Eleanor had her spring piano recital last week (not this past Sunday, but the Sunday before).  She performed for the residents of a retirement home, which was nice, but it was really just a warm-up for adjudications.

Adjudications is a process common in the musical-performance world.  In this case, piano students play for an adjudicator (we had a piano prof. from Idaho State University, she was really great) who gives an assessment of achievement and gives a little bit of one-on-one coaching.  Kids are also scored, and the best ones get to play in an Honors concert, but I didn’t focus on that.  I didn’t even tell her that she got a score (I’m . . . not even sure what her score was).

Anyway, she had to play two pieces from contrasting musical periods.  So, we have “Tarantella,” (Romantic style?) along with “Snake Charmer,” which is “contemporary.”  She did great in the recital, except that the pedals on the baby grand were too far away and threw “Snake Charmer” off a bit.  Still a fabulous performance!

Just a Push, and We’re On Our Way . . .

Last weekend Eleanor found my old journal that I kept when I was her age.  In it, I wrote about the time I was given my favorite childhood bike (purple Huffy, banana seat, called the “Desert Rose,” still love it).

She grew silent; she hadn’t ever really learned to ride a bike, even though she was close to figuring it out.

Imagine my surprise when she hopped on Jeff’s bike and persisted until she was doing loops around the cul-de-sac!  I had to get some video evidence on Sunday afternoon for the grandparents.  We are all so proud of her!

“Let’s Make Rachmaninoff Go Crazy!”

I’ve found that lately the best motivation to get Eleanor to practice her recital pieces is to let her play with the plastic busts of Beethoven and Rachmaninoff that I found at the thrift store.

If she plays her little arrangements of “Sonata Pathetique” or “Vocalise” a few times, the statues come down and give her kisses.  If she practices more, Eleanor gets to scratch the composers on the head and I make them moan with pleasure.  When she practices very well, then Beeth & Rach “go crazy” — I make them dance across the keyboard, up and down Eleanor’s arms and around her head while making Daffy Duck-style whoops. Eleanor loves it.  And we play it again.

Disrespectful, you say?  Maybe, but I think Sergei and Ludwig would be DARN HAPPY to know that little girls of the 21st century are still learning and playing their music, and to heck with what happens to a little plastic statue.

All the hard work paid off yesterday at her recital.  Our main focus in the past week was to get Eleanor to keep playing to the end, regardless of whether she freezes or makes a mistake or whatever.  For those of you who don’t play an instrument, please understand that this is very difficult to do.  A lot of adults can’t help stopping to correct themselves.  Learning to ignore errors and keep going is a skill of supreme confidence that usually only comes with the self-flagellation that is repeat public performances.

Eleanor is standing with her piano teacher, Kim

Anyway, the strategy was successful — in her performance, Eleanor totally froze during her solo piece, BUT after an excruciatingly long pause, she eventually pulled herself together enough to come to some kind of finish.  Whew!

The second piece she played was a duet that I performed with her.  Did she make mistakes?  Yes, but you can’t tell — she just skipped over them and kept going.  Yay!

You want to see it?  It’s only 3 1/2 minutes long:

More Brocade Than You Can Possibly Imagine

Today my mother-in-law and I took Eleanor and baby Katie to the Princess Festival down at Thanksgiving Point.

Lo, it doth rocked.  I mean, how can you not love this picture of Ellie with Prince Tamino from The Magic Flute (which was performed as a rather nice stage play, not an opera)?

I’ve been describing the festival as “like Disneyland, only without the rides.”  That is, it’s just about meeting the fairytale characters.  The wicked stepmother was especially cute, hamming it up grandly for the Cinderella show:

Alice and the Mad Hatter had a tea party in the hedge maze.  I’m guessing that the actor potraying the Hatter hadn’t read the books, because all he said was “How is a raven like a writing desk?” over and over and over again. I wish the actress playing Alice had responded with her lines from the book: “I think you might do something better with the time than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers.” (Want a real answer to the riddle?  Click here.)

The other half of the maze held Beauty and the Beast.  Eleanor gasped when she saw them: “Mom, he really is a beast!”  Note the silk roses tucked into the hedge.  Nice, eh?

I also appreciated that the references to the original fairy tales.  Hence, we saw Aladdin with Scheherezade, although . . . that’s kind of meta when you think abou it.

And how great is it to sit on a pile of mattresses with the Princess and the Pea?  Eleanor was asked if she felt a pea, and the response was “Huh?”  I guess we haven’t read that story lately!

The festival also included the Frog Prince (a toy frog voiced by an actor hiding somewhere behind the scenes with a microphone) and the Twelve Dancing Princesses (who performed in an underground grotto which did not photograph well), Snow White, Rapunzel, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, and many more.  I, however, was rather partial to the pumpkin coach.  It’s a sweet, sweet ride.  Especially if you can bake it into a pie afterwards.

But perhaps Katie had the best idea for enjoying the festival.  Ain’t she sweet?


Finished Up

What’s cuter than a kindergartener in a graduation cap?  Well, I’ll show you:

SEVENTY kindergarteners in graduation caps . . . making FIST PUMPS!*

This was all part of the graduation ceremony/singing presentation given by the entire kindergarten class at the end of the school year.  And it was only 40 minutes long!  And that included time spent at the cookie table afterwards!

I only mention this because Jeffrey’s kindergarten singing program was TWO AND A HALF HOURS LONG. I love hearing little kids sing, but that was a little excessive.

Speaking of Jeff . . .

The second grade finished the year with a program about Africa.  Sweeping cultural generalizations aside, I found it pretty cute.  It was basically the same thing as the kindergarten program, only with more songs about world peace.

Each of the kids made these really cool animal masks as part of the study unit.  Jeff made the lion mask there.  Nice, eh?

*Oh, the fist pumps were part of a song called “America Rocks!”  While I’ve nothing against synthesizer-heavy patriotic power anthems from the 80s, I still can’t understand why the kindergarten kids can’t learn a patriotic song like “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” or “America the Beautiful,” or something else they’ll be expected to know the words to later on in life.  But then, again — “America the Beautiful” has little potential for cute hand motions.  No fist pumps there, bro.

Cinderella Story

Eleanor is almost six, but is already quite clever as clever.  Today we celebrated her coming birthday with a Cinderella party.

When the girls arrived, I put head scarves on their heads, gave them dusters, and ordered them to clean the house, or else they wouldn’t get anything but bread and water for supper.  They totally got into it.  The living room is now totally dust-free.  Brian even found it to be a good excuse to wash the windows.

But soon, the Prince (Jeffrey) arrived to deliver this royal invitation:

Wow, right?  The Wicked Stepmother (me) said that they wouldn’t be able to go since they didn’t have anything to wear, and the girls ran off to Eleanor’s bedroom crying “boo hoo hoo.”  (And giggling the whole time.)

The Fairy Grandmothers were there to help the girls change into “dresses” made of crepe paper and ribbons.  Eleanor’s dress-up box provided extra glamour. They were a little hesitant about going to the “ball,” though.  “Do we have to dance with a prince?” one girl asked.  “Not kisses!” squealed another.

This is where my mom was totally the star of the ball.  She got the girls to hold hands and do some improvised English-country-style dancing.  Very cute stuff.

Then the clock struck twelve!  (Coincidentally, it was noon exactly, so I didn’t have to change the clock on the mantel.)  Each girl took off one shoe and left it behind before running back to Eleanor’s room to change back into “rags.”  When the girls came back, they discovered that Brian and the boys had hidden their shoes all over the room.  As each shoe was found, Jeffrey put it back on its owner’s foot, and William gave her a paper crown.

What better way to celebrate the end of a Cinderella story than with a Royal Feast?  I made a chocolate fudge cake with strawberry frosting.  I’ve never tried strawberry meringue frosting before, so it was kind of an experiment.  Eleanor loved it. I think the chocolate cake overpowered the strawberry flavor, so maybe next time I’ll pair it with vanilla cake . . . OKAY, ENOUGH CAKE COMMENTARY!

The big hit after cake was this lovely teepee that my mom made for Eleanor.  It’s so amazing!

The girls crowded right in.  We could hardly get them to come out when the party was over.  Fortunately, I had a fresh batch of Tiger Tails (these caramel-marshmallow lollipops that I make every year for Ella’s birthday) to lure them out.

Jeffrey and William are just as thrilled with the teepee as Eleanor is.  Eleanor was happy to give her Kaya doll a tour (the horse was her birthday gift from Brian and I), and Jeffrey immediately tucked Kaya into a bedroll.  Adorable.

At the Hospital . . .

Yes, today I went to the hospital . . . but NOT to deliver a baby.  Instead, I spent my due date day (and most of yesterday) waddling around radiology departments and orthopedic offices tending to Eleanor’s broken arm.

Yes!  Broken arm!  How’s that for timing?

It isn’t a bad break — what they call a “greenstick fracture,” where the bone bends but doesn’t crack.  Still — ow.

How did it happen?  Eleanor was jumping on the couch Monday night, and just as I spoke the words “stop bouncing, or someone’s going to get hurt,” she flipped backwards off the back of the couch and landed on the floor.  The fracture is at the top of her upper left arm, almost in her shoulder.

She isn’t in a lot of pain; in fact, everyone was doubtful she even had a break (“you sure don’t act like a kid with a broken arm,” said her pediatrician) but X-rays doth reveal all.  So: she’s going to keep her arm in a sling for the next 2-3 weeks.  No dance lessons, and piano’s on hold for the duration (although we are spending time each morning going over note-naming with flash cards).

The challenge is getting her to realize that breaking her arm is a bad thing —  the arm doesn’t hurt much, unless she tries lifting it over her head, and the sling has gotten her a lot of attention in school.  Today I dropped her off at her kindergarten class, and Eleanor got to sit on a chair in front of the whole class and explain what happened.  Afterwards, allllllll the little girls wanted to play with her, since the sling made her “special.”  To which I was inwardly insisting, “No!  Breaking your arm is NOT GOOD!  Don’t relish this!”

After school, all three kids ran back to the boys’ room to put on costumes for fantasy play.  Eleanor came to me wearing a fireman hat, asking if I could help tie her superhero cape around her sling.

Sigh.  This does Not Bode Well.

Ella’s First Piano Recital

I am so sick of “Here Comes Santa Claus.”  It’s been playing in my house, in one form or another, at least 3-5 times a day since late September, often with miscellaneous grunts of frustration thrown in for spice.

People who complain about seeing Christmas ornaments in stores the day after Halloween have NOTHING on a home with a young piano student.  There have been times when I felt that hearing even one more note of this song would be enough to send me over the edge.  But it’s been worth it.

November marked the completion of Eleanor’s first year of piano lessons, and either as a result of this or perhaps other factors, her teacher decided to give her a very advanced piece to play for the holiday recital this year.  Her arrangement of “Here Comes Santa Claus” features eighth notes, flats, sharps, and lots of tricky fingering (cross-overs, position changes, and other things that frequently foul up the beginning pianist).  This is unusual for a kid who is still in the “primer” stage of lessons.  She’s only five, and to tell the truth, I had serious doubts when I first saw the music.

And then . . . she had to have it MEMORIZED.

The great thing is that Eleanor tackled the project with enthusiasm, and after many, many, MANY days of practice, had it pretty much ready to go by last Saturday’s recital.  She practiced walking up to the piano by herself, playing without too much wiggling around on the bench, and taking a bow afterwards.  I’m very proud of how she’s able to focus and work hard.

On the day of the performance, she eagerly slipped into her red ruffly Christmas dress (“with a matching headband!” she told anyone who crossed her path), packed up her music folder, and we all headed down to the recital hall.

She was the first person playing in the program . . . and she FROZE.

Yup.  That shiny black Steinway on stage was nothing like the piano at home.  She didn’t seem nervous or upset, she just looked puzzled:  “Where are my fingers supposed to go again?”  After a few minutes of being lost, her piano teacher came up and sat next to her, opened her music, and pointed out where she needed to be.

Then Eleanor and I played a duet called “The Snow Lay on the Ground” together, which went off without a hitch.  Everyone praised her work, and then she got to go eat cookies.

If there was anything about the performance she found upsetting, she hasn’t mentioned it.  When we got home, we made a video of her playing it without mistakes, and she seemed very pleased by that.  Besides, we were going to a performance of “Nutcracker” that evening in Provo.  It’s simply impossible for a little girl to be upset when she knows ballerinas are next on the menu.

I’m so proud of my little girl!  And best of all, I don’t have to hear a single thing about Santa Claus Lane EVER AGAIN.

Eh, well.  How about one more time:

Quite Contrary

bambooFor Family Home Evening this past Monday, we decided to sit down with the kids and plan out our garden for the upcoming year.  Brian and I are quite excited — the yard behind our house is huge, and Utah, with its lack of mold spores, fine earth, and sunny weather, is ideal for gardening (that is, if you can get the water).

I was ecstatic because I managed to convince Brian that our garden should be surrounded by a cute white picket fence, in order to keep The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Green Tomatoes from happening again.  Hooray!  It will be SO ADORABLE.

The kids, on the other hand, were a mite bit puzzled.  If we were gardening, then why were we looking at pictures of plants, instead of heading out back to dig?  They did, however, love looking through some seed catalogs and making requests.  Eleanor, in particular, was excited about Shasta Daisies, and I look forward to planting some with her and then teaching her how to make daisy chains .  .  . while swinging in a hammock under a shady tree . . . with a mason jar of lemonade . . . sigh.  Why can’t summer come a bit faster?

Jeffrey, meanwhile, was most excited about a double-page spread of bamboo varieties.

“Mom!  We need to get bamboo and put it in our garden!”

“But Jeffrey,” I explained, “we don’t need bamboo.  It would take up too much space.”

“But Mom, it would keep the panda bears away from our garden,” he replied patiently.  He then went on to elaborate:

“See, we plant the bamboo in a circle around the garden, and that way when the panda bears come, they will want to eat the bamboo and get stuck in it and not want our vegetables!”

I nodded sagely at this advice, and Brian announced that it was time for treats.

Aftewards, I went back to clean up the catalogs, and Eleanor let out a squeal. 

“No Mom!” she cried as I began to close up the catalog displaying the bamboo.  “We need that plant!  It will keep the panda bears out!”

“Is that what Jeffrey said?”  I leaned in conspiratorially.  “Don’t worry, Eleanor.  I don’t think there are any panda bears in Utah.”

“That’s right,” called out Jeffrey, waltzing into the room.  “Panda bears are only in China!”

Eleanor thought about this for a moment, and then her little face screwed up into a frown.

“But I thought we lived in China!” she wailed.

Ah, disillusionment.  Of course, you do realize that when Jeffrey imagines China, he thinks of a nation whose gardeners are constantly beset by marauding panda bears.  It just cracks me up.

For further reading (ah, yes!  back by popular demand!  And by “popular demand,” I mean that three whole people requested its return!):


Whose Garden Is It? by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Jane Dyer.  I usually aren’t too keen on picture books with rhymed text — they are often a little too sing-songy — but Hoberman’s (also known for A House is a House for Me) verses about the “ownership” of a garden are top-notch.  Who owns a garden?  The gardener?  The animals who live in it?  The “tiny seeds and whistling weeds” who make up the garden itself?  A clever book to get kids thinking about gardens, land, and ecosystems, perfectly accompanied by Dyer’s lush watercolors.  Check it out!

Happy Birthday, Ellabelle!

She’s threeeeeeeeee!

Yesterday we had a Jungle-themed party for our girl, and it went just swimmingly. I got the theme from a book about children’s parties (all of my ideas come from books) but, oddly, all of the animals featured in the book-version of the party were things like giraffes and zebras, none of which actually live in the jungle. Still — it’d be kinda weird to invite someone to a Savannah Party. Like it’s some kinda Antebellum South-themed soireé.

Anyway, our Jungle Party was just ripping. The kids played Animal Charades, followed by an impromptu retelling/pantomime of Caps For Sale (aka “The Hatseller and the Monkeys”) which is a story Jeff, Ella, and some of the party guests know from preschool. (“Se Venden Go-roooooos!”) We then played Pin the Tail on the Monkey, the concept of which most of the kids couldn’t grasp, and then had a Peanut Hunt.

The peanuts had little faces drawn on them, an idea inspired by this Raggedy Ann & Andy book I used to read as a child. Anyway, that’s why Brian and I had spent some of the previous evening drawing on peanuts while watching Duck Soup. And that is considered a standard-style evening in our household.

After the Great Peanut Hunt, the kids had a Wild Animal Feast, with Jungled (aka deviled) Eggs, Red Snakes (aka red pepper strips), Crocodile Teeth (aka cucumbers . . . okay, that was a stretch, I admit, but we were naming the foods as we served them), and Jungle Trees (broccoli). Then . . . the cake!

This cake made me sooooo happy. It’s the “yellow cake” recipe given to me by an incredible cake-baker who used to live in my ward. I am VERY proud of the lettering on the frosting, there.

At the end, Ella opened her presents, with this goofy “Heavy Heavy Hang Over” tradition that my family has always done. Ella was very good about saying “thank-you” before ripping into the goodies.

Brian and I gave Ella this spiffy Lego set I found at the thrift store months ago. It’s this “Little Forest Friends” set, and it looks like a Winnie-the-Pooh set was mixed in with it. It came in this gigantic storage bin, with these great building plates and everything. The set’s been discontinued, which is too bad, because it’s reallllllly adorable.

Jeffrey and Eleanor spent the entire afternoon after the party playing “Honey Village.” In fact, they are still playing that game as I type this. Says Jeffrey: “Winnie the Pooh is a honey bounty hunter.”

Oh — I also made these candy “Tiger Tails,” which was inspired by a recipe from my Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey cookbook. What are they? Marshmallows . . . dipped in caramel . . . dipped in candy coating . . . drizzled with chocolate . . . on a stick. They are inspired by a candy that is made and sold at Disneyland. They are INTENSE. Jeffrey, who usually inhales his treats, nibbled halfway through his Tiger Tail and then declared that he was “full.” Eleanor still hasn’t finished hers.

But she looks adorable eating it, doesn’t she?