Wednesday, August 28, 2013

big tree

By this time tomorrow, our big tree will be a pile of firewood and mulch:

It's a silver maple, a big one, probably as old as or older than the house we live in (built in 1952). The canopy of this tree covers the whole sky in our back yard.

I have a love-hate relationship with this tree, to be honest. It's big and provides lots of shade in the summer. It's home to more than a few wild critters like squirrels and nuthatches and more than enough crows. But it also sprawls over neighboring roofs, drops sticks everywhere and makes a complete mess of the gutters every fall and spring. 

I'm told that this tree is surprisingly healthy, given its age, but all silver maples reach a point where they become a menace to their surroundings. Their wood is weak, and the trunks divide low to the ground, so every time we have a thunderstorm or a particularly windy night, I worry that a big piece of it will break off and wreak havoc on our roof or someone else's. 

We've been debating having the silver maple taken out for a couple of years now, but now it really is time. We are planning a major remodeling/addition project next year, and the tree wouldn't survive the excavation. Taking it out now means no leaf mess in the fall, and gives us more driveway space.

Last night we told the next-door neighbors (the nice ones, not the one who calls her lawyer when we ask her to please move her flower pots out of the driveway), and they asked "Will you miss it?" I said I wasn't sure. I think for all the reasons listed above, we'll be glad it's gone. But it will make the yard feel empty, naked, exposed. It's going to be, for lack of a better word, ugly, back there before we can build it up to be nice again. Eventually I want a nice vegetable garden, a patio, a stone path with irish moss growing in the cracks and flowers along the sides, perhaps even a shed that isn't sheltering 8,000 chipmunks (the one we have is rather decrepit and just sitting atop some concrete blocks - critter heaven).

We'll also need to replace the tree, but that won't happen until after the construction is done. Like everything else we want to do with the house, we'll have to plan that carefully - what species and variety of tree to get, where exactly to plant it. It's hard to be patient, but I know our back yard won't be bare and ugly forever.

Monday, August 26, 2013


I am an all-natural dirt-lovin' kinda gal, the sort of mom who takes her kids to the community garden and doesn't mind (too much) when they play in the mud. I bake bread and hang laundry on the line and never ever use pesticides in the yard, even when the lawn looks totally crappy (which is always).  For crying out loud, I even made granola bars from scratch a few times this summer. I don't mind a bit of sweat and grime, and I love a good hike. To some, I'm sure, I'm an insufferable hippy.

You'd think I'd be the type of person who goes camping all the time, right? With all the back-to-nature love-the-earth-goddess qualities I have, right?

Well, you'd be wrong. We (meaning Stuart and I) have always thought of ourselves as camping types, what with all the nature loving and all. But the few times we've actually been camping didn't go so well. At all. Way, way back in college when we had only been dating a few months, Stu and I took a 2-week road trip from my parents' house in Kentucky, up to South Dakota, through Wyoming, Utah, the Nevada desert and all the way to San Joaquin valley and Pacific coast in sunny So-Cal, then through Arizona, New Mexico, and the Oklahoma panhandle back to Kansas where we went to school. It was a memorable trip for many reasons:

One reason was that we were a part of two weddings for friends that are dear to us still, which was the whole reason for the trip in the first place, since we couldn't afford plane tickets.

Another reason was that, well, if you've been dating someone for only a few months and then spend no less than 15 days on a car trip with him and he doesn't start getting on your nerves until the last day of the drive, that might be an indication that the two of you have a future together.

Lastly, our ineptitude in the realm of outdoor skills was nothing short of remarkable. We managed to use the tent my dad lent us without ruining it, but it got wet and muddy on more than one occasion, and one night we finally bailed and found a cheap motel which was so dirty and horrid we might as well have slept outside in the rain anyway. We couldn't start a campfire to save our lives, and there is no way I'm going to reveal what we resorted to using that night in the Grand Tetons so we wouldn't have yet another dinner of cold hot dogs and peanut butter sandwiches.

Fast forward a few years to when we had our first child. Daniel was all of 3 months old, and someone had organized a group bike ride and campout at a state park near New Glarus over Memorial Day weekend. Stuart was excited about the bike ride, and for some reason we thought camping with a baby who nursed non-stop and never slept more than an hour or two at night would be fun. It wasn't fun. It was miserably hot, our tiny two-person tent was completely cramped, and someone nearby the campsite blasted country music at about 1000 decibels all night so no one got any sleep whatsoever. Except, that is, for Daniel, who slept peacefully all night long, which was unprecedented at that time, and he didn't repeat it for almost a year.

That didn't completely scare us away from trying again, though, and the next summer we bought a bigger tent and spent one night up at Devil's Lake. Toddler Daniel was more interested in playing in the car than exploring the campground, and I was pregnant with Anya and none too energetic, but on the whole the experience wasn't too bad.

For some reason, though, we didn't go camping again until last weekend. Why the six-year hiatus? No good reason, really. We kept meaning to make plans and then didn't make them. Last fall we actually made reservations someplace but there was a cold snap and we didn't want to spend the night in 30-degree weather so we stayed home and made soup instead.

But we did, finally, go camping this past weekend. It was only for one night, but that's all we really needed for our trial run. It was Anya's first time ever, and it might as well have been Daniel's, too, since  he was too young to remember the other times. We went to Yellowstone Lake State Park, which is delightful. It's a beautiful park, a beautiful drive to get there, there's a lake with fishing and a beach, easy hiking trails and - best of all - no mosquitoes. I swear to you it's true. I didn't get a single mosquito bite the whole 24 hours we were there, thanks to the park's incredibly successful bat house program. When you've got 4000 bats who eat their weight in insects every night, it does make a difference!

So did anything go wrong this time? Was there any disaster, or glaring omission in the supplies we packed? No, not really. We remembered the tent:

We built a decent fire (good, dry firewood helps with that) and cooked dinner over it. It's kind of hard to screw up hot dogs and s'mores, plus I steamed corn in the husk over the coals. We brought swim suits and towels, but didn't think to bring a clothesline to hang them up on. We should have had collapsible stools to sit on and basins for water to clean up, but my friend Stephanie, who came to hang out with us Saturday evening, had some handy in the back of her truck. A tablecloth for the filthy picnic table wouldn't have hurt, either, but it wasn't the end of the world.

We had fun, the kids had fun. Everything was great. The only weird thing was that on Sunday morning, the lake was green:

Seriously, I didn't do anything to change that picture. It really looked like that, as if someone filled Yellowstone Lake with vivid, dark green poster paint. It was an algae bloom that had occurred overnight (we had gone to the beach Saturday afternoon, and at that time the lake was normal murky lake color, not this green), and it grossed everybody out at first. But there were swimmers out doing their thing, and eventually the kids got in the water (after many, many admonitions not to put their faces in the water) and the green slime didn't seem to bother them.

We can't wait to go camping again.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

on being professional

It's high time I put together a professional website. Actually, it's been high time for a few years now, but I've finally decided to do it. Thankfully, I have tech-savvy people in my life (namely, my husband and brother) to help me out. They listen to the sorts of geeky podcasts that would probably confuse and/or bore me to tears, but focus on technology and web stuff that, as it turns out, is pretty useful information, like where it is best to register a domain name and host one's website.

Last night, Stuart and I spent a little time doing just that - registering a domain name and getting started with a trial run on squarespace. There are some nice templates there, and it wasn't entirely intuitive for me, but it wasn't impossible, either. Where I got really stuck was coming up with the actual information I need to put on there. I need headshots, bio, a list of past and upcoming performances, sound clips. If I were on twitter or facebook, I'd need to link those up, but I'm not, so I won't.

I'm undecided about a few things, like how much personal information I should include. It's sometimes good to know if an artist has outside interests, like, say, rock climbing and breeding chi-tzus. In my case, I guess that would be running and knitting. Is that even interesting? I don't know. It certainly doesn't have anything to do with me being a pianist.

The bigger question is what, if anything, I would include about my family life. I have children. That's a fact that I never try to hide. Caring for them and feeding my family occupies 80-90% of my working time, more in the times when they are not in school. It would be only natural to mention that somewhere in my bio.

Unless, of course, that's a bad idea. Having children is a liability for most jobs, even freelance. Maybe especially freelance, since you're constantly juggling your schedule with their needs and weighing the pros and cons of accepting a gig vs. paying for the hours of childcare so you can go and do said gig. People know that, and they know family needs are first priority, so I worry that mentioning that I have kids looks unprofessional, especially when someone gets sick and I have to cancel or move a rehearsal (which has happened). On the other hand, how else do I explain that I only manage one sort of big performance per year on average?

The other discouraging thing is lack of information to put up in the first place. I have some decent pictures that can work for headshots. I could use better ones, but I don't have $1000 to pay a professional photographer to do that. I have a few sound clips I could put up, but few of them are recent. And all the interesting stuff on my résumé stopped abruptly around...let's see...a little under 6 years ago. What happened then? Oh yeah. I had a second kid and finished school all on the same day. (It's a good story, actually.)

I know, I know. I just need to forge ahead and do it. Put stuff on there and make it go. Change it as needed. Have faith that my professionalism speaks for itself.

Maybe tomorrow night I can work on that.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I have to admit, it's been kind of a stressful summer. While many things have been nice (traveling, swimming, plus the  garden is still alive), there has also been Much Drama with the neighbor and considerable anxiety on my part related to health issues in my extended family. Also, Anya starts kindergarten this year, and I'm rather apprehensive about that. I know she'll be fine, but I'm anticipating quite an adjustment period as she gets accustomed to a crowded lunchroom, a big school full of big kids, and any number of social situations that could wound her tender heart.

The issues with the neighbor have simmered down for the most part, for now, but not without considerable effort on my part to remain composed and civil and keep my anger in check. She is hostile, passive-aggressive, inexcusably rude and downright mean; she once yelled and cursed at me for 10 solid minutes in front of my daughter, who later sobbed from seeing me treated that way. Never before has anyone acted with such hostility to me personally - (well, there was that one time when I was a graduate student, a professor yelled at me with red-faced fury in the library because I had the audacity to schedule a recital on a Monday night, but he was being a total prick and everyone knew it and came to my defense).

I have had to remind myself every day, sometimes even out loud, that anyone who works that hard to be so difficult must be profoundly unhappy. And though I can only assume the source of that unhappiness has nothing to do with me, she has still decided to focus all of her negativism on us and the property line that juts awkwardly through the middle of the shared driveway between our house and hers. Still, I can't feel sorry for her. I just can't. I am incapable of feeling one shred of sympathy for her. It is all I can do to remain neutral.  I just want her to move out or leave us alone, preferably both, though she doesn't appear to be inclined to do either one any time soon. Don't look for our story in the next Chicken Soup book, is all I'm saying.

Then last week, while I was in Kentucky with the kids to visit my parents, my mom told me she was having back pain and didn't know why, but that she was going to have a Ct scan so she and her doctor could figure out what was going on. Her brother was diagnosed with lymphoma in March and has been through chemotherapy, which was successful in treating the cancer, but the recovery is slow and frustrating, and some of the side effects may be permanent. After that, we were naturally skittish about her back pain, and though I didn't say so at first, I was worried, really worried, about what would show up on that Ct scan.

I googled it. Big mistake. Never google medical issues if you're worried something might be serious because all that does is feed your fear. I knew this, but I did it anyway. By the time my mom emailed on Tuesday morning with the results of her scan, I had convinced myself that the only possible explanation for her back pain was something horrible that begins with a C. For two days I couldn't eat or sleep properly and had an ache the size of a grapefruit over my heart, feeling a rush of cold dread every time I thought about her. I braced myself for the worst, and when I opened my email and saw that she simply has a kidney stone, I was flooded with relief, forgetting for a few minutes how much it must suck to have one. Never have I been so grateful for a kidney stone.

By the way, of all the gazillion things that can cause back pain, kidney stone was not among the results of my google searches. Stupid fucking google. Lesson learned, Suze. Lesson learned.