Wednesday, March 31, 2010

you are what you eat

We had Anya's appointment with the nutritionist this morning. I wasn't nervous about it, exactly, but I wasn't particularly looking forward to it. To fill you in here, Anya had slipped significantly in the percentiles between her 18mo and 2yo wellness check-ups, and because she doesn't much like drinking milk, the doctor suggested I give her vitamins and take her to a nutritionist for some ideas to boost her calorie count. I was a little unhappy about this for several reasons, the biggest one being that as far as I and anyone else can see, Anya is a perfectly healthy little girl, so why worry about it? I really like our doctor, and I'm sure she is just covering the bases.

I was anticipating being told a bunch of stuff that wouldn't be especially helpful. I was expecting to be told that children need a varied diet and good routine with meals and snacks and that I should try harder to get her to drink milk. These are all things that I know already and am doing my best with. Happily, it wasn't at all like that. The nutrition specialist was incredibly nice and encouraging and told me that I basically don't have anything to worry about, that I have a good and relaxed attitude about what my children eat, that I'm doing a good job feeding my family, and then she gave me a list of calcium-rich foods that include, but are certainly not limited to, dairy products. (Like navy beans! Navy beans have lots of calcium. Awesome. I'm going to have to make something with navy beans pretty soon.)

Until fairly recently, like maybe the last 6 months or a year, Daniel was an extraordinarily finicky eater. Before he turned 2 there was a list of maybe - maybe - five foods he would eat. I was afraid he'd starve, or possibly turn into a graham cracker. He didn't. He finally grew out of this, and while there are lots of things he still refuses to try and/or refuses to like, he's much more like a normal 4yo kid when it comes to food. Anya has never been that picky. She doesn't like milk, true, but she eats lots of other things. This morning, D (the nutritionist) reassured me that I'm doing a lot of things right: we almost never eat at restaurants, I bake bread with whole grains, we never have candy around, desserts are occasional, we eat a variety of vegetables and fruits (especially in season), and with a few notable exceptions (namely goldfish crackers and graham crackers) we rarely have processed foods around.

I don't have high hopes that my kids will be asking for some of the odder things that I love anytime soon, like cooked kale with balsamic vinegar, or cooked beets with green onions and sour cream, or roasted parsnips (even Stuart can't bring himself to eat those last two), but I think we're off to a good start.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I scream, you scream

Believe it or not, Daniel and Anya were enjoying the ice cream in this picture:

We spent Sunday afternoon at a nearby nature center, which was hosting a Maple Syrup festival. Mostly, we waited in long lines to see things like tapped sugar maple trees, sap boiling over an open fire, and a re-created pioneer shack, but the kids were astonishingly patient for all this and genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves, especially Daniel. In the picture above, they are each enjoying a modest scoop of ice cream with about a tablespoon of maple syrup drizzled on top - delicious.


In other news, Spring Break is kicking my butt. I'm preparing for a couple of recording sessions this week, and on top of that, Daniel is off preschool and the kids are spending less time with their regular sitters (because of scheduling issues that are much too complicated and boring to go into here). I didn't realize how I was so used to spending a little time away from them every day, even if it was for my so-called work. Today just about did us all in. It's only 8:30 and I feel like I could go to bed for the night.

Tomorrow I take Anya to her dreaded appointment with the nutritionist, where I fully expect to be told how incompetent I am as a mother because I am not forcing her to drink milk (which she only likes with cereal) or take supplemental vitamins (the chewable ones taste disgusting - I tried them - and she hates being given anything with a syringe). I've been keeping a detailed list of everything she eats for the past three days so the nutritionist can try and do a calorie count. She seems plenty healthy to me. I wish we didn't have to go, but the doctor kind of forced the issue.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

landing on my feet

Since January I've been working with a violinist on her dissertation project. We're recording some sonatas by a rather obscure German composer from the late Romantic period. Think Brahms, but not quite as profound, yet almost as difficult. Plus, no one has recorded these pieces before, so we're going totally from scratch with no precedent to work with.

It's fun. It's really, really fun, and obviously it makes a world of difference that H and I really click in many ways, both musically and personally. When you spend this many hours working with someone, it can be either a wonderful experience or a real slog, depending on how you get along, and I'm glad to report that for us, it's the former.

We coach with a couple different professors at the music school every week. One of them is the woman I studied with for several years while I was doing a masters and doctorate in collaborative piano, and I have to admit it's a little weird going in every week for what feels like a lesson with her. I worked with her for so long and we know each other so well, that I almost always know what she's going to say - and that's a little demoralizing. Shouldn't I know this already? Shouldn't I be able to figure this out on my own? Isn't that why I'm Dr. Susan? Because I supposedly don't need a teacher anymore?

Well, any musician (or artist or writer or actor...) will tell you that part of the joy of being a professional artist is learning from other artists, receiving feedback and input to craft your work into something as perfect as you can make it. (Whether actual perfection is ever achieved is subjective, of course.) Isolation doesn't work for most people. Despite this, my self-esteem has taken a bit of a beating since I started this project. All the old questions lurking in the back of my psyche are trying to force their way out: Am I really good enough? What was I thinking? It was a mistake to try and be a full-time mother and professional musician at the same time. I am not legitimate.

But the last week or so, I feel like I have finally found my footing, landed on my feet. I have finally come to the point with this music that my practice time is reinforcing what I already know and enjoying the music, not just learning notes and solving technical problems (well, I always have technical problems to solve, but you get the idea, right?). I feel like myself again at the piano. I have found my sound, rediscovered some (if not all) of my confidence in my musicality. Good thing, since we're recording the first big chunk next week in a couple of marathon sessions at a local studio.

I'm still a little nervous about a few things. Like playing clean, for one. The movements are long and have a lot of notes, lots of room for errors, and one can only edit in so many splices before it sounds canned. I'm practicing for maintenance and getting as close to perfection as I can.

It feels good, but it has been surprisingly difficult. A couple weeks ago, I was ready to give up. It's not just the lack of practice time, the constant pulling of my attention in about a half dozen different directions, the distraction of kids and housework cutting into my concentration. It's the fact that this is the first music I've been able to sink my teeth into in over a year, and my technique and my ability to listen to detail got rusty. It's like I'd forgotten what it really takes to do this stuff well.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

hoodie fail

Sometimes it's okay to put on your shirt backwards...

...and sometimes not.

Monday, March 15, 2010

random Monday

Sometimes random is the only way to blog, right?

1. No guesses on the "Desire for Hermitage" text setting? Really? Either you guys are lazy or no one's reading this, or I'm a bigger music nerd than I thought. Anyway, that poem is ancient - literally. It was written in Ireland in the 8th or 9th century, probably by a monk, and translated by Sean O'Faolain, then set to music by the great neo-Romantic American composer Samuel Barber. (You know...the guy who wrote Adagio for Strings? Barber was born March 9, 1910, so the centennial of his birth was celebrated last week.) "The Desire for Hermitage" is the last in a set of ten called Hermit Songs, which were written in the early 1950s and are part of the standard vocal repertoire today, and for good reason. They are wonderful pieces, especially when performed as a whole set. I highly recommend Barbara Bonney's recording.

2. Daniel seems to be adjusting to his new preschool. As far as I can tell he even likes it, but you know how kids are. They don't tell you anything. Today when I went to pick him up I said, as I always do, "Hey, buddy! How was school today?" and he replied, as always "I don't know." On the way home, after some prodding, I finally extracted the following information: for snack he had two graham crackers, one piece of cheese, and three raisins. I expect when he's a teenager he'll tell me even less.

3. I'm loving the time change. It's light until after 7 now! So what if the kids get up before dawn? They would anyway!

4. Today was the first really nice day we've had in months and months. It nearly cracked 60 degrees, so I celebrated by wearing flip-flops (and a fleece jacket because I'm not insane, though I have seen several people wearing shorts already). We also dumped some sand in the sandbox in the backyard, and Anya learned The Hard Way that it is not wise to eat a bowlful of goldfish crackers while playing in the sand. We spent some time cleaning half-chewed spit-out crackers from the new sand, and I may be cleaning sand out of her diaper tomorrow. Hey, it's all part of her education, right?

ETA picture:

5. Stu's birthday was Friday. He even took the day off, which is almost unheard of for him, unless we're traveling somewhere. So we essentially had a 3-day weekend all by ourselves, and it was so nice. Too bad we can't get used to it. You see, he also bought a Powerball ticket and wouldn't you know, it wasn't a winner! So much for dreams of early retirement. (Kidding. I know you're more likely to get stuck in a runaway Toyota than win the Powerball. The odds are pretty steep either way.) Anyway, we spent his birthday having a nice, quiet day together and making a smashing good dinner (homemade noodles with meatballs, salad, cake).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

the desire for hermitage

Ah! To be all alone in a little cell with nobody near me;
beloved that pilgrimage before the last pilgrimage to Death.
Singing the passing hours to cloudy Heaven;
feeding upon dry bread and water from the cold spring.
That will be an end to evil when I am alone
in a lovely little corner among tombs
far from the houses of the great.
Ah! to be all alone in a little cell,
to be alone, all alone:
Alone I came into the world,
alone I shall go from it.

Who can name the composer who set this text to music? I bet a bunch of you can, actually. This is fairly well-known, at least among musicians. Bonus points for anyone who can tell me what date this week is significant and why.

I've been craving alone time lately. I don't know exactly why. Probably because I don't get any alone time except when I'm taking a shower or in the car buzzing from home to rehearsal to home to get Daniel for preschool, from preschool back to get the idea.*

This is the plight of mothers everywhere, isn't it? I don't mean to complain, exactly, because I know I have things better than a lot of people. But this morning everyone woke up grouchy and impatient, me worst of all, and things have gone south from there, I'm afraid. I almost started crying when I heard a Haitian girl sing a praise song on NPR this morning. It's a song I don't particularly like (reminds me too much of church camp from adolescence) but this child was singing so clearly and beautifully and her pitch was so dead-on, and here I was standing in the kitchen looking at the fog and gloom outside feeling sorry for myself while hearing this beautiful singing from a person who has most certainly experienced devastating loss and upheaval...well. It put things in perspective for me, even if it didn't improve my mood.

I so desperately could use a whole week at home. Alone. Purely for selfish reasons, of course. If I had a week to myself here I would clean the house from top to bottom, have lots of distraction-free practice time, do some reading, some knitting, and lots of re-organizing and cleaning out of closets, shelves and desks, and get a good night's sleep for once. At least, that's what I imagine I would do. In reality, I'd probably get anxious and lonely and not accomplish much. Not that any of this matters, of course, because I won't be getting a week to myself, at least not any time soon.

I should just stop fantasizing about what I want and deal with the here and now. Sometimes, that is really hard to do.

*ETA: Maybe I should count practice time as alone time, too. And Stuart is pretty good about giving me a little breathing room on weekends, but I usually just take advantage of the opportunity to run other errands without having the kids along.

Monday, March 08, 2010

snow shovels

A couple weeks ago, I heard an interview on the radio with a historian who was collecting stories from people in particular communities around Wisconsin. She started by giving everything mini writing assignments. Pick a word or phrase and write about that for 10 minutes, no more, no less, and see what you come up with. The examples were rather mundane, everyday objects, but they inspired all kinds of stories and memories. I've decided to do the same myself from time to time. I will share some on this blog. Here is my first: Snow Shovels.

I have no childhood memories of shoveling snow. I grew up in central Kentucky, where there is certainly snow from time to time throughout the winter, but mostly it melts right away. Or if it doesn't, everyone just stays indoors because they are too afraid to go outside. When I moved to Wisconsin for graduate school, the snow was kind of a shock. I remember one snowstorm in the middle of finals week, when 11" fell in one day. I was terrified the buses would stop running and I would be stranded in the god-awful Humanities building overnight (that didn't happen). I remember missing piano lessons I was supposed to teach because I had vastly underestimated how long it would take to dig the car out from that 11" of snow - and the way it piled up behind the car from the snow plow - when it was time for me to leave for the teaching studio.

By now, we consider ourselves snow experts. We have about a half dozen snow shovels, each with its own specific purpose. There is the rusty, square-ish shovel we found in the basement when we moved into our house, which we used the first winter of home-ownership. There is the bent-handled curvy shovel for clearing off the back deck. There is the large yellow straight-handled shovel named "Snow Plow" for heavy duty work, like the driveway. This winter, Stuart even bought an ice chipper, for cutting through the hardened piles that build up at the end of the driveway when time after time the plow comes around and the snow gets so packed down a regular shovel doesn't have a chance. The ice chipper looks rather like a garden hoe that isn't bent at the bottom. Last, there is the emergency snow shovel, a nifty device with an expandable handle that fits easily in the trunk of a car. It isn't much use for serious shoveling, but is the perfect tool for helpful young children, who love nothing more than to go outside in the early morning and help Daddy shovel snow off the deck.

Now the snow is melting. There is a lot of it, so even though we are having warm-ish weather, it will take a few weeks to completely disappear. I have to admit I'll miss when it's gone, just a little bit. Last evening we had an early supper and then the whole family went for a walk around the block. We all wore boots and even though it wasn't cold, we had the kids in snow pants so they could splash in the slushy puddles to their hearts' content. Daniel wanted to bring his snow shovel along. He scooped the snow from the side of the road and tossed it into the street, where it broke into pebbly bits. He scooped water from puddles, dumped the water into snow piles, and watched it disappear and absorb into the dirty, gray snow. "Mom, is 'pring coming?" he asked me as we turned the last corner to come home, and his little voice sounded wistful.

Friday, March 05, 2010

are you tired of snowy pictures yet?

Here, in early March, there is the hint of spring in the air. Sure, there is still plenty of snow on the ground and temps below freezing at night, but patches of muddy lawns peeking through the snow, puddles of water on the street, chunks of ice sliding loudly off the roof, and longer hours of daylight (hoorah!) are all evidence that winter is gasping for breath. Spring is coming. There is hope.

There is also a bright, shiny new gardening catalog full of temptation. But I don't want to get ahead of myself.

Today, Daniel and Anya and I had the morning to ourselves before he goes to school later. It's nice to have a breather after all the running around we - especially I - have been doing of late. So once we got tired of the toys and books and snacks inside, and it warmed up outside ("warm" meaning mid-30s), we put on the snow gear (more for keeping dry than for keeping warm, you understand) and took a walk to the park. It's hard to climb and swing in snow boots, but we managed!

In any case, here's your eye-candy for this Friday:

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


Daniel started preschool this week. As in, the real thing, yo. This past fall I enrolled him in some preschool enrichment classes at the nearby YMCA, and while those are much like preschool (several hours in the morning, kids need to be potty-trained, etc), those classes only meet once a week and require re-enrollment every 8 weeks. Since about Christmas, or maybe his 4th birthday last month, I have really felt that Daniel needs more than that. He needs more social time with other kids, and he needs adult authority figures other than me in his life. I have noticed that when we spend the whole day together we are much more likely to butt heads and argue about silly, stupid things. I used to be so protective of the time we have together, and now I can't wait for the sitter to come so I can leave for rehearsals and such.

So a few weeks ago, I started looking into local preschools. It's a really scary thing for me. They all have different programs and policies and it seems just so expensive (even though I know the people who work at those places are chronically underpaid, so I'm not exactly complaining about that). Plus, there's the reality that after another year and change Daniel will be starting kindergarten and like most other mothers, I get all choked up just thinking about it. The reality, though - and let's not beat around the bush - is that he is bored and he needs this in the weekly routine.

We visited one preschool (Stuart even missed a couple hours of work to come along!) that came very highly recommended by a friend, and I loved it right away. It's very small, but the teachers are wonderful, caring people, it's not big like a daycare, they go outside every day almost without exception (exceptions being extreme cold, thunderstorms) and for a bunch of other reasons it just seemed like the perfect fit. We signed up for the waiting list for fall enrollment. On the way out, we noticed a sign announcing an opening right now, and after mulling it over for a couple days, I emailed the director and we took it.

Daniel had his first day on Monday, and his second day today. He goes in the afternoons, which is exhausting for him, but good in the long run. There will definitely be an adjustment period, as he gets used to going to this place instead of the Y and getting to know new kids and teachers. At age 3, it would have hardly registered for him, but now that he's four, he is much more perceptive and the social relationships mean a lot more to him.

This is a little hard for me, I have to admit. I wish afternoon preschool means I would get a break, but alas, it makes life infinitely more complicated. I have a lot going on on campus, so I'm doing a lot of dashing back and forth from home to the UW back to home to get Daniel to school, then back to campus, all while I'm paying out the wazoo for a sitter. Anya skips naptime more often than not, so it's not like I'd have that time anyway..but the hardest part is seeing Daniel adjust emotionally. He's so tired at the end of the day, for one thing. On the way home this afternoon he announced he wasn't going back, and that he liked his "other school" better. I've always thought of him as a kid who could handle any situation you throw at him; I have always been so proud of how well he travels, how well he adjusted to being a big brother, how well he plays at the park with other kids. But he is still just a kid, just four years old, and since he's the oldest, he's breaking me in to all these new phases of childhood and parenting.

I know Daniel will be just fine. On Monday, he was the snacktime vigilante, immediately informing his teachers when one kid took 5 crackers instead of the allotted 2. Today, he took a tiny nap (about 3 minutes) right before outside playtime, and he was awfully grumpy and tired when I picked him up. This is all part of the adjustment, I'm sure.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

words of wisdom

It's funny what sticks with you, things that were perhaps said off-hand or in a conversation about something else entirely. Some of the best advice and insight I've gotten from other musicians has come at unexpected moments. For instance, when I was doing my second masters degree (Collaborative Piano), I had to take a couple semesters of a class called Diction for Singers. For those of you who don't know, diction is the art of pronunciation in singing. In such a class you learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and how to apply it to the four major language of the vocal repertoire: Italian, French, German and English. The idea is to convince your audience that singing in those languages is natural for you, even if it's not. It's certainly helpful to have studied all those language, even if you are not fluent. People who take classes in vocal diction are voice students and collaborative pianists - in other words, singers and the pianists who accompany them.

It is an absolute requirement that every person taking the class, pianists included, sing at least one song in each major language. In front of everyone.

When I took the diction classes, they were taught by a member of the voice faculty who had a substantial career singing professionally in opera houses abroad, mostly in Germany and Austria, for more than a decade. We will call her J. J is a very kind and warm person, which certainly helped along those of us who were decidedly not comfortable singing in front of the class. Of course, we knew we were being evaluated on our ability to demonstrate good diction, not execute flawless vocal technique, but even so, standing up in front of everyone and squawking through simple Schubert songs and the like was no cup of tea.

The first time I sang in front of the diction class, I had my shoulders hunched and my hands in the pockets of my jeans the entire time. She made me do it again with better posture, and it went much better the second time.

At some point in the semester - and now I don't remember if it was that day I sang with my hands in my pockets, or a different day featuring several awkward vocal performances by people who weren't really singers - J made a little speech about performing well. She said that when a performer lets his or her self-consciousness get in the way of the performance, that person is being too self-centered. Why? Because then the performance event is all about how the performer is doing and how she or he is feeling and not about the music. It should always be about the music itself, and communicating the music to the audience as completely and artistically as possible.

That little impromptu speech has really stuck with me (and I bet she has NO idea what impact it made!) I have been thinking about it a lot over the past couple weeks. I've been preparing some difficult pieces with a violinist, and I am pressed for time. Some things are going very well, but I wish we had more time to prepare (isn't that always the case?) and many of my feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness and self-doubt have been clouding my ability to just get the job done. I will pull this off, and I have to believe I can do it well. But beyond that, it's not about me, is it? It's about the music. I have to remember that, and I have J to thank for that nugget of wisdom to pull me through.