where I started channeling my inner 1950’s parent: “You’re going to learn flute, and you’re going to learn to like it, because I already ordered it, and paid for it, and it’s on its way to our house!”


The flute arrived yesterday. The moment I placed the package in E’s hand, she was excited. We took out the Toot and I showed her how to hold it and how to play the first three notes. She got it very quickly and started reading the songs in the book (graphic notation, not the type of sheet music you might be picturing.)

“I love this! I’m so good at it! Listen, everybody!”

All I wanted was to spent ten or fifteen minutes with the instrument and then put it away for another day, but E insisted on practicing for another half hour. This morning when I sat at the table to drink my coffee, I could hear E’s practice wafting in from the library.

Later in the morning I was working with K on some viola duets when N wandered in. We invited him to accompany us with a simple drone on the piano. E was next through the door, and she was very excited to be able to join us on her Toot.

It’s early days yet, and I’m sure she’ll resist practicing as soon as it gets difficult, but this week I’m just going to bask in the excited glow of a six-year-old falling in love with her first flute.