Wednesday, July 29, 2009

a little disappointed

Dear Mr. Obama,

I think you are an excellent president, I really do. I was excited to vote for you and I got a little choked up when I watched the inauguration on TV. I think you are extremely eloquent (especially compared to the last dude - woooEEEEE he was a piece of work) and given the state of our country when it was handed to you at the beginning of the year, not to mention stubborn obstructionist members of the Republican party who are doing their own level best to make sure your administration accomplishes as little as possible, you are doing as well as anyone can to get us out of the mess(es) we are in. Sure, I lean a little (okay, a lot) farther to the left than you, but I trust that you are trying to get things done.

Then there was the Henry Louis Gates incident in Cambridge a couple weeks ago, and you slipped up and said the police acted "stupidly" and had to apologize six ways from Sunday for being just a little bit tactless when that whole press conference was about healthcare. HEALTHCARE - only the biggest domestic problem we have to deal with here. But it's not completely your fault that comment got blown totally out of proportion by the media. I think inviting Professor Gates and Sgt. Crowley to the White House for a beer to discuss the whole thing was an awfully nice thing to do, considering how big the story got. I'm curious to know what conversation will come of it (or has already).

I heard on NPR this afternoon about you fellows' choice of beers. Sgt. Crowley is deciding between Beck's and Red Stripe and Gates will have a Blue Moon. These are tolerable choices. But you, sir, are reportedly going to drink a Bud Light. Wow. Please tell me you've got better taste than that! I'm sorry, Mr. President, but I admit I'm a little disappointed. All the tasty microbrews out there and you had to pick Bud Light? Were you afraid you'd be accused of being elitist and out of touch by choosing something, well, good? Or do you really like Bud Light?

Golly, I hope it's the former.

Well anyway, I hope you enjoy your visit with those gentlemen. As for that dishwater-tinted excuse for a brew? Let's just say if I ever get invited to the White House for a beer, I'll assume it's BYOB.

Good luck running the country,

Madtown Mama

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

the education of little d

I haven't enrolled Daniel in preschool for the fall. I have my reasons, however lame they are, but half the time I'm convinced this makes me a bad and negligent mother. It's hard to say, exactly, why I've been dragging my feet. My excuses thus far have been the cost and the fact that until about two weeks ago I was sure he would never ever EVER potty train, but I think there's something deeper holding me back. It's like I'm not quite ready to share him with someone else responsible for his learning (except Stuart, obviously), and I know that's selfish and kind of stupid of me, but there you have it.

Plus, I'm kind of disorganized and most preschools you have to enroll several months ahead of time before they all fill up. And they cost a mint. For good reason, but still...I wish preschool was part of public education for every child in this country. That would take some guesswork out of the whole process and save me the headache of this decision.

In any case, I had a very reassuring conversation with another mom in the park yesterday. Her 4yo son isn't in a formal preschool, either, though she herself teaches preschool classes, and she told me the most important part of it is socialization and opportunity for discovery. I feel like we provide both Daniel and Anya with plenty of both, frankly. They are interested in the world around them and they play well with others, and at their ages, those are the things I'm most concerned about. I want to enroll Daniel in some preschool-level enrichment classes at the YMCA this fall, which will give him the opportunity to be in a group of kids on a regular basis with an adult in charge who is not me, and it won't cost as much as full-blown school. We'll make sure to have regular playtime with his friends in town, too. And I have made a point of doing outings that are educational as they are fun: strawberry-picking at a local farm, going to the zoo and the children's museum, attending outdoor concerts like Opera in the Park last weekend. (I guess it's a good thing I'm the sort of mega-dork who thinks that picking berries and going to outdoor opera concerts is fun.)

I hope that's enough. Daniel won't start kindergarten for a couple years, so we have time to get him ready for public school. A year from now I'll be ready to let go a little more. Even a semester from now, when he turns 4 (!!) I'll be more comfortable with the idea. But for now we're enjoying the freedom of an open schedule, the time he has with Anya (they are really starting to play together and it's terrific fun to see them interact and make up their own games), and the joy of learning for learning's sake.

I want to make one thing clear, though I don't intend to open up a big ol' can of worms: I will never homeschool my kids. I know that all the stuff I just wrote in the paragraphs above might make me sound like I lean that way, but I don't. I also don't want to get into the whys and wherefores here because I know several homeschooling families that are doing a fine job and I don't want to offend anyone or hurt anyone's feelings. I just mean to say that until Daniel is ready for public school, or maybe just a year or so away from that, I like being his first teacher, his primary educator. We'll take the next step when it comes.

Friday, July 24, 2009

blog award

Caffeine Girl just tagged me for a blog award (my first ever)! Sweet. Thanks, Caffeine Girl! She actually tagged Mad Knitting for the award, so I'm basically re-posting the same stuff here. For anyone who reads both, sorry about the redundancy.

Now it's time for me to follow all the rules that come with this nifty tag. There are links and things I have to figure out. Here we go:

1. Link the person who tagged you. (Done. See above.)
2. Copy the image above, the rules and the questionnaire in this post. (Will do. See below. ETA: Crap. Having trouble with the image part. Advice?)
3. Post this in one or all of your blogs. (I already posted this on Mad Knitting, hence the heavy knitting content.)
4. Answer the four questions following these Rules. (How is this different from the questionaire? Ack!!! I hope I don't screw up!!)
5. Recruit at least seven (7) friends on your Blog Roll by sharing this with them. (That's the fun part.))
6. Come back to BLoGGiSTa iNFo CoRNeR (PLEASE DO NOT CHANGE THIS LINK) at and leave the URL of your Post in order for you/your Blog to be added to the Master List. (Working on it...)
7. Have Fun! (Duh.)

Questions & Your Answers:
1. The person who tagged you: Caffeine Girl (I don't know her real name!)
2. His/her site's title and url: Caffeine Girl
3. Date when you were tagged: July 23rd, 2009
4. People you tagged:

1) Glenna of Knitting to Stay Sane. She's a fellow academic knitter who does some serious fair isle. The woman can steek, people! This is something I have yet to muster the cajones for. You've probably heard of her because she's done some very nice designs, including the Viper Pilots socks, which I started and just may finish by 2012.

2. Whitney of Whitknits. Another academic knitter and a musician to boot! (Though she did not choose music as a field of study.) She takes beautiful pictures and does some cool designing of her own.

3. Steph of Sweet Water Journal. Steph is my cousin and she knits, though she doesn't write about knitting much. She writes extremely well about everything: her cats, LGBT issues in the Mennonite church, encounters with the supernatural...that's just in the last couple weeks!

4. Another Susan: Susan Wittig Albert and her blog Lifescapes. Susan is a prolific writer, mostly mystery series (did you ever read Nancy Drew? she was even Carolyn Keene for a while), but I understand she's written other books, too. For the last year or so I was totally hooked on her China Bayles mystery series. I use the past tense there because last week I finished Wormwood, the latest one, but not the last (I hope!) By the by, recently Susan was kind enough to write this very interesting post on the use of pseudonyms to answer some questions I had for her. It was pure curiosity on my part. Since I found Susan's blog, I've discovered that she grows tons of her own food in Texas Hill Country and lives with a true environmental conscience. She knits, too.

5. Renee of RevKnits. I'm a big fan of progressive church leaders, and she's one. Her knitting is beautiful, and a lot of it goes to charities like Afghans for Afghans.

6. Rosemary of (mis)adventures of spindlerose. I have never met Rosemary, but I have seen some of her beautifully knitted items in person. How could this be? Well, as it happens, her brother and his family live across the street and are really good friends of ours. Their son has been Daniel's best buddy since the night I went into labor with Anya and called in a panic because it was 17 days before my due date, my in-laws were not yet in town, and we didn't have anyone Daniel could spend the night with, so he went to their house. Two weeks after that, on my birthday, Stuart accidentally flushed a cloth diaper down our only toilet, rendering it completely nonfunctional, and my MIL and I came knocking on their door at 11pm, desperate for a place to pee (it was like 4 degrees outside). Anyway, Rosemary has made some gorgeous things for her nephew and baby niece, and I have had the privilege of seeing them worn and used, just as they should be!

7. Jenn-Jenn of Stinkbumps the Wonder Boy. Jenn and I went to high school together. We lost touch, as people do when they leave high school and move away, but we met again at a wedding 3 years ago, discovered that we both blog, and we've been cyber-pals again ever since. Jenn and her son Jamie are new knitters, but I hope it's something they stick with, even in the heat of San Antonio, TX!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Daniel self-portrait

We put batteries in the old digital camera for Daniel and he couldn't be more thrilled. He carries it with him everywhere, whines nonstop if he can't find it, and even tucks it under the blanket for rest time when we tell him he's using up the batteries (which have been replaced at least 3 times since last week. Like I said, it's old.) The pictures he takes are about what you'd expect: blurry knees and butts, bits of the messy house and corners of the ceiling. There are 20 pictures of the same coffee cup. But he also has done a few self-portraits I'd like to share:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

plum tuckered out

One reason (or rather, two reasons) I love daily swimming lessons...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

anyone wanna come over and take a nap?

Because we've got loooots of extra bed space here right now. Shall I explain? We've been shuffling things around in our little house to get the kids in one room. Daniel outgrew his toddler bed, so he's been sleeping on the futon. This will be a problem in a few weeks when we have house guests because the futon is really the guest bed. We moved Anya to the toddler bed and dismantled the crib, which was mainly there for decoration anyway because she never sleeps in it for very long. Over the weekend we went shopping for a twin bed for Daniel and discovered that lo and behold, there are bunk beds that are designed to come apart into two twin beds if needed. I think Daniel climbed up to the top of every single bunk bed in the store. Do you know how excited he is to climb a ladder to get to bed? Perfect! The kids can share a room, we can save some space and then eventually, when they are old enough to need more space and more privacy, we can convert the bunks into two regular beds and give them their own rooms, assuming we're not still in this house, that is. There was a great sale at the furniture place so Stu and I went ahead and bought a new mattress to replace the old, worn-out squeaky one we've been using.

All the new bed stuff was delivered this morning, and while we've found interested parties on craigslist and freecycle for the toddler bed and old queen mattresses, no one has come to pick them up yet. No one seems to want the crib, but at least it's sitting in pieces in the basement, so it's out of the way. The house is in a minor state of upheaval, but hopefully that won't last for long.

In the meantime, I guess I have to just put up with disarray and old box springs leaning against the wall, and perhaps I'll go clean the kitchen, because that's the only room in the house without a random bed in it.

Friday, July 10, 2009


In Jessi's recent post, she explains that she never liked classical music because "it doesn't have words." Oh dear, oh dear. Now of course I understand why she or anyone else who doesn't like classical music would say that. When you say "classical music," what pieces come to mind? Those greatest hits CDs usually have a lot of orchestral works like the 1812 Overture and Swan Lake and Beethoven's 5th (or 3rd or 9th) and the slow movement from Mozart's clarinet concerto - all great music, to be sure, but for a person who connects to music through words, I can see why the typical greatest hits don't cut it.

As a trained professional musician, I feel it is my duty, my obligation to change her mind, or at least try. There is a very sizable chunk of classical music in which words - we call it text - are the most important element. There's opera, of course. Opera is supposedly the ultimate art, the combination of music, drama, words and visual spectacle. But I'm not the biggest fan of opera (shhh! if I ever want to work as a vocal coach, I can't admit that out loud), so I'm going to start with art song.

I wrote my dissertation on text setting, so bear with me here. And know that I am capable of going on (and on and on) about this subject, so trust me when I say that what I've written below is very condensed.

Art song - lied in German, mélodie in French - is my absolute favorite genre. To me, a recital of song with a good singer is the most satisfying kind of performance I can give. To play vocal music well, you have to know both your part and the voice part so well you're living inside the music, inside the voice and inside the text. Unlike any other genre in classical music, art song is all about the words. Now, we could debate indefinitely about the relationship between text and music: does the music enhance the poetry? detract from it? Is there poetry so good and pure to begin with that setting it to music only dilutes it? Or does it make it stronger? The answers to these questions depend largely on the particular songs in question. Johannes Brahms, for example, purposefully chose what he considered inferior poetry to set so that the music could only improve it. Robert Schumann, a gifted writer as well as composer, was extremely particular about the poems he set. The texts in Schubert's lieder (he wrote about 600 total) run the gamut from mediocre to exquisite.

I know, I know. Those are all dead German guys who had syphilis (well, maybe Brahms didn't.)

So how about this: I had the great honor of meeting and working with Ricky Ian Gordon a couple of years ago at Songfest. During one master class, Mr. Gordon (we called him "Ricky," actually) told us that when he finds a poem he likes, he commits it to memory, reciting it over and over, and lives with it in his head until he's figured out how to turn it into a song. Ricky is a composer of musical theatre, and all his music, even the art songs, have that music theatre sound. I have to admit I had to grow into his songs a little bit and learn to appreciate the intention behind his style. It's easy to listen to, not so easy to perform. Just because music isn't difficult to listen to doesn't make it any less artistic, if that makes sense.

All this brings me to a list. When I read about Jessi's love for words in a song, even a three-chord punk song, I asked myself what songs or song-cycles make the best use of their text? More importantly, what songs or song-cycles do so in a way that would be immediately accessible to a relatively non-musical person? I mean, one of my favorite all-time lied composers is Hugo Wolf, but a lot of his music would take some getting used to (with the one exception listed below). Now, Jessi is no slouch. Her college degree is in English literature (right, J?) so it's not like I'm dumbing this down intellectually. I'm just imagining what examples I would use in, say, a class called "Music Appreciation 101: Art Song."

1. Auch kleine Dinge by Hugo Wolf. I wrote about this song a few months ago, so I won't elaborate further.

2. Schubert's two most famous songs: Erlkönig and Gretchen am Spinnrade. Erlkönig is the quintessential German romantic song, with drama, nature and death. It's the story of a father racing through the snow with his sick child, the grim reaper biting at his heels; death wins, of course. Plenty of composers set the poem, but Schubert did it best with a devilish, hair-raising accompaniment full of octave triplets. Gretchen am Spinnrade is from Goethe's Faust. Gretchen, young, pregnant and abandoned by her lover, sits at her spinning wheel, mourning her loss and remembering his kiss. These two pieces are dramatic, effective text settings, and not at all subtle. Schubert was subtle, but not when he wrote these.

3. Fraueliebe und Leben by Robert Schumann. In English, the title is "A woman's life and love," and it's caused some problems in the feminist musical community. The songs tell the story of a woman falling in love, marrying the guy, having his child, then later in life, grieving his death. She gives herself to him. She is defined by him. You see the problem here. Now, I've got a whole 'nuther post about this cycle that has been brewing for a long time now (in fact, it's something I'd like to write more formally about), but I'll save it for later and say only this: give the cycle a chance. But first, get yourself a copy of the Hyperion recording of Graham Johnson (piano) and Juliane Banse (soprano) and before you listen to a single note, read Johnson's liner notes on the cycle. I heard him speak in person on the subject before he coached me and a singer on one of the songs, and it totally changed my thinking. Maybe this is a little too much work for someone trying to listen to this kind of thing for the first time, but if you appreciate literature, you'll be glad you went to the trouble.

Wow, that's a lot of German. How about something in English? If it's really the words you're after, you can always pick a poet and find text settings of his or her work. You'll find scads of settings of Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings, Walt Whitman, to mention a few. I'll just throw some out there.

4. Summer in Knoxville, by Samuel Barber. The text is from a James Agee novel, A Death in the Family. Barber actually set this for soprano and orchestra, but I've played the piano reduction. It's just good music. Listen to Dawn Upshaw sing it if you can.

5. Aaron Copland's songs to twelve poems by Emily Dickinson. There are gobs of Emily Dickinson settings out there, some good, some not. These are considered among the best.

6. Anything by Ricky Ian Gordon, the composer I mentioned above. His music is very accessible, very emotional, not at all esoteric. He sets good poetry, too.

7. The AIDS Quilt Songbook. That's a link to Amazon because I can't believe there's not a Wikipedia entry on this! Anyway, the book is a compilation from different composers. If you think classical music isn't relevant, listen to this collection and see if it changes your mind.

I can't believe I don't have anything French on this list! French songs are among my favorite to play, too. Maybe it's because French mélodies aren't as easy to grasp immediately and emotionally...though there's plenty of love and sex to be found. Some of those guys were downright dirty. I may have to think about that a little more, and this post is getting long enough, so perhaps I'll add some Required French Listening in a later post.

Now, here's the part where I beg (ha) for comments. I know musicians read this blog, including composers, singers, and other pianists. So I want your input! If you were teaching "Music Appreciation 101: Art Song" for people who don't like classical music (or think they don't), what would be on your list of listening assignments? Leave a comment!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

fimming lessons

Daniel can't pronounce the "sw" sound, so he substitutes "f": "Mom, let's go fimming! I need put on my fimming clothes! Where's my fimming pulpit*?"

We just finished our second morning of swimming lessons, and I've learned a few things myself:

1) Take the bike, not the car. Parking is madness.

2) Pack a change of dry clothes for the kids. Even though it's a short ride home, chances are good that after lessons and lunch at the pool, someone (usually Anya) will fall asleep on the way home. Plus, Daniel gets cold easily, even with the nice warm weather outside.

3) When Anya cries for the teenage sitter, just leave to do your own laps. She recovers in about a minute.

To tell the truth, I was a little worried about how Anya would take to swimming lessons. We've been visiting the pool regularly for several weeks, and until Sunday, she didn't even want to step in the wading pool. Sunday, we went to the pool for a little bit in the afternoon, and she finally splashed her feet in the water, then ventured in the kiddie pool, and even went in the big pool with me for a few minutes. I have her with me in the parent/tot group while Daniel has his Level 1 class, and I'm happy to report that they both LOVE it. The parent/tot class is a big group of mamas with their babies and young toddlers, and it's pretty much like any toddler class you take anywhere, only it's in the water. We sing "The Wheels on the Bus" and do the Hokey Pokey and practice blowing bubbles in the water, all of which Anya thinks is hysterically funny. Today we got out the miniature kickboards, and once she found a yellow one, she held onto it for the rest of the class. She may be a swimmer yet. Daniel seemed to be doing just fine, from what I could tell of my glances over to his class at the other side of the shallow end of the pool. He was going up and down the steps to the water and flirting with the teacher. It seems I had nothing to worry about.

We have lessons for the next three weeks, and I'm glad for it. It gets us out of the house, and we all get good exercise, especially if I'm biking with the kids in the trailer behind me. One of my piano students lives in the neighborhood, and she can babysit for half an hour while I do my own laps (and if she can't be there, she has lots of friends available to babysit), so the kids get someone new to play with for a little bit while I have some time to do my own thing. It's working out for everyone so far.

ETA: Both kids went to bed at 6:30, after not having napped at all in the afternoon. Anya kept falling asleep on her dinner plate, and Daniel didn't even bother to eat! This new routine might take a little getting used to.

*A "fimming pulpit" is a swimming diaper/pull-up. Daniel mispronounces "pull-up" as "pulpit." I'm sure he could say it correctly by now, but it's so amusing we don't have the heart to correct him. Besides, he's in underwear full-time now, except for time in the pool (because we're not accident-free, if the bucket full of poopy underwear and bleach is any indication), so he hardly has a reason to say "pull-up" OR "pulpit" these days.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

the 4th

I knew there was a reason I was seeing more American flags around town. Somehow the 4th of July crept up on me this year. Summer seemed to take forever to get started, then we were on vacation, and all of a sudden it's a holiday! Only it's on Saturday this year, so Independence Day doesn't feel that special, since Stuart didn't take a day off work (I think he gets a floating holiday instead).

When I was a kid, I loved the 4th of July, specifically because of the fireworks. They're festive and exciting, you know? Mostly, we just set off the stuff that was legal for a concrete driveway in town - fountains, sparklers, firecrackers - but I enjoyed it all the same. Sometimes we would be in Kansas, though, visiting relatives (my parents both grew up in central Kansas) and hanging out on the farm where my mom grew up. Setting off fireworks in rural areas is always more fun because you can get the big stuff that is too dangerous (or illegal, or both) in the city.

I'm one of those cynical liberal types. I love my country, but I hate conventional notions of patriotism, blindly following leaders who start senseless wars and don't take care of their citizens properly. I refuse, however, to write a post on Independence Day about how the U.S. has done all these horrible things and how I'm ashamed of my country and how it's wrong to celebrate independence won by a bloody war. Why? Because every country has a bloody history, every country has done wrong, and while America is in some ways the biggest and baddest, I still live here and love it enough to make it a better place (rather than run off to Canada or Sweden).

And I like the fireworks, by gum. Hopefully we can see some tonight, but we'll have to see how the kids are doing.

ETA: I'll spare you the details of my kids' jacked up sleep patterns, but it turned out that Anya went to bed at 7, so Stuart stayed home with her (he really couldn't care less about seeing fireworks) while I walked Daniel to a neighborhood fireworks display at a golf course. He LOVED it, and we had a great time talking about the different colors and sounds, and watching the guys run around with their flashlight setting off the fuses. His bedtime was awfully late, but it was totally worth it. The 4th only comes around once a year, after all.