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 Now, I know that checks are an outdated mode of monetary transaction for most people, but they certainly are handy for self-employed individuals (like myself) who don't take credit cards (who pays an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.