Monday, July 31, 2006

cranky baby, cranky mama

I don't know what's up with Daniel these days. This morning he whined and fussed for about 3 hours, interrupted only by two naps about 10 minutes each. I wonder if he's teething. By lunchtime, I was at the end of my rope. My bad mood did nothing to improve his. When mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy, right?We were equally frustrated until he finally, finally nursed and we both took a nap together. Sometimes I feel like I can't wait for him to get a little older, because even if toddlers are difficult, you can do something about annoying behavior.

Until then, I will just have to breathe in and out, in and out, and wait for naptime to do its magic.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Shelves, schmelves

My parents are here visiting, in part to fawn over their grandson, but also because my dad is building some shelves for our house. Building bookcases that attach to a wall is more complicated than free-standing shelves because you have to account for walls being not quite straight and corners being not quite square. I'm not sure how, but my dad has figured out how to make this work. Smart guy, my dad. Also very creative. Check out the apparatus for getting 4'x8' sheets of plywood on the top of a station wagon...

as well as the work space he created in the back yard under a couple of tarps

Here I am, being really helpful (re: trying not to get in the way.)

Unfortunately, it's hot as blazes and really humid here, and it's only going to get worse, so the work is going slowly. We don't want to get over-heated or dehydrated. Hopefully, by the time the heat index leaves 100 degrees way behind, we'll be working inside assembling and installing everything.

And that's all I've got the energy to write for now!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dog days of summer

It's been a few days since I've posted. I blame the summer heat for making me lethargic, and for making Daniel cranky. If he's home with just me for too long, he gets bored and fussy. It would help if he would nap more, but these days his long naps aren't until the late afternoon, and after almost a whole day of a whining child who won't nurse and won't nap (much), I'm out of energy to do much that's productive. Thus, there are two whiners in this house!

Enough of that. Some friends of ours are expecting a baby in a few weeks, so I made them a hat and sweater set, modelled below by my own boy, who was considerate enough not to barf or pee on it:

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Regarding knitted anatomy

Since reading the comments on that post about stuff I hate, I'm re-thinking the knitted uterus. I'm not planning to make one, which is really too bad, now that I have a piano I could put it on, but I don't think it's quite such a stupid idea anymore. After all, knitting is predominantly a woman's craft and there's nothing more female than a uterus.

I've potentially opened a can of worms with that last statement there, so let me defend it. Yes, I know that some men knit, and I think that's great. In fact, I would like to see more men knitting. (I'm pretty sure the day Stuart showing interest in learning how to knit is the day I vote Republican, but I knit enough for the both of us, so that's OK.) Currently, though, knitting is done mostly by women, and the only reason it is such an art today is that back in the day when women who knitted out of necessity for their families, they made it into something beautiful and artful. If you were responsible for making all the family socks, wouldn't you get tired of the same old thing and throw some pizzazz into it, like stripes or cables or fair isle colors? Hail to the Knitting Woman, for She has Created an Art that is above all, Useful!

As for the uterus thing, I do NOT in any way believe that child-bearing/motherhood is the ultimate female experience. Notice I said "there's nothing more female than a uterus", not, "there's nothing more female than giving birth." So if you want, you can choose whatever you want to represent female-ness and knit it up. It doesn't even have to be pink.

It's just that since reading y'all's comments and thinking about it a little more, I've come to appreciate the idea of a knitted uterus as a symbol of the way womankind brought forth the art of knitting over the last several centuries. We knit out of love for the recipients of our art, out of love for the art itself, out of respect for the animals from which came the wool (or the plants from which came the cotton/hemp/tencel/bamboo - yes, there is yarn made from bamboo; I have some!) While I'm on the road to Hokey-ville, I'll just go all the way and say it: knitting makes the world a better place. This is true not only in the abstract sense (creativity generates good energy, yada yada yada, "ohmmmmm ohmmmm ohmmmm"), but in concrete terms, as there are plenty of opportunities out there for sharing your work with people who truly need it. Afghans for Afghans is one of the best-known, and one of my favorites, but there plenty others.

So, I'm still not going to knit a uterus. What would I do with it? I need my piano to practice on, so it's not going there. Give it to Daniel? "Look, Grandma! Mom made me a toy womb!" Besides, I prefer to make practical items like socks and baby sweaters and hats for charity. But I no longer place the Knitted Uterus in the category of "Really Stupid Knitted Stuff I Hate." It's more of a curiosity.

But knitted wings? Really, I don't think I can concoct anything meaningful to say about those.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Happy Birthday!

Hey all, it's my little brother's birthday today, so Happy Birthday Joe! Hope it's a good one.


Daniel was up last night more than he was down. Starting at about 1 in the morning, he constantly wanted to nurse/coo/cry/cuddle/kick/whine -- basically anything but lie quietly in his crib. Let's just say our breakfast espressos were a matter of necessity this morning. But look, he made up for it in sheer sweetness:

I'm afraid that's all I've got right now. My brain's a little hazy this morning and it's been a rather boring last couple of days.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

10 Things I Hate, or #51-60 of the eternal "100 Things About Me" series

No one tagged me for this, but I decided to do it anyway. Maybe I should do it as a continuation of the "100 Things About Me" series. I'm intentionally avoiding the D.C. Republicans and their idiot policies that currently fill me with rage because that list is already plenty long.

51. The noise pollution created by lawn-care implements in my neighborhood. I'm talking about the nagging roar of lawn-mowers, weed-whackers, hedge-trimmers, leaf-blowers and, because I live in Wisconsin, snow-blowers, that can ruin a perfectly quiet evening. There's one of those damn gas-guzzling, noise-makers for every season. One can't escape it. Come on, people. Get a mechanical mower/pair of shears/rake/snow shovel/life and chill out about your yard already.

52. Dr. Sears. Yes, I know he wrote some good books about pregnancy and baby care. But he's also made probably a million dollars doling out guilt (oh, was I supposed to say advice?) to women about motherhood. Excuse me, Dr. Sears? My kid sleeps in a crib and not in our bed, and I give him a pacifier, and sometimes I let him cry and my husband babysits now and then and I plan to get a job someday and my kid is doing JUST FINE. And even though I breastfeed him I'm not convinced he would be STUPID if I gave him formula. You know why, Dr. Sears? Because I don't listen to you.

53. Tomato thieves. At first I thought the culprit might have been someone passing by walking his/her dog and thought he/she might have a nibble at the only edible plants in my front yard that haven't wilted and died. But then I saw a half-ripe, half-eaten tomato with little rodent-sized teeth marks sitting in the tomato patch. You naughty, naughty squirrel.

54. The evil, bullying, sexist, sucking-the-life-and-small-business-out-of-every-community-it-inhabits, haven of cheap crap known as Wal-Mart. And now they want their own bank. Does it ever stop?

55. Ann Coulter. It doesn't bug me that she pushes some kind of warped conservative agenda by trash-talking everyone who doesn't fit her own brand of a God-fearing patriot. It doesn't even bug me that she also makes stuff up. It bugs me that she is rewarded for this behavior by getting big TV interviews. And also that probably half the reason her crappy books sell so well is that she puts pictures of herself on the front with low-cut blouses and short skirts.

56. Eggplant. It's just repulsive in every way.

57. Pumping breastmilk. It's necessary (because unlike Dr. Sears, I feel it's important for my kid to drink from a bottle from time to time so that I get some time to do things like, oh, have a life), but I feel like a dairy cow when I do it.

58. The fact that about half the time I make chocolate chip cookies, I screw them up. They are either under-baked or over-baked. I've made choco-chip cookies dozens of times, so you would think I would have a better success rate. I'm a woman who successfully baked a meringue on the first try, for Pete's sake.

59. Cockroaches. Those little bastards were everywhere, and I mean everywhere in our first apartment in Madison -- the microwave, the peanut butter jar, boxes of tea. Once they bred in the lid of the coffee grinder. My respect for the sanctity of life stops short of the cockroach.

60. Really stupid knitted items like this and this.

So that is the whole, entire, complete list of Things I Hate. Right. Steph? Joe? Pam? Mamacita? Jenn? Ann? It's your turn!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Fighting in Lebanon

I'm sure most of you have heard about the violence in Lebanon. My friend Zeina has family in Beirut, so this latest outbreak of fighting has me particularly worried. I'm following the lead of Steph and mamacita and providing a link to this petition to end the violence against Lebanese civilians. Please sign it, and please pray for peace. I'm not sure how much good either one will do, but they sure can't hurt.

Gone fruity

If you're into fresh produce like I am, this is the perfect time of year to be living in southern Wisconsin. I have a couple small gardens in an attempt to eek out a few fresh vegetables from the semi-sunny places in my yard. Just yesterday Stuart and I ate three carrots and two perfect, red tomatoes that were growing just outside the house. I have other things growing, some doing well (like the beets, the beans, the chard, and the bell peppers), some doing moderately well (like the onions), and some doing horribly (the garlic is, quite literally, a flop). In Madison, growing vegetables is more about recreation than necessity because farmers' markets abound. Last Saturday, for example, I loaded up with raspberries, Bing cherries and a bunch of vegetables, including so many zuccini that I had better get creative.

But the real treasure this week is from just across the street. Last weekend, our neighbor came over and told Stuart (I wasn't home) that they were going on vacation and that we were welcome to go to their yard and harvest their cherries. These are tart cherries, not for eating raw (unless you like the feeling of your face imploding), but for cooking. They are for making muffins, cakes, sauce for ice cream, and my dad's favorite food in the world: cherry pie. (How fortunate for my parents that they are coming to visit next week!) I've gone cherry-picking at least four times in the last week, and have about a gallon of cleaned, pitted cherries in my freezer. What with the farmers' market raspberries, and Michigan blueberries at Brennan's and the free cherries from across the street, our freezer is getting pretty full, but I'm sure I can find room to cram more in there - pint-size ziploc bags will fit anywhere!

One of the reasons I'm so happy about the cherries, though, is that it finally gives us an opening to get to know our neighbors. They seem like interesting people that we might have some things in common with, but we just haven't plucked up the courage to knock on their door and say "We've noticed that you, too, grow tomatoes in your front yard. How about that? Wanna be friends?" But they finally made the first move by offering us access to their cherry tree. The ball is in our court now. I suppose the next step is for me to make some cherry muffins or cherry cake or even a cherry pie and take it over there as a thank-you...and then who knows where this will lead?

Friday, July 14, 2006

These pictures need good captions

Anyone care to give it a shot?

(By the way, I probably don't even need to say this, but I want to assure all of you that I am in no way the kind of mother who would give wine or alcohol of any sort to a small child. I mean, duh. But you never know who might see this and call social services or something, hence the disclaimer.)
Today I was introducing my 12-year-old piano student to a piece called "The Snail and the Cuckoo." It's not a particularly difficult piece, but has some contemporary elements like changing meter and unusual chromaticism. Far from being esoteric, though, it consists of a slow legato phrase (obviously the snail), followed by pairs of staccato eighth notes (obviously the cuckoo's cry). Subtle this piece is not. I was explaining to him that in order to pull it off in performance, one has to imagine what it's like to be a snail, slowly oozing across a leaf, and then imagine what it's like to be a cuckoo, cooing in another bird's nest. I have a somewhat limited knowledge of the animal kingdom, but I told him how cuckoo birds don't build their own nests but take over those of other birds. He thought about it for a few seconds and then said, "So, cuckoos are like half parasites and half imperialistic invading nations?"

He's a bright kid.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

It's time for me to collect little Daniel and head out the door for the final class day of the Early Music Festival, but he's still napping and I haven't the heard to wake him up just yet.

Despite my first post about MEMF where I whined a little, I'm actually having a really good time this week. I'm just taking two morning classes, which are taught by two excellent singers. In the first class, we're learning Sephardic songs as a group. When I sing them as lullabies to Daniel he stops fussing right away. That class is also part master class, which I'm accompanying - nothing like sight reading really bad continuo realizations. Ick. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry about it.) The second class is an advanced voice masterclass, which I don't have to accompany. I just sit there and try to absorb the genius of Ellen Hargis as much as I can.

The best part about MEMF, as I mentioned before, is the concerts. Tuesday was spectacular. Chatham Baroque, a group that plays Spanish and Latin American dance music from long ago, was performing with two of the foremost historical dancers in the country. Words can't adequately describe how great that was, so just believe me when I say it was truly, truly fabulous.

I'll get back to more interesting and coherent posting soon, I promise. I just wanted to do a quick update before leaving this morning.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Spinach Pizza

Today at MEMF, I tried to attend an afternoon class, but it was during Daniel's usual nap time. It turns out that while Daniel easily sleeps through my piano practice time, he doesn't sleep so well through the noise created by about a dozen singers, recorders, lutes and viols. Go figure. We only lasted about 15 minutes through that one.

Then I came home and made spinach pizza of my own design. It was so tasty, I feel compelled to share!

The dough:
Put 2 cups of all-purpose or bread flour in a bowl.
Add 1 TBSP yeast, 1 tsp salt, 2 TBSP olive oil.
Stir in 3/4 cup warm water and knead into a soft dough, about 5 minutes.
Let dough rise until double. On a warm, humid summer day, this won't take very long.

The topping:
Meanwhile, chop a couple generous handfuls of fresh spinach. I'm not sure how much I actually used, but it was probably between 2 and 3 cups.
Chop an 8 oz block of feta cheese* into 1/2" cubes and toss with 2 TBSP olive oil and a crushed clove of garlic (or two cloves, depending on how much you like garlic).

When the dough is ready, spread it out on a small (9x12) cookie sheet. Spread the chopped spinach on the dough, followed by the garlic feta chunks. Bake at 425 until the cheese is toasted and brown, the pizza crust is golden, and you can smell the roasting garlic.

*Addendum! Feta is too strong for some people. I haven't tried it, but I'll bet that fresh mozzerella or goat cheese would be good substitutes.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Last night I went to a terrific concert, one of many at the Madison Early Music Festival. MEMF is currently in its seventh year, and this is my fourth year of half-ass participation as a student worker. I always have mixed feelings about participating in MEMF. The artists-in-residence are fantastic and the concerts are inspiring, but there is not usually very much for keyboard players to do. This year, for example, my student worker "job" is to accompany one of the morning classes for singers. Today we met for the first time and no one had brought anything to sing. Our teacher José, a delightful South American countertenor, taught us a couple of Sephardic songs from Spain. Not that I don't enjoy ancient Sepharidc melodies (they really were beautiful), but I felt a tad irrelevant in there. Even worse was the next class, also for singers, where my own harpsichord teacher was already accompanying and made it clear that I wasn't really good enough to do it myself. Not much of a booster to my already precarious self-esteem, but it was just as well, since I don't like being put on the spot to sight-read figured bass, especially from old facsimiles.

The other thing about MEMF that annoys me is how competitive and pretentious early music people can be. The world of early music is a very small one, and the same folks tend to go from one summer festival to another, slapping shoulders and trading sackbut jokes like they're best buddies when they're actually just showing off. It's just silly, and I should just get over it, but it still makes me feel like a nobody when the woman whose classes I've been in for three years running still calls me "Sue" and can't be bothered to learn my actual name even after I've gently corrected her. Twice.

I can get over all of that in a day or two, though, because working with people this good at what they do is very inspiring. (After taking a harpsichord technique class and getting a private coaching from Barb Weiss last summer, I was ready to convert for good. Modern piano just seemed so big and loud and jarring compared to the delicacy and intimacy of the harpsichord. Also, piano music has too many notes. Give me the vocal line and a few bass notes and I'm set to go.)

Also, most of the people who are truly good early music musicians do away with pretention. For one thing, they need each other to play in ensembles. With the exception of the odd lute solo, you need anywhere from three to ten people to perform a given piece. When you have that level of collaboration, it evens the playing field somewhat. Additionally, while it takes some serious skill to do early music, - all the instrumentalists play about eight different instruments, sometimes while singing, and most of the singers play at least one instrument - and while there is certainly virtuosity required for many pieces, it's not the kind of jock-musician machismo playing you hear from modern musicians. The skill lies in understanding the music, its history and construction, and in knowing how to improvise on given melodies or over a bass line.

So that's what I'm doing this week: gleaning inspiration from the best of the best of early music and trying not to get annoyed with pretentious players of the sackbut. I'll keep you posted (hee hee) on how it's going!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I have absolutely no business blogging right now...

...because we got home at 1:00 this morning and there's a pile of laundry and no food in the house except what I dashed to the farmers' market to get about half an hour ago and the baby is making hungry sounds and I'm shovelling breakfast in my mouth and the Madison Early Music Festival is starting and I am participating and working there so I should be on campus. Yeesh. But I just wanted to post really quick because my good friend Pam just moved her blog and it is now here. You all should go check it out, especially if you like cute animal pictures.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Ah, Kansas

This trip has gone by much too fast. Most people don't think of spending their vacation in Kansas, much less in July, but it's been lovely. Even the weather cooperated; after a few days of blistering heat it cooled off (!) to the high 80s, which really isn't so bad if there's no humidity.

And there it is. You simply can not be in the rural Midwest for more than five minutes without talking about the weather. I come from a long line of farmers whose livelihood is largely dependent on what comes down from the sky and when. Precipitation of any kind has been scarce of late, and it's been a hot spring/early summer, so whenever you see a bright green lawn you know that obscene amounts of precious water (not to mention evil chemicals and artificial fertilizers, but I promised myself I wouldn't climb up on my soap box today) has been used to keep it that way.

We have spent our time visiting various family and friends. We spent a couple days with my cousin Steph in Lawrence, where her husband and my husband thought it would be a good idea to play disc golf and finish off a 6-pack of hard cider in the 99-degree heat all at the same time. We drove down to Newton on Monday to spend a few days with Stuart's parents, who have had a ball playing with Daniel and watching his new trick of avoiding tummy time by simply rolling onto his back. We spent an evening with some of Stuart's relatives, and another evening with some friends of his family that live in the community and were very supportive during their family's time in Africa. I met up with a former music professor who's doing his part for Newton's thriving (well, you know) cultural life by running an arts academy downtown. We spent the 4th of July with my mom's four siblings and their spouses eating lots of food and catching up, having a grand old time even though no one thought to bring fireworks (had my pyro-lovin' cousins been there, that wouldn't have been the case.) We visited some friends from college, including my roommate of two years who recently spent three years doing relief work in the Ukraine. Daniel did splendidly during all of this, charming the socks off of everyone and making it through the late nights with minimal fussing.

To a more adventurous lot, all this might not sound like fun in the least. After all, we weren't sunning on a beach or climbing up a mountain or sipping exotic cocktails (though we were served beer and wine by a Mennonite pastor). Sight-seeing in Kansas mainly consists of lots of cornfields and cow pastures. But we connected with dear, dear people that we haven't seen in far too long.

Of course, we have grand plans to climb mountains and visit far-off countries and generally see the world. But for now, this was just right.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Some pictures and other things

First of all, as promised, a picture of my new (to me) piano:

Stuart, Daniel and I are in Kansas for a long overdue visit to Stuart's parents and some members of my extended family. Daniel did quite well in the car:

Kansas is in the middle of a drought and temperatures are in the upper 90s every day. You can't walk outside barefoot without cooking your feet on the pavement. It's a bit of a shock after the cool, wet spring we've had in Wisconsin. Thanks to air conditioning, though, we can ignore the unforgiving heat and just stay inside.

Whew, I'm tired. Maybe I'll write some more in a day or two.