Sunday, June 28, 2009

music baggage

I accompanied some scholarship auditions this morning at the School of Music Summer Music Clinic (high school music camp). I've been on the accompanists' list for a while, and every year I get a few calls. Not many, but enough to make the trek to campus worthwhile. I suspect I don't charge nearly enough for my services, but the economy being what it is, I kind of hate to ask for more.

Anyway, this morning I ran into several people I know, as often happens when I'm there. Now that Daniel and Anya occupy most of my time, my visits to campus are few and far between, so lately, the only people I know are the long-term folks: professors, professional pianists who reside in the area, doctoral graduate students who have been here for a few years. I spoke with some fellow pianists, some who were glad to see me, some who weren't 100% genuine but were friendly anyway (don't ask; I'm keeping this professional). I saw some professors who are really and truly lovely people I would work with any time if I could. I ran into some former students who are back to join the Music Clinic faculty. It's always nice to catch up, and to some extent I enjoy talking shop with musicians I used to work with on a regular basis.

But today I had ambiguous feelings about everything, feelings I've been having lately after similar gigs. For one thing, I meet these promising young students with their entire lives ahead of them, nervous about the competition they're facing, unsure of their own talent, and I think about what it was like for me as a teenager. I was never fabulously talented. No one called me a gifted musician; in fact, the two people voted "Most Musical" in my senior class were this guy who is now a Baptist preacher, and a gal who is doing Lord-knows-what now but at the time was voted Miss Teen Kentucky and left high school two weeks before she graduated to sing at Dollywood. That may tell you more about the people voting than the people voted for, but this much is true: I didn't stand out.

My whole adult life I've wondered if studying music was the right thing. I've had wonderfully affirming moments, to be sure. I've had performances that felt very successful and were received well by the audiences present. I've met and worked with famous people (famous in my field, anyway), not in any extraordinary or memorable way, but I've done it. But there have been more times when I have felt nothing but ordinary, especially since having kids. The past couple years, for example, every time I've had a gig, it's been a struggle to concentrate properly because I'm so constantly sleep-deprived. I'll be at the piano in front of the audience not living in the moment of the music, but shooing thoughts out of my head of how badly I just want to lie down and take a nap. I see how hard other musicians work. Especially now with the economy in the toilet, even the most talented amongst us are scrambling for gigs; one singer I ran into today had a couple of opera gigs canceled because the companies filed for Chapter 11 this year, leaving their workers high and dry.

I told Stuart this afternoon that I'm in a "slow crisis." I don't know what to do with my life or my career. I don't know if I'm dedicated enough to music to make it work or not. Are those great moment really worth it or not? I know I mentioned accounting in the past, and I'm still halfway considering it, but that would mean more school and I'm not sure if I have the energy for that right now. In any case, I could make up my mind tomorrow and it wouldn't change anything because my kids are so young right now my hands are tied for the next couple years.

Man, all this because I had to play a few violin concertos this morning. Thanks for listening.

Friday, June 26, 2009


It's not really vacation when you have two little kids with you.

We spent this past week in Wisconsin Dells with Stuart's family: his brother + wife + 2yo son + 7mo daughter, his parents, and his 95yo grandpa. It takes one heck of a special 95-year-old man to take a 20-hour train ride by himself, but Otto did it, all the way from his home in northeastern Montana to the depot in the Dells. It was a long trip, and he'll probably never do it again, but he made it and we're so glad he did.

Stuart's older brother was there, too, with his wife and two kids. We'd only met The Nephew once before, and this was our first time meeting The Niece, who was born right before Thanksgiving. They live far, far away in North Carolina, so visits with them are few and far between. Charlie, The Nephew, just turned 2 last month and is a little spitfire. It was hell in the airport, evidently, but he was hilarious to watch running around with Daniel, jumping off the furniture, and splashing in the pool. We rented a vacation house big enough to accommodate all of us, a vacation house that allowed us use of the community pool, and let me tell you how glad we were to have it. After a cool, wet spring in which it was barely warm enough to wear shorts outside, all of a sudden we were hit with a heat wave (it hit 95 on Tuesday), and all anyone wanted to do was go in the water and stay there. All the kids except Anya loooooooved the pool. Anya loved having her little swim suit put on and going to the pool, but it took all week before she even put her hand in the water. I have a feeling swimming lessons aren't going to go so well with her next month...

But anyway, I was saying that vacation with kiddies is hardly restful. We certainly had a good time hanging out with each other, going to the pool and watching the kids interact, but doing anything touristy was a challenge. There were naptimes and snack times and mealtimes to work around, and the heat made outings exhausting. So even though I had grand plans for us - or at least some of us - to take a boat ride in the Dells and visit the International Crane Foundation and perhaps tour a winery - none of that stuff happened. Keeping track of four kids under the age of four is like herding cats anyway. We did manage to visit the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, which included an hour-long one ring circus performance with some pretty amazing acrobatics and 3 performing elephants, so that was fun. It's okay, though. We live in Wisconsin, so hopefully we'll get around to visiting all those other places eventually.

Now we have the weekend to rest up from our vacation, ostensibly, anyway. I actually have to play for some scholarship auditions on Sunday, so I've got a couple rehearsals tomorrow and some last-minute practicing to do before spending most of Sunday at the School of Music, my old stomping ground, faking my way through popular string concertos for a little extra cash.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


The kids and I spent the morning harvesting approximately a metric ton of these from a local farm:

Daniel was so excited about going strawberry picking with my friend Pat he could barely stand it. I think the experience lived up to his expectations, too. We got a lot of rain last night, so everything is sort of wet and muddy outside. However, the sky was clouded over and the temps were cool this morning, so being out in the field was really quite pleasant. This is a remarkable contrast to my memories of berry-picking as a child, when my mother would drag us kicking and screaming to a nearby orchard where we endured sweltering heat, humidity, mosquito bites and often thorns in order to fill up our buckets with enough fruit to make pies and jams and cobblers. Oh, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor (yuk yuk) but the aquiring of same, we thought was akin to torture. Of course, it built character and, more importantly, taught us valuable lessons about where our food comes from and how much work it is to get. We didn't have to grow these berries, mind you, just pick them. But picking them alone was a lot of work.

Where was I? Oh, yes...this morning. There were so many things exciting for Daniel, including:

1. Meeting my friend Pat, who is one of his favorite people, and mine too. She and I just think alike about a lot of things. I mean, how many friends do you have who like to go berry-picking for fun?

2. Using the port-a-jon, the only public restroom at the farm. I'm not sure why that was so much fun, but hey, it worked.

3. Riding the wagon (pulled by a small red tractor) up the hill to the strawberry field.

4. Picking the berries. Oh man did he enjoy this part. They are red, ripe, juicy, plentiful, and just gorgeous. For some reason they are also gigantic this year.

5. Snitching a few berries for taste-testing. Strawberries are one of Daniel's favorite foods (probably one reason he was so enthusiastic about this particular excursion), and these do not disappoint. I tried one, and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven for a moment. It was that good.

Even Anya enjoyed herself, and though she wasn't nearly as helpful with the picking as Daniel, she busied herself pulling picked berries out of my flat and squishing them on the ground. At least she didn't step in the box!

In the space of a half hour I picked 16 lbs of strawberries. I cleaned them right after we got home (Anya napped and I plopped Daniel in front of PBS - it's just necessary sometimes), and there were easily two gallons that went straight in the freezer, plus another 2 or 3 quarts in the fridge for us to snack on and make into some kind of yummy dessert for dinner tonight.

The other day I was in the grocery store where a display of California strawberries - organic - were on sale for $3/quart. "That's a really good price!" I heard a man exclaim to his children. I just cringed and walked on.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

but at least there's progress

Now that Daniel is using the toilet more (I will not say "always"), I don't look too closely when I wipe stuff up in the bathroom, and I wash my hands thoroughly afterwards.

Over and out.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Can I tell you how glad I am we decided to join a pool this summer? Odd that I'm saying so now, because it's only been warm enough to swim outside for, oh, four or five days here (another cool, wet spring up north). It's expensive initially to pay the family membership, but that fee pays for unlimited access when the pool is open, plus lessons for the kids. We've been to the pool every evening since Thursday (getting the most for our money dontcha know), and having Stuart there means I can go swim laps while he supervises the kiddies in the wading pool.

See, swimming is the only sport I'm remotely good at, except maybe running. I've never competed in either sport unless you count the half summer I was on a swim team, but I won't count that because I wasn't good enough to be competitive. Alas, I was the one everyone had to wait on to finish the race long after everyone else was done. I was the one for whom the only appropriate end-of-season trophy was Most Improved because they gave trophies to everyone and the best you could say about me was that I had gone from sucking horribly to average suckage. I was the one to whom people said "You're so graceful in the water!" because any other comment would have been mean or an obvious lie.

As for running? Well, in my school years I considered myself far too nerdy/artsy to join a sports team. It's possible I might have been a fair-to-middlin' cross country runner, but I never even tried. Eh, it's all in the past.

Still, I'm a decent swimmer, and swimming is something I genuinely enjoy. I also think it's extremely important for kids to be comfortable in and around water from a young age, so we're doing the pool thing this year. I feel like a tiny bit of a yuppie having a pool membership, rather than just going to the public pool like any good working class citizen, but there are definite pros to membership:

1. Lessons are included.
2. You can go to the pool any time you want, and it's already paid for. When you have a 3.5 and a 1.5yo, there's always the possibility that your stay at the pool will last anywhere between 20 minutes and 2 hours, so it's nice if you don't have to pay every time you enter.
3. Adult swim time. Loving. It. I swam 200 meters yesterday, which is a lot considering the last time I'd gone swimming before that was when I was pregnant with Anya and therefore carrying an extra 40 lbs or so and utterly miserable. Today I went 500 meters! My goal is to get to a mile by the end of the summer.
4. I know kids in the neighborhood of the pool we've joined, so I've got several babysitters lined up already for the July session of swimming lessons. BOO-yah!

As for the kids...well...Daniel loves the pool so far. He plays with the toys and the other kids in the wading pool, and he likes to "practice" swimming with me in the big pool, which mostly consists of me holding him in the water and telling him to kick. We've got a swim vest for him, which is a little bit like the pool equivalent of wearing a helmet to school, but whatever. He's 3 and doesn't care. Anya, on the other hand, lurks by the steps to the wading pool and refuses to go in. She points to a particular toy, the same one every time (a plastic yellow watering can), flaps her arms like a little bird, and whines when it doesn't magically fly into her hands. It's taking her some getting used to, I guess, but she'll come around. She's going to have lessons next month whether she likes it or not.

One thing I like about swimming is that it is the only thing I do better than Stuart. He's moderately athletic; he bikes, runs (when his knees don't bother him), plays tennis, and he can throw a frisbee fairly well. I can't do anything that involves any sort of aim or coordination without making an utter fool of myself. But I can swim a darn sight better than he can, all because I had lessons every summer as a kid and he didn't, and I might as well take advantage of that.

The only bad part is all the extra shaving I have to do. Sigh.

Saturday, June 06, 2009


It's about this time every year I get really excited about food.

I know that statement might look a little odd, since I eat year-round and all, but in early June our CSA starts its weekly deliveries, my herb garden has enough herbs to harvest (bits of parsley and basil, loads of thyme, sage and chives), and the farmers market is practically exploding with fresh produce, dairy, eggs, honey, meat and other good stuff.

We are pretty hardcore about eating locally, especially during growing season. (Unless you like parsnips and burdock root, it's difficult to eat local produce through the winter). We are lucky to live in a place where regional foods are extremely popular; if one wants local yogurt, for example, one has the choice between going to the farmers' market, the co-op, Whole Paycheck (what we call Whole Foods), or even the supermarket by the mall. I know the local food movement has grown nation-wide in the last 10 or 15 years, and I think that's a wonderful thing. It's good for small farmers, it's good for local business, it helps stretch out our diminishing oil supply a bit longer, and it's good for public health.

But you guys know how I feel about this. I have a tendency to go on and on about this kind of thing. I am an unapologetic food snob. And a bit of a dork. When I found the season's first strawberries at the market this morning, I did a little happy dance. We brought them home, and Daniel stood next to me by the sink as I cleaned and sliced the strawberries, snitching several before they went into the bowl with sugar to have on shortcake for lunch...with whipped cream also purchased at this morning's market and I must say, it was some of the best I've ever had.

One thing I'm excited about this year is that we now have a small chest freezer, so there is more storage space for food to carry us through the winter. We bought the freezer when we bought a quarter steer from a small organic beef operation in the fall. (By the way, a quarter steer is about 100 lbs of meat; we split it with a friend.) This summer I plan to buy as many strawberries as I can stand to clean, as many raspberries as we can afford (raspberries are expensive, and if you've ever picked your own, you'd understand why). I've already got about a gallon of chopped rhubarb in there.

What's funny is that Daniel and Anya are very picky eaters. Daniel's short list of acceptable foods is expanding a little, but it's still a short list. Anya is doing better than Daniel was at her age, but she's still awfully finicky. I, on the other hand, never met a vegetable I didn't like except for eggplant, which I think is vile. Stuart only dislikes a few vegetables - sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips - but except for the latter, he'll eat anything without complaining if it's roasted with enough olive oil.

Ah, well. Some folks need to grow up a little before they appreciate good food, and my hope is that my kids will come around eventually. In the meantime, it means more asparagus for me, and that's just fine.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


This afternoon I was planting some things in the front garden - a lovely variety of woodland perennials my friend gave me from her own garden - and plop! Suddenly this huge moth landed right in front of me.

Isn't it gorgeous? That sucker is has a good 3" wingspan. It wasn't moving a whole lot, even when I prodded it gently with a stick (I shouldn't have done that, I know, but I wanted to see if it was still alive. It was.) It stayed around long enough for Daniel to look at it (he wanted to poke it with a stick, too, but I wouldn't let him), and then I got the camera for a picture. Later in the evening, though, it was gone. I like to think he (she?) went on his (her?) merry way to munch leaves or lay eggs or whatever moths do this time of year. Or maybe it went off to die. I just don't know. I know shockingly little about biology.

Does anyone know what kind of moth that is?

dr. tiller

Go read this over at Sweetwater Journal re: the death of Dr. Tiller in Wichita, KS. Steph always says it better than I could.