Darn Tootin' · Resorting to Violins · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 778: Instrumental

I was about to write this post, and then realized that I hadn’t told Mr. December yet; and a blog post is NOT the way for him to find out. Wait right here—I’ll be back in a moment.


He has now been told: we’re taking the instruments to Israel. Guitar, flute, viola. Possibly a roll-up keyboard.

Mr. December’s reaction just now was a very put-upon, “Really?” to which K loudly expounded on the difficulty of not being able to practice consistently. Yes, you read that correctly. My kid was complaining about not practicing her instrument enough. Will wonders never cease?

Long story short, Mr. December got outvoted. As I pointed out to him, if he wants to actually try worldschooling with slow travel (living in one place) for extended periods of time, he’ll have to accept that the musical instruments come with us.

We brought R’s guitar to Costa Rica and Galapagos with us, and were allowed to bring it into the cabin and put it in the overhead bin. K’s viola won’t take up much more space than that—although come to think of it, I should go measure my viola case (it’s nicer than K’s and probably better padded, too.) E’s flute is obviously no problem—she’s brought it on all our trips. And N…

Look, it kind of sucks to be a pianist sometimes. You have to rely on an instrument being provided for you, and then it might not even be well-tuned. I made an executive decision to try one of those roll-up keyboards to see if it might suffice for N’s piano practice while we’re away. I’m not expecting it to be amazing or just like a piano; I simply want him to be able to practice the notes and fingerings when we’re gone for long stretches of time.

Have I even begun packing yet? No. But our flight is still 72 hours away. Plenty of time, right?

Keepin' it real · Resorting to Violins · whine and cheese · Worldschooling

Day 720: Well, that sucked.

Tonight was the Worldschool Summit Talent Show and Dinner. Talent was pretty thin on the ground (although there were plenty of acts) and dinner was served at 9 p.m.—except for my kids’ food, which inexplicably didn’t show up until after Mr. December spoke to the manager at least three times. By that point K and E were desperately hangry (with good reason—it was already almost 10 p.m.) and, to add insult to injury, the fries were so salty as to be inedible. K and E almost cried. N and R were less affected, although still hungry. We stopped at the convenience store on the way back to the hotel and bought a bunch of things: Rice Krispy Squares, jell-o, chips, and instant noodle cups. I felt so bad for them.

On the bright side (because there’s always one, isn’t there?) we had a short recital by the principal cellist of the orchestra in Guanajuato, and a conference participant who is also a cello teacher invited us up to try her travel cello (it fits into a tiny box. Amazing.) K went up and tried it, and then the professional cellist improvised with K playing a basic ostinato (repeating musical phrase.)

We’re back at our hotel tired, grumpy, and frustrated. Hopefully a good night’s sleep will have everyone feeling better tomorrow.

K playing a travel cello (it looks like a narrow wooden box with a fingerboard, bridge, and tailpiece.) To her left is a man with a regular cello. They're looking at each other and he's gesturing to K.
crafty · DIY · Keepin' it real · Resorting to Violins · waxing philosophical · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 661: It feels good to be bad.

“You’re old,” K tells me with a grin, every time I announce the death of some celebrity she’s never heard of.

And I reply, “Yup. And it’s so awesome!”

I’ve realized lately that there’s a significant amount of freedom in getting older. Not only do I care less what other people think: in some areas I even care less what I think. To wit: I have multiple hobbies that I’m bad at.

It feels like there’s a bell curve for hobbies. When you’re a little kid, nobody expects you to be particularly good at things because you just haven’t had time to develop skills yet. You’re adorably cute, so it’s okay if your violin playing is a bit squeaky. But then, as you get a bit older, the assumption is that you should be striving for excellence with your hobby: if you want to continue, grownups tell you, you have to practice more, take more classes, get this coach. This attitude intensifies through high school as the all-important university applications loom.

One day adulthood creeps up on you like the clown in a horror movie. Or maybe it just smacks you in the face like that swinging paint can in Home Alone. Either way, expectations of being good at your hobbies seem to plummet. It’s totally fine to try a new hobby and be bad at it… and keep doing it just because it’s fun. By the time you hit your eighties you get a medal just for showing up: “Wow, she’s eighty-nine and she plays in a community orchestra! So inspirational!”

I made a little chart for you:

A graph with an x- and y- axis; there is a line following a bell curve across the chart. The bottom is labelled "Age in years" and the side axis is labelled "expectations of excellence." The levels in the expectations axis are: none (age zero and sixty), "You're obviously still developing your skills" (ages 12 and 35), "Pretty good, but you're no [insert name of famous professional here]" (ages 16 and 28), and "If you don't perform like a pro, you're wasting everyone's time. Especially your own." (age 20.)
If you’re preparing to tell me that this isn’t correct for a bell curve because the x-axis isn’t on a linear scale, don’t bother. I’m bad at statistics, I don’t care, and I still enjoy making up funny graphs.

Now in my forties, I feel good about mediocre work for the first time ever. When I play my viola, I’m not focused on polishing a piece; I practice until I can play all the notes at the correct speed, maybe throw in a few dynamics or some vibrato, and then move on to the next piece I fancy. I’m not going in order of difficulty: I just play what I like. It’s very liberating. I’m a mediocre violist (which means I’m good enough to be last chair in a professional orchestra. Ha ha, little viola joke there) and everyone just thinks it’s cool that I play. Most importantly, I love it.

Ditto carpentry. I don’t usually spend time “honing my craft” or striving to produce professional-quality work. I just like the power tools, the smell of fresh wood, and the ridiculous amount of innuendo that woodworking injects into my conversations. I’m totally screwing around, doing a half-assed job, and most of what I make is good from far, but far from good—and I don’t care.

Take it from a former perfectionist: it feels good to be bad. I highly recommend it.

Apathy · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Resorting to Violins · whine and cheese

Day 656: Three out of Four Ain’t Bad…

We’re getting back into a homeschooling routine, and a good one at that. I don’t want to jinx anything, but K has been practicing viola every day this week—yes, I know it’s Wednesday, and it’s a three-day streak… but it’s actually a long daily practice streak for her. Even better, she’s motivated to learn and improve; gone are the days of me forcing her to practice. I’m so enjoying practice time with her.

E has been going into the library when nobody’s there and practicing her violin. I’m not sure what happened to flute, but it’s really exciting that she’s going in and exploring the instrument on her own. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t sell off all the kid-sized violins when I wanted to last year.

We’ve even been doing Hebrew, which is something that often went by the wayside last year. E is happily soaking it all up and demanding more; R is happy to be spoken to in Hebrew in the mornings, when her brain is rested enough to process things.

Speaking of R, she’s been practicing her guitar this week and it’s really starting to pay off.

And N? Well… he practices his piano happily and is doing incredible work in math; he helped E with her music theory work today. But in Hebrew he refused to speak and then he left the table. When I gave him the writing assignment for the day, he looked away and then left the room. I offered assistance, but he wouldn’t tell me what the problem was; he just went mute and walked away.

On a side note, guess who has no screen privileges right now?

By 3:30 p.m. my brain was fried and I needed a break, but R wanted me to help her flesh out ideas for her writing assignment. “It’s your DUTY as a teacher to help your students!” she admonished me when I asked if we could do it later. So I helped her, which I actually enjoyed despite the descending brain fog.

And then I went down the rabbit hole of Air BnBs in sunny locales. I want to stick to this successful routine we’re establishing; I also want to see the sun. I can probably do both, if I can overcome my apathy to plan and pack and travel again.

birthing babies · Kids · Resorting to Violins

Day 655: Seven!

My baby really truly isn’t a baby anymore. I probably say that every year, but this time I really mean it.

For her birthday, we teamed up with my parents and gave E a Kobo of her very own. I pre-loaded it with a book that I’m pretty sure she’ll like, but it’s on my Kobo account (along with everyone else in the family,) so she has everyone’s books available to her. She just came running down to my desk screaming, “Eema! Eema! I can read Percy Jackson! I just read some with N!”

Not that there’s anything too objectionable in Percy Jackson, but I took the opportunity to remind E that being trusted with a Kobo also means she has to be trustworthy: if I guide her away from certain books on the Kobo, she needs to follow my recommendations.

(Of course, between you and me, I know that the fastest way to get a kid interested in something is to ban it. I think I’ll prohibit a whole whack of classic kids’ books.)

Anyhoo… she’s seven. She’s not a “little kid” anymore (although in this family, she’s still little.) She can read, multiply, knead challah dough, ride a bike, sew a quilt, and play her flute.

By-the-by, she decided yesterday that she wants to play violin as well. We dug out R’s old ⅛ size violin and I tuned it up for her. Today she came to me and proudly played the first seven notes of “Twinkle, twinkle little star.”

E brings the sunshine to every room; she brings the “shnoogles” (snuggles) too; she’s clever, articulate, and cute (and she knows it, but somehow has managed not to be insufferable about it.) Her heart, mind, and arms are wide open. I’m so thankful I got this beautiful neshama (soul) to guide into adulthood.

Happy birthday, E!

ADHD · crafty · DIY · lists · Resorting to Violins · The COVID files

Day 648: Hyperfocus Hurts

I just went and practiced viola for maybe fifteen minutes. As practice goes, that’s extremely short—but I had to stop because of the pain in my left arm.

I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to keep practicing. It’s a classic case of ADHD hyperfocus: once I start something that I love, it’s very hard to stop. Yesterday I finally tore myself away from the instrument after forty-five minutes. Better quit while I’m not in pain, I thought to myself, but I caught myself inching towards the instrument cabinet several times again last night.

I guess yesterday’s practice session set me up for pain today, because ten minutes into today’s practice, my arm was starting to ache. It took me five full minutes to accept that maybe today wasn’t the day for another long practice session, however much I wanted it to be.


Know what’s as much fun as online shopping? Online browsing the library catalogue.

Seriously. Clicking “place hold” is even better than clicking “buy,” because it’s not costing me anything and I can click to my heart’s content. There might be a limit to the number of books I can put on hold at one time, but so far I’m up to thirty-one. Libraries are awesome—especially now that they’ve stopped charging fines for late returns. It’s supposed to be a temporary measure until COVID calms down, but I’m hoping Toronto follows the examples of Chicago, New York, Boston, and San Diego and just ditches fines permanently.


I’ve had ideas popping into my head all day about small projects I want to tackle. I should be listing them on my Trello page, but I’m too lazy to click over there, so I’m sharing it with you here instead:

  • Reupholster the storage ottoman in the living room (the faux leather is peeling.)
  • While we’re on the ottoman, install a puzzle shelf a few inches inside it, just a few inches below the top, so we have a place to leave puzzles that are in progress.
  • Organize a puzzle swap among my friends so that we can all have some new puzzles to work on.
  • Order the labels for the library.
  • Make the giant letters spelling out “Makery” for the makery wall. Right now the wall says, “welcome to the…” and whenever I see it I start humming “Welcome to the Rock” from Come From Away.
  • Work on N’s quilt.
  • Buy myself some new pajama pants. Also basic t-shirts. And socks.
  • Repot our spider plants in the new self-watering wall planters.

R and N are coming back from Florida tomorrow; they haven’t been home since October 20. This house is about to get a lot noisier. We’ll see whether I can get any work done when all four of the kids are in the house.

DIY · family fun · Just the two of us · Resorting to Violins

Day 647: Honey-do…

Mr. December might never admit boredom again. At least, not in my range of hearing.

We started the day with “puzzle time” at the table, at E’s insistence; she wanted to work on some Sudoku. I did a few brain teasers, K worked through a few Sudokus, and Mr. December furiously scribbled out his thoughts on some very hard math puzzles.

Puzzle time came to an end, though, and Mr. December and I found ourselves as we were yesterday: sitting together, talking about how we felt at loose ends. I don’t do idleness well, though, so pretty soon I was reciting a list of projects that I need to finish. It went something like this:

“I know, I have to finish the curtains for our bedroom—but I am so sick of those things. I’ve been “almost done” several times already! And we need to do the labels for the library shelves, but I was reshelving the books before we left and now I don’t remember where I wanted to reshelve them to. And I’ve been thinking, maybe I could fix that roller blind in the library if I slide the hardware a bit closer…” And with that I was out of the hammock, heading for my screwdriver and then the library.

“Hey,” I called over my shoulder to Mr. December, “since you’re not doing anything, how ’bout you go load the dishwasher?”

I succeeded at fixing the roller blind and Mr. December got the dishwasher started. He joined me in the library, where I was trying to reconstruct my brilliant reshelving plan.

“Since you’re right here,” I said, “maybe you could help me by disassembling this bench. It needs to be packed up—we’re returning it.”

He gamely sat down on the floor and began to take apart the bench; I continued working on reshelving the books until he needed my help to pack the bench back into its box.

We finished with the bench. Mr. December stood up; then, before I could say anything, he said, “So… let’s maybe do something together later, okay?” and escaped my clutches before I could assign him a new task.

I still had no clue what to do about organizing the books in the library, but at least the dishes were clean and the bench was ready to be shipped back. I gave up on the books and took out my viola; so now the roller blind is fixed, the dishes are clean, the bench is packed up, and my Telemann concerto is coming along nicely. Not bad for a boring day.

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.

Camping it up · family fun · Keepin' it real · Resorting to Violins

Day 527: My heart is full

…and so is my house.

The three big kids came back from music camp today. Just like last time we picked them up from a camp bus, they talked the entire way home about how great it was. Then K said,

“Eema, I think I’d like to take viola lessons from a teacher again and maybe also join an orchestra. I think I’ll practice more if I actually have to keep up with the rest of the viola section or else sit there not playing and feel like an idiot.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

(Okay, I mean, you couldn’t—I was sitting in the driver’s seat and I’m sure I couldn’t have been knocked out of it, as I was wearing my seatbelt. Why is “knock me over with a feather” even a saying?)

K’s announcement surprised and delighted me. I also know full well how important it is to keep that momentum going, strike while the iron is hot, and so on; so I’ve started my search for a viola teacher. I want one who will take the time to learn how K learns best, and who will come to our house to teach. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

That’s only the half of it, dear readers.

R and N did Musical Theatre at camp, which this year consisted of a “Broadway revue”-style show. They learned songs and choreography for thirteen numbers—and both had a fabulous time doing it. Tonight we were in the car on our way home and they started singing some of the numbers they’d learned. K joined in. When they finished the number, someone asked, “what’s next?” and I jumped in:

“Do you hear the people sing?”

Everyone joined in: “Singing the song of angry men…” and as all six of us were sitting in the minivan singing Broadway musicals together, I took Mr. December’s hand in mine and thought, This is it. I’m living the dream.

Best of all, the kids are already planning to go back to music camp next summer.

ADHD · crafty · family fun · Kids · Resorting to Violins

Day 485: Hyperfocus Hurts

Yesterday I had a block of time all to myself, all alone in the house. I took advantage of it to work on a personal music project of mine. ADHD hyperfocus kicked in and before I had realized it, I’d been playing and singing for over three hours.

I learned a few important things. First, the new laptop we got for the kids has an excellent built-in microphone, so I can just do all my recordings on that computer—no need to buy a mic. Second, I learned that a music degree isn’t a “get out of practicing free” card for the rest of your life. Five minutes at the piano made it very clear to me that I can’t just improvise a piano part and then record it in the same afternoon. And third, I learned that playing for three hours straight is not a great idea for my body, although it is for my soul.

Now, I’m not new at this; I know that playing the same instrument for three hours will cause soreness. That’s why I switched instruments a bunch of times. Different instruments, different muscles—right?

Apparently not. I mean, I guess three hours of playing the same instrument might cause more pain than I’m feeling right now, but switching instruments doesn’t seem to have eliminated the problem.

In a perfect world—okay, maybe just a non-hurting body—I’d channel my hyperfocus into my music for several days straight. In this imperfect world I have to give it a rest for a few days before I get back to it. It’s a good think I’m a dabbler with lots of different interests; I’ll just rotate through them while I wait for my hands to calm down.

Speaking of other interests, I’ve been thinking about quilting again—it’s been years since I made a quilt, probably since my niece was born almost six years ago. But each of my kids was promised a quilt when they moved into big-kid beds. I’m obviously several years behind on this commitment.

In the past I’ve gone so far as to have N pick his favourite fabrics and approve a design. I don’t remember which design it was, but thanks to my avoidance of putting things away properly I know exactly which pile of fabrics is his “yes” pile.

I want to start his quilt, but I can’t. I’m trying to impose some self-discipline here: I have a long list of things to do while the kids are at camp, and making N a quilt is definitely not on that list. It will have to wait.

So what am I planning to do this week? Well, I promised E a fun outing tomorrow afternoon. In the morning I have to return all those fabric samples (I’m really no further ahead and I’m heading over to a different store to find some more options,) buy some more gray spray paint (ran out mid-spray today,) and pick up a prepaid parcel box from Canada Post (R has run out of Rainbow Loom, hardly surprising since she’s probably supplying her entire cabin with it.) After that, fun! At least, I hope it is. One way or another, you’ll hear all about it tomorrow night.