Making Music

dash-robot-xylophone-accessory-1-large.jpgFor his seventh birthday, Little Fox received a programmable robot. He changed its name from Dash to something rather unique, and had fun learning to program it using his dad’s iPad. Then my partner showed us attachments and upgrades, including a xylophone the robot plays.

Little Fox played around on the robot a while, teaching it to say silly things, to launch ping pong balls, and to dash about. He also played around with the music programmer, which while restricted to a single octave, still allows a good introduction to music making.

After writing his first song from scratch, and not merely editing existing songs, I showed him how to write the music in proper notation on a staff with a treble clef and quarter notes, transcribing it from the dots and colored lines on the screen of the iPad. We simply called this “[Name]’s 1st Song,” and left it at that.


He hadn’t been interested in writing more music on his robot the last couple of months, but then he started playing Super Mario World on the Switch with his dad, and he told me before bed one night that he wanted to write an ode to the level known as Butter Bridge 1.

The next day, I jotted down all of his lyric ideas, and as we went along, he started to solidify a pattern to the lyrics. The day after, I helped him restructure what he’d written into a poem format and made a few minor suggestions about repetition, but left the majority of the lyric writing to him. I typed up what he wrote.

On the third day, we sat at the piano together, recording what we played and said on the phone, and over about fifteen minutes, started to hammer out a basic tune. I let him guide what he thought did and didn’t work, and once he liked the sound of everything together, I quickly plotted the notes sans beats, bars, or other measures.


Today, I downloaded MuseScore, an open source sheet music writing software with high ratings. It looked easy enough to use for our current purposes, so we started playing around to see how it would sound. MuseScore has a playback feature, so we can hear how it would sound if played on a midi keyboard, which really helped him figure out whether he wanted quarter notes, half notes, eighth rests, et al. Then came adding the lyrics into the program.

It took almost two hours to figure out the software and the music, but he’s quite pleased with the result. I also plotted out his “1st Song” using the software, as well, so he’d have a clean sheet music version and not my messy scribbles.

Because there are certain portions I can’t figure out how to change within the MuseScore files yet (especially the copyright), I blacked out his name. Little Fox said I could black out all but “Cal,” but we have both a public version, shared here, and a saved version with the complete text. If you want to play them yourself, I’m including them here:

Butter Bridge” and “Little Fox’s 1st Song

What We’re Doing: Reading & Dancing Through January


We’ve been in and out of illness.  We’ve mourned David Bowie and then Alan Rickman.  We’ve found January 2016 to be a rather trying month outside the home, so we’ve spent a lot more time inside it than usual.  And that’s ok.




Block Towers

Our household ran through a few different illnesses since December, and our academic routine fell apart these last few weeks.  Most of our time has been spent reading, and when feeling up for it, dancing.  We’ve also been preparing for the ACT Compass test for Running Start.

After dropping Daughter off at the community college for her Compass test, the Little Fox and I returned home to prep our late lunch. While I chopped vegetables and started the rice-quinoa mix, he played up in the office loft where his cars and Duplo reside. And he was singing “Tomorrow” from Annie.

Once done with the food prep, I called him down to dance with me, and put on the soundtrack from the superior 2014 version, which we re-watched this weekend. He thinks the film is “amazing” and I can’t help but agree. (If you haven’t seen it, or only know the 1980’s version, check out this revamp filled with more realism, relatable characters rather than caricatures, and a revised song list.). We danced for half an hour, checked on the food, and sat down to play blocks. We built towers, walls, and boats at his direction before my daughter called to say she was finished.

Though we went in thinking today’s test would be an assessment intended to see where her skills are and what we ought to focus on for a retesting in spring, she won’t need to retest.  She received exceptional scores, and placed into English 101 (highest placement) and Pre-Calculus II (second highest placement).  If she so chooses, she can register in the spring for Fall quarter!

We’ll be focusing the rest of the academic year on essay writing, keeping up with her algebra and trig, and time management skills (in addition to her passions).  My partner and I are incredibly proud of our girl and how much she’s accomplished already. To say I’m giddy is an understatement.



Little Fox Pretends to be an Otter Pup; his blanket is the kelp keeping him anchored

Little Fox and I found Sea Otter Pup by Victoria Miles and Elizabeth Gatt at the library. Its gentle story of a sea otter pup and its mother is told through soothing illustrations by Gatt and Miles’ teaching the day in the life of a sea otter with a storyteller’s (rather than lecturer’s) finesse.

My daughter picked up American Indian Law Review edited by Doug Lieb, 1973 at the UW library on a whim, and discovered a sudden interest in law. This interest since dimmed, but when she handed me the book to flip through, I saw pages and pages of Treaty Law and tossed it back to her.  I spent a whole quarter at the UW reading Treaty Law and its numerous violations by the U.S. government; I wasn’t in the mood to get sucked back into that quagmire outside of activism.  (If you ever want to know more, though, I have resources. Feel free to email me.)

 As often happens, I end up reading more book recommendations from my loved ones than the books I think I want to read from the library.  This past week, I read Milkyway Hitchhiking, Vol. 1 by Sirial, and have begun Vol. 2. Milkyway the immortal  cat boasts an unusual coat of fur which is cream in the front and black with white spots in the back resembling the Milkyway Galaxy. She “hitchhikes” though time and across cultures meeting various humans, cats, and sometimes other creatures.

Each chapter contains a short story and the whole volume ranges through literary fiction, fantasy, mythology, sci-fi, and historical fiction. The complexities of this single and singular cat’s travels show a full range of emotions, genres, and relationships, and much like the cat, the reader won’t know what’s coming next. I found both the art and storytelling compelling, even though one or two stories left me confused — often due to poor translations on the editor’s part or cultural ignorance on my part. Milkyway is both charming and jealous, aloof and high strung, and ultimately, the archetype for which all cats aspire.



The kids and I are almost caught up with the new Supergirl series, which is far more feminist and contains more complex characters who aren’t just good vs. evil than the standard superhero shows.  But that’s not what I want to talk about.  I want to tell you about a show you might not have heard about here in the U.S.

guardianofthesacredspiritdvdWe recently finished the last of 26 episodes of Seirei no Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. This elegant Japanese anime tells the story of a crowned prince inhabited by the egg of a water-based being who may either be a harmful demon or beneficent spirit.  His mother, the second queen, hires a bodyguard to save her son’s life by stealing him away from the palace. The bodyguard is a quiet, unassuming woman with great skill with the spear she carries.

While the show contains mild violence, most of the gruesome aspects are implied or discussed rather than shown. The majority of the show focuses instead on the relationships, intrigues, and daily lives of the characters connected to the prince.  Japanese myths are woven into its history with fine skill.

Even the interplay of a colonized indigenous culture and the descendants of their colonizers and the interpretations of myths as sacred versus superstition invites a great wealth of dialogue for the audience after each episode. The most engaging stories can be better teachers than any textbook; if you’re interested in any aspect of Japanese culture or history, look for this online or at your library. Moribito aired in 2007.



Despite temperatures in the mid-40’s, I’ve been craving warm winter salads. I’ve been eating saag and roasted cabbage like desserts.  Today, since we’ll be making pizzas for dinner, I thought I’d try out an idea I saw on Pinterest called Buddha bowls.

Rather than having a set recipe, these bowls take a variety of vegan ingredients already found around your kitchen and are thrown together in a bowl.  They’re warm, hearty, and full of protein and healthy fats.

Today I cooked up a sprouted rice and quinoa blend for our grains, sautéed Russian kale in olive oil and a capful of apple cider vinegar, cubed and roasted sweet potatoes in olive oil and salt (50 minutes at 350), chopped up avocado cubes, and warmed some great northern beans with paprika.  Daughter topped hers off with a duck egg (double yolked!), my son wanted sesame seeds and a marshmallow, and I enjoyed mine with sesame seeds, vegan spicy mayo*, and a dash of Spike seasoning.

Delicious, warm, and filling!

*I make my spicy mayo by combining a couple of tablespoons of grapeseed Veganaise (the purple cap) with a ton of organic Sky Valley Sriracha.

Good Kin–Argh!

“Good King Wences–Yar! Good King . . . Wen . . . Doh. Good King Wenceslas looked ooooouuuuttttt . . .”

This is what it’s like to listen to Squirelflight learning a new song on the piano. Guess which song. Guess. I dare ya.

“Good.  King.  Wen-ces-las . . . looked . . . ooout.  On.  The.  Feast.  Of.  Ahhhhhh!!!”

Quick Links: Art, Cooking, Music, Environment, and Literacy

Just posting some quick links related to schooling.  Some are resources, others are resources or commentary.  Follow and enjoy.  🙂

Kids Draw & Cook is a blog that displays recipes by kids along with their artwork to represent or present the meal. Its the youthful version of They Draw & Cook, which features recipes as presented by artists.  Children’s submissions always welcome.

Many researchers and educators have touted the link between music and mathematics and sciences, as well as they ways musical training influences developing minds.  Here is yet another well-written argument in support of music education and its funding.

The Story of Stuff is a project that shows videos that are engaging, easy to understand, and yet not condescending to viewers of all ages.  Presented by a non-threatening middle class “soccer mom” archetype along with simplistic black and white animation, they touch on topics related to capitalist/materialist culture, the broken systems that create environmental toxins and waste, and what we can do to change the ways in which we interact with our world and its resources.  Highly recommended; I suggest starting with the eWaste/Electronics piece.  It’ll make you wonder about the computer you’re using to watch the video.

An encounter with the college aged functionally illiterate, and the problems such youth represent for the state of our nation and its future.