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In which Quinn plays her first Twinkle

Did you know that there’s only ONE Suzuki guitar teacher registered in Philadelphia? Or at least that was true when we were looking for a Suzuki guitar teacher two years ago? Well, there is/was, and Miss Carol is fabulous. Hence, our experience with Suzuki teachers–namely Kristi and Miss Carol–is that they are fabulous. Surely this would be true across the board, right? WRONG. There are Suzuki teachers that aren’t great. Hard to believe, I know, but true. This is all to say that it took a little doing to find a good cello teacher, but we feel confident that we now have a winner, Miss Miae.

Quinn and I have only been taking lessons with Miss Miae for about a month, but we’re very happy, and without further ado, here is Quinn playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” (Suzuki variation A).

Oh wait, no, there’s some ado-ing. Please forgive the crappy camera work that cuts off Quinn’s head about half the time. In order to get far enough away from her to get her all in the picture, I had to basically hold the camcorder against the wall, and my (apparently very weak) hand kept pitching forward. I suck. Also, I guess the video frames got compressed so that Quinn’s bowing appears to have little relation to the sound being made by the bow. You’ll just have to deal with that.

In conclusion, the cello is hard, but Quinn is adorable playing it.

I’ve got the music in me. Like, for serious.

Yeah, sure, I could write a post about Christmas and New Year’s. There were a lot of good things that happened, but it was hard not to think about what we’ve lost, and it also is not easy to begin the first calendar year with no Kristi. So suffice it to say, it’s 2012 now. Whoop-dee-do.

Instead, I’d rather continue my music posts, and this time, let’s focus on yours truly because I’m the most interesting person writing these blog posts. Music has rather quickly become a dominating aspect of my days, and I find this curious being that music has always just been a hobby for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love music. I’ve been drawn to it and dabbled in it all of my life. That being said, my involvement up until two years ago was sporadic at best: months of intensity often followed by a year (or two or…well, you get the point) of not touching an instrument.

I didn’t really like that. I wanted music to be more of a constant for me, and that’s one of the main reasons that I began taking classical guitar lessons two years ago. That, and Majka and I had intended our children to play an instrument. Having always hated hypocrisy from adults when I was a child (“No, I’m not doing it, but I can make you do it. Because I said so! And it’s good for you!”), I thought it unfair to insist that the children play an instrument and practice consistently when I wasn’t.

So I started lessons, and then Elsie started lessons, and I practiced which made me feel justified in insisting that she practice, and with the two of us practicing, me being involved in her practicing as well as mine, that was about an hour of the day spent on music–guitar in this case. That’s a nice amount for a hobby.

Then we decided homeschool Elsie, and part of a Waldorf curriculum involves learning a wind instrument around age 6 or 7. Quinn’s school uses the recorder. The curriculum we bought uses a penny whistle, and actually came with two penny whistles, so we’re going that route. Now I was learning to play the penny whistle and then playing it with Elsie (game stuff with her up to this point). There’s another half an hour of my day on music. Okay, an hour and a half now on this hobby. Still…reasonable…more or less…

But now, now the cello. I am playing the cello, and Quinn is playing the cello, and again with the Suzuki approach, I am as involved in Quinn’s practicing as I am in my own. And that means we’re creeping up on TWO AND A HALF HOURS of music per day, about five days a week.

This level of time commitment, in my opinion, expands an activity from “hobby” status to “passion” status. Example: that’s about how much time I spend writing. Writing for me is not a hobby. It’s a passion. I am driven to do it. I love doing it. I wouldn’t not do it for anything. But in my heart, music still feels like a hobby to me, except that I’m spending time on it like it’s a passion.

Okay, okay, I suppose my true passion in all of this is for my children. They are the reason I am doing all this, and I suppose it’s safe to say that the girls are more than a hobby for me. I suppose.

But still, good lord, I’ve already spent over an hour on music today, and I’ve got another hour to go. But surely it’s good for me, right?

Lightly Row

I remember Kristi once praising us for making it through all the pre-Twinkle with Elsie. “That’s the hardest part,” she said, and it really was. You practice and practice and practice, oftentimes for upwards of a year, but there are no songs. There are all these little bits, and you work on each bit, but it doesn’t make much sense to your child when you start at four and a half like we did with Elsie. And then, one day, she plays a song, and it is absolutely amazing. All of it finally amounted to A SONG.

What follows next is also amazing. You start working on another song. Like, right away. Like, without a year of preparation for playing the song. You just go right from song #1 (“Twinkle) to song #2 (“Lightly Row” for guitar). You know, playing notes and learning phrases, and it isn’t just exercises disguised as games, it’s music right away. Music!

Elsie dove into “Lightly Row” like a girl obsessed. Fortunately or unfortunately, her obsession was not the joy of playing the guitar but a quest for Angry Birds toys. Graduating from Twinkle had yielded a present, and she’d been told that she could pick out another for when she learned the next song. So that’s what she was going to do: LEARN THAT SONG.

Which she did. In less than two months. So let’s review. Time spent from beginning lessons to playing Twinkle: approximately fifteen months. Time spent from finishing Twinkle to learning “Lightly Row”: two months. Lightning speed, I tell you!

Without further ado, here is Elsie playing “Lightly Row” all the way through:

Next up, “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.” She still wants presents, so she’s highly motivated to start.

Cello; or, Here we go again

On our way home from our trip to Minnesota for Kristi’s memorial service, we brought back two cellos. One of them is George, which was Kristi’s cello, and the other is a quarter size cello, which was also Kristi’s in a way. She owned many small cellos that she rented to her little students. It’s interesting having these instruments, neither of which feels like “ours” now. It was explained to us very clearly by Majka’s aunt Charis that we are only the custodians of George. He is not ours. He belongs to the family, having originally been bought for Kristi’s mother, Char, when she was young. As for the quarter size, Steve is generously loaning it to us. Once Quinn outgrows it (not anytime soon; it’s a bit big for her so she’s got a way to go before she gets to a half size), we will thank it for its service and send it back to Grandpa Steve.

Quinn and I are both taking cello lessons. Me with George and her with the quarter size cello, which Quinn has named a few times, but nothing has stuck yet. Since I am only in the family through marriage, I especially feel a lack of ownership of George. I am playing it until Quinn is big enough to play it, and I am playing it because I know that Kristi would want it to be played. If, by the time Quinn has grown into George, I still wish to play the cello (I hope so!), I will get my own that will actually be my own.

We’re coming up on our fourth lesson, and it’s strictly pre-Twinkle for Quinn. I really appreciate how far Elsie has come with guitar now that we’re back to square one with Quinn. She is learning how to bow (as in folding at the waist) with her instrument. She is also learning the bow (as in the stick you use to play a stringed instrument) hold.

It’s tricky, that bow hold. I speak from newly acquired experience. Quinn’s bow hold is tenuous at best, and when confronted with the strings of the cello, it instantly collapsed into a baseball bat grip. So there is no bowing of the cello, and I don’t see that happening for a little while to come. There are lots of games with the bow, though (“Up Like a Rocket,” anyone?) as well as finger strengthening and flexibility exercises disguised as games.

With Elsie, she literally did not play a song on the guitar for over a year. Thankfully, there is a song that uses “pizzicato” (a fancy schmancy word for finger plucking, as far as I can tell) rather than bowing (as well as no left hand at all), so Quinn has been able to play something.

Ants, ants, ants

Digging in the dirt, dirt, dirt

Going underground, ground, ground,

Carrying their cellos, cellos, cellos

Ten points to the first person who can guess the purpose of the song! Five bonus points if you can tell me why this technique is not accomplishing its goal with Quinn!

Shame, redux

My neighbor Sam has been a huge help to me as I’ve been writing a series of novels. So when she told me in July that she was planning to run in the Philadelphia Marathon, I was determined to be supportive of her. Here’s a quote from an email I sent to her in response to the news she was training for the marathon:

I have this idea that I’d like to run a marathon some day. Being that the max distance I’ve ever run is three miles–and that was 12 years ago–I’m thinking I won’t be running a marathon anytime soon. I could possibly cheer you on at mile 23 or whatever is the hardest spot, assuming the weather is good and I have nothing better to do, of course.

She responded

I think the marathon goes by the fall bridge, maybe you can run a few miles with me!!

To which I wrote:

Run a few miles with you? You got the part where the last time I ran “a few miles” was 12 years ago, right? I might be willing to run a few hundred feet with you though.

Truer words have never been spoken, er, written. Today was the Philly Marathon, and indeed it did go right by the Falls Bridge (which is at the bottom of the hill we live on). I’d been tracking her progress online, so I knew about when she’d be running by, and there I was. I ran out to join her, and she was all, “Oh hi! I’m happy to see you. I’m tired.” Yeah, running twenty-one miles in four hours will do that to a girl.

Speaking of which, did I mention that she’d run twenty-one miles in four hours? Just five miles left to go, and I would have liked to have joined her for it and cheered her on. I had to settle for running less than half a mile, at which point I stood gasping, my hands on my knees, barely able to call out, “You’re…almost…done…” Pant, pant. “Good…luck!”

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of buying beer at nine-thirty in the morning with your six year old in tow

Although I’m not usually one to cook anything, let alone multi-hour recipes, I was overwhelmed by the urge to do so when I saw the cover of the October issue of Martha Stewart Living which featured a pot pie. More pot pies were inside, and I decided to try making most of them–despite the fact that Martha will lie to you like a dog. For instance, the pot pies on the cover are “braised short rib, stout, and potato pot pies,” which the cover proclaims are Simple short rib pot pies! The recipe tells us that these will take thirty minutes “active time” and  four hours and thirty minutes total time to make–all lies as well, by the way. Hey Martha, if you’re making something that takes over four six hours to make, “simple” is not the word one uses to describe it.

As you can guess, “braised short rib, stout, and potato pot pies” are cooked (braised) in beer, a stout in this case. So this morning I went to get a bottle of stout from a diner that carries beer. As Elsie and I walked in, the hostess offered to seat us. Unsteadily, I looked her in the eye and said, “I’m just here to buy some beer.” She pointed the way. Then the person down in the cafe area asked if I needed help. “No,” I said. “I just need…some beer. That’s all. I know where it is.” I wanted to take back the last line. Maybe I shouldn’t know where it is. If I were a good mother, I wouldn’t.

Elsie tugged on my sleeve. “Can I get a cookie?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said, trying to deflect attention away from the beer, but then I felt like a teenager buying condoms and a ball point pen except worse. Buying beer for myself and cookies for my six year old made it all seem sadder.

As I was signing my charge slip, I felt the urge to say, “Look, I’m not doing anything wrong! This is for a pot pie! A wholesome, American pot pie! All the alcohol content will be cooked off! Stop judging me!”

Instead, I pushed the signed slip across the counter, refused to make eye contact with anyone else, and scurried Elsie out of the diner as quickly as possible.

The last minute Halloween

The children informed me weeks ago that they would like to be a polar bear (Elsie) and an arctic princess (Quinn). I’ve gotten into the habit of making the girls’ costumes for Halloween; a bad habit, frankly, because it means that I must make their costumes, and not just make them, but make them by 5:30pm on Halloween night. It’s that last pesky detail that bites you right in the…you know.

But as I mentioned above, the girls did tell me weeks ago, thereby granting me plenty of time to make the costumes. Plenty! Naturally, I got right to it around noon on October 30. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening cursing myself for being such a contemptible slacker. “You!” I said to me. “You are pathetic! Measure! Cut! Sew! What? Did you think these costumes were going to make themselves? You did, didn’t you? I don’t even know what to say to you anymore.” Unfortunately, I did know what to say to me, and it continued on in that vein except the language got a lot more, um, colorful, let’s say.

Luckily (although also sadly) I respond to verbal self-abuse, so I sewed and sewed and sewed like I was in a sweat shop. You know, a sweat shop with DVDs to watch, fair trade coffee to drink, and a soft comfortable bed to lie down on every so often. Standard sweat shop stuff.

Elsie’s polar bear costume went pretty quickly. It’s made out of a flannel sheet that we’d worn through in spots, which was perfect for her because it was so nice and soft (obviously we didn’t use the parts of the sheet that had worn through). I made it big enough to fit over her clothes because we’d just had some snow on Saturday. In October. In Philadelphia. Whatever. So the costume is just three pieces of fabric. With a puff ball tale sewn on the back. I found the hat at babyGap so that was the one thing I didn’t make myself.

I also had some blue fleece, so I made Quinn’s dress out of that, and it turned out very well if I do say so myself. I spent more time on this because, well, it’s supposed to be a princess dress, but also, I decided that if there wasn’t a way to avoid spending a lot of time on it, I might as well make it wearable for more than just Halloween. The sparkly ribbon things come right off to make it a regular dress. The crown was also pretty cute.

Without further ado, here they are.

Halloween 2011

Majka got home a bit early, at 5pm, which was coincidentally right when I finished making their costumes, although if I’m being honest, the glittery glue on Quinn’s crown wasn’t all the way dry yet. But it would be by 5:30pm, so get off my back! I was a bit disgruntled by this time, as any sweatshop worker who’d missed their afternoon nap for two days in a row would be. And frankly, I was all Halloween-ed out. So when Majka came home, I said, “Let’s take a picture.” (See above.) Then I said, “Have fun. I’m going upstairs to watch TV and then fall asleep.”

Majka reports that the girls had a lot of fun trick or treating. They really, really get it now, and they’re brave enough and confident enough to march up to the doors by themselves and say, “Trick or treat!” and “Thank you!” and it’s all quite cute. Or so I’ve been told. I was snoring happily, all nestled in my bed with my blankie when all that was going on.

Road Trip

I could explain the reasons behind the road trip, but Quinn loves to do so. She’ll break it down for anyone who dares to ask or even pause long enough for her to begin her spiel:

“My Grandma Kristi was riding her bike, and she fell off it and bumped her head, and the doctors tried to fix it but they couldn’t so she died. So we’re going to her funeral. We don’t have enough money to fly on an airplane so we’re going to take! a! road trip!”

It’s remarkable how many taboo topics a five year old can get out in one breath, but when it comes down to it, she sums it up pretty accurately.

When I was little, a road trip was the two hour drive to my grandparents’ house. We always stayed the night because to drive two hours there and two hours back in one day was “too much.”

I’m laughing mirthfully at that thought now. Googlemaps tells me that our venture from Philadelphia to Rochester, MN, is about 1200 miles and eighteen and a half hours of driving. Now eighteen and a half hours in one day seems “too much” but ten hours one day and eight and a half the next seems “doable.”

Oh how things change.

The girls, who have no idea what this means, are ridiculously excited. Elsie practically begged me before bedtime to let her take a “short nap” so that we could get on the road as soon as possible. I think she might be singing a different tune tomorrow night, but who knows? Life and death can be surprising.

Six Unbidden Thoughts Six Days Later

1. I am upstairs making shoes for Quinn’s “inside school shoes.” There are cut-out paper outlines of my family’s feet stacked on the desk, all labeled with initials and dates. I save them all because I think it will be interesting to look back one of these days and see how our feet have changed. The outlines of Quinn’s feet on the desk before me, just drawn today, look so big. I look at the stack where there are other versions of Quinn’s feet, but I turn away from it because in that stack are also the outlines of Kristi’s feet that she sent me last fall with her writing on them. I don’t want to think about her feet, but that just makes me think about them more. Even though I’m not looking at the outline, I can see it in my mind’s eye, can see the way her toes are not pointing straight ahead but in a diagonal. My thoughts skitter to Majka’s feet with her toes just starting to point off to the side and then back to Quinn’s feet in front of me. I feel renewed in my desire to make shoes for her in order to keep her feet from the same fate, from eventually ending up like Kristi’s. As soon as I think it, though, I start to feel a little sick to my stomach. How can I not want her to end up like Kristi, any little part of her?

2. Names come into my mind of people I would prefer to have died rather than Kristi. So many names. I tell myself that a nice person wouldn’t think things like that. I evaluate another name and add it to the list.

3. I see Quinn’s purple and pink helmet on the table. I remind myself that I should be better about making her put it on when she’s on her scooter. She’s so fast on it now. Then I think that maybe we shouldn’t let her ride the scooter anymore because helmets don’t always work. I hate the purple and pink helmet.

4. I think about the week coming up, what I need to do to get ready for it. After a while, I realize I haven’t thought of Kristi at all. I feel ashamed.

5. I open the girls’ wardrobe and see the sweaters Kristi knit for them years ago. We couldn’t bring ourselves to give them away with the other clothes the girls have outgrown. I feel relieved to have them there. I see the dresses she knit for the girls last spring. I look at all the stitches, knowing that every bit of yarn passed through her hands. It’s getting cold now. I hope the girls will still fit them next year because these are it.

6. I am at my sewing machine. It was a birthday gift to me four years ago. It was Kristi’s idea. She orchestrated it and got other people to chip in on it. I always think about her when I sew. I remember being at her house a couple of years ago, sewing something on her sewing machine. The sewing machine started acting up. The stitches weren’t coming out right. I went upstairs to get her and ask her to fix it. She came down to the basement and tried, but it still wasn’t working right. She said, “When it acts up like this, I just get up and leave it alone for a few hours. When I come back, it’s working again. I don’t know why, but it does.”

I’m remembering how I laughed as she shrugged. I’m not thinking about what I’m doing. The needle clamp screw on the side of the needle slams down on the nail of my thumb. I jerk my hand back, away from the pain.

I wonder if she felt anything when it happened.

My thumb is throbbing beneath the nail. I decide to get up and leave the sewing machine alone for a couple of hours.

Amazing August

I have to tell you, we had a miserable June and July. It was hot and oppressive, and I was dreading August, which is usually the worst summer month here in Philadelphia. Then something weird happened. The weather gods took pity on us, and we have had an amazing August. A bit strange, granted, what with an earthquake and Hurricane Irene brushing by all in the same week, but gorgeous nonetheless.

Speaking of that earthquake, I feel robbed. I didn’t notice it. Oh well. I seem to remember there being an earthquake here on the east coast ten or twenty years ago, so maybe in another ten or twenty, we’ll have another, and I’ll feel that one.

As for Hurricane Irene, she was lovely. I mean, she did dump a lot of water on us, and I understand that she caused some havoc, mainly at points south, but for us, personally? No big deal. It rained a ton on Saturday, and when I’d checked the forecast on Saturday morning, it said rain and 40-50 mph winds for Sunday, so we planned on staying in Sunday. Then Sunday came. And it was a bit windy, but the rain stopped by mid-morning, and we opened all the windows, and the breeze coming through the house was everything good that a breeze coming through the house could possibly be. Majka went grocery shopping, and Elsie and I took a walk down to Kelly Drive to see the Schuylkill River flooded over it, which Elsie found fascinating. The wind was kicking up enough that the flood water created little waves on the road, and Elsie dipped her feet in. Afterwords, she said that she hoped “the lake” would stay like that forever.

Yesterday, post Irene, was about as beautiful a day as you could hope for. Temps in the upper 70s, cool, a light breeze, no humidity, just gorgeous, and I know I already used the word gorgeous, but that’s what it was. It was gorgeous, and today is the same. We walked up to the Philadelphia University campus and reveled in the perfect weather with all of the college kids who have returned for the school year.

It feels like fall already, and August in Philadelphia never feels like fall. Some people (Majka) are worried that this means we’ll have an early and long winter, but I’m not going to be pessimistic. No, we are having an early and long fall. It will be glorious, and I will appreciate every day of it.