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


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.)