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 Anya...well...today 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 embarrassing...you'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.

Monday, September 06, 2010

house vs. home

Stuart and I have been talking quite a lot about Our House lately. Our family of four feels a little cramped in our 900 square feet of living space, especially with only one bathroom. Nearly every morning a line forms outside the door. Stuart will be in the shower, or someone will be in there for, you know, bathroom business, and before you know it a little person is banging on the door yelling that he needs to pee RIGHT NOW. Lately even Anya likes to sit on the toilet, and when she does, she stays there for a long time, doing I-don't-know-what-all since she likes the door closed for privacy. She has a little board book about monkeys she likes to look at, and a few times she has unrolled the entire roll of toilet paper all over the floor; the latter has proved to be a particularly exasperating and tricky parenting situation because one has to find that delicate balance between the positive and negative of praising her for using the toilet and reminding her that ripping up an entire roll of brand-new toilet paper is naughty and wasteful.

So anyway, we only have one bathroom, and as happy as I am that our time with diapers may finally come to an end, it makes the logistics of bathing and toileting (I think I just made up that word) a little more complicated. The other problem is that we have a rather small eat-in kitchen and no dining room. When we moved into this house and it was the two of us, the little kitchen was perfect. In fact, the kitchen part - in other words, the space used to store dishes and prepare food - is just fine (except for a couple of awkwardly placed electric outlets). The problem is that we also have to fit a table in there that regularly seats the four of us, and that gets cramped. The table is sandwiched between the fridge and the back door, so whenever someone needs a drink of milk or the salad dressing, someone on the fridge side has to scoot out of the way, while whoever sits on the other side is likely to have to step around a pile of shoes and keys just to get to his/her seat. But we're used to it. We can deal with it for now.

We are finishing the basement this winter, which will add quite a lot of living space, more privacy for guests, and another bathroom. This solves nearly all of our space issues, with the notable exception of the kitchen/dining area (or lack thereof). The last few days we've entertained the notion of adding on to the back of the house. Just knock out the kitchen wall and extend the room by another 8-10 feet or so (essentially replacing the back deck with more house), and have an open dining space with room for a decent fridge (ours is small and old and not very efficient, but there is absolutely no room for anything bigger) and maybe a coat closet bigger than a postage stamp. (Not having any room by the back door for snow boots in winter gets pretty trying. In fact, we have wondered why anyone would build a house in Wisconsin without significant space allotted for snow gear by the main entrance.) (And dinner guests. It would be nice to have people over for dinner without requiring them to reach over and grab stuff from the fridge for you because it's less rude than making them get up every few minutes.) The back yard is quite big, so there would still be plenty of outside space, and we could build a brick patio next to the addition. What's there now is a big messy patch of weeds where I tried to grow chard a couple of times and failed miserably.

Would this be worth it? We don't know yet how much an addition would cost, and with the basement project coming up, we couldn't afford it now anyway, so there is certainly time to think about it. I know that remodeling is extremely stressful. And I know that most people will tell you that for what you spend on adding to your house, you could just move to a bigger one and save yourself the trouble.


My house is my home. It's not even the house so much as where it's located. Our neighborhood is modest and diverse, the elementary school is, by all accounts, excellent (and within walking distance), and it's easy to get where we need to go, often without a car. If it were just a matter of the house, of getting the most space for our money, then we would move. It's not about having a nice, big house, though. It's about making this one work because we like where we are and we've made our home here. That's worth certain inconveniences.

Who knows, though. Maybe having the basement worked on will disrupt our lives so much we won't be willing to go through it again. Maybe an addition would be so outrageously expensive there's no way we could do it. Maybe by the time we're financially prepared for another remodeling, the real estate market will have bounced back enough that we could find another house in this neighborhood without losing money selling this one. I just hope we figure it out before we have to start eating in shifts.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Sept. 1: good-bye, summer!

Fall is here. Two days ago it was hot enough to go to the pool and turn on the a/c, but today is September the First and it is relatively cool and rainy. The garden looks tired, and even some of the weeds are starting to droop. I haven't bothered with sunscreen for me or the kids in the last week, and except for a little pink on the back of Daniel's neck, it hasn't seemed to matter. The days are shorter, dark comes quickly in the evening and lingers later in the morning.

Most importantly, today is the first day of school. Madison's public schools start today and parents all over the city are breathing a collective sigh of relief. The teachers are not, but since it is only day one, most everyone is fresh-faced and energetic. Daniel's best friend across the street has his first day of Kindergarden, something Daniel will experience about a year from now. Already, I'm feeling pangs in my heart about that, along with some ambivalence. Part of me is afraid I won't be ready to turn him over to an institution all day, every day, and another part of me - the part that is exhausted from answering his questions and entertaining him all day long (there is only so much hide-and-seek I can take in a morning, people) - can't wait. It's all part of watching a child grow up, I suppose.

I think I am finally ready to say good-bye to summer, now that it seems like it's really over. I was in a funk about it for a while during the month of August, a funk I was finally able to shake last week when I took the kids for a final mini-road trip to see my friend Stephanie in rural Southwest Wisconsin. For two days, we ran free outside, explored her attic toy closet, ate little ripe tomatoes and arugula right from her vegetable garden (sometimes right in the vegetable garden), ate our meals whenever we felt like it, soaked in the sunshine, sat in the hammock, stayed up too late, and generally had a great time.

Now it's time to get down to business. I have a duet recital to plan and practice for. I've volunteered to co-teach/assist a preschool class at a local community center. We have a basement renovation to prepare for (and pay for). Anya need to potty-train (we're off to a very slow start). I want to try and do some more accompanying at the School of Music, which means setting a schedule I can manage and find a sitter who can accommodate that - neither of these are easy tasks. Towards the middle of August, all this had me overwhelmed, even though these are all things to look forward to, not to dread. But I just wasn't ready for it. Now, I am.

C'mon, fall. Bring. It. On.