Sunday, February 28, 2010

Another Month...Another Violin Recital

The girls' monthly violin recital was Valentine's Day this year. Instead of working on a new piece, Liesl played all of the Suzuki pieces she's played since beginning this adventure: "Twinkle, Twinkle" Theme and Variations A, B, C, and D; "Lightly Row;" and "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." A total of 7 songs...this made the practicing and preparation for this recital a bit harried, even though these were all pieces she's played before. To stand up and play for a solid 10 minutes at the tender new age of 4...Liesl did great. She shared the "Twinkle" stage with two other students, so this was her chamber music debut. :-)

And our violin teacher had a practice contest--over a specified 14-day period, each child was to practice as much as possible and send in the average minutes of practice for the best 10 days of this period. I am so proud that Liesl won this contest for the little kids, with a daily average of 41 minutes per day. (Ava had a daily practice average of 18 minutes, which isn't bad at all for a 2 year-old.) The fact that this practice contest coincided with Tom's 2-week business trip/my 2-week temporary experience with single motherhood...all the more amazing. Her prize was a book and CD set about the orchestra, which was a huge hit for Liesl, as her reading skills are so far advanced for her age and books are one of her closest friends.

And last but certainly not least, this was Ava's 2nd time on stage. She participated in last January's recital (which I never posted about...) with an impromptu trip to the stage with Miss Sharon to name the parts of the violin, showing here:
For the February recital, Ava joined a group of beginning students on the stage to again demonstrate parts of the violin and bow.

These monthly recitals are so good for our kids--socially, musically, psychologically. They provide a safe and caring environment to practice performing, and motivate the kids to practice harder (and smarter) in order to prepare a new piece for the following month. And last but certainly not least...the cookies and socializing afterwards are special times to relax, chat, and run around with friends, new and old.


Ava participating with Owen, Alex, Addie, and Spenser in the beginner's class

Owen, Alex, and Liesl playing "Twinkle" Theme and Variations

After their performances, Liesl and Alex sat right up front to watch the older, advanced students. I am loving that Liesl has such a good friend in the violin studio...she and Alex and two peas in a pod.

Miss Sharon and Liesl with her prize for winning the practice contest

My serious little mini-musicians!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Happy New Year (2009-2010)

Still catching up, but we had so much fun (and so much good food!) for our New Year's celebrations that I had to post our pictures, even though they're very late.

THIS is the way French toast was meant to be made, in our opinion. Homemade challah bread, made from the same refrigerated challah dough that I used for our Christmas morning pecan walnut sticky buns. This pre-risen, stored wet dough method is one I've been learning over the last year through the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (we have and use both books, and love them!) Having done traditional bread baking for many years--by hand, Kitchen Aid mixer, and bread machine--this method is by far the best thing that's happened to us in the carbohydrate category. I no longer seem to have the time to babysit traditional yeast bread in it's many picky stages, so this book has kept our family from having to eat Kroger's 10 for $10 loaves (most of the time.)
And THIS is the way French toast is meant to be enjoyed, in our opinion: On a relaxed, unrushed New Year's Eve morning with coffee and lattes, seed catalogs, coloring, and family.

Everybody here loves to swing, regardless of the weather.
And I mean EVERYBODY.
See if you can find a couple of additional bodies.

See 'em now?

One of Tom's and my New Year's Eve traditions...a baked brie en croute with Granny Smith apples and Townhouse crackers.
Naughty. Fattening. Decadent, and well worth the effort and extra zillion calories once a year.

Another New Year's Eve tradition: Champagne in our crystal wedding flutes, which were a surprise gift from my Mom for our wedding toasts.

Too much champagne for Daddy snowman.
(The baby snowman in the swing lasted until late January, it was hilarious. The girls missed him when he finally melted.)

Homemade rye bread, again, made from dough that I used from the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day cookbook. Since we use rye flour so slowly in our house, I buy rye berries from my co-op and mill them every few months, keeping the fresh flour in the freezer. Eat your heart out, delicatessens.

Enjoying a hot chocolate treat after being out in the cold.

(Liesl's shirt had a taste, too.)

Daddy frying up the standard New Year's Day reubens.
Lord, but it does make a mess of our stove.


Tom's reuben. He's German, so he's gotta have sauerkraut on New Year's Day. (Thankfully he prefers to skip the pickled herring tradition. Yuck!)
I prefer Georgia-style reubens--turkey and coleslaw instead of corned beef and sauerkraut.

Last New Year's tradition in our household: Warm homemade chocolate pudding.
No wonder everybody (including us!) needs to go on a diet after January 1st.
Happy (belated )New Year, everyone!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Merry Christmas (2009)

Ok, so I'm a little late.

Opening presents at Grammie and Papa's house December 23: TRAINS! :-)

Classic Ava and Alex.
Nice.

Christmas morning. Jammies. Cuddling. Perfect.

Opening gifts from stockings (there were only 2 apiece)

Classic Christmas-morning-in-front-of-the-tree shot

One of my gifts to Tom.
How else are you supposed to wrap a 15-inch cast-iron skillet?!?!?

One of the gifts from us to the girls...purses that I knitted. My first knitting projects.
I enjoyed the process so much that there are matching tiny ones for their teddy bears.

Homemade carmel-pecan sticky buns. From scratch. 'Cept we were out of pecans. Whoops.
Ahem: Homemade carmel-WALNUT sticky buns. (They were still great.)

The girls' joint gift: An easel. And paints. Ho boy.

Frosting birthday cupcakes for Jesus.

Wilton's "class icing" for decorating students is very easy for the kids to manipulate. They did a great job.

After our quiet family Christmas dinner, we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Jesus.
We left Him a cupcake in the center of the table.
(He didn't eat it.)

Visiting Oma and Opa in Cincinnati. We took ALL the wooden trains with us, and made a continuous track all through the family room. I daresay Daddy, Mommy, and Opa had even more fun with it than the girls.

Naturally we take all of our violins everywhere, so Uncle Robert and Daddy played together.

Ava thought it was C*O*O*L that Uncle Robert plays violin too.

Back home after a long drive. Finally time to wind down. We love home!
Happy (belated) Birthday, dear Jesus!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Liesl's 4th Birthday

Then...

...and Now.
My sweet little baby is getting so big!

Liesl's 4th birthday was on December 22nd. We celebrated with a very small party at Chuck E. Cheese--just Liesl's godmother Amy and hubby Drew, as well as friends Emma and Jack and their mom Kelly. Had a great time...no, really, we did. Even the adults got to play and be silly for a while.

It is very hard for me to fathom how quickly Liesl is growing, and how fast she learns (and from the most amusing sources!) I can barely remember what she was like as a baby, my memory is crowded with occasions closer to the present. And yet, I can still recall those very first few moments as a mother when I was finally alone with my newborn baby, just hours old, looking into her sweet, perfect, sleeping face and dreaming of what was to come. My preconceived notions of motherhood flew out the window within 48 hours of her birth and continue to do so--she has far exceeded my expectations of what it is like to have a daughter. These last 4 years have been exhilarating, exhausting, blessed, heartbreaking, eye-opening, and often difficult...but always indescribably wonderful. Happy 4th Birthday, darling Liesl. I am so lucky to be your Mom. Daddy and I thank God for you every chance that we get, and we are so happy with the blessing that He entrusted us with.

A blast from the past--and the furnace.
Yup. This is definitely my kid.
My parents discovered a similar scenario hundreds of times when I was her age.

We began Liesl's birthday with a (real) tea party for 3 in my bedroom. I hadn't been feeling well, so I figured tea was in order. Later, the party widened to 5-7, as various baby dolls and teddy bears crashed the party.

The cake I made...can you see the hippo? Note to self: use darker icing to outline.

Dinner with Jack (3) and Emma (5)

If you look closely, you'll see Ava cuddling up with Tom in the center of this picture.
This was the nearest proximity to Chuckie that she could tolerate.

Liesl loved him. She humored him, really.

Opening presents!

One of the rides with Jack

Daddy rocked out the basketball game with his little ballast

Liesl getting her portrait "drawn" with godmother Amy
One of the "portraits." Classic.

A friend of mine made a rainbow cake her daughter. She said it was a big hit, so I Googled it and found Omnomicon's directions. It was fun to make, but if you're the organic-anti-food-additive type, look in the other direction. (Or lighten up...it's only one day.)
Liesl loved it. Psychedelic, Baby!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Celebrating 1 Year of Violin Recitals

I am so behind in blogging it's not even funny. I am so behind with life it's not even funny. I had expected that once the holidays were over and Tom went back to work on January 4th, I'd just slip right back into my old routine that we had been taking for granted all the way until September 23rd. Nope. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the mess that is our household took a good 2-1/2 months (and drastic changes in lifestyle, budget and priorities) to fall into the disarray that it is currently in. Thus, I am behind in everything, so I'll be adding posts from mid-December all the way until New Year's. They'll just be a little late.

December 14th marked Liesl's 12th violin recital, and an entire year of performances. It was a momentous occasion for her, as she was playing "Lightly Row" for the last time at a very respectable tempo--without her Bow Right. This is like a little kid loosing training wheels on her bike. She is now able to concentrate enough on keeping her bowing arm straight enough not to need the guide anymore. We haven't consistently used the thing in practice for well over a month, so now it's been packed away for when Ava is ready to begin using Liesl's first 1/16 violin. Since this was right before her 4th birthday, she closed out her third year with quite a bang. :-) We are immensely proud of her and how much she enjoys performances (and, to be honest, the cookies she gets at the reception afterwards.)




I also played in the fall chamber music group: a Mozart piece, a Haydn piece, a Broadway showtune....and Coldplay. (I mean, c'mon, when you think of Mozart and Haydn, you automatically put Coldplay in the same category, right???) Seriously, halfway through the fall term, Sharon announced to us that we were adding an encore piece to our chamber repertoire and would play an instrumental version of "Viva la Vida" for the recital. After resisting the urge to hire an exorcist for her, it took me about a solid day to realize she wasn't kidding. (This woman is PURE classical, and don't try to convince her otherwise!) It turned out to be a very enjoyable piece, and very challenging. There were revised lyrics sung by a brother of one of the violinists, lyrics that reflected things that were happening in our teacher's life. It was a very moving experience. I daresay even Mozart would have been proud (if not mildly horrified.)


The other significant part of this recital for me was that it was the first time I performed publicly while doing shifts and vibrato. Not perfectly, mind...but I overcame my nervousness and managed to get those shifts and vibrato out. :-)





My violin teacher's former Interlochen classmate and very good friend, Mr. John Haskell Gilbert, came and played with her professional quartet at our recital as well. We were very lucky to get a chance to come and watch one of the rehearsals with the girls (I gave them lollipops to keep them quiet.) Much to the dismay of the 3 violinists in our household, Ava is showing a very marked interest in the cello....every time we visit a quartet rehearsal, she is extremely concerned that Sharon's cellist, Karen, has her instrument on the floor. There are usually a few comments: "Uh-oh....vi-in on fwor! Vi-in on fwor!" (I'm assuming you can come up with a reasonably accurate translation, even if you are not entirely familiar with Ava-speak.) In our house, it's a huge taboo to leave instruments on the floor where they can get stepped on and broken. Even Ava is not allowed to leave her beat-up V.S.O. violin or horsehairless bow on the floor (although stepping on the thing would probably improve it, but this is not the point.) Thus, the endless commentary on why a cello is allowed to rest on the floor--have you ever seen a 2 year-old try to lift a full-size cello under her chin?

Because of this marked interest in the vi-in on the fwor, I have been making veiled threats comments to Miss Sharon that we'll have to get at least ONE of the four musicians in our household to play a cello--we would have the makings of a family string quartet. Upon hearing that, Mr. Gilbert matter-of-factly informed us, "Violin is better." Hey, if a world-class musician says so...I guess we better listen to him. (Sharon...please forgive me for the jokes. You know I cannot resist.)

All kidding aside...it is great fun to watch and listen to a string quartet play and really get a live feel for the sounds of the viola and cello. Even if it's on the fwor.

Thus ends a terrific first year of violin study for our entire household. We look forward to more musical fun and adventures for 2010.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year, Please

As I look back at 2009, we've had so much happen. It's been wonderful, it's been eventful; it's also been sad and stressful. I dearly love New Year celebrations because it feels like everybody gets a second chance. (Or 3rd, or 4th...or 35th, if you're me, which you're not, so apply your own number and keep reading.)

In a huge effort to keep things from getting crazy (again) and to keep my family and myself from forgetting the one true Reason for Christmas (again), I tried to keep Christmas activities in check in our household. Not as many crafts as before, not as many gifts. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise: On Thursday, December 17th, I made the *astonishing* discovery that I was almost 10 weeks pregnant. Astonishing because, in our minds, Tom and I thought our family was complete--and so, without going into too much detail which you probably don't want/need to read, we had taken precautions as such. It just goes to show you that you can give God a very good laugh by telling Him your plans for your life. I went from shock, to fear, to worry, to disbelief...and finally to joy, and amazement, and hopefulness. No, it wasn't in our plans. No, it doesn't make sense. Yes, I dearly love the two little children I have, but they are a lot of work. A lot of joy, but a lot of work. And siblings...well, a sibling relationship in itself is like another child, so in my mind's eye, I see the sisterhood of my two little girls as a child in itself, which needs nurturing and attention as much as each individual child. So the addition of another sibling created that many more relationships--you do the math, I was and am too tired to figure it out myself. But within a day of figuring it out, I fell deeply in love with that new little baby, and made an appointment with my midwife, and started remembering and thinking about all the things one does when one is pregnant--maternity clothes, dietary needs, birth plans (I was finally going to get my home birth!), etc.

And then...as fast as the news came, it was over. Two days after learning of our new child, that precious little life that rocked our world so quickly, the baby slipped out of our lives without much warning at all. At 10 weeks, the baby was gone. I'll never know if it was a boy a girl, I'll never gaze into it's tiny newborn face, I'll never introduce it to two big sisters who would adore it beyond distractions. I'll just never know. And that killed me. It's still killing me.

When you've had a miscarriage, people say stupid things. They mean well, they truly do--but they say stupid things. They remind you that this happens to about 1/3 of all pregnancies (true, but it doesn't help heal the hurt), that this baby wasn't healthy enough to survive (true, but it doesn't help heal the hurt), and they tell you that God has a little angel in Heaven waiting for you when you get there (true, and that REALLY makes it hard not to start crying.) Or, worse...they say nothing to you at all. Nothing. They don't acknowledge a loss, and they don't acknowledge that a life is gone. Either through awkwardness about hurting the mother's feelings--which is understandable, I'll admit--or they say nothing to you because they are immersed in their own petty snits or their own insecurities. I'll be honest--that hurt worst of all. It feels unforgivable. I know I've got to forgive, and I will...in time. God wants me to forgive. Nothing, nothing is as important as a life, but I still have to forgive.

In talking with a few of my friends who have survived miscarriages, I learned to expect these responses (or lack of, in some cases.) I dealt with it, and am still dealing with it, but I learned two very important things: The only two things you can say to a woman who has lost a child, without hurting her further, are "I am so sorry for your loss" and "Is there anything I can do?" (The answer to the last one, for me, was, "Yes. Please pray.") And you don't ignore or avoid the topic for any reason whatsoever.

And so, this experience has drawn Tom and I closer together. It has made me appreciate my children more (even though they continue to drive me nuts--but I am thankful that they are ALIVE to drive me nuts.) All of this in the middle of the holidays, celebrations, traditions, traveling, family gatherings, and presents...we've had ourselves quite a time. It has also made us re-think our decision that our family was complete, but we're not ready to rush into that right now.

I am very grateful to my friends and family who supported us unfailingly through this tough time. I'm grateful that my husband has let me cry on his shoulders almost every day since we lost this little baby. I'm grateful for friends who understand that this little baby was a life, and that we are grieving the loss of it as such. I am grateful to friends who shared their experiences with me and understood my need to cry. I am grateful for my parents, who came and took care of the kids so I could rest and heal, and deal with the shock. I am grateful for those who keep checking on me, and for whom I don't have to pretend that everything is fine and hunky-dory, as if nothing ever happened. But mostly I am thankful to know that that little baby is up in Heaven, and we will get a chance to hold him or her in our arms someday.