Monday, March 31, 2008


There have been a few times in the last four months when I've had an unexpected reminder of just how much I miss playing the piano. It's not that I've quit, of course, but running a household and taking care of a two-year-old and a new baby don't allow a person spare time for much of anything except a few minutes of knitting here and there in the evening. Of course, knitting is a quiet activity that can be done while young ones are sleeping, and practicing is definitely not a quiet activity.

I was pretty darn burnt out with school by the time I finished my degree. (To be perfectly honest, actually, I was burnt out with school a good two years before I finished, but I managed to stick with it to the end, and I'm glad I did.) I think, though, that the writing and academic-beaurocratic hoops one has to jump through were wearing me out more than the performance part of the DMA. Now that I'm done, it is a relief not to have deadlines and the constant pressure to please my professors hanging over my head. Even as a mature (ha!) adult, I have been a student eager to please, to the point where I have sometimes been afraid to assert my independence and my opinions. That's something that came up in my dissertation defense, as a matter of fact. My committee members, well-meaning and supportive, all of them, kept saying about my paper: "This is good, but I want to hear more of YOUR voice. What do YOU have to say?" And I kept saying, to my extreme internal frustration, "Okay, no problem," and nodding amiably. In the end, my revisions were good and I'm satisfied with what I turned in, even rather proud of it, though I'm quite sure no one will ever read it again or care a whit that I'm currently a bit of an expert on some obscure text settings of E.E. Cummings...

But that's not really my point. My point is that my life as a (shudder) housewife completely fills up my time and keeps my hands busy enough that most of the time I forget how much I like to play the piano. Yesterday and today there have been modest exceptions.

Yesterday, I went with a student of mine (she's in 4th grade) and her father to look at a restored baby grand they are thinking of buying to replace the small spinnet she currently has to practice on. They simply wanted me there for my opinion. Even though I am in no way qualified to appraise an instrument (that's a job for a technician), I can tell if it's a good instrument or not. My student played "Home on the Range" (the only piece she currently has committed to memory) about six times, and then I hacked through the A section of a Brahms Intermezzo (op. 118/2 in A major...every pianist has butchered this piece in his/her younger years, but I still think it's sublime and I pull it out for weddings and such.) The man selling the instrument said, rather patronizingly (though not unkindly), "You play beautifully." Right. I didn't tell him I just finished my DMA.

Today I got an email from the music dept's assistant director. It was a desperate plea for a pianist to accompany an audition recital for a candidate applying to fill a violin position. The audition is in a week, and the program includes, among other things, the first Schumann sonata. I've heard the piece, but never played it. I know it's hard, hard enough that it would be a stretch for anyone to learn it in a week's time, much less an out-of-practice full-time mother who would probably have to bring her squirmy children along to the performance because good babysitters are so hard to find on such short notice. I said no, obviously.

It's been a long winter. Lots of cold, lots of snow, lots of being cooped up inside with a bored toddler and needy baby. But I think the constant gloom nipping at my heels (once the relief and euphoria of actually finishing the doctorate wore off, that is) has had more to do with my own musical inactivity than the weather. I certainly don't miss the harried pressure of graduate school, but golly do I miss my comrades. I miss hanging around with musicians, even the nutty ones, especially the nutty ones to tell you the truth, I miss playing good music and even mediocre music. I miss collaborating. You might say I miss having conversations about something other than naps and poop and how light switches work (one of Daniel's favorite topics).

I know this won't last forever. Like a friend of mine, a fellow musician/mother, told me a couple of weeks ago, "It's only been three months since Anya was born." I guess I should learn to be patient, but it's really really really hard. I feel like my brain and my skills are atrophying. I hate that I say no to practically every opportunity that comes along, but right now I have to.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

still here

So we were scheduled to drive back to Wisconsin on Saturday, but last week Madison got another almost 8" of snow and I just couldn't face it and decided to stay in Kentucky a few more days. It's kind of pathetic that I couldn't handle more snow when I've dealt with it all winter. Am I not made of stronger stuff? Apparently not. My dad will drive with me all the way back up to Madtown next week and stay a few days with us, Stuart doesn't have to make the long drive at all, and the kidlets get some extra time with their Oma and Opa. Except that Stu is probably getting a little lonely (and possible a bit tired of a diet of leftover lentils and mac 'n cheese), this is working out well for everyone.

The most interesting thing to say about the last few days is that Daniel just simply won't take his afternoon nap. I guess being at my parents' house is far too exciting to take a break in the middle of the day. He clearly still needs his nap, though. Without it, he becomes floppy, whiny, and totally impossible to deal with around 6:00 in the evening. Today he fell asleep in front of a Wallace and Gromit video (yes, I already resort to videos with my kid. I dare you to judge me.) at 5:30, woke up at 6:30, and then promptly fell back asleep in my lap until 7:30, when he woke up bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready for a snack. So I gave him apple slices and a mini-cupcake (yeah, yeah, but it's Easter after all) and let him watch British comedies on PBS with my mom. (All right, you can judge me for that. He doesn't watch this much TV in real life, I promise.)

We had a few nice days here and got some outside playtime (I'd almost forgotten what that was like!) with pictures and everything, so I'll try and share some of those soon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

hi from Kentucky

Y'all, I am exhausted.

I'm having a very nice week here with my parents, but if you have two kids, you have two kids, and nothing really relieves you of that. Daniel is two, and while he is generally a sweet, even-tempered, delightful little boy, he still has his Moments. Given that we're in a rather unfamiliar place in a new time zone without Stuart, and since he just figured out how to climb out of his portable crib and has decided that naps are completely and totally optional...well, you can imagine. Yesterday it took me over an hour to get him to nap. I nearly gave up, but I think he inherited his stubbornness from me and I didn't want to give in, so even though it nearly sent me over the edge, I insisted and insisted and insisted that he at least lie down quietly, and I finally won. In between all of the Danimal antics, of course there's little Anya, too, and while her Opa is more than happy to walk her up and down the hallway when she's fussy, I'm still the only one who can nurse, change, and bathe her.

I'm learning that grandparents are really great for jiggling babies and reading stories and spoiling with TV time, but they're not so helpful with the actual parenting part. Which is okay. That's how it should be, I suppose. It's not my mom's job to put Daniel in bed for the 60th time (no exaggeration) for his nap. It's not my dad's job to give him a time-out for running away from a diaper change. Neither one of them can lie on the guest bed with both children squeezed into their sides at 4a.m. when Anya wakes up hungry and Daniel wakes up afraid of the dark.

I just keep telling myself that one day this will get easier. Maybe not tomorrow. But one day.

Enough of the complaining, though. Here's what we have been doing:

1. Cooking yummy food. You know this is something I like to do. I don't mind doing most of the cooking for my parents, especially when they can keep the kids occupied so they're not underfoot. Plus, my poor mom is recovering from a nasty case of shingles and isn't up to her usual level of energy.

2. Going to the library. Madison has a really great library system, but my hometown, my little town in Kentucky with its alarming teen pregnancy rate and scores of pick-up trucks sans mufflers and the charming mix of Baptists and rednecks (I might get in trouble for that, but I don't care), has a beautiful public library with one of the nicest children's sections I've ever seen. There is a little fake stone wall with a gate entrance to the kids' books, life-size statues of nursery rhyme characters, little nooks sized just for wee ones, a life-sized tree to play peek-a-boo behind, funky fun-house mirrors on the wall, listening stations with headphones and CD players, puzzles, and that's just the stuff I noticed. We're going to go to storytime tomorrow.

3. Knitting, or trying to; it's hard to find much down time for it, but I am doing my best. I finished a sweater for Anya and if it ever stops raining, I'll try to get a picture of her in it. I've also started a pair of socks. So far I have one toe. At this rate, the pair will be done just in time for sandals weather.

4. Checking out the local yarn shop scene. I won't mention specific names, but I'l tell you that the eclectic closet-sized artisan shop next door to the old-fashioned barber has a way more friendly staff than the beautiful, airy place in downtown Lexington. Even though the latter has enough Rowan in stock to make a knitter weak in the knees, I was not impressed with the attitude there. (Yes, I had Daniel with me, and yes, that was the cause of the snootiness but he didn't touch the yarn any more than a knitter would have, and he never pulled any off the shelves, and I swear his fingers weren't sticky. Honest.)

5. Playing outside when it's not raining. This is basically just me following Daniel around in a bit of a daze while he bangs sticks on the ground and pulls up the grass. He clearly enjoys himself and clearly needs the fresh air, so it's all good.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday quickie

1. Send Steph your good vibes this morning, everyone. She's having her surgery this morning.

2. Stu turned 30 on Wednesday! How about some belated birthday wishes for him, y'all? I didn't blog it on that day because I was busy making lasagna and birthday cake (which was totally kick-ass, thanks to the Cake Bible).

3. I leave for Kentucky tomorrow. Huzzah! We're driving halfway through Illinois and meeting my dad, then moving our stuff and the carseats over to his car. Stuart will turn around drive back here, and dad and the kids and I will continue on to my parents' place. There's a LOT of laundry and packing to do between now and tomorrow morning.

4. My parents finally got high speed internet a few months ago, so I will probably be blogging from their place. Be sure to check in next week!

Monday, March 10, 2008

why I need to pay more attention to caller ID

This just happened.

Ring, ring. (the phone)

(Caller ID reads: "Wisconsin call")

Me: Hello?

Dude on the other end: Hello, is Susan there?

Me: Yes.

Hello, this is so-and-so calling from True (mumble).

Me: True what?

True (mumble). With spring just a couple weeks away, it's time to start thinking about lawn care. We have treated your property before, and -

Oh, TruGREEN! You're the people who put poisons on people's lawns!

Dude: Uh, no...



Me to Stuart:
Seriously, that was as polite as I could possibly be.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Sunday Funk

You'd think the day we "spring forward" our clocks would put me in a better mood. It puts sunset an hour later, after all, and it's a sign that winter should be ending soon. Unfortunately, we're still up to our eyeballs in snow, it's still colder than a witch's teet outside (what does that even mean?), and Stu and I are in our Sunday Funk.

The Sunday Funk has become a weekly ritual. Every Sunday afternoon, we have the same conversations about how long we want to stay in Madison and when we'll move south - not just because we're tired of long winters, but also because we want to be closer to family - and if we move, where exactly that will be. Then we talk about how the housing market and the economy are tanking, so we're probably better off staying right here for now, despite our restlessness. And then we get all stir-crazy and try to think of an reason to get out of the house, and that usually turns out to be either a trip to a coffee shop for latt├ęs and cocoa or a trip to the library.

It's getting old. I want to dig in my garden. We want to go to the park and take walks and bike rides and fire up the grill. We wish we lived close enough to either our parents or siblings or Steph and Eric that we could just go hang out with them instead of having the same glum "what next" conversation every damn Sunday afternoon.

I also want to have more direction in my life. Or how about any direction at all? Obviously, my children demand nearly all of my time and attention, so it's not as though I'm serving no useful purpose. But it's too early for me to start a serious job search, and even most accompanying gigs aren't worth the cost and trouble of all those extra babysitting hours. I end up knitting a lot because it's something I can do on and off during the day if Anya's sleeping while I keep an eye on Daniel. In fact, knitting is just about the only extracurricular thing I've got going right now, and while it's resulted in some very nice warm winter hats for the family, it's a little sad considering I have a doctorate and everything.

My little family fills me so completely with love and joy. At the same time, when I think about what I'm doing with my own life right now - cooking, laundry, knitting when I can - I get anxious and a tad existential. I don't know how to explain adequately how I'm pulled so far in these different directions.

That is why I decided, a couple weeks ago, that I should get out of here for a week or so. Next weekend I'm taking Daniel and Anya to Kentucky for a week to visit my parents. I miss them, they miss us, Stuart will have a week of bachelorhood to look forward to (he can't take a week off work on this late notice), and presumably it will be above freezing at least part of the time. I sure hope so. I could use a shot of sunshine.

Friday, March 07, 2008

lift up your voice and sing

I love to sing.

I've been in choirs and in high school I participated enthusiastically in all the musicals (as well as straight plays -- Ann and Jenn were right there with me!). So help me, I've even sung in a couple of weddings. One was my friend Sarah, who asked both me and Stuart to sing in a quartet at the reception. She chose the piece Rose Liz, a rondeau by the Medieval French composer Machaut. It's pretty hard, and it went horribly. (Sarah, I'm still sorry about that, though I still have a little hope that you and your groom were far too busy enjoying all your wedding guests to notice that the guys were completely lost in the music and the alto and I were sputtering so hard with laughter we could barely sing.)

I've never had any formal one-on-one training as a singer, though I have gleaned quite a lot from accompanying so many voice lessons. That hasn't stopped me from singing in public, though, for better or for worse (see above re: why no one has asked me to sing in a wedding since 2000.) If I were asked to sing a solo in a public venue, I would almost certainly say no, because I know better than to subject myself or anyone else to my, er, "raw" talent.

But I do love to sing.

Lately, I've really enjoyed singing to Daniel (and of course, Anya.) Daniel is still too young to sing with me; he's still speaking in one- and two-word phrases and has a ways to go before he's matching pitch and singing tunes. But some of his favorite naptime/bedtime/anytime books are by Iza Trapani, an author/illustrator who has added verses and illustrations to well-known folk tunes and children's songs. I think we have nine of her books, and Stuart and I have most of them memorized. I even made up a tune to "Ten Little Monkeys" after Daniel asked me to read it to him so many times I thought I'd lose my mind just reciting the words over and over.

It's great being able to sing with Stuart. He had several years of piano lessons, and we were both in the college choir (corny as it sounds, that's how we initially got to know each other, but that's yet another story). We often burst into song together: the first few lines that we can remember from several hymns, various tracks from the Radiohead album du jour, songs from the Kindermusik class Daniel and I took last spring (he still plays those CDs constantly), and I throw in bits of music theater songs I remember from my high school days. It's not that we're making some special effort to surround our children with singing, but it seems to be happening naturally, and that's something I'm very happy about.

There's just something so spiritual about the human voice. It's the first musical instrument humankind ever had, and it's the only one that doesn't require wood or metal or sheep gut (or any combination thereof) to play. In fact, we don't "play" the voice like we play the piano or the flute, do we? We just sing. Whatever sound your voice makes is particular to you and you only. It comes from within your own body and is made from the air that you inhale and then pass over your vocal chords and around your tongue and out your mouth. (Sorry, that was sort of gross...but true!) When you sing, it's just you. I suppose that's why so many people are shy about singing in public, because it feels a bit like exposing a piece of your soul, and that's not something everyone is willing to do.

Plus, if you play another instrument, you can kind of hide behind it like a security blanket. I guess that makes pianists the most insecure, huh?

It's too bad that most people are afraid to sing (though I can think of a few voice majors from college and grad school that might have been better off if they'd had some of that fear), because I believe singing does the body - and the soul, if you go that way - quite a lot of good. So what if you don't sound like Pavarotti or Joan Sutherland? Singing is a way of expressing your love, your joy, your sadness, your grief. Singing soothes the savage beast, and sometimes, the wailing toddler or crying baby.

Now go! Sing your heart out! I don't care if it's a Billy Ray Cyrus hit from a dozen years ago and you're in the shower with the fan on so no one else can hear, or if you're sittin' around the campfire with ye olde geetar. Lift up your voice, love your voice - and SING!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

photos and friends

My friend Carissa was over here yesterday. She's a talented person in many ways, one of which is photography. She showed me a couple cool tricks on our camera that I'm eager to try out, and she took some very nice pictures of us, and a few of them are here on her blog. Go look and enjoy!

Monday, March 03, 2008


A little while ago, I promised Animal in comments that I would do a diaper post, and while I've been thinking about a lot of other things to write about, they're all topics that take some work and organization and I just...don't feel like it right now. Call it spring fever or blogging ennui or what-have-you.

So instead, you're getting my diaper spiel, like it or not.

We use cloth diapers in our house. The primary reason for this is environmental: manufacturing and washing cloth diapers has far, far less negative environmental impact than using disposables. As a committed environmentalist, I simply can not fill up multiple trash bags with human waste on a weekly basis for 4 years (or more) running. It's just not right. Plus, cloth diapers are cheaper in the long run and there's a small chance that our kids will potty train earlier (though I'm sorry to say Daniel's interest in the potty is waning a bit these days).

Some towns have diaper services for people who want to use cloth diapers but don't want to go to the work of washing them themselves. Unfortunately, diaper services are rare; I guess there aren't a whole lot of entrepreneurs out there who think "Okay, I want to start my own business, but in what? I know! I'll wash poop-filled diapers for strangers!" You might say it's a niche.

We used a diaper service the first three months after Daniel was born. Getting used to having a new baby at home and washing diapers ourselves just seemed too much to handle at once. But it cost 70 bucks a month, plus we had to buy the covers, and sometime in that first spring, we started to wash our own. I was afraid it would be tons of extra work, but as it turns out, having a baby means you're constantly doing laundry anyway, so what's an extra load every few days?

Now that we have two kids in diapers, of course, changing and washing those diapers occupies a significant portion of my time, but that's all right. Daniel will be fully potty trained sometime in the next year (I hope), and then I'll be able to go back to washing diapers every three days instead of every 36 hours. Yes, that's pretty much every day, but at least I'm getting my exercise running up and down the stairs (our laundry is in the basement).

So, here's how we do it:

1. Diapers that are only wet go right in the diaper pail, which is really just a trash can with a lid. A sprinkle of baking soda keeps the smell from getting too overpowering.

2. Messy diapers get a special rinse in the poop bucket with poop gloves (even after two years, I can't wash them out with my bare hands because it grosses me out too much). Then they're put in the diaper pail.

3. Until they get soaking wet or poopy, the covers can be used through several diaper changes before they, too, get chucked in the pail.

4. When it's time to wash, I dump the diapers and covers into the washing machine. We have an old top-loader that is not especially water-saving, but this is a good thing for washing diapers because of all the rinsing required. Anyway, I set the water level on full and do a cold/cold cycle to rinse everything out.

5. Then I set the temp to hot/cold and do another full wash cycle with about 1 tablespoon of perfume-free detergent (All Free and Clear is good, or Arm and Hammer scent-free detergent) and 1/2 cup of washing soda made by Arm and Hammer.

6. The third and final cycle is another hot/cold, again with 1 tablespoon of detergent and 1/2 cup of washing soda. I also put a few tablespoons of white vinegar in a Downy ball. The Downy ball is made for fabric softener and designed to open up during the rinse cycle. The whole purpose of putting vinegar in there is because it strips the diapers clean of any detergent still lingering in the fibers. Too much detergent can make the diapers smell and cause diaper rash if you're not careful.

7. In summer (will we ever have warm weather or see the green grass again ????), I hang the diapers outside to dry on the clothesline. Unfortunately, this time of year, I have to use the dryer, which takes forever and wears out the diapers much faster, but I don't have a choice. Line-drying is ideal (if time-consuming) because the sun naturally bleaches out any stains. If the diapers are stiff coming off the line, they just need a 10-minute tumble in the dryer to get nice and fluffy.

And that's it! I know it seems like a lot, but it's just part of the routine here. It's worth the extra effort knowing we're not contributing to the landfill problem. Plus, I figure there are a lot of things we - mostly I, since I'm the, er, housewife (did-I-really-write-that-out-loud?) - take the extra time to do for the sake of living a quality life. Things like making our own bread and cooking from scratch and buying foods grown and produced locally and using our clothesline when we can and commuting by bike. We're just not willing to compromise on those things. Not yet.