Wednesday, December 31, 2008

good-bye, 2008, hello 2009

Is 2008 really over? It was such a big year in terms of world events - Obama's election, the fall of Wall Street, the demise of American auto makers, the housing crisis. But for me and my little life, 2008 was basically a year of getting through a relatively challenging year of parenting and not much else. Not that parenting itself isn't eventful and interesting already...but it's not like 2007 when I did a bunch of semi-professional music stuff AND finished my degree AND had a baby. All I can say about this year is that I didn't succeed in getting Daniel potty-trained; neither have I succeeded in convincing Anya that eating something besides breast milk is a good idea. Oh, she nibbles on the occasional Cheerio, but that's about it.

So instead, let's look ahead to 2009. I have always known that life as a professional musician is neither easy nor lucrative. I am starting to realize, however, that my so-called career choice is not only impractical, but may be reaching a dead-end. I am not on the job market, I am not networking with other musicians, I'm hardly playing any gigs. I am spending all of my time at home raising the kids, cooking the meals, and not doing a very good job keeping the house clean. At first, I thought this was a temporary arrangement, but the longer I am out of the loop, the harder it will be to get back in, and let's face it: as much as I would like (love, dream of having) an academic position someday, faculty jobs are nearly impossible to get, and I am not willing to move to just anywhere for one. So that leaves me with the possibility of giving this up completely, or limping along on freelance accompanying work (i.e. hiring myself out for high school concerto competitions) and private lessons that barely cover what it costs to hire a sitter.

Here's the thing. I'm tired of feeling so unprofessional. I'm tired of assuming that my career must be in a field in which I am so emotionally invested. I'm tired of feeling useless for anything but changing diapers and baking bread (though I do make good bread, if I do say so). I'm tired of people patronizing me and telling me how lucky I am to stay home and that I can always make a living out of teaching piano lessons from home. (I did not get a DMA in collaborative piano so I could teach piano lessons out of my living room; it's a fine and noble thing for many people, but it is not my bag.)

So I'm thinking I should do something entirely different, and I bet you'll be surprised at what I've come up with: accounting. Seriously, people. I'm really and truly considering it. I've always been good at math (though it's been a long while since I had a math class), I like numbers, I could probably do it part-time, and best of all, it's not one of those things about which people blithely say "Oh, it's SO great you can do your HOBBY for your JOB!" Now, I just have to figure out if this is something I can do without going back to school for another 5 years, because I'm not sure I could handle that.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

greetings from the best western in cedar rapids

After postponing our trip home by a day to avoid bad weather in Iowa, we thought we could make it all the way back to Wisconsin in one shot. The Fates heard of our plans and laughed heartily and then They thought they'd play a nice little joke on us. About 30 miles south of Cedar Rapids we suddenly heard a loud rumbling, purring noise outside the car. "Stupid trucks," said Stuart. But there were no trucks near us. No, in fact, it was OUR CAR making the terrible, vibrating noise.

You know, usually when your muffler's about to go, you get a little warning. Your car gradually gets louder and when it's convenient, you take it in someplace and dump a bunch of money to get a couple pipes replaced. The time it happened to us all of a sudden of course had to be when we were on the road several hours away from home. We thought we could endure the noise of the engine for the rest of the trip, and we even thought we could endure the extra noise and cold of having the windows partway open (to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, dontcha know!), but when we stopped for dinner, Stu and I took a look under the car and saw that, lo, the entire exhaust system is hanging by the proverbial thread. We solicited advice. My parents' cell phone is off (they're at a family reunion); my brother recommended that we keep going but buy some wire at a gas station in case we have to re-attach the muffler (in a cozy bed of slush in the pitch-dark with two fussy kids in the back seat - no thanks!); Stu's dad thought we should sit tight until the thing is fixed. We're going with the last option. It seems the safest.

So here we are at the Best Western in Cedar Rapids, wishing we'd brought stuff for swimming (they have a pool), watching The Sound of Music on TV, and drinking leftover boxed wine from my birthday party. It could be worse, I suppose! But you know what? Tomorrow's my birthday, and I'd rather not spend it in the Midas Muffler waiting room! (I think we'll at least get take-out tomorrow night for dinner.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

post-holiday sugar coma

It's been a whirlwind of a week here in Kansas. There's been a parade of family gatherings big and small, a private concert*, and I even had a birthday party yesterday. We meant to leave today to go back to Wisconsin but alas, the weather in Iowa looked dicey (ice storms, sleet), so we're waiting a day and hoping the roads are all cleaned up by tomorrow afternoon.

Like many people, I find the week of Christmas to be both exciting and exhausting. I was very, very happy to spend lots of time with my extended family this year, especially since my parents and brother came to Kansas, too. The lot of us don't get together very often since the "kids" (my generation - we're all adults, but we're still the kids, if you know what I mean, even though some of us have kids of our own) are scattered about the country and it's rare that we're all in the same place at one time. Stuart's parents live here, too, so we've been spending good quality time with them. Especially Daniel, who has become quite attached to his Grandma and follows her everywhere. She's got way more patience for cutting yarn and rolling balls out of play dough than anyone, I think.

This has been a week of too much and too little: lots of social time with family, but seemingly not enough time with anyone, too much sugar, not enough sleep. I guess I'll be ready to go back to Madison and enjoy the peace and quiet and sleep in my own bed, but the thought of the long winter ahead makes me feel lonely and sad. I shouldn't think about that and just enjoy this extra day here with family; maybe I just need to eat another cookie and have another glass of boxed wine (it ain't bad, really) and put off the negative thinking until later.

We listened to Prairie Home Companion this evening. It's the kind of show you'd think somebody like me would like, but I don't usually listen to it. I find it hard to pay attention to Guy Noir and the featured musical guests often play/sing depressing folk music. But this week we were in luck. There was a big band, some wonderful blues singers, and the best part (for me) was that Ricky Ian Gordon was a guest on the show. He's a composer and song writer, a New Yorker through and through. I worked with him at Songfest in 2007. That seems so long ago, doesn't it? I was just beginning my dissertation project, newly pregnant with Anya, and parenting an increasingly curious and acrobatic toddler. I'm still not sure how I managed to pull together a trip to California with other musicians and not make a total fool of myself, but Ricky (we all called him "Ricky") was one of the things that made Songfest so much fun. He's every bit as gregarious and interesting and kind as he sounded on PHC, and I learned a lot from him.

On Monday I turn 30. It shouldn't really be a big deal, but it feels like a new chapter in my life is just beginning. I can't really explain it, but I've got a feeling there is change ahead. Maybe it's the thought of a new president coming into office soon (not soon enough, if you ask me), or maybe it's something else, something more personal. The last year has been a little tough on me. I feel imbalanced and stuck, and I need to take the reigns and do something about it instead of complaining all the time. I hope I'm ready for it.

*Karen and I re-did our 4-hand concert at her house on Tuesday for the benefit of my mom, my brother and Stuart, who couldn't attend the original performance in November. It was great fun.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

cold

Stu and the kids and I are on the road, traveling to Kansas for the week of Christmas where we'll spend a whirlwind week visiting his parents, my parents and brother (who don't live in Kansas but are traveling there for the holiday), my mom's siblings and other various family members, plus some friends in the area. It's 700 miles from Madison to Newton, too far to go in one day with small children, so we're spending the night outside of Kansas City and finishing the trip tomorrow. Going through Iowa wasn't much fun; they just had a nasty ice storm a couple days ago, and we saw at least a dozen cars that had not yet been pulled out of the ditch. Once we got past Des Moines the roads were okay, but dude it is COLD outside. I'm not usually the type to go on and on about weather, but these days, the weather is dominating our lives. Wisconsin has already had more than 30" of snow this year - about three times the normal - but the misery of snow is nothing compared to the brutal breathtaking cold temperatures in Liberty, Missouri tonight. It's somewhere close to zero and the wind is ferocious. I'm glad we have a nice warm place to sleep.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Happy Birthday, big girl!



Anya is one year old today. Holy cow!

Here are some things you might like to know about Anya:

1. She is nowhere close to sleeping through the night.
2. She is not eating much solid food, just a few scraps of crackers when she's in the mood.
3. She hates having a spoon put in or near her mouth.
4. She hasn't accepted a bottle in many, many months.
5. Ergo, she nurses all day and night, and I am constantly hungry and exhausted. But that's okay, because she also...
6. ...has the sweetest smile a baby could have.
7. As of today, she can climb all the basement steps.
8. She's not walking yet, though.
9. She adores her big brother, even when he's not very nice to her.
10. Sometimes he is nice to her, though, and they play peek-a-boo, or chase-the-string, or stack-the-blocks.
11. She is undeniably a redhead.
12. She loves to explore the kitchen cupboards (I've had to do some re-arranging).
13. Despite her non-interest in food, she's growing like a weed and wears size 24mo clothing. In fact, she not only wears it, she fills it up.
14. She loooooooves her mama, likes her Daddy, tolerates her grandparents, and makes sure any sitter who comes over knows that she is boss.

I don't know what I would do without her.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

saturday nights

It's Saturday night. The house is a mess. We've been running around all day. We haven't had supper, but then, we've been to two different social events that involved lots of cookies and mulled cider so nobody's hungry anyway. I'm drinking a beer, waiting for the kids to get tired enough to go to bed, and wishing I could just curl up under a blanket and watch a movie with Stuart while we gorge on stove-top popcorn. Alas, it is not to be, at least not tonight.

One of my warmest, fuzziest memories from childhood is that of Saturday nights during the public television pledge drive. When I was a kid, Saturday was cleaning day. My brother and I had to clean our rooms before we were allowed to watch TV or play with friends. There were other chores as well; we could choose between scrubbing the bathroom sink, dusting the living room, vacuuming the carpet, or cleaning the kitchen floor. We often spent more time trying to argue ourselves out of these chores than it would have taken to perform these tasks, but that's just part of being a kid. (As a parent of a nearly 3yo, I'm discovering this on new levels e.v.e.r.y. d.a.y.)

In any case, the chores got done and by the end of the day, the house was more or less clean. We often had pizza for dinner with RC cola - the one night a week we drank soda - and then afterwards we'd all sit down to watch PBS. Wholesome, yes? The best programming was always on during the pledge drive. We'd laugh until our bellies hurt watching Victor Borge's antics, and my mom and I especially liked the Anne of Green Gables series (even though my mom always thought the actress's nose wasn't quite pretty enough to be Anne Shirley's nose...but I digress.)

Shortly before Anya was born, when I was too twitchy and sleep-deprived to concentrate on much of anything, I re-read the first couple books from the Anne of Green Gables series. In case you're not familiar with the story, here's a very brief synopsis: Anne Shirley is an orphan girl, adopted at the age of 11 by a brother and sister on Prince Edward Island, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. They wanted a boy to help on the farm, but spirited little Anne so charms Matthew that they keep her. Everyone in the community is suspicious of adoptees but Anne proves herself and makes Green Gables her home. She rivals a boy named Gilbert to be at the top of the class, and of course they start out being worst enemies, then best friends, then getting married after Anne goes off to college to be a teacher. It's kind of interesting to re-read a childhood favorite with a more mature, adult perspective. I was uncomfortable with some of the turn-of-the-century assumptions about adoption and foreigners (Marillla would never consider one of those Italian boys, not to be trusted!). And then there's the whole thing about red-heads. Anne is red-headed and thus is a daredevil and has a bad temper; common misconception, that. (Stuart and Anya are both undeniable red-heads and they're pretty easy-going.) Anne is considered a trouble-maker because she talks too much and sometimes forgets to say her prayers at bedtimes. But times have changed, of course, and one must take these books as they are. Anne of Green Gables is a charming story with charming characters, and there are some good lessons learned. Anne is respected in school for being smart and independent. She is an outsider who becomes an essential part of the community, accepted and loved by nearly everyone.

I don't think they show Anne of Green Gables on PBS anymore. I'm sure I could find it at the library or in Netflix if I wanted to watch it for nostalgia's sake. Or maybe we'll find our own Saturday night tradition - once the kids are old enough to clean their own rooms, that is!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

let it snow, let it snow, let it freaking snow

I gotta tell you, I'm getting really tired of these Wisconsin winters. Last winter we had over 100" of snow (beat the existing record by more than 30") and it was truly cold (tempos hovering around zero) a lot of the time. Summer was lovely and much, much too short. Fall was nice, and even shorter. Now we seem to have jumped straight into winter with very little warning. It was below zero when we got up this morning. It snowed last week, it snowed yesterday, it's snowing again today, and we might get another 12" by the middle of the week. Statistically, it's very improbable that we'll get another winter as cold and long and snowy as the last, but with global climate change screwing around with extreme weather all over the globe, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I should also improve my attitude. I should enjoy the beauty of everything covered in a thick white blanket and stop griping about the insane amount of money we spend every year on coats and boots and snowpants and snow shovels (we have at least 4 now). But right now, I'm afraid my attitude is not good. I can't take the kids out to play when it's this cold, no matter how many layers of wool they're wearing, it's a huge pain to go anywhere, and worst of all, I'm filled with dread anticipating the next three or four or five months of this.

Still, there are a few things to cheer me up. It's the holiday season, after all, which means feasting and cookies and seeing family. Last night some friends of ours hosted a St. Nicholas feast, something of an annual tradition for their family, and we were honored to be invited. I was griping about the cold and donning all the winter gear (takes 20 minutes sometimes with a baby and all) I wanted to sequester myself inside and watch PBS and drink tea and be gloomy. But we hadn't seen these friends in months and months, so we went and of course we all had a wonderful, wonderful time. Daniel played nicely with the other kids and had some candy (it's tradition for St. Nicholas to leave treats in your shoes if you leave them by the door) and Anya sat on my lap and blew raspberries. There was a fire. There was good food, and pie for dessert and eggnog after that. It was warm and cozy and re-assured me that the cold and snow aren't so bad when you have someone to share it with.

Friday, December 05, 2008

all i want for christmas

...is Anya's two front teeth. Seriously, folks, she's cranky and clingy and I think those little boogers are the culprit.

It seems like every year we sing the same old song about Christmas being too commercialized. There's too much stuff: too much sugar, too many tacky lights, too many inflatable Santas (those are particularly perplexing to me - in fact, at the hardware store I saw an inflatable globe with a snowman and fake snow inside, like we need fake snow up here), too much Bing Crosby, too many junky decorations and fake greenery, too many presents. We (at least, I) complain about the commercialism and materialism every year and then go out and spend more money than we (I) ought on presents anyway. The current economic situation makes it easier to scale back without looking like a scrooge, but I'm sure I'll still ask myself the same old questions: "Did I spend enough? Did I spend too much?," even when I know that's not really what it's all about.

The fact is, presents are fun. I'd be lying if I said I didn't really enjoy the getting as well as the giving, but I think I like the latter a little better. (Of course, it can be stressful if you have absolutely NO IDEA what the recipient wants or needs. Ahem, Joe, I could use a hint here. Any kind of a clue would be most appreciated.) I don't think the gift-giving part of Christmas is all materialistic, either. Or if it is, it's not all bad. Choosing a gift for someone important to you is a significant gesture because, assuming it's done right, you spend a certain amount of time, thought and often (but not always) money to do it. That means something, right? To that end, I would like to hand-craft (this usually means knitting) all of my Christmas gifts, but I have neither the time nor the energy, so every year I pick a couple people to knit for and that's that.

It's hard not to overdo it for the kids, though. I've seen about a million things I think Daniel and Anya would like - even things that I could stand to have around - but our house is very small and crowded as it is. They don't play with many toys anyway. Daniel spends a lot of time playing with suds in the sink, cutting paper, scribbling pictures, rolling out play dough and sifting flour. Of his actual toys, he's probably gotten the most play out of his train set. Anya just wants to play with whatever Daniel's playing with and as a result, we've gotten a good start on sibling rivalry. So I've managed to keep their gifts modest, knowing we don't have much extra space for stuff that may or may not get played with anyway. It's hard to go wrong with books and PJs, maybe some art supplies for Daniel (and yes, a couple new toys.)

So what do I want for Christmas? Good question! I could use a few mundane things, such as a pair of snow boots (How have I lived in Wisconsin for over eight years without getting a pair of those?) and a new iron, but that's awfully boring. I'm probably better off choosing that myself, actually. There's nothing I need, really. What I really want is some time to myself -and I don't mean an hour so I can go to the grocery store alone, I mean like a whole day - but that's not a gift so much as self-preservation. (I don't know what I'd do with a whole day to myself anyway. Probably clean the house and, sigh, go to the grocery store. That's how boring I've become.) I suppose the noble thing would be to ask people to give to charity in my name...but I already give to charity and I think other people should give to charity regardless. I'm not that noble, evidently.

What's strange, even a little annoying, is that this year, despite all my intentions of not getting caught in the over-materialistic aspects of the holidays, I feel like I'm awfully pre-occupied with gift shopping. That's partly because I'm doing nearly all of the shopping for our family (Stuart's responsible for whatever he's getting for me and for the name he drew for the family get-together on his side, but I'm doing the rest), and partly because I try to be conscientious about where I'm putting my dollars. I feel lucky that we can afford Christmas presents. I'm making a couple of things, and as long as I'm buying the rest, I might as well buy locally and/or fair trade if possible. That's more effort than ordering everything from Amazon, but worth it. It's also hardly a new concept for me and lots of other people, so I won't elaborate further on that here.

What about you? How are you handling holiday shopping this year?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Danielese

A few minutes ago, Daniel issued the following statement:

"Opa, your needed zerzers my poopy pulpit."

The challenge: reconstruct the events leading to this statement. Any guesses? (Oma, Opa and Stuart are not allowed to comment, as they were present.)

ETA: Tooz got it right! "Zerzers" is "scissors" and "pulpit" is "pull-up." What happened was this: Daniel made a giant mess once while I was off in rehearsal and my dad couldn't find the side openings in his pull-up. Rather than pull them down his legs, thus making the mess worse, Opa got out his scissors and cut them off, much to the Danimal's amusement. Becca, we still use cloth diapers for Anya. I hate using disposables with Daniel but with his tall, skinny frame, the cloth diapers were just bunching up and swingin' low and leaking something awful. We keep hoping he'll just potty-train and be done with diapers/pull-ups completely, but we're still only about halfway there, alas.

Monday, November 24, 2008

first snow





Daniel went out to shovel snow no less than three times today. Wonder when the fun of that will wear off?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Our new niece...

...was born at 9:42 Eastern Time last night. Welcome to the family, Claire!

Friday, November 21, 2008

we might have a new niece today

My BIL and his wife are at the hospital today for an appointment to try and turn their baby out of breech position. If the procedure is successful, they will induce labor and we'll have a new niece! If not, they'll schedule a C-section for next week. We hope for everyone's sake it's the former. Exciting times!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

memememememememe

Three Things You Want To Do Before You Die:
1.) drink espresso in Italy
2.) play the Bartok sonata for two pianos and percussion
3.) drink scotch in Scotland

Three Names You Go By:
1.) Suze
2.) Losin' Susin'
3.) MAMAMAMAMAMAMAMA (that's Anya)

Three Physical Things You Like About Yourself:
1.) my hands
2.) my eyes
3.) my teeth

Three Parts Of Your Heritage:
1.) Menno/Baptist (too hard to explain)
2.) Democrat
3.) German

Three Things That Scare You:
1.) barf
2.) loneliness
3.) heights

Three Of Your Everyday Essentials:
1.) espresso
2.) my cast iron frying pan
3.) my toothbrush

Three Things You Are Wearing Right Now:
1.) bright green fake crocs (frocs!)
2.) smudged glasses
3.) a nursing bra

Three Of Your Favorite Bands/Musical Artists:
1.) Radiohead
2.) Paul Simon
3.) Bela Fleck

Three Of Your Favorite Songs (at the moment anyway):
1.) Viva la Vida (I know, I know)
2.) ??
3.) ??
Honestly, I don't think about music that much unless it's music I'm playing. It's one of those things that makes me all deep and complicated as an artist (riiiiight.)

Three Things You Want In A Relationship:
1.) love, duh
2.) shared humor
3.) shared parenting responsibilities

Two Truths And A Lie (in no particular order):
1.) My first day in a foreign country I ran over a child while riding a bike.
2.) During my driver's license test I nearly ran over a child AND a man with one leg.
3.) I am an excellent archer.

Three Things You Want To Do Really Badly Right Now:
1.) Pee
2.) Travel someplace warm
3.) Eat a cookie

Three Careers You've Considered:
1.) high school teacher
2.) research scientist
3.) something in arts administration

Three Places You Want To Go On Vacation:
1.) Italy
2.) New Zealand
3.) Alaska

Three Pet Names You Like to use for your pets:
I don't have pets and don't want any, so here are some fun names for my husband Stuart:
1) Stubert
2) Stuey
3) Stu-rat

Three Ways That You Are Stereotypically A Girl:
1.) I scream and wave my arms around uselessly whenever I see a mouse.
2.) I loooooove chocolate
3.) I like to watch Desperate Housewives

Three Ways That You Are Stereotypically A Boy:
1.) I can change a tire.
2.) I like dark beer.
3.) I hate clothes shopping.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

four hands

Daniel and Anya and my dad and I just spent a week in Kansas so I could rehearse and perform a 4-hand recital with my college teacher, Karen. It was, well, honestly, it was great. The whole experience was incredibly fulfilling and affirming and just plain fun.

Before I go on about that, however, let me just say that there is absolutely no way I could have done this gig without the gracious hospitality and generosity of my MIL and FIL, who let us invade their home and eat their food and spread toys all over their living room. And also my dad, who drove to Madison from Kentucky, then to Kansas and back with me and the kids, just so I wouldn't have to do the trip on my own. I think I could have managed, but those 700 miles between here and central Kansas were a lot easier to tolerate with another "gohm-up" (as Daniel says) along. The grandparents spent a lot of time babysitting while I was in rehearsals, and I know it must have been exhausting as well as rewarding (I'm rather proud that it takes 2-3 adults to do what I do every day by myself!) Steph was enormously helpful as well, spending a whole afternoon with my dad and the kids to give my in-laws a break, and she also turned pages at the performance. I understand this caused her much anxiety, but she did just fine. Plus, I thanked her with yarn to ease her trepidation.

There's something reassuring about playing with a musician you know well. Karen, my co-pianist this past weekend, was my teacher for four years. I've certainly come a long way as a pianist and as a musician since I graduated from college, but she transformed my playing, gave me confidence, and prepared me for graduate school as well as anybody could have. As her student, I heard her play a LOT, and I did a fair amount of page-turning for her, since she was - and still is - in great demand in the area as an accompanist. She's one of those pianists who does everything well, and she's very consistent. So even though I showed up 6 days before our concert with two kids and a pile of music we'd never played together before, I knew we would be just fine. And we were. Rehearsing with her didn't feel like playing with my teacher; it felt like playing with my colleague. We exchanged ideas, gave each other suggestions, gossiped a little, and made a lot of progress in a short time.

There was a surprisingly good turnout for the program. The community is usually very supportive of musical events, so we were expecting a lot of people, but the actual number exceeded our expectations. The best part about the audience, though, was that Daniel and Anya saw almost the whole thing! I didn't hear any squawking or fussing while we were playing, so I just assumed they'd had to leave at the beginning, but as it turned out, they stayed quiet most of the time. Daniel was absent for a bit in the middle while his poor grandma had to change not one but two poopy pull-ups in a row, and Anya got a little whiny during the last piece, but they were attentive for the most part.

The concert itself went without a hitch, with one major exception: it wasn't recorded. I'm not sure who dropped the ball there, but by the time we realized no one was there to record, there was nothing we could do about it. This was especially disappointing, since my mom and brother and husband weren't there for their own various reasons.

It's good to be home, though. We've hardly seen Stuart for the past three weeks (he had to travel to Montana for his grandma's funeral the week between our trips to Kentucky and Kansas), and 700 miles is a long time to be on the road.

Monday, November 17, 2008

wowza

Did I really last post on election day? Goooooo Obama!!


Anyway, I've been in Kansas for a week to do a concert here with my former prof. We're trying to pack up the car to leave for Madison this morning, so I'm just checking in quick to say the concert went well, the kids did great, they got lots of quality time with their grandparents, and we are all really ready to be home and see Stu again.

I'll try and write more about it later.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

election day

GO VOTE!!!!!!

ETA: WOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, October 31, 2008

ketchup list

I've been in Kentucky with the kids visiting my parents this week. They have DSL, thank heavens, but the computer is in Uncle Joe's room, where Daniel sleeps, so I haven't actually had much opportunity to be online this week. Here's a list to catch up with what's going on:

1. It's my mom's birthday today (All Saints' Day). Give her a big shout out, ya'll! I don't think I've been home for my mom's birthday since I was in high school, so this is special.

2. Yesterday, of course, was Halloween. Daniel dressed up as an orange kitty cat:



Notice the lack of mittens. I loved all those suggestions you guys gave me, but I just didn't have time to make them (I often vastly overestimate what I can do in a given amount of time). It was nearly 70 degrees here yesterday, so it's just as well that I didn't make extra warm felted mittens anyway. I DID, however, whip out that orange hat with kitty ears in one evening.

We went trick-or-treating. My hometown has trick-or-treating in the afternoon at downtown businesses for little kids (though I saw some suspiciously large children there who looked to old and too healthy to be missing school for extra candy from the local bank). I think most of the candy is too cheap and chewy for Daniel to eat, but he did have his first sucker, the classic DumDum. And then, immediately after, his second. And then he asked for one for breakfast this morning (I said No). I'm a little sad we've opened that door, but I guess it had to happen sometime.

3. My dad carved his first jack-o-lantern. His very first, can you believe?



Actually, he carved two. I guess these "firsts" come in pairs.

4. Anya tried to climb up the porch steps. She didn't get too far, but she sure enjoyed the attempt.



5. The other night I was jarred awake by several people having a huge screaming fight right outside. "COME HERE YOU MUTHAFUCKA I AM GONNA FUCK! YOU! UP! BITCH" And so on for at least fifteen minutes. I lay there a little frightened because it sounded like they were practically under my window, and I was nervous that Daniel would wake up (he didn't) and then after a while I wondered if I should call the police. Eventually I heard a car leaving and it was quiet again. The next morning I asked my parents if they'd heard the commotion. "No." (They're pretty sound sleepers, apparently). "Were they yelling obscenities?" my mom asked. "That was probably the next door neighbors," my dad said. "They don't really know how to manage their anger."

Understatement of the year.

6. There is an apple tree in my parents' front yard. It's always been there, but I think it's only been producing real apples for a couple years. They're small - just a couple inches across - and a little marked up, but my mom has been collecting them to make applesauce. The best ones are way up on the tree, far above where anyone can reach, so my dad devised a contraption to knock them down on the ground.





Daniel particularly enjoyed picking up the apples and collecting them in a bowl.



7. I've been practicing for my upcoming recital. Why, do you ask, do I come to Kentucky to practice for a recital in Kansas when I live in Wisconsin? Well, that's just my life: divided between my home in Madison and my family's home in Kentucky and my in-laws and alma mater in Kansas. I can't get much done with the kids underfoot, so I figured I'd take advantage of a week of free babysitting to get in some quality practice time. I'm a little frustrated at my rusty technique, but I am preparing as well as I can.

Friday, October 24, 2008

mitten question

(ETA: After reading Becca's comment, I realized I accidentally published this post to Madtown Mama instead of Mad Knitting, where I'd originally intended! That's what happens when you try to pound out a blog post in 10 minutes while simultaneously nursing a squirmy baby and answering 101 questions from the Danimal. While I didn't mean to bore the muggles with a knitting question, I think this blog has a slightly wider readership, so what the heck, I'll leave it up.)

Daniel has asked for red mittens "jus' like" the ones in one of his favorite books, The Three Kittens. You know, the classic tale of the three little kittens who lost their mittens? In this particular book's illustrations, one of the kittens has red mittens, and they have apparently caught the Danimal's eye. Truly cold weather is soon upon us and he's going to need warm mittens regardless, so of course I want to honor his request! I want to get these mittens done by Halloween; he wants to be a cat for Halloween (he's really excited about wearing a costume, and I haven't even told him about the candy yet!) and I thought it appropriate to dress him up as a kitten with the found mittens. You see?

I'm not much into felting, but I know that felted mittens would be far warmer and more wind and waterproof than non-felted mittens, even if they're knitted at a tight gauge. I checked out Felted Knits from the library and found a pattern for toddler and child-sized felted mittens. Problem is, the pattern calls for DK weight yarn. I've got a bit of red yarn in sport (lighter than DK) and worsted (heavier than DK) and the bit of red yarn in I have in DK weight is superwash, so it won't felt. Do I go with sport yarn, or worsted? Worsted is probably going to be warmer, but it might be so heavy and stiff he won't wear them. Any ideas out there?

NYT editorial

The New York Times just endorsed Obama for president. This editorial says it all, and says it well.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Daniel's first taste of lemon





(That's right. He went back for more.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

4-minute post

The sitter got here early today, and I've got approx. 4 minutes (3.5 now...) of peace and quiet while the kids are with her at the park before I bike out to my students' houses. Hmmm. That's not really enough time to write something meaningful, so how about a few kid pictures from today? I hope you're not tired of these...





All right. Time's up!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

it's the economy, stupid

It seems I'm stuck at the computer now. Anya is suffering from a cold and fell asleep on my lap, which means if I put her down she'll snort and fuss, and since Daniel is also napping (a rarity these days, but her complaining woke him up at 5:30 this morning), I think I finally have the opportunity for a blog post.

We have a meeting this Friday with our financial planner. Yeah, I know. I feel like a fraud every time we see this guy. It feels too grown up for me, since I have never had a job that got me a decent amount of income or respect. I mean, I'm not the one earning the money with which we have to plan. I hate sitting in meetings talking about income when I am not responsible for contributing to ours.But after Anya was born, we realized we had 16 years until Daniel starts college, so we figured we better start saving for that. Then when we met this dude for the first time, he made us get life insurance and talked about retirement investments blah blah blah. It makes my head spin, all of it. If there's one subject I can't wrap my head around, it's finance and economics.

Unfortunately, it seems that's the case for, oh, all the bigwigs in charge of everyone's money and mortgages because the way things are going, every major bank is going to fail in the next year or so. I think there are few people on this planet who truly understand how the economy works (free market zealots don't count) and fewer who have an inkling how to fix it. Hence the pickle we're in.

I don't even really know what this meeting is about. I just know that it's at 11 in the morning and thank goodness our sitter (whom Daniel loves and Anya screams at) can come or we'd have two bored, squirmy children in that little room. The thing about financial planners is that they all feed you the same line: invest as much as you can and wait several years and you'll be fine. The stock market will always bounce back eventually. That's been true for a while, and I suppose we could assume that will be true for us a few decades from now. Like I said, I don't really understand this stuff. But the way things are going, Stu and I are beginning to think we're better off investing in a plot of land on which we can grow food and raise chickens so that we can sustain ourselves when the rest of the free-market world falls to pieces around us.

I know that sounds radical. And we're SO not ready to be homesteaders. I shudder to think what would happen if I were suddenly responsible for all of our vegetables; I've got a couple of healthy-looking chard plants out back, and a rogue vine growing out of the compost pile yielded a squash the size of my big toe, but other than a few basil plants about to keel over, that's my harvest for the season. Not that I tried that hard. Obviously.

Maybe this economic crisis will blow over. Maybe Barack Obama can help set things straight after his inauguration in a few months (I remain eternally hopeful). Or maybe the world's been headed this direction for a good long time and it's just now that everything is crashing down around us. I don't know. But I think we should be prepared either way.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

hostage

I'm being held hostage by bedtime. It's no secret that Anya doesn't sleep well. Daniel didn't either as a baby, so I have just come to expect this as a fact of babyhood. It doesn't help when I hear of other babies and toddlers who sleep 12 hours every night and take 3-hour naps every afternoon. It also doesn't help that our house is so small that Anya has to sleep in our room and thus, in our bed for most of the night because we just don't have another place to put her. So all of this means that after I get her to sleep in her crib around 8:00, I've got maybe an hour or, if I'm very lucky, an hour and a half, to get a shower in and read a book or knit or watch a DVD (loving Monarch of the Glen right now) before I have to go to bed with her. Otherwise, she would thrash and fuss and scream and if we just let her "cry it out" she'll wake up Daniel (who sleeps just on the other side of the wall). It's a problem, to be sure.

For at least a week I've been meaning to write about something more interesting and important than this. Something like the economy or the Republican veep nominee. But I just don't have it in me. Besides, I can sum that up pretty quickly. Re: the economy - Oh, shit. Re: Sarah Palin - Oh, please.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

dusting the ivories

My poor piano is suffering from months of neglect. It hasn't been tuned since my in-laws were here over Christmas last year, and I've only had one (count it! one!) real gig since Anya was born. Next month, however, I have a big performance coming up: a 4-hand recital with my teacher from college. I'm excited and honored to share a program with her. It's a big deal for me.

We finally settled on repertoire about a week ago - well, almost. The ball's in my court for choosing a few of the Hungarian Dances (Brahms) to close the first half, but the rest of the program is all set. This means, of course, that it's time to practice. The other morning when the kids both seemed pretty happy playing on the floor, I sat down to run through some scales. Tickling the ivories at last! Or, rather, dusting them. After every few scales I had to stop, sigh, and wipe the film of dust off my fingertips. And of course I only made it about halfway through before Daniel decided to join me. He likes to sit on the bench with me and play. Sometimes he makes requests: "Mom, sing 'Row Row Boat'!" I can't accomplish anything while he's sitting there, but I don't have the heart to make him leave me alone.

Anya's starting to develop an interest as well. How long before they're playing duets together? Or fighting over whose turn it is to practice? Or getting mad at each other for learning each other's music?*


Obviously, finding the time to practice is a challenge. I have nowhere to practice but home, so my only opportunity for serious work is when Stuart is here and can take the kids away to the park or the basement to play. I'm counting on the next several weekends and an upcoming trip to Kentucky at the end of the month to learn most of the music.

This is just the kind of performance I get stoked about. It pays nothing (will I ever make money in my profession?!) but I get to play great music with a musician I've known and respected for a long time. It's a small college in a small town so we're likely to get a pretty good-sized and very appreciative audience (unlike here in Madison where there is so much going on all the time nobody goes to anything.)

Now, I just need to finish dusting off the keys (truthfully, my scales are a tad rusty) and learn the music.

*My younger brother used to do that to me ALL THE TIME. I am older and was therefore supposed to be more advanced in piano lessons, but he would get a hold of my music and learn the first few measures, then play them over and over from memory just to get my goat. My goat was totally got. Now that I'm all grown up, I'm willing to admit he has a better ear than I do.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

nine months

Nine months and one day ago, we welcomed Anya to our family. It's hard for me to believe all that time has passed since that snowy night. She had her 9-month check-up with the doctor this morning, and here are the highlights:

1. She weighs over 22 lbs. This puts her in the 95th percentile for weight.

2. She is 30" long. This puts her OFF the charts for length.

3. She has no teeth, and no sign that they are coming any time soon.

4. She babbles a lot (bababa, mamama, etc) and clearly understands words like Anya, nurse and big brother Daniel.

5. She's eating some solid food, but not much. It takes us two days to get through a 4oz jar of vegetables. Noting her height and weight above, you'll see that she's not starving. Instead, she breastfeeds all day and night and I feel like I'm eating enough for an army.

6. She doesn't yet crawl, but scoots around on her tushie like a champ. She's not really pulling herself up, either, so the doctor says she's slightly delayed in gross motor skills, gave me some suggestions for encouraging her development, and said we have to go back in 6 weeks for a quick check-up to see if she's making progress. She has good muscle tone and is clearly very strong, so I'm trying not to be worried about it.

7. No shots today (yay), but she had to have some blood drawn (boo) for a routine lead test. It took at least 5 minutes of trying on both arms before the phlebotomist could find a vein in her chubby little arm. It was pure torture for all of us in a room that felt more or less like an echo chamber.




Saturday, September 13, 2008

home improvement

Now that fall is fast approaching, the weather is often too cold, too wet, or both to be outside much. We basically lived outside this summer, so it's been an adjustment, especially since Daniel, as an energetic young whelp, needs a certain amount of time to run amuck every day. Our 912 square feet of upstairs space is a little cramped for such activities, and lately I've been anxious to make our basement, which is as big as the upstairs but unfinished, more accommodating as an active play space for both kids. It's a nice basement, really. It doesn't flood, and the 3/4 of it that isn't taken up with the furnace, water heater, water softener and laundry machines is open space, broken only by some 4" thick metal columns that one assumes are necessary for holding up the house. The walls are painted concrete block and the floor is bare concrete. There is no ceiling, just floor joists and duct-work. There are lots of cobwebs.

Around the time we found out I was pregnant with Daniel, we seriously considered hiring a contractor to finish the basement and put in another bathroom and real walls and everything. We even had someone come do an estimate, but we decided it was too much money. In other words, we didn't have that much money and didn't think it would be worth spending on re-modeling a basement in a house we probably won't live in very much longer anyway. It makes me wish I could do some improvements myself, but I don't have the know-how. One of our neighbors re-modeled his house AND built a new garage all by himself with nothing but his own two hands and knowledge from some TimeLife books and videos he borrowed from the public library. I am way impressed with that, but I know I couldn't do it.

Stuart and I are just not DIYers when it comes to home improvement. I have crafty inclinations, and he spent a summer in college on the paint crew, but aside from that we're pretty clueless. When we moved into our house about four years ago, it took us a week to get the washing machine hooked up; we got the hot and cold mixed up and didn't realize we needed new hoses or washers or something like that until my dad (who is quite handy) clued us in.

So we're not finishing the basement, or even improving it in any way. However, I've been working on cleaning stuff out (took a whole carloadf to the thrift store this very afternoon) and re-organizing so that the open part of the basement is actually clear for throwing balls and running around and all those things toddlers like to do. At minimum, we need to put something on that cold, hard, dirty concrete floor. Today at Menards (which we pronounce "my nards" because it's funnier that way) we found the coolest floor covering ever:



They're like squishy interlocking tiles. You can re-arrange them or add to them or move them any time, and they're not at all slippery. We like the bright colors but if you want plain gray, you can flip them over. It's like having a giant yoga mat all over the floor. I'm not sure I want to spend the money to cover the entire floor with these things, but it's nice having a big section (about 6' x 8') already.

We will probably look for big pieces of leftover carpet as well, but I'm not done cleaning up everything yet. In fact, what I need to do next is sweep up a whole bunch of foam packing peanuts that have been scattered around for a while now. For some reason, these stupid friggin' packing peanuts are Daniel's favorite things to play with downstairs. He scoops them up in a little bucket. He hides them in empty detergent bottles. He stuffs them in his suitcase. He whacks at them with a dowel rod. He drops them in an old laundry basket. I could go on, but you get the idea. I keep hoping he'll just get over this phase so I can throw them away without hurting his feelings, but I think that will be a long time coming.

Kids, huh? First they take over your heart and then they take over your house and you don't even mind (much).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

approaching 30

Yesterday afternoon I taught piano lessons for the first time in several weeks. My students all happened to be on vacation in August, so we all got a little break. I expected everyone to be rusty and out of practice, but except for one, they'd all been working on old assignments for the last week or so, and I was pleasantly surprised to be able to pick up right where we left off.

One of the things I really like about teaching right now is that I have very good relationships with all of my students' parents. This is of particular importance since I go to their houses to teach. I'm on their turf, and if there was tension, it would be bad news for everyone. I'm sure one reason I get along with them so well is that all of these folks (moms and dads) are academics. Some teach at UW, some do other work, but they all have post-graduate degrees and they all, of course, have kids, so they are all, therefore, sympathetic to my position in life at the moment. They respect me as a teacher and as a professional musician, and they are also interested in how the kids are doing, especially Daniel, since he spent time with them as a baby.

I thought I would have a hard time getting back into teaching after Anya was born. At first, it was hard. Everything is hard with a newborn. Working, not working, whatever you're doing, life is hard. Anya has always been very clingy and mom-centric, often screaming for the entire time I'm away from her (and because of this I am rarely away from her). She gives sitters a hard time. Lately Daniel has gotten clingy, too. I don't know if it's just his age and emotional development, or if he's jealous of all the attention his little sister gets from me, or what. I guess it's hard being two and a half. But when our new sitter showed up yesterday afternoon, I was genuinely worried about both Daniel and Anya. Daniel clung to my leg and said in his sad little voice, "Mom going to leave me." Anya's lower lip was trembling. What if they both sobbed the entire two and a half hours she had to stay with them? Would they (and she) be so miserable that I would have to give up teaching and stay home with them for good? It turned out fine, of course. I thought I would come home to a disaster, but everyone was happy, and I was reassured. Trust me, it hasn't always been that way.

When I arrived at one of my students' homes yesterday, the mom complimented my hair, which I had chopped off a couple weeks ago. She said it made me look younger. I realized, suddenly, that I'm getting to a point where looking younger than I am is a desirable thing.

I think about where I was ten years ago, and where I thought I'd be. Stuart was certainly in the picture, though we weren't thinking Big Future Plans yet. I had grand notions of volunteering overseas or studying abroad, learning languages, going to graduate school, becoming a professor. I didn't think "housewife" was on the agenda. (At least I got the grad school part done, though that certainly wasn't as glamorous as I thought it would be.) Of course, my sense of accomplishment has changed since I was 20 years old. I no longer think that staying home to take care of children goes against being a feminist, for example. (Quite the opposite, actually. I think parents who stay at home don't get enough credit, or respect. Or help.) I no longer think that the kind of musician I've chosen to be (teacher, collaborator) is inferior to solo performance. I also no longer believe that having a doctorate really makes someone an expert.

I'll be turning 30 at the end of this year, and while I don't consider 30 to be old by any means, it is a landmark age. Since my birthday is sandwiched between Christmas and New Year's, I rarely do much to celebrate. Someone usually bakes me a cake, and last year Stuart flushed a diaper down the toilet, but that's about it. This year, though, I want a party. With adults. And no kids. A reasonable amount of alcohol would be nice. And cake, certainly cake. I am not always completely happy with my position in life (the stagnating career is the big issue), but I am slowly coming to accept that what matters most is who you are. I am WAY more okay with that now than when I was 20. I think that's something to celebrate, and I want to do it with my friends.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

here and there

"Here and there" is the best way to describe my brain these days. I am so constantly and thoroughly sleep-deprived that I don't have it in me to do substantial blogging, but I'm trying to post somewhat regularly anyway. I do, however, have a few thoughts to share, so I'l just make a quick list:

1) Joe Biden: good choice for Barack Obama's running mate. The guy is genuinely experienced and smart and sincere. I believe they make a good team.

2) Memo to John McCain: JUST HOW STUPID DO YOU THINK THE WOMEN OF AMERICA ARE???!! I wasn't going to vote for you anyway, but choosing a completely inexperienced gun-loving, staunch anti-abortion rights (guess there's no question that poor little Bristol is staying preggers, eh?), anti-environment right-wing nut job does NOT endear me to your campaign. Even if she is a woman. I find it extremely insulting, actually.

3) To the pundits who claim that Sarah Palin has foreign policy experience because Alaska is close to Russia: OMG HOW LAME CAN YOU BE?

4) Memo to disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters: Tough cookies. Get over it and move on already. I hope you realize that if you vote for McCain out of resentment that your candidate lost, you're not only shooting yourselves in the foot (feet?), but you're taking the rest of us down with you, and that's just plain wrong.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

they melt my heart



Daniel's language development has been exploding this summer. A few months ago, I was still nervously counting all the words he knows, but now there's no point. He's absorbing new vocabulary by the mouthful and his speech is getting clearer, too. He's even making sentences, though they're not entirely grammatically correct, of course. Here's a sample:

"My love my little sister."
"What's cooking, mom? Noodles!"
"My have crackers peez?"
"Anya say BA BA BA BA BA"
"Where's Anya? Hi chubby baby!"
"Mom! Cocoa 'ma 'pa house bottom cup no taste good!" (trans: Mom, the cocoa at Oma and Opa's house didn't taste good at the bottom of the cup)
"Daddy say Anya suck pakes" (trans: Daddy said "Anya, do you want to suck on a pancake?"-- Stu really said that and Daniel hasn't let him forget it)
"Chimps no eat poop yet!" (That's just what it looks like and it would take too long to explain, trust me. Let's just say it was a Learning Moment gone wrong at the zoo.)

Anya continues to be chubby, sweet and red-haired. She giggles and coos and plays peekaboo behind the door frame. She can't be without me at night (not without screeching like a cat devil, anyway). She adores her big brother. She's not trying to crawl but she's on the move anyway, scooting around on her chubby little butt to get to anything Daniel is playing with: books, puzzle pieces, kitchen gadgets, train tracks, pretty much anything but her own toys. Of course, at 8 months she isn't saying any words, but she utters a lot of "BA BA BA BA" and blows lots of raspberries. It's good being their mom.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

today's eye-candy

My garden is a scraggly, disorganized mess. This spring I did a nice job of getting some new perennials planted, and I did a half-assed mulching job in June, but now the weeds are taking over. There is serious work to be done, and I have some ideas for a major landscaping overhaul, but I just don't have the time or energy to do it. Plus, it would take a lot of money that right now is better spent on things like food and gas and college funds. Still, there are some things blooming, enough to attract lots of bees and butterflies.



Sometimes I let Daniel water the flowers. This entails filling up the watering can with the hose (apparently he hasn't figured out yet that the hose itself reaches the garden area), then asking for my help carrying the can to the garden because he's filled it so full of water it's too heavy for him to carry, then dumping most of it on a bare patch of dirt where I dug out some garlic a few weeks ago.




And by the way, no he hasn't been eating dirt. The smudges around his mouth are from a chocolate cupcake.

Stu and Anya cheered him on from the sidelines:


I am grateful for these nice summer days; they'll soon be at an end.

Friday, August 22, 2008

worry

I was never really a worrier until I became a mom. Of all the things that have surprised me about parenthood, the one that blindsided me the most is worry. I worry about everything all the time. I worry about what my kids eat and don't eat. I worry about them getting sick. I worry about them getting hurt. I worry that they will be unhappy. These things keep me up at night (so does Anya, but that's a whole different issue). I look calm and collected on the outside but inside I'm often a tangle of knots and anxiety about nothing and everything in particular, this despite the fact that my two children are thus far happy, healthy and as normal as they can be.

I think part of the problem is that my children currently occupy just about every waking (and sleeping) moment of my life. I am not employed (my 5 piano students don't really count), and I am no longer in school, so I don't have any kind of professional balance right now. That's just how it's going to be a for a little while, I'm afraid.

Is there something wrong with me? Does every parent feel this way? I wish I could just let go and deal with the hard stuff as it comes, but I can't. It's not like if I worry about stuff before it happens I'll save myself the trouble later. I need some reassurance here, or some help.

(BTW: I am not concerned that I'm dealing with any kind of anxiety disorder or PPD. I know enough about those conditions to know that my problem is not that severe. I'm not having panic attacks or symptoms of serious depression. I just...worry a lot.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Daniel's apron



Remember how I said Daniel needs an apron his size? I made him one today. More details here on Mad Knitting.

Monday, August 18, 2008

discuss, please

Perhaps this belongs on my knitting blog, but I'm interested in the opinions of a wider audience. If you read The Yarn Harlot, then you've probably already heard about the libraries in Ontario banning arts and crafts from their branches. (Go read the article I just linked. It's short.)

In short, a group of girls age 6-10 are no longer allowed to have their weekly Itch and Stitch meetings at their library because the branches want to make more room for their literacy-centered programs. Now, as you may know, I'm an avid knitter myself (I have a whole blog for it, even), and I think a person can knit just about anywhere. Personally, I'd knit anywhere I can breastfeed, and that's pretty much anywhere: church, waiting rooms, public parks, Borders, and yes, the library. I think it's too bad that a library can't (or won't) host a quiet group of girls who want to knit and crochet together. BUT. Knitting isn't reading or literacy-oriented, and if the library space and staff are needed for activities more relevant to reading and literacy, they have the right to ask groups to take their arts and crafts elsewhere. It seems to me the library isn't anti-knitting (or anti-crafts in general), since the librarian interviewed suggested the girls start a book discussion group and knit during that. In fact, I think that's an excellent idea. I wouldn't mind being part of such a group myself, in fact. I admit I got a little hung up on the part of the article where the library is hosting a video game group to attract a younger crowd, but I'll reserve harsher judgement since I don't run the library or anything.

OK, now what do y'all think?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

the best people never change

Last week some friends of ours spent the night at our house on their way to a wedding in Indiana. We haven't seen W & S since our wedding seven years ago, but we've all known each other since our early college years. We were all in the concert choir, which takes an annual spring break tour. Usually this tour involves busing all fifty singers plus the director around the Midwest to sing at various churches. My freshman year, though, the choir went all the way up the west coast, from southern California all the way up to Seattle. It was way more exciting than (insert small town here) Nebraska/Iowa/Ohio, but it also meant many, many hours on the bus. W and S and Stu and I discovered a mutual love for card playing early on in the tour, and for every long stretch of the trip, we all made sure to sit together so we could play 500. 500 is something between Spades and Bridge. It requires skill and experience, and we weren't about to allow just anyone to play. None of us were paired up yet (though I think probably everyone but us knew it would happen eventually), but we were all fast becoming good friends.

The friendships stuck. We kept playing cards. W and S got together, then Stu and I got together. W and S got married a little more than a year after that fateful choir tour, and Stu and I had the honor of being candle lighters at their wedding. Stuart learned a couple things the hard way at that event: 1) Wax candles don't last long in the glove box of a dark blue station wagon in 95-degree heat and 2) One must never, under any circumstances, wear white socks with a dark suit. In fact, the day W & S came arrived was their 10th anniversary. Stuart somehow remembered this and said "Happy Anniversary!" to which W responded "I couldn't think of a better way to spend it!" and S added "We'll have to do it every year!" (They'd been driving for 9 hours with a 2yo and a baby in the car.)

W and S are farmers in rural South Dakota. The distance between us and our busy lives are responsible for the length of time since we saw them last. We have two kids; they have two kids roughly the same age as ours. When they arrived at our house, it was like nothing had really changed between us, save our growing families. Our boys played together and didn't fight too much (Daniel had some issues with sharing his toys, but he's 2 and 1/2. It's normal.) Our babies stared at each other and grinned. We complained about red states (and oh my is South Dakota red, bleeding red), swapped birth stories, and made each other laugh and laugh. There was no time for 500, alas, but I doubt I'd have remembered how to play.

The best people never really change.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

my little chef





I think he needs a little apron just his size, don't you?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

home

We're home. We had such a lovely time in Kentucky that I didn't really want to leave. You can't stay on vacation forever, though, so back we came. We're all so glad to be out of the car, especially Anya, who made the last 15 minutes of the drive feel like an eternity, poor thing. The weather here is beautiful, so I've opened the house to let the fresh air in and the stale air out, the kids are playing [somewhat] nicely on the deck, and I'm making fresh pesto and homemade pasta for dinner. The whole kitchen smells like basil...Life could be worse, I suppose.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

to-do list

Tomorrow afternoon we leave for Kentucky, where we'll be visiting my parents for a week or so. Stu wanted to get in a full day's work, so he'll go in early and we'll pick him up in the mid-afternoon. The theory is that a good share of the driving will happen at night, so the kids can sleep in the car.

This means that the burden of packing and preparing for this trip falls mostly on me. I don't mind, really, but I have a lot to do in the next 24 hours:

1. Wash diapers. This will happen tonight, after Anya is asleep. We're totally out of disposables at the moment, so she'll be in cloth until the last possible moment.

2. Buy diapers. Daniel's potty-training is going reasonably well for right now (keep your fingers crossed, everyone!) so I have started putting him in pull-ups. I hate using disposables with him, but the last few months, the cloth diapers just haven't been working on him. They leaked so badly we were going through 3-4 pairs of pants every day. Between all that laundry and washing two kids' worth of cloth diapers every 36 hours, well, that's a lot of loads in the washing machine.

3. Laundry. I'm waiting until the last possible moment to do this (tomorrow morning) to make sure all the kids' clothes are clean.

4. Clean out the produce drawers in the fridge. I'm dreading this task. Something that used to be green and leafy has turned to liquid and a 2-week-old bag of broccoli is threatening mutiny. I should be dumping this stuff on the compost instead of blogging. Ewww.

5. Mop the kitchen floor. This could potentially wait until we get back, but I'm tired of stepping on mysterious grit and dried up oatmeal.

6. Pick up our CSA veggies this afternoon. We're going to bring them along instead of giving them to someone else.

7. Go to the splash pad. After an extremely cranky morning (they both got up at 5:00a.m.), both kids fell asleep at noon. We've been home nearly all morning, and they are guaranteed to get bored if we stay here all afternoon, and it's hot and yucky outside. Ergo: splash pad.

8. Get all of our food ready for the next 24 hours. I've already fixed tonight's dinner (risotto, but it's not exciting, since our only vegetables were onions and carrots), I've got bread started, I need to boil eggs for egg salad for the road. Tomorrow we'll probably eat pancakes for breakfast to use up the milk and the rest of the eggs. (This would all be so much easier if we ate fast food but the thought makes my stomach turn. I honestly can't remember the last time I ate something at McDonald's. Well, actually, I do. The last time I ate at McD's was on the way back from my last trip to KY, but all I had was a milkshake. I haven't eaten a sandwich from there in probably a decade or more.)

9. Try and fit a portable crib, a baby backpack carrier, an umbrella stroller, a cooler full of produce, a suitcase full of clothes, a camera, emergency toys, swimming gear, snacks and other miscellaneous things (such as the 4 of us) into a Honda civic.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

my last diploma

I am not particularly nostalgic about my academic diplomas. My masters diploma is filed away somewhere, I think my college diploma is in the back of the office closet and I have no idea where my high school diploma is. It might be here, it might be at my parents' house, it might be in a landfill or recycled into a roll of paper towels. I haven't a clue.

But my DMA diploma - that's special, I guess because it's my last one, or because it was far more work than the others. When I started it, I wasn't sure I could do it. I'd been through 4 years of masters programs (I got a double degree in pedagogy/performance, then collaborative piano), but I wasn't entirely confident I was up to the level of performance and academic vigor required. Honestly. I'm a strong student (or, rather, WAS a strong student!) but not alway a confident one. However, I started my doctorate after a nearly disastrous semester in which I had a miscarriage I'd told almost no one about (except family and a few professors whose classes I kept missing) and helped organize a two-day strike of graduate assistants, the first work stoppage by that union in decades. Somehow I got through that year without giving up on school entirely, and by the time fall rolled around, I was ready to go back at it.

Having always been a student, I think the hardest thing about doing my doctorate was feeling truly independent about my work as a musician, both in terms of performance and scholarship. I'm not entirely sure I'm there yet - I think I'll have to get some more independent and professional experience under my belt first - but I certainly feel better about what I do now than four years ago.

Oh, and having two kids before it was all over? Two kids that we didn't exactly plan on having just then? That was pretty challenging, too. I was pregnant for three of my six recitals. I've been sleep-deprived for a good bit of the last three years. And except for my lecture-recital, I don't think the quality of my work suffered (the L-R wasn't bad; it just wasn't great).

This puppy needs a frame, is all I'm saying.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

fava-rama

It's been one of those days. You know, the kind of day where I feel like I will be breastfeeding, changing diapers, administering ineffective time-outs, preparing food no one will eat, daydreaming about the day I have time to read a book for pleasure without falling asleep on it and watching Wallace and Gromit FOR THE NEXT TWENTY YEARS or whenever it is they start college. Arrrrrrgh. Don't tell me "it will get better." I know it will get better. IN ABOUT TWENTY YEARS. Or maybe a little less. Anyway, it sucks now, so don't try to cheer me up and tell me how lucky I am that I have indoor plumbing and no twins unlike your grandmother because that will just make me feel worse.

Okay, now that I have that off my chest, I'm going to tell you about something very yummy we had the other night: fava beans!

My dog Fava loves to roam
One day Fava left his home
He came back, though quite unclean
Where, oh where has Fava been?
Fava been, Fava been,
Where, oh where has Fava been?


(I learned that little song at church camp. It has nothing to do with Jesus.)

We subscribe to a CSA (this one), and we split a large share with our neighbors. Every Thursday, my friend R and I load up the boys in the wagon, the Little Miss in the Kelty backpack, and head for the pick-up spot a few blocks away. So far, the vegetables we have gotten haven't been too unusual or difficult to prepare...until last week, when we got a whole mess of fresh fava beans. I've had fava beans out of the can, but never fresh, and I had no idea what to do with them. Who to consult when confronted with an unusual vegetable? Why, Stephanie, of course! I gave her a call, and she gave me the following instructions:

First, take the raw beans out of the pods, which are about as big around as my thumb:



Next, boil them for 3 minutes or so, then squeeze them out of their shells:



This is what they look like, a beautiful bright green:



Last, do what you do with any delicious, fresh local vegetable: sauté in butter with garlic and lemon juice. That's all you need.



They were SO tasty, especially accompanied with couscous, homemade applesauce and a big fried blob of mozzarella disaster (which I'll tell you about another time.)

Have you eaten anything new and adventurous lately?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

splash!

I am convinced that the best invention known to humankind, or at least to parents of young children, is the splash pad. Yesterday was warm (by Wisconsin standards), impossibly muggy, and when by 2:00pm we were all about to start climbing the walls, I suddenly remembered that one of the public parks has a brand-new splash pad. We slapped a swim diaper on the little man, called the neighbors to invite them (their 3yo is really good buddies with Daniel), and headed out.

A splash pad, for those who don't know and are too lazy to click on that link above, is a fairly new innovation in public parks. It's basically an elaborate sprinkler system with no standing pools of water, so there is essentially no risk of drowning. It's perfect for kids too young to swim who need some water play on a hot day. Daniel and his buddy spent a good hour chasing each other around the edges; they were both too chicken to run full-tilt through any of the bigger spouts of water.

(I wish I had pictures, but we were already carting along towels, sunscreen, diapers, water bottles, and a change of clothes for everyone. There just wasn't room for the camera.)

I'm glad to see that Daniel likes the water. He was in a real swimming pool for the first time last week (we were invited to a friend's pool in her condo development), and he did really well. Daniel approaches new physical challenges with caution, but not fear. He spent a long time on the pool steps where he was only about waist deep before he was finally ready to go into the main part. The shallow end was only 3' deep, but Daniel's about 3' tall, so I held him up and showed him how to kick. By the time we had to get out for the lifeguard's break, he was ready to stay in the water all day long.

I've got to get the kids enrolled in swimming lessons next summer. I actually meant to do it for Daniel this year, but two or three months ago when I should have been looking into the local options, I was still too overwhelmed with having a new baby and a 2yo and dinner to fix every night that I just couldn't get it all together. Plus, it's been a rather cool summer here so far, so the thought of swimming just became appealing a couple weeks ago.

Still, I think teaching kids to swim from a very young age is important. I recall being about two and a half and not wanting to get in the water for my swimming lesson. I don't remember if that was for the whole summer, or just a one-time thing or what, but I do know that my parents had my brother and me taking swimming lessons every summer in our younger years. As a result, we are both decent swimmers and not a bit afraid of the water. I want the same for my kids.

In the meantime, though, I think we'll be frequenting the new splash pad, at least until the weather cools off.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Is a musician an artist?

I'm too pooped to write my own blog entry on answering this question, but I contributed a fair amount to the discussion in comments over yonder at Pam's blog. Perhaps I'll write more about it later. Meantime, why don't you join in the fun?

ETA: There's a great discussion in the comments on that link above. Good enough that I don't feel that a follow-up post is particularly necessary!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

oh, what a beautiful morning!

It was beautiful outside this morning. Stu roasted coffee on the deck before going to work, while the kids played their respective games. Daniel pretended to be his dad, Anya found things to chew on, and then they entertained each other for a good, oh, 2 minutes.





It was nice.

Monday, July 07, 2008

creativity

Pam has inspired me to do some thinking about creativity and the role it plays in my life.

Obviously, becoming a mother was a big change for me. When Daniel was born almost two and a half years ago, I suddenly had to get used to staying home most of the time. I was still a doctoral student, but since I was done with my coursework and prelims, I just had dissertation work and recitals to do, and most of that work I did from home. Since I was juggling nearly full-time motherhood with school (I had a sitter a few hours a week so I could practice, but that was it - no daycare), I didn't have much time or brain power left over for, well, let's call it "recreational creativity," if there is such a thing. I started this blog when Daniel was a few months old in order to maintain contact with the outside world and keep in touch with far-flung family and friends. I found myself knitting a lot, and even started a knitting blog a few months later to keep track of my projects.

But it's been the last six months or so that I've felt a real need for more creativity in my life. I finished my DMA and had another baby. WHAM! What an adjustment it's been to be a mother of two and not have any major deadlines or goals beyond fixing dinner and scrubbing grime off the kitchen floor. Don't get me wrong. I'm incredibly glad to be done with my degree...but I no longer have a balance between work/school and housewifery. It's pretty much all the latter. And while taking care of an increasingly stubborn and independent 2yo and a baby who is nowhere close to sleeping through the night, plus making sure we all get fed and have clean clothes to wear every day, not to mention keeping our tiny house from turning into a minefield of toys and spilled cracker crumbs -- all this takes most of the energy and organizational skills I've got -- I simply need more intellectual stimulation. Or a creative outlet. Or something.

So how do I deal with this? First of all, I complain a lot. Y'all know this, because I complain here on this blog. I complain to Stu. I complain to my mom during our frequent phone conversations. But complaining, while I have to admit I enjoy it to some extent (who doesn't? c'mon, admit it, you love to complain, too), only gets you so far.

I also find myself looking for ways to be more creative in my daily life. This isn't something that I specifically strove to do, but it's evolved since I started staying home more. Planning and cooking meals takes a lot of creativity. Arranging our stuff nicely in a 900-sq-ft house takes a certain amount of creativity. Finding new ways to entertain the kids on days with weather too bad to go out takes creativity (though it's amazing how much fun Daniel will have when you plop him in front of a sink full of sudsy water and a couple of plastic measuring cups - some days that'll buy you a good 15 minutes).

I have five piano students. This is crossing into professional, not personal, territory, but teaching these kids takes enormous creative energy. Not because they're bad students - they're not at all - but because teaching is always challenging and always requires creative effort if you want to do it right. I don't write about my students much because I think it would be rather unprofessional to say much about them, but I'll say this much: they are all really smart kids with unique musical talents, and each one presents a different kind of challenge for me. I'm lucky to be their teacher, and while I'm not always so sure they're lucky to be my students, I do enjoy figuring out the best way to help each of them learn.

I still knit a lot. Nearly all of the time I'm knitting something from an existing pattern, so I'm not especially original with my knitting projects, but I enjoy it and that's what matters. Occasionally, I make something up from scratch. It's not always successful, but knitting that way is actually when I'm having the most fun...even when it's something completely useless and impractical (remember the seal tux?).

I blog. Less frequently than before, of course, but that's because composing a decent blog post (rather than just random cute pictures, which I know a lot of you appreciate, but I'm trying to keep things interesting and varied, too) takes more time than I've got, or am willing to give, most days. Still, writing on a regular basis is a really good creative exercise for me.

There's so much more I'd like to do. I have a guitar, and I'd like to learn to play it. I can play a few chords with lengthy pauses in between, so I'm no good for sing-alongs. I've toyed with asking for lessons as a Christmas present, but there's my pride. I have a doctorate in music. Surely I can figure out some things on my own. I'd like to take a gourmet cooking class and learn how to cook fancy stuff like they do in chef school. We have a pretty nice digital camera, and I want to learn how to take better photos with it. I wish I had more time to sew (go ahead, call me Becky Home-ecky; I don't mind.) I'd like to write some essays that are more serious than these blog posts; I have no idea if or when I would submit them somewhere, but that's not exactly the point. This is about my creativity, not my accomplishments.

What about you folks? Where have you found creativity? Where do you look for inspiration? What do you wish you had more time to do?