Monday, January 26, 2009

does UPS ship casseroles?

It has been a month of bad news. Not for me, directly, but several people I care dearly for are going through tough times - medically, mentally, economically, and otherwise. It's hard when someone you love is hurting, hard when the phrase "I'm thinking about you/hoping for the best" starts to feel empty because you've said it so many times. It's hard when you know circumstances are beyond your control and the people facing those tough times are far away, much too far away to console or support beyond regular emails and the occasional phone call. How do you lend a helping hand from afar? You can't ship casseroles, y'know.

I look outside at the piles of graying snow, the ice-rutted street, the folks shivering at the bus stop, and I wonder if spring will ever come. I think if I could just see that crocus blooming or some tender buds on the tree branches, I might have a little more optimism. If I could smell rain and good, clean dirt instead of the stale air of a house that has been insulated against the cold for the past four months, I might feel a little better about things.

For now, I will try my hardest to live in the moment (I even checked out a book from the library about Buddhism that I'm hoping will help with that, since I don't do well with that on my own). I will try and be patient. I am tired of winter, but I will not let its cold, bleak days defeat my spirit. I will be strong for those that need me.

And I might bake a casserole anyway. Or at least indulge in comfort food for dinner tonight.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday pictures

Daniel "reading" to Anya

Then he sees I have the camera, and...what a clown!

"Anya, where's your head?"

"Where's your tummy?"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

a great day

Today is Barack Obama's Inauguration as president of the United States. The Bush era is over (though we'll be suffering its consequences for a long while). It sort of felt like this day would never come, but here it is! What an incredible moment for our country.

I wish I could do more to celebrate, but Stuart doesn't have the day off - in fact, he starts classes today at UW - and I'll be at home with the kids as per usual. At least we can watch the ceremony on TV. Perhaps I'll bake a cake to mark the occasion.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Lately, it's too easy for me to forget about MLK Jr. Day. I'm not in school, and my "job" is parenting, so I don't get the day off. Stuart works in the private sector, so he doesn't get a day off, either. This year, of course, MLK Day is pretty special because tomorrow is Barack Obama's inauguration. (Can you believe we have less than 24 hours left of the Bush presidency? It kind of felt like that would never end.)

I wanted to do something to mark the occasion, but I'm not sure what. Our local radio station is broadcasting a live concert from the Capitol Rotunda at noon. Until about half an hour ago I fully intended to pack up the kids and go to that, but several things made me reconsider. First of all, it's only about 12 degrees outside. Granted, that is warmer than it was last week by a good 30 degrees, but it's still pretty cold. Secondly, our stroller has gone missing. Did someone steal it out of the trunk of the car? Did I unwittingly leave it somewhere? In any case it's gone, and while it's not a huge loss (it was one of the cheap-o umbrella kinds), it's a major inconvenience. Thirdly, taking a 13mo and a nearly 3yo to a live broadcast in the middle of the day could be risky. Someone will probably take a big dump in his or her pants. Whining and squawking is almost guaranteed. If Anya had a regular naptime, it's around this time. Plus, if I really want to hear the broadcast, I could just turn on the radio. Brilliant.

So we'll probably just do what we usually do on Mondays. Hang around, get bored, run to the grocery store for all the stuff we forgot to get over the weekend, and if we really get desperate, go get cocoa at Borders or someplace.

Last night at church (yes, we go to church occasionally) instead of a regular meditation, they played a recording one of Dr. King's more famous sermons: "Paul's letter to American Christians." I only half-listened; Dr. King was an amazing speaker, but there's something about seeing a person deliver that I was missing from just listening to a tape. Plus, that sermon is pretty long (as Baptist sermons tend to be). There were a couple things that stuck with me, though. He talked about how we must be "maladjusted" to the ills of society, to racism. We should not be complacent and stand idly by while there is so much injustice. And secondly, don't be afraid of the consequences of doing what is right. Don't be afraid of jail time, he said, or even physical pain. Or physical death. Of course, Dr. King was not the first or last person with this kind of message, but hearing him say it in a sermon delivered in 1956, years before his own assassination, gave me chills.

I plan to have the TV on for the Inauguration tomorrow. I doubt Daniel will understand what's going on, and Anya obviously won't have a clue. But I'll tell them anyway what an important day it is and try and explain the significance of Obama's election and far we've come. And how far we have to go.

And now I have to go. There are diapers to change, groceries to buy, meals to fix.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


10 ways you know you are through with Winter, even though Winter is not through with you:

1. A projected high of 2 degrees Fahrenheit is deemed warm enough to take the kids downtown for the morning.

2. Your best Christmas present was a pair of snow boots.

3. Receiving Land's End catalogs featuring summer clothing for children makes you weep with desperation.

4. The only local vegetables available at the co-op are cabbage and burdock root.

5. You spend a week knitting hats for every member of your family out of fear that if you don't, their ears will get frostbitten and fall off.

6. Moving to Houston for the climate sounds like a good idea.

7. You laugh at your mother, who lives in Kentucky, when she says "It's so COLD here! It's, like, 22 degrees!"

8. You chuck 3/4 of your short-sleeved shirts and tank tops in the "donate to thrift store" bag because you can't see how there's any possible way you'll ever need them in the future. (Also, they are old and gross.)

9. You're 12" ahead of the pace of last year's record-setting snowfall.

10. The pile of snow at the end of the driveway is taller than the adults in your household.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hey everyone, go send Jenn-Jenn over at Stinkbumps your love. She's had a tough last few months and just lost her dad.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

steak fajitas

This past fall we split an order of a quarter steer with a friend of mine. The animal was organic, grass-fed, and lived on a farm not far from Madison. It's good meat. Since I didn't eat meat regularly as an adult until I got pregnant with Daniel (I craved protein and it never let up!), I am pretty clueless as to how to cook it. Ground beef isn't so difficult (taco meat, hamburgers), but we have all these roasts and steaks that take actual culinary skill to prepare. My mom's coming up for a week next month, and I'm hoping we can do a roast together so I can learn how to do that. But steaks? I'm not a big fan of steak, never have been, and I know that they can be tricky to get right. I tend to be paranoid about undercooked meat, so if I tried to cook a steak, it would probably be completely overdone and tough and, frankly, a waste of time and good meat.

When meat is cut up into little pieces, I find it much less intimidating. When it's combined with other things like vegetables, I find it much more appetizing. Thus, I've come up with one solution to this particular problem: steak fajitas. They can be rather labor-intensive to prepare, but they're so delicious, they're worth the effort.

First of all, I make my own tortillas. I think I've posted this recipe before, but that was a long while ago, so you get it again. Once you make your own tortillas, it's awfully hard to go back. If you live in Chicago or New York or someplace with lots of Hispanic/Latino markets with fresh, cheap tortillas, consider yourself lucky. Madison is not such a place, so I make my own.

Flour Tortillas (1 recipe makes about 16 flatbreads; I usually do half for me and Stu)
4 cups flour (can sub up to half with whole wheat)
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
Cut in:
1 stick unsalted butter OR 1/2 cup shortening OR 1/2 cup lard
Add and knead just for a minute or so:
1 and 1/4 cup warm water, more if the dough is dry, less if it's sticky
Cover and let rest for an hour or so.
Divide dough into 12-16 balls of equal size, depending on how big you want the tortillas to be. Heat a cast iron skillet* over medium heat. Do not add oil; the skillet should be seasoned, but dry. One at a time, roll the balls into flat rounds. To cook, place the tortilla on the hot pan, flip after 10 seconds, flip again after about 30 seconds, then remove when it starts to brown, but not smoke.

Steak filling
Slice 1 medium onion, 1 green or bell pepper, and 1-2 cloves of garlic, mix with 2 T. fajita seasoning (Penzey's is good) or 1 T. chili powder and set aside in a bowl.
Slice a steak of your choosing (I've used tenderloin, porterhouse, and sirloin because I really don't know the difference...) into very thin slices. Sprinkle with fajita seasoning or chili powder, then add to a very hot cast iron skillet with a little oil and stir fry 1-2 minutes, or until pieces are browned through. Remove meat from heat and save in a bowl. Turn heat to medium and sauté vegetable mixture 3-5 minutes, or until onions are clear. Add meat and stir until everything's heated through.

Wrap the filling in tortillas with any or all of the following:
chopped lettuce
chopped tomatoes
sour cream
shredded cheese (jack, queso fresco, etc)
avocado or guacamole

I can eat these until, well, until the cows come home.

*If you don't have a cast iron skillet, get one. Lodge is a good brand and you can get an 8" skillet for, like, 20 bucks. Regular non-stick could do in a pinch, but it's far, far inferior. Plus, dude, teflon kills birds if it gets too hot. You don't want to mess with that.

Friday, January 09, 2009

3 things about moi

I think I've done this meme before, or one very similar. Lame, huh? So you can skip this if you want, but who knows? I may come up with some different answers this time.


Three jobs I have had:
1) Waitress at Sonic Drive-in. That was my first job ever. The other girls were nice enough but one of my managers was a former lunch-lady at our school and she was MEAN. She also thought I was really, really stupid because it took me a couple days to figure out the computer/cash register thing.
2) Pianist with a touring opera company. That was a great, though exhausting, job. I had to quit when Daniel was born.
3) Music camp counselor.

Three places I have lived:
1) Socorro NM
2) McPherson KS
3) Georgetown KY
(These are the first three places I lived)

Three shows that I watch:
1) 30 Rock (catching up with that on Netflix)
2) The Daily Show (yay for hulu!)
3) The Colbert Report (ditto the hulu thing)

Three places I have been:
1) Hluhluwe national game park in South Africa
2) Glasgow (Montana, not Scotland)
3) London (England!)

Three places I have been this week:
1) Toddler art class (we made frogs)
2) Lakeside Fibers, where all the members of my knitting group met in one place for the first time in over a year. The kids were happily entertained for over 2 hours. It was great.
3) the grocery store

Three of my favorite foods:
1) homemade noodles with pesto marinara sauce
2) fresh tortillas with fajita filling
3) cookies. I luuuuuurve cookies.

Three places I'd rather be right now:
1) alone in a coffee shop with a latté, a good book, and my knitting
2) a warm, sunny beach
3) Kentucky. I miss my family and they're not getting 6" of snow today like we are.

Three things I would rather be doing:
1) sunning on a warm beach (I'm sensing a theme here...)
2) going to the children's museum with our neighbor friends (too much snow to drive downtown)
3) drinking hot cocoa

Three tags;
1) YOU!

Three things I'm especially grateful for:
1) espresso
2) creativity
3) family, friends, and all the wonderful people who make my life what it is

Three things I am looking forward to:
1) using the very generous gift card to Orange Tree Imports (b-day present from hubby) on a cooking class and making something very delicious
2) Daniel potty training once and for all. It seems like that's NEVER gonna happen.
3) spring

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Monday, January 05, 2009

when me gohm-up...

I'm still figuring out what I want to do when I grow up. Daniel, however, has it all figured out. We had this sweet conversation last night as I was helping him get to sleep, where he told me all the things he wants to do: "Mom, when me gohm-up, me want..."

make beer
reach way way up get camera
change lightbulbs
be daddy
teach piano lessons
be mom
turn on stove
drive a car

It was bittersweet, that moment. I realized more than ever that right now Stuart and I are pretty much his whole world. What we do is what grown-ups do, like make beer (there's some bubbling in the closet now) and teach piano lessons. But he will grow up someday and do grown-up things and stop listening to us (he doesn't listen much now, alas) and it makes me both proud, and a little sad.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

musing, rambling

Pam's comment on a recent post has got me to thinking (as I often, often do) about being a musician and the persistence it takes and the implications of choosing another line of professional work. Like, does taking accounting classes at the local technical college (which I may very well do this coming fall) make me a quitter? Or just practical?

Time will tell on that one, I suppose.

I've been trying to think of the most satisfying musical experiences I've had post-Bachelor's degree. One example was the premiere I did of a pair of John Harbison pieces at SongFest, his Vocalisms I and II, subtitled "Grand Aria" for soprano and piano. Harbison's pieces are not at all easy, and these were no exception with wacky rhythms, driving tempos, and serious jazz influences. Plus, the scores weren't (maybe aren't yet) published and everything was in manuscript and pretty hard to read. Sarah, the singer, who was really wonderful to work with, and I rehearsed and coached those pieces until we were both blue in the face. We never worked with Harbison directly (though I met him a few months later at Token Creek), but we coached with musicians who know him well. After one coaching, when I been told over and over and over to "be more percussive" I remember walking out of the auditorium and bursting into tears because I was so fucking sick and tired of being told what to do. That was a big moment - first of all because I almost never EVER cry (once a year, tops, call me a robot if you want) and second of all because I realized I had learned this thing by myself and knew it better than any other pianist out there (except Harbison himself, obviously) and it was just time for me to perform it without any more input from anyone. I felt like an independent musician, finally.

The performance, frankly, was great. We were totally on fire and everything slipped right into place except maybe one or two spots that were practically invisible. I remember feeling satisfied with myself, thinking "Yeah, I can do this!" and having hope for my musical future. I also remember feeling relieved that it had gone well because I was afraid no one would believe I could really pull off a good performance with a toddler in tow and a baby on the way. A few of the other people at SongFest were married, but I was almost the ONLY one with kids.

Then I finished my doctorate and had Anya and since then most everything stopped. I say "most" because every few months, something comes along I can't refuse. Like a gig with the choir I did over the summer (I love the director so much I can't turn him down, plus the pay was good, plus he was desperate), and the recital I did in November with my college teacher. Those were both very satisfying and affirming musical experiences as well. But let's face it: I can't make a living playing only the gigs I like. And I won't be happy taking more lucrative jobs (like concerto competitions for high schoolers so talented I want to crawl under a rock when I hear them play) just to make money. In other words, what I like most about my musical life is NOT what pays well, and with two little children at home, my time is too precious to waste.

I don't plan to halt my musical life. In fact, I'm hoping that choosing another line of work to make a living will help me continue to play what I want when I want instead of always looking for paid accompanying work that does not fulfill me. I'd rather prepare income taxes and work out payroll spreadsheets for a few hours a week and spend my precious practice time learning great repertoire that I want to play without worrying about whether it will cover the grocery bill or not. Life is short, no?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

new year's meme

I swiped this from Steph because I often shamelessly copycat her!

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?

Bought a share in a CSA farm.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn't have any resolutions except to stay sane, and I managed that, mostly. Resolutions don't do me much good, but if anything, I should resolve to be more patient with Daniel (as he nears his third birthday, he's really pushing my limits in a big way) and get into better shape.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My friend Ellen, who was due with her son the same day I was due with Anya, had her baby boy in January.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
Like I could do international travel with a 2yo and a baby. I wish.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
Patience. Life direction.

7. What date from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Nov. 4, duh.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I suppose receiving my diploma, though I did all the work for it before 2007 was over.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I don't know that I had any real failures or big successes, for that matter. 2008 was a year of holding steady, holding on.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A small chest freezer. We are more and more committed to buying locally grown/produced foods. This included a quarter steer, which we split with my friend Pat (because there's no way we could eat 100 lbs of beef in a year). Also, this summer I'm hoping to buy more local vegetables in bulk to freeze and use throughout the winter. I'm really not into canning. At all.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

I though John McCain's concession speech was surprisingly gracious and conciliatory.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Sarah Palin.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Mortgage. Food.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

A family vacation we took in May, the presidential election.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?

I honestly don't know.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. happier or sadder? Neither. I feel a little more grounded, I guess, since Anya is now a year old and no longer a newborn, and I have figured out how to manage with two kids better than before. But I don't have the sense of accomplishment I had a year ago. ii. thinner or fatter? Definitely thinner, but that's just because I was like 2 weeks postpartum a year ago. I'm lucky that my weight doesn't generally fluctuate much. 
iii. richer or poorer? Slightly richer now that I'm not paying any tuition. We're lucky that Stuart's job is secure.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Knitting, reading, socializing and cleaning. I never have enough time for any of those things.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?


20. How did you spend Christmas?

With lots and lots of family. It was great.

21. What LJ users did you meet?
I don't do LJ.

22. Did you fall in love in 2008?

Not with anybody new.

23. How many one-night stands?

Please. I'm a married woman.

24. What was your favourite TV program?

Toss-up between The Daily Show and Monarch of the Glen (which is not running anymore, but I got it on Netflix).

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Hmm. That's tough. I think of all the personalities I hate, but I've hated them all for a while (GWB, Bill O'Reilly, those sorts). Sarah Palin was pretty obnoxious, but I don't hate her.

26. What was the best book you read?

I don't have much time to read, so this should be easy. I don't think I finished more than half a dozen books, most of them mysteries. Eat, Pray, Love was pretty good, though now I can't remember if I read it before 2007 was done or not. I also enjoyed The $64 Tomato.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
That maybe I shouldn't be a musician.

28. What did you want and get?

Snow boots for Christmas.

29. What did you want and not get? 

MItch McConnell to lose his Senate seat.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?


Like I have time for movies...that said, we rented TransSiberian last night and it was quite good, though I have even less desire to visit Russia than ever.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
 I spent most of my 30th birthday in Cedar Rapids trying to entertain Daniel and Anya in a shopping center while Stuart took the car to get its muffler replaced.

32.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Getting paid for the work I do.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?

Jeans that won't stay up, stained t-shirts, and shoes with mismatched laces. I would say that I could use some new clothes, but what's the point?

34. What kept you sane?

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Must I choose between Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert?

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

I'm still wondering how anyone who isn't a millionaire or a jerk can vote Republican.

37. Who did you miss?

My family. I missed my family terribly. And I even got to see my parents every couple months.

38. Who was the best new person you met? 

We got to know our neighbors across the street very well, and that's been a real blessing for all of us.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.

Think before you speak.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. 

It's just a moment. This time will pass. (U2)