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.