Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sadie's Song

Sadie sang this song today. I've tried to imply the rhythm and inflection with the way I took the dictation, but... really there's no way to reproduce this:


There she goes somewhere
She gets somewhere today
She gets to where she goes
Because she goes somewhere
She gets somewhere she goes
She’s just going where she goes
She gets to where she goes
Then she goes home and that is her home
Then then then THEN and then
That’s what she did
Now the monster growled and then it had to eat her up
Then she went fastly as she can!
And there was a puppy then the puppy growled and then bite her
And she had to run away from the dog
But there were friends
And I like the friends
They didn’t want to be friends
Then didn’t want to be frie-ends
They didn’t want to be frie-ends
They were just going backwards
And then she turned around and run away
Until I was done to be
Life! She got to life! But she will be dead if she goes on somewhere
Then she really did run from that monster
She really did run from that monster!
And then she’s alive! She doesn’t need to be dead!
She doesn’t need to be alive! She doesn’t need to be dead!!! DOWN HERE!
She doesn’t need a girl, she already has a girl, all that she needs to be a girl.
That’s all she said.
She didn’t need to be dead. She didn’t need to be dea-ead.
She didn’t need to be dead. She didn’t need to be dea-ead.
To be dead.
Before she goes somewhere to her family
Then her family says go back in the valley
Before she goes back in the valley
She sees a puppy, then she said to her mommy
I need my puppy. Until she goes somewhere
She needs to bring, she needs to bring it
Before she goes somewhere
The princess got dead. Gooooooot DEAD.
She got dead, just on her skirt, she needs to gone away
Now her brother was coming to save her
The prince!
Then she came to sing a song with the guitar
And then mother came to sing with the guitar
And Leroy to lick her. And then! She doesn’t need to gone.
Gone! She doesn’t need to gone!
And then the princess went bowling
Then her dress was so so so long
Then she grew up, and turned into another dog, and then POOF
And it licked Benny, and then Benny turned into a dog.
Then everyone was a dog! And that’s how it goes all the way all the way

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The End of the October Violin Practice Challenge!

Tomorrow is the last day to practice your violin and color in pumpkins! Because tomorrow is....


Here's a picture of Sadie before her violin lesson today, to go along with the picture of Sadie's pumpkin plan, above. Drawn by Sadie, faithfully and dutifully carved by me.

So -- did you color in all your pumpkins? I have to admit that we here at our house did not! I don't know whether it was the Boston trip or Halloween fever, but we did not faithfully keep track of our practices, even though the chart was right on the fridge, so I'm not really sure whether we practiced enough times to get them all colored in, and I'm not going to guess. My feeling is that Benny has more than enough, and Sadie has about half. So, instead of counting, on November 1, I'm going to give them each a certificate that says "MANY MANY" in the space for the number of practices, and call it a month. Honest, oh that's me. Lame, but honest.

I hope that you have been more virtuous at keeping track than I have! I want to give away this medallion to some marvelous child who has spent October sawing madly away on the violin! If you finished the challenge, please send me a message with a link to your blog, and a picture of your child (not necessary, but I'd like to post it!) My address is jackets at

A little video from Sadie's lesson! Mrs. Ford was having the girls answer back and forth with their violins:

Sunday, October 28, 2007

NASA Open House and 90th Anniversary

Yesterday the NASA Research Center at Langley threw open its hangar doors and welcomed the public to celebrate 90 years of knitted brows, furiously scribbling pencils, and AHA! moments. Even though it as a gloomy, rainy day, we went to see NASA, because, you know, they aren't exactly known for being hospitable and they probably won't do this for another 10 years.

I'm not really sure what the children absorbed. They are 7 and 3, and not really up on composites and air traffic control and 1000 mph winds. Benny loved following the map around and interacting with everyone and asking questions, and Sadie enjoyed the balloon animals and picking up the titanium models of space shuttles and sitting in cockpits. Since they're so young and this was such a dense experience, this trip gets filed with the stuff we do to give them background information when they revisit the subject later. Now they've stood directly under the mechanism used by the Apollo guys to practice docking. Here's Benny standing under it:

I however am old enough (theoretically) to absorb this kind of information, so here's a list of the things I learned:

1. Electron Beam Welding is strange. One guy at one table was telling us that buy building the piece by melting down a wire with a computer, layer by layer, they avoid wasting the metal that would have to be hollowed out and discarded or scraped off and discarded. Another guy at another table was telling us how they scrape off and eliminate everything that doesn't go in the piece, and it gets flushed away because it's all submerged in water. So, huh? Either way, the models were cool. I held titanium! Have I ever held titanium before?

2. They keep NASA brains in big tanks.

3. I have to learn to do balloon animals. The girl that was doing the NASA balloon animals was doing such awesome, incredible, ridiculous, huge, life-altering hats that I was eaten up with envy at her ability. I have to learn to do this, it will definitely improve my parenting, my homeschooling, my entire world. The pictures of that are on my camera, I didn't take any with my phone, but man. You have to take my word for it. She was phenomenal.

4. NASA needs more funding. The word we heard most often from the locals was "budget." This was not said in a hostile, irritated way as in, "Why don't we have a budget?!?!" but in kind of a sweet, sad, nostalgic way like, "I remember when we had a budget..." and then the person would wipe away a tiny tear. All over the facility, we saw scientists trying hard to bend their research to something commercially viable, to make the whole thing profitable, but I just got the feeling that what they really want to do is crunch numbers, try new things, speculate, and be pure scientists.

I suppose this is a conflict which has been going on since the beginning of time, but I just wanted a little less sadness and a little more glee. The next time I talk to a candidate, I'm going to ask not only how they feel about homeschool laws, but also how they feel about NASA. NASA needs buckets of money. And I haven't even started on the appearance of the place -- it looks like a community college, built in the 50s, which has never been improved or expanded, except to add giant wind tunnels. There are rusty pieces of equipment lying around that have just been dragged out and shot, there are containers from trucks rusting behind buildings, the whole place needs a facelift. I know that when there's not enough money for pure science, there's not enough money for cosmetic updates, but still.

I hope that if there are any NASA scientists reading this right now, they don't take this as a criticism. Maybe if there are any NASA scientists reading this right now, they're just glad I got the message in terms of the political significance. I got it.

5. NASA scientists are awesome to talk to. We had a lot of really interesting, informative talks with people who had most certainly given that same talk or explanation, or answered that same question, maybe 200 times already that day. Not ONE person was irritated, not one sounded bored or tired of the repetition, nobody cut off the children's questions or our questions. Every single person was totally nice and kind and smart and helpful. And that's saying something.

6. There is a whole lab devoted to breaking stuff! There are huge, interesting, insane-looking machines designed and used for ripping things apart. According to science, you have to break something to see how strong it is. That makes sense metaphysically too. I liked the breaking machines.

7. Composites are made by combining fibers with a matrix. I have nothing to add to that statement, because that is the total sum of my learning on that topic.

8. I like the show "Big Bang Theory" on TV. Do you watch it?

9. I must not have been paying attention. What is wrong with me that I didn't learn 10 things at NASA? I feel like I should be able to say something about flight simulators or acoustics or heat shields, but you know I would just be googling it after the fact, and that would be cheating.

10. Dan now thinks I know lots of people. I ran into blogging friends, and playground friends, and karate friends, and all kinds of friends. You might conclude that I am such a social butterfly that the percentage of the population of Southeast Virginia that attended NASA's Open House, when applied to my number of acquaintances, produced a large number of attendees that I knew. OR, you could assume that the type of person I know is the type of person most likely to go to NASA's Open House. And that would be good research. Here are some blogging buddies we ran into outside the Journey to Tomorrow exhibit, where the kids saw a live moon rock:

Thank you, NASA, for a very interesting Saturday. If I didn't learn enough, it's not because you didn't try, and there's always Dan, who absorbed and processed more information than the rest of us put together. We are nerds, we are superfans, we are technology dorks; of course we had a good time. NASA, we love you. Just tell us who to vote for!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stockley Gardens Arts Festival

We've been going to the Stockley Gardens Arts Festival for a several years. Since Benny was four and screeching out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the children's stage with the rest of the little squirts in his first year class. Last year he played his violin at the spring festival, but last weekend we missed the fall performance because we were on our way home from Boston.

On Sunday, safely back from our trip and eager to enjoy the hot Virginia weather after our stint in the frozen north, we walked down to the festival to look at the art and pat all the dogs.

We saw lots of art. Here was my favorite canvas (the one on the right):

Benny got his face painted to look like Leroy. Very effective:

Sadie and Benny both had some shaved ice. Benny invented a watermelon/chocolate combo, which sounds nauseating but was actually really good, the remains of it that I was asked to finish anyway. Sadie went with a more traditional strawberry:

So, I put it to you. Is this not an acceptable substitute for the festival carnival death-trap situation? Where they ride on the wooden roller coaster with the squivering nuts and trembling bolts? Where they sit on the creaking ferris wheel which has to be held up on one side by a local farmer? The one with the dancing bear, half eaten with mange, straight from Russia, who's wearing a frilled collar stained with his own rabid drool and the blood of his most recent victim? And eat chocolate tacos made out of silicon and drink lemonade from actual human skulls? Okay, not the Russian bear, but you get the idea. Can I not count this as our carnival experience for the season? There were painted faces, frozen treats, dogs galore, and Benny even got to do his crazy dance (inexplicable, and I didn't video it, unfortunately) in front of a big audience at the "folk singers with guitars" stage.

I'm counting it. Pungo Strawberry Festival, you're dead to me.

Monday, October 22, 2007

How to Get Your Three-Year-Old to Practice the Violin with Joy

With JOY? Yes, and joy without sugar! Now usually, I just use candy to produce joy. One tiny M&M per accomplishment yields enough joy to get us through an average day's practice. BUT! Let's say you have a moral opposition to M&Ms.

Or your child has just eaten the frosting off three cupcakes and you think the addition of one more chocolate molecule would turn her into a giant squid. Here's a game to play with a violin practice that will make it fun and sugar-free.

1. Make your programs!

How many times do you want your child to repeat her assignment? In Sadie's case, we are working on the very first part of variation A, and I want her to go through it six times per practice. So we made six programs. The programs were each 1/3 of a sheet of paper, and they said TUKA TUKA STOP STOP in big letters. Of course, this is a good time to practice letters. You will also need a sheet of stickers, any size, for later.

2. Collect your audience!

Walk through the house, with a megaphone if you have one, calling, "Who wants to come to a violin show?" Collect whichever dolls/toys/animals are interested in the performance. Arrange them like an audience, and distribute the programs. Of course, your violin student will want to participate in all this, as is right and proper and educational.

3. Start the show!

Give the child a big introduction and let him/her take over. You be the audience. Maybe the dolls will heckle, and have to be subdued. Maybe the animals will have many questions about the parts of the violin. Maybe the action figures will shriek for more, more, more Twinkle Little Star.

4. Bring on the stickers!

Every time the child plays the song (in Sadie's case the first phrase of Twinkle, all the way through, with violin hand and bow hand working together) she gets a sticker to put on the program of one of toys. Beware -- all the toys will clamor for a sticker and demand a certain one, or a certain color, and be difficult. When every program has a sticker, the practice is over, EVEN IF THE CHILD WANTS TO DO MORE. Next time, you can pass out the programs again, and everyone can get another sticker. Until then, Buzz Lightyear and Barbie will just have to hum Twinkle to themselves.

There you have it! Today's method. Is it worth it, for forty-eight tuka-tuka-stop-stops? Absolutely. Dr. Suzuki recommended five minutes with JOY. How we bring about the joy is up to us. Watch this space for more diabolical violin practice manipulations!

Edit: Hey, I just found a very cool post on awesome gadgety violin tricks from my friend Karen.

Interested in more Little Blue Ideas? Try the Idea Box for
homeschooling ideas and more.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Salem Massachusetts: City of Witches

The lady at the Nathaniel Hawthorne birthplace said that on Halloween in Salem there will probably be 60,000 people. When Halloween falls on a weekend, there are over 100,000. Salem has embraced its spooky heritage of witches, hangings, hauntings, possessions, and resin statues of horror movie villains. Salem has found its niche.

Salem has also found a way to control the weather! Our week in Massachusetts so far has been sunny and brisk, but during our stay in Salem it was overcast, chill, and in the evening the fog rolled in off the ocean in such a deliberate way that you could actually see tendrils of fog floating up through the old graveyard. Spooky.

Salem is mostly a cute old New England town with narrow streets still laced with cobblestones, little shops and restaurants and those wooden signs with gold letters hanging from cast iron hinges.

But of course, in 1692 and 1693 dozens of women and men were imprisoned as witches, and 19 of them were put to executed. More died in prison and under torture. When you get down to the actual facts of what happened, you find this: Political upheaval in England and local changes in the theocracy created an atmosphere of unrest and instability. Several local children got sick, probably with a disease that we could explain now but they couldn't explain then. Increasing population forced the colonists farther out into the wilderness, making farming more dangerous and stressing people out. People went a little nutty and started blaming every problem in their lives on women, particularly those were were a little isolated, a little different, not so connected to the community core.

The Salem Witch Trials are as good an argument as any you can find for the separation of church and state. Since 1693, all of the accused have been proclaimed innocent, and apologies have been given. So, why does Salem now call itself the Witch City, when the trials were a horrible, embarrassing mistake and an awful blot on our history? Because it looks good on a t-shirt!

It also looks good on a cycling jersey:

Now I will stop pretending that I didn't love Salem, because Dan and I are total Halloween junkies, and having a whole town devoted to pumpkin carving, ghost spotting, drippy red lettering, and pointy hats, was a Halloween junky's delight.

In the old town hall, we watched a reenactment of an actual witch trial, from the transcripts of the accusation of Bridget Bishop. Abigail Hobbs, another convicted witch, was a witness. Benny was very concerned that it was all real, but at the end when we (the grand jury) were asked to vote on whether there was enough evidence to proceed to trial, he voted that there was.

Here's Benny looking solemn outside the house of one of the judges. This is the only actual remaining building that was involved with the witch trials.

On to brighter things!

We ate at Rockafella's, a converted bank. The vault door was open and could be examined at length -- there were lots and lots of gears including a bevel gear and some long thing with teeth on it that Benny said was a worm gear but it wasn't. Since I didn't know what it actually was, I didn't correct him.

The best part of the day for me was not the clam chowdah, but the trip to the original "House of the Seven Gables" and the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Here I am by the birthplace:

Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The House of the Seven Gables, begins like this:

Halfway down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. The street is Pyncheon Street; the house is the old Pyncheon House; and an elm-tree, of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon Elm.

The inspiration for the house in the novel is a real house in Salem, whose 19th century inhabitants (relatives of his) entertained the young Hawthorne often, and suggested that he write a book about the house as it would have been in its original form. It's since been restored to be more like the book than it actually was, with Hepzibah's store on the street side, and also a hidden staircase that goes up through the chimney. Seeing Hawthorne's house and the "Pyncheon" house was amazing for me. It almost made me cry, for reasons I can't completely articulate. Apparently it also made me forget to take a picture with the mobile phone, so all my pictures of the house are on my camera still. If you click the link, you can see it and read about it. Because of course, it is so completely fascinating!

We walked back to the car through the dark, saw a black cat, bought t-shirts with witches on them, and went home completely happy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Charlestown and Cambridge: The Other Side of the Charles River

Two little tired children. Two parents tired of driving all the way from Yarmouth to get to Boston. A bag of bagels, coffee, granola bars, baby carrots, half an apple, water bottles, trips to the bathroom. And we actually had a very good day!

Here is the USS Constitution, commonly known as "Old Ironsides":

We went on the tour, so we could go below decks and see the guns and hammocks and things. Benny was an active participant, AS ALWAYS. He was called on to demonstrate how the Navy in those days enlisted 8-year-olds. During our time on the ship a lot of people asked Benny if he was going to join the Navy. His political answer: "I haven't decided yet."

We climbed the Bunker Hill Monument, which has 294 steps, and that is a lot of steps:

Benny asked that we do it again and again. Hmm. No. Very claustrophobic up there at the top.

We had dinner in Cambridge, on Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and MIT. We decided that eating at typical Harvard hangout would involve a lot of tourists or snootiness, and eating at a typical MIT hangout would involve a vending machine. So we went for in between. Here we are walking around looking at choices:

We settled on a place called, unambiguously, "Middle East."

The falafel was good. Best I've had since Chicago. The hummous (hoomis?) was not all that great, but it was really all about the falafel anyway. Benny ate an entire 1/2 pound cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onion, and fancy mustard. Sadie ate fries. Both refused the rice pudding and baclava -- fine, more for us.

We took a picture of Benny at MIT, but not one of Sadie at Harvard. She is being so weird about getting her picture taken. Half the time she's posing and preening, half the time she's hiding in Dan's elbow. Mysterious. Here's Benny's brain posing with MIT:

Driving around MIT and Harvard I realized a few things. Dan is an MIT type, and I am not. MIT is tall, metal and glass, no trees, no bricks, no grass (I know, I know, there are trees and grass, but that's the impression I got). Dan really liked it. It made me feel uncomfortable.

Harvard was more my speed -- grass, trees, olde bricke buildingse, and grass. Something I didn't realize: the entire main part of the campus is fenced and gated. I kind of liked that. On the other hand, I wasn't crazy about the people roaming around Harvard. They struck me as too rich and too precious. We went into a coffee joint and there were like forty-three tins of green tea, and people pompously sniffing and comparing and arguing about the relative merits. I did convince an overly monied young lady to purchase a tea called "Pinhead Gunpowder" based on absolutely nothing except the fact that I raved about it disingenuously. Heh.

This is all based on very limited time spent walking around randomly, of course, but I think I like the buildings of Harvard and the people of MIT. Dan had the opposite feeling. So, we are a good match. If our lives had been different, we might have met at that falafel place halfway between on Massachusetts Ave.

I will say, here, that I was offered early acceptance at MIT when I was a junior in high school. I could have skipped senior year and gone straight to college. I was fifteen. This week I found that I love Cambridge -- better than Boston, I think. I love the universities all over the place, I love the feeling of this endless, huge, small college town, all the brains leaking out of the windows -- it is very much a great environment for a nerd like me. But I'm very glad I didn't go to school there. I have always thought, "I could have gone to MIT -- and then what?" I'm now happy to say I have no regrets. I can't put my finger on exactly what, but something about the place made me glad for the choices I made.

My job as a homeschooling mom is to keep the children's options open. I want them to be able to choose where they want to go to school, with all varieties available. Of course, I want them to go to Old Dominion, down the street, so I can still do their laundry. But if they want to go to Berkeley or Rutgers or Oxford or... wherever, I want them to be able to pick what will make them the most happy. And I'm happy to spend a whole lot of time visiting colleges, because I just love making undergraduates buy weird tea!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Boston Freedom Trail is a Harsh Mistress

Once again, I was wearing a wrong kind of shoe. I don't think I will ever learn.

The Boston Freedom Trail is a red trail of bricks that marches you through several miles of downtown Boston, and drags you past all the most important historical sites along the way. Along the way, you see Paul Revere's grave, his house, and the church where he (or someone else, actually) hung those signal lanterns.



You see statues of Paul Revere. You look at the X-rays from Paul Revere's last hairline fracture. You observe the tree where Paul Revere once sat and ate a sandwich. Then you gaze upon the balcony where George Washington delivered his famous "As I survey the spot where Paul Revere ate a sandwich" speech.

The Freedom Trail begins at Boston Common, the big city park. The first important historical site is the state house with its glowing dome:

Here's the South Meeting House where the Bostonians had their rabble-rabble-rabble meeting before they marched down to the harbor and hurled the tea into the water. Interesting things about this: The Boston Massacre took place right outside this building, and five people died. During the Siege of Boston, when the British were trapped inside the city, they ripped the pews out of the church, dragged in a bunch of dirt, and turned it into a riding ring. Inside, you can see the spot where George Washington stood and said he was amazed that people who revere their own churches so much could so casually defile ours. Good point.

Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street. His birthplace is now a Sir Speedy print shop:

See the bust of Franklin, above the second floor?

Here we are in Quincy Market, having lunch and trying to get the sparrows and pigeons to eat out of Benny's hand:

And here's Sadie! She has been hiding in the stroller this whole time, refusing to let me photograph her. Let me say that every building in Boston has stairs, no one can find the ramps and elevators, and I need a flying stroller. At least the baby is happy.

Gelato in Little Italy:

We deviated from the Freedom Trail and its bossy red bricks so we could make a circuit back to the car, via Beacon Hill. Here's Benny on Charles St. I read a smug little explanation online about Charles Street, that boasted there are no neon signs and no franchises. I guess the original Dunkin' Donuts, Ritz Camera, and 7-Eleven must be on Charles Street then. And the Freedom Trail doesn't even go down it!

Benny found a shoe repair guy doing work on a boot in his little basement workshop -- it was really cool. We looked for simple machines. Benny rapped on the window and I said, "Don't knock on the glass!" You know, because it scares the shoe repair guys! Turns out shoe repair guys aren't puffer fish -- he smiled and waved at Benny.

Here's Benny at the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. I have no caption for this:

They were filming a movie on the lagoon side of Boston Common. I peered and peered and peered to try and figure out who the stars were... WELL! We researched it when we got back to the condo. The blonde I saw was Kate Hudson and the Ben Afflecky looking person I saw was Dane Cook! And the movie was Bachelor #2. Neat! I saw a chicklit movie getting filmed! I'm totally almost famous now!

Sadie tried to sneak onto the movie set, disguised as a stroller, but they busted her. DARN. So close.

So, that was our four mile hike around the city of Boston. Two many burial grounds for Benny, and too many stairs for me. I failed to take a picture of Benny making an angry, outraged face at the plaque in the sidewalk on the site of America's first public school. His favorite thing was the huge dry fountain outside the old North Church, which he said was a racetrack, and in which he took many laps. Sadie's favorite was the duck that chased her in Boston Common. My favorite was the South Meeting House -- RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE!!!!!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Suzuki Violin Workshop with Judy Blank

Last weekend, Benny and Sadie attended a workshop with Judy Blank, a fabulous Suzuki expert from Ann Arbor, MI. The workshop included group classes, violin-related art classes, play-ins, and a master class with Mrs. Blank. It was a great experience for them, and also very interesting for me.

Watching the master classes was pretty incredible -- Mrs. Blank was like a doctor -- listening to each child play one song, diagnosing some certain issue, and giving the child a small, specific change that they could make in just a few minutes to improve their playing. Of course, all of this had to happen while using the most positive language, never making the child feel criticized or like there was something wrong. It was amazing how she accomplished this in such a short time with each child -- every one of them made a noticeable improvement. Truly a gift.

Here are some videos and pictures from the weekend:

Sadie was the smallest in her group and also the only girl! Sadie's group class with Mrs. Morton:

Mrs. Morton's early book one class doing Perpetual Motion:

At the first Play-in, playing Allegro like mosquitoes and elephants:

Benny and Mrs. Blank playing the first Seitz in Suzuki Book 4. Mrs. Blank had lots of silly stories to go along with the music, to help the kids understand the phrasing. We particularly enjoyed the one for Gavotte in G Minor which was all about the death of multiple goldfish.

More videos on my YouTube Channel.

Here's Sadie in her art class:

Benny and Sean hanging out between classes:

Sadie's group class:

Benny standing up for Seitz at the final play-in:

Benny and Mrs. Blank:

More photos on my Flickr.

We were very grateful for the experience. It made for a very interesting weekend. I think all the kids had a great time and will be looking forward to next year.