Friday, June 30, 2006

A few random things

First, a plug for some good posts on blogs I read:

1. "a little peace" on Steph's blog about dealing with everyday anxiety and thankfulness. This one's worth printing out and putting on your fridge (I did).

2. "The Power Scares Me" on the Yarn Harlot. This post starts out about knitting but turns into a impassioned essay about breastfeeding and how there is not enough support for breastfeeding among disadvantaged women. There's also a plug in there for knitting hats to benefit a program designed to help low-income women with breastfeeding, and I plan to contribute. Even if you're a non-knitter, this is a good read.

Secondly, we're going to Kansas for a week. Why, oh why now, when the weather is so beautiful (warm, sunny, but not hot) in Madison and so not beautiful (blazingly, unforgivingly hot, and it's not even the hottest time of year yet) in Kansas? Well, that's just how the timing worked out. We'll be visiting various family, showing off the kid, that kind of thing.

Thirdly, I have pictures of the new piano, but the camera cable is all packed up so you maybe need to wait a couple days to see it. But trust me, it's beautiful. Every so often I stop what I'm doing to pet and admire it. Kind of like with Daniel. I like to kiss and adore him. It's one of my favorite things to do.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

An exciting new addition to our family

No, it's not what you're thinking. Geez, folks, Daniel's only 5 months old. Give me some time here!

But it IS the next best thing. After a bachelor's, two masters' and 2/3 of a doctorate in music, I finally finally own a piano! My new baby is a beautiful walnut Yamaha that was built in 1968 and was delivered to my house at 1:00pm while my other baby was sleeping. Pictures to come later.

I'm not sure if you understand just how much easier my life will be, now that I can practice at home. No more scrounging for quarters to feed the hungry, hungry parking meters on campus and setting Daniel in his car seat down on a dirty floor in a practice room with mold and gum and that unidentified gooey stuff on the walls. No more driving to the church whose music director kindly allowed me to practice there (because the parking is not an issue like it is in downtown Madison) and spending the whole time playing with a baby who refuses to entertain himself. No more fretting on the weekends that "if only I had a piano here," I could get some work done while Stuart is home to watch the baby (because if Stuart's home, I have no desire to commute all the way to campus just to practice).

This also means that come the fall semester, I can work almost exclusively from home and I'll only have to commute to campus for a weekly lesson and masterclass, plus some rehearsals (but, I would suspect, not all). Even if I have to hire a babysitter to be here while I work, I can still be at home. I am so happy about all of this.

Daniel has already napped through one practice session, so I am optimistic that the noise won't be an issue. If it is, he's simply going to have to get used to it. Besides, there's nothing wrong with a little bit of sibling rivalry, is there? I imagine that he'll soon learn to get along with the piano and even learn to play it one day.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Them's good vittles

I was tempted not to post for a couple days just to see how far the comments would go on that Harry Potter post.

Ann Aluru had the idea to swap recipes on our blogs, so I'm going to share what is currently our favorite: homemade tortillas. Not as hard as you might think and oh so delicious. We're never buying flour tortillas in a package again. Oh, and I have to give full credit to my brother Joe for giving me the recipe in the first place. For all I know, I'm violating some copyright or other. Meh.

4 cups white all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Cut in:
1/2 cup shortening (I use unsalted butter, but you can use Crisco if you wanna; I'm sure that traditionally lard is used, but the very thought of mixing that much pig fat into anything makes me ever so slightly woozy.)

Add 1 1/2 cups warm (must be warm!) water and stir until blended. Knead a few times. It's OK if it's a little sticky, but if it's too gooey, just add a little flour.

Cover the bowl holding the dough with a wet towel or plate or plastic wrap and let sit for an hour or so. (This step is very important. I've made the tortillas immediately after mixing the dough and they turn out very tough.)

When you're ready to make the tortillas, heat a cast iron frying pan over medium heat. Non-stick would probably work, but cast iron is really the best for this type of thing. Divide the dough into 12-16 pieces, depending on how big you like your tortillas. One at a time, roll each piece into a ball and roll out really thin. If your dough is sticky, you'll need to coat each one with a little flour first. Slap the rolled out tortilla into the frying pan, which should be hot and dry (no cooking oil needed) and cook on each side 30-60 seconds. You'll know when to flip it because it'll bubble up and get a little brown on the hot side.

Now you've got your choice of fillings. Our favorite is refried beans (also homemade) topped with cheese, avocado, fresh lettuce and herbs and taco sauce. When we're feeling really fancy we throw in some sour cream and chopped tomatoes as well. But you could also saute veggies (with or without chicken) for fajitas or make taco meat or huevos rancheros, whatever suits your taste. Any leftover tortillas are yummy for breakfast with butter and cinnamon sugar.

Harry Potter

Gaaaaaaah! J.K. Rowling has announced that two characters will die in the final book of the Harry Potter series, but she won't say which ones and she won't say when the book is coming out. We already lost Sirius! We already lost Dumbledore, for goodness' sake! I don't know how much longer I can take the suspense! Exclamation point! Exclamation point!

Monday, June 26, 2006

The dilemmas of mothering, part one

I have been intending to post about this for a while, but it's such a huge topic, I kept putting it off. That's why I've decided to do this in segments to make it more manageable.

There is so much out there about modern motherhood and feminism and the supposed clash between working mothers and stay-at-home mothers (as if these were two separate entities) it makes the head reel. If you work outside the home, you're being judged for not spending time with your kids and risking their pscyhological well-being by putting them in daycare. If you stay at home with your kids, you're being judged for not fulfilling your creative potential. There is endless reading material on this topic, covering every angle, every subtle, nuanced viewpoint, and every not-so-subtle, not-so-nuanced viewpoint on the subject. Why? Because a hell of a lot of women are mothers or plan to be mothers and are wrestling/will have to wrestle with these decisions. And it's far from easy.

I've done a lot of reading. I've read The Mommy Myth, about modern culture's idealization of motherhood, the media's portrayal of mythical modern mothers, from the perfect, beaming "celebrity moms" to the poor, black "welfare queens," and the supposed animosity between mothers who have paying jobs and mothers who stay home. I've read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. (If you don't know what that's about, just go read it. It will blow your mind.) I've read lots of blogs* and articles by feminists, anti-feminists, experts, and mothers who work at home, outside the home, part-time, full-time, and I've come to three conclusions:
1) I don't think I actually have anything truly original to add except my own personal experience (not that that is going to stop me from writing about it),
2) most every mother out there is ambivalent like me, and
3) modern feminism allows women to be defined by much more than the decisions they make about motherhood.

The media has pitted mothers who work paying jobs outside the home and stay-at-home mothers against each other as if they are two separate entities. The truth is that many mothers stay at home for a time, then go back to work, or vice versa. Take me, for example. Right now I'm staying at home with Daniel, but I don't intend to abandon my career as a musician. I've certainly had to make some adjustments, like taking a semester off from school, quitting my job with the touring opera company, and accepting the fact that establishing myself as a professional may take extra time, but I'm not giving anything up entirely. In fact, since Daniel was born, I've played a few gigs and am teaching five students. It's not much work, but it's something.

Mostly, I like staying home with Daniel. He's a sweet, cuddly baby, and I love seeing all the new stages of development as they come along. I'm the one who comforts him after his shots. I'm the one who saw him roll over for the first time. I'm the one who first figured out how to make him giggle.


I'm also the one who cooks the meals, does the laundry, gets up in the middle of the night when he's hungry, changes his diapers, washes his diapers, hauls him to the drugstore the grocery store the music store and the hardware store, spends hours talking in baby babble to keep him entertained, and anything else you might think of when it comes to baby care or housework. (Don't get me wrong. Stuart is a wonderful dad and husband, but I'm the one who's home most of the time, so I do 90% of the parenting and housework during the week.) Does it get lonely and tedious? My God, yes. Every so often, such as the days when Daniel decides he doesn't want to nap more than 15 minutes at a time, I feel like I'm going crackers. On those days I want nothing more than decent adult conversation and a glass of wine.

I need to be challenged to be fulfilled. (There's an art to washing diapers properly, but that's not what I mean.) I need to feel like everything I learned growing up and in college and in graduate school was not for the sole purpose of raising children. After all, what kind of example would I set for my son if he saw his mother, a well-educated, talented musician, abandon all of her ambitions just so that she could be the only one taking care of him and driving him to doctor's appointments and soccer games? What kind of conclusions would he reach about women's roles in his life and society at large? And if we have a daughter someday, will she believe me when I say "You can do anything you want, if you set your mind to it," if I don't believe it myself?

Of course I will treasure the time I am spending at home in these years of young motherhood. Of course it would break my heart to put Daniel in daycare as an infant. But I am also looking at my future, and while I don't know what it might hold, there better be more to it than making lunches and doing laundry.

*Addendum. Here are just a few of the blog entries I've read lately, including the one from mamacita that got the ball rolling:
"modern mothering" on Mexico Mom
"Names Changed to Protect the Innocent" on Clueless in Carolina
"Bubble Boy" on Slipping Reality
"Remorse" on Stinkbumps
"Mom Guilt" on Mayhem and Magic

Saturday, June 24, 2006

100 things: Quatre (Y'all thought I forgot about this, dontcha?)

This post will be a double-hitter for the 100 things about me! Sometimes I am like a walking advertisement for Madison, despite the fact that we may not be here for the long haul. This is because:

31. I like living in a place where people complain about the heat when it hits 80 degrees. I grew up in the South, so 80 is merely pleasantly warm to me.
32. I like living in a place where recycling is mandatory.
33. I like living in a place where nobody looks at you twice for breastfeeding in public.
34. I like living in a place where two lesbian couples live on your block and no one thinks it's unusual or in any way wrong.
35. I like living in a place where you can grow vegetables in your front yard and hang your underwear on the clothesline outside and your next door neighbors do the same thing.
36. I like living in a place where having a next-door neighbor with so many tacky lawn ornaments it looks like Disneyland for squirrels is unusual. This is obviously the other next door neighbor.
37. I like living in a place where there are so many farmers' markets that no matter where you live, you're within a 10-minute drive of one.
38. I like living in a place where there are at least 4 public parks within a half-mile of my house.
39. I like living in a place where there is actually a fuel pump that distributes bio-diesel. This would matter more to me if I actually drove a car that runs on diesel.
40. Even though I rarely go to bars nowadays, I like living in a place where you can't smoke in bars. Keep that shit in your own lungs and away from mine, I say.
41. I like living in a place where you can bike just about anywhere.
42. I like living in a place where people truly appreciate good beer.
43. I like living in a place where every yard sale has skis for sale. I don't ski, actually. I just think it's funny that everyone's trying to off-load them around here.
44. I like living in a place where even the little local butcher shop down the road sells organic eggs and soy ice cream.
45. I like living in a place where the city will pick up your formerly roach-infested microwave from the curb and recycle it (even if you have to pay for it).
46. I like living in a place that has enough clients to support a cloth diaper service.
47. I like living in a place where there are so many people riding bicycles that the traffic is accomodating.
48. I like living in a place that supports not just one, but many churches who openly welcome and affirm gay and lesbian members and will marry them, the law be damned.
49. I like living in a place where the city sells composters at a good discount every spring.
50. Unfortunately, lots and lots of other people like living here too, which makes it hard for someone like me to find a decent job, which I will want eventually, so who knows if we can stay? We better enjoy it while we can.

Friday, June 23, 2006


I've changed the settings to allow anyone to comment on my blog. I'm hoping that the word verification will filter out any spammers. Please don't be anonymous, and sign your name if you post an anonymous comment. I will delete any unsigned anonymous comments.

If you can read this, thank a teacher

I always found that saying to be a little cloying, though I appreciate the general message. I once saw a bumper sticker that said "If you can read this in English, thank a marine," which I found appallingly xenophobic.

I teach piano, and I have a good rapport not only with my students, but their parents, who talk to me about how their kids are doing in school both academically and socially. They're all, for the most part, fine. But I'm struck at what an impact their music lessons have on them. (Sometimes it's surprising, considering how little they practice.) After all, I see these kids one at a time for a meager 30-45 minutes a week, which constitutes a small fraction of their extra-curricular activities, so I often figure that with piano, they could take it or leave it. Sometimes, though, a parent will tell me that kiddo loves to play a particular song over and over, or feels really proud when he/she learns a hard piece, even if he/she's too shy to play it in front of friends, or kiddo spent an hour at the piano picking out a favorite tune by ear (usually "Fur Elise," "Ode to Joy," or "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.")

I come from a long line of educators. I started listing all the people in my family who teach pre-school, elementary school, high school, college, yoga, even Sunday school, but it was getting so long I just gave up. Suffice it to say that when I describe myself as a natural teacher (professionally, I teach piano and coach other musicians, but I can't resist an opportunity to help someone with knitting or bread-making or essay-writing when they ask for it), I come by it honestly.

I've thought about influencial teachers I had growing up. Despite our crappy, dysfuncitonal school system, most of my teachers were good, and several were excellent. My eighth grade English teacher (mentioned in the comments of my last post) was one of those. At first I hated her because she gave us so much homework, but eventually I realized she just wanted to challenge us. This woman had some serious cajones. She got a hold of the reading list for the high school juniors honors class and had us read the books from it; the high school teachers were none too happy about that. She also had us reading books with topics that some parents thought were too adult for 13-year-olds. (There was a local crazy lady who wrote letters to the paper trying to get her fired; fortunately, no one listened to her.) We read "The Scarlet Letter," about an adultress. We read "My Darling, My Hamburger," about a high school girl who gets pregnant and has an abortion. It also has the word "shit" in it, which some people considered just as serious an offense as the plot. We read stories by Poe, and "The Diary of Anne Frank." Most importantly, she made us write. And write. And write. We had to write readers' responses to everything we read. We had to write short stories. That was the year of a gubernatorial election, and we had to write persuasive political essays supporting the candidate of our choice (that prompted some interesting political discussion in class). We had to write personal narratives about an important event in our lives. I wrote about being at my grandparents' farm and collecting wild mulberries to make jam, and it won me a creative writing award, a copy of Sonnets of the Portuguese, which I will always, always treasure.

Then there was my sophomore English teacher/drama director/forensics coach. She was one hell of a lady. Her approach to teaching English was more old-fashioned in that we didn't do much creative writing, but we learned grammar very, very thoroughly. She was also old-fashioned in that she never typed her tests, but hand-wrote them. Her handwriting was exquisite. Unfortunately, I found most of the required reading for her class rather dreary, books like David Copperfield and Silas Marner.

But her role as the drama/forensics director was what made her so special. We lived to be in the plays and musicals. We spent every weeknight at rehearsals and entire Sunday afternoons building sets; the week of a production many of us would skip class to finish the sets. We spent entire Saturdays at speech competitions, sometimes getting up at 6a.m. to drive to the boonies (or Boone County) to spend all day "interpreting" prose or poetry or dramatic excerpts for judges. Mere words fall pitifully short of describing the level of devotion we had for this woman. We clamoured for her attention and her approval. We fought over who got to ride in her car on the way to speech competitions. Hell, we fed her cat. She died on Christmas Eve a few years ago, just a few months after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

So I'm not going to get all hokey and talk about why teachers make a huge difference in people's lives and why teachers are all so special. I think we all know how that goes. But I am going to say that it's a damn shame they don't get paid more, despite all the lip service they get. People are entrusting their kids to the public school system 180 days out of the year for 12+ years and yet most public school teachers are paid drizz. College professors don't usually fare much better unless they're hot shots whose salaries are padded with lots of grant money, and those folks are forced to work 80-hr weeks. People balk at paying $30/hour for piano lessons (which is a bargain around here), though don't think twice about paying a therapist with the same amount of education three times that amount for a session. (If you think $30/hr is good pay, remember that 20 hours/week is considered full time for piano teachers, and you have to factor in costs like healthcare, taxes, instrument maintenance or travel expenses, and preperation time.)

Maybe some day, society will put money where its mouth is and pay educators with the same monetary respect that doctors, lawyers, engineers and other male-dominated professions are rewarded. Maybe someday we'll spend more money educating our children then fighting senseless wars halfway around the world.

Maybe someday pigs will fly.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The value of intelligence?

So about 10 seconds ago I said I wasn't going to post anything thoughtful, but it turns out I forgot all about the bread I was making (was I always this way or did giving birth make me more forgetful?) so now I have to stay up another 20 minutes until it's done baking. I'd rather go to bed, but you can't just save bread until the next day. Not when it's already shaped into its attractive baguette-shape with cunning slashes on the top, begging to be put in the oven.

Anyway, Ann Aluru got me thinking about the way we value intelligence in this society. (To see her post about it, click here.) She points out that parents are quick to brag that their kids are smart, but not mention other qualities that might be more important, like generosity, kindness and wisdom. After all, you're stuck with whatever IQ you were born with, so intelligence is more of a gift than a virtue. I've been a graduate student for a long time (please, please don't ask how long), so I am immersed in a culture obsessed with academic achievements. At school, I'm surrounded by people who measure their success with how many conferences they've made presentations at and how many articles they've had published. Performance majors actually have a reputation for not being able to cut it academically like the "real" scholars (musicologists and theorists), so I've worked extra hard to prove myself in that respect. (Not that I've ever been published, but I've turned out some damn good seminar papers.)

Our culture values intelligence in an abstract way, possibly at the expense of other equally important qualities. It's getting harder to get into college, for example. (Hell, pre-school admissions are downright cut-throat these days.) The public school system isn't set up to deal very well with kids who aren't college-bound. It's also a system in which kids who aren't good test-takers are at a huge disadvantage, no matter how smart they actually are. (For more on this, see Jenn's post.) And every time the federal government feels the pressure to stay ahead of China or Russia in the technology industry, they make noise about improving math and science education for young people. (As if those were the only subjects that matter, as if smart people only choose those fields...but I digress.)

And yet, at the same time, our culture celebrates mediocrity. Look at our so-called president. He routinely uses poor grammer ("Is our children learning?"), mispronounces words ("nucular"), explains statements that don't need explaining ("We solve problems-because we're problem-solvers!"), and states the painfully obvious ("The United States and China are separated by a vast ocean.") I believe much of this, at least the "nucular" thing, is intentional. It is done in order to appeal to "regular" people, to make his personality more like the unthreatening good old boy, less like a stodgy, intellectual elitist (you know, like Al Gore or John Kerry).

It's not just the president. Mainstream entertainment is careful not to venerate the overly-educated. Have you seen Mean Girls? The main character in that one sabotages her own math grades to look more attractive to a guy she has a crush on. My only beef with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I'm a big fan otherwise) is how Joss Whedon insisted upon portraying all college professors as stuffy, condescending and out of touch. (But then, he's a college dropout himself, so maybe he's a little bitter...)

How many of us were labelled as nerds? I skipped a grade, still made straight A's AND had a bad perm, so you can guess that my social life was, well, limited. Most smart girls I knew acted dumb to make friends. I didn't act dumb, so I stuck out a little. (I really do think it's harder for girls to be smart. At least, it was in my town in the early 1990s. Maybe things have improved. Maybe that's being way too optimistic.) Did I act like a know-it-all sometimes? Probably. Did I feel like my intelligence was valued? I remember being in 6th or 7th grade and feeling like no one liked me because I was so shy and introverted and didn't wear expensive clothes and my mom tried reassuring me that people appreciated intelligence and that they would come around eventually. I remember wondering how long that would take. I think things eased up in high school somewhat.

You know what, though? Tough cookies. I got picked on for being smart, and it sucked, but it's not like I was the only one who got teased for something. Most kids get picked on for something: smart kids, dumb kids, poor kids, fat kids, short kids, smelly kids, kids who spend all their time playing D&D and watching Star Trek...

I really need to wrap this up. I was hoping this would be a brilliant essay, but it's just turning into me rambling and I've spent too much time on it already. My bread has long since finished baking; actually, it's the next morning and I'm spending valuable baby nap time blogging instead of baking those scones for my friend.

One final comment, though. For all this talk about the value (??) of intelligence and how intelligence is unfairly measured, it's not always the most important thing on a personal level. Think of what we appreciate about our friends. Sure, they might be smart; I certainly consider my friends to be quite intelligent. But that's not what I appreciate most about them. What I value in my friends are the same qualities I want to raise my children to have: generosity, kindness, thoughtfulness, resourcefulness, a sense of humour, and passion for life.

Rolling Over

I've been meaning to write something interesting and meaningful after all the entries about my daily life, which is not so fascinating after all. One of the reasons I started this blog was so that I would write more regularly and therefore become better at it.

Well, today that's not going to happen. Instead, I'm posting more pictures of Junior, who learned how to roll over today.

He was sneaky about it, and did the first part while I was in his room finding a change of clothes for him:

Then he rolled back onto his back:

And was so very proud of himself:

Monday, June 19, 2006

I don't like it when people I like move away

I made a new friend just a couple months ago. Her name is Rachel and she has a daughter about two months older than Daniel. We're both in a knitting group that meets every Wednesday, and we have a lot of other things in common, too. Unfortunately, she's moving to Iowa City this week because her husband got a new job there. Even though I haven't known her that long, it makes me sad that she's moving away. It's rare that someone like me (introvert) makes a good friend this quickly. Anyway, I know that this move is hard on her, so I made her daughter a sweater, modelled here by my own sleeping babe:

I'll see her this Wednesday, at her last knitting group. Do you think the people that run the quilting/knitting store would mind if I brought in some farewell cupcakes, too?

Sunday, June 18, 2006 follow up on that last post..

This evening as our frazzled brains were about to shut down completely, I discovered, quite by accident, that Daniel finds endless amusement in hearing people say "whoop! whoop!" and seeing things tossed about. He has a purple toy hippo that I tossed in the air, accompanied by "whoop! whoop!", which sent him into gales of laughter. Hearing a baby laugh like that is the best sound in the world. It made up for (almost) the sleep issues of the last 3 days. We spent a good twenty minutes throwing everything we could find in the air (toys, rags, pillows) and generally acting like monkeys (except we didn't fling feces, but I bet he would have liked that, too), making him laugh so hard he got the hiccups.

A Father's Day post from baby Daniel

12:30 a.m. I'm hungry and want a snack. Hey, mom! Wake up!
3:00 a.m. Well, that didn't quite do it. Mom's asleep, so maybe I'll grunt a little and kick my feet to wake her up.
4:00 a.m. Only an hour until sunrise. Time to be awake! I love to play in my crib.
4:30 a.m. I think mom and dad are awake, but they seem to be ignoring me. Better coo and gurgle a little louder.
5:00 a.m. Now this is really too much. Here I've been happily entertaining myself for a whole hour without making a fuss, and they just pretend not to notice.
5:30 a.m. Dad! You're getting up! Well, it's about time. Hey mom, can I have another snack?
8:00 a.m. Yawn, time for a nap.
8:30 a.m. Ah, that was a nice little catnap. Time to play.
8:35 a.m. oooh, Dad's watching the World Cup. Oh TV: teacher, mother, secret lover! I haven't watched you since the Doppler Radar from that tornado warning a couple weeks ago. Little people moving around on the screen. Neat.
10:30 a.m. Mom and Dad brought me to Borders so they could load up on double espressos. Why do you suppose they want all this caffeine today?
11:15 a.m. Looks like they just sat down to eat lunch. Looks like a good time to take a crap in my diaper.
12:00 noon Mom looks desperate for me to take a nap. I'll lead her on and make her think I'm tired so that I get to nurse on the bed.
12:10 p.m. Just kidding, mom!
12:45 p.m. Now it looks like mom's trying to take a nap, but I'd rather play. I think I'll kick her in the ribs a little bit to wake her up.
1:00 Yay! She gave up! Now I'm tired. (Whine.) But I don't want to nurse (get that #*&$ing boob out of my face!!) and I don't want to lie down (PICK ME UP ALREADY!!)
1:10 That's better. I like walking around and around and around in the sling.
1:15 Why is mom drinking a cocktail?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Is it me, or is this just wrong no matter how you look at it?

I just don't get it. I read in a BBC article U.S. troops are not to blame for abuse of Iraqi detainees because they "had received the wrong advice." The wrong advice about what? That stripping prisoners naked in a cold room and dousing them with water doesn't constitute as abuse? That putting them in cells too small to stand up or lie down isn't cruel? That feeding them only bread and water isn't inhumane? Common sense and a decent sense of morality would dictate otherwise. I know that military folks are trained to take orders, but if anyone ordered me to take someone's clothes off, hose him down, stick him in a cold room so small he can only kneel, feed him nothing but bread and water, and play blaring loud music for hours on end, I might just say, "Hold on a gosh darn minute. That's just not very nice." Personally, I'd rather go to jail myself than have that on my conscience, not to mention my record.

The boys at the top say the abuse is the result of a few bad apples, some rogue soldiers taking it too far. The boys at the bottom say they're just following orders and that such widespread abuse is only happening with the blessing of the powers that be in Washington.

I'm tired of this. Just stop the abuse already. It's making our country's bad global reputation worse, but far worse than that, human beings are suffering horribly as the result.


I can't just read this stuff and not react.

Oh, the irony

When I hang cloth diapers outside, it is to serve two functions:

1) So that they dry. It takes an hour and a half in the dryer, which seems like a real waste of energy when the sunshine can do it for free.
2) So that they get cleaner. The sun bleaches out stains amazingly well, and the UV rays are anti-microbial, to boot.

So you can imagine my annoyance and disgust when I saw the large, crusty dark streak of bird poo on one diaper, plus extra spatter from said poo on another diaper as I was taking the supposedly clean load out of the laundry basket this morning. I suppose that's what you get for putting a bird-feeder in the yard.

And why is it that the once-a-week (*sigh*) poops of epic proportions from my own child doesn't gross me out at all, but one single streak of bird crap sends me running to the bathroom to get the rubber latex "poop gloves" and screeching, "Ewwwwwwww!!!"?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Be Creative Instead of Watching Television

My friend Pam (whose email signature is the title of this post) just sent me this article about a group called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) who has filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission against BabyFirstTV. Basically, BabyFirstTV markets their channel to parents as being educational to babies and children under 2, but the CCFC says there's no evidence that TV is beneficial for babies. This seems like a no-brainer to me. I don't care how "educational" a TV program claims to be; you can't convince me that plopping a baby in front of a television is going to teach him/her anything about
"creative thinking, math, sensory skills, language, creative play," (they actually claim this) and don't even get me started on the idea that a TV program can teach a kid "social skills."

Don't get me wrong. I liked shows like Square One and Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street (ahh PBS), but I wasn't watching them at the age of one or two, either. I might have been 4 or 5 and a little older when I watched those programs. My parents probably weren't under any illusions that those shows were teaching me things I wasn't already learning from them or in school. They also had a strict limit of an hour of television allowed per day for me and my brother, and some shows we weren't allowed to watch at all. I remember trying to make a case for watching "Thundercats" when I was about 7 (I'm not proud of that), but that was a no go (it was deemed too violent).

The first few weeks of Daniel's life, he nursed constantly; during that time I watched TV occasionally, just so I wouldn't go loony with boredom. I rented the first season of "Desperate Housewives" and it was perfect for those long winter days when it felt like all I was doing was nursing and rocking, nursing and rocking. (As far as I'm concerned, anything goes in the first six weeks!) But since Daniel's been more alert and able to see farther, we have the TV off, only turning it on after he's in bed to watch DVDs of "Futurama" or reruns of "The Office."

I'm not saying television will be completely verboten in our house. Seeing as Stuart and I watch TV from time to time, that would be a tad hypocritical, no? But there will certainly be limits.
1) We'll never get cable. As far as I'm concerned it's a waste of money and time, though I wouldn't get cable even if it were free, just on principle. (I didn't have cable growing up, either. When I was in eighth grade, the kids in my class made fun of me because I didn't watch MTV. I got over it.)
2) There will be no TV in anyone's bedroom. Do I even need to explain why?
3) There will be a time limit on how much television is allowed to be watched, maybe a half hour, maybe an hour. I'll know when the time comes to set those limits.
4) There will be some restrictions on what programs are watched. Will I let my 5-year-old watch a show like CSI? Absolutely not. Saturday morning cartoons? Maybe. But not all of Saturday morning.

Now, I realize I'm being all naive and idealistic, but my hope is to raise children who are creative in entertaining themselves, who are interactive in their play, and who are aware of, but not steeped in, the consumer culture of America. Now, to practice what I preach, I should get away from this computer screen and go play with my baby!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

First foods

The doctor recommended that we start giving Daniel rice cereal, now that he's four months old. So we tried it. And he ate it! Well, most of it. Maybe half of it. Anyway, some of that rice cereal dribbled down his chin, but some of it made it in his belly.

(Silly Stuart. Daniel's too young for beer!)

Ah, here we go.


Singers are not normal people. When I worked with Opera For the Young, I got to know some strange folks. There was a tenor who talked non-stop and had grown up without ever seeing a dentist as a kid, not even once; he had so much pain in his teeth he would chew on a big wad of chewing tobacco at night to numb his jaw. There was a soprano who made a habit of ordering expensive steaks, polishing them off, then complaining loudly about them when the waiter was around so that the restaurant would comp her meal.
There was a baritone who scared the kids (we performed in elementary schools) because he wore sunglasses indoors, unzipped his boots so they flopped around his ankles, and tried to explain "method acting" to third-graders. There was another soprano who would get into imaginary arguments with her mother in the van as we travelled between schools. Once when we were touring Green Bay, I went out with the baritone and the soprano, and she got tipsy off of a single shot of Bailey's and then kicked a** playing the ancient PacMan arcade game in the bar.

That said, some of my dearest friends are singers (not the ones mentioned above, believe it or not). There's something special about them. Maybe it's that when your instrument is your own voice, you're making yourself totally vulnerable to your audience in a way that no one with an external instrument has to. (I've had to sing solos in public a few times and it is terrifying.) Singers are the only musicians who can't see their instruments. A singer must produce sound using only his/her body. They have amazing lung capacity, incredible diaphragm strength, beautiful resonance. Singers are so sensitive to weather, allergies, caffeine, milk, fizzy drinks, sleep-deprivation; the most minor of colds can put a singer out of commission for days. No wonder so many singers are neurotic divas. With the possible exception of professional yoga teachers, singers are more in tune with their bodies (even if they don't all take care of themselves very well: Pavarotti, for example) than anyone else.

But singers are my favorite musicians to work with (a few of you read this blog!) Only vocal music has text, and text gives you an explicit connection to the music that you can't get with any other instrument. In some cases, like in the songs of Franz Schubert, Hugo Wolf and Claude Debussy, text and music are so intertwined they don't exist well as separate entities. The successful performance of an art song, even if it lasts only a minute, is exquisite, and if you're performing with someone you have a strong connection with, then you can experience fulfillment as a performer. I've played with some kick-ass violinists, cellists, tubists, you name it, but there's nothing, NOTHING like a good song recital.

So I'll live with, if not in, the world of singing. I'll travel the backroads of Wisconsin with talkative tenors and snooty sopranos. I'll put up with audience members gushing "Gosh, those singers are so good and so talented, aren't they?" without acknowleding my role in the performance. I'll play "Juliet's Waltz" and "Quando men vo" for the thousandth time. I'll do all that because amidst all that I can reap great rewards playing great music with people whom I consider great musicians. I think it's worth it.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sun kissed

Yesterday while we were painting, Daniel was not too content to sit in his car seat and watch us. That meant that Stuart did about 70% of the painting while I entertained the baby (I'm not sure which was more work, honestly). It was an unusually cool but nice day outside, so I brought him outside, where he seemed content to watch me garden. This morning I noticed the end of his nose and the round parts of his cheeks are a little red. Not very red, but there's a definite blush there. Did my baby get a bit of a sunburn? He's too young for sunscreen, so I took as many precautions as I could! I set him in the shade, I put a blanket over him, I pulled up the canopy on the car seat, and it appears that the sun still kissed the roundest, most delicate parts of his face. I feel so terrible, so responsible, so guilty. (I've also been going on about it non-stop all day and it's driving Stuart crazy.) What's the doctor going to say tomorrow when I take him in for his shots? How long will it take for this (the sunburn and the guilt, both) to go away?

Saturday, June 10, 2006


We're done! I think. Today we painted our living room/hallway. Not a small task, as there was a whole lot of stuff to get out of the way. I think there are maybe two places to sit down in the house, and I'm occupying one of them. The rest are covered with drop cloths and miscellaneous crap that had to come off the bookshelves.

Because we had to move so much stuff, we ended up going through and deciding to get rid of some of it (mostly books.) There's something satisfying about that, getting rid of things that you really don't need. We live in a very small house, so it's necessary to do that on a fairly regular basis, especially since accumulating so many more things for the baby (most of which are needed items, but still.) Sometimes I wish we lived in a bigger house, but then we'd just find more crap to fill it with, and I have a hard enough time keeping our 900 square feet clean as it is.

Oh, and our living room isn't a nasty orange color after all. I found a lovely color with a dippy name - "Only Yesterday," it's called - that I would describe as either a creamy yellow or a yellowy cream. Joe, I know we could have gotten away with something more fun and daring, but I just couldn't decide. Next time we paint (a loooong time from now), you can help me choose!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

There needs to be a "Choosing Paint Colors for Dummies" book

After painting the boy's room last weekend with much success (it turned out really beautiful), we want to attack the living room next. This will be a much bigger task, as there is much more furniture to move, more detail work with a small brush, more doors to put tape around, etc.

But the hardest part has been choosing a color. I'm not ballsy enough to pick something fun and wild, so I'm trying to go with a fairly neutral (re: safe) color. But I even suck at that. Today I went to Ace Hardware and picked up some sample-size bottles of paint. I painted little patches of two of the colors: "Summer Wheat" and "Dried Hydrangea." I was going for something along the lines of "warm beige" but they both look more like "pukey, fleshy orange." Oh dear. I'm afraid to even open the other two samples; in fact, I think I'll return them to the hardware store and look for a different line of color all together.

Someday, when we live in a house we won't be trying to resell any time soon, I'll muster up the courage to paint myself a bright orange kitchen, a stunning periwinkle bedroom, or a a cozy robin's egg blue breakfast room (right, like I would ever live in a house with a whole room just to eat breakfast in). For now, though, I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that whatever we pick out doesn't end up looking like we went temporarily insane in the paint aisle.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Life's Work

The last time I was in my favorite yarn store, as I handed over my credit card to make my purchase, I mentioned that I probably had no business buying more yarn, as I had a few (actually, many) projects that needed finishing first. The lady looked at me kindly and said "I have to show you something." She went in the back room and pulled out a bag containing pieces of an enormous bedspread. "I show this to everyone who says they have too many unfinished projects," she told me. The bedspread was begun in the 1950s by a woman who is now in her 90s and unable to complete it. This was the most incredible work of knitting I have ever seen. (I really wish that I'd had my camera with me, but regrettably, I have no pictures to share.) There were wedges with a leaf design on the edge; six wedges were sewn together to form a hexagon, and the hexagons were put together like a honeycomb for the bedspread. There were hundreds of these wedges, done in an impossibly fine white cotton on size 1 needles (any of you readers out there who are knitters will understand the enormity of this task.) Thousands of hours had already gone into this bedspread. The yarn shop lady had agreed to finish the project, which meant sewing together all those wedges and crocheting a lace border all the way around, no small feat in itself.

A knitting project fifty years in the making. Imagine it! The 90-year-old woman had been storing it in her attic. Her five children, evidently clueless, were planning to THROW IT AWAY. When I heard that, I caught my breath. How could ANYONE, even a person completely un-experienced in fiber arts of any kind, fail to recognize the magnitude and skill of this project? Thankfully, someone rescued it and brought it to the yarn shop on Mother's Day, where all the knitters in the shop made an appropriately huge fuss, and the 90-year-old lady felt like a rock star. As well she should have.

On my way home, I thought, what will be my life's work? I don't plan to start any knitting projects that will take me five decades to [not even] finish. I hope to churn out lots of sweaters for Daniel, at least until he refuses to wear them (I'm shooting for kindergarten, but even that may be optimistic). I have a lot of little goals, but nothing monumental. I am a musician, but I just want to teach and perform music that I love. I don't want to be famous. I have a lot of creativity to unleash, but it comes in little squirts, like these blog entries and tie-dyed onesies (by the way, thanks for the suggestions, all, and I've got a pile of library books to help me out, too) and knitted socks and a stenciled Dr. Nick jacket for my brother-in-law, not 72" bedpsreads on size 1 needles.

Monday, June 05, 2006

too cute not to share

Hey all, what do you think Daniel will say when I start showing nekked baby pictures to his first girlfriend? Eeeeeeeeeeexcellent.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Yard work

We've been working on some minor landscaping issues recently. A little while back I posted about our poison ivy infestation. Stu sprayed a few weeks ago, but alas, a whole bloody field of it has since emerged in front of the house, and some of what he already sprayed isn't looking dead enough for our taste, so he'll probably have another go next weekend.

This spring I dug up some annoying ornamental hostas that were trying to take over the world and replaced them with gooseberry bushes. I envision us serving fresh gooseberry pie to our friends and saying airily, "Oh yes, well, the berries are just growing in the front." We have to kill the poison ivy that is entangling the gooseberry bushes first, though. Damn poison ivy.

I've also planted a vegetable garden. Remember the evil bunnies? There's no way they're getting under, over or through the fence I put up to protect my lettuce, spinach, chard, beets and carrots in the back yard. In the front yard, I planted other veggies that bunnies won't eat, like tomatoes, peppers and garlic. (In Madison, it's not unheard of to grow vegetables in your front yard if that's the only place you get enough sun.) I've worked like a dog working the soil by hand (the garden spaces are too small for a rototiller). Stuart and Daniel like to lounge in the yard while I dig with gusto:

Ho hum, sorry about the rather blah post (cute picture, though, no?), but we also painted Daniel's room today and did a million other things so I'm beat.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Martha Stewart wannabe

Does anyone out there know how to do
a) tie-dye, or
b) batik?

My inner Martha Stewart is rarin' for a go at one of these crafts. I have some plain white onesies that are begging to be made more interesting. I'm sure I could find instructions on the web somewhere, but maybe some folks out there with experience in these things could enlighten me.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Can I just vent for a few minutes?

This whole gay marriage thing is so out of control in this country. That people want to deny gay couples the same legal benefits as straight married couples is infuriating enough. But even worse than that is the attitude that being gay makes you less of a person, undeserving of a healthy, committed relationship, unfit to raise children, emotionally not right, just a little dirtier than the rest of us. It makes me profoundly sad that so many people actually believe this. It makes me profoundly angry that the president wants to back a Constitutional amendment, for crying out loud, to make this kind of hateful bigotry public policy.

But just in case the ban doesn't make it into the U.S. Constitution, plenty of individual states are going ahead with gay marriage bans on their own. Wisconsin will have a gay marriage ban amendment on the ballot this November. This is not because we suddenly have a rash of gay couples trying to get married here or because Wisconsinites suddenly started thinking "Hey, I know gay couples can't get married here already, but gosh darn it, we need an amendment that outlaws civil unions, too!" It's largely because our democratic governor is up for re-election in the fall and the Other Party, which already controls both parts of the legislature, wants the gov's office, too, and this is how to get their constituents out to the polls. I think that's the same reason some politicians are pushing this so hard, not because they really care about the private lives and rights of gay people, but because they think it will get them votes. It's sickening that they are willing to do such a thing at the expense of so many people who are already on the margins of society in most places.

It's also upsetting that this issue is taking energy away from the things that public officials are supposed to be working on. Of course, I'll fight like hell to keep this amendment from passing, but I don't think gay marriage is, overall, as important or relevant to society as, for example, laws that allow companies to pollute the water we drink and the air we breathe. Or laws that keep the minimum wage so low no one could live on it even when they work 2 full-time jobs.

Harumph. At least Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling are going to jail.

OK, I'm done with my rant.


One of my students is a delightfully imaginative seven-year-old girl. She is not too consistent about practicing (it really depends on her mom being available to sit down and practice with her) and she has a tendency to lose her books, but she's so enthusiastic and so bright and has such a good sense of humor that I can deal with those other things.

Yesterday, as we began the lesson, she said "This is Squirmy's house," and gestured to a box sitting on the piano. Squirmy is a caterpillar she had found outside that morning. She made him a home out of a dominoes box with a little door cut out in front and airholes punched in the top. I peeked inside and saw a few wilted lettuce leaves for him to munch on.

About 5 minutes into the lesson, it was evident that she hadn't practiced at all. I forgave her for it because her mom's been out of town the entire week, so we turned our attention to Squirmy. Somehow, we got on the topic of bug reproduction. I said, "Did you know that caterpillars spin themselves into cocoons and then come out butterflies? And then the girl butterflies lay eggs and more little caterpillars hatch out of those?" Her face lighted up. "Maybe that will happen to Squirmy during the lesson!" I tried explaining that such processes usually take a little longer than thirty minutes (I skipped the whole bit about how you need a boy butterfly and a girl butterfly), but her enthusiasm remained undeterred. We turned back to the piano, fine-tuning such classics as "The Opposite Song" and "Rodeo," but she kept checking Squirmy's house to assess his progress.

At the end of the lesson, she took Squirmy out of the box. By now, I had some affection for him, too. After all, he WAS kinda cute: about an inch long, a lovely green color. "Hmm," she said, "he's not moving very much." Oh, no, I thought. Squirmy's gone and croaked during the lesson and I may very well have to deal with this child's first experience of the death of a pet and her mom is all the way in D.C. But Squirmy was still, well, squirming a little, so I hurriedly told her that caterpillars are usually happier in the sunlight, and suggested she take him outside to see if he improved.

I'm not sure how long Squirmy will last. I know that he (or she!) survived at least until I left because I heard my student say to her friend as I was leaving, "Have I introduced you to Squirmy yet?"