Monday, January 31, 2011

Restless

Million Dollar Smile

Yesterday, Joel and I performed in a recital along with most of the other music faculty.  Since it was a Sunday and since we were both involved, we didn't have a lot of choice but to bring the children.  We were only in one number together, so we figured it would be okay.

And, thankfully, it was.  Bria and Chloe sat together by themselves, and many of our friends kept a good eye on them (we were just in a small theater), but Sophia wanted to sit with us.  I'm glad she did, because I got a great kick out of her commentary.

Silly

The very first set was some jazz/blues guitar.  Sophia didn't really like the first piece in the set, because she said, "This isn't very good music.  He's just warming up, huh?"

She did, however, like the next two guitar pieces quite a lot, and became focused on the guitarist's tapping foot.  She started tapping her own foot in rhythm with him, and then she whispered in my ear, "Do we know why his leg isn't tired yet?"

Boogerface

She was very restless, though.  I mean, this is Sophia we're talking about.  Always on the go go go, never able to sit still.  Taking her to concerts and recitals is rare because she is so wiggly, but we do it occasionally. The hour-long recital was almost over when I told her to try to stay still for just five more minutes.  She hopped up on my lap and watched the rest of the audience for a while, then she asked me, "How is everybody staying so still Mommy?  How are they doing that?"

Sophia

I suppose to most 4-year olds it is pretty amazing that grown-ups can stay still for such long periods of time.  Still, I think Sophia gets a gold star for doing so well yesterday, even if she was lying on the floor, bored out of her mind, by the end.

Perhaps she'll even be ready for a full-length orchestra concert by next year.

One can only hope.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dolphins. And Swimming. Just Not Together.

Nosedive

So....picking up where we left off.

After we returned with Bria from visiting the Mayan ruins, we ate lunch on the ship and then picked up the other two kids from the kids' club and headed back on shore.  The Costa Maya port was pretty boring right off the pier, but since that's where they had the swimming with the dolphins (which was way too expensive, or we would have done it), we figured the girls would love to sit and watch them for a while.

Dolphin NoseJumpDolphinDolphin

And while they did rather enjoy the dolphins, they seemed quite a bit more intent upon gathering seashells from the "beach" we were on.

At the "Beach"ChloeShe Sees Sea Shells

After they were sufficiently bored of the dolphins, we headed over to the fun pool that was there right on the "beach."  It was surrounded by bars, and so my brother called it the alcohol pool.  Luckily, we only had about 45 minutes before all aboard, so it really wasn't very crowded any more and we had it largely to ourselves.

Sophia and Chloe had a lot of fun playing in the water (and thankfully Miss Chloe had gotten over whatever she was angry about by now), while we just sat in the warmth and enjoyed watching them.

SophiaKookSophia

Oh, and not many pictures of Chloe because Sophia is a camera hog and upstaged Chloe at every chance she got.  She is very aware of the camera and poses her little heart out.  It's cute, but it would be nice to have proof of my other children, too.

Camera hogWork it!

Oh!  There's Chloe!

ChloeBlue

Joel enjoying the sunshine.

The Man

And, just in case you're wondering where on earth Bria was, well, she was totally obsessed with finding seashells. She didn't even dip her pinky toe into the pool, and I am doubting she even noticed its existence.

Seeing even more Shells

But, hey!  She did find lots of pretty shells.

Phewsh!  Only about five more days of vacation to go!  More to come....

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blue

Happy Light

You guys, I've lost my personality.

I just kind of feel like I have nothing to say. Nothing really to contribute.  And I mean in real life as well as on this blog.  It's the normal winter blah crap, I know, but it is always a little bit alarming to me when I feel like this.

This year, my amazing friend Hilary bought me a SAD light for Christmas.  Seriously, isn't she amazing?  From all the way in California she could tell I was having a hard time with my seasonal issues and a few days later a package showed up on my doorstep. It's an alarm clock and it wakes me up with bright blue light, and I also try to sit with the light every morning for around a half hour. I can carry it around the house with me, so even if I'm making lunches or breakfast or getting the kids bundled up for the bus I can still benefit from the light.  I have to say, it has definitely helped with the energy levels.  I can tell a huge difference on the days I didn't use it for whatever reason (usually dead battery--I am so horrible at remembering to charge things up) and I get so much more done on the days I bask in its glow.  It also seems to be helping with my circadian rhythms, since I have to get up so early.  I'm actually falling asleep earlier and more quickly than I usually do.

However, it doesn't really seem to be helping with the personality loss.

I am a boring, boring person.

In other news (or perhaps it's the same news?), I am bored of the cruise pictures.  Mostly because I am boring.  I promise to get a few up tomorrow, because I'll have more time than usual.  And since I have nothing else to say, I may as well talk about our amazing vacation.

Stay tuned.

PS  Goodness, I think that next time my light runs out of battery power I can just look at the picture!  I'm sorry if you needed to pull out your sunglasses to read this post.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Some Musical Moments

So Bria hates scales.  With a passion.  I can't say that I blame her, because scales are not exactly exciting and fun, but hate them or not scales must be played.

It was time to go to her lesson a couple weeks ago, and I told her to gather her books and to get ready to go.  I saw her grab a pile of books off of the table and noticed she left her scale book there.  I reminded her to get it, and she looked at me a bit sheepishly? annoyedly?  frustratedly? and admitted that she had intended to leave it at home so she didn't have to play her scales for her teacher.

I laughed at her, put the book into her bag and off we went.  The way it goes is that I drop Bria off at the Maestro's office where she works on homework until her lesson starts next door while I take Chloe to her piano lesson.  When we're done with piano, I leave Chloe and Sophia in Joel's office while I sit in on Bria's lesson which has usually been going on for about 5 minutes by the time I arrive.

Well, when I arrived, I learned that Bria had knocked on the door, immediately stated that she did not have her scale book with her, and could they please start with review pieces instead?  Later (one week later) we found her book hidden in one of the bookshelves of Joel's office.

Little stinker.

*********

Scales aside, Bria has a pretty darn good ear.  Perfect pitch, in fact.

One morning during Christmas break, Bria was told by her father to go practice her violin.  I was (very happily) still in bed, but as they were right outside my bedroom door I heard every word of the following exchange.

It seems that Bria's violin was majorly out of tune when she picked it up, which isn't uncommon in the freaking freezing weather we've been having, and she couldn't get it tuned up by herself.  She asked Joel to tune it for her, and he--also having perfect pitch--did so without the use of the piano.

Now, Joel likes his notes a bit sharp.  So rather than tune his A at the standard 440, he prefers 444.  To a person with such plebeian ears as my own, these pitches both sound exactly the same, but not to Bria.  She took the violin from Joel, played the first two notes of her song and immediately threw a fit.

"This is not even tuned right, Dad!  You don't know how to tune a violin!!!  It doesn't even match the piano!!!!  It has to match the PIAAAAAAAAAAAAANOOOOOOOOOOOOO"

And then she burst into a fit of tears of the type that only a tween girl can cry.

Joel had no choice but to tune it back down the microscopic bit to appease her highness of the picky pitch.  And then balance and harmony was returned to our household and the world.

**********

Chloe got a new piano piece a while ago and sat down to practice it for the first time.  It had some words to it, so she thought she'd sing it first.  So, she did, with a tune that she just made up right on the spot.

And then she went to play it.  The child reads music fairly decently when she wants to, so it amazed me that instead of playing the notes that were written on the page, she played the tune she had just made up.  And nearly perfectly, too.

She was pretty mad when I pointed out that the tune was something else entirely, and why don't we see what the notes want us to play?

**********

Just in case you didn't know, Sophia plays the violin.  Or, so she says to anyone who will listen.  We got one of Bria's old violins out last month for her book report project (she read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and if you've read it you might understand why the violin case was germane) and Sophia started picking up the violin to play.  I've tried to work with her a bit on rhythms and things, but she doesn't listen to me.

But she does play the violin.

Just so you know.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I'm guessing I don't have to do much to introduce this book to you, as it has already received quite a bit of attention in the news, on Facebook, on blogs and message boards and everywhere else.  I must say that last week I spent more time than I should have defending this book to those who had only read the one article in the Wall Street Journal and I've read so many incendiary comments addressing it that I finally had to walk away from the computer.

But anyway.  In case you've missed all of the hoopla surrounding Amy Chua and her new book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, please read on...

Like Chua, I was born in the year of the Tiger as per the Chinese Zodiac and I consider myself to be a fairly strict mother.  By American standards, that is. (Perhaps there really is something to that Zodiac...) I have been told more than once that I am "weird" to not allow television, computer/video games or playdates on weekdays.  I am not a fan of sleepovers, and I mostly don't let my children participate.  The only exceptions are when we are out of town and friends are watching our children or vice-versa.  Like Chua's children, mine are required to play a musical instrument, and they must practice that instrument daily.

Tiger signs and strictness aside, I loved this book.  Loved it.  I read it all in one great gulp a few days after Christmas.  After I closed it, I sat and I thought about what I had just read.  I learned a lot about myself as a parent and about my children while reading it.

I was absolutely fascinated with the story of this Chinese-American mother--herself a law professor at Yale University which is certainly a highly demanding job--and how she sat with her two daughters for their daily practice and homework sessions.  Practicing for up to six hours a day on the violin and piano.  Drilling them with math problems so that they knew the material backwards and forwards.  One hundred percent devoted to the success of her children and going much more than just an extra mile to help them.

Being a Suzuki mom myself, I was a little shocked and more than a little impressed when I read about Chua's daughter Lulu, and how she was already playing Dvorak's Humoresque after only six months on the instrument.  Um.  Bria just learned that song last year, and she's been playing for six YEARS.

Did I agree with everything Chua had to say?  Absolutely not.  But one thing in particular resounded with me in a very big way.  It is my job as a parent to help my children be successful.  Children are much too young to always make good choices, and while offering them choices in some things is good, it isn't okay to just let a four-year old choose everything about her life.  Or a seven-year old.  Or even a ten-year old.  And especially not a teenager, although I wouldn't know anything about that.

If I left it up to my children, they would rarely do their homework (especially not math), they wouldn't practice their instruments, they would watch a lot of TV, they would eat candy for breakfast, cookies for lunch and who knows what for dinner, they would never brush their teeth or shower and they would be generally miserable.  And they would have no idea why.

It is my job to see to it that they not only complete their homework, but that they do it well.  It is my job to make sure they not only pick up that violin/sit at the piano and practice, but that they actually do their scales (hoo boy do I ever have a funny story about Bria and her scales--remind me later) and pay attention to proper technique.  It is my job to make sure that they are filling their time with wholesome activities and not just watching whatever happens to be on the television, which, as we all know, is often nothing good.  It is my job to make sure that they have healthy meals and to limit their sugar intake.  My job to make sure their teeth are brushed twice daily and that they sometimes floss.  My job to make sure they bathe.

My.  Job.

Having high expectations for a child is not a bad thing.  It does not ruin their self-esteem.  It can only help them learn responsibility, the value of hard work and oh, raise their self-esteem.  Do I think this can be accomplished without yelling or calling names?  Yes.  There is a balance.

Have I found that balance?  No way.  My children have experienced something of an inconsistent childhood, having a mother who one day makes them practice and practice until it is perfect, and the next makes them do it themselves or forgets altogether.  I fully admit to forgetting to make them brush their teeth at night or letting them have a cookie just because I don't want to deal with the temper tantrum that is sure to follow.  I am by no means a perfect mother.

And neither is Amy Chua, and she certainly doesn't purport to be.  Her book is not a story of why her parenting methods are "superior" as the Wall Street Journal's headline reads.  Her book is not even a "how to be a better parent" kind of book. Her book is a memoir.  A memoir of a mother who begins her journey as we all do--no instruction manual in hand and only the experience of being raised by her own Chinese Immigrant parents to guide her.  She learns along the way what works and what doesn't.  And then, there's always the fun trial of having a second (and then a third, in my case) daughter who is nothing like the first one, and you're at square one again.

At the end of the memoir, Chua learns some valuable lessons about balance.  About letting go a little bit and letting her children carve their own lives.  She also makes fun of herself throughout the entire book, and I am fairly sure that she doesn't mean for us to take everything she says quite so seriously.  I'm even going to go out on a limb and say she'd be totally okay with her daughter earning the silver medal in something!

What about Chua's (American) husband?  Well, I happened to catch an interview with the both of them on NPR the other day (I highly recommend listening), and I found it very interesting what he had to say about his wife's parenting methods:
"You know, to me, maybe I'm wrong, but I always thought the way we were raising our kids was more of a traditional American way. You know, the values of hard work and perseverance and being taught that you can overcome obstacles and respect.
And, you know, it's an interesting thing. When did Western parenting become associated with the more permissive style? I think it's pretty recent. I mean, I think maybe the 1960s. So I didn't really think of it as Western versus Chinese. I guess I thought of it as maybe a kind of old-fashioned parenting style. "
And that about sums it up for me.  I wouldn't say I'm Chinese, but I suppose I am old-fashioned.

(And I loved this book.)

*****************

I received a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in return for this review.  I was not required to write a positive review, all thoughts are my own.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Give Up

I'm getting a cold sore.  Whenever I get one, it means one thing and one thing only.

S-T-R-E-S-S

This week has been Cuh-razy.  With a capital C.  I haven't even done my New Year's Resolutions, which may sound like a silly thing to be worried about, but I always look forward to the time to reflect and make some goals to be better.

My to-do list is a million miles long  (Chloe would tell me I was doing "that thing" again right about now)(she means exaggerate)(but the word she's really looking for is hyperbole), and I feel like it just keeps getting longer.  I did manage to chisel out a few errands this morning, so that's good.

But I am going to have to give up some things.

Want to know what they are?
  • Not getting a cold sore (I've been slathering it with Abreva for two days and it is still as tingly as ever).
  • Having a clean kitchen (or house, for that matter).
  • Ever hearing back from all of my students to see if the schedule works for them (I'm just going to have to start teaching tomorrow with my fingers crossed).
  • Joining the gym (I tried this morning, I really did.  But it's a Snap and therefore you have to sign up while the manager is there and the manager's hours are pretty much the opposite of any hours I can go until Saturday).
  • Memorizing Shepherd on the Rock (I have to sing it in the faculty recital in less than two weeks--I'll be using my music).
  • Catching up on blog reading (I finally admitted absolute defeat to the 1,000+ unread items that have been in my reader all week and marked all as read).
  • Editing all of the vacation pictures (I hope you don't mind seeing vacation pictures on this blog until about June, because I've already lost steam!).
  • Finding a good picture of all three of my children on the vacation (impossible task, period).
See?


IMG_7638 girls on pier 1 webIMG_7639 girls on pier 2 webIMG_7640 girls on pier 3 webIMG_7641 Girls on pier 4 web
You might say Sophia smiled enough for everyone, and Bria is always looking pleasant in pictures.  But Chloe?  If she's mad at you (and believe me, she was) she will not fake it.  You will only get a mad face, and she will refuse to look at you.

So I gave up.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
Costa Maya, Mexico

Chacchoben

Our first port was Costa Maya, Mexico.  Joel and I decided that we would leave Chloe and Sophia at the kids' club and take Bria to see the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben.  My parents had also chosen to do the same excursion, so we all went together.

The first thing we saw when the ship docked in Costa Maya was the incredibly blue water.

Turquoise Waters

Then we saw a very tiny little resort/shopping area with the typical brightly colored Mexican buildings.

Costa Maya

And then we saw a beach that had been decimated by Hurricane Dean in 2007.  It was not a windy day when we got off the ship--the palm trees look like they are perpetually in a windstorm because of the strength of the hurricane.  A lot of the area is still being rebuilt, and they've only been able to have cruise ships dock there again for a year or so (if I understood correctly) because the pier was also destroyed in the storm.

Costa Maya

We excitedly got off of the ship, ready for our adventure.  Bria has been studying the Maya and the Aztec in Social Studies at school, so it was especially neat for her to finally figure out why we bother with Social Studies in the first place.

On the pier

First, we met our tour guide and loaded on a bus for the hour drive to the ruins.  On the way we learned many interesting tidbits about the area, but I had a couple favorites.  Like, the reason why the area is called the Yucatan peninsula is because when the Spanish came, the Maya kept saying "Yu u catan" which means "I don't understand you."  It was also interesting to learn that the Maya were very small people with round heads, especially since all the time I was in both Costa Maya and Cozumel I could see that most of the local people were quite small (the men were rarely over 5'4" or thereabouts)(let's just say I felt rather gigantic) and they really did have round heads. It just fascinates me that we think of the Mayan race as being gone, but really they were only conquered by the Spanish and a new culture was formed--the people as a race continue.

Our first look at a Mayan pyramid--picture taken out the bus window.

First view

Once we got to the site, we had a bit of time to use the facilities and wander around to look at the touristy things that were for sale everywhere.

BrightMarketMasks

Then we got to see three pyramids, and a very large set of stairs.  The ruins have been dated between 50 BC and 700 AD, so they were left to the forces of nature for well over 1,000 years.  Before the archaeologists excavated, they looked like hills--covered with grass and shrubbery--in an area that should be totally flat, which is how they knew there were ruins there.  Most of them still have some grass and plants growing on them because the root systems are so deep it's better to leave them than ruin the ruins by pulling them out. And now I am going to post a whole freaking lot of pictures for you, because I took about 200 while at the ruins and I think they're incredibly cool.  Also, please ignore all of the pictures that have a bunch of strangers in them.  That's the one problem with going to a popular site with a tour group--it's practically impossible to take a picture without people you don't know getting into the frame.

TogetherChacchobenMommy and BriaChacchobenChacchoben

This is the view from the top of one of the pyramids.

Spectacular View

On to even more pictures.

ChacchobenChacchobenChacchobenMamah and BriaChacchobenI was thereSo was JoelClimbingHuman Sacrifice?Daddy's Girl

After the pyramids, we went into the jungle a bit to see the living quarters.  They Mayan people would build stone platforms and then put thatched huts on top of them.  This is one of the platform areas.

Mayan Living Quarters

Back in the jungle we saw the tallest, skinniest palm tree I've ever seen.

Tall TreeNeck Craning

And we saw lots that were our size.  And I really just love this picture of Bria.  It was very fun to have just her with us.

Tropical Beauty

And then we saw the coolest thing ever!  Spider monkeys!  It was a mom and her baby.  They were way up there, but after getting my pictures up on the camera I was able to sort of zoom in.

Mom and BabyMonkey

Get a load of that incredibly long tail!!!

Spider Monkey Tail

And finally, here's an extremely cropped picture of the baby.  He's pretty cute, isn't he?

Baby Spider Monkey

After the tour was over, we rode back to the pier on the bus (and took much needed naps while we were at it), got back on the ship for lunch and got back off with our other two daughters.

Pictures to come...