Monday, March 30, 2009

home sweet home

The kids and I just spent five wonderful days in Lawrence, KS with Steph, Eric and their cats Bonzo and Djuna. Highlights included watching the cats, dyeing yarn with Kool-Aid, watching the cats, waiting for a sleet storm to come through, watching the cats, playing at the park on the one day of nice weather we had, and watching the cats. We drove back today. What should have been an 8-hour drive turned into approximately 12. That's just how it goes with kids, but I have to say driving 500+ miles solo with a 1yo and 3yo is one of the most exhausting things I've ever done. I'll spare you the unpleasant details, but I'm ever so grateful for two things: McDonalds PlayLand and the new car's scotchguarded interior. We had a great time in Lawrence, so the grueling drive was worth it, but I am not sure when I'll be willing to do it (alone) again.

Perhaps I'll write more about our trip later, but right now I desperate need to drink a beer, take a shower, and fall into bed.

Monday, March 23, 2009

little things

I was going to complain today about how a lot of little things are getting me down. Like the rain, and my messy house, and the puddles of pee Daniel is leaving on the floor instead of in the potty (candy didn't work), the 6 beastly measures of an otherwise playable choral piece I'm performing next Friday. Instead, I share with you the German text and English translation of one of my favorite lieder: "Auch kleine Dinge" by Hugo Wolf.

Auch kleine Dinge können uns entzücken,
auch kleine Dinge können theuer sein.
Bedenkt, wie gern wir uns mit Perlen schmücken;
sie werden schwer bezahlt und sind nur klein.
Bedenkt, wie klein ist die Olivenfruicht,
und wird um ihre Güte doch gesucht.
Denkt an die Rose nur, wie klein sie ist,
und duftet doch so lieblich, wie ihr wisst.

Even little things can delight us,
even little things can be precious.
Consider how we love to bedeck ourselves with pearls;
they are costly and are only small.
Consider how small is the olive fruit,
and yet it is sought for its fineness.
Think only of the rose, how small it is,
and yet how lovely it smells, as you know.

I am thinking about this song today because while the little things are getting me down, the little things can help me feel better: a cup of green tea, making dinner for a friend's family to help them out, the greek style yogurt I just discovered at the grocery store, Anya's naptime whenever she gets around to it.

When I was just starting the collaborative piano program at the you-dub School of Music, I learned and performed all 46 songs in Hugo Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch for one of my first recitals. "Auch kleine Dinge" opens the songbook, and is one of those pieces that sounds very simple but is in actuality very difficult for both singer and pianist. (The same can be said for just about every Wolf song, actually, except the ones that sound difficult to begin with; those are even more difficult to execute.) In fact, I believe that no one can truly appreciate the amount of effort it takes to make "Auch kleine Dinge" seem so, well, effortless except seasoned musicians who have performed it themselves. Doing it well is worth every bit of the effort, though.

I could go in about a dozen different directions with this post, but I have to do something about the messy house and Daniel has just about used up his allotted TV time. So I am leaving you with a question: what are the little things that are making or breaking YOUR day?

Monday, March 16, 2009

sheepy fun

I didn't mean to leave the blog on such a downer for over a week! But we've been busy. Last week, Stuart had a huge midterm and a birthday, which meant I spent an evening getting the kids to bed solo while he took his test, and the next day cooking a big special birthday dinner and cake for him. We're not going out to eat anymore because of the new car, so I figured I'd go all out cooking for his birthday, and I did. Roast beef (his request, oddly enough), roast vegetables (potatoes, carrots, cauliflower), gravy, and cake (always from scratch, never ever from a mix). It took all afternoon but it was pretty damn good.

Saturday was the solo and ensemble contest for area high schools. I got lots and lots of accompanying requests -- and I turned every single one of them down because it was the same day as the Madison Knitters' Guild knit-in. For the muggles out there, this event was one glorious day at a Catholic retreat center where knitters got together to take classes, share stories, explore the vendors and, of course, knit. I'm not a Guild member (formal knitting groups make me feel extremely shy for some reason), but fortunately non-members could register because nothing and I mean nothing would have kept me from the opportunity to meet both Meg Swansen and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee in one fell swoop. Meg Swansen, daughter of the late great Elizabeth Zimmerman, runs Schoolhouse Press, designs knitwear, writes books, makes videos, and is really high up there in my list of knitting idols. It turns out she is warm, elegant, gracious, witty, and just terribly nice. Daniel has watched a couple of her videos I've checked out from the library, and she was pretty tickled to hear about it (though I maintain it's mainly an excuse to get the TV turned on).

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is THE notorious Yarn Harlot, the world's only knitting humorist, a rock star of knitting. She's been on the New York Times bestseller list, and deservedly so. She's an excellent writer, a compassionate human being and she's been doing some reading and research lately about the physiological benefits of knitting. Knitting can make the world a better place and can improve the human condition. Don't believe me? Read her latest book. She's also raised over $600,000 for Doctors Without Borders through her blog, which is clearly no small potatoes. And she's funny, funny, funny. Funny on her blog, funny in her books and extremely funny in person...but there's no way I can recreate any of her hilarious stories here, so you'll have to take my word on that.

Both of these women, these paragons in the knitting world, signed books of mine, which was enough to make my day. But on top of that, I got hours of uninterrupted knitting time and a chance to be away from the kids for, like, 6 whole hours. Very good for the psyche. Not only did they and Stuart survive the day without me, I think they all managed to mostly enjoy themselves (one tantrum notwithstanding).

I also biked to the retreat center. It was sunny, clear, and warm(ish), in other words, perfect biking weather. Except for the sore bum that is inevitable when one bikes 3.6 miles uphill after a 4-month biking hiatus, it felt really, really good.

As if the knit-in weren't enough excitement for one weekend, the whole family went out to visit a farm Sunday afternoon. This place raises tons of sheep, plus a variety of other animals. I think they're raised mostly for meat, though they shear the sheep and send the wool to a mill in Argyle (I bought some.) (Just a little bit, though.) . Anyway, it's lambing season so they've opened the barns to the public. We saw bunnies, piglets, chickens, turkeys, chicks, and lots and lots and lots of sheep. Daniel, inexplicably, was particularly drawn to the Pekin Duck, which was the only animal not doing anything whatsoever. The other animals were moving around in their funny ways, pecking for food, bleating, baaing and so on. Except that duck. He (or she, I'm not sure) sat in his (her?) cage, head tucked under wing, suspiciously eyeing the throngs of small children running about.

After some coaxing, Daniel petted a lamb.

There were spinning demonstrations, as well as a few vendors. I bought a bit of wool from the host farm, as well as a skein of pure mohair (spun from goat fleece) from a neighboring farm. I really like this idea of locally-produced fibers. If I'm not careful, I could get interested in spinning and/or I need anymore hobbies.

Monday, March 09, 2009


This morning I learned of yet another person closely connected to me who's very recently been diagnosed with cancer. This time it's my friend's mother; in fact, I'd say she's a friend of mine, too, because I know her and she even watched Daniel for me a few times that summer I was working on my dissertation. She has a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that is not curable, though people who have it can live with it for a long time.

I'm starting to get used to receiving alarming emails every few weeks bearing news of someone with a serious medical issue. And I'm getting used to hearing "the best of bad news." So-and-so has cancer - BUT they caught it early and the next few months will be hell but she'll be fine. Mom broke her leg BUT at least it wasn't her hip and she'll recover. S has incurable lymphoma BUT it's in early stages and she ought to have many relatively healthy years ahead of her.

Combine this with the terrible economic news and I'd say my perspective on life has changed quite a bit in the last few months. For instance, griping about how I've let any career plans I might have had come to a grinding halt because of motherhood? That feels selfish. We're outgrowing our 900sq ft house with no garage and no possibility of moving? Hey, at least we've got a roof over our heads. Wisconsin winters seem interminable (we got 3" of snow yesterday and it will get down to about 4 degrees tomorrow night even though it is MARCH, people! We've changed our clocks already!!)? Winter won't actually last forever, and the snow is starting to melt.

Please forgive the cliché, but I'm trying hard to be thankful for what I have and not take so much for granted. I'm trying to appreciate more in my everyday life and be more patient with my kids and myself. Instead of worrying and fretting about every petty little thing that goes wrong, I am trying to keep my perspective, see the big picture, and take each problem as it comes.

I'll let you know when it starts working.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

gloomy Sunday list

It's so awfully dreary outside today. And after a couple nice days earlier this week! Oh, Spring, you are SUCH a tease. Except for being a little cooped up, though, we're all right. When I don't really know what else to write, I make lists, so here we go:

1. My mom is out of the hospital. She went home last Monday night. I think she and my dad are still adjusting to the change of routine, but it's a relief to have the surgery done with and be home.

2. A friend of mine, Rachel, had surgery Friday to remove a cancerous tumor in her thyroid. Any of you reading who know her probably already know this, but I'll share anyway that the procedure (3 hours!) went well, the tumor was contained, and she's home recovering. I'll be taking her family some dinner tomorrow, and probably several times over the next three months while she undergoes radiation treatment. I imagine this is hell for her and her husband and children, but they'll get through it, and they have a lot of community support.

3. We've been bribing Daniel with candy to use the potty. He gets one for using the potty, two if his pull-up is dry, and it doesn't make a difference how many we offer for him to poop in the potty because THAT AIN'T HAPPENIN', FOLKS. But I think it's working (sort of) for #1, so for now, I'll take what I can get.

4. I made the mistake of getting Daniel a BIG bag of M&Ms, pouring some into a clear glass bowl (so he could see them and be further motivated) and hiding the rest where I could reach them. We'll be needing another package soon, and not because of his stellar performances in the bathroom. Ahem.

5. I've got a couple playing gigs this spring. Most requests I had to turn down because I don't get much practice time. There were a few I really wished I could have said "yes" to, like a trumpet recital for this terrific student at the School of Music, but I know my limits, and I know I can't learn a lot of difficult brass rep in the space of 3 weeks. I find it impossible to say no to one of the choir directors at UW (Bruce, for those of you who know him), however, so I'll be doing one piece on the Madrigals' concert next month and a whole pile of stuff on the Chorale concert in May. One piece is a new one by a composer I know, and I think he'll be there, so I'm really looking forward to that. (Scott, it's "Hower-Glass" and once I start practicing it I may have some questions for you...)

6. Brewmaster Stu kegged a Belgian doppel this week. He's having trouble getting the carbonation to work right, even with a carbonation stone. Any brewers out there got some hints for him? But except for that, I think this last batch is all right.

7. Daniel suddenly knows all his letters and can spell all kinds of words, including his name and the names of various household objects. I partially credit the PBS show Word World, which we get on DVD from the library, but this has just clicked in the last few weeks. He can only write a few letters, but he'll spend twenty minutes at a stretch pecking out words in TextEdit or arranging letters from his alphabet puzzle into his favorite words: Daniel, rocket, water.

8. Anya is finally somewhat interested in solid food. She now eats shredded cheese, little cubes of bread, crackers, and peas. This is a big improvement over a month ago.