Saturday, December 31, 2011

goodbye to 2011

I always get a little pensive at the year's end. This is normal in the dark days of winter, especially with the start of a new calendar year right around the corner. But my birthday is the 29th of December (as of Thursday I'm 33), tucked neatly in between Christmas and New Years Day, so easily forgotten (not ever by my family, though), and turning another year older always prompts me to reflect on my life and where it's going.

The last year has been remarkable for many in my family, in many ways. Daniel started off the year with so may ear infections he had to have surgery at the end of September to have tubes put in and his adenoids out, which seems to have solved the problem. Daniel and Anya both grew through a few shoe sizes, and they both started new schools. Anya started preschool and Daniel started kindergarten, so now we are experiencing Madison's public schools firsthand. So far the experience has been very positive for him, and positive for me as well, though very eye-opening. My brother got married at the very end of 2010 to a lovely, wonderful woman I'm so proud to call my sister-in-law. A few months later, he graduated with his PhD in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech. My parents-in-law sold their house in Kansas and in a few weeks are moving to North Carolina to be closer to Stuart's brother, so that will be a big change for us all.

And you can't deny that 2011 was a very interesting year to be living in Madison, Wisconsin! Time Magazine named "The Protester" as its Person of the Year for 2010. I know that across the country, most people think of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movement at the mention of the word "protest", but around these parts, last winter's massive and peaceful protests week after week at the Capitol (aka The People's House) are fresh, raw memories. We may not be marching out in the cold by the thousands, but this isn't over. Here's hoping 2012 is the year of the Recall of Governor Scott Walker. Here's hoping 2012 brings a wave of citizens standing up for our public institutions, our public employees, and saying "NO" to corporate greed and the war against the middle class.

So, yes, it's been a big year for many of us. I feel a bit like a bystander, watching all this pass me by. This fall when Daniel started KG and Anya began part-time preschool, I finally had a few hours to myself during the week. It's just enough time to go running, catch up on housework and get some practice time in, which is more than I've had since, well, ever, but I admit I've felt a little stuck. I haven't made any goals or resolutions for 2012, but I suppose I should. I could use a little adventure.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

5 ways to beat the holiday stress

Not that I've completely succeeded, mind you. I found myself wandering around a thrift store at 5:30 this afternoon with the vague purpose of finding wool garments to re-purpose as bags and random fun things for Anya to play dress-up with...not exactly a priority 4 days before Christmas, but there you are. At least I wasn't at the mall.

Anyway, for what it's worth, I present to you my list of Five Ways to Keep the Holidays As Stress-free As Possible:

1) Skip the cards. One week from tomorrow I will celebrate my 33rd birthday (with cake and maybe I'll get to see a movie??? in a theater???) and I have yet to send out a Christmas card, electronically or otherwise. It's just too much work. If you're family, you get emails every once in a while with cute pictures of my kids, and if you care, you follow this blog, and if you're neither, you're probably not worth it. Sorry. Tough shit. I know I sound harsh, but those who don't read, won't know, right?

2) Skip the baking. I remember a conversation a few years ago with some women a few decades my senior, in which they proclaimed boldly and proudly that they were cutting back on the holiday baking that year. There was a brief pause as they waited for the collective gasp. So? I thought to myself. There is a complete and total overload of sugar at the holidays anyway, who's going to miss another batch or ten of cookies? What's the big deal? To these women, though, this was a big deal, perhaps because the tradition of baking more cookies and fruitcakes than one family could possibly consume was so ingrained in their idea of the holidays, the thought of not doing it was a small rebellion (and a relief). I mean, if you enjoy it, go for it, but if baking is a source of stress, skip it. It's okay. (Full disclosure: I did commit to baking 60 cookies for Daniel's KG class to decorate in a party this week, but I did actually enjoy myself. And that's all the baking I did.)

3) Shop local. I'll save you my soapbox spiel about how shopping at local businesses instead of big box stores is better for the community and the economy. If you care a fig, you probably know this already, and if you don't care, I doubt I'll be able to convince you here. But how about this: going to smaller, locally owned stores saves you the stress and the lines and the Xtreme Parking of mall shopping. That's worth something, if you ask me.

4) See a live performance of something. A couple weekends ago, I went to see the WCO performance of Handel's Messiah. The main reason I went was to see my friend Julia sing the soprano solos (she was fabulous!!), but I ended up really enjoying the whole thing. This was a professional performance, not a sing-along, and I thought it might get a little, well, boring, to sit through a two-hour long oratorio. But it was great, and festive to boot. As corny as this sounds, good music can really help make the holidays special. Also, supporting your local orchestra/chorus/ballet company (one of these days we'll go see The Nutcracker) is a good thing.

5) If you're going to knit socks for someone who wears a size 12 men's shoe, you might want to start sooner than 7 days before Christmas. Need I say more? Some lessons I'm still learning...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

4

Today Anya turns four!



She's been excited about her birthday for weeks, and even woke up a couple of times in the middle of the night last night to chat about it: "Mom, what day is it today? Is today my birthday??"

Despite her excitement, Anya is a sensitive child, and easily overwhelmed, so I did my best to make her feel special without overdoing it. Presents in the morning, a trip to the store for a birthday balloon (this has become tradition somehow), I ate lunch with her at preschool and brought a special snack to share there, and a quick after-school trip to the children's museum, and her favorite dinner (spaghetti and meatballs) - it was just about right, though she did fall asleep in the car on the way back from downtown.

I'll spare you the gushy gushy that often accompanies birthday posts, but she is my girl and I am proud of her, so in honor of her 4th birthday, here is a list of 4 things you should know about Anya:

1) She has a remarkable memory. Example: the other day we were walking through the Chazen and when we passed the drinking fountains in the new wing, she stopped suddenly and said, "Mom, this is where you saw Scott!" The encounter in question happened about two months ago and only lasted a few minutes. I'd run into a composer friend (hi, Scott!) and we had one of those brief "catch-up-on-the-last-three-years-in-three-minutes" conversations before he had to go. I'd forgotten about it until she reminded me.

2) She loves numbers and counting. Anya and I play Parcheesi every morning after walking Daniel to school. Sometimes we play two or three games in a row. I usually let her win, but I've noticed she's gotten awfully quick adding up the dice and figuring out where her playing pieces will land. She has also learned how to count to 13 in Chinese and German from her preschool teachers (every day they count the kids in the class to see who's absent), and Daniel, who is in an after school Spanish class, has taught her to count to 39 in Spanish. She will demonstrate these skills to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen, I might add.

3) She loves to cut paper. Every night at pick-up time the biggest mess she's made is a layer of confetti on the floor of her room. Sometimes she cuts paper into bits, tapes those bits onto bigger pieces of paper, and then gives it to Daniel.

4) She is full of love and affection, though she is only comfortable expressing that with people she knows very, very well. I am lucky to be one of them.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

freedom of speech

Wisconsin State Constitution
Article 1, Section 4


The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.


Yesterday, I heard this NPR report about the DOA's new requirements for protestors in the Capitol, and I was livid. Any intentional gathering of 4 or more people inside or 100 outside the building requires a permit 72 hours in advance, plus it's up to the discretion of the Capitol police to decide if protestors owe money for things like police presence and clean-up. (That's right, four people. Like, if my neighbor and I show up, each with our two kids - that would be 6 people total - and a couple of handmade signs, that could technically constitute a protest. They could fine us for not having a permit and charge us for clean-up if one of our kids drops a granola bar wrapper on the floor. Come on.) Walker calls it mere "clarification" of the rules of the permit process, but if you are paying attention at all, it looks more like an attempt to stifle dissent. Should the DOA and Capitol police attempt to enforce these rules, legal questions and challenges will most certainly abound.

Here's the thing about trying to stifle dissent: IT JUST MAKES US LOUDER. Many of us are more determined than ever to show up and express our First Amendment rights. And what better opportunity to do so than the daily noontime Solidarity Sing-along in the Rotunda? Side note: the Solidarity Singers have no intention of applying for one of Walker's permits; singing in the Rotunda is an expression of free speech, plain and simple. I brought Anya with me today and bribed her with a trip to the Children's Museum first and snacks for the Sing-along. We lasted 45 minutes before my voice and her snacks gave out, but not before I merrily joined the throng in singing favorite Christmas tunes with lyrics tweaked for the occasion, like "Holly Jolly Recall," "The Twelve Days of Scott Walker's Term," "O Come All Wisconsin" and "Have Ourselves a Merry Little Recall."

I am not an ethnographer or a musicologist (though I did minor in musicology for my doctorate), but I sincerely hope someone is documenting these Sing-alongs in a proper way. No other aspect of last winter's protests has been as expressive and as enduring.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

winter slump, lame dinos, and christmas caroling

Thanks for all the encouragement, everyone. This slump I'm going through is due to a combination of factors, one of which is most certainly this period of time as we close in on the winter solstice, when the days are so short I can see the sun low in the sky as early as 1:00 in the afternoon and there isn't yet snow on the ground to reflect the light. Instead the view outside is a mix of browns and grays from cloudy skies, bare trees and shriveled flowers in the garden. There is a beauty in this landscape, actually. It's one reason I can't quite bring myself to trim down my perennial garden in the late fall, though I probably should. I like seeing which plants stubbornly hang on after several nights of frost (snapdragons, sage, and parsley are among the hardiest), and once the snow falls, we enjoy watching the birds peck at dried flower heads.

As for the music thing...well, everyone keeps telling me to be patient. Once Anya's in school full-time I ought to be able to seek out more opportunities to play or even think about changing career direction, if that turns out to be what I want. In the meantime, I'm supposed to enjoy my time at home because they grow up so fast and all that.

Yesterday we went with a friend of Daniel's and his mom to a Discover the Dinosaurs "event" (I use this term very loosely) at the Alliant Energy Center. It was, in a word, a rip-off. We had to pay $6 just to park, the entrance tickets were expensive, and they didn't include any of the stuff the kids actually wanted to do (like face-painting and a bounce house). The exhibit was worthless, the place was loud and crowded, and the kids all ended up whining that they wanted to go to the bounce house, which was an hour wait and would have cost an extra $20. (We said no to the bounce house.) It was so stupid and lame that the other mom and I complained to a manager and got half our ticket money back. We ended up having a play date at our house instead, which was fun for the kids. We should have skipped the whole dino-lame thing and just done the play date in the first place.

Today, still feeling like I needed to cleanse my cultural palette of the dinosaur fiasco (OMG am I a total snob? Whimpering sigh...), I tried taking Anya to see Li Chiao Ping's The Knot Cracker. (Aside: I love modern dance. In my next life, I'll be the next Martha Graham.) Alas, the tickets were sold out when we got there, which was what I expected would happen, but I was disappointed anyway. Instead, we spent some time wandering the Overture Center and listening to the Madison Symphony Orchestra chorus sing Christmas carols from the balcony. It was beautiful. (And free.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

dr. who?

The other day I popped into Whole Foods to get some guacamole (their guac is really good), and in the checkout line I noticed the cashier had written "Dr." in front of her name on her name tag. "Dr. ___?" I asked. "Yeah," she sighed, "I have a PhD." I pressed further: "What subject?" and she sourly named an area of biology that is probably hard to find a job in. By then I had paid and someone was waiting in line behind me, so the conversation was over.

I wonder why she seemed so unhappy. Maybe she simply was having a bad day. Maybe she doesn't like chatty customers. My guess, though, is that she resents having earned her doctorate and the best job she can find is working as a cashier at Whole Foods. I wanted to tell her that in my own small way, I can relate. I know what it's like to finish a doctorate, only to find yourself out of the field with an occupation with low (or no) pay and stifling tedium. (Not that we're alone, mind you. Half the cab drivers in this town have PhDs.)

I hate to say it, but lately I feel close to giving up entirely. I had to force myself to sit down and practice this afternoon. Once I got started, I enjoyed it, but it took giving myself a little talking-to. I'm just not in that groove these days. It's frustrating that family life constantly interrupts what little work I can find. I don't miss being a student, but I've been yearning for that feeling of being surrounded by other musicians and being stimulated by their energy and ideas. Every year that goes by since Anya was born, I feel like I lose a little bit more of that. I also feel like it doesn't even matter.

Monday, November 21, 2011

recall rally

Saturday was the big rally in downtown Madison to kick-off the recall effort. I spent most of the day volunteering as a petition circulator, and since I had to be on my feet outside the whole time, I packed light and dressed warm. (This means I did not have my camera with me, so no pictures. Sorry.)

The day started at 9:00, where hundreds of volunteers packed into a downtown theater for a training session and pep rally. The highlight was a short, but energizing speech by (former) Senator Russ Feingold, who signed his petition to cheers and chants of "Run, Russ, Run!" (He has said he won't run against Walker in a recall election, but a whole lot of us wish he would.)

I spent the next five hours standing in front of the Capitol building with a clipboard, wearing a bright neon vest, and watching thousands of protestors stream by. Would you believe I only got one signature the whole day? Everyone who walked by had already signed. It was only when I took a walk around the Capitol square to warm up that I found one guy who hadn't signed yet. You might think I felt like my day volunteering as a circulator was a waste of time, but I don't think that at all. I would have gone to the rally anyway, every signature counts, and I'm glad I got that one. Besides, it's better that they had too many volunteers than too few.

So far more than 100,000 signatures have been collected since last Tuesday. 30,000 people were at the rally alone. I think we're off to a good start.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

energized by the recall

Lately I've been experiencing a bit of ennui. I think it's the shorter days, the chill in the air, the fact that I am between playing gigs (I should be getting music for a new opera any day now, though) and the feeling of being a little stuck in a rut before everything ramps up for the holidays.

Happily, this week I have a new distraction: the effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch) for all the terrible stuff he has done since taking office in January of this year. Yesterday was the first day petitions began to circulate, and today I went to recall HQ to pick up my own hastily-made clipboard (it is seriously kludgy - thin particle board with a jumbo paper clip on the top, and they wanted a $1 donation for it, which I willingly contributed) and stack of petitions to circulate. I've picked up several signatures from people in the neighborhood and parents at the preschool already. This Saturday I've agreed to spend the entire day with several hundred other volunteers circulating petitions at a big rally (yo, if you live around here there is a BIG RALLY ON SATURDAY AT THE CAPITOL SQUARE). It will be cold, and it will probably rain, but as I always say, what's a protest in Madison without shitty weather?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Saturday, November 05, 2011

a few pictures from my yard

We are getting ready for winter. Yesterday, after my tomato plants finally succumbed to the killing frost we had overnight (it was 25 degrees for the morning walk to school, though it warmed up quite a bit by the afternoon), I pulled them up and mulched the garden plot with leaves from the giant maple tree in the back yard.



The lettuce is still going strong. I think we'll have a salad from it with dinner tonight.



Speaking of that giant tree, this will probably be the last fall we have to deal with it. Assuming we can do a kitchen extension and remodel, that tree will have to come down. Sometimes, the thought of losing the maple makes me sad. It's as old as the house (probably) and provides us with lots of lovely shade in the summer. But it dumps so many helicopters in the spring and SO many leaves in the fall, all of which clog the gutters and carpet the yard, I won't be sorry not to clean those up. Also, it's perilously close to our house and our neighbors' houses/power lines/driveways, and I've been told silver maples have rather shallow root systems and rather weak branches, so it's just a matter of time before a big storm brings down a branch that damages someone's roof or smashes the car or pulls down a power line.



Maybe by this time next year the view above will just be clear blue sky.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

leaves

We had a great Halloween. Really, we did. School was out last Thursday and Friday for a teachers' convention, my parents drove up to visit during the break, the kids had adorable costumes (Daniel was a skunk! Anya was a ghost!), we went trick-or-treating and went to a neighborhood bonfire, and we celebrated my mom's birthday, all of which was so exciting we could hardly stand it.

But I didn't take a single picture of any of that stuff.* Not even the adorable costumes. Because sometimes I'm a sucky mommy-blogger. (Also, I kind of hate the term "mommy blogger." It implies that you shouldn't take me seriously. You should take me seriously. I'm very serious.)

As if this makes up for it, here is a short series of pictures of Anya playing in the leaves in our back yard this afternoon. Enjoy.





*All is not lost. My mom did take some pictures before trick-or-treating. When she sends them I'll post the good ones!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

good reads

I actually started this whole post as a list of random autumn stuff we're doing...but it was boring even me, and it's about my own pedantic life! The usual school's going great we visited an orchard and fed the sheep and can't wait for halloween there's a chill in the air is thanksgiving really just a month away? sort of stuff. I really don't need to elaborate further do I? Well, maybe with a cute picture of Anya feeding the sheep...



But anyway, on to other topics. Right now there is a thunderstorm raging outside. We've had such a dry autumn so far, and few storms (despite several windy days) that the flashes and crashes of lightening and thunder feel unfamiliar, even a little unsettling. It's the perfect sort of evening to curl up with a cup of hot something-or-other (cider, tea, spiked cocoa, take your pick) and read a good book, preferably of the escapist variety.

A few weeks ago I checked out Haiti After the Earthquake by Paul Farmer (and several guest essayists) from the library. It's tremendously interesting, and boy have I learned a lot about NGOs and the nature of humanitarian aid organizations. I've gained a lot of respect for Bill Clinton as well; he's been very involved there. It's also unexpectedly inspiring. You'd think that a book about such a horrific disaster in a country so ill-equipped to deal with it would be despondent, but it's not. Throughout the book rings the theme of resilience and determination of the Haitian people to take charge of their own country and build it back better.

Still, Haiti After the Earthquake is a fairly heavy book, and one night last week I decided I needed to read something less grounded in reality. It was too late to go to the library, so I browsed our shelves here. We don't own many books, actually, so my choices were limited. I found a paperback copy of Wuthering Heights. I've never actually read Wuthering Heights, though it must be my copy (can you imagine Stuart owning it for any reason?). The receipt was still in there, with a purchase date from my senior year of high school, so maybe I bought it then and just never got around to reading it.

Well, I'm reading it now and I'm not sure what to think. Except for the main narrator - Nelly the maid - the characters are all broody and selfish. For most of them, their lives are defined by a childhood of abuse, neglect and alcoholism, with a hefty dose of mental illness. And because this is a mid-nineteenth century English romantic novel, let's throw isolation and incestuous overtones into the mix. The lot of them need therapy, or at least a decent social worker. I know, I know. It's not fair to criticize a novel like Wuthering Heights from a modern perspective. (Or is it? Some of you Lit majors out there, feel free to chime in!) At the end of the day, I think I prefer Jane Eyre.

Still, I'm glad I'm reading Wuthering Heights. It is a classic after all, and there is something deliciously indulgent and escapist, if slightly adolescent, about a story with such unrestrained passion and misery. I know I would have loved it when I was 16. I should have read it then!

Monday, October 17, 2011

run, mama run

It's been a stressful past few weeks, to be honest. Daniel had his surgery at the end of September, then Stuart had to travel for work twice in the first two weeks of this month, then Daniel was sick a couple days last week, and on top of all that I took on a couple of paying gigs at the school of music. None of these things on their own are really all that bad, but all together it's kind of a lot, and this weekend I just felt it all hit me after the fact. I felt anxious and stressed and a little bit like I'd lost a sense of normalcy.

In the midst of this, I started having trouble with my running shoes. For the past two years, I've been happily running 3.5-4.5 miles at a stretch in my VFFs with no issues whatsoever. Suddenly, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that a couple of my left middle toes would get tingly and almost numb within the first half mile of a run, and then I had to compensate either by running completely barefoot - which I can't do yet for more than about a mile or mile and a half because the bottom of my feet aren't conditioned for it - or by changing my stride to favor my left foot, which in turn gave me shin tension in my shin.

I've never had running injuries worth speaking of, but I don't want to start. I decided it's time for some new shoes:



These are New Balance 10 trail shoes. Our health insurance has a nice rebate program for athletic shoes, plus there was a discount at the running store, so the purchase felt justified. I ran 4 miles in them this afternoon while the kids were at their respective places of education, and it. felt. great. I love these shoes. They have the same thin vibram sole as my VFFs, but with a wide toe box so my toes have room to spread out as needed.

It's not just the shoes, though. I needed that run today to help work the mild anxiety and stress of the past few weeks out of my system.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

fall

How about some fall clichés?




Sunday, October 02, 2011

a letter to my refrigerator

Dear Refrigerator,

Although we do not have an especially close relationship, you and I, I feel as though I should write to you and have my feelings out before you leave us for good. I hope that doesn't happen for a while, but lately you've been a little touchy, so I'm afraid we should prepare for the worst.

You came with the house, which we bought seven years ago. I don't know how old you were then, and at the time I didn't care. Home ownership was such a new and exciting stage in our young lives, the age of the appliances in our vintage kitchen didn't seem to matter. You are certainly newer than the kitchen itself, which still has its original white-painted metal cupboards with chrome hardware and porcelain sink. But you are not especially young.

Most worrisome, Refrigerator, is your shuddering gasp of a death rattle whenever the compressor shuts off. Over the last year or so it has gotten louder and louder. I know you are tired. I know you want a way out.

But, Refrigerator, please don't die. Not yet. I've adapted to your quirks. I've learned, for example, not to put anything in the back of the top shelf unless I want it frozen solid. I've learned to forgive the moron who designed the placement of the temperature knob to be in the perfect position for being knocked out of whack every time someone pulls out a jug of milk. It was probably that guy's first day on the job, and he didn't know that the appliance he designed was destined to live in a kitchen so small and poorly arranged that opening the refrigerator door would require that the table be scooted between 6 and 12 inches to the west, so help anyone sitting there actually eating a meal. I don't mind that the tracks for the cheese drawer have broken so the drawer never goes in straight. I don't even mind that we've had to put duct tape on the door to hold the shelves in three different times now. I suppose it was our fault for having too many condiments stored there.

But this morning, when the door wouldn't close at all, and we discovered that yet another piece had broken, rendering the bottom shelf crooked and unstable, requiring us to prop it up with cardboard pieces cut crudely from a box and covered with yet more duct tape, my husband Stuart and I had The Talk. We discussed what we would do when the inevitable happens. You see, replacing you is not so simple a task as just going to a retail establishment specializing in durable goods (as they say in economic speak) and buying a new fridge. The fact is, we want to expand and remodel the kitchen to accommodate the needs of our family. I don't mean to be harsh, but like the kitchen, you just aren't big enough for us. Unfortunately, there isn't space right now for a refrigerator any larger than you, so for now, you're all we've got. We've started to talk with a design firm, and we're moving ahead with the idea, but it's going to take some time to secure detailed plans and funds (oy), and until then, we need you to try your hardest to keep your chin up and keep cool. Literally.

If you leave us before we are ready, Refrigerator, we are screwed. We'll have some unpleasant choices to make, and quickly, because if there is anything in a household you can't live comfortably without for more than a day or so, it is the refrigerator. There are laundromats for when the washing machine goes, space heaters for when the furnace kicks it, and boiling water on the stovetop to pour a bath if the water heater crosses over, but short of buying bags of ice every two hours or running to the neighbor's house every time someone wants a glass of milk, you can't live without the fridge. If we have to replace you, we'll be forced to choose between buying a fridge too small for us that fits in your space, or buying an appropriately-sized one that doesn't yet have a kitchen to live in, which means we'll either have to move it or the table out to the living room until the remodel/expansion happens. None of these are attractive options.

So for the sake of my sanity, Refrigerator, hang in there. Stay with us until we figure this out. Please!

xoxo

Suze

Friday, September 30, 2011

Five on Friday: fall edition

Daniel is recovering nicely, but there's nothing really to say about that, except that I have watched entirely too many hours of Winnie-the-Pooh and related spin-offs (have you ever seen Disney's My Friends Tigger and Pooh? If you have any loyalty to the original A.A. Milne stories, you'd find it as intolerable as I do). So instead of blogging about that, I'm totally piggy-backing on Jessi's post from today and doing a Friday Five list of Fall Favorites:

1. Leaves. Really, who can argue with fall leaves? Fall foliage can be so stunning, the trees exploding with a riot of color before they drop them all and go dormant for the winter. (My husband grumbles about the giant silver maple tree in our back yard dropping all its leaves in the gutters, which he has to clean out a few times every autumn season, and since I never climb up on the roof, I'll allow him that.) Also, there is nothing more fun for little kids than playing with fallen leaves, jumping in piles, throwing them around, crunching the dry ones on the side of the road on the way to school.

2. Fall vegetables. I do love me some squash soup, fried potatoes, beets in any form, sweet and chewy spinach, shallots in salad dressing, sliced raw kohlrabi, celeriac cooked with white beans, carrots in just about anything, baked sweet potatoes with butter and a little brown sugar, and I even like parsnips. I'm alone in that last one, I'm afraid. I did just find a recipe for parsnip muffins by Alton Brown that I'm looking forward to trying out once they show up in the CSA box.

3. Halloween. I'm not as passionate about Halloween as some people out there, but it sure is fun for the kids. Since last year, Daniel has been planning to dress up as a skunk. He actually wants the whole family to dress up as skunks, which sounds like fun except that Anya wants to be a ghost (original, I know), so I guess we'll be three skunks and a ghost. I'm thinking with black hoodies and some white fleece or craft felt I'll be able to come up with skunk costumes without too much trouble.

4. School. I don't miss going to school myself, since I have spent so much of my adult life as a student, but as far as I'm concerned, Kindergarten is the best. invention. ever.

5. Apples. I suppose these could just fall under the "autumn produce" general category, but I am listing them separately. I love apples and all related apple products - cider, pie, applesauce - though I think the best way to enjoy a good apple is just to eat it down to the core. We're lucky to have several good orchards in the area, some who are vendors at local farmers markets, and nothing beats apple-picking in the sunshine.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

quick update

Here's a quick update on Daniel, since so many of you have kindly called or emailed or left comments to ask how he's doing. The procedure went fine. The surgeon removed a whopper of an adenoid and got the tubes in without trouble. Waking up was such an ordeal that I got very lightheaded and had to lie down on a cot with a cup of apple juice. (As humiliating as it was, this reaction by mothers of seeing their kid coming out of surgery is fairly common. I was the second of the morning.) It took a while before Daniel was ready to come home. He seems to have a hard time with anesthesia, unfortunately. However, this will pass, and the good news is that the surgery went well and accomplished what it was supposed to. By next week, he should be back to his normal self.

As for Anya, she had a fabulous day hanging out with various friends and neighbors and going to preschool. At least one of us can end the day smiling!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

tomorrow

Tomorrow is the big day. Daniel is scheduled to have the procedure to have ear tubes put in and adenoids removed at 9:00. We have to be there a couple hours ahead of time, so Anya gets to hang out with the neighbor for breakfast, and then a friend of mine is coming over to watch her until either Stuart and I can run her to preschool while Daniel's in recovery. Several people have offered to help out with Anya, more than I can take advantage of, and this I found quite touching.

Even though I know everything will be fine, I'm anxious to get the whole thing over with. I'm most apprehensive about the early morning, actually, since he's not allowed to eat or drink anything and will be hungry and thirsty and probably cranky about it. Afterwards, we'll hunker down with lots of videos and popsicles and try to make the most of a few days off. The end result is that he'll stop snoring and he'll be able to hear properly, so it's definitely good for the long run.

I am telling myself it certainly could be worse. Daniel's teacher at school is out for the week trying to pass a kidney stone. I'm sure this is small potatoes in comparison.

Friday, September 23, 2011

love notes and life lessons

Kindergarten is going very well for Daniel. He loves his teacher, gets along with the kids in his class, and somehow still has energy to burn at the end of the school day. Academically, he is doing just fine. He seems to have above-average math skills (which comes as no surprise, actually. I don't think there is anyone in either my family or Stuart's who had trouble with math), and I can tell he's improving leaps and bounds with reading and literacy.

A few nights ago at bedtime, he had a special request for me. "Mom, when I wake up in the morning, do you suppose there might be a little love note from you under my pillow?" he asked. Of course I obliged, and I have every night since then. I usually just write something simple like "Dear Daniel, I hope you have a good day. I love you. Mom." Daniel has been returning the favor, leaving little notes he write himself on our pillows and in our dresser drawers. This morning I found one he wrote to Anya. It said: DEAR ANYA I LOVE U HAVE A GOOD DAY U ARE A GOOD GERLL AND I HOPE THIT U THINGCK THIT U LOVE ME I THINGCK U SHUD LOVE ME ("Dear Anya, I love you. Have a good day. You are a good girl and I hope that you think that you love me. I think you should love me.") My heart melted a little. Also, he needs to learn how to spell "that," "girl" and "think."

That boy is so full of kindness and love, it just spills out of him. I worry sometimes that this translates into naivety, and that more calculating children will take advantage of his generous spirit. I'm talking about bullies. More than once, Daniel has come home and talked about a bully on the playground, an older kid who pushes others off the equipment and gets into trouble. So far, the kindergarteners have not been targets of this behavior, so Daniel speaks as a witness and not as a victim. I tried explaining to him that some kids come from homes where they aren't treated well, where grown-ups aren't nice to them, so they bring their anger and bad behavior to school. It's not an excuse, I said, but it helps explain why bullies act the way they do.

There are some lessons in life we all have to learn one way or another. It's hard knowing that sooner, rather than later, my kid will learn that life is simply unfair for a lot of people out there. He will see suffering, poverty, racism, and just plain bad behavior, and not because he doesn't go to a good school (his school has a very good reputation, and as far as I can tell, its reputation is well-founded), but because this is simply the reality of public schools, even good ones. I wasn't naive enough myself to believe otherwise, but the reality is starting to sink in for me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gah, for all of you who read that self-indulgent post of a few days ago, thank you. For those of you who skipped, I don't blame you. I don't want to give a false impression here, that I'm unhappy or pining away or having regrets about my life. For the most part, I'm pretty okay with what I'm doing. I certainly know that my kids, my family, are better off with me as a SAHM right now. As tempted as I am to insert a snarky comment right here about how it would be nice for anyone to have an unpaid worker hanging around the house all day fixing their meals and doing their laundry, I know that my work here is more than that.

My conundrum is that it seems like the way I spend my time is best for everyone's intellectual well-being except mine. And you know, as it turns out the universe does not revolve around me, and the sun will continue to rise on our ever-warming planet whether or not I claw my way up the professional academic ladder. I should probably get over myself, you're thinking. I'm working on it, really I am.

It's just that mixed up in this cocktail of emotions is vague resentment that I am the one letting my career path lead to a dead end because I am the one with a uterus. If I were a dude, I know things would be different, and that bugs me.

Okay, okay. All that said, I'm willing to count my blessings and let this topic go, at least for now.

So anyway, changing the subject...I volunteer in Daniel's KG classroom for about an hour a week, on Tuesday afternoons. I wasn't sure I would like it at first, but it turns out that I love it. I'm really glad I'm doing it. For one thing, I can see what actually goes on in there. Kids line up outside in the morning before school and meet their parents/bus drivers outside in the afternoon when school is done, so if I wasn't spending time in the classroom, I'd have no idea what it's like. For another thing, I am getting to know the kids in Daniel's class. They call me "Daniel's mom", which is actually kind of cute. Anya comes along with me, and a few of the girls in the class kind of dote on her.

It's not always easy. By the end of the day, the kids are tired and squirrelly and not necessarily willing to focus. I help out with math activities and free choice, depending on what the teacher has planned for that time period. Today, I was supposed to help individual kids with math activities like sorting noodles (according to shape or color), writing numbers, and counting to 11 forwards and backwards. One girl was resistant. She didn't want to count, and said she couldn't. I asked her to try, and she did fine counting forwards, but she simply could not count down from 11. I had her try just from 5, and she could when she repeated after me, but couldn't on her own. I simply didn't know what to do. This child is well-behaved and attentive and very creative, as I have witnessed with the projects she comes up with during free choice time. I don't know if the problem was that she couldn't read the numbers yet, or if she was just tired and unwilling to try, or what. As it turned out, the teacher called for the kids to clean up, so I didn't pursue it further. Teaching kindergarten can't be easy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

did i succeed?

Mostly, I feel like I'm doing the right thing, by which I mean my "decision" (was it a decision, really?) to be a SAHM. Certain aspects of our family life are important enough to us - eating at home together, parental involvement in school(s), community involvement - that my role as a mother and community member is important and valid, and makes it totally okay that I have put aside any serious aspirations of pursuing a career that actually challenges me intellectually.

I have my moments, though. Like today, when Daniel said something about how mothers don't work. I do not know where he came up with this idea. I told him that some mothers go to work, and some mothers consider their work to be the time they spend with their families (like me) and that either path in life is valid, and that also, some mothers simply don't have a choice in the matter. Either they must to go a paying job, or they don't, and sometimes, either decision is a necessity. I'm not sure how much of this got through to him, but I hope that at the very least, he understands that what I do is, indeed, actually work, even if I don't get paid for it, and that other mothers he knows who go to a paying job, do so for good reasons.

(Don't get me started on the discussions we've had about race. This public school thing is probably harder for me than him, because he is young and naive, and I am naive but not so young. The race thing - it's terribly complicated. A whole 'nuther blog post, too.)

=====

So here it is, if I may. I am constantly conflicted. Am I a wasted talent, as a smart and reasonably talented person who has chosen (did I really choose???) to spend her time taking care of her family? Or am I to be admired for focusing my talents in the domestic sphere, in the interest of family stability and nurturing my children? I honestly don't know.

I suspect that there is no straight answer to this question, because the answer would depend on how one places one's priorities. What is more important: career or family? For people like me, the priority is clear.

I spent some time this evening talking to a friend of mine, whose husband is in the local academic community (he's a grad student at UW), and we were talking about departments and hiring. Some departments at the UW are willing to hire their own graduates, and some aren't. I said the school of music tends not to hire their own, and at the very least, they wouldn't hire me, and she said, "Why? Are you too much of a troublemaker?" and I laughed and said, "No, I'm just not good enough." I'm not.

Maybe that's the real truth. I hide behind my fear and insecurities. I could gripe about how you're forced to choose one priority over another, but maybe it's just a cover. I'm better off "making the decision" to volunteer at my kids' schools and cook from-scratch meals every night because I simply can't cut it as a musician. I have yet to meet a former colleague - fellow grade students and professors both - who hasn't congratulated me on the fact that I am staying home to raise my kids. Clearly, the musical community hasn't missed a thing by not having me present as an active member.

Can this be me? I was voted "most likely to succeed" in my high school graduating class. Have I succeeded? If so, in what? Changing diapers? Lefty rants?

I remember this one moment, so clearly, in 7th grade. We had this class called "Discovery" that was the sort of feel-goodery self-esteem nonsense that some people hate, but at the time I loved. We read, we wrote, we discussed our feelings, and we had a teacher to whom I was absolutely, unequivocally devoted. She read Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea out loud to us and I was so riveted I checked it out of the library and read it myself to find out the ending before anyone else. (That, by the way, is the one and only Hemingway novel I've ever been able to finish reading.) I was so young and innocent I didn't understand the fisherman died at the end until she explained it to me when I admitted I'd read it before she got to the end in our class...

Anyway, this moment: we were supposed to write an essay about our dreams of our futures and read them aloud. It was a safe environment, where we could say out loud whatever we believed and wanted to believe about ourselves. I have no memory at all about what I actually wrote. Before we read our essays for the class, however, we would stand there and wait for the class to speculate about us, what we appeared to be to them. One large black boy, Gary, looked like a preacher to all of us, and he talked at length about meeting Jesus at the golden gate. (I have no idea what happened to him.) When I stood before the class, I remember I was wearing a long, pink buttoned-down shirt. I had dorky glasses and permed hair. I was wearing glasses, shrimpy, flat-chested and younger than everyone else by a year because I had skipped the 3rd grade, and though I don't remember at all what I imagined for my own future, everyone in the class thought I looked smart. "Brain surgeon!" someone called out. "She'll find the cure for AIDS!" said someone else. (Remember when AIDS was the most frightening thing? Soooo 90s.) I had a distinct reputation for being smart. And I don't know that I was so smart, necessarily, just not good at anything else.

Did I do the right thing pursuing music? Pursuing full-time motherhood? Is career really so important? Would my kids be okay if I was out there trying to cure AIDS? Am I hiding behind motherhood as an excuse for not doing more with the talents I chose to pursue?

Clearly, this is a conundrum I have yet to solve. Maybe I never will. I'm still trying to figure it out and get life into perspective.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

ENT

Have I mentioned yet that Daniel has chronic ear infections? I may have alluded to this problem a couple of times, but since I try to keep sick-blogging to a minimum, I probably have spared you the details. He's had at least six or seven since the beginning of the year. Honestly, I lost count because there were a few times when he'd finish a round of antibiotics (which got steadily more powerful and less effective, I might add) and start complaining of an earache the very next day. The last two, or possibly three, were in July, and the fact that we've gone two months since the last visit to urgent care is, frankly, worth noting.

We got a referral to see a pediatric ENT specialist, and Daniel finally had the big appointment at the children's hospital this afternoon. There was also a sophisticated hearing test. Everything went pretty much as I expected: he's got plenty of fluid still in his ears, though no current infection, and has significant hearing loss as a result. Fortunately, the hearing nerve is totally normal, so the hearing loss is all because of the fluid, which is completely correctable. Surgery is recommended to correct the problem. He'll need tubes to drain his ears properly and the doctor will also remove an adenoid. Because Daniel hasn't had recurring ear infections before this age, enlarged adenoids are probably the culprit; this is apparently most common in children ages 4-8. The whole procedure will take about a half hour, but recovery - which includes a week of fatigue, sore throat and skunk breath from the adenoidectomy- means he'll miss several days of school. I wouldn't want to send him to school with skunk breath, yo.

I have no idea when they'll have an opening for the surgery. Maybe in two weeks, maybe in two months, who knows? They wouldn't tell us. I'm trying not to be a big ball of nerves and anxiety. I'm trying to keep this all in perspective and remember that there are children in that very hospital with far worse medical problems than clogged up ears. It's hard, though, because of course he is my child. I wish I could endure the pain and discomfort for him, but I can't. (I've actually had a few ear infections this year, myself, but unfortunately they don't do anything to alleviate his!) I just have to keep telling myself: it's going to be okay. It's going to be okay. In the long run, it's going to be okay.

Monday, September 05, 2011

labor day

This Labor Day spending the day as a family, going on a picnic, bike rides for Daniel and Stuart, and cooking hamburgers (out of grass-fed locally produce beef, of course). I sort of feel like we should be rallying somewhere or at least going to the Capitol for the sing-along, or doing something to acknowledge the important historical role unions and organized labor have had in fighting for fair working conditions and wages. Not to mention weekends.

I feel a little guilty about the fact that we're not doing any of those things, considering the plight of public workers here since the beginning of the year. I suppose this blog post is my brief tribute to the men, women and children who over the past 200 years literally gave life and limb advocating for better working conditions and fair wages. We should never underestimate the tremendous effort and sacrifice that was and is the labor movement, and though we often take for granted such perks as sick leave and weekends off, we really shouldn't.

This guy says it better than I do.

So Happy Labor Day, everyone. If you have the day off (and if you don't, I'm truly sorry), take a moment and thank the unions.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

daniel's first day of school



Daniel's first day of kindergarten was today. No tears were shed, though seeing other parents wiping their eyes nearly got me going. I made it, though.

And Daniel, as far as I can tell, had a pretty good day. We walked to school with the family across the street, whose son is Daniel's good friend in first grade. This past Monday, I dropped by the classroom to sign up for volunteer hours, and during that time we met another little boy in his class. "O" was there with his mom, and he and Daniel played a few minutes on the playground before we left. They hit it off pretty well, so they had each other as buddies when we arrived this morning. (I have a sweet picture of the two of them, but I didn't ask permission to post it, so I'm not going to.) Also, Daniel's teacher is by all accounts excellent, so I am feeling pretty optimistic about the coming year.

Unfortunately, it was a hot day - over 90 - and the school isn't air conditioned. So after a sticky, sweaty walk home and snack of fruit popsicles, we headed to the pool for what was probably the last outdoor swim of the season (tomorrow will be warm, too, but it's also supposed to storm).

I wonder what, if anything, Daniel will remember about his first day of kindergarten? As he was going to sleep tonight, I told him all I could remember about my first day of kindergarten. All I remember is what I wore (a jumper with a strawberry appliquéd on the front), and the fact that I went to the wrong class on my very first day.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

first week of school and raspberry picking

The first week of school is a crazy patch work of fits and starts and not-quites, short days and meetings with teachers and forms to fill out and fees to pay. I've been to what feels like dozens of orientation sessions and open houses and met 1,000 other parents and kids whose names I promptly forgot (they all probably forgot my name, too, so it's okay). I'm just ready for it all to get rolling so I can feel like we're in a routine.

Today was Anya's first day of preschool...



...and Daniel's first day of kindergarten is tomorrow. Yesterday was the last day for the kids and me to enjoy our time together before school starts, so I said to the kids we could do whatever they wanted, their choice. I braced myself for a trip to the zoo or children's museum - fine places to visit, to be sure, but also guaranteed to be packed with families cramming in one last visit before the start of school. Instead, my children surprised me with a mutual request to go raspberry picking. I was more than happy to oblige.

We packed a modest picnic and headed down to Sutter's Ridge. It's not really that far from Madison, but driving out on those county roads makes it feel pretty remote. It was absolutely delightful. It was a cool and cloudy morning, and no one else was in the raspberry field but us. (A car full of hired pickers showed up, but they went to a different raspberry patch at the top of the hill, so we were essentially alone.)

This is the view from the raspberry field. See the horses? It's downright bucolic.



Here are my enthusiastic pickers, buckets in hand! The cart is unmanned and works by the honors system. You just stick your money into a lock box. I usually try and add a buck or two extra to account for all the berries we eat straight off the plants!



Finally, the irresistible raspberries themselves.



They were practically falling into our buckets off the plants. We came home with enough for a big batch of jam, some to freeze plain, and plenty to eat for snacks. I'm running out of room in the freezer, but it's still tempting to go back and get more for fruit sauce and popsicles and whatever else I can think of. I'm so glad my kids wanted to spend our special day berry-picking.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

THIS is why teachers need effective unions

I just copied and pasted this from defendwisconsin.org. It's a letter sent to the staff of the New Berlin district. Would YOU teach under these conditions? Would you want YOUR children being taught by people working under these conditions?

-----

Dear Staff-

Elections have consequences. The changes forced on us by Walker’s new laws appear to be but the tip of the iceberg. Below, I have outlined what the NBEA was told is contained in draft version of a new handbook meant to replace our legally binding contract. It was shared on a Smartboard with school leadership teams. This was not a collaborative effort, but presented as a completed draft. Leadership teams asked for clarification on items and were told there may be changes.

Please plan on attending the August 29′h School Board Meeting at New Berlin West meeting at 6:30 to impress upon the board the need for moderation and to ask they work with the union on this handbook. It is only through our solidarity that we can let the Board know we object to the punitive terms listed below. You do not need to speak unless you desire to do so; the NBEA will be speaking on your behalf. Do not let the BOE pass this quickly one day prior to the first day of school. We are asking that all teachers (and supportive family and friends) attend and be present at 6:30 PM in the parking lot west of the New Berlin West library to walk in together. Please wear Red. We will leave directly after the speakers are done and the regular meeting begins (approximately 7:30 PM). For those who plan on speaking, please email me- themes and issues you would like to raise.

More Time; Less Pay:

Workdays for elementary will increase by 60 minutes and Secondary by 30 minutes
Staff must be available to students before and after student schedules for at least 30 minutes per day
You can be required to work an additional unpaid 15 hours; no more than 3 hours a week
No set pay for overtime; only stipends
No pay for subbing during your preps; Principals can assign you to sub
Certified staff hours are 1520 per year full time (190 days for this year only)
The 2012-13 school year starts on August 15′h and runs until June 15′h
You may be required to start as early as 6:15 AM and end as late as 5:00 PM
No pay for any attendance at IEPs prior to 5:00 PM
You may be required to attend inservice or other training, outside your regular work schedule
Next year, if we do not change the political landscape, pay will be based on performance; pay is insured this year because of the NBEA agreement.
This Year, Elementary Will Be Working An Additional 205 Hours Without Additional Pay; Secondary An Additional 95 Hours Without Additional Pay; Next Year, Add 80 More Hours To That Total, Since We Will Be Starting August 15th And Ending June 15th

Insurance:

Full details not be revealed until September 8th; changes occur October 1
Possible 80/20 plan and we pay additional premium if the cost of insurance rises
$4,000 deductible with a $10 generic/ $50 brand drug cost
The deductible can be reduced by $3,000 if employee and spouse fully participate in the Wellness Program
Full participation in wellness program: health risk assessment, including biometrics, refrain from use of illegal drugs, participate in program to reduce risk factors, coaching, diet, behavior, follow up medical care, smoking cessation. 1st year: participate, 2nd year: have to take classes to reduce risk factors.
False reporting, such as claiming you do not smoke when you do, can result in dismissal.
Other details, such as increased co-pays TBD

Retirement:

$15,000 payout and age 55 retirement has been eliminated
Retire by 2016 at age 57 with 20 years at New Berlin, receive insurance until age 65
Retire by 2021 at 57 with 20 years, receive 3 years of insurance
Retire after 2021 no benefit packages given.
5.8% of your salary will be deducted for state retirement benefits (pension system)

The Ridiculous, Punitive New Rules:


You are not allowed to drop any licensure without the superintendent’s approval
Dress Code: Skirts below knee, no sweatshirts, no jeans, no large logos, no open shirts, etc.
Be dismissed for having students as friends on Facebook
Grievance: only in termination, discipline or alleged workplace safety issues; you cannot grieve non discipline issues are the items listed under non discipline items such as suspension, letters in file, plans of improvement, etc.
Jury Duty: regular pay, but you must show documentation to the district that you’ve tried to change the jury duty time to July and August
School calendar same, teacher convention will be professional development for this year only since it is part of the NBEA working agreement for this year.
Evaluations: Done yearly without notice
Collaborative time twice weekly for 2 hours a week.
You must report all traffic incidents (except speeding) or any tickets you have received to the District within 3 days or face dismissal even if it occurs during your time off
Take away all microwaves, refrigerators, and coffeemakers, even though each administrator and the District have these items.

Sick Days or Leave:

4 initial days and earn l!I day per month based on good attendance
However those who have accumulated over 45 days will not be awarded any days until they have used enough days to fall below the 45 day cap.
Long term disability reduced from 90% of pay to 60% of pay. If ill or have had surgery and do not have any sick time built up, you will be short pay. You will also have to pay your insurance premium during any disability leave.
No days will be added to sick bank, which will be discontinued after this year, erasing any safety net for those who become critically ill.

Want to Leave? Well, they are not letting us go without penalties:

Resign before first day of school, you must pay $200 plus board contributions of benefits (insurance).
Resigns after the first day school, $2000 plus benefits payments if not 60 days notice given
Compensation: -5taff will be issued a contract for pay not less than the amount of their pay in the year before the effective date of this handbook. Please report any effort to ask you to sign any additional “individual teaching contracts” unless they are co-curricular.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

my little vegetarian

A few weeks ago, Daniel announced that he wanted to "not eat meat anymore, just like Grandpa." Stuart's dad has been a vegetarian for several decades. This hasn't been easy, given that he has spent that time in southern Africa and south central Kansas. People in those places love eating meat, is what I'm saying. I'm not sure what inspired Daniel to declare himself meat-free, other than the fact that he clearly admires his grandpa and wants to imitate him. He's five years old, so I'm not sure how much the idea of killing an animal and butchering it for food is on his radar; in fact, since his announcement, he's made a couple of exceptions for meatballs and hot dogs because those are things he loves to eat.

The important thing, though, is that Daniel has asked us several times why Grandpa doesn't eat meat. And we answer as succinctly and clearly as we can*, in terms that we hope he understands. In fact, our response reflects why we are incredibly selective about the meat we eat, and why we have it so infrequently:

1. Because the way many animals are raised and butchered is cruel to them.
2. Because the way many animals are raised is bad (terrible, in fact) for the environment.
3. Because the way many animals are raised and butchered is bad for small farmers and rural communitites.
4. Because the way many animals are raised and butchered poses a serious threat to public health.
5. Because we need to be conscious of what we eat and the larger impact of what we put on the table every single night.

For my FIL, this means eating no meat at all, which is a standpoint I can identify with. Stuart and I were vegetarian for quite a while for all of those reasons, and buying meat that was sustainably produced was (still is) quite expensive. Years of pregnancy and breastfeeding - simultaneously, for a time - sent me back to eating meat on occasion because I just needed the protein and calories. (Also, I've lived in Wisconsin for over a decade and have developed an appreciation for brats I never could have anticipated as a young, naive, veggie-lovin' quasi-hippie college student. Also beer. Mmmm beer.)

I've been reading a book called Animal Factory by David Kirby (link to the official website that is NOT AMAZON!!), and I'm learning a lot about CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and their impact to the environment and rural communities, and the people who have fought tirelessly against the devastating pollution they have caused. (It's not just the smell, yo, it's pig shit in the water supply). I'm learning about how the laws and government are essentially set up to protect factory farms and large corporations instead of individuals and smaller, sustainable operations. I'm learning about how ineffective the EPA, USDA and FDA really are at both state and federal levels. I'm learning that it's not just Republicans responsible for this carnage, either, I might add. There are serious systemic problems that need to be addressed.

Anyway, it's a good read and I would recommend it to anyone. And in a section recounting a conference for sustainable farming that was held shortly after the 9/11 attacks, there was a transcript of a prayer by Saint Basil:

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, even our brothers and sisters the animals, to whom you have given the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised our high dominion with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to you in song, has been a groan of pain. May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for you, and that they love the sweetness of life.

I think that says it in a nutshell.

So Little Daniel, if you want to be a vegetarian, you have my blessing. You're already such a picky eater, I might as well adjust.

*I think there are other personal and philosophical reasons that Stuart's dad doesn't eat meat. I won't try to put words in his mouth or pretend that I can articulate the details and nuances of his reasoning here. But I think the broad reasons are essentially the same.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

weekend highlights

Last night I tried to remember the last time we (by "we" I mean our family of four) had the weekend to ourselves. I think it might have been the weekend of July 4, though we did go to a grill-out and were frantically getting the basement ready for Stuart's parents, so I'm not even sure that counts. Anyway, as lovely a summer as we've had, with family visiting from out of town and traveling and all that, it was really nice to have a whole weekend with no traveling, no visitors, and no social obligations whatsoever. It helps that the weather has been so gorgeous you can't help but smile.

My only goals were to get the house clean and go raspberry-picking. The house isn't clean yet, though Stuart made some headway on a major organizing project downstairs, a project involving a trip to Home Depot to buy a hammer drill and subsequent trips to the hardware store for miscellaneous screws and such. And we did go raspberry-picking this morning, out at Door Creek Orchard, which is really more of a place for apples than raspberries, but we came home with 4 pints (2 of which have already been consumed; fresh raspberries are like candy) and the happy feeling of having spent an hour outdoors in one of the prettiest spots in Dane County. I plan to return several times in the next couple of months to pick apples, buy cider and enjoy the scenery.

Also, the owners of the orchard recently adopted a puppy named Georgia. Georgia is a rescue dog, and happens to be The Cutest Puppy I have ever met. We were all taken by Georgia, especially Anya, who absolutely loves animals. This she must get from her dad. I never had a pet growing up - one brief stint with a wily Houdini-like gerbil notwithstanding; I'll tell you all about it sometime - and as an adult, I've never been interested in pets. Too smelly, too much hair, too much poop to clean up, cats make my dad sneeze, our house is small - you name it, I have the excuse. But Stuart had pet dogs growing up; that combined our daughter's magnetic and automatic attraction to anything remotely furry and cute gives me the rather foreboding feeling that my family will one day all turn on me and beg for a pet, in particular a dog. And if we can find one even half as sweet and soft and cute as Georgia From The Apple Orchard, I might, just might, give in. I dunno...dogs may be cute, but they still can produce a heck of a lot of poop.

While I'm going on about animals, I might as well mention that while I was running early this morning, I saw a gorgeous pair of birds. I was running on a bike path by a golf course, and a woman out walking her dog beckoned to me and silently pointed out two large, tall, gangly birds with long beaks and red markings on their heads. "Herons?" I said quietly to her. "Egrets?" she responded, and we both shrugged, then continued on our respective ways. When I got home, I looked them up in the "wading birds" section of my bird book, and the closest match was Sandhill Cranes. I tell you this as an example of how I love encountering nature in my city. We live near a conservation park, where we sometimes see wild turkeys wandering the restored prairie, and we often hear coyotes at night when the bedroom windows are open; they start howling in response to the sirens of emergency vehicles and the barking of neighborhood dogs.

We've been eating well, too, this weekend. Last night Stuart made fried tofu, breaded with cornstarch and spices. This afternoon, the kids and I cut two giant bowls full of fresh herbs to make pesto. We made two batches of traditional basil pesto, plus one batch of pesto made with parsley and sage. It's something I've never tried before, but I have an abundance of parsley this year, and I didn't want it to go to waste. It turns out, by the way, that parsley pesto is delicious. I'm not sure how to use it yet, but maybe I'll toss it with chopped tomatoes from the garden and chunks of fresh mozzarella.

We have one full week plus a few days before the school year starts. Wish me luck, everyone. I thought I was all ready for Daniel to start kindergarten, but it may turn out to be harder than I anticipated. He's ready, I know, and it will be good for everyone for him to be in school, but as much as I hate to admit it, I'm realizing that I have some emotions to work through. Enrollment for Madison's elementary schools was a few days ago, and I went completely unprepared. I ran into a friend of mine, who saw my shell-shocked face and offered to take Daniel and Anya to the playground outside the school while I went through the line of forms to fill out and volunteer positions to sign up for. I gratefully accepted. I think what's so hard is that life is going to change, mostly for the better, but there is no going back, and I just need to be ready for that.

I'm glad I have had this weekend to spend time with my family and relax a little, and think about all of that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

famine

This evening as I was fixing dinner, I reflected briefly on the abundance of produce we have now. Dinner was pizza made from scratch, with fresh tomatoes and basil from the front yard serving as the main toppings. As I grated cheese and sprinkled kosher salt on the crust, Daniel and Anya were playing outside in the sprinkler, ostensibly watering the front garden, but I think they had moved it to maximize their fun, which meant the water was mostly hitting the grass instead of the plants I really wanted watered. No matter, I thought lightly, as long as they're having fun. Life is good.

Then NPR's All Things Considered turned to a report on the drought and famine in Somalia, and the terrible crisis of starvation and displacement. The host spent several minutes interviewing a medical doctor with a distinct southern accent, who detailed the extent of over-crowded refugee camps, malnourished mothers, children on the brink of death, a measles outbreak, and the difficulty addressing these problems with corrupt governments, renegade military officials and regional bureaucracies standing in the way. This doctor pointed out that the U.S. spends a fraction of a percent of its total spending on foreign aid, and to raise that number even a little bit could save many lives and make a big difference in this crisis. This doctor also implored listeners with a little cash to spare to give to any organization they trust to help alleviate the tremendous suffering in the horn of Africa.

As I listened to this interview, I was washing lettuce. Pulling the leaves out of the bowl of water, I paused and listened to the doctor on the radio tell how hydration treatments (water fortified with vitamins) could bring children back from the brink of death, and one treatment cost less than a penny. Here, I had an entire bowl full of water, enough to save a child's life, that I was about to pour down the sink. Consumed with guilt and sadness at my own naiveté, I took it outside to water some plants, though even that seemed frivolous since they were only flowers.

The interview concluded. "Thank you, Dr. Frist," the NPR hostess said, and then I realized why his southern twang was so familiar. This wasn't just any doctor. This was Dr. Bill Frist, former Republican Senator from Tennessee, the sort of guy I loved to hate when he was in office. That was during the Bush years, of course, when it was easy for people like me to rant and rave and despair at the things being done in Washington in the name of politics.

But it should come as no surprise, really, that Bill Frist is a real human being. I couldn't abide him as a politician, and I remember my husband and me saying, more than once, how could a medical doctor, a man of education and - supposedly - scientific and medical training, in good conscience stand so firmly against things like the reality of global warming and evolution and a woman's right to choose what happens to her own body and all that other stuff the right loves to hate? I suppose that is what separates the man from the politician. And also, he's presumably a rich guy who loves his low taxes and was willing to go along with all the rest of it to stay in office and gain prominence.

The super-cynic in me wants to know where Bill Frist the Senator stood on things like money spent on foreign aid and foreign policy for rogue governments like the one in Somalia before this crisis. The super-cynic in me is also curious to know what he will gain with his new non-profit and initiative to help the people there in a very public way. But I am setting all that aside now to say that until I knew who he was, I felt nothing but respect for this man, who is willing to go to one of the most miserable places on the planet to help people who are so desperate they are practically beyond hope. How many people can do that? I couldn't.

How many others are like him? Basically good people who - in my humble opinion- just don't belong on the political scene? Or people who, as politicians, get caught up in issues that really shouldn't even be a matter of national policy? Like LGBT rights and abortion and what is or isn't science...I don't know if it's more an indicator of our broken system or just the nature of politics or what. I tell you, the world is a crazy place.

Monday, August 15, 2011

summer's end

Summer is ending as fast as it started. We were only gone a week, but still there is a noticeable difference in the hours of daylight here. It's not so bright by 6:00 in the morning, and by a few minutes after 8:00 in the evening, darkness sets in pretty quickly. It doesn't matter how long I live up here in the "frozen north", as my family and extended family often refer to Madison, I will probably never get used to this. I certainly enjoy the weather - pleasantly warm days, cool nights and early mornings - but even now in mid-August, there is something about the daylight hours shortening and diminishing that has me braced for fall a little too soon.

This week I have to register Daniel at his school, and this time it is For Real School That Meets All Day, not just Preschool. He'll be spending most of his time away from home instead of most of his time with us at home. We are essentially ready for this, since too much time together usually results in whining and bickering and bad moods all around. It's still a big transition, though. I have a feeling the biggest adjustment will be for Anya, who has always, always had her big brother around to play with, to tell her what to do, and to help her get into trouble. Anya, for her part, will be in preschool three afternoons per week, where she can find her own identity and make more of her own friends. All this tugs at my heart just a little bit, but I can't imagine it any other way.

"What are you going to do with all your newfound free time?", a friend of mine asked me. She asked this not without irony because we all know that you never have as much free time as you anticipate. She, in fact, is in the exact same situation I am, kid-wise, with her oldest entering kindergarten, and her youngest enrolled in part time preschool, and feeling like for the first time in five or so years there might be time to breathe, or maybe even read a good book. The first answer that comes to my mind when people ask me this question is "Clean my house," but that is a pretty lame answer. Who wants to spend all their spare time cleaning? The second answer that comes to mind is "Maybe try to find some work accompanying," but that gets complicated fast with scheduling in time to practice and commute, and trying to work out how many after-school hours I would need to be available for playing in studio classes and such. It almost doesn't seem worth it.

Well. I can allow myself a little time to figure this out. In the meantime, I need to find both kids some proper school clothes before cooler weather sets in. Also, Anya needs new shoes yesterday because suddenly her little feet have grown bigger and none of her shoes fit anymore.

I remember back-to-school shopping when I was a kid. I loved it. I got to spend several hours at the mall with my mom and I got to pick out a whole pile of new clothes and we'd eat lunch in the food court. I always felt special. (I do not know if my mom remembers it this way; I think there were probably plenty of clothes-shopping trips where my little brother would run off and hide and we'd get tired and whine and it probably wasn't special at all, but that's not how I remember it now!). I remember that I would have a nice little pile of new clothes to wear and I wasn't allowed to wear them before school started, and it was really hard to wait. The first day, or even first week, of school, was pretty exciting.

Forgive me if I'm getting sentimental here. I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my childhood in the last week or two. For one thing, Daniel keeps asking me to tell him stories about when I was a kid. I can never come up with any good ones; maybe I wasn't a very interesting kid. But also, I spent the last week in south central Kansas visiting Stuart's parents and also visiting my extended family who were all in town for my cousin's wedding. One night we threw a party for my brother and his wife to celebrate their wedding, which was in Minnesota in December. Since none of the extended family could attend their actual wedding, we made a bunch of food and met at the family farm where many memories were made. We ate and talked and reminisced and visited a treehouse my cousin John built nearly 25 years ago in a hedge tree at the edge of a pasture. We watched the sheep run across a field. We watched the now-youngest generation of kids run around the yard much as we had done as the sun set.

That farm hasn't changed a whole lot since I was five and running around the yard. There's a new machine shed, I think, an old chicken coop is gone, and something else may have been added or torn down, but the landscape is essentially the same: same house, same rusty swing set, same huge vegetable garden (though I'm afraid the brutal heat and relentless drought scorched the earth and the garden produced very little this year and we won't even talk about the sorghum and soy crops because it's just too painful), same dirt road lined with hedge trees and yes, that old treehouse.

I spent Friday evening at another aunt and uncle's farm. They were hosting the rehearsal dinner for their daughter's wedding (my youngest cousin, who got hitched on Saturday). The groom's extended family were there, all from out of state, many from eastern states like Virginia and West Virginia. They had never been to Kansas before, or any place remotely like it. They were utterly fascinated by the farm, which seemed almost exotic. Much time was spent in the tractor shed admiring the machinery (my aunt and uncle are in possession of a rather large and impressive combine) and taking in the scenic view of fields and sky, the shed, and the windmill. Shortly before the food arrived, a storm rolled in. The Kansas sky is already impressive, but there is something amazing and humbling about watching dark clouds tumble across it. In minutes, the weather turned from warm and clear to blustery and dark and menacing. My aunt D cheerfully assured us that she had cleaned the basement in case we all had to go down to escape a tornado. Then the lights went out and we ate dinner in the dark.

Sometimes I miss Kansas. I didn't grow up there, but I still claim it as home, or one of my homes. It is the place where my ancestors made their home over a century ago. It is the place where many of my extended family (though not all of them) still live. I went to college there, met Stuart there. We even got married there ten years ago. I sometimes think if it weren't for the brutal summers and all the damn Republicans, I could actually live there.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

recall

Today is the big recall election day for six Republican state senators in Wisconsin. I'm in Kansas visiting family this week, but at the moment I am glued to the live feed on The Daily Page watching election results come in. I'm afraid it does not look good for the Democrats at this point in the evening. Of course, it is impossible to know right now what things will look like in the morning. Nothing has been normal in Wisconsin since the beginning of the year. I may be discouraged and cynical now, but it's important to remember that the struggle for people's rights is long and hard-fought. Giving up is not an option.

Friday, August 05, 2011

solidarity singalong

You don't hear about Wisconsin politics in the news so much anymore. There is certainly a lot to be discouraged about, now that Walker's had his way on so many pieces of legislation (the budget, the union-busting, the voter ID bill). But just because there aren't 100,000 people marching peacefully on the streets and through the Capitol in a snowstorm doesn't mean this is over, or that the citizens of Wisconsin have given up.

In March of this year, right after the mass protests ended with the DOA's lockdown of the Capitol building, someone began daily noontime sing alongs to keep a constant presence there. I've been a few times (and blogged it here back in April). Now, several months later, the Solidarity Sing Alongs are still going strong. I hadn't been in a long time, but JoyMama's post on Elvis Sightings last Wednesday detailing the Attack on the Red Balloon inspired me to go.

To get y'all up to speed, red heart balloons have been an important symbol of protest since the first march on the Capitol on Valentine's Day. One mylar helium balloon was stuck in the Capitol dome for months. When it finally came down on its own, people started bringing balloons to the noon hour Solidarity Sing Alongs and delivering them to legislators with notes as a form of protest. When a woman was delivering a balloon last Tuesday, a man working for the DOA actually attacked the balloon with a knife, stabbing himself in the process and leaving blood all over the floor. He was arrested a couple days later. Really, you should go read JoyMama's post about it; she explains it much better.

I bribed the kids with a trip to the children's museum downtown (which is right across the street from the Capitol, conveniently), then gave them a bag full of snacks to eat while we sang in the Rotunda.



It's amazing and uplifting to participate in the Sing Alongs. I love to sing (in groups), and the feeling of, well, solidarity is really something special. We raise our right fists when we sing the chorus to "Solidarity Forever!"



There are some wonderful signs and banners, too.





Next week, the perseverance of anti-Walker activists are put to the test. August 9 is the date for recall elections for six Republican state senators who stand with Walker and his policies that go against the public good in so many ways. Three Democrats are up for recall as well. If we can keep those three Democrats in the senate, and take over just three of those Republican seats, it will be a huge victory for the people of Wisconsin.