Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zeal!

Today is the final day of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I don't know if I will join next year, but it certainly did give me a good kick to get writing more.

Alex and Katie  have pushed to get me to write a novel during the NaNoWriMo challenge in the fall, and though I don't really care to write fiction, but I may write on a non-fiction subject, or a memoir of our journeys, something. Anything I find for which I am zealous! I'll decide in November.

But for the end of  the challenge, Z is for Zeal!

I obviously have several things for which I am zealous and covered a few in this challenge. They include folklore/music history, arranging new music, and definitely children's music and instruction. I find it interesting that performing doesn't seem to be something I'm nutty over enough to write about, though I certainly love performing, but I think it follows as a result of the others. I think this gives me some clues as to what I may gravitate towards as we wind down our travels next year.

There is at least some zeal for fun with essential oils, sewing, crafts, etc. but it is perhaps secondary. The secondary ones are usually in the "mental health therapy" boat, being there to give my brain a break.

NOT that the band is ending - I don't want to give that impression, but for us to stop full time travel next year the band will need to move more local, wherever local may be. Bands usually have to travel to where the action is if they wish to bring home the bacon, so this means supplemental income may be helpful. I'd really like to supplement it with something I love.

Economically supporting zeal is the best kind.

Side note: For the MLM zealots, one thing I likely will not be doing is selling for a Multilevel Marketing company, so please don't ask. (I write this because of the sudden high jump in friends I have who now sell with MLM and invite me to one e-party after the next.) I'm not against it at all and even sold Usborne Books briefly ages ago. I liked the books and wanted some, but I was my usual broke self. Personally, I think liking the product is really the only reason to sell anything from an MLM company. Economically, it really doesn't add up.

Speaking of zeal...

Did you see the super cute necklaces I'm working on??? The little ice cream cone has a hole in the back where you can drip some essential oil. Hidden in the cone there is a different type of clay that is more fragile, but absorbs and holds the oils wonderfully. I want to make some for kids. I have a few interesting adult necklace ideas too, when I have time to play with clay.

You want one, right???

Sorry, they're not for sale yet. They're in experimental mode right now, but soon I will have your money, er, make these wonderful trinkets available.

I will admit, zealousness can be wonderful but it is also sometimes a dangerous thing. Not everyone is going to be zealous over the same things, and sometimes those things clash. I have friends on facebook who go at it now and then in a rather subtle fashion. One will post a string of articles that demonize GMOs in our food. Another will then post articles about how many lives GMOs have saved and the bad science behind the anti-GMO crowd. Food seems to be a big one lately, but I suspect politics will start to heat things up over the next year. I sometimes just get a mental bag of popcorn and watch the fireworks. I don't participate much anymore.

I haven't the energy.

I have clay necklaces to make, opinions to formulate over children's music programs, and a few new gospel arrangements going through my head that I need to get into the kids' heads so we can play them. Since Sean, Alex, and Katie all just got a new book on jazz improve for their instruments, I eventually need to figure out how to smush jazz licks into a few songs.

And I get to help Mary learn her new U-Bass. Isn't it cuuuutttee!

There is a lot of zeal in my head. You cheer mine and I'll cheer yours, deal?

That's it for my A to Z Challenge. We now return to your regularly scheduled blogging program.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y is for "Yeah, I got nothing."

As the A to Z Challenge starts to come to a close, I am running out of ideas, at least anything that can be moved into a Y or Z.

We just returned from our fifth show this week and my brain is shot. With kids suffering from pollen allergies and food intolerance tummy aches, I am simply weary of try to come up with a topic, so... Y is for Yeah, I got nothing.

The challenge was a good experience and I found out I really can write regularly if I simply sit down to do it. Not that I have to at the moment, but I am far more confident now that I can if the opportunity ever presents itself to get rolling on a formal blog or book.

Maybe tomorrow a "Z" topic will come to me, but tonight, I'm letting myself off the hook.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for Xylophone!

Earlier in the A to Z blogging challenge I discussed popular music programs for children under K is for Kodály. One of the programs I mentioned that I highly admire is the Orff Approach, largely because I agree with the basic belief that children should ideally learn music the same way they learn language, through making music.

I remember my favorite part of teaching Kindermusik was when the kids all received their little glockenspiels. They were cute and made such a pretty little sounds.

I am addicted to percussion instruments, particularly xylophones, marimbas, concert bells, and other barred instruments, which is odd for a flute and mandolin player, I suppose. I even played the marimba in marching band during high school, but mostly I love the tiny ones in the hands of little kids.

In honor of Orff, X is for Xylophone.

After teaching children's music using only glocks and tone bars, I remember purchasing a metallophone as a personal birthday present one year, stalking it on ebay and then sniping it. I was so excited when I won and would always look forward to when I could justify bringing it in to classes. In the Montessori and homeschool programs it was easy to incorporate, but Kindermusik was far more constructed. However, there was enough flexibility that I was able to share it with the kids now and then, substituting it for the tone bars common with the program.

Giving children a chance to take a part in a group setting, playing their part and experiencing how it fits into the whole musical composition is a wonderful opportunity for children. Of course, it's one my younger two completely missed out on in a group class situation, because they were too busy making music in a group family situation. Ultimately, I don't think it hindered their musical development.

Orff and those cute little Orff arrangements are designed for settings that are, in truth, not natural to musical experiences for children. They fit a wonderful need in a classroom setting, but prior to the last century and a half, most children were learning music the way they really did learn language, by participating in it, only their participation was simply a natural extension of life.

Yesterday at Jamestowne we had a wonderful conversation with one of the men in character working on the ships. He talked about the many things they did to pass the four months at sea, stuck on the "tween" deck. They would play games, tell stories, and sing. They would sing a lot. In fact, everyone sang and knew many songs. This passed the dreary days, made light of work, and helped lonely sailors keep their sanity in dark, crowded conditions.

The twins went through all of my Kindermusik, Montessori, and homeschool programs, so they experienced the basics in Kodály, Orff, and more. Sean was in classes from infancy, but before he reached the glockenspiel class, I stopped teaching and he went straight to violin lessons. He was not doing well in the classroom settings anyway.

Mary was never in any of the classes. By the time she was born, her older siblings were all involved in private music lessons. She still danced with me, we sang songs, and she enjoyed a lot of music making on the side. I never taught her to keep a steady beat or match pitch. She was singing in tune almost as early as she was speaking because she liked to participate with the family. Now and then I would help her find her singing voice if she was singing something that challenged her range, just to make it easier for her, but I have always been fairly hands-off with my little kids on their singing, loving the natural expression.

Part of me wishes she could have experienced a group class, since she's very social, but trying to teach Mary with Orff and Kodály at home would never work. It would be awkward. I know, because when the twins were in the 3rd grade we temporarily joined up with an online charter school and I saw first hand what happens when you take a program meant for institutionalized settings and stand in your living room with mom instead. Awkward. 

However, I kind of wish I had pulled out my lovely metallophone and took off all of the bars that didn't match the chords for Old Dan Tucker, then let her have at it when she was three. That would have been a blast!

What is right for one setting completely fails in another. I understand why Orff and Kodály developed their methods. They fit a very needed void when music was taken out of the family/community and put into schools. Children are natural music makers and it's always a privilege to share it with them, no matter the setting.

Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for Williamsburg (and Jamestowne too!)

Despite the cold, illnesses, and allergies, life lightened up enough today to get down to Jamestowne! Though we drove through Historic Williamsburg the other day (just drove by on our way to a show) we didn't explore that yet, but since today is "W", we'll call it close enough and say W is for Williamsburg, updating on that specific location later in the week if we get down there for a closer look.

The historical set-up of Jamestowne was amazing! They had so many hands on opportunities that gave you a real sense of what life was like back then, from the perspective of the natives as well as the colonists.

However, I will say, that one family member looked tremendously out of place in this time period. It would be centuries before the birth of the beloved android phone and wifi. I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure that's what she kept thinking.

The ships didn't seem too small until they start telling you about the number of people and the amount of supplies on board. Yikes.

I went away with a much better appreciation of my kitchen and even the
bus when it rains.

Always looking through the wrong direction. I think he's related to Wild E. Coyote. 

I know the twins love boats, but I think the details surrounding these voyages probably are not what they have in mind. However, put in a few modern conveniences and a few minions to boss around, and I'm pretty sure they'd have a grand time.

This guy was so much fun! He kept calling Sean a minion and telling him to go in front when we go downstairs, and to go last when we go upstairs, so if we fall, we can land on him.

He told Katie to post this picture and make sure we tell everyone that he said she's the prettiest flower in the garden.

Another great guide! This guy sat and told Sean all kinds of dirty details of the real situations a young sailor of his age would have to deal with, including detailing entertainment, discussing the music, games, and taking a bit of extra time to show them the chamber pot. 

Sean managed to pull him out of character and reveal the fact that he has a PS4. I think that impress Sean more than his historical information, but historically stuff still managed to get into the noggin, I believe.

The town was so charming! Never mind all that disease and starving stuff we learned about. We'll just live the fairy tale, looking at the cute buildings.

Um... I think Michael is just a wee bit too big for that. 

Fits Mary a lot better. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

V was supposed to be for Virginia...

So, the plan was to have a bunch of amazing pictures for the blog of a great time seeing some lovely sites, but instead what I have here is a cold front, weather in the low to mid-40s, and lots of rain.

We were supposed to go to Historic Jamestowne on Wednesday. It rained.

We then were supposed to go to Jamestown on Thursday. Alex was feeling sick and Sean has had allergies and a possible ear infection because it has been raining pollen.

Seriously. It doesn't do this in Colorado on anything close to this level. Last couple of Aprils we were in Texas, and it also doesn't pollen like this in Texas. The pollen around here is kind of stunning.

We had shows yesterday and today, so no Historic Jamestowne, rain all day tomorrow too. No amazing sights and sounds of Virginia to post. Just a rainy, cold, wet Virginia. We really should have stayed in North Carolina for a couple weeks as we originally planned. It may have rained, but it would be warmer. Pfthhh.

Did I mention that rain in this bus is sort of not very fun?

Thankfully, this is not our first trip through Virginia so we know it is really a lovely state with wonderful things to see and do. We'll try Monday. Perhaps, if we're successful, we can title W for Williamsburg?

Friday, April 24, 2015

U is for "Underground" and the History of American Education

I've been homeschooling for 15 years, though I admit to now having trouble remembering why I started homeschooling. I had some friends of the family who homeschooled and it was a novel idea at the time. I really liked hanging out with my daughters, and I liked teaching, so I figured we'd go for it. But, I admit I did not start with some wild vision of homeschooling vs. public schooling, just some feeling that it was somehow better for my girls and their educational needs.

Shortly after we began to homeschool I found a book at the library by John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing us Down. After reading this I kept following his writings, and on a homeschool board I traded some of my unused school books for a prepublication copy of the Underground History of American Education. That was a turning point to me, when homeschooling stopped being a fun idea and perhaps a good choice for my kids, and turned into an honest passion, which turned me into a rather opinionated homeschooling advocate.

So, in honor of the book which was a turning point in my thinking on educating children, this letter on the Blogging from A to Z challenge, U is for "Underground", as in the Underground History of American Education.

(Side note: It would seem they are going to republish and updated version of this book so they have taken it down from the website where Gatto, believing the information too important to not make available to everyone, always made this book a free download. However, you can still find it with a quick google of "Underground History of American Education pdf".)

Fast forward now to an older, somewhat less dramatic me. Since that time my thoughts have relaxed a bit and I now can see why a parent would utilize the public education system, even though I haven't changed my mind about the system itself. I still do not like the public education system in this country, but I do acknowledge that it is, for many parents in need, the only real game in town that can give them the help they require for their child, and it is therefore the best for their particular circumstance. In other words, I am a fan of any parent who will honestly advocate for what their child needs, even if I do not like the system. I am also a fan of a teacher who will work in a flawed system because there will be parents and child who have no where else to turn, and if ever I am in such a situation, hope to get some good ones on our team.

Back to Gatto... Yes, sometimes he also sounds a bit like a conspiracy theorist, (and sometimes his streams of thought can be really difficult to follow), but dang, sometimes I'm convinced he is right on the conspiracies!

And sometimes, I'm not.

Or at least, I think that is what I decided, after reading some countering arguments on a few of his details. It's been a very long time since I reached some of these conclusions, though it became a part of me over the years, even as the details gradually faded. I hope that makes sense.

That is really what this post is about, in truth. How an understanding of a system of schooling changed so much about how I would raise my children, and remained even later after I read countering arguments and had to reevaluate a few things. Then it remained even when enough time had passed that I had forgotten the details necessary to formulate the arguments that used to come so freely.

In the end, minor differing views on the minute details would never be enough to change my mind. I have made some dramatic u-turns in my life, but I never could take away what I learned about the historical building of our public school system, and what I believed was a dehumanizing view of these young human individuals. I cannot stand for any system that lumps children as a resource for use in a government social system and forgets the fact that they are individual souls of infinite value.

However, what I have added over the years is an understanding that these infinitely valuable souls sometimes need to work in a system that doesn't love them, because their parents do love them, and it offers what they need as a family.

On a final note, it may be wise to remember this modern schooling is a tiny little blip on the human historical experience, having been around in the current form for less than 100 years and should not be considered a natural thing, but instead still a social experiment that needs to be continually evaluated, not blindly followed. So, when you meet a nutty homeschool mom, try to at least remember that historically speaking, maybe she isn't the weird one.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

T is for Trade-off

T is for Trade-off on today's A to Z Blogging Challenge. Whether we realize it or not, most of our lives consist of one series of trade-offs after the next. We may trade a nicer house for less debt, or maybe more debt for a nicer house, but the nicer house rarely comes with less debt unless moving to a new area, which is then simply another trade.

The trick is in choosing wisely, because you can't have everything and stay sane. I learned this the hard way when I was a young mother.

When the twins were toddlers I wanted to expose them to music and heard about a popular children's music program, but we were not able to afford it. However, I had a degree in music that included some excellent training in children's music, so if I wanted to have them in a class, I was going to have to train to teach the class and start a business. Thankfully, I loved that business and would teach children's music of one form or another for the next decade.

However, when they were in preschool I found I missed singing, so I joined an opera company in Denver, which met once a week during the off season, which I timed my evening children's programs around, and up to 4-5 times a week before a production, which was during the summer break for the music programs. However, this still meant at least 3 evenings a week where I would be gone from home.

When I needed money to justify the additional private music lessons to compete, I started teaching a bell choir at a local church because it fit in on a free day, so I was gone 4 evenings a week. I taught 2-3 morning classes a week, one with the twins at their Montessori school, and one at the local recreation center while they were in class.

I attempted to do all of this while raising a couple of preschoolers.
One day, a week before a program I felt terribly unprepared to give, I looked down and noticed the stress in the twins' eyes and the emotional strain that was on them. Something snapped in me.

Within 2 weeks I had quit the voice lessons and the opera company, (with a big scolding by the director...)When summer vacation was over I then quit the bell choir, partnered with another teacher to take the morning classes, and changed my position about not having time for more children, because I was no longer going to be too busy. I kept the Montessori school for just one more year and by the time Sean was born, I had only a couple of children's classes at the Recreation Center so he could join me in classes like his sisters had, and I started homeschooling the twins. 

I traded all of that and never looked back, other than to remind myself of the lessons I learned.

Years later the band sort of fell in our lap and little by little that started to build. Initially we would trade having a better vehicle for the kids' music lessons. Later we traded 4-H weekends and scouting for band performances.

Then we had a crazy idea to hit the road, not so much because we were performance driven, but because we wanted to do something very different while we could, which was travel as a family. Eventually we traded everything else in our lives, including our house, to live in a bus. 

Years later, this view of the dock near our campsite is why I traded all of that. This and hundreds of other views just as lovely.

There are times when I wonder if the trade was worth it. Financial uncertainty has always been there, but it's much worse when you are hoping people will like your music enough to let you eat next month. Remember how you should never worry about what others think? That doesn't work in the entertainment business.

Yes, there are down sides. 
If you want people to like you enough to pay you, there are several hours of practice involved, and kids are not always as keen on practice as one would wish they were. Long evenings of practice turn into hectic performance schedules, with some good shows and some really lousy ones. 
Oh, and you've seen my kitchen, right? 
That's the whole thing, right there. Six people, three meals a day, 24/7 and 365/year. In this kitchen I have to plan meals that are lower carb for a husband who has metabolic issues and for a daughter who cannot easily digest milk, eggs, gluten, or soy. These dietary restrictions plus the cost means we do not eat out, so no grabbing fast food on the way to a show. Meals have to be cooked and packed along with us. In this kitchen I make bone broth soups and every one-pot-wonder under the sun. Then we do the dishes in this little sink. 

The other day I discussed the problems when it rains, too. 

No privacy or as we call it, "compartmentalized living" where you can get away, so the twins hide out in the minivan in the evenings or we take turns hiding in there for morning quite time. 

Limited space for books limits homeschooling choices to smaller, light-weight options only, and the constant changes in schedule require year-round school at any nearby campground clubhouse or local library. One twin will need to do her college courses online, and then she will be scrambling for privacy to concentrate.

So, what's the trade off to such restrictions?

Mary gets a personal visit from
Hope, one of the Dolphins in
"A DolphinTale"
Easy. Though finances may at time be limited, we still get to see things like this, simply because we're there in the area, so half the challenge is no longer a concern.
Disney 2012
Busking from Colorado to Madison, WI, to South Carolina helped the kids see Disney World on our first trip to Florida, which we only could afford because we were already there.

San Diego Zoo 2014
Free tickets to the San Diego Zoo are not a very good deal unless you're already in Southern California.
You can only see the California Redwoods if you're in Northern California.

Perhaps you have friends who have a boat near Seattle, but to see the Space Needle from that boat, you have to go to them.

Friends may have a beach house, but it doesn't do you much good if you're in Colorado. But even if you're dirt broke in Washington, you can just go be dirt broke and stay in a beach house.

I remember 2 summers ago when we wanted to go to New York City and we were told the best way to visit the city is on one of the double decker bus tours. Around that time everyone needed new shoes. So, we had to decide if we wanted shoes or a bus tour of NYC. 
Everyone used flip-flops for months after that, but we saw some wonderful sights! 

Oh, my. Honestly, I could post so many more pictures. 

Like the picture of Mary catching a bonnethead shark off Port Isabel

 Or Sean fishing at Poche's in Louisiana

 The lovely view of the ocean near Fernandina Beach, FL

Carolina Balloon Festival near Statesville, NC

Washington DC

The Liberty Bell

Old Montréal, QC

Trade-offs. I got it right this time.

Soon we'll be deciding when to trade all of this back for that compartmentalized living and a real kitchen, but until then, we'll go visit Historic Jamestown this week and later this summer, since we already bought new shoes, we may have to walk NYC this time, but that's a fair trade.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Guest Post: S is for Shonen

As promised, another guest post, this time from Katie, who is quite into anime and manga inspired art forms with some of her favorites being in the Shonen style. She is going to tell us a bit about manga!

S is for “Shonen” - On Manga

Katie here, and it's my turn for nerdy post for Mom’s blog. Those of you that know me are probably aware of my long-standing obsession with manga. But what is manga?


The term ‘manga’ generally refers to comics made in Japan. The word translates to “whimsical drawings.” Manga as we know it today got its start roughly around WWII, but early forms of it have been seen as far back as the eleventh century.

Comics and cartoons are viewed very differently in Japan than in America. In America, comics are primarily for children. Not so in Japan. Manga is a large part of Japanese culture and is read by all ages. It’s not uncommon to see a grown businessman catching up on his favorite series on his way to work. Anime (animated cartoons based off the manga style.) takes prime time spots on major television networks.

Format and Publishing

In Japan, writing actually read right to left, so manga is of course formatted that way, too. It takes some getting used to for us westerners. Some English publishers do occasionally flip them over, but many argue that this disrupts the overall flow of the comic. (Besides, read enough manga, you may accidentally find yourself reading western comics this way, too. I know I have.)

In addition to reading format, manga differs drastically in the creation process than most American comics. In the U.S., comics are made by a team of artists, and multiple writers, for any given issue. But with manga, it’s usually just the one guy, with one or two assistants working in the background. He’s often the one writing the story, too.

Most manga is published in magazine anthologies, one chapter at a time, on a weekly or monthly basis. Chapters typically run 20-40 pages each in a given issue. These chapters are then gathered in to a collection, called tankoban volumes.


Manga is known for having in depth, complex plots and, most especially, three dimensional characters. You can find a series for pretty much any genre: Fantasy, sci-fi, slice of life, romance, mystery, horror, sports, and the list goes on. I believe there’s even one about cooking…

In addition to many different genres, there are also several different types of manga:

Shonen: (Boys manga.) These stories tend revolve around action or sports. But series of other genres do quite well.
Fullmetal Alchemist is my personal favorite.
Shojo: (Girls Manga) Shojo stories often have a heavy emphasis on romance and human relationships.

Seinen: (Manga for men) Like shonen, stories are often action or sports related, but tends to cover far more mature themes.

Josei: (Manga for Women) Often features more realistic (and mature) romance than the whimsical plots in shojo. But a few of the more recent titles have been mistakenly labeled as shone.

Kodomo: (manga for children) Most of these works have a moralistic theme to them as they try to teach children how to be a good person.

Art Characteristics

Probably the most recognizable feature of the manga style is the large expressive eyes of the characters. Manga artist typically employ various artistic symbols to make emotions more pronounced. For example, a sweat drop on the head is used to signal annoyance or tiredness.

Most manga is not drawn in full color, but in black ink and hard, clean lines and added “screentones” for the shading.
Lots of screentones here.

 Other techniques such as speed lines are used to ramp up the tension.
Lots of speed lines are used in action scenes.

Well, that’s manga in a nutshell. I hope this was helpful.

- Katie