Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fiddle Fever Summer Camp 2009

This year Benny and I tried something completely different, the Fiddle Fever camp hosted by the Academy of Music. The camp is taught by local music star Carol Thomas Downing, director of the Virginia Children's Chorus, Suzuki teacher, and fiddler!

Because of Benny's tendency to be an active participant, his constant need to express himself verbally and also by bow-jousting and playing his instrument out of turn, and because I too have really loved fiddling, in my day, I decided to be a student of the camp also.

It was a fantastic experience! Carol Downing is an incredibly gifted teacher -- fun, inspiring, and creative. She had a whole room full of children, aged 7 to 17 (and then me, age 107), some of whom could barely read a note of sheet music and some of whom were accomplished violinists, all on the same page, at the same tempo, with the same twinkle in their eyes. I was impressed and then amazed, watching her technique.

Benny had a fantastic time, constantly busy, happy with his instrument, and really learning not only new songs but new techniques and ornaments, a whole new feeling of playing the violin. For this child who has been working hard on Suzuki repertoire for many years, the fiddling tunes were a delightful break. No less beautiful, but more whimsical, more emotional, more fun! And he could go as fast as he wanted, in practice, I told him. This made it easier for him to tone it down during the performances.

I highly recommend Carol Thomas Downing's Fiddle Fever Camp. We will definitely be there next year -- maybe we'll see you too!

Here are a few pictures from our final performance at Conklin's Irish Rover, an Irish pub in Virginia Beach that hosts live Irish music every first and third Sunday. For more pictures and video, check out my Flickr set for our summer violin camps. The fiddle tunes/pictures are the first nine entries.

Morrison's Jig:

Fiddlers, youngest in front, including Amy Ferebee on guitar:

Other guest musicians included Martha Giles on hammer dulcimer player and singer Marsha Wallace:

The experience was great for Benny and for me too. We have been playing our fiddle tunes all summer, and I'm even working on polishing my tin whistle skills again. A good reminder that having fun with music is the best motivator, as we approach Suzuki Book 6 and all the hours of scales and arpeggios that implies.

Suzuki Summer Camp 2009

I have no superlatives left for the Suzuki teachers at the Academy of Music. Over the years I have ranted and raved about their greatness to the point that I must sound like a broken record, both to them and to the people I'm informing about them. I will tell you this, though: In a world where summer camp has become another way to warehouse your children so you can work, and parents expect very little for the money they pay to get someone to take their kids off their hands for another week of summer "vacation," the Suzuki summer camp at the Academy of Music is a gem. Children learn. A lot. Children experience new things, grow as musicians, have enriching experiences, expand their musical horizons, and come away inspired and informed. Okay, there, apparently I had more to say!

Here are some pictures and a video. More pictures and videos are in my Flickr gallery.

Sadie in her performance on the final day:

Sadie and good buddy Miranda:

The kids learned a cool dance to Musette:

Here's a way even the littlest ones can play along with the Bach Double. This was very cool for Sadie for sure, because she has heard Benny play this a lot. Now she can play a little of it:

Thank you, thank you, as always, Mrs. Ford, Mrs. Morton, Mrs. Van Gomple, and the lady who's been teaching both my kids for the last six months and doing such a fabulous job, Mrs. Stevens! Yay for all of you -- you gave my child a fun and meaningful week and I'm very grateful.

Emlenton Summer Festival

Part I: Emlenton's Got Talent

Part of the Emlenton Summer Festival this year was a non-competitive talent show called Emlenton's Got Talent. This show took place on the stage in the Crawford Center, which used to be the local school where our family's previous generation of Pennsylvanians went to elementary and high school.

Of course, Suzuki violin students always welcome the opportunity to perform, so Benny and Sadie played their polished pieces.

Sadie playing Andantino:

Benny playing the Veracini Gigue:

The kids made lots of friends and had a great time -- the whole show was very charming, the organizers were very supportive and loving with the kids, and it ended up being a very cute evening.

Part II: Emlenton Festival Duathlon

Dan came up from Virginia for the weekend, and competed in the Emlenton Duathlon. The running half of his team was a high school student from Ohio. They won! Here's Dan's race report, at his cycling team's web site.

Our neighbors also competed. They own and run a maple syrup company, homeschool their four children, and they do biking and jogging in their spare time! That's Alethea on the left with her husband Joseph, and then one of her sisters and one of her brothers, who made up another racing team. Dan's in the middle, completing Team Geiring Road:

Alethea and Joseph won their respective categories -- they both did the running and the biking.

The winning duo, with their trophies:

More of my pictures are here.

Part III: Kids' Bike Races

These bike races were fast, dangerous, and pretty much a disaster for the Netzer contingency. However, I did get some cute pictures:

A wild time in Emlenton.

Living Treasures Animal Park: The Weirest Petting Zoo Ever

In the old days, anyone with a mangy bear, a mostly tame raccoon, a donkey, and an exotic chicken could set up a zoo and charge a penny to see the animals. If the bear could dance, so much the better. Anybody with a camel could give camel rides, and anybody with a hyena could put it on display. The line between circus and zoo was thin and frail.

Then we started getting advanced and complicated notions about animal comfort and safety. Zoos expanded their exhibit spaces, started calling them "habitats," and invested in elaborate water features and native flora. Degreed scientists were put in charge of food and medicine, and words like "respect" and "natural" and "healthy" were bandied about.

The bad thing about the old-fashioned zoos was that you can't help thinking the animals were miserable. The bad thing about the new zoos is that you can't see the animals half the time. They're so safe and comfortable in their nice healthy habitats that you end up saying, "Look, Suzy! There's a tuft of the sloth's left elbow! See? See it? Way back there behind the fourth tree from the left!"

Last week we went to the Living Treasures Animal Park in Moraine, PA. Well, there were certainly a lot of things there that were living.

In the space of a few acres, the owners managed to display monkeys, bears (two kinds!), lions, tigers, kangaroos, timber wolves, lemurs, hyenas, camels, alligators, a musk ox, ostriches, as well as goats, ponies, llamas, and the occasional chicken. There was a camel ride. There was a horse-drawn carriage safari through a few more acres of free range pasture where Indian deer, ostriches, oxen, and other denizens flocked to the carriage as the driver enthusiastically hurled out scoops of pellets.

Pellets. When you come in to Living Treasures, you purchase a bucket of pellets for $3, and almost everything in the park eats this generic food item. Except for the bears and timber wolves, which eat dog food. And the monkeys and lemurs, which eat cheerios. Wait a minute! You can feed BEARS? Live, actual, adult bears? Yes. Standing behind the low wooden fence, you can poke pieces of dog food into a PVC pipe that slants down into the bear's area, behind a slightly sturdier fence. The bears lie there, waiting for the dog food to roll down, and then the slurp it up.

This is how all the animals are. They wait for the food to come, and then they eat it, and then they wait for more food. Until they are so completely sated and gorged that they lie down, bursting at the seams, and try to digest some of it. This kangaroo was so stuffed she is pushing out the joey inside her pouch. She can't even fit in one more carrot:

Besides the lions, bears, tigers, leopards, and a whole slew of other animals that would have really worried me if they hadn't been so fat and happy, there was the petting zoo. Including camels, llamas, goats, rabbits, and a ZEBRA:

A nice cute, fat, happy little baby zebra that was as tame as your mother. Plus camels you could hug:

And ride:

So, while I was shaken to the core by the close proximity with bears, and while I expect that my PETA neighbors would have a lot to say about the lack of habitat for each animal, the children loved it. It was an interesting place for another redheaded homeschooling convention.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Stone Skipping Tournament in Franklin, PA 2009

Is there, no kidding, a professional stone skipping tour? Yes.

You mean that grown-up people throw rocks at a river and count how many times the rock jumps and compete against each other to see who can skip the most times? Yes.

Does this alleged "pro tour" include several former Guinness World Record holders, including the current one? Yes.

Can kids play too? Yes.

Last Saturday, Benny dragged us to the International Stone Skipping Pro Tour (stops include Mackinac Island, MI and Franklin, PA and... well, that's it) down at the river side in nearby Franklin. Benny is a big fan of the Guinness Book of World Records. Franklin is hometown to Russ Byars, current world record holder (51 skips!) and a man who carries his own signable cardstock pictures, and isn't afraid to get his feet wet helping a kid with his technique. Benny brought a rock from our creek for him to sign, which he did. He told Benny that skipping stones is all about spin and speed. Sounds logical. Easier said than done, though! Benny's top score was 3.

ESPN was there. Those white little legs under the green shirt are Benny's, partially blocked by the guy with the boom mike. Maybe he was leaning in to catch the THWACK of the rock as it hit the water? Or would that be the gerplunk:

A crowd gathers to see a man dressed as Edwin Drake (who discovered oil in this region, 150 years ago) throw out the ceremonial first stone:

Here's Benny studying his rock carefully:

Here's running from the camera crew:

I didn't take enough pictures of the crowd, or the festival that surrounded it, nor did I take video of the goofy announcer entertaining us, or the pro competitors taunting each other, the enthusiastic cheers when someone made it over 30 skips, or the polite golf claps when someone "gerplunked."

One of the competitors was an anchorperson from CBS Sunday Morning. Between that camera crew and the ESPN people, it felt almost surreal. Franklin, PA is not accustomed to such scrutiny, of late.

This one had a good time:

This one is still practicing:

For more of my pictures, click here: the unlikely but entertaining Franklin PA Stone Skipping Tournament.

Here's a page of official pictures, to give you a better idea of the scene, the crowd, the pros, and the river madness in general: Pa Stone Skipping Tournament

Sunday, August 16, 2009

How to Teach a Child to Write a Novel

This spring, I formed the Junior Secret Noveling Club, a small group of kids who wanted to learn to write novels. The kids were between ages 7 and 9, and all homeschooled, all brisk little chirpy creative spirits who were game for my games.

I developed a curriculum to teach them the nuts and bolts of writing a novel, from developing a subplot to placing significant objects in the setting, even giving their hero a tragic flaw. I introduced a lot of concepts and techniques which children wouldn't typically be exposed to, with the idea that learning the hows and whys of novel construction would make them better readers. Even if they weren't necessarily going to sit down and pen
The Grapes of Wrath, they would approach their reading material with a new level of awareness.

The "club" was set up kind of like a mini-scouts, with badges to earn (conflict, villain, chapter list, etc.), a secret handshake, and an oath to begin the meetings. The students kept a notebook and filled it with their activities in class, the worksheets they did to earn badges, and their homework assignments.

We did eight weeks of progressive lessons, including a little bit of grammar and a lot of silliness and games. At the end of the session, they walked away with a detailed plan and chapter list, well prepared to launch their novel-writing. They also walked away with a new attention to the "behind the scenes" aspect of books they were reading, newly conscious of the decisions authors make and the reasons they make them. At the end of the course, they "graduated" and I authorized them all (in the silliest way possible) to go and be novelists.

This course has been updated and the new link to download is here

NOTE: If you do not have random picture tiles, you may download and use these PDF
grids, thoughtfully provided by reader Deanna Butler, to print on cardstock: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Do you have questions about these lessons? Email me at lydianetzer at gmail dot com. 
Follow me on Twitter: @lostcheerio

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

HSLDA Pits Homeschoolers Against HR 3200 and Health Care Reform

Let me first say that I support Obama, I support HR 3200, and I strongly support Health Insurance Reform.

As a liberal homeschooler, I have complex feelings about HSLDA (the Homeschool Legal Defense Association). I believe that a lot of what they do is good, watching legislation and helping families with legal issues. I wish they would do it from a less political, less religious position, but that's who they are.

They've released a memo to members, calling for homeschoolers to call our representatives and senators, asking them to oppose the bill. Here's the memo.

HSDLA gives five reasons why this bill should be opposed. I'd like to respond to those five points, one by one:

  • Spend billions of dollars to allow the federal government to fund home visitation programs, where government officials would enter homes and monitor children and instruct parents in how to raise their children;
This already exists. It's called Head Start, and it's over 40 years old. Trained workers go into the homes of low income or immigrant families, and teach them about nutrition, reading to their kids, playing with their kids, taking them to the doctor, dental hygiene, etc. The program was started in the 60s, yet somehow homeschooling has managed to explode in popularity.
  • Encourage states to pressure families to enroll their children in these home visitation programs;
Here's some murky language. "Encourage states to pressure..." What does that mean? What kind of pressure are they implying? Physical pressure? Financial pressure? When a "state" applies pressure, there are only a few things that can mean: either they're going to hurt you physically or they're going to hurt you financially. So exactly what does HSLDA expect the state to do here, and how is this expectation rationally merited based on 40 years of the Head Start program's history?
  • Put the federal government in the healthcare business, resulting in loss of competition, loss of patient choice, and loss of patient freedom;
The federal government has been in the health insurance business for decades. Medicare was also launched in the 60s, and somehow Medicare and liberty have coexisted for decades. There will be no loss of competition, no loss of patient choice, and no loss of patient freedom. HR 3200 means there will be more competition for the insurance companies, more choices for patients, and more freedom for patients. Anyone who likes their current situation can keep it. Anyone who wants another choice can have it. Anyone who currently has no choice because they're unemployed or have a pre-existing condition or have maxed out their life-time cap or have been determined by insurance companies to be not worth the risk: they now have a choice.
  • Require all health insurance plans, whether offered by a private company or the government, to include controversial “essential benefits,” which courts or the Secretary of Health and Human Services may determine to include medical procedures which businesses and taxpayers may oppose on philosophical and religious grounds; and
Note the use of the word "may" -- as in... "may determine" and "may oppose." Now we're getting hysterical and writing our Congressmen over hypotheticals. Of course, we know what HSDLA is referencing here without saying it: If we pass this bill, your tax dollars will pay for abortions! Well, guess what? Abortions are already covered by tax dollars, have been since 1973. Adopting health care reform won't bring this about, any more than electing three republican presidents put an end to it. Abortions are covered by Medicaid, right now, .
  • Increase the size and power of the federal government.

Well, now we're just fear-mongering, and over-generalizing. Bigger government bad, smaller government good! Really? No exceptions? No grey area?
Welfare makes government bigger. Medicare and Medicaid make it bigger. Social Security makes it bigger. Are we ready to get rid of all of these things? A lot of people like to shake their fists and yell about smaller government, but I don't believe this is a rule we can apply universally. By using this bit of as a final bullet point, HSLDA is trying to join in the popular chorus sung by tea partiers, libertarians, and erstwhile Republicans who have only recently decided that big government is bad, after the guy they most recently elected swelled the government more than anyone since Roosevelt. Increasing the size and power of the federal government has only just become a bullet point for opposing a bill. When considering the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, or the Transportation Security Administration, or No Child Left Behind, this would have been a bullet point on the pro side of the argument.

I'll leave you with Obama's opening statement from his health care town hall today. I hope if you've spent any time reading the email forwards and blog posts frothing about what might happen, what could result, how much homeschoolers have to fear from health insurance reform, that you'll take a few minutes to read Obama's message straight from the horse's mouth:

Let me set record straight:

. If you like your doctor, you can keep them.
. If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.
. You won't be waiting in lines.
. Health care choices should be between you and doctor.
. Government bureaucrats shouldn't meddle, but neither should insurance company bureaucrats.
. In the past 3 years, 12 million have been discriminated by insurance companies due to pre-existing conditions.

Under our reform, insurance companies will be prevented from denying or dropping your coverage due to pre-existing condition or when you get sick. They won't be able to water down your coverage. Insurance companies won't be able to put a cap on how much coverage you get in year or lifetime, and we'll put a cap on how much you have to pay out of pocket. We'll do this without adding to deficit by cutting out things that don't help.