Sunday, December 29, 2013


Oh, and by the way, it's my birthday today. Having a birthday sandwiched halfway between Christmas and New Year's Day has always been a strange mix of good and bad. It gets forgotten a lot, and I spent many a birthday (both as a child and adult) in the car en route from holiday visits, but on the other hand, I never did have to go to school or take a test on my birthday, and there were a couple years I got a nice, big Christmas-birthday combo present if I wanted something too extravagant for either holiday.

Today I'm 35, which feels completely unremarkable in every way. My mom and dad, who are here for the holidays, pointed out that I'm getting close to middle age. Thanks for the reminder. I don't really feel like it. I feel healthy and spry for the most part, unless I've spent two hours shoveling snow the previous day. I'm not so good at staying up past 11pm but thanks to my caffeine addiction, I can muddle through. Also, I never thought I'd be a housewife/SAHM at this age, but surprise! Here I am.

Anyway, to celebrate 35 years of the world with me in it (which I hope is a good thing), here are 35 things about me. Some of these things you may already know, some may be a surprise. Some may be interesting. Many are not. Welcome to my world.

1. I am a Capricorn. We're supposed to be mysterious.

2. I don't know that I'm really so mysterious, though I am rather shy. Does that count?

3. I do have a hard time masking my feelings, try though I might. I remember once in high school I made it to the all-state chorus. During a rehearsal break, the other students from my school and I were chatting in a group, and a girl from another school showed up and announced that she had a dime of marijuana stashed in her shoe in case any of us would like to join her later to enjoy it. She was clearly under the influence of something already. I prided myself in maintaining what I thought was a neutral expression, but the other girls in my group were doubled over in laughter at the look on my face, which was apparently one of horror and repulsion. There's a reason I've never been good at poker.

4. I like to run. I don't do marathons or anything. Heck, I've never even run a race. But I have a 4.5-mile route I like to do 3-5 times per week when possible.

5. I discovered a few years ago that it is actually possible to run through the winter in Wisconsin as long as you're dressed for it. I'll even run when it's in the single digits.

6. Not that I particularly enjoy it. I really enjoy running in temps between 25 and 70 degrees. Anything warmer or colder is uncomfortable. Below zero is unbearable and I won't do it.

7. On that note, I was pretty stoked to get a super deal on a new pair of running shoes this afternoon. Because it's my birthday and I haven't bought new running shoes (or any new shoes, for that matter) for myself in over two years.

8. I'm not really a shoe person. You know how the stereotypical woman has like 100 pairs of shoes? Not me. I have about a half dozen total: couple pairs of running shoes, snow boots, rain boots, cool boots, dress heels which I wear so rarely I literally have to dust them off for performances, and my everyday sneakers, which I got for 15 bucks off the clearance rack 6 years ago and are literally falling apart. I'm still searching for that perfect pair of cool boots. I haven't found them yet, but I'll know when I do.

9. I am not a pet person. At all. I don't even want a goldfish in my house. Ew. Ewwwww.

10. I did have to take care of my cousin's goldfish when I was a junior in college. He was a misshapen fellow named Gilbert who made lots of blub-blub noises and frequently floated at the top of his bowl pretending to be dead. We'd be on the verge of sending him down the drain when suddenly he would start swimming around blub-blubbing like nothing was wrong. Gilbert, you fickle fish, you! One day he kicked the bucket for real, and since one of my roommates was laid up with a broken wrist, I was tasked with carrying the bowl of water with his bloated carcass at arm's length down to the creek for a quick, though elegant, eulogy and burial.

11. I have many years of training as a classical musician under my belt. Many.

12. But I'm not very good at playing by ear. My little brother is better at it, and he earns his keep as an electrical engineer.

13. My only real regrets in life are that I never seriously considered pursuing a career in science instead of the humanities, and that I never got really good at speaking any foreign languages, though I've studied several.

14. I used to speak German fairly well, but alas, ich habe ganz vergessen. It's just been too long.

15. I knit. A lot. I have a whole blog about it.

16. I learned to knit in 4-H, with my mom teaching, when I was in fourth grade. I stuck with it pretty well for two or three years, then lost interest and gained it back a couple of times over the next many years. Finally my best friend in grad school (with whom I haven't been in touch for a while, sadly) taught me to knit socks in 2002 and I was hooked for good.

17. I didn't know about collecting yarn or building a stash until Daniel was born. Then, I was almost done with my doctorate and stuck at home with a baby and no chance to practice so I nursed and knit and collected yarn and suddenly, my stash exploded. It's obvious to me now (though it wasn't then) that I was making up for my lack of productivity in one area (music/grad school) with the expectation of productivity in another (knitting), without factoring in the enormous time-suck that is caring for an infant. Now I have more yarn than I know what to do with and I am making a true and conscientious effort to use it up instead of buying more.

18. I know I'm doing really well when I go to a yarn store with my mom on my birthday and don't buy any yarn. That happened today.

19. I hardly ever do my own designing. I mean, I can make a hat or a pair of socks without a pattern and throw in some color work or a cable or two, but that's about it. I've been doing some test knitting for a professional designer the last couple years, though, and that's been fun. I'm working on a pullover sweater in bulky yarn for her right now and I'm afraid it's turning out a tad small (my fault, not hers.) Bummer.

20.  I mentioned I'm a musician, right? I play the piano. I have professional degrees in teaching and collaborative performance.

21. I can play anything that isn't improvised (I don't do jazz, in other words, and that's not a shortcoming, just a whole field of study I never explored). Lately I've been playing a lot of concerto reductions, music for French horn and art song and musical theatre.

22. I really love playing art song. If I could be gainfully employed playing and coaching art song I'd be in paradise.

23. But that's never gonna happen, so I'm okay with taking the opportunities that come my way. I do really like playing orchestral reductions, and I get a fair amount of work doing that come concerto audition season for the local orchestras. (For those who don't know, orchestral reductions are when you take the music written for an entire orchestra, such as for a concerto for solo instrument with orchestra, and squeeze it all into a piano score for two hands. They are often difficult to play and not always suited to pianistic technique.) It's strangely satisfying and freeing to puzzle out what should be played and what should be left out.

24. I like to cook. I even love it sometimes.

25. I was vegetarian for a while. I started eating meat again when I got pregnant with Daniel and craved turkey sandwiches and grapes and ice cubes.

26. Now I eat meat regularly, but not often. This Christmas has been quite the exception, what with all the festivity and extra people around. I could happily go a month without meat now, I think. Ugh.

27. I bake nearly all of the bread we eat.

28. I also grill flatbreads like tortillas and pita.

29. Sometimes I even make bagels. They are fun and so good when made fresh.

30. Come to think of it, I should do some tutorials on those things sometime. I think I promised to do that a few years ago and never got around to it.

31. I'm not ordinarily a procrastinator.

32. Dear lord, I'm only at #32?  I'm not sure I can think of another 3 interesting things to write about myself. Or even semi-interesting. Seriously. I'm wracking my brain here.  Hmmmmmmmmm. I really like the color red.

33. I'm type A in a lot of ways, but I'm a so-so housekeeper. That said, one of my pet peeves is dirty socks on the floor.

34. I can't stand wearing bracelets, so I never do.

35. I've never once dyed my hair (that attempt with red kool-aid in high school didn't work, so it doesn't count). All those gray hairs are 100% NATURAL, dammit!

fun in the snow

We had a lot of fun in the snow this past week. Christmas morning Stuart and my brother spent several hours covering the climbing dome in our back yard with cardboard and sheets, then piling snow on top of it to make an igloo. My dad "supervised."


We did a lot of sledding.

And yesterday, when it actually warmed up to 40 degrees, the snow got wet and sticky enough to make a couple of snow people!

We really had fun with the upside down guy.

Sadly, our snow dudes didn't make it through the night. Melty temps and questionable construction made them unstable and both fell over by this morning. We have a major cold snap coming (expected lows tomorrow morning are well below zero!), so it's a good thing we've been enjoying the outdoors while we can.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


In the last 20 hours we've gotten about 8" of snow here in Madison. It's our piece of the crap weather that is all over the country. The city declared a snow emergency this morning. Our street has yet to be cleared, but I really hope they get to it soon because I have to drive to Milwaukee late tonight to pick up my brother and SIL from the airport! We spent the day cleaning up in preparation for holiday company (Joe and MJ arrive tonight, my parents drive up tomorrow) and shoveling the driveway. Late this afternoon we went to the park for a snowball fight and general frolicking.

It seems like a good way to welcome winter!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


The one thing that isn't coming together so smoothly for Anya's kindergarten year is making friends. Her class is full of lovely, interesting children, most of whom are quite friendly, and as far as I can tell, they like her and she likes them. She's even been to a few birthday parties already. But she has yet to form a connection with any one particular person. You know, the one kid you always play with at recess and want to sit next to at carpet time and invite over after school? She doesn't have that yet, and she is starting to feel a little lonely. She can be quite shy, and it's difficult for her to go up to a group of kids and join in their play.

I know just how she feels. I was a shy kid, especially in late elementary school (I skipped third grade so I was kind of starting over socially my fourth grade year, and it wasn't all moonbeams and penny whistles, let me tell you). Going up to a kid or two or four and asking to join them is terrifying. What if they say no or ignore you? The prospect of that potential rejection and humiliation can make the whole effort not even worth it. Then seeing everyone else pair up at recess or free choice time is a lonely feeling.

I've told her to be patient. I know she is a wonderful person, intelligent and caring and sensitive and intensely loyal, a person worth knowing and being friends with. I told her that the people around her know that, too. I've told her she can try to be brave and go up to ask someone to play with her, but that it's okay to feel nervous about it because there is nothing wrong with you for being shy. It just means you have to work a little harder (or a lot harder) to make friends.

We do have a play date scheduled with one of the kids in her class after school tomorrow. Doing things like that more often should help, I hope.

What I have not told her is to "be more outgoing" or "don't be so shy" or any of the things people told me when I was a kid. That sort of advice is worthless and succeeds only in making a person feel like being introverted and shy (two separate qualities, though they often go together) are character flaws that must be corrected. It took me years, years, to accept that 1) I am an introvert and 2) that is not a bad thing. Once I truly accepted that about myself (and I was well into my 20s before I did), I shed some of that shyness and stopped worrying about trying to be bubbly and extroverted. I was never good at faking that in the first place. For the record, my parents are both introverts and knew better than to give me advice like "be more outgoing"; it was everyone else who seemed to think that was something about me that needed fixing.

To tell the truth, I'm not entirely comfortable writing about this here. It's something very personal about my daughter and it feels like a breach of privacy revealing this about her on a public blog. This is something she will have to figure out how to work through herself (with our support, obviously). But as someone who went through some serious bouts of shyness, I do feel it's important to point out how difficult that can be, like a public service announcement. Being shy can make various social situations feel anywhere from slightly awkward to completely paralyzing. We could all benefit from being a little more understanding about that.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Six years ago today, we welcomed this little lady to the world.

She's been lighting up the room with her smile ever since.

Happy birthday, Anya!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

N'Kosi Sikeleli

When Stuart and I were on our way to South Africa to visit his parents way back in 2000, there was a large group of South African exchange students on their way home from time studying abroad. When we crossed into South African territory, they broke out into their national anthem. They were all white and Stuart leaned over and told me they weren't pronouncing the words correctly. Still, it was quite a moment. It's a beautiful anthem. Take a few minutes to have a listen, won't you?

The first video is a rather old recording with Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon. The second is by the Soweto Gospel Choir. They are both moving.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

long walk to freedom

I wasn't shocked to hear that Nelson Mandela died today. After all, he was 95 and had been fighting pneumonia for months now. But I am still sad that the world lost such a great man.

My husband spent much of his childhood and adolescent years in South Africa in the late 1980s and early-mid 1990s, just when apartheid was ending. He attended the first racially integrated high school in South Africa (Umtata High School). At least once, if not twice, his family's home was fire-bombed when times were particularly tense, politically. No one in his family was hurt, fortunately, but it was still frightening. They celebrated when Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa in 1994.

In early 2000, just before Stuart's parents retired from their work in Umtata, he and I took a two-week trip to visit them. I saw wild animals in a game park, swam in the Indian Ocean at the Wild Coast, drove past miles upon miles of shanty towns with shacks pieced together from tin and cardboard outside Cape Town, went to a church service conducted in Xhosa (with my FIL translating) in a mud hut, drove through some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen (South Africa's landscape inspired J.R.R. Tolkien, in fact) dotted with villages and far too many brightly colored funeral tents. We also toured Robben Island, where Mandela spent 27 years in prison. It was all an eye-opening, beautiful, humbling experience.

After that trip I read his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom. I don't claim to have any special knowledge about the history of South Africa or insight into the lives of people there. But I happen to live with someone who spent his formative years there, and his parents carry a lot of knowledge about that place.

I know this: the world lost a great man today. Rest in peace, Madiba.

File:Nelson Mandela-2008 (edit).jpg

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

santa issues

Here we are hurtling towards Christmas and Thanksgiving, though it was just last week, already feels a bit like a distant memory. The company has left, the leftovers have been eaten except for that one last bowl of turkey noodle soup, and Daniel keeps adding to his Christmas wish list like he thinks we're millionaires or something.

Apparently there has been some lively discussion amongst the second graders regarding whether or not Santa is real. Daniel told me that some of the kids in his math group think Santa exists, and some don't.

The kids who believe in Santa were quite insistent about it. One girl devised a test. She knows where the presents are in her house, and she intends to sneak into their hiding place and draw a little dot on every single one. If the dots are gone on Christmas morning when her presents appear, she says, it means Santa is real. If the dots are still there, he is not real. (Please do not ask me to explain the logic of this plan. There are some definite gaps.)

Daniel and Anya know that Santa isn't real. We've never told them otherwise. (Ditto the tooth fairy, for that matter.) I personally think it's mean to string a kid along on a fantasy and then later reveal that you knew the truth all along and kept him deliberately ignorant, but that's just me. I'm not judging. I don't think I ever believed Santa was real, or if I did, I must have found out the truth at such a young age I've forgotten. I am pretty sure I didn't enjoy the presents I opened at Christmas any less.

I also never once had my picture taken with Santa at the mall or what-have-you and I don't regret that for one tiny instant. I've never taken my kids to have their pictures taken with Santa either. I find that whole tradition rather creepy, actually. But again, that's just me. No judging here.

According to Daniel, the student teacher who spends a lot of time in the classroom was participating in this discussion and fell into the "Santa is real" camp. She's a grown woman, so obviously she knows better, but I suspect she didn't want to be the one responsible for shattering what is apparently a strongly held belief for some of these kids. I don't blame her. This whole Santa thing is between these kids and their parents…

...which is exactly why I told Daniel not to argue too much about Santa with his classmates. He has a tendency to be a little bit of a know-it-all to begin with (sad, but true), and I told him that even though Santa isn't a real person who flies around the world leaving presents for everyone, it's still fun to pretend. That's why, when I was a kid, we left a plate of cookies out on Christmas Eve for Santa's snack, even though we knew it was just my mom and dad who were going to eat those cookies and then put treats in our stockings. It was still really special.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

a little pensive

After a week of company for Thanksgiving (which was just lovely, by the way), my in-laws have left, Stuart hopped on a plane at some ungodly hour this morning for a work trip, and it's just me and the kids for a few days. For the moment, I'm enjoying the quiet (kids are asleep), sipping a glass of wine and thinking to myself for only the hundredth time that time marches on, or rather, races on. When did they get so tall anyway? When did my hair start showing those specks of gray (which I hate but I also refuse to dye)? When did I become the person who finds conversations about things like household appliances interesting?

It's not that I am old, or that I feel old. I just realize I've reached a certain phase of life where I have to accept, to some extent, the way things are and the fact that there are things I will likely never do. I will never backpack across Europe (too cliché anyway, right?) or learn Korean or live in New York City. I will probably never have a meaningful career, at least, not by any standards outside of my own.

Right now, I am okay with all of this. I have a good life. I have a good family. I live in a beautiful city. It's enough, and I'm thankful.