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


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 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?