Thursday, December 20, 2012

snow day(s)

It seems Winter has made a proper arrival.

About damn time, I'd say.

Though wow, what an entrance. 

I took these pictures around midday, a few hours before the worst of the blizzard hit.

We've already gotten about a foot of snow, and it's still going, with giant wind gusts to come.

See those fences in the picture above? They are usually 3 feet above the ground.

School was out today and has been called off for tomorrow, such is the prolonged length and severity of this storm. Two days off in a row is almost unheard of here.

The most unusual thing about this storm was all the thunder and lightening. Between the thunder snow and all that has been on my mind lately (and I've had quite a lot on my  mind), I hardly got any sleep last night. I just hope I sleep better tonight; I need to have plenty of energy for Snow Day #2!

Friday, December 14, 2012

five on friday: birthday edition

Today, this one turns five:

In celebration of her fifth birthday, I'd like to share five things about Anya I think everyone should know:

1) She is kind. Really, and truly, genuinely kind. Nearly every parent at Anya's preschool tells me that she treats other children with respect and gentleness. She is always willing to help a child who needs it, and as most of the kids in her class don't speak English as a first language, many of them look to her to understand the classroom routine. She willingly shares her toys and treats, even with Daniel.

2) She can read. This started about a month ago, and it's actual reading, as in sounding out words. I don't for a minute think this makes her better than other kids (Daniel didn't read before kindergarten, after all), but I am amazed by her tenacity, her willingness to stick through a whole story.

3) She loves Clifford, the Big Red Dog. Looooooves. Clifforrrrrrrd. For evidence, see above picture, in which she is wearing the frayed remains of her beloved Clifford t-shirt, which has seen more trips through the laundry than any other piece of clothing in our house, and this includes the hiking socks I bought 12 years ago when Stuart and I moved to Madison. Her birthday present from us was a big stuffed plus Clifford. Said toy is her new best friend and accompanied her to preschool this afternoon.

4) She can spell a few words. She often expresses herself through spelling. Ask her a "yes" or "no" question and she'll answer either through sign language (which she remembers from when Daniel brought it home from school last year - his KG teacher used ASL quite a bit) or by saying the letters "Y-E-S" or "N-O". She can also spell "poop," "butt," "pee," and "fart," courtesy of her big brother. S

5) She detests pink princess dresses. I think my mom believes this is due to my influence (I'm not the fancy, frilly, feminine sort), but I chalk it up to her individuality and independence. Even at this young age, Anya rejects the notion that all girls love pink and Disney and all that (much like young Riley in this video I found the other day), and I am proud that she isn't afraid to say so. Now, she is also rather sensitive about this matter, so she might dissolve into tears if you offer her a cupcake with pink frosting (yes, this actually happened, good Lord, it was a CUPCAKE) and refuse to wear any article of clothing with so much as a speck of pink on it, but hey. That's my girl.


I feel like I can't post today without at least mentioning the absolute horror from Newtown, CT today. It's unfathomable. After the carnage in Colorado this past July and the mall shootings earlier this month, how much more evidence do we need that a ban on assault weapons is necessary? My heart is heavy with sadness and anger.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I feel like it's been too long since I've done a proper post here (intermittent ramblings about Emily Dickinson notwithstanding). Partly, this is because I feel like no one is really reading this blog anymore, though I know this isn't entirely true since people in my real life occasionally comment on what I've written. Partly, it's also because I started MadtownMama when Daniel was a baby and I suddenly felt cut off from much of the social and professional world I was accustomed to interacting with on a daily basis, and writing about my life online, however trivial, made me feel more significant somehow. Since then, the world progressed (with or without me), and Big Things happened on the internet that I have chosen not to join (Facebook and Twitter, mainly), and I've more or less found contentment with what I'm doing, which is mostly parenting and housework and some freelance work on the side.

I'm not always totally satisfied. I am uncomfortable with the notion that I am not financially independent, that if my husband didn't earn a regular salary with benefits, I would be uninsured and possibly homeless. If something were to happen to us or to him (perish the thought) I would be totally screwed.

But on the other hand...

Recently, a local job posting caught my attention. I won't go into specifics, but I am certainly qualified, I am sure I would be good at it, and I think I'd like it. The problem? It's full time: 40 hrs/wk all year round. My first thought when I saw the job description and requirements was, "Wow, this is an opportunity I shouldn't pass up," and my second thought was, "Wait, what on earth would I do about childcare?"

Because here's the reality of having kids. They take a lot of time. A LOT. Anya's in her last year of preschool, which is only part time, so there are already extra hours for her, but even so, this doesn't change when they are in public school full time, either. There are weeks off for winter break and spring break and all kinds of days off for teacher conferences and postal holidays, not to mention all the random early release days at the end of every quarter and whatnot. Plus 2 1/2 months for summer vacay.

I want to be clear that I hold absolutely no grudge against the school district's calendar; it is my philosophy that the role of public schools is to educate our children, not babysit them. But what do parents who work full-time jobs outside of the academic calendar do about childcare??

Were I to apply for this potential job (and I might...), I have no idea who would cover all those hours with my kids when they aren't in school. Stuart's job has no options for flex time. None. Sometimes he even has to take sick time for doctor's appointments (and, to be fair, sometimes not.) I've postponed dental appointments for myself so he doesn't have to spend the extra hours at home...though I have to admit it doesn't take much for me to put off going to the dentist. I mean, my teeth are fine. Great, in fact. They don't need more of my money to tell me my teeth are still fine.

Thinking about applying for this job has made me realize just how far I've come with my philosophy of parenting and family life. If I were working until 5:00 or later, I don't know how we'd eat as well as we do now, or how I could spend time in the classroom, or how I would make sure we spend as much time as possible outside during non-school hours, or who would listen to Daniel practice the piano and help Anya read because yes, she's not yet five years old and she can read.

And summer break. No idea how that would work. At all.

I don't mean to diminish parents who work for wages full time. If I had to, I would, and I fully acknowledge that I'm in a position of economic privilege that this is even a choice for me (though I want to point out if I applied for and got this job and we had to rely on it to support the family, we'd be close to or under the federal poverty line - and this is considered a really good opportunity for a musician. Just saying.) I've talked to many mothers who have told me they are better parents when they are working and I get that.

I guess I didn't quite realize how important this really is to me until the chance came up to think otherwise.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

poem by Emily Dickinson

I watched the Moon around the House
Until upon a Pane-
She stopped - a Traveller's privilege - for Rest -
And there upon

I gazed - as at a stranger -
The Lady in the Town
Doth think no incivility
To lift her Glass - upon -

But never Stranger justified
The Curiosity
Like Mine - for not a Foot - nor Hand -
Nor Formula - had she -

But like a Head - a Guillotine
Slid carelessly away -
Did independent, Amber -
Sustain her in the sky -

Or like a Stemless Flower -
Upheld in rolling Air
By finer Gravitations -
Then bind Philosopher -

No Hunger - had she - nor an Inn -
Her Toilette - to suffice -
Nor Avocation - nor concern
For little Mysteries

As harass us - like Life - and Death -
And Afterward - or Nay-
But seemed engrossed to Absolute -
With Shining - and the Sky-

The privilege to scrutinize
Was scarce upon my Eyes
When, with a Silver practise-
She vaulted out of Gaze-

And next - I met her on a Cloud -
Myself too far below
To follow her superior Road -
Or its advantage - Blue -


The biography of Emily Dickinson I'm reading (a big fat one by Richard Sewall) says that of this poem, "For all the ladylike imagery and the detached, contemplative mood of the poem, the preoccupation is with a moon whose cold indifference implies an absolute break between man and nature...[it is] a coolheaded, beautifully controlled statement of alienated man."

Interesting, no?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

etiquette for musicians

Lesson #1: Hiring a pianist 

This could actually be a multi-part lesson, because people hire pianists to accompany all sorts of things, like end-of-semester juries (final exam for students of performance, for those of you who don't know), choral rehearsals, degree recitals, auditions, you-name-it. For today, let's start with the sort of requests I'm getting right now, which are panicked emails from undergraduates who are scrambling to find a pianist for their juries. And let's start with an example of what not to do, namely send me an email like the one I got this morning (I'm paraphrasing heavily here and leaving out specifics, because I do have to maintain at least some level of professionalism here):

Hi, my name is ____ and I'm a ____ major. I have my jury in ten days and I know it's crunch time but my accompanist just backed out on me a week ago. The piece is pretty tricky, but we don't need much rehearsal time. Of course I'll pay you, I just hope it's not too much per hour.

Uh, yeah. This kind of request guarantees the answer will be NO. First of all, what have you been doing since last week when you found out your pianist couldn't play for you, if indeed that is true? (I get that sob story all the time, and I'm not convinced those kids don't lie about it to cover their own irresponsibility.) I don't care how desperate you are, I'm not obligated to learn a difficult piece at the last minute because you didn't get your act together. Second of all, what's with the "I hope it's not too much per hour" bit? You've got to be kidding me. You don't wait until the last minute to find a pianist to learn a really difficult piece at the last minute during the busiest time of the semester, and then on top of it all hope for a bargain price. Everything about that is just insulting. This is how I earn my living, yo.

(Of course, professional that I am, I just respectfully declined, saying I have another performance that day and that I'm too busy the week leading up to the jury, which is all true. I could have given this person a dressing down, but I didn't. I prefer not to burn my bridges before I've even met a person, you know?)

A better way go about asking a pianist for a last-minute request is to humbly ask if she is available to play a difficult piece (it is pretty important to be up front about that) on short notice and you are more than happy to pay what she asks because you are so totally appreciative that she is willing to save your sorry ass.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


We've been spending a lot of time outside lately, or at least, as much time outside as limited daylight allows. The weather has been really mild so far this fall, which is both nice because we can be outdoors without bundling up too much and distressing because it's yet more evidence that global warming is happening alarmingly fast.

A while ago, a friend of mine recommended the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, and last week I finally got around to checking it out from the library. I'm only a few chapters in, but so far I find it fascinating, as well as affirming. I've always thought that it's important to spend a lot of time outside, especially in natural settings. Some of my sharpest memories from childhood are of camping in the mountains when I was about Anya's age, and running loose on my grandparents' and uncles' farm as a school age kid. As it turns out, there's a whole bunch of research  that supports the theory that being outside is good for people - especially kids - and promotes physical, emotional and mental health.

On Thanksgiving Day, the temps were up in the 60s, so Stuart and the kids and I spent most of the afternoon on the outskirts of a conservation park in our neighborhood. Daniel and Anya climbed trees, played by an old stone fence, made it into a fort, and rode an ancient seesaw for a good two hours before daylight began to fade and we had to head home. I know how extraordinarily lucky we are to live where we have access to so much natural space; walk five minutes in any direction from our house and you can be in the woods or by a creek bed or even a restored prairie. A month ago we even saw wild turkeys making their way through the neighbors' yard. I wish every child could have this.

I'm lucky enough not to have serious trouble with anxiety, but the last few years I've noticed I feel tense and anxious this time of year, even when there isn't anything specific to worry about. It's probably just the combination of the stress of parenting young children and trying to figure out holiday travel plans and fitting in all the extra accompanying work that usually picks up with the end of the semester and the fact that the sun is barely up in the sky before it goes back down again that makes me worry about every little thing. And every day that everything is fine, I find myself thinking, so what about tomorrow? what if everything isn't fine then? Sometimes I wish I could be like a bear and hibernate until spring. It's totally irrational, I know, but it's there.

Being outside and breathing fresh air, though, is restorative. Whether I'm out on a run or picking my way along the boulders lining a dry creek bed while the kids pretend to set up camp, or even just walking up the hill to get Daniel and his friend to school in the morning, I feel myself calming down just a little bit. And for those few minutes, at least, I am able to put my own miniscule problems and worries into perspective, and I know everything will be all right.

Friday, November 16, 2012

five on friday: the anya lexicon

You know how kids say funny things all the time, right? My Anya is no different. Every once in a while she comes up with some hilarious new way of expressing herself. I ought to write them all down, but I don't. Here are five I can remember to share with you:

1. "Mom? Is this the other side of yesterday?"

2. When we were making sandwiches for lunch one day: "Dad, remember I wanted three put-ins. Three! Ham, cheese and mayo. Those are my put-ins."

3. After putting mittens on her hands on a chilly morning: Now I look fall-ess!
Me: Fall-ess??
Anya: Yup, yup, yup. It's fall, and now I look fall-ess!

4. Watching a couple of guys work on the roof next door: "Look at the house-climbers!"

5. This morning, she named her backpack "Poodle-pants".

Monday, November 12, 2012

is it okay to relax now?

Last week I was traveling on Monday, then again Wednesday through Saturday, with Election Day in between. Stress all around! My parents came for the week to help with the kids, for which I am extremely grateful. The performances went very well, though the audiences were rather small (par for the course for guest recitals at small colleges, I'm afraid), there were no airline snafus or travel glitches. No one got sick, though my mom seems to be allergic to our basement; she was sneezing all night. The kids didn't seem to miss me, and I was honestly too busy to get homesick while I was in Kansas.

Also, the election results were obviously a big relief for lefties like me.

My parents left this morning, I just dropped off Anya at 4K, and now I have exactly one hour to myself before I pick up Daniel from school.  One. Whole. Hour. In which I'm trying to get dinner made (I have a meeting tonight, so we have to be ready to eat by 6:00 or I don't get dinner) and catch up on laundry and I probably should be going on a run or looking at some trombone music I agreed to start rehearsing this weekend, but the truth is, I'm spent, exhausted. My brain needs some time to re-charge. I'm so relieved that last week went okay that I'm afraid it's all going to hit the fan this week and I need to be ready for it.

Is that the definition of anxiety? Constantly being worried about the next thing?

Anyway, I'm letting myself sit here with a cup of lukewarm coffee, and I'm trying to enjoy the next 45 minutes (down from that hour previously mentioned) of solitude without feeling guilty about not getting things done for right now.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

election day

I'm so tired. Tired because I had a performance out of town yesterday and didn't get home until after 11:00 and I'm leaving tomorrow for another one. Tired of getting 2 dozen emails every day from political groups. Tired of worrying about the election, tired of talking about politics all the time (though I can't help it!)

I voted, of course. And if you are a U.S. citizen and at least 18 years of age, I certainly hope you voted, too.

And because I'm so tired I'm just going to send you over to Elvis Sightings to read JoyMama's post on Election Day. It's definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

another job i would be terrible at

Stuart and I have this perpetual list called "Another job I would be terrible at." This list can essentially be broken down into two categories: 1) jobs that require being rather big and burly (like bouncer, repo guy, prison warden) and 2) jobs that require schmoozing (lobbyist, selling cars, PR for the Romney campaign).  Last night, we added a job to the former category: brandishing chainsaws in the middle of the night to save power lines and personal property.

You see, around 5:30 last evening, my next door neighbor came knocking on the door to inform me that our largest spruce in the back yard was not looking so good. In fact, there was a giant split in the trunk from the ground several meters up and the tree was leaning on the power line directly behind it. I called the power company's emergency line and was told they probably wouldn't come look at it until the morning. When Stuart got home, he took a closer look and said, "Uh, the only reason that tree hasn't fallen down is that it's leaning totally on the power line. And if it falls down it will completely demolish T's garage!" (the guy who lives behind us; also, he is trying to sell his house.) Another call to the power company, considerably more panicked this time, and I convinced them to send a crew to check it out that evening.

One look and they called dispatch. Two hours later we had a half dozen guys in our back yard with ladders and chainsaws and headlamps making quite the ruckus, slicing branches off that tree so it wouldn't pull down the power line and smash the garage of the house behind us.

This is what it looked like this morning:

I found an arborist who could come first thing to clean up the huge mess of branches on the ground and pull down the trunk. When he did, we could see how completely rotted it was inside:


It was wind from Sandy that finally did this tree in, though it had clearly been unhealthy for a while. It was pretty cold outside when  they were hacking away late into the night, but we were dry and the lights were on. I couldn't help but think about all the people on the east coast who aren't so lucky.

In any case, as we stared up into the night sky and listened to the roar of the chainsaw and saw the branches come crashing down into the neighbor's yard, Stuart said, "Yup, this is definitely one job I would be terrible at."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

on being prepared

The next couple of weeks are going to be absolutely nuts for me. This week my friend Dr. Julia is coming to town so we can wrap up rehearsals for a recital we're performing twice the first week in November. She flies in Tuesday night and our first performance is next Monday, so we'll have five days to get it all together before the tour starts. Well, "tour." Next Monday night we perform at UW-Oshkosh (about a 2-hr drive from here), then we get a day off before flying out to Kansas Wednesday night, where we'll be at my alma mater for a couple of days teaching a masterclass on Thursday and performing again Friday night.

That probably doesn't sound like so much, but keep in mind that on top of all that I have to get the kids to and from school and piano lessons and gymnastics and all that, Wednesday is Halloween (which means trick-or-treating and going to the neighborhood bonfire and all that fun stuff), and my parents are coming this weekend so they can help out next week while I'm gone so I've got to plan meals and print out a schedule for them so they know when and where everyone needs to be someplace and tell the kids' teachers who will be picking them up from school and make sure everyone has every phone number they could possibly need...

...and did I mention that I've never traveled away from my kids before? Ever? I'm kind of freaking out about it even though everyone keeps telling me it will be fine. Great, in fact. One of my friends, whose daughter is in Daniel's class, is a professor who has traveled a fair bit to conferences and things, and she tells me I'm going to love it - nights of uninterrupted sleep, no one's teeth to brush but my own, that sort of stuff. But I can't stop the voices in my head who are thinking up every possible thing that could go wrong and how this whole plan could be a disaster if I'm not here to hold things together because it's like a house of cards where anything could fall apart at the slightest whuff of air. (My computer tells me "whuff" isn't a word. I don't care.)

What if someone gets sick? What if we all get sick? What if Anya cries all night because she misses me? What if our flight gets all screwed up and we never make it to Kansas? My clothes suck. I should have gotten a haircut. What if my recital dress doesn't fit anymore? (Note to self: try that thing on. Never mind that I should have done that a month ago when I would have had time to come up with a back-up plan.) What if my dad gets lost taking Daniel to his piano lesson? (OK, actually, I know that won't happen. My dad never gets lost.) See? Freaking out here.

The stress is taking a bit of a toll. I felt anxious all of last week for no particular reason. I couldn't sleep, didn't want to eat. It was ridiculous. I think I'm doing a little better now, actually. Now that the two weeks of insanity is nearly upon me, I guess I just have to live it all instead of feeling so apprehensive and anxious about it.

The really crazy thing about all this is that I'm not worried about the performances at all. We had a good start on rehearsals three weeks ago, we've performed together a lot, and I'm almost done writing the program notes (which are getting a little long and should probably be pared down a bit). Musically, I feel very well-prepared.

At least I voted already! I cast my ballot on Tuesday at City Hall. At least I can't screw that up now.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


So much has been made of Romney's "binders full of women!" comment in Tuesday night's debate. I'm not sure I have much to add, except to share this link to reviews of three-ring binders on Amazon. Priceless.

Monday, October 15, 2012


It's come to my attention that a few people have had trouble leaving comments, so I'm trying something new. I've turned off word verification to make commenting easier and turned on comment moderation to avoid spam. We'll see how it goes!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

advice to my 15-year-old self

Did you know that Thursday was the first ever International Day of the Girl? According to the website, it's a movement to "speak out against gender bias and advocate for girls' rights everywhere." In some parts of the world, this means working to end traditions of horrible abuse like child marriage, child prostitution and female genital mutilation. In many places, it means helping girls go to school and get an education. (If you want to know more about these issues, watch the recent documentary Half The Sky. Nick Kristof of the New York Times travels to six countries where women and girls are treated very poorly. He takes a female celebrity with him to each place, both to open their eyes and to bring publicity to the problems girls are facing all over the world. It's quite difficult to watch, but equally amazing to see what women around the world are doing to make lives better for girls who would otherwise have no opportunity to succeed. The woman in Cambodia who repeatedly risks her life going into brothels to rescue astonishingly young girls from sex slavery, for example, is so very, very brave.)

I saw a feature yesterday on CNN's website with pictures of famous, successful women giving advice to their fifteen-year-old selves. (It's here if you want to look at it.) A few of them were pretty cliché - don't give up on your dreams, work hard - that sort of thing. But there was some good stuff in there about being true to yourself and all that.

So I started thinking, if I could give some advice to my fifteen-year-old self, what would I say?

1. Don't try to please others all the time. It's okay if not everybody likes you. It's better to be comfortable with yourself than to worry about what everyone else thinks about you. In fact, having confidence in yourself and your strength is more likely to gain the respect of others than if you worry about being nice to everyone all the time. This is easier said than done.

2. There is nothing wrong with being an introvert. The world around you is built for extroverts, and you will feel pressure to be more outgoing! more animated! more talkative! more fun! and because these things don't come naturally to you, you may feel inadequate and that your personality falls short of ideal. Instead of trying to be someone you aren't, learn to embrace the qualities that make you special and that (often) come with being an introvert - being a good listener, being a keen observer of the world around you, being empathetic to the needs of others, and so on.

3. Assert yourself. This is really really hard, especially if you are introverted and female. And growing up in the South. Girls are supposed to be nice, not assertive. But as hard as it is, try to ignore anyone who will call you a bitch to your face or behind your back. In the long run, they will respect you for standing up for yourself.

4. When you get to college, keep your options open. Studying music may be your passion, but think about picking up a second major that is more likely to lead to gainful employment in the future, like education or science.

5. Loosen up a little. Some rules were meant to be broken.

That's the best advice I've got. Most of it I'm still working hard to follow today. Not only that, but I have a daughter who will be fifteen in another decade or so. Building confidence and self-respect obviously starts long before high school. I need to heed my own advice and pass it along to her.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

cranky pants

The past couple of weeks have been rather stressful for me. The reasons are varied and mostly unrelated to each other, and not even all of them are bad. Most of what's going on isn't really bloggable (or even interesting to anyone but me, frankly), though, so now that I've finally had a shower and opened one of the season's last Bell's Oberon ale, I'm going to get some really petty things off my chest.

Things that make me cranky (especially when I am under stress for other reasons):

1. Dirty socks all over the house. Seriously, this drives me crazy. It's like I'm the only one in my family who knows what a hamper is for.

2. Losing every damn game of Scrabble I play with Stuart. I have a confession to make: I have an iPhone now, and I love it. Love. It. It's Stuart's old one because he got one of the fancy-pants new ones, which means we can text each other for free, I can check my email when I'm not home, and we can play cyber-Scrabble. Triple-check on time-wasters there. Anyway, he always beats me at regular Scrabble and evidently playing on tiny screens with sound effects didn't boost my skills any. Le sigh.

3. My hair. I know. Could I be more vain? But still, it drives me nuts. When it's long, it's scraggly, when it's short, it looks stupid, when it's in a ponytail (which it is most of the time) it looks messy, and the gray is unmistakable. I shouldn't care about that, but I do. I just want the perfect haircut that looks good all the time with no product added and no dyeing and no more than about two minutes brushing it in the morning. I guess that's too much to ask.

4. Feeling left out or overlooked. This has been happening a lot lately, but it really sucks when it's something like, oh, say someone you volunteered with all summer taking care of the school gardens doesn't so much as say hello to you but recognizes your husband because he showed up for a couple hours on volunteer day a whole year ago. (Maybe if I had red hair and a beard, people would remember me, too.)

5. Crowds. Tonight was open house at the elementary school. Loads of people, loads of kids, plus loads of nagging at the book fair.

6. The book fair. I remember the book fair from when I was a kid. I loved reading (and I still do!), so you'd think I'd love the book fair, but I don't. It's hot and crowded in there, plus there are a lot of crap books there. A whole table devoted to Justin Bieber, er, literature, and posters? Puh. Leeze.

7. Making dinner at 9:00 in the morning. I've had to do this rather frequently since school started. I know, I really live a life of luxury that I can be home to make dinner at nine in the morning instead of sitting in an office somewhere working for The Man. But you know what? Sometimes I wish I could be in an office somewhere earning a real wage instead of running kids to and fro all day and spending what little creative energy I have left figuring out what we're going to eat every night. It's a bit like running on a hamster wheel. Oh well. That aside, I don't like when afternoons and evenings are so hectic that I have to make dinner nine hours in advance. When it's a slow day and the kids are playing nicely after school (or, if I must be completely honest, watching TV), one of my favorite times is at about 4:30 or 5:00 when I turn on NPR, pour myself a half glass of wine or make a cup of tea, and start cooking.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012


This is pretty much how I feel while watching the presidential debate.

Friday, September 28, 2012

one year later

Exactly one year ago, Daniel had a surgical procedure to have his adenoids removed and get tubes in his ears. It's a fairly common treatment for kids like him who have had frequent and/or chronic ear infections. I bet a lot of you readers (are there a lot of you?) had this done when you were young, or have a child who had this done, or know someone with a child who had this done.

It's a pretty simple thing, and the risk of anything going wrong was really, really low. And while Daniel's surgery was successful and routine, it was still an awful day, to be totally honest. Some people just don't cope with anesthesia very well and, evidently, Daniel is one of them. (To be clear, he's not allergic or anything; he just got really, really sick.)

Once that ugly day was over and done with, though, it was amazing what a difference those tubes made. Once he was brushing his teeth and told me he could hear the water running in the sink. He didn't remember what that sounded like. And another time he woke me up in the middle of a stormy, rainy night because he didn't know what the noise was on the roof. I wonder what else he missed that year of the ear infections before he got tubes? Since then, he's had a couple of ear infections, but they weren't such a big deal as before, and could be treated with antibiotic ear drops.

Today, one year later, it was Anya's turn. The poor girl has had about 8 ear infections in the last year. Because they were frequent but not chronic (they cleared up in between and her hearing test was normal), she did not have the adenoidectomy, just the ear tubes. For that reason, and also because I've been through this once before, I was not nearly as anxious this time around.

And you know what? This time things really did go a lot more smoothly, and it was all because the procedure is so short. (Also, having your adenoids removed is rather painful, whereas ear tubes are not.) The pediatric ENTs at the children's hospital really know their stuff, I gotta tell ya. It took the doctor ten minutes to put the tubes in. They wheeled her back to the OR, and only twenty minutes later, the nurse came and got us because she had woken up. She had a sip of water, mumbled something only vaguely coherent about watching lots of TV, threw up the water, and then after an hour or so, she was wide awake and ready to go home. This afternoon you wouldn't even know she'd just had surgery earlier in the day. We made a chocolate cake, she read some books with Stuart, and then we walked over to Daniel's friend's house to pick him up from a play date.

(Sweet, blurry girl posing with a not-quite-finished mitten I'm making for her.)

So, here we are. My kids have tubes in their ears and I hope that we are forever and ever done with monthly earaches and ten days of vile medicine. Once or twice a year is plenty.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

family values

Yesterday morning at breakfast, I said to Stuart, "Wouldn't it be nice if your workplace allowed flex time? Say you could take one afternoon per week - just one! - to volunteer in the classroom and pick up the kids from school and be the one to make dinner. Then you could be more involved in the day-to-day household work and childcare and spend more quality time with Daniel and Anya. I would have the opportunity to accompany and teach piano for one afternoon without the constant interruption of picking up the kids and throwing dinner together and paying the sitter. You could make up the work hours in the evening or early morning."

It would be nice, but it's not going to happen. Most workplaces do not allow for this sort of schedule, and it's unfortunate. For all the lip service paid to "family values," it seems that employers don't actually value time with family. If they did, more parents employed outside the home would have schedules that allow them to be available to their kids after school, spend time with them, fix them healthy meals and eat together. If time with family was considered valuable, employees wouldn't feel pressure to work 50, 60, 70 hours per week.

For many, the 40-hour work week has gone by the wayside. I once read an article that 40 hours anymore is considered part time. What's so wrong with the 40-hour work week anyway? It's not lack of work ethic, people. It's family values. Even people who don't have kids surely value their non-work time. In my opinion, people who have time to eat well, exercise, and spend time with their families, and explore their outside interests make for a happier, more productive workforce.

I feel stuck in a position of not being able to work for wages as much as I'd like to. I often feel somewhat resentful about it, too. (I know I've expressed that here before.) My frustration comes and goes depending on how smoothly things are going at home and with the kids and how much paid accompanying work I am able to do. Often these feelings of resentment and frustration don't stem from any one thing in particular, but rather the general notion that because I am a mother who values time with my family, my work options are extremely limited. Sometimes I take this negativity out on my husband and kids, which isn't fair to them at all. It's not their fault our society works this way. But I am far, far from perfect, so it happens anyway.

I just wonder what we - and I mean the collective "we," not just me and my husband - can do to change this.

Monday, September 17, 2012

round 2

I'm afraid we're in for another round of ear tubes, this time for Anya. The poor child has had eight ear infections since last August! We saw an ENT early this summer. At that time, her ears were clear and her hearing was normal, so we thought there was a slim chance she would just outgrow them. Alas, no. Within just hours of coming down with a simple cold, she'll complain of an earache, and then we're off to urgent care to confirm the diagnosis and pick up a prescription for antibiotics. This has happened twice in the last month, so tubes it is, I'm afraid. Since we've already seen the ENT, all I have to do is call and schedule the procedure. If they're not scheduling too far out, we could have all this done by Halloween.

It was around this time last year, September 28, to be exact, that Daniel had surgery to remove his adenoids and have tubes put in. The day of the procedure was extremely stressful, but he's only had two ear infections since then, and he can supposedly hear better now (except, of course, when it's time to clean his room and put on pajamas!), so it was definitely worth it. Now, at least, I know more or less what to expect.

Between Anya's ear troubles, a couple of big performances in November involving me traveling out of town, being on the parent board at Anya's preschool, taking on some extra accompanying work, and volunteering at Daniel's school (which I haven't actually started, but I should soon), this is shaping up to be a rather busy and stressful fall.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Saturday, September 01, 2012

the complications of childcare

I'm not sure where I got the idea that I would have more free time as my children get older. Madison schools start on Tuesday, and like most other parents in the city, I'm more than ready. In part, this is because I have work to do. I've taken on a bit of work for students at the school of music, and I have a big gig in November (more on that in a bit), so I need to practice. As it happens, when you are with your kids day in and day out, there is no time to practice, except for maybe a half hour after dinner when your husband takes them for a walk and you do your best to concentrate at the piano with a messy house, a dirty kitchen, and the day's fatigue wearing on your ability to focus. It's not an ideal mental state, but it's better than nothing.

Once school starts, I'll have more time, but of course, any time is more than nothing, which is what I have now. Daniel is in first grade (!) and Anya will be attending 4-year-old kindergarten at her preschool every afternoon, and that precious time that is supposedly all for me is filling up fast with rehearsals, lessons, and practice time, plus all the stuff I have to do at home and required volunteer hours at the preschool. Still, this is good. This is more than I've been able to do since Anya was born, and I have missed it.

I've got this gig coming up in November. My friend Dr. Julia and I have been trying to come up with a way to perform together again for the last couple of years. She teaches in Florida, so the logistics of such a thing are understandably complicated. This summer we finally got our act together and picked out a program and scheduled some performances this fall and winter. (None are in Madison, oddly enough, even though I live here and her family lives here, though we're hoping to do the program here sometime next spring or summer, when her schedule allows.)

Our first run of performances will take me out of town for the better part of a week in early November. Stuart is unable to take any time off work and I'm not bringing the kids along with me, so this makes things incredibly complicated. Because did I mention the time I spend transporting kids from place to place? They don't go to the same school yet (since Anya's still in preschool), and there are piano lessons and they're both trying out gymnastics this year (we'll see how long that lasts...) and thank goodness neither one of them is interested in playing soccer because I think that would just break me. It's exciting to see them learn new things and all, but I'm not crazy about playing chauffeur.

(My readers with older or grown children, you have my permission to laugh at me now and shake your heads and tell me how it's only going to get worse. Go ahead. Get it out of your system.)

What to do while I'm out of town, then? Stuart can't help out. I have plenty of friends and neighbors I could call upon to host my kids after school for playdates in the afternoons while he's still at work, but this whole business of driving them around to various activities is asking too much when they've got their own families to worry about. Plus, it's not just one day, it's a bunch of days. I could hire a nanny for the week, but that would put me out a couple hundred bucks at least, and I'm not getting paid for these performances (the fun gigs never pay, alas!).

This morning I called my parents and asked them to come up here and help out. They are willing, and didn't hesitate to say yes, but I still feel bad that I had to do it. They will spend an entire day driving up here from Kentucky in order to spend a whole week transporting their grandchildren to and from school/piano/what-have-you because I will be gone and can't do it myself and can't figure out a way to make it work otherwise.

I feel both guilty and annoyed that I'm going out of town for four days without my children. Guilty that I have to ask so much of other people in order to make it possible. And yet annoyed that my youngest is nearly five and this is the first opportunity I've had - EVER - to travel alone for a professional gig. I've never spent a night away from Anya, and the only times Daniel has been away for a whole night were when Anya was born and then once last year when he was invited to a birthday sleepover (I couldn't sleep because I was waiting for The Call in the middle of the night that he'd woken up and freaked out and wanted to come home. That Call never came. He had a fantastic time.)

It's all just so freaking complicated. I suppose if I weren't schlepping them everywhere, I'd be paying big bucks for somebody else to do it. Last week I exchanged several calls and texts from a friend who was frantically trying to figure out after school care for her daughter; she and her husband are professors whose schedules change every semester, and she was having a hard time figuring out what to do those hours of the late afternoon when G would be out of school but they would still be teaching classes or in meetings. I don't envy that. Well, actually, I have to confess that I do, just a weensy little bit, but only the part about teaching classes and going to meetings. The childcare stuff is a pain in the butt.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

bad weather for the RNC

I haven't written about politics here in a little while, have you noticed? Mostly, I don't know where to start. Also, for me personally as a voting citizen, I know exactly where I stand on all the major issues and most of the smaller ones, too. My mind was made up long ago, so short of ranting and raving about the News Topic Of The Moment (which I am fully capable of doing, of course), I just don't have much to say.

I couldn't help but make the following observation, though: does no one else find it ironic that the political party with the most vehement deniers of global climate change have to delay their own national convention due to weather conditions brought on (or at least exacerbated) by that very phenomenon? Or is it just me?

I know, I know. It is hurricane season. Mostly, the RNC has unfortunate timing and they couldn't really foresee this back when they scheduled their convention. They aren't solely to blame for global warming, either; we all are. I just wonder when they will finally admit that there is an environmental catastrophe happening now (as in present, not future, tense) and that it's time to do something to fix it.

You'd think your own convention get pounded by a hurricane would them give pause in this regard. (But then, you'd also think a grown man with a college education and children of his own would have a basic grasp of reproductive biology, wouldn't you?) Alas, alas.

Friday, August 24, 2012

one truth

Here's one truth about motherhood: the ingratitude. You work your ass off to take care of everyone but yourself, make sure they are fed and clothed and well-rested and don't eat too much sugar or watch too much TV and you spend an hour or more making a healthy well-balanced dinner from scratch and they push it away and say "Yuck!" and "Stinky!" and laugh about it and don't understand when you leave the table in a huff. In fact, as you sit on the front porch contemplating all you do for no pay and little thanks, you just feel guilty for storming off and saying something guilt-ridden and emotionally manipulative hoping for an apology. You know that's far, far too much to ask from children too young to understand but you do it anyway because you are so upset you can't help it.

I guess they'll appreciate me when they're grown up. I guess it's too much to ask for them to at least eat without complaining. I know I did it to my mom over and over, I must have. All kids do. But it still sucks.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

sometimes, you need to call your mom

Folks, I am having a blah week. Stuart was out of town for 7 days, then the kids got sick, my self-confidence took a dive... I won't need to bore you with more details. But this evening, when Daniel complained of a tummyache and I looked at the pile of dishes in the kitchen, I just couldn't face it anymore, so I sat on the porch and called my mom.

Sometimes you just need to do that, you know?  I don't have anything big to feel sad about, but since we got back from vacation it's just all been piling up without a break and I needed to unload to someone who won't judge, who will just listen, who doesn't mind a little excessive whining and self-pity (now that I'm grown up, at least), and also, someone who has been there. She remembers what it was like when my brother and I were little and she had no time to herself. She remembers feeling unnecessarily anxious when we got sick. She remembers the seemingly endless days of whining and runny noses and bickering and ingratitude and night after night of fractured, restless sleep.

Thanks, mom.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


I had a rather unusual encounter while out on a run this afternoon. I was nearly done, about a half mile from home, and while waiting for a stoplight, a man also waiting to cross the street asked me if I knew how to get to Reedsburg. You mean the town of Reedsburg? I said. I'd have to look at a map, but it's pretty far from here. How are you going to get there? Well, he replied, If there's no bus I guess I'll walk. 

As we crossed the street together, I gathered the following information from this man: he is from Chicago.  I learned his first name and told him mine. Today he took the bus from Chicago to Madison and is going to Reedsburg to visit his brother, who was married recently. He may be staying for a little while. He's never been here before and didn't know how far away Reedsburg is. He does not have a phone, so even though he has his brother's number, he had no way to contact him. I considered for a moment, then decided no way was I going to let this guy walk all night in unfamiliar territory, so I told him to come to my house to use the phone so he could at least call his brother.

Stuart, understandably, was uncomfortable with me showing up at home after a run with a total stranger, to whom I offered our phone and a glass of water. But I didn't know what else to do; the guy seemed stranded. (Meanwhile, Daniel looked out the window and said "Who's that guy?" and Anya bounded out of the house in an uncharacteristically extroverted fashion and introduced herself.) When the brother didn't answer, I invited him inside while we figured out what to do. I checked google maps and found that Reedsburg is about an hour's drive away, too far for one of us to drive him there (even if one of us had felt comfortable enough to do it, which neither of us did). So we sent him on his way. I told him which direction to walk.

And then I fretted about him. On the one hand, this guy is clearly an adult (hard to gauge what age, though maybe 20-something) and should be capable of looking out for himself. On the other hand, how could I send someone on a 50-mile walk in the early evening, knowing he may very well be walking all night? He's probably hungry, I said about 20 minutes after he'd left. I should go find him and give him a sandwich or something. Stuart thought it was best to let it be, so I did.

It started to rain and I fretted a bit more. A few minutes later, the phone rang. It was the young man's sister-in-law, who had been driving around Madison with her family all afternoon looking for him. They had checked their answering machine at home and gotten our number from his call earlier. I told her which direction I'd sent him walking, then set out to look for him myself so that I could call her cell when I found him. After 10 minutes, I spotted him in the parking lot of a strip mall a couple miles away from our house. I pulled up, told him I'd gotten a call from his family, and waited there with him. After just a few minutes, a red van pulled up, and he said, "That's them!" I introduced myself briefly, they thanked me, and I left. I expect they're home by now.

So in the end, it was a happy reunion and I can go to sleep tonight knowing this guy isn't walking all night all alone along highway 12 trying to find his brother's house. But a lot of things about this encounter bothered me. The man wasn't very forthcoming with personal information, but considering he stepped off a bus from Chicago with only a drawstring bag full of clothes, no cell phone, presumably little or no money, and no clear plan for getting to his final destination...well, one could infer all kinds of things about his situation that may or may not be true. (For one thing, he needs to learn some communication skills if he didn't realize his brother was going to drive to Madison to pick him up.)

My own hesitation bothers me a little bit, though. He was a person in need of help getting in touch with his family and for some reason I was hesitant at first. I was taking my own safety into consideration, true, but really there was no danger. We were walking on very public streets in broad daylight, and once we got home I wasn't alone because Stuart was there. Furthermore, this guy didn't ask anything of me other than directions. He was never impolite or pushy. I offered him the phone and the drink of water on my own.

Sometimes I don't know whether I'm too cautious or too naive. I'm just glad it worked out this time.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

daniel got a haircut

This time, with superglue!

Don't worry, grandparents. The faux-hawk isn't permanent. It's just extra-strong hair gel the stylist used. I swear that stuff is like super glue. This 'do is two days old and spent some time under a bike helmet this morning!

Monday, August 13, 2012


Last week, Daniel finally reached this milestone:

I took him to the dentist for a routine cleaning and check-up, which was months overdue; there was one scheduled for April that I forgot about and I didn't get around to rescheduling until now. As if taking your kid to the dentist five months late wasn't bad enough, the hygienist informed me that he is doing a terrible job brushing his teeth and we really ought to be supervising him more closely and helping him brush. Stellar parenting there, huh? Yikes. At least there were no cavities.

"And that loose tooth is barely hanging on," she added as an afterthought before turning to go back for her next appointment. Loose tooth? What loose tooth?  He'd never noticed it before that appointment, and an hour later it came out in a bowl of yogurt.

The tooth fairy did visit that night and left a congratulatory note and two dollar bills, quite a generous sum. She was perhaps so excited to share in Daniel's enthusiasm over finally losing a tooth that she did not consider how many are left and that by Christmas she may very well be broke.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


Sorry for disappearing for a couple weeks  there, everyone! We were on a short vacation to the Rocky Mountains, where we met Stuart's parents and some family friends of theirs at a retreat center on the Pikes Peak massif. The air was thin, the view was stunning, the tap water was cold and delicious, and we had a fabulous time hiking and spending quality time together.


After a couple days acclimating to the altitude, Stuart and his dad and I hiked up Pikes Peak. It took 10 hours to hike the 13.6 miles up and back. By the end we were exhausted and sore, but it was so totally worth it. Here's a sample of what we saw on the way:

Above: I thought this looked like a gate to hell. I hit a wall around 12K elevation and was convinced there was no way I could make it to the top. Leave me here to die, I wanted to say, my feet hurt and I can't breathe. Stuart insisted on cheering me on, despite my terrible attitude.

Above: The last piece of living vegetation I saw on the mountain. This was well before we summited. Even the plants know better than to climb that far up!

(Climbing up and then down this boulder field was NOT FUN. If we hadn't been so damn close to the top when we reached these, I really would have quit.)

The last and only other time Stuart and I hiked up a fourteener (a mountain 14K feet tall) was ten years ago when we climbed Mt. Yale with his brother Mitch. That time it was a 7-hour hike, I didn't quite make it to the top (we'd only given ourselves one night to adjust to the 10K altitude and I was too short of breath to summit), we were sore for days afterwards, and Stuart wrecked his knee and had to have surgery on it the following summer. This time, despite being a whole decade older, we are both in much better physical shape, we had more time to acclimate, and - this is important - we had the foresight to bring hiking poles. Stuart and his dad each used a pair of purchased adjustable poles, while I just had a sturdy stick I found in the woods, but this made a difference on the wear and tear to the joints. We were all sore the following day, but recovered quickly enough. 

Here we are at the top:

I would totally do this again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

lost and found

A couple of weeks ago I found a lost checkbook. I had just set out for my early morning run (6:00 or so), and the item in question was on the sidewalk with various bits of debris surrounding it: business cards, expired insurance cards, a crumpled booklet of postage stamps, half of them used. Litter bothers me, so I stopped to pick everything up and set the pile of checks and old business cards on a retaining wall. Should I leave it there, I wondered? Turn it in to the bar? Bring it home and track down the owner?

Once I'd run my loop and was on my return home, I decided the best thing to do was bring the checkbook home and try to locate the owner. Though most of the insurance cards were long expired, she (there was one name on the checks, female) had written a few checks with recent dates and I figured she  would want her stuff back.

I looked her up and called the number and left a message. I heard nothing for four days. Four days. Now, I know that checks are an outdated mode of monetary transaction for most people, but they certainly are handy for self-employed individuals (like myself) who don't take credit cards (who pays an accompanist or piano teacher with a credit card??) and anyway, checks have things like bank routing numbers on them, so it's not good for them to leave your possession.

When she finally called me, the Checkbook Lady was only vaguely grateful that I had tracked her down. She claimed to have had a family emergency of some sort; "I don't even know where I've been the last week!" she told me. Uh-huh, I thought. I found your stuff scattered all over the sidewalk in front of a bar. I don't really care to know more. I didn't say that out loud, though. I just gave her my address and told her she could pick up her stuff on my front porch whenever it was convenient for her. She stopped by while I was out, so I never met her.

Lest you think I'm a truly benevolent human being, don't jump to conclusions. I kept the postage stamps.

Monday, July 23, 2012


After last week's horrible shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I've had several conversations with various people about guns and gun violence and gun control and gun rights and what is it, exactly, about our modern culture that has allowed horrible incidents like this to happen again and again? Littleton, Paducah, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech (my brother was less than a mile from there, so that one was particularly scary)...of course I don't know what brings a person to commit such a crime. I imagine it's a perfect storm of psychological issues, the intelligence to plan and carry out an attack, and - this is especially tragic in my mind - access to the weapons to pull it off.

I firmly believe that semi-automatic and automatic guns have no place in the hands of citizens. Handguns make me pretty uncomfortable, too, but I can see the logic of it just a little bit better (even though I will never, ever EVER have a gun in  my house. Ever.) Of course, restricting access to weapons like the one used in last week's shooting won't stop heinous crime, but I'm all in favor of making it that much harder for maniacs to get a hold of them.

Just thinking about it makes me feel sad and sick.

Jason Alexander says all this and more in a post from a few days ago. Read it, and think about it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

great expectations of summer

I had great expectations for this summer. With two kids used to being in school all or part of the time, I knew I had to come up with a regular routine and enough activities to keep them from getting bored, and yet I also wanted to make sure to leave plenty of time for just being outside and playing with friends and general discovery and exploration.

Oh, what grand plans I had! Our only scheduled activities are swimming lessons every morning except Fridays and piano lessons once a week for Daniel. For the rest of our time, I have a stack of email addresses and cell phone numbers of the parents of my kids' friends. I have a list of state parks I wanted us to visit. We have a community garden plot to tend to. I signed us up for the summer reading club at the library. I bought some white t-shirts and packs of Dylon for tie-dyeing on a rainy day. My ideal summer day, I thought, would start off with some kind of organized activity in the morning like a cleaning or gardening project or something artistic, then reading and piano practice before swimming lessons, then lunch and then an afternoon spent at the park or with a friend or, on what I thought would be rare hot days, back at the pool or a local splash park.

Well. Summer hasn't quite gone the way I thought it would. It's not that something horrible has derailed us, like injury or illness, and for that I am thankful. But it has been unexpectedly difficult to set up play dates with friends because our free time hasn't overlapped with friends' schedules much. Daniel is a good reader, but he isn't much interested in doing it on his own and I have to force him to read out loud to me. Fortunately, piano is going fine for him and he likes practicing. Our garden plot is alive, just, but there is no joy in tending to it because it has been so hot. And there have been no rainy days to do any tie-dyeing. The last time it rained was in May.

The hot, dry weather here is awful and epic. It is devastating farmers and threatening our water supply, the heat has claimed a dozen lives and made outdoor sports downright dangerous, so it feels petty to complain that the weather has wrecked my fun, when it is wrecking people's lives and livelihoods.

It's not that I'm eager to get summer over with so school can start. I'm not quite there yet. I just wish it would rain. And rain. And rain. And maybe cool off enough so that we can go outside in the evening without feeling like we're suffocating.

Sunday, July 08, 2012


We had a house full of people this week: my brother Joe and his wife Maria drove all the way from Virginia, and my cousin Steph and her husband Eric drove up from Kansas to spend a couple of days with us. We had a lovely, lovely time together. We ate, drank (modestly), swam, toured local ice cream shops, complained about the heat, caught up on gossip of old friends and relatives, and vowed to see each other more often. The weather posed a challenge (100+ degree heat for three days in a row), as did the rather crowded sleeping arrangements in our small house, but fortunately everyone was accommodating and gracious. Daniel and Anya delighted in all the extra attention, and didn't complain (much) about sharing a room for a couple of nights so the grown-up couples could each have a room to themselves.

I always have mixed feelings when house guests leave. There is the melancholy that comes with knowing you have to return to your regularly scheduled life after the fun of company, the slight relief to have your house back to yourself, and the inevitable mountain of laundry from all the used sheets and towels. Oh my, the laundry.

I'm a little older than Joe and Maria, and a little younger than Steph and Eric, but more settled down than any of them. At least, it appears we'll be staying in Madison for the foreseeable future while the rest have the distinct possibility of re-locating in the next year or two or so as they finish degrees and other work at various institutions of higher learning and look for employment in their respective fields. I selfishly wish they could all find jobs in Madison and move here, but that's not necessarily realistic or practical.

We talked some about the world of academia and how messed up it can be. (For my readers who don't know my family, my brother Joe has his PhD in Electrical Engineering, his wife has gone back to school for a degree in nutrition, and Steph and Eric have between them amassed/pursued several graduate degrees, most recently public health - the field in which Eric works now - and American Studies - the field in which Steph is getting a PhD. So academics is pretty familiar territory for all of us.) For the longest time I thought I wanted to get a doctorate and teach at a small college. It just seemed like a good thing for me to do. Why I chose music, I'm not entirely sure now, but that's what I did. Having two kids before I finished graduate school entirely derailed kind of altered the part of my plan that involved finding a teaching job, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Just a thing that happened.

I had a dream last night, a classic anxiety dream, really, in which I had a public performance that I totally flopped. Usually when I have these dreams, they involve me singing or acting or something I actually have very little performance experience in. But this dream last night was a situation I could very easily encounter in my real, waking life. I had a stack of music to perform, and I wasn't prepared, and it went terribly. I woke up in a hazy state of humiliation before I remembered it was all a dream and hadn't actually happened. Then I felt relief. And I remembered a conversation we had late last night sitting in the dark on the back deck (the cold front finally moved through last evening so we could be outside without broiling) in which I said out loud something I have known deep down for a long time but only recently have been conscious of: I would not be a good professor.

I'll say it again: I would not be a good professor. I don't think this is because of my own shortcomings so much as the reality of my family situation and time demands put on young (I'm still fairly young as far as professors go) professors, especially at liberal arts institutions at which I once thought I would like to teach. It doesn't matter if you call it dedication to the profession and the institution, or if you call it exploitation of  workers, it comes down to the same thing: I could not, or would not, put in the hours  to do the job effectively.

So for right now, and possibly forever, I have given up the idea. Not that I think it's a bad thing, at least not entirely. There's a lot in the rat race we call academia that I am happy to avoid. But it does make me wonder what's next.

Monday, July 02, 2012


The big story here, as everywhere, is an unrelenting heat wave that set in a week ago and doesn't appear to be letting up any time soon. My car thermometer read 100 degrees as we came home from the pool this afternoon, and while I suspect that reading was actually a few degrees hotter than the actual temperature, but still, that's hot. We're lucky, I know, just to have the heat and not the storms that knocked out power in the east. We're lucky to have air conditioning and a pool to go to in the heat of the day, plenty of fresh water to drink, and a cool basement to retreat to in the late afternoon when we're all too wiped out to do much but watch the Piglet movie for the fortieth time.

We're lucky we don't make our living off the land. This is a bad year for farmers in Wisconsin. A warm spring and late frosts devastated the maple syrup harvest and fruit crops, and the hot dry weather is taking its toll on corn and vegetables. I left the house at 5:45 this morning to water our community garden plot before the unbearable heat of the day set in. Even with daily watering, my tomato plants are clearly stressed, with curled leaves and wilting stems.

And in the midst of this, so many people are in stubborn denial over the evidence of global climate change. I genuinely worry about the future of the planet and the human species. Not to get all doomsday about it, but I fear it's too late to reverse the destruction we are bringing upon ourselves, largely because so many people who could affect change simply refuse to believe it's necessary.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Here's a sweet little picture of my husband and kids at schoolhouse beach on Washington Island off the tip of the Door County peninsula, where we took a mini-vacation last weekend. The cool thing about this beach is all the rocks; they are bits of limestone worn smooth by the water. It's not easy to walk barefoot on a beach made of rocks, but they are fun to skip in the water and stack into piles.

Stuart and I each took a brief swim in Lake Michigan. "Brief" is the operative word here because yama hama was the water cold! You can see  the orange diving raft in the picture below. I swam directly to it, and directly back, and the whole time I was gasping for air like a goose being strangled because the cold water made my throat muscles seize up.

This is the only picture of me from the whole trip that I like, and I think it's because you can't see my face or stomach...which brings me to the title of this post and my real topic for the day (you guys don't really want to see vacation photos, do you? We had fun, the kids were cute, blah blah blah, end of story).

The thing is, I don't put a whole lot of effort into how I look, and it really shows. I rarely go clothes shopping, and when I do, it's usually to pick up a few t-shirts to replace the ones with holes/stains/ripped hems. I don't own a zillion pairs of shoes; I own a few pairs of shoes, almost all of them meant for being outdoors (flip-flops, snow boots, rain boots, running shoes, it runs the gamut, really). I get my hair cut about 2-3 times per year and it's usually up in a ponytail. Except for a tube of mascara I picked up a couple of months ago, I believe the last time I bought make-up was when I was pregnant with Anya and everyone thought I had a skin condition because my face was so red all the time.

I do put a fair amount of effort into staying healthy and fit, but that's not quite the same.

I was at the school of music for most of the day today accompanying scholarship auditions. During a few minutes of downtime I was chatting with two other seasoned accompanists, both more than a decade older than I am. They were discussing their aging bodies, needs for bifocals and the occasional steroid shot in the elbow (I'm not there yet, but as bad as my eyesight is, I'm sure bifocals are in my future!) "How old are you?" I asked my one colleague, who is in terrific shape and looks  like he could be anywhere between 25 and 40. He had to think for a minute. "I'm turning 47 this August," he finally answered, to which I replied, "But I have more gray hair than you do!" "Oh, this is fake," he said, without missing a beat, and the other pianist, who also looks pretty awesome, said "Everybody fakes it!"

This shocked me. I guess everyone dyes the gray out of their hair now? Even men? (And this guy, I might add, is not at all fussy or particular about how he looks, as far as I can tell, which is why I was so surprised.) Should I be trying harder? The few pictures of me (I'm usually the one behind the camera) from last weekend make me think so.

Is this vanity talking here? Am I vain to assume I don't need to try harder? Would it be vain to actually try harder? I just don't know. I do know that these are superficial questions, but I have them all the same.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

summer is here

Daniel entered school this morning as a kindergartener and left it an hour and a half later a first grader (no, he didn't leave early - they just had a really, really short day). It's incredible to me how much he has grown in the last nine months, physically, emotionally and intellectually. He had an absolutely wonderful teacher, made some good friends and overall just flourished. I dare say I learned a lot, too.

Anya had a pretty awesome year of preschool. She is naturally shy and cautious about new people and environments, but at the same time she has an incredibly strong sense of self. She knows who she is and what she wants, by golly, and the preschool she attended this last year nourished exactly those qualities of hers. She is more confident, communicates her feelings much better, and she formed deep and loyal bonds with several children in her class and her teachers.

Today, after picking up Daniel from his very, very short day at school, the three of us went to a nearby state park to celebrate the beginning of summer vacation with playtime at the little beach and a picnic. There weren't many people there so we mostly had the place to ourselves. It was wonderful.

Here's to summer!

Monday, June 11, 2012

is it summer vacation yet?

Tomorrow is the last day of school for Madison Elementary Schools. Daniel may end up missing it. He was home today with a fever, and while I doubt he missed out on a whole lot of quality instructional time, it's sad  to miss the last few hours of school with friends, isn't it?

I swear everyone checked out mentally after the Memorial Day weekend, though. Elementary kids had tons of field trips that were more fun than educational (bowling, anyone?), and with all the end-of-year picnics and fundraisers and celebrations, it's just been a little much. It feels like summer already started weeks ago. The pools are open, the water is on in the local splash parks, it doesn't get dark until 9:00, we've burned through two bottles of sunscreen already, and today I finally turned on the air conditioning in the house. (We've had a few days over 90 degrees, so I'm rather proud I held out this long, but I probably wouldn't have caved this early if I weren't trapped at home with a sick kid.)

I'm looking forward to summer. We're taking things easy, and I hope that daily swimming lessons, weekly piano lessons and lots and lots of play dates keep the kids busy enough. We'll have lots of visitors in the next few weeks and one big trip at the end of July. Time will zip by, I'm sure.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

thoughts on the recall

So about yesterday's election. Ouch. Not only did Walker win that recall, he won handily (55/44 split, despite polls showing the race being neck-and-neck). It's disappointing and discouraging, certainly a blow to those of us who were hoping he'd get his comeuppance.*

As energized and motivated and organized as we were, I have to admit that Walker had a lot on his side. For one thing, he had time. Once those petitions full of signatures were collected, he made sure the GAB (Government Accountability Board) took as long as possible to validate all the sigs, thus forcing the primary and recall election to happen late in the spring. This made it hard for college students to vote, since many have left for the summer and/or haven't resided in their precincts for the 28 days required under the new Voter ID law. The extra time also deflated people's energy. Voters are tired of this business and maybe decided he isn't so bad after all (how they could come to this conclusion, I don't know).

But the most important advantage Scott Walker had was MONEY. Money talks. Money talks REALLY LOUD in politics, especially since the Citizens United ruling, which allowed special interest money to roll into Wisconsin like a tsunami. There are no limits on the amount of money you can raise for a recall election. I'll say it again. There are no limits on the amount of money you can raise for a recall election. Walker out-spent his opponent Tom Barret 7:1, with most of his $30 million+ coming from extremely rich donors out of state - donors like the Koch brothers and people connected to them.

There were other problems, too. Democrats put a lot of energy into the primary when they shouldn't have. Unions initially supported former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, then had to switch allegiance to Tom Barrett. Barrett then had only 4 weeks between the primary and the recall to get his act together and prove to the state that he could beat Walker (when he lost to him in the 2010 gubernatorial election). In the meantime, Walker's camp had a lot of voters convinced that the protests and toxic political climate of the last 18 months were somehow not the fault of his actions, but those of us who oppose him.

Walker has done a lot of damage already. He has slashed funding to every public program that matters, from education to health care for the poor and disabled, to environmental protection. He has demonized public employees and the unions that represent them. I shudder to think what he will try to accomplish in the next two years now that he has gotten through this recall.

We can't give up, though. I'm cynical enough to believe that politicians will never really be on our side, as long as money is such a big factor in campaigns (and I don't see an end to that any time soon). I've read The People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn and I know that since the U.S. was founded, it has basically been for the rich and by the rich. This will not change.

But you know you what else will not change? My determination to advocate for what's good and just and fair. When I was a union thug (yeah I saw the comments from the anonymous troll who probably failed remedial English and I left them there because I believe in free speech) we had a saying: agitated, educated, organized! At the very least, we have come out of this recall with a grassroots movement that is sure to stick around for a while.

*All is not lost. Scott Walker may yet get his comeuppance. We're pretty sure he is the target of an ongoing John Doe investigation by the FBI. Six people associated with his previous campaign have already been arrested on felony charges, and Walker has assembled a legal defense team using public money...which he's not supposed to do unless he's indicted or under investigation, which he won't admit to. It's complicated, which is probably why this issue didn't play a bigger role in the election. I just hope they nail him on this sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


If you live in Wisconsin, PLEASE GO VOTE IN THE RECALL ELECTION. Voter turnout is expected to be higher than usual, but the race is extremely tight, and we need EVERYONE at the polls today.  I can not emphasize enough how important this is.

If you signed a recall petition this winter, you may have received a robo-call telling you that you've already done your part and there is no need to vote today, IGNORE IT AND GO VOTE!! Scott Walker and his fans are not above dirty tricks in an attempt to mislead and disenfranchise voters so they won't go to the polls. It's probably illegal, but they're doing it anyway. Let's prove to them that their dirty tricks won't work.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

why i am voting for tom barrett next tuesday

If you live in Wisconsin, you'd have to work pretty hard not to notice that we have a big election next Tuesday. Republican Governor Scott Walker is up for recall.  Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch will also be on the ballet, along with four Republican state senators in their respective districts, but Walker is clearly the big fish here.

It took a lot of work just to get this far. Weeks of massive, peaceful protests last year drew, briefly, the attention of the national news (and this was months before Occupy Wall Street began, I might add.) Between November 15, 2011 and January 15, 2012, volunteers across the state collected nearly twice as many signatures as we needed to trigger the recall. It really felt like we were rolling.

But now, for some reason, though Walker's approval rating is still pretty low, he's 7 points ahead in the polls against his democratic challenger, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett. This isn't a huge lead, but it exceeds the margin of error by 3 points. This has me worried. I'm not sure if this says more about Walker's perceived success as Wisconsin governor or lack of enthusiasm for Tom Barrett. Barrett lost to Walker already in the fall of 2010, and he's not really a whole lot more exciting now than he was then.

But he's not Scott Walker, and that's the whole point. I have an extensive list of complaints against Scott Walker. I fundamentally disagree with nearly all of his policies and his ideology and everything he stands for. He's gutted education on every level, slashed healthcare funding for people who can least afford it on their own, eliminated equal pay protection for women, trashed environmental protections, and rendered public employee unions impotent. Walker's policies alone, terrible as they are, are not the main reason he should be recalled, though. The main reason I support this recall, the reason I want Walker out now, rather than waiting out this term and trying to elect someone else next time around, is because he went about this in a way that deeply divided our state and completely demoralized thousands of workers. He was dishonest and sneaky, as were his ultra-conservative colleagues in the state leg when they resorted to unconstitutional tactics to push their piece of shit legislation through when they knew it would never make it in a regular session.

Next Tuesday I am voting for Tom Barrett because I want Scott Walker out of office asap. If Barrett wins, and I sincerely hope he does, I hope he can start to mend the wounds inflicted upon the Wisconsin public in the last 16 months. It's time to heal.