Thursday, December 30, 2010

holiday events

The holidays are extra-exciting for us this year because my little brother got married on Monday! The wedding was in Rochester, MN, where MJ's family was gathering for Christmas (the oldest of her four sisters lives there). It was a small but classy affair, though even with family only, there were 25 people, what with all the siblings and their husbands/partners and nieces and nephews. With all the new people, Anya was completely overwhelmed, and she did what she often does in these types of situations: clung terrified to me like a little koala until she fell asleep on my shoulder. In fact, she missed the whole ceremony (which was all of ten minutes, just a couple of readings, the vows and smoochies at the end) and I had to prod her awake for pictures afterwards, for which she refused to smile, but at least she wasn't crying. Daniel was much more engaged. Mostly, he was interested in the long, long lens attached to the photographer's camera, but during the vows he leaned over to me and whispered "Doesn't Aunt Maria look beautiful?" and a minute later, "Uncle Joe looks very pretty, too."

Rochester, Minnesota, is a fascinating place. It's home of the Mayo Clinic, of course, which is unique in itself. But what's so interesting is how the clinic is integrated with the rest of the downtown area. There is a whole network of underground walkways that connect the clinic with hotels and restaurants and upscale shops, including several for things like wigs and hats and scarves. Walking through the halls of the Kahler Grand, for example, you'll encounter several doctors' offices and a Starbucks along with all the rooms for guests.

Then yesterday was my birthday. I'm 32 now, which feels thoroughly unremarkable. But I had a good day, surrounded by family (Joe and Maria stopped in for a couple nights on their way back to Virginia), sledding with the kids, and eating good food. We made a big dinner of falafel and hummus and roasted red pepper-walnut spread with pita and fatouche salad, and cake, of course. I got some lovely presents and a bit of cash that is kind of burning a hole in my pocket, but oddly enough, I'm not sure how I want to spend it. A yarn spree would be fun, since I'm such an avid knitter, but I have so much already that doesn't quite feel right. I even went to a couple yarn shops with my mom and new (!) sister-in-law, but didn't buy anything.

After all the excitement, I'm looking forward to a quiet New Year's Eve! We'll drink wine and play Scrabble, and I'll probably go to bed early. I'm over 30, so that's okay.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

winter solstice and cold weather running

Today might be the first day of winter, officially, but as far as I'm concerned, winter has been here for several weeks already. Last night we had about 4" of snow piled on top of what was there already, which was considerable. If you ask me, the best part about the Winter Solstice is that little by little we'll start to see the sun again. The lack of daylight has really been getting to me the last couple of weeks.

In fact, the bitter cold, snow-packed streets and 4:30 sunsets have nearly ended my running regime for the winter. Some people may enjoy running outdoors when it's pitch-black and your nose is so cold it aches and you risk slipping and breaking a limb on a patch of ice, but I am not one of those people. Since getting back into running a couple of years ago, I've just come to accept that I'll have to take a hiatus in the winter. I've never liked to do that, since come springtime, that makes getting back into a routine that much more difficult. But I always figured there wasn't another option.

This year, I'm trying something new: I'm sucking it up and running in the cold. I have Stuart's determination to thank for this, really. For so long he was plagued with so many running injuries (most of them minor, all of them bad enough that he'd have to quit running for this or that reason to recover) that nothing - not rain or sleet or snow or frigid temperatures - will keep him from running now that he is healthy enough to do so. He's like the USPS that way. Well. If he can do it, so can I. (I might have a tiny little competitive streak...)

Now, understand that I am no great distance runner. My favorite route is a 4-mile loop. I'm not fast and I don't particularly care. I have no interest in racing. I run because I like it, and because it's healthy. (And also because I can't stand working out in a gym.)

Anyway, it turns out that with the proper clothing, cold weather running really isn't so bad. Last weekend I went out when it was about 15 degrees, and I wore a silk balaclava, a wool hat, a tank top under a running shirt under a fleece jacket, silk long johns under stretchy running pants, and mittens. I actually got hot and had to take the fleece jacket off less than 2 miles after I started.

As for the ice and snow, Stuart and I have discovered a wonderful product: yaktrax! They're like snow tires for your shoes. Stuart picked up some over the weekend, and since we can never go running together, we're just sharing the pair. On Sunday, I chose a running route that was all snow and ice, just to see what it was like...and it was okay. For distances longer than a mile or two, wearing Yaktrax will take some getting used to. Still, it's better than nothing!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Today my baby girl turns three. Since we celebrated with cupcakes and presents over the weekend, we didn't do anything special today, other than make her favorite dinner (homemade noodles with tomato sauce), but I think the day deserves its own post anyway.

This picture captures so well her sweet spirit, her beautiful smile, her zest for life and also, a certain streak of independence and self-assurance that is

Happy birthday, big girl.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

winter randomness

1. Boy, there is no messing around with winter here. We had a blizzard over the weekend; Saturday night about 7" of snow fell (less than predicted, actually) and the roads are pretty bad. It's not the SnowMyGod the Twin Cities are experiencing, though. Today it's not quite cold enough for schools to close, but the wind chill is still well below zero. I'm coming around to the idea of winter here, but this sort of weather takes the fun out of sledding, you know?

2. In any case, I'm glad our basement windows are installed and sealed up:

The work on these was completed a day before the first snowfall last weekend, just in time.

3. Anya turns 3 on Tuesday, so we celebrated over the weekend, taking advantage Stuart's time off work. We invited the neighbors over for popcorn and cupcakes. Last year she needed Daniel's help blowing out her candles, but not this time:

4. Point of interest: it's birthday season around here! Anya turns 3 on Tuesday, my birthday is a few days after Christmas, Daniel turns 5 at the beginning of February, and then Stuart's birthday is in mid-March. All this plus Christmas means we are inundated with lots of new stuff stuff stuff, which is understandable and to be expected - even when we try and keep the gift-giving fairly simple-, but it also makes me a little crazy. This year it's even more intense because the basement work means that we have to re-locate (find a place to store/get rid of) a lot of stuff before the next stage of work begins. I'm in the mood to clean and purge, but this does not sit well with Young Children who are Very Attached to Their Things. Even putting some toys away for a little while so they feel new again in a couple of months is not feasible, because I literally do not have a place to hide things away (see above re: basement work).

5. Remember how my brother Joe got engaged? Well, he and his fiancée decided to get hitched over Christmas rather than deal with the stress of planning a big wedding next summer. The ceremony will be in Rochester, MN, where her family is gathering for the holidays. (I suggested that they have an outdoor Sledding Wedding!...but for some reason they didn't take me seriously. Can you imagine?) In any case, it's all very exciting, and adds to the season's festivities.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

first snow

At 5:15 this morning, a certain Little Boy woke up, looked out the window, and gasped with delight. "Mom!" he cried, "There's snow outside!!" His mother tried desperately to get him back to sleep, at least for a little bit, but the Little Boy refused. "I'm just too excited," he insisted, but eventually he agreed to look out the window quietly for a while until someone was ready to be up early with him. He watched and watched out the window, even got his binoculars to have a look. Finally, when he could stand it no more, at 6:30a.m. he and his Little Sister (who was also awake by this time) implored their father to go outside with him to shovel snow off the back deck. And so they did. (Their mother went back to bed at this point, desperate for a few minutes extra sleep before it was time to make breakfast.)

Later, the family went sledding at a nearby park.

And they declared it to be The First Day of Winter.

Friday, November 26, 2010

black friday

I have mixed feelings about Black Friday. On the one hand, I think it's crazy to go wait in line outside Best Buy or the Wal-Fart at 2a.m. when it's 12 degrees outside just to buy cheap electronics. On the other hand, with the economy in its fragile state, I want Black Friday to go reasonably well so the recession doesn't get worse. So I'm not necessarily going to judge Black Friday shoppers; I just don't want to take part in it.

(There was once a couple of years ago when I ended up at Macy's twice on Black Friday. My parents were visiting for Thanksgiving, and my mom wanted to do a little shopping. One place we went was Macy's, where we found some clothes for the kids on sale. Then later that day my dad discovered he had failed to pack any underwear in his back to Macy's we went, because it was closer than Target!)

Today begins the Holiday Season, at least in my view. I'm thinking about Christmas presents (and Anya's birthday is in a couple weeks!). Every year, I try to be a conscientious and responsible consumer by making some gifts and buying from local sources and local businesses. It's hard to do this without getting preachy and high-horse about it. After all, there's no denying that I'm a consumer, too. We have our fair share of toys and electronics and clothes around here.

I just started reading the new book Radical Homemakers (check out the website of the same name here) I'm not too far into the book, but so far I find it both reassuring and inspiring, for the most part. (Unfortunately, it's already overdue at the library, so unless I want to pay a giant overdue fine I need to return it and wait in line again to check it out.) Anyway, the basic premise of this book is that homemaking is a valid, productive and valuable choice of occupation. Someone has to raise the kids, prepare the meals, fix stuff that breaks, clothe the family, etc, and in a world where rampant consumerism is destroying the planet, the work at home might as well be done in a way that is ecologically sustainable and fulfilling and builds community. For some people, like many featured in the book, this means acquiring some pretty hardcore homesteading skills: living off the land, bartering services and, in some cases, rejecting public education and health insurance. (I admit I have a big problem with those last two things, but I won't argue that people aren't free to make those choices). For people like me, Radical Homemaking (I'm loving this term, by the way) isn't as extreme, but it gives me the affirmation that my lifestyle choices like hanging clothes outside to dry and making bread by hand and buying just about all our food locally are not a waste of time. Not that I think my life is a waste of time, mind you, but it's reassuring to know that there is a growing movement of people who place real value in this work, even though it doesn't pay me a salary. Also, it turns out a lot of us homemakers have bigger goals in life than sweeping floors and baking bread.

So while some Americans are out there shopping until they proverbially drop and the retailers call the day a success and the stock market has a little bounce, I guess that's good. But I'm spending Black Friday at home with my kids. We're making a grand mess with the toys, playing hide-and-seek, making dinner, doing laundry...all that stuff we need to do to make the household run a little more smoothly.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


This is a good time for me to reflect a bit on all that I have to be thankful for. The weather is dreary and the kids have been yelling at me all day (especially The Boy), but except for these superficial things, my life is good. I need to remember that, instead of feeling sorry for myself.

And so. A list. Today I'm thankful for:

1) Not traveling today. Isn't the day before Thanksgiving the busiest travel day of the year? And up north, this often invites bad weather. Today was cold, and it started to rain in the middle of the afternoon, which will freeze tonight and make the roads slick. I'm glad not to drive in it. I'm especially glad not to be flying anyplace, what with the new screening procedures and all...I can't decide what's worse: porno scanners or invasive pat-downs. Probably porno scanners, what with the radiation exposure and all.

2) No company. Now, Thanksgiving is a day for feasting with family, and I'm all for that. In fact, I'm sure I'll feel a pang of homesickness tomorrow, thinking of my parents and brother and his fiancée having dinner together in Kentucky without us. But we spent the whole first two weeks of November traveling to visit family - both mine and Stuart's - so I don't feel like I've missed out. And no company means the four of us can just relax together and enjoy the day without worrying about who gets to shower first, and how we're all going to fit in the tiny kitchen, and OMG-they're-going-to-be-here-in-an-hour-quick-clean-off-the-guest-bed!

3) The fact that today's rain held out as long as it did (it started around 3:00 this afternoon). Our intrepid carpenter has been working on those big egress windows since last week, and today he did his best to finish lining the window wells with lumber before it got so cold and wet and sloppy he had to stop. One is finished, and the second is at least 2/3 of the way there, and they wouldn't have gotten nearly that far if the rain had started at noon as predicted.

4) Good children's literature. Daniel is finally old enough to read Winnie-the-Pooh - the original - or, rather, have it read to him. I rented the old Disney movie version this week because of the long break from preschool, and then remembered I have the collection of A.A. Milne's stories on our bookshelf. We've been reading one or two at a time in the morning and at night.

5) My affectionate kids. We've hit a sweet phase where they are constantly treating me to hugs and smooches (in between the arguing, that is). Every time I leave the house to go running, say, or teach piano lessons, they each give me a fist bump, then a high five, then a kiss and a hug or several. It makes me think they might like me after all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

eye candy?

I wouldn't say these pictures are particularly pretty, but they show some serious work being done on the house right now. There has been a lot of noise, dust and general excitement. Probably the only thing that will top this for entertainment is when the plumber comes to bust up the concrete floor later this winter.

From digging the holes:

Breaking out the concrete block with a sledgehammer (or three):

Big honking hole in the wall! There are actually 2 of these side by side:

And of course, a captive audience:

By the end of the day, we will have new windows in those holes, with framing and all!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

midweek randomness

1. I'm exhausted. That big road trip kind of wore us all out, though I must say the kids were superb during all that driving across looooong stretches of the midwest. I've never been so grateful for the portable DVD player, though. Without it, the trip could have gone much differently. By that I mean the trip would have been a lot worse. I've overheard so many episodes of Clifford and Curious George (the PBS shows my kids currently love to watch) that I find myself humming the theme music (annoying) and responding to questions with monkey noises (really annoying). It still beats whining, though.

2. The recital was this past Sunday afternoon and it went very well. It was certainly well-recieved. I've been so very impressed by all the public support for music performances in that community. I was playing a recital of four-hand piano music with my college professor at my alma mater, a tiny liberal arts college in a small town in central Kansas, and the place was packed. She had 125 programs printed, and they ran out. That never happens here in Madison, not for local performers. There's just too much going on for people to attend everything, I guess. Or maybe people here take all this good culture for granted.

3. Oh, yeah. Halloween. I know it was SO last month, but here's a picture of the kids in their costumes handing out candy on my parents' front porch. They had a grand time with that.

(Daniel's ghost costume is quite possibly one of the lamest costumes I've ever made, but he was still pretty proud of it. And Anya still walks around in her witch hat.)

4. We also spent some time at an orchard local to my parents' place. The apples are tasty, of course, but the big draw for the kids was the outdoor play yard with a giant slide and straw castle, among other things. This picture of Daniel reminds me of that french knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail, the one who spouts verbal abuse to anyone trying to enter his castle:

Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries! Go away, or I shall taunt you a second time! (etc)

5. I didn't take any pictures in Kansas, alas. My week there went something like this: wake up, eat, drink coffee, practice, rehearse, drink more coffee, grab a sandwich, rehearse, teach, rehearse, eat dinner an hour after everyone else, fall into bed. Lather, rinse, repeat. I didn't even get the camera out of my bag.

6. The basement work has begun! Our contractor did some structural work and replaced the furnace while we were away. The night before we left to come home, he called to say that the water heater was totally kaput and needed to be replaced asap (good thing that was part of the original estimate!). So we came home to a new furnace and water heater, brand new and WAY more efficient than the old ones. Very nice.

7. Also, there are two giant holes in the backyard (for egress windows out of the basement) hand dug by three strong men (the backhoe didn't work out), with a little help/supervision/commentary from Daniel:

8. Pam just posted this link to a recording of the two of us performing a piece that was part of my dissertation. Go listen. We rock. It's also too bad that we live about 2000 miles apart, because I miss performing with her!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

after midnight

I'm on week 2 of the big Road Trip with the kids (hence the blog silence of late). Last week we were in Kentucky visiting my parents, which was grand. We did Halloween there and celebrated my mom's birthday on November 1, and the kids and my parents enjoyed each other's company so I could get some time to practice piano. This week we're in Kansas, where I've been putting together a duo piano recital with my college teacher. While we're at it, the kids are enjoying lots of time with my parents-in-law, who have been doing a LOT of babysitting while I've been in rehearsals, and we've spent a little time dropping in on other relatives, too.

My parents are here, too, in fact. My mom rode along with me and Daniel and Anya, and my dad arrived in the middle of the week after picking up Stuart in Ohio, where he had to travel for work (it's a little complicated). Since Wednesday, Daniel and Anya have had not one, but two sets of grandparents and their dad to watch them while I am working and rehearsing. That adds up to five adults doing the job I normally do on my own every single day, and I still feel a small twinge of guilt about being gone so much, especially in the evenings. At this point, the guilt is more of a reflex than anything else.

Now it's after midnight, and I am almost never up this late, but for some reason I just can't get to sleep tonight. The recital is on Sunday, just two days away, and I'm not nervous, exactly, but my brain won't wind down. I keep thinking about the music we're playing and how quickly it has come together. I think about my life as a parent and how it is so hard to really focus on anything else enough to do it well. Preparing for this recital has taken a tremendous amount of energy for the last several weeks, and this week of cramming rehearsals in between K's insane teaching schedule would not have been possible if I didn't have so many family members around to help out with the kids.

I have also spent some time this week working with the piano students here. I've been coaching them on some duet repertoire they are preparing for a rather informal recital later in the semester. And this afternoon I had the privilege of coaching a very talented young tenor and his very talented young pianist on some songs they are working on for the singer's senior recital. I was nervous about it, actually, because I was afraid they would be so stunning that I would have nothing to say to them and I would come out of it looking like a stammering fool...but of course that wasn't the case. They did very well, but the repertoire they had chosen was quite difficult, and while I wasn't familiar with the particular songs they had chosen, I thought of a few suggestions. Who am I kidding? I am a giant music geek, especially when it comes to art song repertoire, and I always have suggestions (though I try to keep them to myself unless my advice is solicited). If I could have a job someday playing and coaching chamber music and song repertoire, that would be great. Someone gimme a job doing that, okay?

Friday, November 05, 2010


Tonight, after dinner: "I'm NAKED!!!" (she was)

2 minutes later: "Mom I need to sit on the toilet, I need to sit on the toilet, INEEDTOSITONTHETOILET!!!"

1 minute after that...on the toilet...(*plop!*): "(sigh)...It happens."

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

the day after

I woke up this morning, checked the election results, and felt that familiar feeling of disappointment, but not surprise, at the American electorate. Politically, I lean pretty far to the left. I am an unapologetic liberal, the sort of person that Fox News loves to hate. I love the gays, I think access to good and affordable healthcare should be universal, I believe my uterus and what's in it is MY PROPERTY, I think our foreign policy of starting and dragging out wars in the middle east is despicable, I think rich people should be paying far more taxes, I think pot should be legal (even though I find it disgusting), and I really don't care who or even if our president worships. Call me a pinko commie and I might just take it as a compliment. Just so you know where I stand.

What I find most discouraging about the midterm elections isn't the standard line about how polarized our country has become. (And yes, I realize I made some polarizing statements in the above paragraph.) What bothers me most is just how badly informed - uninformed, misinformed, take your pick - the voting population is. We aren't very well educated in how our government works, or how capitalism works for that matter. And we're all busy people who can't or don't take the time to inform ourselves properly, so we latch onto phrases and concepts that are easy and familiar (lower taxes, family values, spend-o-crat, corporate bailout) and vote based on very little information.

I don't know who's to blame, exactly. I am a product of the Kentucky public schools, and I learned squat about civics. I think the last time we studied government was in 5th grade. So maybe education is at least part of the problem. But there's also the issue of the main media outlets that tend to focus on opinion polls and the scandal-du-jour rather than digging deep into candidates' public records (didn't Molly Ivins say the first three rules of journalism are "1. Look at the record, 2. Look at the record, and 3. Look at the record"?) to clue us in as to how someone will actually behave in office.

We the public also tend to be very short-sighted, both in looking ahead to the future and looking back at recent history. Yes, we're impatient for the economy to improve, but we had more than a decade of Repulican majority in congress, including 8 years of the Bush presidency to royally screw things up, and Obama's had just 2 years with a weak majority in Congress to fix it. It's like handing him a rope tied to the back of a downhill train and blaming him for not being able to stop it without asking who got the train going in the first place.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

pre-travel crazies, a list

I am planning to embark on a road trip with my kids, leaving this afternoon if I get everything done, which includes laundry, laundry, laundry, meticulous packing, and some clean-up. You'd think having the whole morning at home to do this would give me plenty of time, but you'd be wrong. I get the crazies when I'm getting read to leave for a trip. Stuart isn't coming with us this time (though he will join us later), but when he does it's twice as bad because on top of all that other stuff I have to make sure there's nothing left to fester in the fridge and wash every last this time I'm relieved of that. Still, I go berserk with details and tend to obsess over things that are completely irrelevant to the impending trip like organizing a shelf in the closet of the guest room or cleaning off the computer desk or scrubbing this one corner of the kitchen floor that is suddenly bugging the beans out of me.

So now here, because I have to wait for our eternally slow dryer anyway, I present to you a list of my pre-travel crazies for the day:

1. The basement. Specifically, the contractor will in all likelihood get started while we're gone. Step1 is excavating for egress windows and cutting them out of concrete block, which means the area around those windows needs to be clear. We had it almost all taken care of except for one card table full of my random crafting stuff and a smattering of high school memorabilia that my parents brought with them on their last trip up here. Instead of just moving it all over, I HAD to go through and organize all of it. This morning.

2. Bread. We're just about out, and I need to make more. Is Stuart capable of making bread? Oh yes, he makes excellent ciabatta. But I might want some to make PBJ for the road. So I have to make more.

3. Packing. I am so incredibly meticulous about packing. I make a list several days ahead of time so I don't forget anything important (and I usually do anyway, but as long as I remember my music for the concert and my glasses, I'll be okay this time). It just takes forever.

4. Also, Daniel gets really excited about packing, so he likes to pack his own suitcase. There are many problems with this. First, he picked the one suitcase that Stuart needs to use for his work travel while we're gone, the only one small enough to fit in the carry-on thingie on the plane. So I need to convince Daniel to use a different suitcase (not an easy thing, I assure you.) Then there's the problem of what he decides to pack. About an hour ago he emptied his whole drawer of summer t-shirts and PJs int the suitcase, which more or less filled it up, so there is no room left for long pants or underwear or any of the things we actually need to take along. He also develops a long list of toys and gadgets he'd like to bring along, even though they are unnecessary and we don't have room. What happens in the end is that I put away all the stuff he packed and re-pack what he actually needs to have along. Bless his heart, he just gets so excited about the whole process.

5. Anya - spills her snack alll over her clothes and has to change them 3 times and insists on wearing underwear even though she's totally not ready, and pees on the floor...

Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

milk jug skeleton

The kids and I spent a good part of Thursday afternoon making this:

Actually, I did nearly all the work, since it involved cutting up milk jugs with a utility knife, poking holes with an ice pick, and fastening everything together with twisty ties, all things too dangerous or too complicated for small children to do themselves. But the kids, Daniel especially, enjoyed watching the process. Afterwards, I told my mom about it on the phone.

Me: We made a skeleton out of milk jugs to hang on the porch.
Mom: Is it realistic?
Me: Well, it's not entirely anatomically correct. I mean, medical schools won't be knocking on my door any time soon to use this in their classes or anything, but it's close enough that you know what it is.
Mom: Does Daniel even know what a skeleton is?
Me: I'm not sure. I think maybe he knows what bones are.
Mom: Does he know that a skeleton is what you see when someone dies and their flesh decomposes and decays and all that's left is their bones? You're not going to tell him that, right???
Me: Uh, no....I was thinking of just telling him about x-rays. I think that's good enough for now.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Right now my children are naked. They do this at least two or three times per day - just take off their clothes for a little while and carry about their business as usual. Dare I say it's become routine?

For instance, every morning after breakfast, without fail, one of them will disappear, the other one not far behind (har) and within thirty seconds, they come running back into the kitchen without a stitch on, squealing "TWO NAKED KIDS!!" and then they chase each other around the house. This happens in the evening after supper, too, and occasionally in the afternoon if we're home long enough for them to get bored. Oddly enough, they're nicer to each other this way. Just now, for example, they started fighting over a toy truck and I hollered "You guys better get along or I'll make you get dressed!" and magically, the whining stopped.

What is so appealing about hanging around in the buff? I don't understand it, really. The novelty of it should have worn off by now, since this has been going on for months already. And it's not like it's particularly warm here, with everyone wearing wool socks and jackets outside.

I don't care so much, as long as no one sits on the couch (butt germs, yo) or pees on the floor. (With Anya, this is a significant risk, though she's more likely to use the potty if she's not wearing anything so it's sort of a tough call.) After all, we are in the privacy of our own home, and if my kids get their naked fun here, they're less likely to take their clothes off in the grocery store, say, or the park. And it's good to know that for the time being, they are happy and comfortable with themselves and their bodies without being too self-conscious.

When you live in a small house with only one bathroom, there's not a whole lot of privacy to begin with. Someone's brushing their teeth while someone else is in the shower and before you know it, the boy needs to take a crap, so what can you do? Truthfully, considering the traffic jam in the bathroom every morning, I'm okay with Anya not being toilet trained yet, since that would just complicate things further. In a few months, when the basement is finished (and the bank account is empty) we'll have another bathroom. We'll also have carpet downstairs (not in the bathroom, of course, but everywhere else), so come to think of it, I hope the naked phase is over by then.

Monday, October 18, 2010

today's links

I'm a lazy, lazy blogger, but I read all this stuff today while Anya was taking a rare nap (she's sick with a cold and needed it) and I think you should read it, too.

1. If you think you don't believe in Obamacare, read this.

2. As if the humanities weren't marginalized enough already (longer post on this later, if I can muster up the energy for it), read this debate about SUNY Albany's program cuts in the New York Times.

3. And finally, on a personal note, get some tissues and go to Jessi's blog for her tribute to Ethan's would-be 7th birthday. It's just beautiful.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

random on a Saturday

1. Thanks, all, for your supportive comments the other day. I do get fed up from time to time, and when I've got other stress on top of that, it just makes my fuse short(er). A night of sleep (not a full night of sleep, mind you, seeing as I haven't slept a whole night since before Daniel was born) acts like a restart button. Friday was much better. Today, too.

2. I found a dead mouse in the basement this morning. It was utterly horrifying, especially since the vile little carcass was right next to a bag of apples I was going to get to make applesauce. Maybe the mouse was trying to get to the apples and suffocated on the plastic bag, I don't know. In any case, none of the apples had been nibbled on, so I washed them thoroughly and went ahead with the applesauce. I asked Stuart to dispose of the body, though. I just can't handle mice, dead or alive.

3. In case you haven't noticed, midterm elections are nearly upon us. I try to be conscientious about voting and not miss any elections, even those smaller ones that don't seem to matter much (even though they really DO matter!). This time around, I'll be in Kentucky with the kids to visit my folks, which means I'll have to request an absentee ballot. I have never done this before! I have to admit, I'll kind of miss the feeling of walking the kids to the polling place and doing the whole process. Either way, I suppose I'm doing my duty as a citizen.

4. I have been an idiot with parking tickets lately. The other day I got a ticket for facing the wrong way while parking on the street (it's right before the street turns into a one-way, so there's no way there could be opposing traffic, and I've parked there many times with no incident.) The first time I went to the new Children's Museum downtown, I didn't realize you were supposed to pre-pay in the lot, so I paid on my way out and THEN discovered a $12 ticket in the windshield, which means in the end I overpaid even for the parking ticket. It's such a stupid way to part with money, parking tickets.

5. Happy, happy news: my little brother is getting married! This deserves its own post really, but at this point I don't have much to say about it except HOORAY!! Wish him and MJ your congrats, would you?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

brutal honesty

I am here right now to tell you that there are times that parenting truly sucks. I'm not talking about the times when your kid is having a hard time or is sick and really needs you. I'm talking about the times when your kid/s treat you like crap no matter how hard you've tried and make sure you feel like less than dirt for some trivial reason. Tonight, it was the grilled cheese. I won't go into details, but in Daniel's world I messed up, and I just had had one too many times of being screamed at for no good reason and I kind of snapped. I walked out of the house - barefoot - and around the block to cool off, and I'm still having a hard time answering anyone without descending into a rampage about how at least illegal immigrants are paid a pittance for the work I do, whereas I am paid zero. I know that's not fair. I know I'm being unreasonable. I know my kids don't know better and I should just dig deeper into my reserves of patience (which are currently empty, obviously) and be a better person and better mother and give them the attention they so wholly deserve. But right now I just can't.

Go ahead. Judge me. But if you dare tell me how much worse it's going to be in ten years when they're teenagers, I guarantee you'll be sorry.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I realize the blog has been quiet for a little while, but seriously, there is not much interesting to say over here. We're having astonishingly beautiful weather, so the kids and I have been soaking up all the sunshine we can before the cold and gloom set in. We've had multiple sessions of apple-picking and pumpkin-carving, and just this morning the trees in our yard suddenly started dumping their leaves, so soon we'll have leaf-raking and leaf-pile-jumping as well. Daniel is absolutely loving preschool, and Anya wants so badly to go, too, but until she potty trains, she can't be enrolled.

The whole month of October I've had a hard time getting ahead of what needs to be done. I have a lot on my plate at the moment, and it just feels like everything gets half-done if at all, and it's frustrating. A lot of this, frankly, is housework and laundry, stuff that is so very tedious to talk about, but really is important because, you know, I live here and I can't stand the mess. I don't mind a little disorganization, actually, but too much mess makes me feel stressed out. The problem is that everything else (like the kids and piano stuff, obviously) takes priority over things like pick-up and vacuuming, so the house just isn't clean. Hiring a sitter wouldn't help because everything I need to do - i.e. practicing and housework - needs to happen at homeand even with a sitter they'd still be underfoot. Keep in mind they haven't even started the basement work yet, so it's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Friday Five - favorite fall food edition

October. It's really fall now. It's dark more than it's light, the leaves are turning colors and piling in the street, I've put away the kids' summer shorts for good now (I think), there is much discussion around here of jack-o-lanterns and Halloween costumes, my knitting needles can't keep up with all the projects I want to do (well, that's usually the case anyway!), and the supply of fresh vegetables is rapidly declining. This year a warm spring and wet summer made everything ripen about two weeks early, which means everything is done two weeks earlier than usual in the fall. Frost predicted for this weekend means that tomorrow's market is surely the last opportunity I'll have to stock up on tomatoes for sauce. I also plan to take the kids apple picking this morning while the weather is mild and there are plentiful apples to pick.

Late summer and early fall are, in my opinion, the best for local eating. Before the first frost, there is an abundance in our CSA box and at the farmers' markets. I don't can, but we have a chest freezer in the basement, so it's possible to eat local produce, if not exclusively, for at least most of the year. And because I spend quite a lot of my time thinking about and preparing food for my family, here's a list of five fall foods we've been enjoying of late:

1. Corn on the cob. Until there's a hard freeze, you can get fresh corn in Wisconsin at the markets. In fact, the cool nights late in the season make the corn sweeter. My kids love corn on the cob, especially Anya, whose favorite thing lately is to sit on the porch and peel it "like a banana!"

2. Apples, apples, apples.

Oh, how I love apples. I love that there are a zillion varieties to suit everyone's taste. My favorites are the ones that are crisp and somewhat tart, like Jonafree and Honeycrisp. I love that you can go apple picking and fill a whole bag in just a few minutes. I love to make applesauce and eat it for dinner with potatoes fried with cabbage (and occasionally spicy sausage), or for breakfast on top of pancakes with whipped cream. And there's nothing cozier in the evening than a mug of warm apple cider with a cinnamon stick.

3. Tomato sauce.

I know tomatoes are really considered a summer fruit (or vegetable, whichever way you look at it) but up here they don't really get going until the middle of August or later. I bought them by the huge bagload through the month of September and made lots of sauce. Some we ate with fresh noodles, some we made into tomato soup, some went on pizza, and a lot went into the freezer.

4. Pumpkin spice cupcakes. It's rare that I make pumpkin spice anything, to tell you the truth, but this week after some festive jack-o-lantern carving with new friends in the neighborhood, we accidentally brought home a little pie pumpkin that never got carved. So I sliced it in half and baked it and scraped out the flesh and purréed that in the blender and then flipped through Martha Stewart's Cupcakes until I found a pumpkin recipe to try. I added chocolate chips and left off the frosting, and they were pretty good. The kids sure inhaled them!

They like jack-o-lanterns, too. These pictures are actually from a couple of weeks ago; we got started on Halloween early this year.

5. Squash soup. But it's got to be made right, with a little sweet, a little spicy, but not too much of either. One recipe I use a lot calls for carrots, onions, squash, broth, some yogurt and a touch of maple syrup. I usually throw in a bit of ginger, too.

What about you? What are your favorite fall foods?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

the library mall

Barack Obama was in Madison this evening to speak at a big rally on the UW campus. I didn't go. At first, I thought I might try and take the kids but then I realized just how crazy it would be to take two tired not-yet-school-aged kids downtown on the bus (don't even try to find parking when there is a Big Event, and the Prez certainly qualifies) for a rally that would last several hours in a place with security so tight you're not even allowed to bring an extra diaper and a bottle of water. Then I thought I might try and bike there myself when Stuart got home from work...but the more I listened to the news as I was stirring the risotto and washing the lettuce for tonight's dinner, the more I heard phrases like "campus rally" and "energizing young voters" and "Obama will talk about Pell Grants", the more I realized this rally is not for me. It's for college students who probably were barely eligible to vote in the 2008 presidential election, and I am clearly beyond that.

Plus, I wouldn't have gotten to the rally until a couple hours after it started, so I probably wouldn't have gotten in. This from the AP: About 12,500 people packed onto a mall in the heart of the campus awaiting arrival of the president. Thousands more were in a line that stretched more than a mile beyond the entrance sight. It seems there was plenty of enthusiasm there without me.

I've been feeling twinges of nostalgia all day, though. You see, the Library Mall on the UW campus is a place of political action. Shortly after we moved to Madison in 2000, I saw Jesse Jackson stump for Al Gore. I've seen other politicians there, too, like our senator Russ Feingold (who is in danger of losing to some Republican businessman this fall). I've participated in rallies myself and even marched down State Street to the Capitol a time or two chanting slogans and yelling myself hoarse for union rights. The Mall is also Madison's own Speaker's Corner, where occasionally small groups of people wearing sandwich boards with gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses thump their bibles (and are largely ignored), where booths are set up offering hot cocoa and pamphlets bearing information on various oppressed peoples, where enterprising street musicians try and earn some change, and skateboarders blatantly ignore the "NO SKATEBOARDING" signs posted on the concrete buildings that surround the area.

Mostly, though, the Library Mall is filled with the pedestrian traffic of your basic, run-of-the-mill, giant university: people walking to and from class, the library, or the Starbucks on State Street. I have walked across that patch of concrete probably thousands of times because, you see, the Library Mall is also right in between the Humanities complex where I was a student in the School of Music for several years, and Memorial Library, whose basement houses the music library, where I spent countless hours. I kind of miss it. I don't at all miss being a student, but I miss being a part of the action, at least a little bit.

I also miss being a rabble-rouser. Staying home with my family instead of joining the throngs downtown tonight wasn't really a big deal, but it's got me thinking that I should find a way of participating in political activism. Rallies are all fine and good in and of themselves, but there are other, quieter, ways to make a difference. I just need to figure out how.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

shucking corn

ETA: It seems I still have a few things to learn. I got the following email this afternoon from my mother, after she saw this post:

Dear Susan,

Not having grown up on a farm, you missed out on some vocab, and I take full responsibility for not having taught you: Taking the green husks off the ear of a corn is husking; removing the yellow (or white) kernels from the cob after they have dried is shucking.


Thanks, Mom!!

Monday, September 13, 2010

random Monday

1. Re: last weekend's Hi5 gaff. First of all, more than 600 invitations were sent out, because Hi5 sucked down ALL of my gmail contacts, not just the ones I've deliberately entered into my contacts list. So anyone I have ever emailed for any reason, including former professors, parents of my piano students, random singers who hired me to play for auditions, the director of Daniel's preschool...they all got that request. When I tried to email everyone en masse to explain the mistake, gmail thought I was spamming and locked me out, which took a little while to undo. I spent a good chunk of Saturday morning writing emails, cutting and pasting addresses, re-writing emails, and trying to figure out a way around looking like a creepy spammer. I think I've got it all taken care of, but I've had such an interesting mix of reactions. Some people wrote back in mock disappointment that I don't want to be their cyber-friend. Some people I haven't communicated with in a long while dropped me a line to say hi and catch up. Several people suggested that I join facebook (one friend wrote simply: "You do exist! You could do facebook, you know.") Stuart has been enjoying every opportunity he finds to raise his hand to give me an actual high five, just because he can.

2. Halloween stuff is already showing up in the grocery store and other places. Just about every day I ask the kids what they want to dress up as this year, and every day they give me a different answer. Today, Daniel said he wants to be a skeleton. I thought maybe he'd want to wear his new pajamas as a costume, since they have glow-in-the-dark bones on them, but no. No, he wants a real skeleton costume. And I said, "Anya, what do you want to dress up as for Halloween?" and she answered simply, "Yellow." It is her favorite color, after all.

3. This past Saturday was Pesto Fest out at the farm we have our CSA subscription with. This is our third year at Pesto Fest, and it was grand, as usual: gorgeous weather, friendly people, a hungry goat to visit and feed bits of basil stems and grass... You drive out there, pick as much basil as you want (there is a seemingly endless supply), rinse it off in these huge tubs outside, then pick off the leaves and go into the barn with your food processor and other ingredients and make the pesto right there. It's fun to watch everyone. Some people have lots of fancy ingredients and they measure everything carefully, and make it so beautiful. Me, on the other hand - I'm sloppy and fast and I make it as quickly as I can with as few ingredients as I can get away with (I'm down to 5: basil, garlic, olive oil, walnuts, salt) and I never measure anything out. I just dump it all in and mix it up, then stick my finger in for a little taste until it's about right.

Here are just a few pictures from that event:

Friday, September 10, 2010

stooped social networking site

So once upon a time, a long loooong time ago (as in Before Facebook Existed) I signed up for Hi5 for some reason. You know, someone invited me so I signed up and forgot about it. I've logged into that site, like, two times, maybe three. One of those times was about 5 minutes ago and somehow I ended up inviting every single person in my entire gmail address book to be my friend on Hi5, which makes me feel pretty silly and lame. (I might add that I'm really perturbed that this site is so predatory that it sucks your whole address book into the welcome page and automatically sends everyone in it an invitation unless you uncheck each one individually...lesson learned, I suppose.) So if you got an email from me just now inviting you to be my friend, please please ignore it. I will probably never bother to login to that site again (I blog, but I don't do social networking online). This is seriously'd think I know better by now!

It's been a long day. Trust me.

(Well, as my own husband, WHO JUST GOT INVITED TO BE MY FRIEND ON HI5, just pointed out to me, it could be worse.)

ETA: I have spent the entire morning trying to email everyone on my contact list to explain this gaff. Now gmail thinks I'm a spammer and won't let me send any email to more than one person! I managed to send messages to everyone up to names starting with the letter "R"...I think I'll take a break from cyberspace for a while.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

gentle breezes

One particularly fun little quirk about our neighborhood is that a local hot air balloon rides company often launches from the park nearby our house. I get ridiculously excited about seeing the hot air balloon, at least as excited as the kids get, if not more. (I also get excited about cement trucks because when I was really little my mom would feign enthusiasm every time she saw one and the effect never wore off on me.) It's just so much fun to see this massive, colorful thing fill up with air and then lift gracefully up into the sky. All summer I've been wanting to see the balloon fill up, but in vain; either it has happened when I'm out for the evening teaching piano, or we don't catch them filling it up in time and just see it floating in the sky above the neighborhood.

But today, finally, all of us got to see the balloon fill up from start to finish. It only takes about 20 minutes once they start running the fan. Supper was late, the kids were tired, and we all got lots of mosquito bites, but I don't care. I saw the balloon, and it made my summer.