Sunday, May 29, 2011


The word "ceili" is Gaelic for "dance" and going to a ceili is one of the best parts about the kids playing Irish music. There is a monthly ceili in a shore town not too far from us and we try to attend as often as possible which means whenever we don't have anything else interferring.

The people there are very friendly and don't mind if you are not the best dancer in the world or are just trying to learn. They always welcome the kids and everyone dances with everyone else so no one feels left out. Haley and Dylan sometimes dance and sometimes play with the band. They always play during the rest periods for the dancers.

Last night we went to the May Ceili. The man who runs the dances...and calls them for those of us who are relative beginners...had some family there including his granddaughter who we'd met once before. She is almost 8yo and a good little Irish dancer. She and Haley hit it off whenever they see each other and being the only people their size tend to have a lot of fun dancing together. During breaks, Brenna and Francesca, the girl who dances for the kids at some of their gigs, danced to Haley and Dylan's playing.

I only had my small camera so just shot some pictures and this one little video which is really cute with the girls trying to learn a dance...

Here are some of the pics I took of the evening...
Haley and Brenna stop long enough to pose.

Dancing the Military Two Step with Ed.

Francesca, Haley, and Brenna

Haley and Brenna dancing.

Haley, Dylan, and Brenna ready to dance the Haymaker's Jig. (a favorite!)

The is the best I can do for a shot of Dylan...the rest have his hands on his face.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Who's Who?

I frequently visit the Well Trained Mind message boards for inspiration, curriculum ideas, and to commiserate with fellow homeschooling mommies. One poster on the forums suggested linking our blogs in a blog hop, a sort of Who's Who for homeschooling, blogging moms....

On the left is Haley. She is my only child still homeschooling and I imagine with her lifestyle will homeschool until she heads to college or conservatory whichever she decides on. Haley is 8 years old...only one more month until she is 9! We tell people she'd be in 3rd grade if she were in school because it is way easier than explaining the different grades she is for each subject. Words I'd use to describe Haley...funny, intelligent, mature, talented, self motivated, and snuggley.

Haley's Favorites:
School subjects: Music, reading, and writing.
Color: Lime green
Book: "Out of My Mind" by Sharon Draper
Sport: Swimming
Activity: Playing violin and Irish fiddle...hanging out in Irish pubs with her adult, musician friends.
Movie: Old Yeller
Game: Life

Haley's brother, Newt, is in the middle. He entered public school last year and this year is a freshman in high school. He is 15 years old and will be 16 in November (Ahh! Driving permit on the horizon! This is fair warning to all drivers out there.) Words I'd use to describe Newt...determined, strong, a leader, hard worker, and sometimes goofy.

Newt's favorites:
School subject: Gym
Color: Yellow
Book: "The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton
Sport: Wrestling (can you tell by the busted up nose in the photo?)
Activity: Wrestling and lifting weights/training for wrestling
Movie: "Ace Ventura"
Game: Candyland (Jokester, my son)

On the right is Dylan. Dylan went to school for the first time this year. He is in 7th grade. Dylan is 13 years old and will be 14 in October. Words I'd use to describe Dylan...creative, talented, sweet, laid back, and cool.

Dylan's favorites:
School subject: Science
Color: Blue
Book: "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" (Not so sure if he was being serious)
Sport: Football
Activity: Playing guitar, banjo, or mandolin and trying out other new stringed instruments then asking me to purchase them.
Movie: ?
Game: Cranium


Haley uses a variety of curriculum. We follow the Well Trained Mind history and science rotations for the most part though we did take a detour this year and do American History which we will continue next year using Joy Hakim's  History of US as a spine with some lapbooking and extra readings thrown in for fun.

Math is Saxon with some supplements like Hands on Equations and Thinkwell. For biology this year we used PLATO science as the spine with tons of additional books, a little dissection, and experiments.

For language arts we've also used a variety from MCT Grammer Town level to Classical Writing to Best Short Stories. Haley loves to write so she does so often on her own whether it is a report on some subject she is interested in to her own short stories. She uses Spelling Power for a few months a year but is a natural speller so it is mostly just to make Mommy feel better.

For foreign languages we use Rosetta Stone and Destinos. She did Hands On History lapbooks for music and still working on artists this year as well as geography using the books like Minn of the Mississippi that came with a study guide and maps.


Ha! Funny you should ask. As the title of my blog suggests, we do a lot of driving mostly to Haley's violin lessons, orchestra rehearsals, Irish pubs, and fiddle lessons. (The car we purchased in February has 10K miles just to give you an idea of what I mean by a lot.) Some of Haley's school work is done in the car. Some is done either at the computer in the living room (Thinkwell and PLATO) or laying on the floor in the music room/school room. The rest is done sitting in waiting areas while Newt has wrestling practice...this is Haley's best work environment. She tends to be a night owl, preferring to spend her days practicing her instrument or working on her writings.


Some of the when is above in the where section. Ideally we homeschool 4 days a week (they might not always be weekdays) from the end of August through June. We then cut back to 2-3 days a week through the summer concentrating on math, finishing up history and science, and doing fun things like art.


I am eclectic homeschooler. My homeschool has looked different for each child. Haley is a very motivated kid and has definite ideas of what she wants to learn. I loosely follow a classical approach in that we cover a wide variety of topics to make her well rounded but we do it in an unschooling kind of way meaning I am more a mentor to her. I suggest curriculum, keep a wide variety of materials on hand, and help her along the way. We work on her schedule often just because we can...she's the only one home and it's just her and I. We've become more structured over the years but she's kind of led the way with that as well.


I started homeschooling because Newt started reading right before his 4th birthday. He was a teacher's worst nightmare in preschool...running out of the room, climbing tables, and talking constantly. He was not a mean kid...he was a nightmare in the sweetest sense of the word (LOL)...he was just bored. He has a late birthday for school enrollment so would have had to spend another year in preschool or I could have put him in the expensive private school early for K (but it was way too expensive).

I had no idea what to do so I started reading and researching. I hit on the idea of homeschooling and figured we had a year to use as a trial so we started. It wasn't easy. I went to school, excelled, and loved school. I wasn't the kind of person who went against the grain so to speak. But we jumped in and never looked back.

We took it year by year because it just worked with our lifestyle. I figured I would give the kids a good solid foundation, not only academically but within their own selves so they would be better prepared to handle the pressures of growing up. When Newt hit 8th grade, we knew he'd have to enter school to wrestle in high school so we put him in a year early to learn the ropes. He was accelerated academically so, academically, school was not a challenge but he made the transition well and I had never planned on him graduating early anyway.

This past summer, Dylan asked to go to school so we let him. It was the best choice for him. He has never been my most motivated learner and tended to be difficult to get to work but now as a school student, he comes home after school, does his homework, and takes pride in his work and his grades. The peer pressure was actually a good thing for this one.

Haley practices her music a lot every day and she is very accelerated academically, moreso than Newt was. I can't see her ever "fitting" into a school environment or "fitting" school into her lifestyle. I have plans to continue with her indefinitely.

Cape May Music Festival 2011

Last night Grammy, Poppop, Haley and I attended the first evening of the 2011 Cape May Music Festival in the beautiful shore town of Cape May. It is my favorite place shore town and we used to camp there every year before we began making yearly treks to Ireland. Haley's first fiddle teacher and her husband (McDermitt's H*ndy) opened the concert with some songs and tunes then the featured act Pride of N*w Y*rk, a group consisting of All Ireland winners Joannie Madden, Billy McComisky, Brendan Dolan, and Haley's fiddle teacher, Brian Conway took the stage.

Each member of the group is an amazing musician in their own right but putting them all together is magic. I was so happy to see the church packed full of people there to see them. They were gracious enough to allow Haley to come up on stage with them for some tunes. (She has this bad habit of stealing the show with her cuteness.) She played a couple reels on her own then Brian surprised her by adding a few more and joining her. I love the parts of the tunes they play together with their bows moving in stereo.

At the end of her tunes, Haley received a standing ovation right in the middle of the concert.

Taylor guitars

 When the owner of the music store where Dylan has been taking guitar lessons for the past 5 years and where we purchased his Taylor guitar heard Dylan qualified to compete in the All Ireland on his Taylor, he asked Dylan and the rest of the Towheads to make an appearance at his other store for a Taylor guitar event.

You can't tell from this photo but Dylan is extremely excited to be there. The kids opened the show...with Dylan turned up a little louder than usual to showcase his talents then also played again at the intermission/petting zoo time.

The event was very informative. The dealer talked about the different guitar body styles and tone woods used and another man demonstrated on each guitar the differences body style and tone wood makes. He also had a guitar cut open so the inside could be seen and talked about the electronic components.
At the end of the demonstrations and lectures, they did a drawing. Everyone's name went into a hat...for us that was 7 people with our family and Grammy and Poppop there. Some people hadn't made it through the two hour demonstration so that meant everyone left received a prize.

Since none of the rest of us play guitar, Dylan came home with a T-shirt, 3 sets of guitar strings,  a couple packages of picks, and some Taylor guitar stickers. He was one happy boy!

Orchestra and more Irish Music...

Haley's second orchestra PR*SM had it's concert last weekend. All I can say is "Wow!" I wish I could post the videos I took because they were absolutely amazing...but I won't in the interest of other people's privacy.

After the January concert, the conductor asked a few of the orchestra members what they thought of the music they had just performed. He received replies along the lines of "easy" and "no problem" which kinda got his dander up so when he chose pieces for this spring concert, he made sure to pick selections that would challenge the best of them.

The pieces consisted of a Handel piece for the side-by-side with PR*SM Young Artists (what Haley refers to as "the younger kid are all her age or older), Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," three movements of Felix Mendelssohn's "Sinfonie in D," and three movements of Antoin Dvorak's "Serenade in E." For the Mendelssohn and Dvorak, I am not talking about versions of the pieces adapted for young orchestra's but the actual works written by these great composers.

When Haley first received her music and I looked at all those notes on the pages, I thought Chinese might have made more sense to me. I didn't see how Haley could ever learn it. The music seemed more difficult than any she had ever learned before. But she rose to the challenge and with some help from her teacher and her practice partner, she learned it and as the mother of the concertmaster noticed, memorized it.

What an amazing experience for her to be able to learn and play such beautiful orchestral music! Listening to the concert brought tears to my eyes.

Back in the fall, I wasn't so sure about this orchestra. The conductor wasn't a "Suzuki-friendly," touchy-feely kind of man. He expected the best from the students every rehearsal and they worked hard for him. He picked difficult pieces and never simplified the fingerings or bowings because they were kids but challenged them to play at a higher level. The sectional rehearsals were demanding and Haley was exhausted every Friday night following 2 hours of intense rehearsals. Some kids might balk at challenge like that but I think all those things made Haley love it even more. I can definitely say she is a better reader and a better player because of the experience. On top of it all, she made some wonderful friends whom she emails and texts (from my phone or iPod now and then).

We are looking forward to a few months of less driving and a different focus to daily practice without two orchestras worth of music to work on but Haley is ready to go right back to it come next fall. Not so sure about the "two orchestras" part but we are keeping our options open.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


When our children are babies, we measure their progress in milestones...sitting, crawling, eating solid food, walking, talking, etc... In my work in Early Intervention everything is based on milestones. People write books that parents read then add to their worry about milestones and development in babies and toddlers. As the children get older there are still some big milestones like first day of school (or homeschool), first lost tooth, first day starting an instrument, concerts, etc... but the milestones for each child become more individualized to that child and family. Every child has different interests and often the milestones are more abstract or there is no set time when they should happen. In Suzuki violin, there is a set repertoire so each piece or book can be thought of as a milestone but as you move out of the Suzuki repertoire, it is more difficult to "see" where they are going or where they have been.

Those big milestones are exciting and fun to document in pictures and blog posts but sometimes what I like best are the little "milestones," those things others would never notice or pay attention to or that we might take for granted if we didn't think about them. In our house some of these include...

-the first time I realized Newt had outgrown his teen angst stage and was no longer such a pain
-when Newt gained the maturity to work daily to improve his wrestling
-when Dylan began to take ownership of his guitar playing and started really enjoying it and practicing without me telling him to
-when Dylan began to really "hear" what chords he needed to play without anyone telling him
-when Dylan began improvising and adding his own touch to his tune accompaniment
-when Haley was able to practice a bit on her own
-when she became more careful  in how she practiced so rather than just playing through pieces, she was picking out small bits to perfect before moving on
-when Haley sat and watched a Pre-Algebra lecture on computer, stopping it and taking notes then doing the problems without help from me

These are still rather big things but sometimes there are smaller "milestones," things I almost miss when they happen and don't realize until later they have been passed like Haley fixing some small detail in her technique, Dylan learning and adding new chords to his repertoire, or Newt incorporating a new move into his live wrestling. Sometimes with Haley's violin playing I don't realize until I haven't mentioned a certain detail in the past few practices that it is even fixed and could almost just forget it was an issue. The other small things are like that and I might look back a few months later and think..."Wow! Isn't it neat how he/she can do that now!"

I don't want to miss anything in my kids' lives. I want them to know that I do notice when things change for them. It's part of the reason I like to blog.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Recent events...

 We've had lots going on the past week so I thought I'd do a little photo montage to summarize. Haley's Temple Prep orchestra had its Spring festival last Saturday. It was held in a beautiful church in the city near R*ttenhouse Square. The kids played wonderfully. I am always amazed at what they are able to accomplish working one hour a week for 3 months. So the first couple pictures are the before the concert pics.

Haley and Dylan
Haley and Tinks
Temple Classic Strings

Haley with her conductor...the nicest man ever!

Since we were right there at R*ittenhouse Square for the concert, the kids decided they'd like to do a little busking. They have been working to raise money for their trip to Ireland and it seemed like the perfect spot. They drew a nice crowd and did very well. The little children were adorable. There were some who went right up to their instruments looking like they were trying to figure out how they worked, others danced, and some didn't want to leave when their parents were ready.

She looks like she is more interested in the tip jar but I just missed her standing inches from Dylan's guitar fascinated with him playing.
Playing for the dancers

Last Sunday, the kids played down in Atl*ntic City at Trinity Pub. What a neat pub and great food! They played a couple 45 min. sets, ate some lunch in between, and had a lot of fun. Their new friend, Francesca came and danced for them. I know, Dylan doesn't look like he's having "a lot of fun." I think he has to have his serious face on to play as good as he does.

Haley fiddling

Francesca dancing

Newt at the beat box

Yesterday, the kids were the musical entertainment for V*neland's Founders Day celebration. The morning was very overcast but the rain held off until after the kids' set though they did play in a bit of drizzle with Mommy and Daddy holding umbrellas to protect their instruments while the May Pole dance was done.

Getting ready to dance around the May Pole.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A concert, a lesson, American Girls, and a session...

AG luncheon
 Haley and I had a wonderful girly weekend while the boys were divided and conquered (ha, ha) amongst Poppop and Daddy doing boys things like wrestling tournaments and crabbing.

I had driven Haley up to the NJ Folk Arts Festival to join the Next Gen kids in their performances. We were planning to drive back to Philly for the last Temple orchestra rehearsal before continuing on with our weekend but she wasn't feeling her best by early afternoon (she has been getting headaches now and then sometimes with an upset stomach...maybe a migraine but they seem to go away with Advil but just in as not to expose other kids to anything so close to the concert we skipped rehearsal) so instead we drove straight up to New York, our next planned stop.

Busking musicians
We had planned an overnight with Haley's fiddle teacher so she could have an early morning lesson then we could meet her friend, Sofia, for a trip into the city to visit the American Girl store. Her fiddle teacher had a concert scheduled for Saturday night with his group Pr*de of New York so we went to the concert with him. They allowed Haley on the stage during the 2nd half of the concert to do a set on her own then a set with her teacher. She received a standing ovation from the crowd. I always think adults must be a bit brave to allow a child on stage with them. I told her teacher he could at least take credit for her skills unlike the other band members who do it because they are just really nice and like to see the tradition living on in the next generation.

Haley took an early lesson in the morning then we met Sofia, her mom, and baby sister to take the subway into the city. It was an absolutely perfect day, weather wise, and we had a wonderful time. The girls rode their scooters around the city rather than walk so they didn't get tired from all the walking. They did their American Girl shopping (actually had a personal shopping assistant check them out while we sat on cushy couches), had lunch in the cafe, then we walked near Central Park where the girls busked for a few minutes before we headed back to the subway.

After the NYC trip, Haley and I headed back to her teacher's Irish session so she could play for a bit before we headed home.