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?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Song of Democracy

Today is July 4, American Independence Day. I could use this space to spout criticism, express my disappointment in my country. After all, there is a lot to complain about.

But today is a beautiful day, the kind of day where any minute spent inside better be for a good reason, like using the bathroom or replenishing the beer and snacks to be eaten on the back deck. I'm in no mood to be cynical, so instead I'm sharing a poem by Walt Whitman, one of our country's great poets and patriots.

Song of Democracy
by Walt Whitman

An old man's thoughts of school,
An old man's gathering youthful memories and
blooms that youth itself cannot. Now only do I know You,
O fair auroral skies - O morning dew upon the grass!And these I see, these sparkling eyes,
These stores of mystic meaning, these young lives,
Building, equipping like a fleet of ships, immortal ships,
Soon to sail out over the measureless seas,
On the soul's voyage.

Only a lot of boys and girls?
Only the tiresome spelling, writing, ciphering classes?
Only a public school?
Ah more, infinitely more.

And you America,
Cast you the real reckoning for your present?
The lights and shadows of your future, good or evil?
To girlhood, boyhood look, the teacher and the school.

Sail, Sail thy best, ship of Democracy,
Of value is thy freight, 'tis not the present only,
The Past is also stored in thee.
Thou holdest not the venture of thyself alone,
not of thy Western continent alone.
Earth's resume entire floats on thy keel, O ship,
is steadied by thy spars,
With thee Time voyages in trust, the antecedent
nations sink or swim with thee.
With all their ancient struggles, martyrs, heroes,
epics, wars, thou bear'st the other continents,
Theirs, theirs as much as thine, the destination -
port triumphant;
Steer then with good strong hand and wary eye
O helmsman, thou carriest great companions,
Venerable priestly Asia sails this day with thee,
And royal feudal Europe sails with thee.
And royal feudal Europe sails with thee.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

camp*

*Inspired by Steph's post from today. Yeah, I'm kind of a copycat. Sue me.

I think the worst week of my childhood was the week I spent at 4-H camp. It was the summer before 7th grade. I was 11, shy, shrimpy and very unpopular. I'm not sure whose idea it was for me to go to this camp. Probably not mine. Maybe my mother's, or maybe my mother was conspiring with some other kids' mothers to pack us off for a week. In any case, I went once and once only (unlike church camp, where I went 2 or 3 summers in a row, but that's a whole different story.)

Oh, 4-H camp, how did thee suck? Let us count the ways:

1) The nightly dances. These were held in a large picnic shelter, and was one of the few chances boys and girls had to mingle. Shudder. They were also mandatory because there weren't enough adult supervisors/counselors, so we all had to be in one place in the evenings. So much for sulking in your cabin or playing cards in the dining hall. Of course, dances have a way of bringing out the worst social awkwardness facing those in junior high. Every night I stood off to the side, simultaneously glad and sad that none of the boys noticed me. Most of them were gross, and I wouldn't have known what to do with the attention anyway. I remember one night a fellow wallflower and I, desperate to keep ourselves occupied with anything other than our own unpopularity, tracked the progress of a small toad trying to hop across the dance floor. We were really rooting for him, but I'm afraid he didn't make it; he got squashed by someone doing a line dance.

2) The activities. The only thing I was remotely excited about was the canoe class. Guess what? It rained the whole week and we never made it out into the water.

3) More activities. Since it was my first (and only) year as a 4-H camper, I was lowest on the priority list for class sign-ups. Somehow I got into the canoe class, even though we never went canoeing, but after that the only thing left was archery. Guess how much I suck at archery? Quite a lot, as it turns out.

4) The food. I don't really remember what there was, but I remember it was pretty awful.

5) The rules. We were not allowed to go anywhere without a counselor. Even the bathroom. Even the bathroom!! If you got caught too many times trying to go to the bathroom without a counselor with you, hoo-boy, you might get sent home. (Come to think of it, this might have been a good strategy, had I been thinking clearly.) What made it worse, there was a dire shortage of counselors for the girls, so we had precious few opportunities to, you know, go. One poor girl got so constipated that she was doubled over in pain and crying for an entire day.

6) The weather. Don't go to summer camp in Kentucky in July. You could die of heatstroke or get struck by lightning. Either way, you don't get to go canoeing.

7) The bugs. There were the usual: chiggers, mosquitoes, bees...but the worst was a raging case of headlice that I brought home and couldn't get rid of for weeks.

The one saving grace about 4-H camp was that my friend Ann was there with me. In fact, Ann and I shared those awful junior high years in each other's company, and I'm pretty sure she's the reason I didn't come out of 6th grade (and post-6th grade camp) with permanent social scars.