Monday, April 28, 2008

Happy Birthday, Pam!

Sunday, April 27, 2008


I bought Daniel a pair of scissors yesterday. Do I WANT my jeans fringed, my recipe books shredded, a surprise haircut, and the curtains cut into strips, you may ask? Well, no. (Actually, I don't care so much about the curtains. They're fugly and don't match anything.) But Daniel's been really interested in scissors lately for who knows what reason. He loves getting his hair cut (!!!); in fact, our stylist Cassandra said he's the best two-year-old she's ever cut hair for. He's fascinated with the kitchen scissors, which we use to cut homemade pizza. Whenever he sees a pair of scissors, he says "Sizz-izz! Sizz-izz!"

So when I was faced with a whole Saturday morning alone with the kids because Stu had to work on a project for his programming class, I decided to take them to the gargantuan Jo-Ann's on our side of town and get Daniel his very own pair of scissors and some colored construction paper to cut. Of course, he could cut any old paper we have at home, but I thought if we had special paper just for cutting, he'd be less inclined to try out his scissors on other things. So far, I've been right. I am fully aware that I may retract this statement sometime in the future.

He's done amazingly well, though it's funny to see Daniel handle his scissors. It took him a few tries to figure out that the thumb goes in the smaller handle, but now he's pretty adept. He can do the cutting action fine, but it takes him two hands to spread out the blades to get ready to cut. Now we have shreds of colored paper all over the house and yet another activity that takes close supervision, but he's thrilled with his new skill, so it's worth it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Daniel is SO affectionate with his little sister. A little TOO affectionate sometimes, in fact. He's so enthusiastic that he gets too close to her, crowds her face, practically climbs on top of her. It's frustrating for all of us because we want him to show his love, but we don't want him to hurt or upset Anya. However, this morning, he really wanted Anya to sit on his lap on the couch, and she tolerated it for quite a while, long enough to take some pictures.

(ETA: Notice how red Anya's hair is! It's exactly the same color as Stuart's hair now. This make me happy, and makes Stuart grumble, as he spent his childhood in equatorial Africa and therefore always covered in hats, sunscreen and long sleeves, and he is still befreckled.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

instead of blogging, i've been...

1. Outside. I can finally say with total certainty that spring is here. The last of the piles of snow disappeared last week, daffodils are blooming, and the other day I sent Stuart out to find some shorts and t-shirts for Daniel because it was 70 degrees and all he had were cold-weather clothes. Daniel wants to be outdoors every waking minute of the day, and I feel pretty much the same, only I remember that we need to eat and drink and use the bathroom every once in a while. We play in the yard, we go to the park, we find tiny pine cones, we pull weeds, we kick a ball back and forth, we hang laundry on the line, you name it.

2. Driving. The nap situation reached a point so low a couple weeks ago that I just gave up. Now when Daniel looks tired (any time between 11 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon), I pack the kids in the car and find some errand to run so they'll both go to sleep. Yesterday I deposited an $8 check at the ATM. Today I picked up Stuart's rain jacket from the tailor (they replaced the zipper pull for 3 bucks; you can't beat that!). Other days I indulge myself in a latté from the Starbucks drive-thru (I am not proud of this). Every once in a blue moon, I'll drive a few miles out to a nice coffee/yarn (!) shop. Usually, Daniel and Anya fall asleep in about 5 minutes, so I just go back home and carry them inside and enjoy the next 15-90 minutes until one of them wakes up. I'm glad I don't have to drive more than a mile or two for this to work, considering the gas prices these days.

3. Visiting. Daniel, Anya and I spent a couple days with my good friend Stephanie at her parents' house. It's in rural southwest Wisconsin. Beautiful countryside. Lots of hills and wetlands and farms with cows and corn and such. We spent a day at her cousin's farm, where there are all kinds of sheep and gorgeous chickens. (You should see Daniel walk like a chicken, by the way. It's pretty funny.)

4. Digging. This is related to #1...All the time outside means I'm finally doing some garden/landscaping work I meant to do last year. Of course, then I got pregnant and went to Songfest, so it meant I was too busy and tired to do anything but take care of Daniel and practice for all those masterclasses. Anyway, I went to a greenhouse over the weekend and bought a whole bunch of perennials. I had no plan; I just picked up anything that looked pretty and could tolerate partial shade. With Daniel's "help," I can get two or three planted at a time. I'm beefing up my herb patch and replacing weeds with flowers. There's a pile of free mulch at the park down the road, so I'm hoping to score some of that before it's all gone. If I ever get the chance, I'll take some pictures to share.

5. Sleeping. hahahahahahahahahahaha. Right. I'm so sleep-deprived right now it's not even funny. It's also not worth blogging the details, but it also means I don't have the energy to write anything good, so I'm not writing much at all. Let's hope I find some inspiration with the nice spring weather.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

the lanyard

I'm not much of a poetry-reader. Just say it in good prose is my philosophy. But last night I was watching something on PBS about Walt Whitman, and at the end, there was a clip of Billy Collins reading his poem "The Lanyard." I love Billy Collins; there's a song cycle by a New York composer (whose name escapes me suddenly...Tom something maybe?) called "Another Reason I Don't Keep a Gun in the House" that I really want to play someday with a good baritone. Anyhoo, here's The Lanyard:

The Lanyard

Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


I'm letting myself blog this afternoon, despite the mess in the kitchen, because for the first time in weeks, I've succeeded in getting Daniel to nap without resorting to one of two things: 1) waiting until 5:00 when he's so tired he can't walk straight and letting him crash in front of Wallace and Gromit, or 2) packing him in the car with Anya and driving to Starbucks for a much-needed latté and not returning home until they're both asleep. I am a little ashamed of both of these things, but you gotta do whatcha gotta do. And both of those options prevents me from cracking open a bottle of wine at four in the afternoon (which I'll confess to having done a time or two), so there you go.

Anyway, I was watching the final round of a high school concerto competition with MSO (Madison Symphony Orchestra) on public TV the other night. I recognized probably half of the orchestra players on the screen because they are professors at the school of music or students or former students. I was getting a little nostalgic, and I also got to thinking about stereotypes. You've probably heard somebody say something like "Stereotypes exist for a reason; there's usually some truth to them." This statement can be maddeningly ignorant in some cases (like in conversations about racial stereotypes, but let's please not get onto that topic), but when it comes to musicians, there's some truth there.

Here are a few that come to mind:

1) Most tuba players are large males with a laid-back personality and jolly sense of humor.

2) Flute players fall into three categories: ditzy gay men, ditzy girly-girls, and jaded ex-players who leave the flute world for academic fields like musicology.

3) Conductors are assholes.

4) Singers, God love 'em, are high-strung, sensitive divas who always wear scarves because they are cold (even in summer) and who can tell you without missing a beat a half dozen methods of snot-removal in allergy season. They also can't count.

5) Percussionists are very, very cool. Nothing can faze a percussionist. It probably has something to do with all the Steve Reich they play.

6) Early music people have long hair and wear old sandals (except the singers.) They are also extremely nerdy.

7) Except for the scarves and the mucous, violinists are a lot like singers who practice more.

Of course, I could name you several exceptions to each one of these. I know female tuba players, I might know a nice conductor or two. I could probably find you a high-strung percussionist, a stylish early music specialist, and some down-to-earth flutists. But in my experience, a lot of musicians fit the stereotypes.

Including me. You probably notice that I didn't say anything about pianists up there. That's because I'm giving them (us) a whole list:
Pianists are straight-A students.
Pianists are obsessed with practicing.
Pianists who can't hack it as soloists decide to become accompanists because it's "easier."
Pianists who become piano teachers couldn't hack it as soloists, either.

There are some negative stereotypes about piano teachers and accompanists, and I fit a lot of them. Most of us are women. Most of us can't really make a good living teaching and accompanying, but that's okay because we find ourselves husbands with good jobs (and health insurance) so we don't have to worry about it. Most of us have some nurturing instinct that compels us to teach children and work with others to perform. Along with that comes a tendency to fail to assert oneself musically and just go along with the other performer, thus securing the accompanist's position as "second-tier" to the soloist. Lord knows I've done that many times, just to be nice, or because I'm afraid of offending someone or suggesting that my way might be better. That's no good, though, because it's a compromise of standards and in the end, the music suffers. It took me a lot of years of grad school to get over that tendency, and I'm still working on that. (Of course, there's an art to coaching and collaborating, especially with someone who is your musical equal, but that's a whole other blog entry.)

Even though I'm good at what I do, it kind of bugs me that I fit these stereotypes. I wish I didn't have to try so hard to stick up for myself (that goes for life in general, too.) I wish I could theoretically find a job in my field that would pay a decent wage AND come with health insurance so I didn't have to be dependent on Stuart for that (I say "theoretically" because with our kids so little, I'm not looking for a job at all right now and I don't know when I will.) I guess the best way to overcome it is to be the best musician I can be, work hard, play the kind of music that makes people sit up and listen, play it WELL so that people sit up and listen. And also, charge enough to be taken seriously...that's hard, deciding how much you're worth.

Uck, sorry about the rambling post here. I was hoping this would be funnier and more succinct. I guess it's all the sleep issues and sleep deprivation preventing me from being a better blogger.

Anyway, here's my pathetic plea for comments (!): what are the stereotypes you encounter? As musicians? As the people you are? Do you dispute any from the list I've got up there?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Eye-candy Friday: signs of spring

Thanks for all the good words about my expert advice on composition. Believe me, if you heard some of the stuff I "composed" when I was that age, you would not be so kind in your assessment of my skills. Let's just say the world is better off with me playing stuff that somebody else already wrote! Soon I'll share more tidbits from my childhood.

Today, it finally, finally feels like Spring! It's warm(ish) and sunny and not too windy and the birds are chirping and green things are poking through the soggy ground and it just makes me want to giggle and frolick. Unfortunately, a trip to the park with a friend came to an abrupt end when a loose dog knocked over the neighbor kid and scared the daylights out of him. The dog (black lab) had a leash and a rabies tag, and he wasn't mean or threatening to bite, but was WAY too excited to be running loose around small children. I tried calling the city animal dept, but I just got a long answering machine message and then I was cut off.

At least Daniel wasn't scared to go outside, so before naptime, we went out in the yard to play and do a little garden clean-up and take pictures of signs of spring!

He helped me pull weeds.

He found some dirt.

I stood on a small patch of tenacious snow.

We found a rogue tulip in the middle of the yard... well as last year's soggy lavender.

The last bit of snow doesn't have a chance when Daniel attacks it with our oldest, crustiest shovel:

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Thanks to this new toy...

...we've been spending more time playing in the basement the last couple days. It's still too cold to spend much time outside (though we'll go out for a few minutes at a time), and Daniel really needs a way to work off that excess toddler energy, so running around the basement it is!

Of course, I need something to do down there, so today in between loads of laundry, I started going through some stuff from my childhood that my parents brought during a visit a few years ago. I think the reasoning was: "Now that Susan has a house, let's bring all of her old crap to her and let HER deal with it!" I don't blame them a bit. In any case, the bags were mostly full of musty letters and birthday cards that I kept for who-knows what reason, a few old books, my first pair of glasses (which are a hoot--one of these days I'll take a picture and post it here), and a scrapbook of my old report cards and recital programs. Most of this stuff I got rid of. I'm not nostalgic for all the B-pluses I got in P.E. in 5th grade, nor am I interested in re-reading the card my grandma sent me when I turned twelve.

A few things I just have to keep, though. Like those glasses, and some newspaper clippings from when I won awards in 4-H sewing. And, in case you need further proof that I always was a big, huge GEEK-DORK-NERD in the biggest way, there were also some "newsletter articles" I wrote when I was about eleven. The topics were music and dolls and hoo boy will they provide some great blog fodder when I run out of other ideas. (Because I can take the humiliation.)

In fact, I will close today with this little gem I wrote 18 years ago. It's called "Composing a Song," and it's got some really sophisticated advice, so all of you composers out there (Andre, Scott, I'm talkin' to YOU!), take note. You might learn something.

Composing a song is a Gift that few people have, so if your piano teacher asks you to compose a song, don't let your mouth drop open at the request. Even though you're no Mozart, you can make a composition nice to listen to if you remember some things. First of all, don't make a three-measure piece, but don't drag it out, either. Making a looooong composition can bore you and anyone else that listens to it. Also, remember that you want variety in the theme. C, E, G, all the way through can get very dull, so you will want to change it and add something else to "decorate" it and give it finesse.
"And what about the variety," you say. A change of keys, dynamics, and rhythm patterns help a tremendous amount.
If you're fooling around trying to get something a tape recorder might help you remember a neat rhythm you might suddenly play. Just don't forget to use your imagination.