Archive for March, 2012

Disclaimer: Me and My Cello minus the disco and yoga…and skydiving! ūüôā

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The girls and I are continuing to enjoy being a part of American Heritage Girls through their Trailblazer program.  We have finished up the requirements for three merit badges and a sports pin, and are currently working on two more badges that we will finish in this program year.  In addition to the badge work, the girls have been earning service stars, and Kara has completed a religious emblem through the PRAY program.  Cosette will be starting her religious emblem soon.

We are currently working on a World Heritage badge that has been pretty fun. Of course, when we study other countries, we usually try to include China since that country holds a special place in the hearts of the Prairie Family. ¬†One of the requirements was to make a traditional craft, so I found the idea for these lanterns that I thought came out very pretty. Another highlight was making Chinese Candied Fruit (Tang Hulu). ¬†When I was in China adopting Kara, we saw children all over the place eating these yummy looking candied fruits on sticks. ¬†We didn’t know exactly what they were, but when I looked them up on the internet, it wasn’t difficult to find images of them. ¬†Believe it or not, the recipe that I found was off of the television show “Ni Hao, Kai Lan” on Nick, Jr. Of course it was rather difficult to find the traditional fruits that the Chinese children were eating, so we substituted some grapes, strawberries, and bananas. ¬†Those fruits came out all right, but we agreed that the bananas were the tastiest. ¬†We did learn that when we are dipping the fruits, we need to go fairly quickly because the sugar solution would re-crystalize if we took too long. ¬†Overall, this recipe was a success, but, boy, was it sticky! ¬†We also made Egg Drop Soup. ¬†That was an easy recipe that was enjoyed by everyone, so we will definitely be making that again!

We plan to continue working on AHG badges during the summer. ¬†It will probably be hit-and-miss, but that’s all right. ¬†Next year both of the girls will be in the last year of their current AHG levels, so we will be focusing on their level awards (which shouldn’t be too difficult since I think we have already accomplished most of the requirements that we will need to complete).

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Back in December, I wrote an entry¬†telling about using our orchestra’s cello. ¬†The Pride of the Prairie Orchestra lost their cello player this year because she left to go to college. ¬†Cello players are a rarity on the Prairie, and we have just really had a void ever since she left. ¬†I told the group that I would be willing to try to learn to play the cello if I had access to an instrument, and I was surprised to learn that the orchestra did have one available! ¬†So, the cello came to the Prairie Family house and has been loved ever since.

I officially began my journey to learn to play the cello on January 12, 2012, when my first lesson books arrived. ¬†I knew better than to mess with the instrument too much before getting the books because bad habits are easy to develop and difficult to break. ¬†It’s hard enough to learn cello without a teacher, I definitely don’t need to be making things up! ¬†ūüôā So, I have been systematically working my way through the books, and have found that when I have questions, looking up You Tube videos is very helpful. ¬†Now I know that many people would criticize this technique for learning a stringed instrument, but I really just do not have any other options available. ¬†I do have a lifetime of experience on the violin, and although there are differences for playing the cello, some similarities remain as well.

My biggest obstacle so far has been learning the cello bow hold.  I really did not know that it would be different from what I use on a violin bow, but it definitely is.  The cello bow is bigger and heavier, plus the angle is different.  So, out of necessity I struggled to get it right.  I would literally replace my fingers into the right position after every song, and as time went on, I had to adjust it less and less.  There was one video in particular that I found to be helpful on this, and I will post it in a future entry.

I have been very satisfied using the variety of books that I purchased to teach myself how to play the cello. ¬†The main “method” books that I am using are from the Muller Rusch and Essential Elements 2000 for Strings lesson books. ¬†I had read that Alwin Schroeder’s Foundation Studies¬†is a standard book that develops technique through progressive etudes, so I added that one in as well. Of course, I wanted to include actual cello music (not just exercises) to my practicing, so I am using the Suzuki Cello School and Solos for Young Cellists¬†for that purpose. These have been especially fun because I can record the piano accompaniments on our digital piano and play along with them. ¬†(I think I would have practiced my violin more when I was a child if I had had a piano like that then!)

I am practicing between 30-45 minutes each day, and I have finished the Level 1 books. ¬†I’d like to finish the Level 2 books this summer, and even more if possible so I’ll be ready to play the cello in the orchestra next fall. ¬†I can actually play some of our songs for this season’s spring concert, but I want my vibrato and position-shifting to be smoother before I actually perform publicly.

John has also shown an interest in the cello and has recently begun to work his way through some of my books. ¬†Pretty soon he’ll be passing me up! ¬†LOL!

So, I am going to be really brave here and post a video of how I am currently playing. ¬†I know it’s still pretty rough since I have only been playing for a few weeks, but I sure do enjoy it! ¬†There are days that I am encouraged and days that I am discouraged, but I am trying to enjoy where I am at as I work towards being able to play skillfully.

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On February 26, the Pride of the Prairie Orchestra had its winter concert. ¬†We had a guest opera singer, Bonnie Cameron, join the orchestra for several pieces, and she really did a wonderful job! We are not really big opera fans, but Bonnie sings so well and with such enthusiasm, that we couldn’t help but to enjoy her singing! ¬†ūüôā

This concert was special for our family because John and Cosette both joined me in the violin section for their first official concert. ¬†I was so proud of them! They both worked very hard to learn all of the pieces and their efforts certainly paid off. ¬†It really made me happy to know that my kids are playing well enough to really enjoy their instruments. That’s my goal for them–to love and enjoy music. Concert days for our orchestra aren’t easy because we have a complete run-through dress rehearsal right before the concert. That means that we play for about 4-5 hours straight. ¬†I wasn’t sure how the kids would handle that, but they both stuck it through right along with the adults. ¬†I think that speaks well–especially for Cosette, who is only 11 years old.

Cosette absolutely loved the opera singer and wanted to have her picture taken with her.  She is a neat lady who has been living and performing in Germany.  Recently she has returned to her home on the Prairie where she is hoping to share her talents by teaching lessons and leading a variety of singing groups.

Pride of the Prairie Orchestra Concert 2-26-12

Kara took some video of the concert. ¬†She was sitting several rows back and the sound of her camera is kind of “tinny,” but this clip will give you the idea of just how wonderful Bonnie was and how blessed we were to be able to perform with her:

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Piggie Barn Battles

It’s been awhile since I have posted about the Prairie Family Guinea Pigs. Yes, we still have all four of our piggies, and they are certainly an important part of our house! ¬†ūüôā ¬†It’s amazing how attached we can be to these little critters that live in our basement!

Two of our piggies have an ongoing argument about a very special piece of property: ¬†the BARN. ¬†We originally bought ONE barn for one of our guinea pigs that has some physical issues thinking that it would encourage mobility. ¬†It didn’t work for that purpose, however, because he just doesn’t have the ability to maneuver around it. Another of our pigs has too small of a cage to use the barn, so that gets it down to sharing between our original two pets: Snickers (female) and Abel (male). ¬†Little did we know that this ONE barn would become such a soap opera! ¬†Sure, we could get another barn, but where would the fun be in that?!

The drama started when our little girl piggie, Snickers, fell in love with that silly barn. ¬†She has always been kind of timid, so this little hiding place was perfect for her! ¬†She spends most of her day in there–that is, when the barn is in her side of the cage.

Snickers and Abel share a cage that has a divider down the middle so we don’t end up with more piggies! ¬†So, every other week, we put the barn on opposite sides. ¬†That’s where this story gets interesting! ¬†It took Abel awhile to figure the barn out. ¬†He is not the smartest thing in the world, but he is a real sweetie. Anyway, when it was his turn with the barn, he just went on as usual. ¬†BUT, Snickers was not a happy girl! ¬†As soon as she realized that the barn was not on her side, she literally spent the week pouting and sulking! ¬†Of course, when her turn came back, she rejoiced and sat in the barn all day.

Eventually Abel discovered the barn and learned how to get into it. ¬†For some unknown reason, though, he is also obsessed with trying to get his food dish into the barn. ¬†I guess he thinks that if he could just get his food in there, he would never have to leave! ¬†Every morning we’d find his dish by the barn. Sometimes it was pretty close, but upside down; other times he missed the door and the dish was just pushed by the barn. ¬†NOW he had purpose! ¬†He HAD to get that dish in there! ¬†Of course, he gets upset when his turn with the barn is over now too!

What is really amazing is that Abel has figured out how to get his dish in the barn, but there is one minor problem:  now he can get the dish in the barn, but there is no room left for him!  LOL!!


So now we always have one very happy piggie, and one piggie that is pouting. It’s kind of amusing to keep this drama going…….

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A few weeks ago, Cosette and I played this piano duet of “For the Beauty of the Earth” for church. ¬†It is from Alfred’s Play Hymns, Book 2.

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Today I started working on a piano arrangement of the song “Mercies Anew.” ¬† I had never heard this song, but I sure thought the melody was nice. ¬†In order to play a song with meaning, though, I always look up the words. ¬†That way I can think on the words and put them into my piano-playing. ¬†So, I looked up this song on You Tube, and was very impressed by the lyrics. ¬†Now I can truly use this song to worship as I practice!



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Cello Inspiration

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My girls love doing t-shirt crafts, so when I see a cute, easy idea, we give it a try!

These stenciled t-shirts were really easy. ¬†The girls and I searched for printable templates online to use–that was probably the hardest part of the whole project! ¬†It was tricky to find designs that were simple enough to cut out but that would still make cute shirts. ¬†Cosette knew that she wanted a “love” shirt, but Kara was kind of undecided. ¬†I just kept searching for ideas until I stumbled on the cat-face stencil that we ended up using. ¬†It was actually a stencil for cutting a pumpkin face, so maybe there are more ideas to be found by opening up creative searches!

We then transferred the stencils onto freezer paper, which is readily available. ¬†(We got ours at Wal-Mart in a big roll–probably a life-time supply!) ¬†We meticulously cut out the patterns and then ironed the freezer paper onto the shirts. ¬†That is what is neat about freezer paper: ¬†it has a “waxy” side that melts when ironed, but is removable and leaves no residue. ¬†When the patterns were on the shirts, we then simply used fabric spray paint to fill in the stencils. ¬†We let that dry over night, peeled off the freezer paper, and the shirts were finished!

Cosette got some paint past the bottom of her stencil, but we think that even came out cute!  It made a neat little border at the bottom of her shirt.

So, this was a successful project.  We have washed the shirts several times, and the paint is just as bright and pretty as the day we painted them.  We will have to try this again sometime!

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