Mar 31, 2011

Famous Balloon Kicker

For the recent birthday party, we purchased a pack of balloons from the dollar store to make the pinata.  Yesterday I blew them all up, and when my siblings visited, it was a wonderful mad house.  I am going to do this every time our kids have a birthday.  When they pop, the mess is done, and in the meantime, they have a lot of fun.  My son told me that he really wants to be a famous balloon kicker.  I am always choosing what to post, but today, it is his turn to shine!

Mar 30, 2011

Homemade powdered laundry soap

The short version:
  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 bar of Dr. Bronner's peppermint castile soap, shredded.
Mix ingredients, use 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) per load.

The longer version: (i.e., why I love it!)
I have been making laundry soap for a few years now, and originally I used this recipe.
Because all of the ingredients were low-sudsing, it has worked great in our HE washer.  And it's CHEAP!  Recently we have been re-evaluating our laundry choices because of the Borax ingredient.  Do a search for "dangers of borax" and you can see what I am talking about.  I did a search for "homemade laundry soap without borax" and came up with a recipe that uses Dr. Bronner's castile soap.  I grew up using his castile liquid soap for hand soap, and I love the way that it smells.  What is castile soap?  It is an old fashioned way of making soap with vegetable fats instead of animal fats.  It is real soap!  No synthetic ingredients.  Here are the ingredients for the bar soap we use, which I took off of Dr. Bronner's page:
Organic Coconut Oil*, Organic Palm Oil*, Sodium Hydroxide**, Water, Mentha Arvensis*, Organic Olive Oil*, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Peppermint Oil*, Salt, Citric Acid, Tocopherol
** None remains after saponifying oils into soap and glycerin

I feel REALLY good about using coconut oil to wash our clothes!  Some people love how Fels-Naptha smells.  I really don't.  Ivory worked just fine for us.  But this stuff smells like heaven!  During my use of this batch, our clothes have come out cleaner, with just a hint of peppermint in our regular loads.  But the best part is when I use it for my cloth diapers.  No, they don't come out smelling like peppermint, BUT they actually don't stink while they are washing.  Previously in our new apartment, where the washer is so close to the kitchen, I would wait until we went to bed to put the diapers in the wash, or at least right after a meal so that we could evacuate the premises during the stinky "necessary evil".  Now I can wash diapers whenever I want, and I don't have to apologize when company comes.  You can achieve similar results by adding essential oils to your laundry soap.  However, I love that the oils are built into the soap.  I really enjoyed grating this bar.  :o)  In addition to peppermint, they have almond, baby mild, orange, lavender, eucalyptus, rose, and tea tree.  Some are better than others for laundry, but they would all be fun to try! 

My take on Borax
I have also decided that I personally don't mind using Borax for our family to wash with.  I talked to my mother about it, and she told me a story that she recently heard about a man who read who was told all of the dangerous things about the light-bulbs that he was using, in favor of a more natural light bulb.  He responded, "Thank you for this valuable information.  I will now stop grinding up my light-bulbs and putting them in my coffee."  Borax is a detergent, and a natural one.  When my soap-making friends do their magic, they wear safety goggles and gloves.  The scary things that have been written about borax have convinced me not to make slime with it to play with my children, but my family has benefitted from using borax for generations, and none of us have had birth defects or fertility problems.  Use the product as directed and use common sense!   My initial response to the fact that borax is illegal in certain parts of Europe is that Comfrey is illegal to sell for consumption here in the states.  Europe is as vulnerable to shady legislation as the states.  Perhaps this is a soap-box moment from an un-educated scientific background, and so be it.  I don't have time to become an expert.  Borax is cheap.  Borax is effective.  Borax works for my family.  Besides, the only people who have told me how dangerous borax is are people who were trying to sell me their laundry detergent.

This homemade powdered laundry soap is very green, especially when you think about all of the plastic containers that I'm not buying.  All of my ingredients are purchased in paper.  It also saves a lot of green.  And yes, it really does get your clothes clean.  I am just glad that I don't have to boil the soap over water and let it soak overnight anymore.  Grate the soap, mix the ingredients, and you are done!  Enjoy!

 Please note:  I was not paid in any way to for my endorsement of Dr. Bronner's products, or from borax and washing soda manufacturers.  This really is just a happy customer blogging about a cool product.

This post is linked up with
Raising Homemakers

Mar 29, 2011

Birthday Traditions from Around the World

On Sunday we had a birthday party with our family for my daughter with a theme of birthday games from around the world.  The ideas were inspired from the book "Birthday's Around the World", which I stumbled upon at our local library.  Come travel with us!

We started the evening with the pinata from Mexico.  Here is a detail of our pinata.  We used our ghost Halloween bucket while we were making it, and I love how it looks like a native headdress.  We made it according to these directions.  In retrospect, I have to say that $10 is a bargain for a pinata at the local party store.  It took a lot of time to make it, although it was very easy.  I will not make a pinata again until the children are old enough to help make EVERY LAYER.  They loved doing the first layer, but I did the rest.  Our last layer was made with torn construction paper.  We covered it with crepe paper anyway, but it you are pressed for time, this is a good alternative.  It looked pretty neat, and it would have looked even better if we had used more than two colors.

My other tip is don't use whole wheat flour!  We don't stock white flour in our home because we don't eat it, but using our fresh-ground whole wheat flour was a mistake.  It started to spoil!  The pinata was beginning to stink by the time we used it.  It is a testament to the healthy properties of our daily bread, but next time I want to do a craft, I am going to use dead flour.  My husband says that white bleached flour is also smoother and would have looked better as well.  White flour and food coloring are good school staples, if not for eating.
The pinata was a big hit (hehe).  Michael said that when he went to Mexico on his mission, the pinatas were often filled with sugar cane.  We couldn't find any at the grocery store and were dismayed that our local Mexican food store had been permanently closed.  No sugar cane.  Our pinata was filled with play dough and pencils.
 We ate Stir Fry and rice for dinner.  I don't know how authentic it was, but everyone loved it.  We also talked about Japanese Etiquette.

The Netherlands
From the Netherlands, we played a game called "Koephappen".  You string a soft cookie and let members of the party eat the cookie blindfolded.  For our version, we strung dental floss through ringed cookies from the grocery store.  I have seen many variations of this game with donuts at church and company parties.  The children expressed concern in the beginning, but I assure you, everyone got their own floss!

New Zealand
In New Zealand, they play a game where the children sit in a circle while music is played, and pass around a gift wrapped in tissue paper.  When the music stops, the child holding the gift opens to find a small present and another wrapped gift.  They keep the present and the wrapped gift continues to go around the circle until everyone has gets a present.  We had a nice variety of fresh produce in our home, so we decided to wrap that, and we used left-over Christmas wrapping paper.  It was weird having a wrapped gift in the fridge overnight!
Our gift contained the following:
  • 1 yam (pictured above)
  • 1 potato
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 carrots
  • 4 apples
  • 4 oranges
  • 1 mango (the final prize!)
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 banana
My daughter got a carrot and immediately started eating it.  Yuck! I had not washed it beforehand.  Oh well!

We had a fishing pond game.  Although you may have seen it at summer festivals your whole life, this is, in fact, a birthday game that comes from Finland.  Somehow I didn't get any pictures of this one, but I'm sure you can use your imagination.  :o)

United States

We ended with a favorite tradition from The United States of America, Cake and Ice Cream!  We also sang the traditional birthday song.  We asked my sister-in-law who is from Armenia what birthday traditions they have from her country, and she said that although they do have some traditional dances and songs, Armenia is becoming more like the United States in many ways.  Cake and ice cream is popular there too.  In fact, the whole world is becoming more "American-ized" in a lot of ways.  Our birthday song is sung everywhere in the world, and our traditions are well-known.  I suppose that if it means that there is more cake and ice cream in the world, we are happy to share our traditions, but today, we were grateful that the world could share its traditions with us.

Mar 28, 2011

Children's Opera, Part II, The Libretto

For this rehearsal, you will need a tape recorder, or modern counterpart.  Lacking one, I actually used a video camera.  You will also need a notepad and writing utensil.  It is important to take notes during the script-writing process because you will need a tangible reference for what you have covered, who has contributed, and what still needs to happen.  The voice recorder is only for your reference when you do your homework after the rehearsal.

The libretto is the text script for your opera.  Tell this to the children, and explain that in the grown-up operas, somebody different from the composer usually writes the libretto.  "In your opera, you get to write both, but the libretto comes first."

Step one:  Read the summary that they wrote last week.  Ask them if they still like it, and if there are any changes that they need to make.  If so, make them quickly, and read it again for their approval.  Step one should take five minutes or less.

Step two:  If you have a chalkboard, make a list of the characters, and decide who will play each part.  

With my homeschool group, this was easy because each member had decided who they play the week before.  The only change was Optimus Prime became a ninja because he already had a ninja costume, and the mother was concerned about coming up with an Optimus Prime costume.  I don't blame her!  Cinderella also had to drop out because of family obligations.  Be flexible!

In the Cache Children's Choir, we were working with about 25 children split between two groups.  For the Raggle Taggle Town Singers, we had 4-5 each of donkeys, dogs, roosters, and cats, and a large group of robbers.  Casting happens now.  The girls all wanted to be cats and noone wanted to play the donkey.  However, when we suggested that the there doesn't have to be a donkey, we could have a different animal, many children objected.  The children who were most adamant about keeping the donkey played the part.  Suddenly the donkey was very important to them!

Step three:  Let the children re-tell the story in their own words.  Let each child contribute part of the story.  If you have a small group of children, each child will write their own solo.  Keep notes during this process, and turn on the recorder.

For example, in the homeschool group I worked with, all of Sleeping Beauty's lines came from the girl who played the part.  Read a brief part of your summary, and ask the children to retell it in their own words.  It is very important that you use the exact words in your opera that the children speak.  It needs to be THEIR composition.

The hardest part for young children will be get them to speak the words in first person.  They love telling stories, and they love pretending, but child's play is often narrated in third person.  Prompt the children to rephrase the line in first person.  For example, when I asked the girl playing Rapunzel to introduce herself, she said, "Rapunzel is a princess with pretty long hair."  I told her that in the opera, she will be Rapunzel.  Her line was finally rephrased as "I am Rapunzel.  I am a princess with pretty long hair."  I did not edit these words during the week.  The girl playing Rapunzel said them during the script writing process.  This is important, and as a teacher, your job is to help children to say the lines that they will actually be singing during the performance.  This opera belongs to the children, and as much of the opera as possible should be written by them.

Step four:  Look over your notes and make sure that the story is complete.  If it isn't, ask the children to fix it.  This completes the children's part.

Follow-up work:  Type up your notes.  Then listen to the recording and see if they match.  Every line in the opera needs to be written by the children, but not every line written by the children needs to be in the opera.  Use your judgment, but it is okay to cut some of the lines out.  The opera needs to be short.  The limelight should be fair unless the children specifically chose one child to be the star.  If there are solo lines, a shy child will not have spoken as many lines about their character as an outgoing child.  Modify the script accordingly, but do not add any lines that the children did not actually speak.

Here is one final note:  Build repetition into the script.  This will help the children to memorize the opera, and give them a comfortable spot to springboard into the next section.  This chorus is a "safe zone".  Following is the final script for the homeschool opera.  Our repetition, or chorus, was "We are homeschoolers at a party.  We are lost in a cave.  We want to find the castle up above."

The format for the homeschool opera was as follows:

Characters each introduce themselves
Characters each tell us why their character is homeschooled
Cast tells us about homeschooling
Children tell us about their conflict
Characters each tell us how they can help
Finish by solving the conflict.  Opera ends on a modified chorus.

Mar 23, 2011

Celery Experiment

You have seen this experiment before:  Place celery in colored water to see how celery draws water from its bass to the roots.  I have been wanting to do this with my children for some time, but it seems like we always eat the celery before we get around to doing it.  Last time I prepared ants on a log, I realized that the center of the celery would be perfect for the experiment.  We chose red, but in the future I will use blue because the red mostly makes the leaves look brown, but blue has more prominent results.

Using the base of the celery, and not just individual stalks was really interesting.  The celery drinks from the outside edge only, and not from the center.  I didn't know that, but it makes a lot of sense, because that is where the rain water would most likely be.  Perhaps this is also why the center stalks in celery are more yellow and the outside are more green, the outside stalks get more water.  Maybe we will find out in a future experiment. 

We also cut the stalks and showed the colored strands where the water had traveled to the leaves.  My children loved this experiment.

Children's Opera, Part I, The Planning Stage


The budding composer approaches the task with flair and excitement.  His imagination sparkles with anticipation.  With his comrades at his side, they know that today they will compose their first work of art.  Today they compose a masterpiece.  The young maestro is five years old, and you are the concert master.

You don't believe me?  Hear me out.  Young children create opera scores all of the time, with the help of their teachers.  Any group of young children can do it, although there is a little music background requisite in the teacher.  The teacher, or other grown up involved in the project, needs to be able to notate the music written by the children, and to compose a simple piano accompaniment for the performance.  I have been involved in two children's operas.  The first was as an apprentice with the Cache Children's Choir, the second was a small homeschool choir that I conducted.  Some of the children had more musical background than others, but all of the children worked together and had a positive experience.  This is part one in a five part series where I will tell you how it is done, tips from the trenches, and examples from the score.  When we get to part five, I will share our performance video!  It takes about eight weeks to put an opera together, four weeks for composing it, and two to four weeks for rehearsing.  Here is my basic outline for my posts on this subject:

Part I            The Planning Stage
Part II           The Libretto
Part III          The Vocal Score
Part IV         Composing the Accompaniment
Part V           Rehearsing and Performance

Part I, The Planning Stage

Have you ever led a group of children in a brainstorming session?  Adult supervision required!  Children have their own agenda and boys and girls will want a completely different theme.  The boys want superheroes.  The girls want princesses and castles.  One boy wants Star Wars, and another wants Transformers.  You want something simple.  The ideal length for 5-7 year olds is about five to ten minutes for the complete project.  That's not enough time to visit every fantasy land that the children beg for.  Your job is to encourage their creativity while objectionably pointing out the hurdles and challenges that their ideas may present.  Suggest solutions, and give them choices.

With the Cache Children's Choir, we had approximately 25 children ages five and six.   Our opera was about the Raggle-Taggle-Town singers.  We told the children that our opera would be a re-telling of a fairy tale, and let them choose the story.  However, as teachers, we liked Raggle-Taggle-Town because of the repetition in the story, the pre-existing musical elements, and the simplicity of the story.  We prepared them by telling the story a couple of weeks before the "planning stage", and then we let the kids brainstorm.  "What fairy tale would you like to use?"  One child suggests The Three Little Pigs.  We write it on the board.  Another suggests Little Red Riding Hood.  We get a list of about five, and then the teacher suggests, "What about the Raggle Taggle Town Singers?"  Yay! The children cry.  You see, all of the children were familiar with this story because we prepped them.  There was more excitement expressed at this suggestion, so as teachers we declared Raggle Taggle Town the winner.  Haha, the children chose it.  Sneaky. 

If you have a specific thing you want to write about, guide the children to choose it, but don't be too disappointed if they don't.  We were prepared to let the children choose something different if they all balked at Raggle Taggle.  If you want to let the composition be fully original, you will have to teach the children about compromise.  With my small homeschool choir (we started with six children and ended with four), there were enough children to have very different ideas about what the opera should be, but a small enough group to find a solution for everybody. 

All of the children agreed that there should be a bad guy.  However, no one actually wanted to be the bad guy, because they all wanted to be the hero.  I told them that it is not fair to make one child be the bad guy against their will, but they do have other options.  I presented them with five:

1.                  There could be no bad guy
2.                  I (the teacher at the piano) could somehow be the bad guy
3.                  The audience could be the bad guy
4.                  The bad guy could be a pretend character that they all defeat together
5.                  Instead of a bad guy, there could be a conflict that they have to solve

The children loved the idea of having a conflict.  All of the children were adamant about portraying their favorite character, so we had to come up with a scenario where all of them would plausibly be in the same place.  We had to come up with a basic plot.   What is the conflict?  Where does the opera take place?  Let the children decide, but make it plausible.  If they really want to be on a flying carpet, they is easy enough to pretend.  Realistically, they will not be flying above the audience when they sing.  Chances are, your budget will not allow for fancy lighting and sound effects.  Sometimes children need a reminder about these kinds of restrictions.

In the end, the children decided that they would each play their favorite character at a homeschooling party.  The party just happened to be in a cave, where they all get lost.  The party feast is in a castle above the cave, and they would all help each other find the castle.  Our opera would feature Yoda, Spiderman, Optimus Prime, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella.  The children all left excited about the opera, and our work for the day was done.

Follow-up work:  Write down the synopsis before you forget.  You get off easy this time, but do not forget to do it.  The children will call you on it if you write down something different.

Mar 21, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Yesterday was our little girl's second birthday, so whether it's the terrible twos, or the terrible threes, our children have us covered.  I love how her birthday also marks the beginning of Spring.

Birthday Pie Tradition

My husband especially loves pie, but I have never learned how to make one, and we usually don't like to stock the ingredients necessary to make one from scratch.  So we buy one for our birthdays.  There is plenty of cake at extended family parties, but we like pie when it is just us.  What are some of your birthday traditions?  This is the cherry pie that Michael cut.  We didn't cover the edge with tin foil, but it was still pretty enough to eat. 

Here is how she chose to wear her princess skirts that we gave her:
Next week we are going to have a birthday party for her featuring activities that children do all around the world to celebrate birthdays.  I can't wait to share it with you!

Mar 18, 2011

MuseScore- Free and Wonderful!

Today I am very pleased to spread the word about a FANTASTIC open source file known MuseScore, which can be downloaded for free at

As a music major, one of the classes that we were required to take is "Computer Applications in Music".  The primary program that we learn to use is "Finale".  Finale is a fantastic program, but it comes with a $600 price tag.  Yes, $600 if you want all of the bells and whistles.  This is the program that I had access to in the computer lab while I was a student, and I loved it.  On our home computer, we have Finale Printmusic, which I used to create all of the music on my free-online-sheet-music post.  There are things about it that frustrate me, but lacking the money for the full-version, we have been content with it.  I am just grateful to have something to create professional-looking music.

Good news, now you can too, and it's COMPLETELY FREE!  I discovered and downloaded it yesterday, and have spent this morning playing with it.  It is good.  It is fantastic.  It is user friendly.  I highly recommend this program for anyone.  If you are a composer, great!  If you are a parent who wants to help a 6-year-old notate their composition, you know, the one that they play every time they sit down at the piano, this program is for you.  If you want to arrange a number for your choir, this program can help.  Music teachers, you know what to do.

I watched all of the YouTube "Getting Started" videos, and it helped me get started.  I created this file in less than 5 minutes this morning in honor of my daughter's birthday on Saturday.  I do have a lot of experience with finale, which helped, but the videos helped too.  Unlike my print-music program, the spacing automatically adjusted with the lyrics to make it readable:

The start-up videos are only very basic.  I quickly wanted to do more with the program, so I created a free membership and searched the forums.  I am sure that as I learn to use the program, I will have more questions, but I am also confident that I can find answers in the forum, or that I will be able to have my questions answered.  Open source is fantastic, this program is fantastic, and your wallet will not be compromised by MuseScore.  Your musical experience will be enriched.

I will be blogging more about how to use this program, and sharing files created within this program in the future.  This morning I learned how to customize the colors of the notes, but they didn't print very well.  The default colors for the notes, should you choose to use them, are for boomwhackers.  I'll keep you posted as I get past the newbie stage myself.

Mar 17, 2011

For Japan...

I have been pondering the devastation in Japan and praying for a way that I could help them.  Aside from making a donation, I was inspired by this blog post, which encourages her readers to donate to Japan and receive a sewing pattern.  This is something that I can do as well, and so here is my offer.  During the month of March, donate $10 to a charity of your choice and I will send you all five of my musical products as a PDF via e-mail.
This includes

Rhythm for preschoolers e-book
Glissando note-reading game
Rainbow Castle
Rainbow matching game
Musical Stairs

Step 1:  Donate $10 to any humanitarian project that is aiding Japan.  It can be any project that you choose.  Donate to the Red Cross HERE.  I donate through my church because they have an amazing humanitarian program with less overhead than other organizations.  You can donate there by clicking HERE.

Step 2:  E-mail me at tamsyn (dot) spackman (at) gmail (dot) com.  Give the e-mail the subject "For Japan".  This gives me your e-mail address so that I can e-mail the files to you.  I will not use your e-mail address for any other purpose, I promise!

Step 3:  Wait for your musical goodies!  It may take me a few days to send it to you.

I am running this charity through the Honor System.  I am one of those people who believes in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Queen of England.*Reference to Megamind.  If you say you donated, I will believe you and send you the files.  Please no file sharing, they are for your personal use.  Feel free to share this offer with anyone you know who may be interested.  By making the donation yourself, you will know that the money is really going where it is needed, you can get a tax ride-off, and receive some fun musical products to aid you in your studio or with your family.  Get your cake and eat it too!  Thank you for helping the people of Asia.

Mar 16, 2011

Nuclear Survival

It's the end of the world.  The end is near!

No, not really.  But disasters happen, and being prepared is something that our family has been talking a lot about this last weekend.  The events that have enfolded in Japan have been a bitter reminder of what can happen- of how little control we really have.  We mourn with the people of Japan.  My cousin is serving a mission there and we waited and watched eagerly to see if he was okay (he is), and he is only one person.  Some people have lost their whole families, many have lost their homes, and Japan was a beautiful example of a country prepared.  But how could they have prepared more for what has happened?  The grief is tremendous, and our prayers are with the Japanese people.

This post is in response to the nuclear problems that have arisen because of the tsunami.  Perhaps this post is a little off-topic for a blog that is typically about cute crafts and educational activities, but to me it has EVERYTHING to do with being a professional mother, protecting the ones that are under my care, so I am going to proceed in hopes that this information may be valuable to some of my readers.


50 years ago the schools drilled and the media educated, and the American citizens were prepared for what might happen.  Today the idea of being hit by nuclear bomb is unthinkable, so let's not think about it.  And yet the risk for nuclear fallout is tenfold what it was in the 50's.

My father has been a student of nuclear survival and has gone to great lengths to teach people how to prepare.  The following products and suggestions come from him.  I am in no way compensated for this post, nor was I encouraged by my parents to blog about these products, but I do strongly feel these materials are important, that education is important, and I want to do my part to get the word out.  Naturally any purchases would help my family, and I feel good about that.  :o)

Nuclear War Survival Skills

The definitive source for how to survive a nuclear war or fallout was written by Cresson H. Kearny.  Unlike many contemporary survival books, Kearny actually tested every one everything that he recommends that you make, from shelters, to latrines.  He wanted the book to be freely available, and it largely is.  He made it public domain. You can download it for free here.  It is available on Kindle for $2.50.  Having a hard copy in your home is also important because it is possible that when you would need it most, it would be unavailable.  My father saw this need and paid to reprint it and make it more affordable.  Amazon has the book for $20.  You can get it for $12 here.

Potassium Iodide (KI)

Taking Potassium Iodide during a nuclear disaster can block op to 99% of the radioactive iodine 131 from a nuclear fallout in a crisis.  Americans are scared and the price for potassium iodide has skyrocketed since the disaster in Japan. Fortunately, my father purchased a large supply less than a week before the earthquake, and has chosen NOT to skyrocket the prices.  You can purchase 40 grams of the pure chemical compound (infinite shelf life) for $16 here.  To be taken according as outlined in Nuclear Survival Skills.

Last Day Devastation vs. Later-day Preparation DVD

This video was created with an LDS perspective by my father, to be a companion to the Nuclear War Survival Skills book.  It shows how to build some of the items, as well as basic survival skills.  It may not be amazingly professional, but it is much easier to watch than Kearny's videos that he made to accompany his book.  It is there and available, and has a lot of valuable information.  is a fantastic resource, and I highly recommend looking at what they have to offer, and very affordable prices, especially considering the high demand for these materials right now.  Thank you for looking!

Mar 15, 2011

Carmel Popcorn

We recently discovered a super-yummy popcorn recipe from  We have made it twice, and our family has fallen in love with it.  Instead of processed sugar, it uses honey, which is perfect!  We adapted her recipe yesterday for our air popper, and it turned out great.

1/2 cup popcorn kernels
5 Tb butter
1/3 cup honey
Salt to taste

Pop the popcorn and add a couple handfuls of raisins.  Next time we are going to try broken banana chips and walnuts.
In a saucepan, warm butter and honey and mix thoroughly.  Drizzle over the popcorn and stir.  Add salt to taste.  We love Farley's salt, available at  Farley is my dad.  :o) 

Yesterday we forgot to add the salt at first, and when we started eating it was too sweet.  The salt makes a BIG difference.  This popcorn is very sticky/greasy, so be prepared for that.  I tried putting some of it in the fridge for awhile, and that seemed to help, but good luck having enough leftovers after the initial plunge.  It is REALLY yummy.  My husband doesn't care much for popcorn, but he loves this stuff.

My children love making popcorn with me.  We always sing Popcorn Popping as soon as the kernels start to pop.  I let them pour the kernels into the popper, and add the raisins.  My son loves to spray the salt.  This is a great "snack time" treat to involve the little ones.  Give everyone their own bowl or plate, because there will be a lot of finger licking!

Mar 14, 2011

Walking Piano

I had a famous visitor come to my website last weekend.  Remo Saraceni, inventor of the walking piano featured on "BIG" with Tom Hanks, commented on my Musical Stairs post.  When I looked at his profile, "Fun Maker", and realized who he is, I was very excited about the visit, and my 3-year-old son and I spent the next 30 minutes watching YouTube videos of people playing with his inventions.  This video was our favorite:

I wish I had $250,000 to buy one!  Maybe someday when I'm rich and famous.  Being realistic, I have noted some of the museums that feature his inventions and hope to see some of them someday, especially his studio in Philadelphia.  Here is his blog.  Here is the piano picture gallery from his website.  I was touched by one picture of a child in a wheelchair rolling across the keys. Meet the man behind the invention in this video:

I am truly fascinated by this wonderful combination of technology, music, and imagination.  Thank you, Remo Saraceni, for sharing your innovation with the world.

Mar 12, 2011


Disclaimer: Today's post is an advertisement. I don't do that very often, but I think that this is an awesome deal, so I'm sharing it with you.

I was excited when I stumbled upon Moolala while blog-surfing this morning. Moolala is a combination of Groupon and MLM. There is no cost to sign up, and they offer group deals on purchases like today's deal, get $50 worth of photo books for $10. They have a rewards program that goes 5 levels deep with a 2% commission on those purchases. Here is my my referal link. Thanks for looking. :o)

Rhythm Blocks

Here is a manipulative that you can cut out and use with your students or children.  I like to use rhythm solfege as outlined in the video to demonstrate counting, but you can also simply count to 4.  This is just one hands-on approach that you can add to your toolbox.  I colored the squares simply because children like color.  I included a black and white version too, which will be cheaper to print.  You can always color them with crayons if you want.  I recommend printing them on card-stock, and laminating, if desired.

It may be tricky on the print-out to see where the cutting lines are, hopefully this illustration can help.  Enjoy!

Mar 11, 2011

Dress Code Experiment

I am experimenting with a new family dress code this week.  We have over-all become slack in our dress because we spend most of our time in the house with each other.  There is nothing wrong with T-shirts and jeans, of course, and there really isn't anything wrong with letting the kiddos roam the home in nothing but a diaper and a onesie.  It is what we have been doing for a long time, it is what many families do, and I hope that no one who reads this post gets the idea that I think that you shouldn't wear what is comfortable for you.
I have just been thinking, that's all.  I have been thinking about wearing dresses and skirts more often, and I have made that switch now as an experiment.

The first time I thought about making the switch was when I saw the Duggar family, whom I admire, and all of the pretty girls in their family.  It wasn't until I read their book that I went back to look at their pictures and noticed that all of the girls in their family were wearing dresses or skirts.  They were cute skirts!  They were feminine, cute, and I like the way that their family dresses.  In her book, Michelle says that she did not spend an arm and a leg on the clothing that the girls wear.  Some of the girls sew, but most of the clothes are bought at Thrift stores, and the colors happen to be coordinated.  A nice skirt costs about the same as a pair of jeans, it is just a matter of what you choose to wear.  I became very open-minded to the idea when I saw how cute it can be.  Wearing a dress every day doesn't mean that you have to dress like a pioneer!

Then I read a couple of posts from "Being a Mother Who Knows", particularly these two:


I decided to give it a shot!  Then I realized that my wardrobe wouldn't support the dress code, but I also have been needing pants, so I went shopping for dresses instead.  We went to the local thrift shop, and for $22, I bought myself two skirts, and three dresses for my daughter to wear.

So far, it has been really fun.  I am already one of those people who like to wear dresses, and it has been my policy to wear a dress all day long on Sunday for awhile now.  Wearing a dress has not interfered with housework or parenting so far.  In fact, by dressing myself up, I have been more inspired to clean the house so that the home will match my attire.  When I'm in my grubbies, it is okay for the home to be a little grubby, but when I'm dressed more like a princess, it reminds me that our home is our castle, and I want to try harder to get the house clean.  (however, I will admit that I chose to blog this morning, putting my chores on hold.  I'm not perfect, I'm only inspired, but it's a start!)

A couple of points that I have noticed already:

  • My husband loves it!  We have joked that my wearing a dress will remind both of us who wears the pants around here, lol.  But seriously, he loves it.
  • I feel like a princess.  :o)
  • My daughter has been VERY happy to make the switch.  She was tickled pink to buy the dresses, she loves spinning in them, and when she looks in the mirror, she smiles and says, "Pwitty dwess!"
 There is something very natural about women and girls wearing dresses.  We have been doing it for centuries!  I am excited to do it more in our home.  However, I am not tossing out the pants yet.  After all, it is perfectly normal for a girl to wear pants too, and if the opportunity to go horseback riding comes my way, I'll be very grateful that I have them.

Mar 9, 2011

Of learning to talk before you can read

Today I read a forum post from a proponent of Simply Music.  She talked about how hard and somewhat unnatural the current methods of piano teaching can be for the student.  Yes, it is important to learn how to read music, but a young child who sits at the piano is less interested in learning what the little black notes mean, and more interested in playing real music on the piano.  After taking a break from teaching, I took on my younger siblings as students earlier this week.  For three of them, it was their first lesson.  They were so excited to be here, and the first thing that they wanted to do was to play me a song that they wrote.  No.  To play me a song that they made up.  They did patiently wait for me to tell them about bar lines, measures, and rhythmic notation, but it was not the fire that had brought them to that lesson.  They want to PLAY!  They want to make beautiful music on the piano.  As a teacher, my first job is to first, do no harm.  I really hope that I do not destroy that fire, and that I can help them achieve their expectations for themselves.

Harness that fire, yes.  Ultimately, they do need to learn how to read music.  They do need to learn technique, how to count a beat, and how to work hard at the piano and practice.  Of course they do!  But all of the technique, all of the reading, and all of the hard work of sticking through the practice sessions are not the ultimate goal.  They are the means to the end.  That end goal is to be able to enjoy the instrument.  To feel the satisfaction of playing fun music, and knowing, not just being told, that the music that they have to share is enjoyable and worth listening to.

When I was in Jazz band at the University, we auditioned every year.  I had been in band for a couple of years and felt confident that I would make it into the Ensemble, the "lesser" band which was appropriate for my course load in the vocal department.  Then a new young man came, and his talent just floored me.  He was absolutely remarkable!  His improvisation was fantastic, and it was obvious that everyone was pleased with what he had to offer.  I was pleased!  With a hint of sadness, I reminded myself that I still had chamber singers to look forward to.  But when the audition results came in, my name was on the list and his wasn't.  I was really surprised.  I saw the young man the next day, with a big smile on his face as he headed to the jazz professor's office.  When I had the opportunity to speak with him, he told me that they were really excited about his talent, but that he needed to learn to read music before he could play in the jazz orchestra or ensemble.  They started a jazz combo course that semester and worked with him.  The next fall he was in the jazz orchestra, reading music and playing superbly.  The girls went nuts during his solos!

He learned to play like that without learning to read music!  He understood chords and how they worked, he listened, listened, and listened to musicians that he loved, and he practiced, practiced, and practiced, creating the music that he wanted to hear.  When the time came that he needed to know how to read music, he took the time to figure it out, and away he went.  I don't remember his name, but he inspired me.

So what is my application from this lesson?

I like the idea of using colors to help children decode music.  I don't object at all to the finger-numbers in the John Thompson method because it gets children playing beautiful music sooner than other methods, and if the teacher follows the teaching suggestions, it also teaches the students to transpose.  Using a method book also familiarizes the student with music notation from the start, and I like that.  I am not ready to pull away the sheet music all together.

But I do think that I would be well served to get over how annoying Peter-Peter-Pumpkin-Eater and Heart and Soul can be when you have heard it a million times, and show my students how to play it.  Let them play something fun right from the start.  Let them taste success.  Give them a reason to learn how to read music.  I didn't learn how to improvise until I went to a community college that desperately needed a pianist in the band.  I fell in love with jazz and continued with it when I went on to USU.  It was my "candy" class, and oh, how I loved it!  My students need more time to be creative and express themselves, and less time drilling flash cards.  More time playing chords on the piano, hearing, touching and feeling how they work, and less time developing the fine motor skills of drawing snowmen on the music staff.  Music needs to be alive for them.

Following a method course can and does produce results of course, but many children quit the system only to wish as adults that they had been "talented" enough to play.  Granted, some people have more musical talent than others, but I believe that all children, and adults for that matter, have the ability to learn music.  Perhaps it is the system and not the talent that is lacking.

I am not necessarily endorsing Simply Music in this post, but I do think that they have a good point.  Let children learn how to "speak" music, to understand it, and then the desire to read will come.  There will be a reason for it.  I have never purchased their products and I don't plan on it any time soon.

I am still going to use the Jonh Thompson method books with my siblings and children.  The songs are fun, even from the start.  The accompaniment book for "Teaching little fingers to play" is delightful.  I had to order it online, music stores do not carry it.  But I am also giving myself permission to break away from the typical lesson routine that our society endorses, and trust myself as a musician and teacher to help my students express themselves and mentor them in that process.  I started to dip my feet in the water with my studio in the past, but now I am ready to jump in.  Care to join me for a swim?

Mar 8, 2011

Practice makes hard things easy...

"I can't do it!"
"It's too hard."
"I don't like this song."
"Are we done yet?"

These words have been uttered in some form or another since the dawn of music.  I have heard them!  I remember uttering them.  It happens, no matter how fantastic a teacher you are, or how talented and naturally motivated the child may be.  How we handle these hurdles is the thing that can make or break how the child will move forward.  Every child is different, and so my responses to these statements vary, but here is my basic approach:

"I can't do it!"

Yes you can!
Um, no, that's not what I say.  If a child says that, chances are that they really can't.  At least not yet, but they don't know it.  If you respond with a counter-argument, you have started an argument.  A better response would be to say, "Yes, you can't do it yet.  I couldn't at first too, but I did learn how.  It will be hard work, but it will be worth it."

"It's too hard."

"You're so talented, this should be easy for you!" 

Again, no.  As the title of this post suggests, Practice makes hard things easy.  A good follow-up may be to share a brief personal story about how you overcame something that was hard.

"I don't like this song."

My response to this one varies from student to student, and from the circumstance.  Some students soar through their books, and get caught on one piece.  It will not mar their whole musical education if they skip that one.  In fact, giving them the power to veto a number can be very empowering for the student.  They have choices!
However, when a student says this to me, I have to wonder what is motivating this statement.  Do they really not like the song?  Fine, let's move on.  But what if they are just stuck on a specific measure?  The left hand has to change positions while the right hand has tricky fingering.  Challenges like that are not going to go away in the long run.  If the student repeats this statement at every lesson, it is probably more than a distaste for the melody that you are dealing with.
What do you do then?  Music should be fun, and the joy of music should not be choked by the need to overcome difficult phrases or challenges. 
Eat your vegetables, but make room for dessert.  Assuming that the method book that you are using really is a good one, stick with it.  But end the lesson with a fun activity (I try to do this anyway).  Make a deal that you get to pick some of the music, and they can pick a song that they want to learn.  Disney songs are often an appealing "dessert" for children.

"Are we done yet?"

First of all, don't take it personally.  Children are children, after all.  What is the attention span of the child?  A half-an-hour lesson can be a L-O-N-G time for a six-year-old, or even an adult.  It took me a few years of teaching to learn this, but a good solution is to have an "activity bag".  Inside were rhythm manipulatives, flash-cards, aural training exercises, and reward stickers.  Granted, if the child says this five minutes into the lesson as soon as they get to a tricky spot, you need to address that first.  But if the child is getting bored and the lesson seems long, as a teacher, maybe you need to shake things up a bit.  Incorporate movement into the lesson.  Let them stand up and stretch.  Let them stomp the beat and clap the rhythm.  Listen to a musical recording and let them dance.  Play with music manipulatives on the floor.  Yes, you can have a potty break, but come right back!

The truth is, maybe the child just isn't ready for a half-hour lesson, and that is really okay.  You may need to talk to the parent about doing a shorter lesson.  I taught one family that had a 4-year-old who REALLY wanted to take lessons like her big sisters.  Our arrangement was to shorten her 8-year-old's half-hour lessons by 10 minutes, and give it to the 4-year-old.  This worked remarkably well for both of the girls.


Being a music teacher or parent with an unwilling child can be difficult and frustrating.  There can be a fine line between pushing too hard and not challenging the student enough.  Every child is different, every teacher is different.  I admit that some of my students have quit piano.  Some parents have decided that I wasn't the best teacher for their child and found a different one.  One mother wanted to find a man to teach her boy.  That's okay, I truly hope that it worked out for them.  I teach as well as I can, and that is what is important.  For some children I was a perfect match, and our personalities worked well together.  Other relationships didn't work out as well.  If you find yourself wanting to find a different teacher for your child, a good music teacher will understand, and even agree.  Ask them if they have suggestions for alternatives.  Band?  Choir?  Orchestra?  Music competitions?  What instrument would be a good fit for this child?  Never let a teacher bully you into continuing lessons.  Do what is best for your family, and don't feel guilty about it.

As a parent, if you have a child who is struggling with music, I invite you take the time to step back and ask yourself what is motivating that struggle.  Is the teacher pushing them too hard, or just expecting them to do their best?  Are you pushing them too hard?  Maybe buried frustrations from dance class or soccer, or school are rearing their ugly head during music lessons.  Is music the offending party?  This can be very stressful for everyone.  Address the needs of your child.

Music is so beneficial for children, but maybe piano, trumpet, singing, or violin is not the best choice for the student RIGHT NOW.  It's okay to take a break.  It is okay to quit lessons.  It is okay to let your child drop out of orchestra.  Really, it is.  But it is also okay to reward your children for sticking through it.  It is okay to talk about the importance of learning music (it is important!).  It is okay tell your child that they don't get to watch TV until they have practiced.  Finding that balance will vary from family to family, and child to child.

Good luck finding that balance for your family.

Mar 7, 2011

Rainbow Matching Game

Experience is the best teacher.  My children love the "Rainbow Castle" game that I created, but my toddler has her own way of playing it.  She likes to take the playing cards and match them on the keyboard.  She became frustrated that the piano was too small for the cards, but spent a lot of time trying to make it work anyway.  This game was created especially for very young children, including toddlers, although any beginning piano student could benefit.

This activity comes as a bonus with my e-book, Beginning Rhythm.  It uses the same playing cards as "Rainbow Castle".  Play with treble or bass clef cards, but not both.  Have fun!

Mar 4, 2011

Rainbow Castle

I created this game for my son this morning, with help from my husband.  The full post can be found here:
Rainbow Castle.

Rainbow Castle

This game is for the beginning student.  This is a bonus that comes with my e-book, Beginning Rhythm

Print out colored cards, cut out and set aside.  Print gameboard, and if desired, laminate.  Use game pieces of your own choosing.

Draw a card, and move marker forward to the note indicated on card.  Because keys and cards are colored, the student does not actually have to know the note or the notation for it, they only have to match colors.  Next player's move.  If the keyboard on the bottom ends before the next note, they get to the pot of gold and get to ride the rainbow up to the cloud.  On the top keyboard, if the keyboard ends before their note, they get to go to Rainbow Castle, and they win the game!

Tips for play:  Although the student only has to match colors, they are being introduced to note notation and the piano key names.  You can reinforce this by saying, "Move your marker to the 'B'", and so on.  Point out to your students when the notes are in the treble or bass clefs.  Have fun!

Mar 3, 2011

Color mixing experiment

We did an experiment yesterday that was inspired by The Wonder Years.  The ingredients are simple:  Milk (2% or Whole), soap, and food coloring. 

Pour the milk into a bowl and add food coloring.

Then dip a cotton swap in the soap and dip it into the milk to see what happens.  There are YouTube videos that show how to do this.  I have to admit that I didn't get it when we did the experiment, and we added the soap to the milk first.  Oops.  The results were still very pretty, and my children loved it.  My daughter is sitting on my lap looking at these pictures while I'm typing and saying "Milk!  Neat!"

Luckily there is still some rotten milk in our fridge, so we are going to try this experiment again today.  Add the soap last!!

Mar 1, 2011

Easter Egg Shakers

This is one of our school projects.  Easter is the perfect time to buy empty eggs.  For more information and pictures, see the full post at

Easter Egg Shakers

Egg shakers can be pricey, upwards of $10 each for premium eggs.  For a cheaper version, I have been waiting for Easter, and now the dollar store is stocked and ready to accommodate this project.

Materials needed:
  • Empty egg shells
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Rice, beans, wheat, small beads, or other hard material to fill the egg
Step One:  Fill the eggs with your material.  This was a fun activity for my toddler and preschooler, helping them develop their moter skills.

Step Two: Squeeze hot glue along the inside edge of your egg and close tight, holding the egg for about 15 seconds to assure a good seal.
Step Three:  Shake your eggs and enjoy them!  It shouldn't be hard to find a place to store them.
This craft was very easy to do.  When I was in college I got to play the eggs a few times in Jazz band.  Their use extends beyond child's play.  Music teachers can make a classroom set.  Music therapy professionals could use them in a myriad of ways.  I have decided to make several more and to give them away as gifts.  The set pictured above will be used with my children for repeated Easter egg hunts as well as music time.

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