Wednesday, October 31, 2007

goodbye to October

Daniel is MUCH better today. Thanks to all of you who asked in comments or in emails. In fact, he was pretty well back to normal by last night, thankfully.

Is it really Halloween today? Somehow that didn't exactly register with me. I guess between a sick kid earlier this week, and all the school stuff having me preoccupied and the fact that Daniel isn't old enough to understand what a costume is, much less ask strangers for candy (let's put that off as long as we can, shall we?), it just wasn't on my radar. Well, anyway, happy Halloween, everyone!

November is going to be a crazy month for me. My dissertation defense is on the 12th, my exit recital is on the 18th, and my whole fambly is going to be here for Thanksgiving. These are all good things to look forward to, though stressful--except for the visiting family part. That'll just be fun.

So, yeah. This exit recital. It's going pretty well, considering. About 1/3 of the music I know already, but the other 2/3 of it I've given myself less than a month to put together; that includes a major (actually, it's in f minor, har har) Bach violin sonata with harpsichord and the Brahms Schumann variations, op. 23, not an insubstantial piece itself. I've had two rehearsals on each of these newer works, and I'll probably get two more. That's it. And you know what? I'm confident that everything will be just fine. This is partly just because it has to be just fine. There is no other option. I can not postpone this recital. I can not ask my fellow musicians to rehearse more than their busy schedules will allow. I can not conjure a babysitter out of thin air when none is available.

Mostly, I am confident because I realize just how far I've come as a musician in the last few years, particularly since studying Collaborative Piano exclusively. I can learn most music quickly (though obviously, some things take more time than others), I can rehearse efficiently, I know how to listen to myself as a pianist and as a collaborator, and most significantly, I don't need a lot of help to do any of these things. I feel more independent now than I ever have before. True, it took a bunch of years in grad school and 3 post-college degrees to get me here, so if you call me a "late bloomer" or a "slow learner," I'm not going to argue with you. The important thing is, this is where I am now and I feel good about it.

Of course, all this is coming together for me just in time to have another baby, so who knows if I'll ever get a real job that pays me to do what I'm good at...but that's a topic for another day.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I don't have much fortitude when it comes to illness in my little family. Whenever I get sick, I can deal with it fine, but there's something about seeing someone else suffer that is just heartbreaking to me. Obviously, none of us likes it when someone we love gets sick, but this particular source of anxiety for me goes beyond what is reasonable. I think it's gotten worse since becoming a mother; maybe it's all those nurturing instincts going into overdrive? I'm not really sure.

Today, Daniel woke up sick with some kind of stomach virus. I didn't entirely freak out, but I knew I would go completely batty if I was stuck inside the house alone, all day long with a pukey kid, so I asked Stuart to stay home with me to help take care of him. I feel really bad about asking him to take a sick day when I'm the one who is supposed to take care of these things. We're going to need all the sick leave he can get in a couple months when this next baby is born, so that was an extra source of guilt for me. I'm glad he was here for the morning, though, because Daniel was miserable, and I needed the support.

See, when one of my dear ones is ill, even with a minor bug like this, I get a little neurotic. I hover. I worry. I can't eat or drink. I'm anxious. I don't know what to do except pray quietly that it will all pass in a short time. And being alone makes it about ten times worse.

I really need to learn how to deal with these things better. I think I have a lot of fortitude in most other areas of my life. I'm a pretty together person, in charge of my life, capable of handling all kinds of situations with a level head, and all that. And we're all a healthy bunch, generally speaking, so this type of thing doesn't happen often (good thing, or I'm sure I'd be in therapy for it by now).

As it was, Daniel spent the better part of the morning sleeping on my lap while we sat on the couch. We turned on PBS to entertain him, and I endured the Teletubbies show, even though it TOTALLY creeps me out--I'm not sure which is worse: the smiling baby face in the sun or the disembodied, amplified music coming from a speaker in the middle of a meadow. By noon, he was asking for water and crackers (which we gave him, cautiously), and by 1:00 or so, he was pushing toy trucks around with all the appropriate sound effects and building block towers, so the worst seems to be over. (I say this with caution.)

I can't run away from this. I'm a mom. Viruses come and go, and the healthiest of us get sick sometimes. Sick kids are a normal part of life. I know all this, but when it comes to actual situations, like today, it's hard for me to be reasonable. So here's my question for y'all: how do you deal with things that give you more anxiety than is rational or justified?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

naptime guilt

Now that my dissertation is done, or at least turned in to my committee (they may yet suggest revisions, but I doubt any of them have read it yet), Daniel's naptime is now my free time again. True, I have a big recital in just over three weeks, but I don't risk practicing while he's sleeping any more. (Usually I get most practicing done on the weekend and in the early evening when Stuart's home from work, and if I need extra time, I have the sitter come over.)

This feels weird, this hour or so in the middle of the day when I can do what I want. Daniel was a terrible napper until early this summer. At that time, first-trimester fatigue had me so wiped out I would either sit on the couch staring into space or nod off while he slept. By the time he started sleeping more than 30 minutes in a stretch (though still at completely unpredictable times), I was frantically writing every chance I got, so his naptime wasn't a "break" so much as a free hour to work on my paper (by "free," I mean I wasn't paying a sitter--it really adds up, you know). And now, I'm not sure what to do with myself. I usually get some cleaning done, and take care of laundry or diaper-washing, and if I'm feeling particularly motivated and housewifely, I might even get dinner started. Sometimes there is important school-related emailing to do as well.

But if I let myself read a book or knit or putter around online for more than five or ten minutes at a time instead of doing those eye-crossingly boring yet essential tasks, I feel a sense of something not right. I guess it's guilt, that feeling of spending my time relaxing in the middle of a perfectly good workday, knowing I could get other things accomplished. I even feel a little guilty about blogging right now, even though I got a solid practice session in this morning and the dishes are clean...but the diapers in the washing machine need another cycle and there is a mess on the computer desk that is mostly mine, and we need another batch of bread and there are probably 100 other mundane things I could think of to do that would make me feel like I'm not lazy if I actually do them.

I'm not looking for re-assurance here. Everyone who reads this could say "Susan, you deserve that break! You need it! Just relax!"; heaven knows enough people have told me that already--my mom, my husband, my friends who also have kids. It won't change anything, though. I will still feel like I'm being unproductive and that it's somehow wrong.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Industrial chemicals in kids' blood

I just read this and it scares the crap out of me.

Friday, October 19, 2007

we both like soup

(Anyone catch that obscure movie reference? I'll give you a hint: the genre is mockumentary.)

I was perhaps a teeny bit misleading when I titled that last post "the finish line." Yes, my dissertation is done, but you can't call me "Doctor," not just yet. I have a big recital in a month, the defense, and some annoying, mindless paperwork to turn in to the graduate school before it's all official. Still, I can breathe a little easier now, and not feel guilty when I spend Daniel's naptime reading for pleasure instead of writing. (By the way, Katie asked in the comments what the title of my dissertation is; for some reason I don't feel comfortable posting the exact title, but the gist of it is "Contemporary Settings of Cummings' Poetry.")

Non-sequitor #1: look who inherited my sweet tooth.

Yup, that's chocolate cake. What's worse, I let him eat it right before dinner on Tuesday. A better mother than I wouldn't have let him, but it was just one of those times when it was worth getting the 20 minutes he was occupied scraping crumbs out with a little fork so I could fix dinner in peace.

Non-sequitor #2: wanna know what we had for dinner last night? It was good, and even Daniel ate some (big accomplishment for a kid whose diet normally consists of bread and bread-like foods).

Curried squash soup

1. Sauté 1 chopped onion in 3 T. vegetable oil for 5-10 minutes.

2. Add and sauté for 30 seconds or so:
1 T. chopped garlic
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. turmeric
2 tsp. cayenne (for Daniel's sake, I actually didn't add this while it was cooking, but waited until the soup was served and sprinkled it on top)

3. Add:
1 lb. chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
4 cups butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 cup red lentils
2 tsp. vegetable broth paste or a couple of bullion cubes
enough water to cover everything
salt to taste
(Potatoes would be good, too, but we didn't have any...)

4. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let everything simmer 20-30 minutes, or until the squash is soft and the lentils are done cooking.

5. Purrée in a blender and serve with chopped peanuts and plain yogurt.

It occurs to me that this is a vegan recipe (if you don't top it with yogurt), in case anyone's inclined that way.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

the finish line

The paper is done. It is 75 pages long, contains over 70 footnotes and more than three dozen musical examples (which took approximately 57,493 hours to scan, crop and convert to PNG files). I've read through it as many times as I could stand. I've cozied up with my copy of Turabian and checked the placement of every comma, semicolon and set of parentheses about a hundred times. I have been to Kinkos; in fact, the file was so big I couldn't order printing online, so I had to bring it in on a USB drive (good thing I brought some knitting along). I have nifty little flexible black binders to give to all the members of my committee. I have sweated, agonized, cursed, panicked, nearly cried over this paper.

And would you believe it--my mom just found a typo on the title page. Not just any typo, understand, but a misspelling of the word "collaborative." My supposed area of expertise, the degree I've worked so hard to earn for so long. I left out the damn "v."


Friday, October 12, 2007

home stretch

I'm on the home stretch of this dissertation thing. I'm re-writing and revising like mad, obsessing over every sentence, wondering when my vocabulary shrank to that of a high school dropout, and fretting over stupid things like whether I should use bold, italics or underline to highlight the title of every section. I'm also developing a slight case of the crazies, which means I am constantly wired. I can't sleep more than 3-4 hours most nights, which is probably pregnancy hormones piled on top of the other stress. When I'm sitting at the computer, I start to hate everything I've written and I get twitchy, running my fingers through my hair, scratching every little itch, staring at my nails, straightening the pile of papers and music scores on the desk, getting up to pee every five seconds, and heading to the kitchen every five minutes for water or a snack. This puppy is due on Monday. In four days I will turn it in. In four days I can get a haircut. In four days I can dump a stack of books and scores two feet thick in the "return" slot of the UW library--that's always a satisfactory feeling. In four days I can have a conversation with Stuart that starts with something other than "THIS PAPER IS SUCKING THE LIFE OUT OF ME!!"

But no matter. I think this sort of thing happens to everyone right before a big deadline. I'll get through it, and it will be fine. Even good. Probably not stellar. Hopefully with properly formatted footnotes and without too many typos.

Meanwhile, some other good things are happening around here:

1. My mom is here for a WHOLE WEEK to help out with Daniel, and that's always a good thing. He's doing all kinds of stuff for her that he won't do for me! Like saying new words and playing nicely for long periods of time in the living room because it's too chilly to go to the park.

2. I had a routine doctor appointment this week. I've gained less than 30 pounds so far (though I'm not far from that mark!), the baby's growth is measuring slightly ahead of my week of gestation (which just means it's probably a big baby, but Daniel was 9 lbs, so that's no surprise), and all in all, everything is looking good. I scheduled my next five appointments; after next month's visit, I have to go every two weeks, then every week until after the baby's born. Cripes! Am I that close already? Just over two months out from the due date? When did that happen?

3. Have I mentioned how much I loooooooove the swimming? Actually, I haven't gone since Saturday because I'm getting over a cold; fortunately, it's not a bad one, but you're not supposed to go to the pool if you have something contagious. Anyway, after just two weeks of swimming 2-3 times per week, I've hit a stride where I do laps for a solid half hour. It feels great.

4. Daniel has a couple of molars now. Yesterday when he had his mouth wide open for some reason (either laughing or babbling or playing some silly game, who knows, really), I noticed them poking through on each side of the bottom of his mouth. I'm not sure when they came in, but it probably explains why his appetite has been rather unpredictable the last couple weeks, and why he's been chewing on his fingers. And yes, I consider us VERY LUCKY that so far he hasn't woken up screaming in the middle of the night in teething pain.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

apple crisp

Just like that, it really feels like autumn here. No more sandals or going outside without wearing a jacket (unless you have to prove your machismo.) Suddenly, leaves are falling (dumping, really) onto the ground and Halloween decorations are showing up in people's yards. (A particularly tasteful neighbor of ours has a plastic inflatable pumpkin at least 4 feet in diameter sitting in the front lawn.) And then, of course, there's all the yummy fall produce to buy at the farmers' market: new spinach, squash, a wide selection of root vegetables, and of course, APPLES!

Last night, at the last minute, I decided to make dessert. I had some tart apples that needed to be used up, and I didn't want to spend time looking up a recipe, so I just decided to wing it and threw something together. This does not always work out well, mind you, but this time, the result was delicious.

Madtown Mama's Impulse Apple Crisp

1. Peel and slice several tart apples, about 4-6 cups, and place in the bottom of a greased 2-qt baking dish.

2. Sprinkle 1/2 c. of sugar over the apples (less if they're a sweet variety).

3. In another bowl, cut 4 T. unsalted butter (that's a half stick) into 1/2 cup flour until the consistency is mealy. Mix in about 3 T. brown sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon.

4. Spread the flour mixture over top of the apples and bake 30 minutes in a 375-degree oven.

Eat warm with milk or cream or whipped cream or ice cream or just plain. You've got options.

Seriously, that's it. And like most of the food I write about on this blog, we ate it right up before I could take any pictures.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

climbing out of a black hole, or "why i don't have anything better to do at 11:00 on a Saturday night"

(Longest blogpost title EVER.)

I told myself I would hibernate in the office the whole weekend to try and get lots of writing done, seeing as this paper needs to be finished in less than ten days. So far that plan hasn't worked so well, for the following reasons.

1. It was almost ninety degrees here today and the office is stifling. This makes working on my paper even less appealing than usual.

2. I seem to be totally unable to break my regular Saturday routine for anything. Between our weekly outing for breakfast at Lazy Jane's (yes, this is totally necessary - if you tried their scones, you'd understand), grocery shopping at the co-op, buying as much fresh produce as I can carry at the farmers' market, going swimming, and oh yeah eating meals, there just wasn't any time left to sit down and write until after Daniel was in bed. I probably should have skipped all that other stuff, but somehow I just can't.

3. I have one more recording session tomorrow night (it's part of the dissertation, actually), which means I've been putting in a lot of time with the singer, including a one-hour rehearsal this afternoon, and of course I was practicing madly for an hour before she came over because I never feel like I know the music quite as well as I should.

4. I have to pee every 10 minutes. That's just what happens when you crave ice chips all day long and your unborn child insists on kicking you in the bladder every time you sit down. (This is especially inconvenient at night.) Hence, sitting still and concentrating for long periods of time is nearly impossible.

Despite all these distractions, I managed to write a few more pages tonight. The pressure of a deadline will do that.

What has helped me the most, though, is re-reading the chapter entitled "shitty first drafts" in Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird. It's amazingly liberating. The idea is this: for that first draft, just write. Sometimes that means you're basically typing nonsense. Don't worry about how bad it is. In fact, it WILL be bad. It will probably be awful (hence the appropriately vulgar descriptor). But it doesn't matter how shitty that first draft is, because no one else will read it. The point is to get your ideas out of your head and onto paper. Brilliant sentence structure, meticulous organization, and a stunning vocabulary can all come later.

This idea is working for me. The first 15 pages of my draft I re-worked and revised and already sent to a few people on my committee for feedback. They are probably not going to give me any feedback because they are so busy, but I also sent that first chunk to Steph, who will give me feedback because she knows I need it. The next 25 pages, or whatever I've got by now, is an unholy mess. It's an unorganized mish-mash of really terrible sentences, partial paragraphs, ideas in bold font that aren't even full sentences, and random quotes from various sources. But hidden in that glob of prose and fragments that I dumped out of my head and into a Word file are some good ideas and maybe even a few salvageable phrases or even paragraphs, and it's much easier to work with that than with nothing.

And that's how I'm climbing out of the black hole. I set a goal every day: tonight I'm just going to write about XYZ and not think about the rest. I'm getting thoughts and ideas onto (virtual) paper, and I'm not worrying about how bad it looks now because I know I can come back and fix it up, culling the bad parts, re-writing the good parts, and making sure everything in between makes sense. It's all much less overwhelming that way.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

chocolate therapy

I'm not ordinarily one of those people who uses chocolate as a substitute for therapy. But I have a sweet tooth, I've got a hard few weeks ahead of me school-wise, and by golly, there are just times when a batch of good cookies hits the spot. I made these the other night and they are delicious, and I sort of made up the recipe, so I'm posting it instead of trying to slam out a couple more shitty paragraphs during Daniel's (too-short) naptime. I say I "sort of" made up the recipe because it's really just my own adaptation of Mark Bittman's basic butter cookie.


Beat until fluffy:
1 stick (8T.) butter
1 cup sugar

Add and beat some more:
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix dry ingredients:
2 cups flour
6 T. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt

Add dry ingredients alternately with 1/3 cup milk, mixing only as much as you need to get the dough. It will be fairly stiff.

Stir in:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup chopped walnuts

*ETA: I didn't write this because I thought it seemed obvious, but just in case there are novice cookie-bakers out don't just stick the bowl of cookie dough in the oven. Not unless you're asking for a disaster, anyway. Put spoonfuls of dough evenly spaced (2" or so) on a cookie sheet and THEN bake.
Bake at 375 for 9-11 minutes, but not too long or the cookies will be dry.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

dissertation black hole

You know what a black hole is, of course. An area so dense with gravity that even light can not escape, or something to that effect. I think we have quasi-black holes in our lives, like the one in the dryer that eats one sock from every pair, and the one that eats my keys every time I'm running late for something. (That particular one never stays in one place, somehow.) These days I'm experiencing the dissertation black hole, where no matter how much time I spend working on this paper, it doesn't get much better. Sure, it's getting longer, but there's hardly anything in there I would consider worthy of someone else reading, let alone a doctoral committee. The dissertation black hole is sucking up my time and energy and effort without offering anything in return (like quality academic writing), and with no regard for my imminent deadline.

Ah, well. Is there anyone out there who enjoys writing their dissertation? If so, I haven't met you yet. And by the way, if your dissertation was so much fun the proverbial barrel of monkeys pales in comparison, you might not want to tell me about it just now because I'm just not in the mood.

At least being pregnant is preventing me from drinking bucketloads of coffee every night to work on it.