Wednesday, August 24, 2016

snapshots: sunflower days

School starts next week, and I'm both relieved and sorry that summer is coming to an end. Enjoy these snapshots from a month ago when summer and the sunflowers were at their peak.







Thursday, August 11, 2016

still summer

The end of summer seems to be a period of relatively high anxiety for me. Mostly, I handle it fine, but I have many moments where I let all the little worries blow up into big ones, and before I know it, I'm freaking out about absolutely nothing. I don't have any big Problems with a capital "P" right now (we're all healthy and keepin' on), but it's still emotionally difficult for me to see my kids growing up and my parents getting older and the globe getting warmer and my hair getting grayer. In other words, time is passing like it always has and there is nothing I can do about it. Being all grateful and in the moment ain't all bad, but it does tend to add to the melancholy.

So now I'm going to cheer myself up with a random list of things that calm me, and stuff I can look forward to:


  1. School starts in a few weeks. Of course I have lots of feelings about my kids growing up and all, but at the same time it will be nice to have us out of each other's hair all day long.
  2. To that end I'll be going back to work with the start of the school year. My teaching job is only a few hours a week, and the freelance work can be unpredictable, but work is good for me. I'm good at it, and it keeps me out of my head.
  3. My front yard garden is bursting with wildflowers. It's a little messy and overgrown at the moment, but that's just how I like it.
    So do the birds and bees and butterflies. The flowers are literally buzzing with activity all day.
  4. Fingers crossed some of the visiting monarchs will lay eggs on the milkweed.
  5. I do love to pull weeds and stir my compost pile. The mosquitoes are so thick and aggressive right now, they take the joy out of it somewhat, but there is something about getting my hands in the dirt, even for just a few minutes, that makes me feel better about everything.
  6. This makes me wonder if I should pursue my interest in the outdoors more seriously as an option for side job, or possibly second career. This would mean going back to school (anxiety trigger), but urban planning or urban land management or urban garden programs are all areas I could see myself in. I'm all about the urban outdoors, clearly. It probably doesn't pay any better than music, but it can't be much worse, and it's just as valuable to society and the greater good. Something to contemplate at any rate.
  7. Stuart and I really want to take a big road trip out west. We're thinking of taking the kids out of school for a few weeks (to avoid peak season crowds and heat) and either renting a camper or booking cabins and campsites in Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, and who knows where else. This is probably two years away, but just the thought of planning it is pretty exciting. The U.S. is so big and beautiful, and we want Daniel and Anya to experience as much of it as we can afford to before they are all grown up.
  8. It helps to remind myself that a year ago we were just beginning to gear up for the giant remodeling project at our house. In fact, a few weeks ago I gave our contractor the final payment for his part of the project; that was a good feeling! No more giant holes in the ground and piles of mud and irate letters with insane demands from the chronically crabby and pathologically territorial next door neighbor. It's done. Over. We can just enjoy living here (and continue ignoring the neighbor.)
  9. It's hot and muggy outside and the mosquitoes are wretched, but twenty minutes of Yoga With Adrienne (I'm a fan of the 30 day challenge series) is always a good thing. After getting rained out of swim lessons this morning, I made the kids do a video with me today and it wasn't as terrible as I expected it would be.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

randomly on Wednesday

Oh, the random list blog post. It's just so very mid-oughts, don't you think? And maybe a little lazy? Still, it can be a useful way to get the creative juices flowing when you're a little behind on posts. And behind I am because this summer, while not especially busy as summers go, has still been flying by even as sometimes the days creep along.

I hardly signed the kids up for any activities, aside from piano and  a few weeks of swim lessons. No camps, no team sports, not even the summer reading program at the library. I like to think it's because my hippie self wants them to explore their creativity and learn to be bored and roam free, but it's mostly because I'm a slacker and all the fun stuff was booked up months before I even thought about signing them up. (I believe I mentioned this before. I must have a complex. Or a tendency to repeat myself.) Who's ready to think about canoeing camp in early March anyway? Not me. Still, I vow to do better next year. We've had fun, though, frequenting the public pool (it's been hot and muggy more days than not), picking wild berries, biking when the weather isn't miserable, and checking out stacks of books from the library, everything from the Little House on the Prairie series (Anya) to Garfield comics (sigh, Daniel) to instructions on making kombucha (me, though I have yet to try it).

It's been a nice summer, relaxing and relatively drama-free, though we're starting to get a little bit bored with each other and twitchy. I know my patience is running shorter than usual. I had considered taking the kids on a road/camping trip this month so we would have something to look forward to in our last weeks of summer, but that's not going to work out because I have a gig next weekend. It's not particularly high pressure, but I did get the music rather late and I need to stick around so I can learn it and rehearse with the soloist. Also, camping is totally miserable this time of summer because by now the mosquitoes are in full force and insatiable, the beastly little vampires.

Anyhoo, here is a random list of some stuff I keep thinking of blogging about but haven't taken the time to do it. If you follow me on Instagram you've seen some of the pics, I'm sure:

1.) 

Early last week we went to Pope Farm Conservancy along with gosh knows how many people (thousands) for Sunflower Days. Pope Farm is a special, beautiful place for sure. We've visited many times in different seasons, but this year was the first time we made it during the peak of the blooming sunflowers (they plant 9 acres of sunflowers every year at different locations; this year it was on a hillside on the western most part of the park) and it. was. absolutely. stunning. It was also completely overrun with other people, mostly families trying to get portraits of their sweaty, uncooperative toddlers...I look forward to going back when it's a little less crowded, but I'm glad I could see the flowers in full splendor.

2.) 

Swimming has been the main activity of the summer, and I'm not sad about that. The kids aren't interested in swim team, thank goodness (I know it's a great experience for a lot of people, but that much time commitment and compulsory volunteer hours do not mesh with my summer vibe, yo) but they had several weeks of swim lessons and want to visit the pool during open swim most afternoons. For the first time ever, they are independent in the water, which means when I get tired of playing pool tag and ring toss or whatever we're doing, I can go swim laps and they can play on their own. Heaven.

3.) 

We went to Kansas for a family reunion over the past weekend and spent a few days in the company of my mom's side of the family. We stayed at a rural Baptist retreat center, the grounds of which were resplendent with wildlife and Bible verses; on an evening walk I saw at least as many skunks as references to the lamb of God carved above stone benches. The last time I saw most of these relatives was over three years ago, and a lot has happened in that time - serious illness, cross-country moves, new babies. It was truly wonderful seeing everyone, and I got homesick for Kansas like I always do until I remember about the politics (their governor is even worse than ours) and searing summer heat.

4.) 

One evening in Kansas we squeezed in a sunset visit to the family farm to see the goats! The goats joined the farm just a few weeks ago and were procured in order to, as my cousin John put it, "turn weeds into dollars." Goats, you see, are the single most effective way to control wild blackberries that are taking over the pastureland where the cattle graze. I presume the goats will eventually be sold for meat, but in the meantime, they are pretty damn cute. They also really like my dad, who generously pulled down a few branches of a mulberry tree so they could nibble the leaves. It was utterly bucolic.


Once he did that, they kept following him around until we sidled out of the fenced area and left.

5.) I keep going round and round and round again about whether I should expand my career options. My teaching job is only a few hours a week and doesn't pay well, and freelancing is stressful and unpredictable. I have a website with my professional bio and contact information that I've been meaning to revamp and update for over a year, if that tells you anything about how discouraged I am about the path I'm currently on. Or maybe instead of a path I should call it a treadmill because it feels like I'm not getting anywhere. I love what I do, but I wish it were more reliable. So then is it worth giving up to pursue something else? I can't decide. I'm also not getting any younger. Ho hum.

6.) Remember how I have been taking voice lessons? I've had three so far and it's going well. I'm having loads of fun with it, both because Jane (my teacher) is wonderful in so many ways, and also because there's no pressure for me to be any good. I'm not going to be a singer. I'm just learning how to sing better for no one's benefit but my own and it's a blast. It's still hard, but I'm getting better. It helps to breathe through a straw.

Well, I think that's it for tonight. My knitting beckons, and Stuart and I are finally catching up on the final season of The Good Wife.  I promise I won't be a stranger. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

piano, man


By some miracle, it has not been a struggle getting the kids to keep up with piano practice this summer. They didn't have a lesson this past week because of the 4th of July holiday, so Daniel even assigned himself a couple new pieces  because he wanted to play something different and he enjoys the challenge.

I make my living - however meagre - as a piano teacher and accompanist, so of course my children take piano lessons. For right now, they do not have a choice about this. I am careful, however, to let them set their own expectations with their teacher and I try very, very hard not to interfere with their practicing unless they specifically ask for help. Missed notes, funky rhythms, I bite my tongue (usually). They do often ask, "Mom, what do you think?" and I respond with something bland and encouraging ("Gets better every time you play it!") rather than critique. 

Because my job requires me to be a perfectionist, it's hard to bite my tongue when I hear mistakes. I certainly don't always succeed. More than a few times I've come over to point out - gently, I hope - a glaring error, and it's usually met with rolled eyes and/or "I KNOW, mom. Stop it!" 

Of course, you can always make the philosophical argument that musical perfection is subjective. I agree with that to a point, though a missed F sharp is still a missed F sharp, and try as you might, you can't squeeze four quarter note beats into a measure of 3/4 time. Just saying.

I do not expect perfection from them, and I don't want them to expect perfection, either. I want them to enjoy making music, and so far, they do.

In fact, this past spring, Daniel's music class was practicing "The Rainbow Connection" for their spring program, and he suddenly said to the teacher, "I think this needs piano with it." (The teacher usually has recorded accompaniments or plays guitar with the kids for their concerts.) She, being the excellent and flexible and understanding teacher that she is (seriously, our school is LUCKY to have her), said OK you can give it a try and sent him home with the music. 

This was a mere three weeks before the music program, and y'all, The Rainbow Connection is not a particularly easy piece to play. The music she had was far too difficult (too many sharps, a modulation, the left hand jumped around too much) so I found a simpler version online. Still, I was nervous. For a 10yo in possession of a fair amount of talent but not necessarily prodigy, learning to play a 3-minute long song is hard enough, but to accompany 100 kids in a music program on a few weeks' notice? I'll admit, I was nervous that he would have a hard time pulling it off, that he would be stressed or overwhelmed, that he couldn't do it and would be disappointed in himself.

So I gave him the music and talked to the teacher. We agreed he would learn it the best he could and if he was ready to play with the concert, fabulous, but if not, no big deal. He could always play it for his music class later if he wanted. No pressure, in other words.

For a week after I got him the music, all he did was practice. I found myself humming it constantly, and had dreams about "The Rainbow Connection." And he learned it. I helped him practice a couple tricky spots and sang it with him at home so he could get used to the fast tempo and the fact that you CAN NOT stop to find a note or hesitate for any reason.

And wouldn't you know, he did it. He pulled it off. He played it through many times with his class when they were in music class, but only got to do it twice with everyone: once for the dress rehearsal in front of the whole school, and then again for the parents the next morning. When it came time for that song in the music program, they rolled out the little upright piano and set the mic next to it, and he played it through without a hitch along with 100 squirmy kids singing along. Afterwards his buddies gave him hugs and high fives, and it was all I could do not to sit in the back and blubber with pride. 

There is magic in being so young and naive. It did not occur to Daniel that this would be difficult, that it was something he probably should have been nervous about. He wasn't showing off, even. He just thought that particular song needed piano, and he wanted to do it, so he did it. That's it. No big deal.



Sunday, July 03, 2016

snapshot: herbs


Dill and cilantro against a bright, hazy background of sunflower stalks. It's high summer now.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

summer

We made it through the first three days of summer vacation at home (not counting the first week of travel) before I snapped. It was 8:30 in the morning on Day Four, and Anya flopped on my bed and sighed, "I'm bored." I looked at her. I might have glared. "Good," I said, "go clean your room." I thought she might cry but instead she glared back and me and stalked off to her room, where she messed around with a pile of papers from school for about 20 minutes and called it good.

Daniel, having learned from observing this exchange, has been making frequent statements over the last week, like "Mom, I'm not bored at all! I have a new hobby, in fact. It's staring at the ceiling." Or, "I have another new hobby: seeing how long it takes to melt an ice cube in my mouth without chewing it!"

I used to roll my eyes at parents who didn't know what to do with their kids all day because of a school holiday. I never get a break, I wanted to snap, and is it really so bad finding something to do with your own child/ren for a whole FIVE DAYS IN A ROW?! Big deal. But, you know, I kind of get it. Parents and kids get used to whatever routine they have going, whether it's full-time daycare or school or preschool or summer camp and then when that changes abruptly, everybody gets a little tense.

Lots of us are pretty sick of the question "What are you doing this summer?" This question has a lot of meanings. The subtext ranges from, "What on earth are you doing with your kids this summer?" to "How the hell are you going to get any work done?" to "Please tell me you're going to be around all the time because we really need play dates to get through it" to "Aren't you lucky you're a stay at home mom and get to go to the pool every day and sit around while the rest of us earn a living" I mean, most of the time the question is innocent enough, but it can be pretty loaded.

Me? I'm the slacker mom who didn't sign her children up for a single camp because by the time she checked on the fun ones (months late) they were full. Good thing there were spots left for swimming lessons two weeks ago or we wouldn't even be doing that.

I could write a whole manifesto here about my half-assed free range parenting style and how it's good for kids to be bored because it stimulates creativity and we're developing our relationship with all the time we spend together, but ugh, that's just too precocious. Mostly, I didn't want to spend the money on camps and I was too disorganized anyway. They're out of school all summer and I barely get any  paid work so time with mom it is!*

This week is going better. We're starting to establish a rhythm and they're getting better at finding things to do (but it's only Tuesday). The weather is nice so we've picked berries and gone on bike rides and there is a stack of library books to read and board games to play. They do have swimming and music lessons, so there is that bit of structure, and I have grand plans to go canoeing and teach them to cook. Life could be worse.

If I'm going crazy by mid-July I might take the kids camping somewhere. We've done it before, just the three of us, so I know we can do it!

* If I wanted to work in the summer, I would have to teach at music camps, which would vastly complicate child care, so I just don't bother. Because apparently I'm a slacker musician in addition to being a slacker mom. Or I'm well rounded. Take your pick.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

landscape

It's a beautiful morning, and I'd like nothing more than to take my kids to the park, but instead I'm waiting at my house for the landscaping crew to show up.* I was told they would be here by now and so far there is no sign of them. I'm also in desperate need of a post-run shower, but I know that as soon as I get that started, they'll get here and it will be awkward. At least Daniel is wearing pants today.

This is the last stage of the renovation, which started the first week of September last year, so we're a good nine months in to the actual work, though the planning and mulling and sorting of finances to make it all possible took years. Large holes were dug, concrete was poured, the kitchen was ripped apart and put back together, the exterior got a total redo, but right now, finally, the inside of the house is really, really nice. The house is a little bigger than before by a couple of hundred square feet and much, much more functional and comfortable. Our bedroom is still badly in need of a refresh, and we need new furniture and a rug for the living room, but those things can wait. 

Last month the new shed was built in the back yard and permanent steps and railing were installed off the front porch and back landing to replace the temporary ones we'd been using all winter. Now we just need a patio and retaining wall instead of the sea of mud that is our back yard, and a smaller patio and retaining wall off the front porch, and we'll finally be done paying other people many well-deserved dollars to do these various improvements to the property.**

Once the hardscape work is done, all that remains is the yard and garden. Right now it looks pretty terrible to be honest, especially in the back. With most of the construction junk out of the yard - including the old shed, which took an entire Saturday morning to haul out, but it remained intact and has gone to another home! (that's a whole post right there) - and the new shed all done, the back yard looks better now than it did ten months ago. Still, I have a long way to go before we're living in the urban homestead edible landscaped utopia I've been daydreaming about since we moved here.

Want a tour, then? Let's start in the front yard, which is a bit eccentric, but not so terrible, really.

Here is the front of my house. Note the new covered front porch. Note the dark gray siding. Note the unwieldy shrubs. The lighter colored one is some kind of Japanese willow; I planted two of them five or six years ago, but the second one didn't survive its first winter with hungry rabbits, and now this one is getting too tall. The other thing is a scraggly wyzalea (or something like that) and I'm not attached to it at all. Underneath are boring hosta plants and a crazy invasion of snow-on-the-mountain that is absolutely impossible to get rid of. 



You know what I really, really want growing here instead? Low-bush blueberries. I'm going to try and make that happen.

If you turn around and look towards the street, you see all kinds of stuff growing. My goal is less lawn, more wild plants and edibles. The perennial bed, once a carefully curated collection of boring cultivated flowers, is now crammed full of aggressive native prairie plants vying for space. I have common milkweed, bee's balm, two kinds of echinacea, daisies, lemon balm (that may not be native, but it's doing JUST FINE), phlox and brown-eyed Susans growing so densely that even the Creeping Charlie has a hard time finding room. A few other not-so-aggressive native plants live there, too, and periodically I clear space around them to grow, but otherwise I basically leave it all alone. It's a little jumbled, a little wild and not so organized, but I've decided this is actually a pretty accurate reflection of my gardener personality, so I'm okay with it. This part of my yard also tends to attract many beneficial winged creatures (bees, butterflies, finches, and more), especially later in the summer, and that makes me very happy indeed.



As you can see, I also have potted mint perched atop a birch log from the tree we had removed about a year ago. That mint is just dying to get out and take over, I can tell, so I set it up high, further out of reach from the ground.

Another section of my front yard is more or less devoted to edible plants. I have four raised beds in which I ostensibly grow herbs and greens, but right now it's more of a forest of sunflowers that have managed to reseed themselves the last couple years, and I don't have the heart to pull them up.


Tucked under the wild flowers are nasturtiums, dill, cilantro, parsley, kale, spinach and chard. They all seem to live together pretty well.


Now, the back yard is the real mess. LITERALLY. The picture below shows the climbing dome in a temporary spot while we wait for the landscaping to get done. You can see the junk and the pile of firewood in front of the brand new shed. The new shed is actually really quite nice, and SO much more spacious and sturdy than the old one.


The picture below is my attempt at getting creative with a raised bed for vegetables. The back half of our back yard used to have 7 spruce trees and a giant silver maple. Now we're down to two spindly spruce and a giant patch of that cursed snow-on-the-mountain and creeping Charlie, both of which I think I'll be fighting for the rest of my life. You can't even use weed killer on those things (not that I would, being the all organic hippie that I am when it comes to weed control) because they grow back so quickly. I've resorted to piling thick layers of cardboard over the worst spots, which is every bit as attractive as you can imagine.

Anyway, the raised bed has landscape cloth AND cardboard under the good soil, and I edged everything with random stuff I found in the yard. Not wanting to spend good money and time on something permanent, I thought it better to use logs and planters and concrete cinder blocks, all of which were lying around the yard, instead. It would look a lot better if the vegetables were growing better, but it's a little slow going. 


Next to the raised beds I have a new asparagus patch, planted early in May. Perhaps it wasn't the wisest thing to plant a perennial smack in the middle of my garden space that is still in flux, but I was eager and the time was right. An online search for a companion planting guide tells me that asparagus grows well with tomatoes and basil, so I have those very things growing amongst its spindly spears. Those are growing well, actually.

Ugh, cardboard is ugly.

And here? Here is the back of my house. It's a vast improvement from a year ago, but you can see the uneven ground and the bare patches. What you see is actually just a fraction of the bare spots, ravaged from excavation and heavy equipment going in and out. Within the next two weeks a lovely and expensive patio will be built, and then we'll have the perfect place to grill burgers in the scorching sun with no table to eat them at. One thing at a time, am I right?
 


I truly did not mean for this post to get so long, and I guess the laundry list of goals and improvements might be boring for some of you. If you've made it this far, you deserve a prize of some sort. I'll be sure to post an update when the patio work is done. Even if the weeds are insurmountable, at least it will be progress!

*I started this post yesterday.The crew finally did show up, five hours late, to drop off equipment before leaving for the day. They called a rain day for today because we were supposed to get heavy storms all day, but the storms never materialized, and neither did the crew because it was too late to call them back.

**When it comes to home improvement, we're more than happy to pay actual professionals to do the work. They do it far better and faster than we ever could. I know that DIY is the thing to do now, that you can supposedly learn everything on YouTube, but I just know better than to try and install flooring or level a countertop on my own. You know how people go through years of training to get licensing for that stuff? There's a good reason for that.