Saturday, July 30, 2011


Dylan has been asking to play football for the past couple years. Since the boys homeschooled we always seemed to miss signups or had too much other stuff going on to do football practice every night.

This year, we finally found out when sign-ups started and our schedule, except for things like trips to Ireland, will allow someone to be able to take Dylan to practice at night. So, we signed him up and practice started on Monday night.

It was hot...really hot and they worked the boys hard. Dylan was sore for a couple days but he did everything expected of him at practice. I am really proud of all his hard work even in the incredible heat.

He likes it.

I'm not sure what he likes about it. He doesn't know all that much about the game though he is asking questions and finding out what he needs to know. I think the thing he likes best, what he talks most about, is the uniform. Even I have to admit, he does look pretty tough in all those pads. He does need to work on his "mean face" though. Ha!

We spent 2 hours standing in the hot sun last night, sweating and waiting for the boys to get their uniforms. I didn't mind so much because I saw how careful the men were being about making sure everyone had a proper fit. I understand the importance of that. Wrestling uniforms are a whole lot easier to give out..."here's a singlet, see ya!"

I'm not sure how football is going to fit into our otherwise very busy schedule. We will be doing a lot of divide-and-conquer this fall. I do not think Haley will be doing both orchestras so our Saturdays will be free to watch Dylan's games. We will find a way to make it all work.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

One of those days...

Did you ever have one of those days where you needed to plan everything perfectly for it all to fit and you knew if just one thing went a little off....?

Today was just such a day. Newt has been in Fargo, ND all week at a national wrestling competition with the NJ National Team. I had to pick him up at the airport today. His plane was supposed to be in at 11:58am. The airport is 1 hour 45 min away from our house but only 45 min from Haley's fiddle teacher in NY so I figured I'd pick Newt up then drive both kids the other 45 min. for Haley to take a lesson, saving me a 3 hour drive tomorrow.

Sounds good, eh!

So, the day starts off innocently enough. I get up, spend some time checking email, get Haley some breakfast, then go upstairs to get a shower. No sooner do I flip the light switch in the bathroom and I hear a loud POP! outside and the house electricity is off. (We have frequent transformer problems in hot, sunny weather....lost lots of refridgerator and freezer stuff last year in the 5 times we lost electric for whole days at a time.)

So, I manage to get a quick shower with the little water left in the water heater. I decide to take Dylan to Grammy's house where there will be air conditioning on all day (104 in the shade here today) and where he will not be tempted to open the fridge thereby hopefully saving our food.

I also needed to use her computer to check Newt's flight status. He was supposed to fly Fargo to Chicago landing at 7am then take off at 9am for Newark. I see that his flight is now delayed and will not be taking off until 10:45am. I decide to take Haley to NY for her lesson, cut the lesson to 1/2 hour then go pick up Newt after. Since we had spent quite a bit of time deciding what to do and checking flights, we make the 2.5 hour drive and arrive just in time for her 12:30pm lesson.

A quick call to Grammy tells me Newt's flight is further delayed and not due in Newark until 2:43pm so the lesson can be an hour. Haley takes her lesson which went very well then we hop back in the car to drive to Newark. Just as we are getting off the exit for the airport, Newt calls to tell me he's landed and waiting for his luggage. I drive around and wait at the terminal pick-up zone  for about 10 min. (at the most) before he comes out to us.

Someone had to be watching over our schedule today...there is no way I could have taken what seemed to be a mess and had it work out any better than that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Swannanoa Pics-Part 2

While at Swannanoa, Dylan was interviewed by Sharon, a reporter with The Living Tradition magazine, who was covering the Gathering and happened to be in a couple of Dylan's guitar classes.

She also took some photos of the kids and sent them to me via email. She was incredibly nice and said I could publish them as long as I gave credit to the magazine. So please check out the The Living Tradition magazine!
Dylan in guitar class
 I love this last one but could not for the life of me figure out how to get it rotated the right way up. Any hints? Since it is downloaded from another program, I can't edit it like I do my other photos. Hmmmmm?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Swannanoa Gathering 2011

 Not sure if I will be able to cover everything that happened this week in one blog post...but I'll hit the highlights!

We spent the week at Swannanoa Gathing in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. It was our 3rd year attending and every year just seems to be better than the last. I can't even begin to put into the words the amazing musical opportunities a camp like this provides my kids. They spend their days taking classes from some of the best performers/teachers on their instruments and their nights listening to concerts, going to dances, and playing their music into the wee hours of the morning with those same wonderful musicians and other gathering attendees. In the photo to the left the kids are playing in a session with Brian Conw*y, his sister R*se Flannagan, Pat M*ngan, and Kevin Burk*.  The performers at the gathering are all so very approachable and seem to love passing on their skills to the next generation.

Dylan jamming. He was a much sought after backer for the other teens at the camp. A good guitarist is hard to find.

Haley fiddling along with Brian and Pat...a teacher flanked by his student and former student.

 One of the highlights of the week for Dylan was meeting John Doyle, his absolute favorite guitarist ever. Dylan took four different style guitar classes for the week and a few of the teachers even gave him some extra time following lessons. Dylan even gave some lessons himself.
Haley up close...I love this picture.

 Dylan had received a scholarship to attend the camp this year. The scholarship is only given out to a child once. Haley had gotten one the first year we attended. Here's Dylan getting his scholarship certificate during the concert on Wednesday night.
Dylan jamming after class with a guitar instructor.

 The first year we went to camp, there was this huge swing attached to a large tree. Last year we were disappointed to see the branch that held the swing was gone along with the swing. Imagine our surprise and delight when we saw the swing had been restored! The kids loved to spend breaks on the swing and Haley especially liked to practice near the swing and get a big push after completing each segment of her practice.
 One of the great benefits to attending camp is meeting other musicians from all over the United States and Canada. Dylan made friends with these brothers from Texas who were amazing on fiddle and banjo and flute. Here they are rehearsing the set they put together for the student showcase the last night of camp.

Haley and Dylan received a standing ovation for their performance at the student showcase.

The final night of camp at about midnight, I was sitting listening to my kids play with a large group of musicians while a couple dancers danced to the music and one of the performers, who usually plays guitar, accompanying the group on piano and I thought...what neat experiences my kids get to have. Amazing!

 I said above that one of the highlights for Dylan was meeting and taking class with John Doyle. The biggest highlight was the evening he and Haley were joined by John with his bouzouki. Haley played melody while the guys jammed along with her. John's daughter sat on his lap some of the time. They joked about her taking care of moving the capo for him but she needed to grow a few more muscles to be able to move that. John played a number of sets with the kids and sang Haley her favorite song...The Hare's Lament. He said Haley reminded him of Liz Carroll and Eileen Ivers while Dylan reminded him of himself. You can only imagine Dylan's delight!

Haley with Martin Hayes...her fiddle teacher for the week.
Haley and Dylan with their friends from home, Emily and Livia.

Haley's new friends on the swing.

Hershey Park

 On Wednesday, July 6th, the Towheads performed at Hershey Park with their dancer, Francesca. Overall it was a great day! There were a few things that might have gone was really hot, the park people were late getting them on stage to play (try holding back a group of 6 kids when there are rides all around them), they didn't have a sign or the kids on a schedule telling people who they were or when they were playing, and did I mention, it was really HOT!

Initially the kids were to play on a larger stage that was covered  but that stage was set back and did not get much traffic so they moved the kids to this open stage right in the main lots of foot traffic but the stage was not covered and was broken up into small stage levels so our dancer had to do most of her best moves on the ground in front of the stage.

The kids played very well. The sound system was pretty good and they drew a steady crowd. Luckily they only had to play for about 30 min. otherwise they would have melted like chocolate bars in the sun. After they played we rode the rides and went to the water park. We hadn't been to Hershey Park before as a family so it was a fun day overall.
The Towheads and friends!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Why one might want to get a violin from a luthier.

We have had quite a few "dramas" over the years with violins. There have been suddenly unravelling strings...of course that only happens the day before a big performance. There was the time we tried to change the strings ourselves and ended up with a strange buzz. Each time we drive to the city and he fixes whatever the problem sometimes even staying open a little late so we can get there.

We had the big "fall on the violin causing the bridge to break into two pieces" episode. Yes, Haley was climbing up and down on a chair to change CD songs then climbing down to play along with her fiddle at 10pm at night and when climbing up, slipped and fell on her violin. The bridge flew off in two different directions. My husband was the hero in that one using Gorilla glue to glue that tiny bridge while my daughter cried her eyes out because she might not get to practice the next morning as she looked at her violin and said, "She looks so ugly!" (insert howl here!)

This past weekend we had another equipment drama. Haley was just playing with the ceili band on Sunday and came over with the metal end of her bow in her hand. It has just popped off.

Now, I have to tell you that this bow has been trouble from day 1. During the winter when we first got it, I thought it was just the weather causing it to be difficult to tighten and loosen then I kept putting off getting it checked out and kind of got used to its idiosyncracies.

So, I popped the metal end back on and it seemed to be tight but on Monday it popped off again. Of course, I had to work late yesterday and then we are leaving early this morning for Hershey Park and the next morning for camp for 10 days so no way to get to the luthier. I just figured we would take it to camp, pray for the best, and take it in when we get home.

Haley had her violin lesson and her teacher suggested I call the luthier because a woman who works in his shop has a son who takes viola with Haley's teacher. The teacher thought this wonderful lady might be able to bring a bow home with her which I could pick up after hours. I called and drove to her house after work, traded bows, and now Haley has a working bow for camp!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011


Because Haley is a Suzuki violin kid, plays Irish fiddle, and during the school year plays in a couple orchestras, a big part of our lives is practice. She practices every day. I cannot remember a day when she didn't practice. She has asked to practice on holidays and her birthday. She takes her violin on vacations. She has practiced, actually a lot, when in the car going somewhere, on the beach, at campgrounds across the US, and some other pretty funny places. (She thinks it is cool to find different places to practice. Even when she isn't feeling well, she'll ask for her she misses it if she doesn't play it at least a little every day.

People often ask how long Haley practices each day. I know it may just be a question they think they should ask or what they ask when they can't think of something better to say but I think that particular question has the wrong focus. It isn't how long Haley practices but how she practices that makes a difference.

When she first started playing violin, I left her instrument where she could reach it and whenever she brought it to me, I practiced with her for 10-15 min. Practice then was all fun and games. We used toys and stuffed animals and whatever we could find to help her learn the small parts of techniques she needed to reach bigger goals. I got really, really good at figuring out how to break a larger task into something she could easily accomplish (this skill has been invaluable to me in my work with developmentally delayed kids as well).

We still break up her practicing throughout the day. Her attention is longer but if she goes over 60-90 min at one time, her focus and attention begin to diminish and practice isn't as effective. Homeschooling allows her the freedom to be able to practice throughout the day so we get her when her attention is best.

As she gets older, we still use  games at times like if she plays _____ with ______ technique correct, she gets a point or if she doesn't, I get a point or playing ____# repetitions for a chocolate chip. The games don't involve so many props but a little bit of a challenge to help her focus works wonders on those days when she isn't as "into" practicing or she has something she considers difficult to focus on. Oftentimes she is now focused on the playing itself and enjoying what she is playing and doesn't need games and other times she asks to play a certain game.

Haley's teacher often asks her to play a small bit of a piece, a measure or a certain shift, 100 times. I know some  Suzuki parents might think she is kidding but we never did. Whenever she said that, we did it. We got the abacus and did it 20 times a day or more until we had done it at least 100 times...oh, yeah...that meant 100 times correctly, not just flying through 100 times to get it done.

Now Haley often choses her own little bit to practice 100 times or more and it is amazing how ingrained something becomes that way. She will find the difficult passages and take them out of the piece and work on them focusing on smoothing out a shift or keeping her fingers tall or whatever it happens to be that she needs to help her play it better. Sometimes she needs help with breaking things down and some days I just sit and watch her practice or we play a game where I try to figure out what technique she is working to improve.

We don't consider playing through a piece to be practice. It might be a small part of the practice...for Haley, playing through the entire piece is her "treat" after the actual practice and she tries to put what she practiced back into the whole piece.

I am so grateful to Haley's violin training for teaching her how to practice. She knows that anything she finds difficult can be made easier with practice and I am sure that knowledge and the skills of knowing how to practice effectively will make a huge difference for her in her all areas of her life.

How long Haley practices would not make much difference in her playing ability if she practiced mindlessly. playing through entire pieces without focus on improving something. It is the deliberate focus on improving something every day, no matter how small that something might be, through practice that makes the difference.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Irish Music Weekend!

 We had another busy Irish music weekend. We had to wake up really early on Saturday morning to drive Newt to the NJ State team wrestling practice in North Jersey (about 5 min from NY so really, really north). From there, I took Haley to her fiddle lesson then we went back and watched the rest of Newt's practice. When his practice was finished, we drove back to her fiddle teacher's house then to a session.

 Haley had fun at the session. Her friend, Alex, was there. We know him from the kids' Irish session in Philadelphia and he and Haley both compete in NY and Ireland. She enjoyed seeing him. It was the first we've seen him and his family since the Fleadh in Parsippany on April 1st.

After the session, we had a late night drive home which was pretty neat because in a number of places we drove past, there were cool fireworks. There were even fireworks going off as we crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Sunday started out with thunderstorms and rain. It dried out and we headed to the South Jersey Irish Society picnic. We had a nice time. Haley swam, played mini golf, joined the ceili band with her fiddle, and did the water balloon toss.

Whacking the pinata! Boy! Was that hard to break!

Water balloon toss.

The ceili band.

Haley reading off the 50/50 winning number.
After the picnic, we decided to check out a session about 5 miles away. A number of people had recommended the session but it is a far drive for us normally. The place was half of a duplex and inside it felt like we were stepping into a pub in Cavan Ireland...really neat with lots of character.

There was only a piper and a bodhran player playing when we arrived and they welcomed Haley immediately. Soon after a guitarist joined them and 9yo twin girls with fiddles who also were good little dancers. So, it ended up being a nice session with a great crowd. Not sure if we'll make it back there anytime soon but if we are ever in the area again we'd stop in.