Category Archives: The Boy

Adjusting

Sparky’s beginner watercraft course is from 10 to 12 every weekday in Lachine. This means I don’t have time to come home again after dropping him
off. Well, I could, I suppose, but then I’d have to turn around and drive back. (Why Lachine when we live on the South Shore? Because they were the cheapest and have a terrific reputation.)

Yesterday I tried to set up in a cafe with my laptop to work. I had great hopes for this. People seem to have excellent success with this sort of thing, and it was my fervent hope that I could get work done while I had to be out there.

Reader, it did not go well.

I’d forgotten that standard chairs are all wrong for me. They’re terrible for my back, and cafe tables are all the wrong heights for typing. My energy was taken up feeling that my feet weren’t flat on the ground like they’re supposed to be for stability, my lower back was tipped backward and stressed the exact way every osteopath has told me *not* to do, the table was too high, my wrists were super awkwardly angled over the uncomfortably high keyboard. More energy was used trying to ignore the music being piped in despite having earphones and my own music, the unfamiliar food smells, the *people* all around… it was kind of nightmarish. I was very glad Sparky had an amazing morning. But if I kept doing this, I would accomplish nada this week because I would be coming home exhausted. I got next to nothing done in the cafe, and was so drained when I got home that I couldn’t work then either, let alone after picking Owlet up from camp. It was, in short, a disaster, and not sustainable.

I decided that today would be different. Last night I pulled out and prepped some SweetGeorgia BFL (Songbird! I’m planning a two-ply: one ply spun end to end, the other ply a four-repeat fractal!) and packed my spinning box. I would bring my small spinning wheel and sit by the water, spinning and listening to an audiobook.

My view across to the canoe club.

Finn! One of my comfort fibres to spin.

And that is exactly what I did. Apart from a tiny bit of social anxiety about spinning in public and possibly having to field people, it was lovely. I sat on a park bench that was the perfect height, right by the water next to an oak tree that gave me dappled shade. There was a perfect breeze. I listened to Pride & Prejudice. I finished the Finn I was spinning to make up the missing yardage for a cardigan (it’s only two or three years after I spun all the rest of the yarn; maybe I’ll even knit the sweater someday) then started the Songbird after sampling to see what whorl and drive and braking methods I wanted to use. I have come home relaxed, and psyched to attack the project I’m working on that’s due by the end of the week.

It’s such a major shift from yesterday that I’m really excited about this plan, and I intend to do this every day that it’s nice enough to be outside. Adjusting my expectations of when to sink energy into working for the maximum output has made an enormous difference.

I had forgotten how much I love the sound of water against jetties, buoys, and the sides of boats, and the smell of the lake, too. Part of me is already hoping Sparky will do this again next year.

Lammas Report

We are halfway through summer!

1. The Tour de Fleece happened. I co-captained the Clan Kromski team again, and while I feel I was not as engaged as in previous years thanks to work and kids, I got some nice spinning done.

TdF 2017 yarns!

2. HRH came home from basic training, and everyone was very happy. He did excellently, of course. Now he’s full-time at the unit for three weeks to finish up the last block of training, and if that goes well, he’ll graduate to being an official qualified naval reservist. Next up will be his ship training, which will probably be next summer, although there’s plenty of theory and study to be done along the way.

Dad’s home!

3. The kids have completed two two-week sessions of day camp. Sparky did guitar for the first session, including a lovely improv with the teacher at the open house, and violin for the second session, with a lovely solo performance with that teacher as well. Owlet is loving it, hugging every counsellor she passes there while protesting at home that she hates camp. Uh-huh.

4. Owlet is back at day camp for one extra week, while Sparky has started a two-week session of mornings doing an Intro to Canoe & Kayak course at the Lachine Canoe Club. He kayaked for the first time at the grade six sleepaway camp long weekend he did in mid-June, and raved about it, asking if there was some way he could do it again. He is wildly loving it. He’s never expressed interest in any sport before; he may have found his thing.

5. I was asked back for Part 2/the expansion of the scriptwriting project I handled this past spring. That was terribly nice. Although the can-you-do-this-by-the-end-of-the-week deadline wasn’t as enjoyable. I hit it, though, because I am awesome. And then had to rush to handle the stuff that had to be displaced on the schedule because of it. Sigh. My other ongoing contract carries on apace as well.

6. I now have green hair. Part of it is green, anyway. I did it for my birthday, and I love it.

Green!

La!

Sparky’s Cello


When we last left Sparky on his resumed cello journey in January after two and a half years of hiatus, he had just started playing on a borrowed cello that needed work. One thing led to another, and we didn’t get it into the shop till a couple of weeks ago.

Readers, it’s dead. The strings buzzing on the fingerboard had gotten worse, to the point where he couldn’t play anything with the first finger in first position on any string. We thought raising the nut would solve it, which is a pretty straightforward and relatively inexpensive fix. He was doing a fantastic job playing through the sour notes, but as we all know, a bad tool creates obstacles that require energy to work around that could be better invested. The luthier took a quick look at it and said there wasn’t much she could do. The neck was warped backward, and to bring the fingerboard down to playable level plus add the necessary scoop would thin it out to a point where it would be thinner than a violin fingerboard. It would be very delicate. On top of that, without the stabilizing strength of a proper fingerboard of the usual cello thickness, the neck could very easily start to warp the other way. In essence, she said she could do the repairs… it just wouldn’t be worth the money.

Sparky began trembling and tears started slipping down his face. He had somehow bonded with this thing, which was somewhat disturbing because it was borderline abusive to him. (Passive abusive, but whatever.) I think part of him worried that this was it, he’d have no cello and would have to stop after he’d made the decision to start again and really apply himself. When I thought about it later, I wondered if he had embraced the imperfections because they would limit him by necessity; he wouldn’t have to worry so hard about doing everything correctly because there would always be this imperfection inherent in the instrument that made him feel safer somehow, and less stressed. Or maybe he felt a kinship with the imperfection. I don’t know.

Anyway, he randomly teared up about it now and then about it over the next few days; no amount of reassurance seemed to get through to him. I pinged a Kijiji listing for a 3/4 cello in the city, made an appointment, and we went to see it this past Saturday after our lesson. The guy selling it was studying music at university; he had a zillion guitar cases in his room, and this little cello that had been his as a teenager. It looks like it has been in the wars; it was secondhand when he got it, and it has all the bangs and nicks a school instrument would have. It has a crack or two, one repaired and one in limbo, but nothing horrendous from what I could tell. The neck was straight (ha, I checked, trust me). It didn’t come with a bow, but I have a fiberglass 3/4 bow left over from my first cello he can use until we get a new one. And coincidentally, this one seems about the same age, with the same clunky style of endpin mine had and a really old similar canvas case (sized for a 4/4 and way too big).

We came home with it. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s easy to play even in the high positions, and it makes all the sounds it’s supposed to make, which is definitely an improvement. I paid under what he had listed it for and still probably too much for it, but Sparky was starry-eyed, and the university kid was just terrific; and if he was studying music probably needed the money. I ordered a new set of strings (I think the set on it are cheap originals, yikes; they’re pretty dead) and a proper sized case. Sparky spent the first five minutes of his next practice session just blissfully playing the notes the last cello had choked. When I asked him what he was going to call this one, he said Oak. And he retroactively named the other one Buzz, which made me laugh.

Other than the limitations of the cello, he’s been doing great work. He’s progressing quickly through the pieces in the book, which I know is doing a lot for his self-confidence. At the rate he’s going, he’ll start the second book in the fall when lessons resume. He has chosen his recital piece (Rigadoon!), he works diligently on the hard bits of his part for the group pieces, and after I help him tune and review the homework notes I took during his lesson, I walk away and he directs his own practice. I’m proud of him. Hopefully with this new-to-him instrument, things will go even better.

Back Into Things: School and Music Edition

We’re one week into school and such again now that it’s 2017. Both kids were really ready to go back after two and a half weeks off, both consciously (“I miss my kindergarten,” Owlet sighed one day) and unconsciously (my children do not do well without structure for long periods of time).

Getting back into the rhythm of things has had some challenges, however. Sparky was struggling with organization, time management, and self-confidence at the beginning of the school year, and with work and support he’d gotten to a point where it was all mostly okay. Time away threw him off, though. During his first week back I saw him doing homework every night and figured he had things under control. It turned out he was doing homework due for the next day and not the extra work he’s supposed to space out over the week so it doesn’t drown him on weekends, though. So this weekend he had to create an outline, rough draft, and polished typed draft of an expository essay, do twelve pages of French, and a pile of math. The essay should have been done in increments, and the French as well; the math was all assigned on Friday and would have been fine if all he had to do was finish typing the essay out and do a page or two of French. He also had to finish a PowerPoint presentation on postmodern architecture, but forgot the handwritten research at school and he couldn’t get hold of his partner all weekend, so I wrote a quick note and he’s planning to finish it at recess this morning. It was a rough weekend, but he handled it all, and we worked through some anxiety and talked about breaking seemingly huge tasks down and nibbling away at them.

He had less homework time than he otherwise might have, too, because this weekend he started cello lessons again after two and a half years off! He had an hour on Saturday morning, where his teacher was delighted to see him. They worked to adjust the new-to-us cello (which has Issues; it’s going to need a new bridge at the very least, a new full set of strings, and possibly the nut and/or the fingerboard replaned because there is a nasty buzzing in first position, on top of paying the family who owned it previously for it) and reviewed the piece he’d last done in concert. This would be Long Long Ago, the piece he’s pretty sure he messed up so badly on in concert that he decided to quit because it was all too stressful. He was assigned his next piece in pizzicato, and given his parts for the group pieces. And then Sunday afternoon was his first group class.

I’m fascinated by how enthusiastic he is. At break during the group class we were laughing about how no one likes to practise when he piped up, “I love it! I love to practise!” And I find it really interesting that it was watching the last recital that made him decide to start again because he wanted to be involved in them, since it was increasing stress associated with recitals that led him to stop. He was cheerful through the entire group class despite being lost most of the time, and didn’t get upset during his lesson when he couldn’t magically do things right. These two years off have really helped him develop a better understanding of what he should expect from himself.

Now instead of Sparky being upset he can’t do things right the first time, it’s Owlet. She is angry that her violin does not make beautiful music as soon as she picks it up. She resents that she has to pay attention and focus on what she’s being shown. I’m really looking forward to a time when I can actually register her for lessons, because again, it will be so much easier when it is not a parent teaching her. And I’m restricted this time by what I know and don’t know; with Sparky I knew how to guide his practise properly. With the violin, I’m one self-taught lesson ahead of Owlet, and I can only do things like teach her the names of the strings, where to place the bow on the string (no, not between the bridge and the tailpiece, between the bridge and the fingerboard please), and reteach her the names of notes on the staff. There are times when she sits and just plays it, fooling around with rhythm and dynamics, telling a story with the music, and that’s great; I wish she would do more of that and associate music time with exploration. But that expectation of perfection right off the bat is an obstacle at the moment. I’m not exactly sure how to help her past it yet.

We’ll see what this week brings.

Christmas Recital 2016

Our studio recital went blazingly well yesterday. I sat and knitted for the entire first forty minutes during everyone else’s soli, and you know, I think I may take a break from doing a solo every couple of years or so. It was so relaxing. I got to really appreciate everyone’s pieces more than I usually do because I wasn’t stressing, keeping feverish track of who was playing so as to ready myself to move up and take my place, or running fingering patterns on my right forearm. The four group pieces all went brilliantly. It’s such a joy to watch everyone get better and better, and to welcome new cellists.

Speaking thereof… guess who said he’d like to try cello again? I suspect watching the three other eleven-year-olds who joined right around the time he quit two years ago may have something to do with it. He’s older now, and I pointed out twenty minutes of practice a day would be his responsibility — I’m not going to argue with him about it — and he agreed. We’re working on autonomy, self organization, and socialization with other kids outside school, so this may slot in nicely. I get to tell my teacher this week at my next lesson.

Ballet

The fall season of extracurricular activities has just begun. Sparky casually mentioned he’d like to maybe try guitar, so we looked into that, but we just couldn’t afford it right now. He’s happy to continue with his art classes.

Owlet has been waiting to turn five, because now she is old enough to register for ballet at the arts centre where she previously did art and intro to music. She and her friend Audrey have both registered, and we took them to buy their ballet shoes a week and a half ago. Owlet is extremely thrilled with them and wears them any time she remembers they exist… like when it’s time to climb into bed for bedtime stories.

The first day was exciting. She naturally wanted to wear a dress, but I managed to get her to agree to wear black leggings and a tunic shirt instead. There are fifteen kids in the class (fifteen!) and the teacher is terrific with them. Her choice of music is admirable, too; the way to get me to appreciate your commitment to teaching is to have both a track from Michael Nyman’s score for The Piano and a prelude from a Bach solo cello suite playing in the first ten minutes. (Also, wow; you can make a playlist on a phone or mp3 player and just plug it into an amplifier in this day and age. When I took ballet classes, there was a live accompanist, because it was that or a portable record player.)

So far, so good. There was a hesitation halfway through the class when she didn’t want to keep going, but after watching the other girls learn how to do “cat jumps” she threw herself back in with enthusiasm, because who doesn’t want to learn how to jump like a cat, right? And we committed the faux pas of not bringing water bottles with which the girls could hydrate at half time, the way all the other girls (who had obviously all done this before) had done. A note has been made for next time.

Sparky came home from his first art class that afternoon with spots of paint all over him, so that’s going as well as it usually does!

Cottaging

Things have been pretty stressful around here for a variety of reasons. So when our friends Megan and Jason invited us to spend a day at their family cottage an hour north of the city, we said yes.

It was one of those transitional days we get at the end of summer, where the sun is shining but there’s a breeze and a chill to the air, especially outside the city. It was the kind of weather where you’re happy to be able to pull out a sweater.

I got about an inch knit on my sweater for Rhinebeck. The kids tromped around and found sticks, poked them into the water, pretended to fish, and played happily in the sand pit. The adults managed to play a game of Settlers of Catan without being significantly interrupted, which was a major achievement. And at the end of the day, a small fire was built and we taught the kids how to roast marshmallows.

It was a wonderful day, and we all really needed it.