family fun · Kids · parenting · Resorting to Violins

Day 67: Oh, those summer nights

I’m sure a bunch of stuff happened today, but my memories of it have been completely wiped out by the gentle loveliness of this evening.

It was finally, finally warm enough to eat dinner outside. We barbecued our dinner, ate on the patio, and then played in the backyard until E’s bedtime (which is to say that Mr. December and the kids played. I sat in the hammock outside and read the new book I picked up from the Little Free Library down the street.)

I’ve just started reading The Trumpet of the Swan to E, one chapter a night, and tonight Mr. December got her ready for bed and did the reading. At the same time, R asked me to help with her violin practice. We had done maybe four minutes when I looked out the window and gasped.

“Hey, R,” I whispered, “There’s a whole family of bunnies on the lawn!” Why did I whisper? I have no idea. It’s not like I could have startled or spooked the bunnies from twenty feet away and through the window.

R adores bunnies. She says they’re her spirit animal. And seven or eight at once! She put down her violin and bow and ran out to the garden, barefoot, where she slowly tiptoed toward the bunnies to see if she could get a closer look. IMG_3883

Eventually she came running back, a huge grin on her face: “Eema! I saw one little bunny’s butt sticking out of a hole in the ground! And then a bunch of them hopped over into the hedge and when I held the branches apart I SAW THEM!!!”

Is there anything better for a parent than seeing your kid’s eyes light up in wonder? Okay, maybe snuggles. But it’s close.

Our front porch is the nicest place to be on a summer evening. The stone wall of our house and the concrete of the porch radiate the sun’s heat long after sunset, and everything is bathed in golden light.

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And when I came inside, N asked me to sing him to sleep. I haven’t done that in a couple of years, and yet he purred or squealed happily every time I started another song. “I remember this one, you sang it to me when I was a baby!” he’d exclaim, snuggling into my side.

You probably understand why whatever happened earlier today (good and bad) just doesn’t matter after the kind of evening it’s been. I’m happy, and I’m going to bed now.

(And yes, the Fibro is still flaring. But life goes on.)

better homes than yours · Renovation · Resorting to Violins

Day 61: People of the Book Room (house tour!)

You’re about to enter one of the most beloved rooms in our house:

(Drumroll, excited murmuring from the crowd)

The Library.

When we started planning this renovation, a library was at the top of Mr. December’s list of must-haves. It made my top three as well, but it got edged out by natural light.

We knew we wanted the library to be an “away room”, to borrow a term from architect Sarah Susanka. If we had a living room and dining room that were open to each other, then we needed a room that could be closed off and isolated from noise. Since I also wanted a music room (for instruments and live music, not for listening to recordings) and that would require isolation of sound as well, we decided to put the two together. Besides, does it get any more classy than a room full of books and musical instruments?

On the first day of this tour you saw the mirrored doors on one side of the front hall. When they and the sliding glass door to the dining room are closed, there’s significantly less sound transfer between rooms. Between that and the built-in sound mitigation strategies (double drywall with green glue, resilient channel in the ceiling, extra insulation in the walls), the library/music room is the quietest room in the house. IMG_3579

Let’s open the doors, shall we?

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The library has large windows that face due west, which means that we get bright sunlight all afternoon, which is why you can’t see the stone fireplace very well. The only part of our bungalow’s interior that we preserved, the wood-burning fireplace makes this our favourite room to be in on chilly nights.

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It took us a while to decide what to put on the wall above the fireplace. We discussed a wedding photo, metal sculpture, and paintings; then Mr. December found this 3D wooden map of the world, and everything else paled in comparison — especially after we learned that it could be lit up with colourful LED lights. Tacky? Maybe. Epic? Oh yeah.

There’s a tiny house engraved on the map right where Toronto is, to signify our home. We also had a quote engraved just below where it says “Antarctica”: Life is short and the world is wide. 

I see this room as essentially having two halves: the book side, and the music side.

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Three walls of the library are lined with built-in bookshelves and cabinetry. This was yet another one of my DIY projects that was interrupted by my concussion. I designed the library in sketchup and had our painter/carpenter dude build it for us. One day I plan to build a rolling ladder to help us reach the top shelves, but for now we just keep Terry’s poker books there, along with the complete transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials (important to have, but we don’t actually want to read them.)

The magazine rack in the back right corner of the photo is another example of making lemonade out of lemons. You see, we had to put a steel beam into the basement ceiling to hold up this wall and the post above it. To our consternation, the contractors installed the beam almost a foot away from where it was supposed to be, thus making our pantry smaller. I insisted that we enlarge the pantry by stealing some space from the library. To disguise it, we built these very shallow ledges to use as a magazine display.

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At the other end of the library, on the music side, we have this beautiful window seat. The cushions are from the old window seat in our bungalow — I’m very stuck on choosing a fabric for this seat, so if you have any suggestions please send them my way.

Under the window seat is a huge space for storing instrument cases. We don’t access them often because we don’t take our instruments out of the house very often, and we prefer to have them easily accessible.

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In case you’re wondering, yes, that is the same instrument hanger that I built years ago. I painted it to match the library and it’s still going strong.

Since the library is so quiet and private, K really likes doing her homework in here. For a while we dithered on where to put a desk — in the interim she used a folding table — until I decided that a pull-out desk would be just the thing. When she wants to use it, it pulls out and locks in the open position. With a sharp push, it unlocks and rolls back inside the cabinet.

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On the opposite wall we have our electric piano with an adjustable reading lamp above it, and all of our music books. We also have a sturdy music stand that gets moved around a lot.

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Since a library is really a celebration of words, we decided to decorate the crown moulding with quotes about books and reading. We chose our favourite quotes and deliberated over fonts; then I did the layout and sent it to a vinyl sign company to be laser-cut from adhesive vinyl. Installation was surprisingly easy, and we’re very happy with the results:

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When we were choosing paint colours, everyone thought I was crazy for painting the ceiling the same dark purple-blue as the bookcases, walls, and woodwork. “It’ll be so dark!” my mother declared. “Don’t you want to lighten it up a little with a white ceiling?” The answer to that one was an emphatic no. I wanted to feel enveloped and cozy in here, and to do something a little different and daring. And now I’m so glad that I did.

The library still needs work. It needs furniture, a window seat cushion that actually fits, and some more books (see all those empty shelves? Don’t worry! We’re working on it!) But even in its underfurnished state, it’s a room where we all want to be.

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family fun · Kids · parenting · Resorting to Violins · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Social Distancing, Day 5: Ignoring is Bliss

I don’t feel so great today. I’m not sure if it’s a fibro flare or if I’m coming down with something. Or maybe it’s the fact that a child was in my bed last night murmuring about a tummyache while I patted and shushed her. For four hours. You understand why I spent most of my afternoon sleeping it off. And how did I spend my morning? Inventory management.

Thanks to my engineer husband, we have an inventory spreadsheet for our toiletries and consumable household supplies. I finally took inventory today and realized there are a few notable gaps in our supplies (it doesn’t help that R’s thumb seems to need a new Steri-strip twice a day.) I spent the morning checking inventory and then attempting to order stuff online. FYI, Steri-strips are plentiful. Hand soap and Tylenol are not.

Between my morning work and the afternoon nap, I ignored my kids almost all day. True, there was an adjustment period when they kept jabbering at me about things they ostensibly needed, but eventually they got the message and left me to my work (and my nap.)

I love what happens when my kids are left to their own devices and the screen time has run out.

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R and E have been asking me to make apple crumble with them for the last four days. Today I told them that if they wanted crumble they’d have to at least start it themselves. R washed and peeled the apples. E used the special cutter that cores and cuts apples. When I made it back to the kitchen there was a pie plate full of cut apples. We finished the recipe together and baked it. It was delicious.

 

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My kids have finally resorted to violins.

I never would have believed it, but K voluntarily practiced violin for 40 minutes in the morning. Then after dinner she had turned into the teacher as she worked with R and N to teach them the song from some video game or other. (Note: N has not played violin in 3 years.)

I was sitting at my desk on the landing when N came out. “K says I have to play this part twenty times with no extra notes,” he explained. The next time he was sent to me for practice he appeared with a bow but no violin. “K says my bow hold is terrible. I have to do the Purple Stew bow game for a bit before I can continue learning the song.” IMG_2629

 

You know what those instructions mean, right? K obviously already knows how to practice properly. And now I know that she knows…

In the meantime R was chugging along with the song, working on 2 bars at a time. The three of them were at it for at least and hour. I’m still in shock.

 

Still in shock, and still feeling kind of crappy. My body hurts. I’m going to stop typing and go to bed and hope that I’ll feel better in the morning.

Early morning musings · Kids · parenting · Resorting to Violins

Night owl seeks 6 a.m.

I thought this day would never come.

Oh sure, I’ve aspired to be a morning person my whole life. The early morning is so peaceful and calm, not to mention the beautiful sunrises. But I’ve never managed to keep it up. A week here, a couple of days there, and the exhaustion would hit me hard enough that I gave it up.

Until now.

The only difference that I can see is my mindset. Waking up later is not an option anymore; the same way that 8:00 used to be my cutoff wake-up time because otherwise the kids would be late to school, 6:00 is now my cutoff wake-up time because otherwise I’m just not as nice a parent or as effective a person as I’d like to be.

So how did I do it?

Mostly once I made up my mind that I have to wake up before everyone else I was able to force myself to follow through. But a few tricks have helped me:

My alarm doesn’t yell at me or blare music. Instead, I hear the sound of chirping birds, soft at first, then getting louder. It’s like slowly waking up in the woods – I can lie there and laze for a few minutes, but it’s hard to resist getting up. (Note: this doesn’t work for everybody. My mum tried it and said she woke up in a good mood for the first week, and then she started waking up thinking, “Shut up, birds!”)

I never thought my penchant for reading fanfic on my phone would help me become a morning person, but here we are. I usually read for about 20 minutes before I even get out of bed. I find that the light from the screen wakes up my brain. A few articles or some chapters of a story, and I’m awake enough to get up without hurting myself.

I get dressed right away. I arrange all my morning clothes – including socks and underwear – one one hanger that hangs on the door handle of my wardrobe. I can (and usually do) get dressed in the dark. It’s quick – no decisions, no searching for the perfect socks – and once I’m dressed I can’t get back into bed.

When I leave the bedroom, I close all the doors to the bedroom hallway and then turn on every light in the kitchen, living room, and dining room. It helps me pretend that it’s not still nighttime.

And then… then my time is my own for at least half an hour. I blog. I stretch. Sometimes I clear my desk and pay and file the bills. Some mornings I start a pot of oatmeal on the stove. I get important things out of the way before my day really begins.

(Hot tip: If you have to call a customer service line of some kind, do it around 7 a.m. Nobody else is calling at that hour and you’ll spend exactly zero minutes on hold. It’s magical.)

Is all this worth it? You could ask my kids, who’d probably tell you that now I wake them up with a song and a snuggle instead of by shouting, “Get UP! We have to GO!”; you could ask our violin teacher, who would tell you that the kids’ progress has accelerated since we started practicing daily before school (after school practice was a fight); Or you could ask me.

I like myself better when I wake up early. By 9:00 a.m. I’ve already accomplished something beyond getting the kids to school. I’m so much more productive when nobody else is awake that my morning half-hour of work can easily cover an hour or more of daytime effort.

And that’s a really good thing, because holy cow, am I exhausted. I’m going to need a nap.

 

Are you an early riser? An aspiring one? An unapologetic night owl? Share your tips, if you’ve got any, in the comments below. If mine stop working I’m going to need more in my arsenal.

DIY · Kids · Resorting to Violins

Oh, hang it all…

I’d forgotten how insane the first two years of a new baby are. I mean, really insane. But the little one is almost two now, and suddenly I have time to do projects AND blog about them!

Last year we started doing Suzuki violin with the three older kids. Then I got violin envy and bought myself a cheap violin so I could play along with them during practice. And then I started to miss my viola, so I reclaimed it from my brother (he borrowed it in high school) and traded it in for something smaller (I have no desire to repeat the tendinitis I had in high school). So now we have four violins and one viola, and that’s a lot of cases to keep out in the living room.

Have you ever noticed that the stupidest things can keep you from doing a task? Like, the garbage can needs a new bag but you don’t really want to put one in, so you leave the cheese wrapper on the counter for the next person to deal with?

(What, that doesn’t happen in your house? The Mr. and I are going to have a talk about this…)

Around here we call it “friction” – the annoying little things that are a deterrent to doing things right. Having a laundry hamper with a lid is friction. Having to stand on a step stool to reach the healthy food is friction. Having to open your instrument case, remove the instrument, attach the shoulder rest, and remove the bow – you’d better believe that’s friction.

As any Suzuki parent will attest, it can be enough of a challenge to get your kids to practice their violins. And frankly, even I would sometimes choose not to practice – even though I love playing my viola – because I only had a minute and it would take more than half that to get my viola out and ready to play. So I started thinking about ways to store the violins so that they’re ready to go, easy to see, and still safe from bumps, scratches, and dry air. And I started thinking about how violin shops display their instruments, and after some googling and some more thinking I built this:

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Can you spot the viola?

It started life as a BONDE storage unit from IKEA. We’ve had it for 12 years and have used it to store wine glasses, serving platters, candlesticks, menorahs, and basically anything that wasn’t ugly enough to put behind closed doors.

But now it’s a violin display case. Because it has a door, the violins can’t get knocked or scratched when they’re hanging there. Also because of the door, I can humidify the air a bit so the instruments don’t dry out and crack. And because the door is glass, we can see the violins hanging there, whispering “play us… play us!”

Do you need one of these? Well, then. Roll up your sleeves and gather the following:

  • 1×3 dimensional lumber, length determined by the side of your cabinet and the number of instruments being stored.
  • several wire hangers – one hanger is good for two instruments.
  • some narrow wood lath or wood moulding, same length as the board (one for each side)
  • finish nails
  • carpenter’s glue
  • wire cutters
  • pliers

So here’s how I did it (in about 10 minutes.) First, I took a piece of 1×3 lumber and drilled holes into the side. You’ll have to measure your instruments for best results, but I found that a spacing of four inches between instruments works well for the children’s violins (1/16 to 1/4 size) and six inches are needed for a full size violin and 15″ viola. So measure those distances on each side of the board, and using a narrow drill bit, drill holes into the sides. The holes on both sides should line up with each other.

Next grab some plastic-coated wire hangers (we get them from the dry cleaners), cut off the twisted and hooked part, and straighten out the rest with your pliers. Cut a length of 12″ for each instrument you’ll be hanging. Then shape the wire into a rectangle (about 3″ on bottom and 3 1/2″ on either side), with the cut ends forming the top of the rectangle.

Partially fill the holes you drilled in the 1×3 with carpenter’s glue. Place the two cut ends of the wire rectangle into one pair of holes (one end on either side of the 1×3) and press them as far in as they will go. Hold them there for a moment so that they stay when you let go. Repeat for as many hangers are you need.

Theoretically you should be able to stop here. But I’m paranoid about my instruments, and so I added a strip of 3/4″ moulding to each side of the board (I used both glue and nails) so that the wire cannot be pulled out of the board. I recommend doing that.

Finally, you’ve got to attach the hanger to the inside top of the cabinet or shelf. I was able to take the shelf out and install the hanger while it was on the floor, but you might have to do this inside the cabinet. If you do, get someone to help you hold it up straight while you screw through the board and into the top of the cabinet. I used 4 screws and it’s quite solid.

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The bottom line here is that in one fell swoop I’ve reduced the number of excess wire hangers, used up some of my scrap wood, and made it extremely easy to just pull an instrument out and play it – even for a short minute or two. The kids practice more, I practice more, and the living room looks just a bit more sophisticated.

If only all of life’s friction points were this easy to eliminate…

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Case closed.