Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas in pictures

Christmas Eve morning

Legos by the Tannenbaum

Foucault Pendulum at Sci Works in Winston-Salem

The Disc golf course on Christmas Day

Halfway through 18 holes of disc golf...
The flight home.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

well it's one way to spend your time

Several months ago my friend Dr. Julia announced she was getting married to the man of her dreams. When she informed me the wedding would be in December – when the days in Wisconsin and short and dark and streaked with long, cold shadows – and that the nuptials would take place in sunny Florida, I didn’t think twice about replying “yes” on the RSVP. We figured we would extend the trip by a day to make a mini-vacation out of it…and then came the issue of deciding where to go.

When one goes to Orlando, Florida for any reason with one’s offspring, one is obligated to spend at least some time in a certain theme park. According to everyone I talk to, this is some kind of unwritten law. It’s so magical, they say. Your kids will never forgive you if you go to Orlando and don’t go to that place. Even Stuart said we should do it. I was resistant for a while, trying to convince him that a day at the gulf coast would be way better (and cost a whole lot less) but he was adamant.

So we did it. We spent six whole hours at Islands of Adventure, and believe me, that was plenty. Neither Daniel nor Anya had been on a roller coaster before, so we picked the tamest ride we could find, waited 45 minutes in line to ride it, and then they both hated it. Daniel had a headache afterwards (he is prone to motion sickness so I wasn’t too surprised) and Anya just found the whole thing way too scary (she sat next to me and screamed “I DON’T LIKE THIS RIDE!!” the. entire. time.) Once you take roller coasters out of the equation, there’s not all that much left to do, other than eat and shop. We watched a live Sinbad-themed stunt show, which I’ll admit was an entertaining way to spend a half hour, and ate an overpriced but tasty lunch, and did a lot of walking.

In short, I didn’t feel the magic and I don’t expect I ever will. It’s blasphemy, I know. How can anyone not love it? I bet some of you reading this think I should give it another shot, maybe try a different theme park, like Epcott or the one with Mickey Mouse but unless those places are somehow less expensive, less contrived or less crowded – not bloody likely -  I seriously doubt I’ll change my mind.  

There’s more to say about this trip – travel drama! Wedding fun! – but it’s getting late and the wi-fi in our hotel is intolerably slow, so I think I’ll save those posts for another time.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Today is Anya's seventh birthday. Sometimes I think it's hard to believe it's really been seven whole years since she was born - time flies and all that - but at the same time, we've all grown and matured so much it makes perfect sense after all.

At seven, Anya is so much more confident and self-assured than when she turned six. She takes things in stride that would have crushed her before. She is not outgoing and never will be, but she knows herself and I think other people (like kids in her class) can see and respect her for who she is. She loves learning and soaks up new information like a sponge, especially math. (She is all about math these days.) She loves music. She is exceptionally kind. And she can run with persistence and endurance. I look into her big bright eyes and though I don't know what the future holds for her, I know there are great things in store.

Monday, December 08, 2014

a holiday lullaby

I got a last minute request to play a couple of Brahms songs on a recital this week. Despite my crazy schedule, I had to say yes because the singer is wonderful and besides, how can I resist the opportunity to play something so sublimely beautiful?

Saturday, December 06, 2014

has it really been a month since my last post?

I feel like any number of posts lately could have that title. I'm suffering from a little bit of bloggy writers' block here on MadtownMama - partly because I'm busier these days, partly because I'm not so sure I have that much that's interesting to say, and also in part because as my kids get older I have to be more careful about their privacy. Long gone are the days when I could bitch about them never napping and would they ever use the toilet. Now the focus of parenting has shifted to school work and helping them navigate their social lives and most of that just seems too private to write about here. I'm also working more, and as much as I'd love to share some stories and anecdotes about that, it would be unprofessional.

I'll figure it out, though, because I know a few people are still reading and want to keep up with my life! I'll do my best to post a little more often with interesting tidbits from my daily life.

Here's one thing coming up: we're going to a wedding in a few weeks. One of my very close friends from school is getting married in a warm, sunny location in the southern U.S., and we're all flying down for it. I'm playing in the wedding and we're making the rest of the weekend a mini-vacation for our family of four before heading to see Stuart's family for Christmas. I'm really looking forward to this trip, in part because the temperature should be above freezing most of the time! I also realized a few days ago that I'm quite sure the kids don't have anything to wear to this wedding, nothing remotely resembling appropriate dress for a fancy event in a tropical climate. (I know my friend would say, "Susan, don't worry about it! Your kids will be just fine in whatever they wear!!" but honey, sweatpants and a t-shirt with the school mascot just ain't gonna cut it.) So on top of all the holiday shopping and travel prep and end-of-the-semester craziness I have to find acceptable warm-weather dress clothes for my two very opinionated children. Anya will absolutely refuse to wear a dress, which is fine by me (I don't much like wearing dresses, either) but that doesn't leave many options.

Sunday, November 09, 2014


Have you ever had one of those weekends where you can't seem to get anything done? Yeah, me too.

Yesterday my good friend R called me and asked if I wanted to see the symphony with her. Violinist Sarah Chang was in town to play the Sibelius concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. I thought about all the work I have to do, so I hemmed and hawed and said maybe and even up to lunchtime today I wasn't sure if I wanted to go. But after an entire morning trying to work and instead getting interrupted every five minutes with phone calls and needy kids, I decided I just needed to go out.

So I called R back and said I'd pick her up at 1:45. When I got to her house, her son bounced up to me at the end of the driveway, and said, grinning, "My mom said I have to play outside for a while," and indeed when she got in the car, I could tell her morning had been a lot like mine. "It's not that I don't love being around my children..." she began, and I knew exactly what she meant. Somebody always needs something, whether it's a snack or a hug or praise for a scribbled drawing or help finding the scotch tape or an answer to a math question, and it's not as though we aren't willing to give these things but sometimes you so badly want an uninterrupted hour so badly you could just curl up in a ball and cry.

We went to the concert and had a fabulous time. The opening orchestral number was nice, Sarah Chang was stunning, and the final piece, a symphony by Carl Nielsson, was incredible. I was actually on the edge of my seat, it was that good. R felt the same way.

Then I came home and spent two hours cooking dinner, feeling guilty for having left my family for most of the day (Stuart ran the kids for a good part of the morning so I could work, then the whole afternoon while I was at the concert, so he deserves a lot of credit here.) There was a huge mess to clean up afterwards and when I saw their dirty clothes on the floor, a pile of books in the middle of the living room and their rooms in no better state than the beginning of the weekend, I just about lost it again. This is why moms have the reputation of being nags, I said, because nobody else seems to care if we live in squalor.

I shouldn't have said it. I know I hurt feelings, and I feel bad about it. I guess if I'm going to do something with my time other than the housewife stuff, I should just learn to lower my standards, what?

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

election day

It's a sad day.  I voted, and I'm disappointed by results all around. Four more years of Scott Walker running this state is bound to be disaster.

Think globally, act locally. I think that's the way to hold onto hope.



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ode to a Beautiful Forest

By: Daniel

you walk a little, then you notice a beautiful point where you look through the trees and multi-colored leaves and see a beautiful portrait of clear blue sky, leaves and trees and the sound of a woodpecker just might blend into the whistle of a soft breeze and a bird tweeting a little song. the golden leaves are special. they come only once a year. only when the magical time comes that this special wipe of the forest can you see this real beauty of nature.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The other day I went to the mall. I hate the mall. Hate. It. Even on a Monday at high noon the parking lot was packed and there were people everywhere - shoppers, high school kids having lunch at the food court. It stresses me out.

The worst part of the mall, actually, is the endless hawking of useless expensive junk. As I passed one salon-type place, a particularly aggressive salesman practically accosted me and convinced me to come in his store "just for one minute" to show me a "great product." I walked in and he started curling my hair with a flat iron and fired off compliments of my looks so fast I figured he must have memorized a handbook, and in an accent so thick I had to ask him to repeat himself several times. Then he tried to sell me the iron for $150. When I said no thank you his voice dropped to a whisper and he offered it to me for $120, like it was our special secret. When I said NO THANK YOU he got in my face and asked "What's the problem?!" and I said I just didn't want it and got the hell out of there. 

I spent the rest of the day with and icky feeling and three perfectly curled ringlets on the right side of my face. God, I hate the mall.

It was such a contrast to earlier that morning. I went running and looped through the neighborhood, ending up in a park with a prairie restoration area that had recently been burned. As I ran by the blackened vegetation I saw movement. Four wild turkeys were pecking in the burnt grass, foraging for whatever it is turkeys eat on a burned prairie. Their feathers were so black they blended right in. They were utterly nonplussed by my presence, those turkeys. They just calmly picked through the grass as I ran by. 

Sometimes I like nature better than humans.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

lasagna garden

It's been a while since I've done a garden update. Summer is really hanging on this year, so even though the plants are looking a little worse for wear, at least they're still producing. My back yard bale garden is fairly ragged by this point. The bales are sinking, and most of my tomato plants were struck with blight, but they yielded fruit anyway, enough for several batches of Daniel's favorite late summer dish: gazpacho!

Sad, bedraggled tomatoes.
I often say that our back yard is a work in progress. We've had seven trees removed in the last two years, so a lot of space opened up, which is both good and bad. Parking the cars isn't such a squeeze (good) but we feel a lot more exposed to the neighbors (not so good, but not always terrible, depending on the neighbor). There is definitely more space and light for gardening (good), but the weeds are taking over all the empty space (bad).  The kids have more room to play (good), but all the extra sun makes it hotter back there on warm days (eh, they can deal).

Since my straw bale garden was at least partially successful, I've been thinking about how to expand that garden space out back. The soil has got to be terrible, full of weeds and tree roots and spruce cones. There is no point in digging down and trying to amend, so I want to build up. But how? I'm hesitant to install something permanent like raised beds because we're still holding out hope that the big renovation can happen next year, and I'm guessing our back yard will be used to park big trucks and store materials until they're used.

Then yesterday my next door neighbor (the nice one) suggested we try lasagna gardening, a method of building a garden where you put down thick cardboard and newspaper to smother weeds, then pile organic matter on top to break down and turn into soil. Easy enough, I thought. So this afternoon, instead of cleaning the house and working on some other projects in the basement like I'd been intending, I spent a few hours outside spreading cardboard and newspaper and covering it with compost and the straw bales with nothing left growing in them. Now this is what I've got:

It's not pretty, I know. And eventually I need 24" of stuff piled up on there to break down over the winter; right now it's only about 4".

Not only is the back yard a work in progress, it's going to look worse before it looks better. That's true of everything in my house, though, alas!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

love people. cook them good food.

There's been quite the hullabaloo over a study recently published by a group of sociologists called Joy of Cooking?. Here's the abstract (quoted from the website where the study was published): "Sociologists Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott, and Joslyn Brenton offer a critique of the increasingly prevalent message that reforming the food system necessarily entails a return to the kitchen. They argue that time pressures, tradeoffs to save money, and the burden of pleasing others make it difficult for mothers to enact the idealized vision of home-cooked meals advocated by foodies and public health officials." 

I read reaction to the study (here's the link to Room for Debate in the New York Times, which is worth a read, but the other thing I read was so stupid and infuriating I won't even bother to link it here) before I read the study itself. In fact, I was all prepared to write an indignant post of my own defending the home-cooked family meal, and then I thought, well maybe I should read the piece that stirred up the controversy in the first place, and so I did just that this evening. 

The study is full of examples of women whose lives are stressful enough already that the added pressure of cooking every night for their families or their children isn't worth the effort, especially when the kids won't eat what's in front of them. (I can certainly identify with that last part). They rightly point out that many proponents of cooking at home often overlook the extra time and stress it takes to plan meals and clean up afterwards, as well as the potential cost of ingredients. 

It's true that planning and cooking takes time, and that ingredients can be expensive. It's true that it sucks when the meal you set forth before your family as a labor of love is rejected and picked at. And even though I don't know from experience, I am sure that the stress of these realities is magnified manyfold if you're a single parent with significant financial constraints. I won't argue against any of those points.

But I will still defend the family meal, and I will do so adamantly. Good food doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate or difficult to prepare. Yes, it takes planning to have homemade meals in the midst of our hectic lives, but everything in our hectic lives takes planning. We all have to eat every day, after all, and I think it's worth the effort to eat as well as we can. 

My own reaction to the Joy of Cooking? article was mostly indignation. After I read it, I felt like the sort of person the authors would label as an "elitist foodie", someone out of touch with modern life because I do actually take the time to cook meals for my family every night. 

Now, I'm an advocate of home cooking for many reasons, not the least of which is that our country is facing an enormous public health crisis that is directly related to how we eat. In general, our population eats too much junk and drinks too much sugar. Not only that, most people have no clue where their food comes from or how it's produced, nor do they care. These things are not unrelated. Perhaps if more of the food we eat was balanced nutritionally and made from whole ingredients we would not be in this crisis. I also think the crappy eating habits we've developed collectively are in part a result of a work culture that does not support family life or value time spent making and eating meals together. (Go get yourself a copy of French Kids Eat Everything and you'll see what I mean.) 

But before you roll your eyes and close this window, let me assure you, I'm no Donna Reed. To hell with all this pressure on women to make the family meal every night. Didn't I say we all have to eat every day? Well then, maybe we should all pitch in on the effort, too. Take turns being in charge of meals, put the kids to work cleaning up, plan the weekly menus together, spread all that extra stress around!

So I think the most glaring omission from the study was that it offered no real solutions or even reasonable suggestions to the "cooking is too stressful" problem. The authors had an opportunity to discuss the structural flaws in our work culture that create impositions on people's time with their families, but they didn't. I mean, healthy food trucks? Monthly town suppers? Seriously?? I agree that sticking women back in the kitchen isn't really going to fly, but that's no reason to give up on the family meal entirely. We still have to eat.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

this is why fast food was invented

Let me tell you about my afternoon. I had to work all day while the kids were at school, and once we got home, I had to quick shove snacks into them before hauling them with me to the UW campus so I could play for someone in her voice studio class before dropping them off at soccer practices in two completely different parts of the city. My afternoon was going to be a crazy series of driving back and forth between about 3 different places and hoping I wasn't late for anyone. My dinner plan was contingent upon me having a few minutes to stop at the store for bread and a few minutes at home to mix up egg salad and find an acceptable side vegetable. 

Alas, we all know what happens to best-laid plans.

Voice class went fine, but as soon as we arrived at Anya's soccer practice, I picked up my purse from the car and realized it felt lighter than it should have. Sure enough, my wallet was gone. It must have fallen out in the room where voice class was held, so I frantically texted and called the singer (who was still in class) to see if she could find it and hang onto it for me. Just as I was leaving with Daniel, I got a call from Stuart, who was stuck with a flat tire on his bike 15 miles away and needed a ride home. 

So much for dinner plans. I had a wallet to find, a husband to rescue, two kids to get to and from their practices, and absolutely no way to set one priority above the other. Well, ok. People are more important than wallets, I'll give you that, but no one was hurt or sick or alone and it would suck so hard to have to cancel my credit and bank cards, you know?

So I left Anya at soccer practice while Daniel and I drove back to the music building where I parked illegally before we both sprinted inside and happily located my missing wallet just as the voice class was letting out. (Whew.)Then I stopped at home long enough to grab the bike rack before dropping Daniel off at soccer practice and drove out to the country road where Stuart was waiting patiently for me to pick him up. As he put the rack and the bike on the car, I texted the dad of one of Anya's friends and asked if she could ride home with them because their house is near where Daniel was at soccer practice and also on our way home from The Rescue. The other dad very kindly agreed (Whew again).

As if I need to tell you, the egg salad never got made. Anya was disappointed because she loves egg salad so much, but the rest of us are relieved to have gotten home and eaten dinner before it was anyone's bedtime. Thank goodness for Chipotle. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

hawk vs. mouse

This morning I saw a predator in action. I was out running on a bike path and a bird of prey - a raptor - gracefully swooped down, talons first, and landed in a patch of grass on the side of the path. I stopped running, afraid I would scare it away if I got too close. The bird stayed where it had landed, mostly not moving, looking up at me every once in a while, and clawing at the ground. I heard a few desperate squeaks and realized that it had caught something, probably a mouse. I stood there for what must have been five minutes, watching. In the time that I stood there, a runner went by, and a few bikers, but the bird didn't move from its spot, just looking around and occasionally pecking at its now silent (and presumably dead) prey.

Of course since I was out on a run I didn't have a camera or my phone to get a picture. I just watched the bird, and it watched me back. I wish I knew what type of bird I was looking it. Most likely it's a hawk, but a quick online search didn't help me identify which kind. I can tell you that it was brown on top with a white belly and brown specks and that its legs had feathers all the way down to its feet, giving it the appearance of wearing wide pants, sort of the opposite of the "bird leg" stereotype.

How often do you really get a chance to see nature up close like that? I've certainly seen hawks flying overhead, and we've found the occasional dead bunny in the yard (that's always fun) or seen owl pellets in the park. You can find evidence of wild animals all around you if you know where to look. But to witness up close and in person that most basic act of one animal ending the life of another for its own survival is actually a pretty amazing thing.

I felt conscious of my own privilege. Somehow, I was in the right place at the right time to see this basic, carnal act of nature. Somehow, I didn't scare the bird away. Clearly, it was used to seeing humans (the path goes right by a golf course and is heavily used). After a few minutes, I left, figuring I'd seen the most exciting part - the capture and kill - and that what was left to come was just more pecking and clawing and feeding on the part of the bird. I could have stayed longer, waited until it left first, waited to see how long, exactly, it takes for a raptor to eat a mouse in front of a rapt audience. But it would have felt a little intrusive to do so. It was like the hawk or falcon or whatever it was was waiting for me to leave so he/she could finish its meal in peace, thank you.

How about you? Have you seen unexpected moments in nature around you?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

good things

Today is a day I should practice gratefulness. I should do that any day, but especially days I'm feeling overwhelmed for no particular reason and convinced of my own mediocrity.

I'll try not to make this list too trite, yes? So here we go, some good stuff about today:

1. Biking to work. The weather for this isn't going to last long, so I need to be grateful for the warm sunshine while I've got it.

2. Kids who can read on their own and like it, even if that means all they read is Captain Underpants and Garfield comics.

3. Dinner that turned out okay, though I wasn't sure what it was going to be when I started making it. (You kind of can't go wrong with onions and olive oil and tomatoes).

4. A good book to read. I actually need some recommendations, please! I'm in the mood for some good fiction. I love a good novel, but I'm open to all suggestions at the moment.

5. Eye candy for knitters. This was just released today. I don't know if I'll make anything from it because all the big, boxy sweater shapes are not for me, but the stunning photography and pattern work on those sweaters and scarves are enough to make me swoon.

6. Fresh herbs. Soon it will freeze and I won't have basil right outside my back door any longer! I better harvest what I've got and make a nice big batch of pesto.

That's it for me today. What are you grateful for?

Saturday, September 06, 2014

second day

I took this picture on the second day of school because Stuart forgot to take one on the first! It's okay. I had to work early that morning so he was charge of getting them all ready and walking them there, and with all the rush and first-day jitters the picture didn't happen.

I'm happy to say the first week went pretty well. It will take me another week or two to adjust to the new routine, I think. I'm so glad to be working, but it means my daily schedule is more splintered than ever.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

first day

I had my first day of work on Thursday. I think it went fine but sometimes it's hard to tell. Four straight hours of teaching is hard on the vocal chords, that's for sure. I'll have to build up my stamina for that.

Madison schools start on Tuesday. We've got the holiday tomorrow and then we're off! A lot of us parents would have been happy if school had started a week or two ago. The days are getting noticeably shorter, and it just feels like it's time. Plus, kids have a way of driving you crazy at the end of summer break.

Last summer was stressful with family health issues and neighbor issues, plus I was kind of tied up in knots about Anya starting kindergarten. This summer was less stressful overall, thank goodness, but now that school is about to start, anxiety is kicking in for both Anya and me. This evening she completely fell apart over something that didn't seem like a big deal at all, and it took her a while to calm down. (That's a clue that she's feeling apprehensive. And that maybe she needs an earlier bedtime.)

I have to work on Tuesday morning, and I have to be there early enough that I won't be able to walk Daniel and Anya to school on their first day. I'll be there to pick them up at the end of the school day, and I'll be there on Wednesday afternoon already to help with a 3rd grade garden activity, but there is still this knot of guilt in my chest and a lump in my throat that I won't get to say goodbye in the schoolyard.

It's silly, I know. Most kids ride the bus and plenty of kids stay for the after-school program and all of them and their parents are obviously just fine not walking to school together from day one so I should just take a deep breath and get over it and dial back the on the helicopter thing.

Stuart, as far as I can tell, is as nonplussed as ever (his daily work routine isn't changing, after all), and when I asked Daniel if he feels a little nervous about school, he looked at me quizzically and said, "No. Why?" Ah, to be that easygoing!

In fact, Anya is pretty excited about my new job. She has been asking me a lot of questions about it, like where I'm working and exactly what days and how that fits into the school routine for her and Daniel. She wants to know who I'm teaching and what book I'm using. She is a curious child, and perhaps more interested in these sorts of things than other children her age, but I find it touching that she wants to know about my life outside of my role as Her Mom. It struck me last week that if I am a role model for both my kids, it's important for them to see that I have a fulfilling professional life, even if it's part time for now, outside of taking care of them and the house and helping at their school.

It just might be a bigger adjustment for me than I thought.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

back to school

Summer went by in a blink. School starts next week. For Anya, who insisted we buy all the school supplies weeks ago, it's not soon enough. Daniel says he can wait, but I think even he is getting bored hanging around with us all the time.

It's dark by 8:00 now. It feels so premature.

We're all antsy about the new school year and tired out at the same time. After a week of vacation, and readjusting to life at home with school on the horizon. I'm exhausted; tonight is the first night I've made it past 10 o'clock without crashing. Even my sunflowers are drooping under their own weight, threatening to take out the neighbor's fence. Considering our contentious history, it would probably be best if I pull those flowers out before they cause any trouble, but they're just so impressively tall (12' at least) I can't bring myself to do it just yet.

I start a new job this week. It's a part time teaching position and pays accordingly, but it's exciting all the same. This all came up rather quickly (in fact, I got the offer over the phone last Tuesday as I sat in the car - the only quiet place I could find - on the Lake Superior shore), so I've been on overdrive this week getting my shit in order. Normally, the last few days of summer I like to spend doing whatever my kids want to do - pick raspberries, hang out at the park, stuff ourselves with ice cream, you name it - but instead I've been scrambling to find childcare (the job starts this week, public schools not until next Tuesday), dragging my kids along to places like the dentist and the HR department of my new employer, and wondering what on earth I will make for dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays (workdays for me now) this semester.

Part of me can't wait for school to start. My patience is wearing thin, I'm anxious to get moving on some projects this fall. The other part of me wants to stop the clock, just for a minute, so I can enjoy the good moments a little longer. Time flies.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

more vacay

We spent last week in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on vacation with my parents. I'm pretty sure everyone had a good time, and even though the weather wasn't 100%  cooperative, we managed to do a lot of fun things outside. (All those pictures from my previous post were taken on the first two days, when we went to Tahquamenon Falls State Park and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point.)

One foggy day, we drove along the scenic shore of Lake Superior towards  Sault Ste. Marie. We stopped at one overlook spot for pictures and a bathroom break, but couldn't really very far. Even in the fog, it was pretty, though.

That's Lake Superior behind the kids. You just can't see it.
We stopped at the Point Iroquois Lighthouse and climbed the tower,

Looked at some cool bugs and spiderwebs,

walked along the cobblestone beach, where Daniel practiced his stone-skipping skills,

Then we continued on to Sault Ste. Marie for lunch and a look at the Soo Locks. It's quite the engineering feat there! We skipped the boat tour (too long, too expensive), but there is a large observation deck where you can go and watch the locks in action. We waited for a 1000-foot-long freighter to come through. That was pretty impressive.

On the last day, the weather finally cleared. It was calm and sunny and perfect. My parents took the kids back to Whitefish Point to walk along the beach and skip more rocks (Daniel's new favorite thing to do on vacation, apparently), and Stuart and I went back to Tahquamenon Falls to hike the Wilderness Loop. It was a little over 8 miles and exhausting, but beautiful and so worth it.

Wolf Lake

Stuart swatting mosquitoes
 We didn't see wild animals, but we saw evidence that they live there.

Might this be a beaver dam?

Moose crap Bear crap (Thanks, Barb T!)
Wild blueberries were EVERYWHERE. I ate a few, and they are delicious.

Towards the end of the hike as we neared the visitor's center, we came upon this enormous tree, a giant white pine. 

There was also a bit of swimming and canoeing in Lake Superior, some fun cooking experiments, and much more I could say about vacation, but I think I've already put up more pictures than I should have. Suffice it to say, we had a great time. 

Now we're home and it's time to get ready for school starting. Where does the time go?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

pope farm park

The end of summer always takes me by surprise, how quickly the days get shorter, the nights cooler. The kids are getting antsy for school to start, especially Anya, who insisted we go shopping for school supplies yesterday afternoon already. I can tell she's a little nervous about first grade. Even Daniel is a little skittish lately, though he'd never admit to feeling uncertain about the new school year looming ahead. He's been kind of clingy and affectionate lately, and quite attached to a stuffed octopus his first grade teacher gave him a year ago.

I remember being about Daniel's age and lying in bed thinking about growing up. It must have been summer because I remember the window was open and I could feel a breeze and hear the buzz of whatever bugs were out at night. I thought about how I would soon be in the double digits and not long after that would be high school and then I would be out of the house, and the enormity of that reality was almost too much to bear. What if I didn't know what to do? What if I didn't know how to write a check or run the washing machine? (These were real, actual fears of mine.)

Daniel is 8 (going on 30, it seems some days) and we're about to reach that turning point where he'd rather spend most of his time with friends than with us. It's so funny how one moment he can be so wise, like when he released a Painted Lady butterfly from his bug cage into the flowers in our front yard and said, "It's even more beautiful when it's free!" and the next moment take videos of his best friend burping and pretending to get into a kung fu match with a plush shark toy.

We spent the morning at Pope Farm Park, an absolutely splendid conservancy and restoration area just west of town. Our friends who came with us on the trip to Niagara Falls joined us. The day started out cloudy and downright chilly, but the sun came out just as we got started, and it was more or less a perfect morning for a picnic and trail walk, hiding in the (somewhat meagre) sunflowers, and catching a leopard frog.

Monday, August 11, 2014

do i look like a pro?

This evening I handed off the kids to Stuart and began a task I have been avoiding and dreading all summer: updating my CV (curriculum-vitae, like a résumé in academia).

I just finished reading the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte. I've been waiting for the library's copy for months, ever since I heard her interviewed on Fresh Air. The people profiled in Overwhelmed are mostly middle-class parents who work far too many hours, don't have enough time with their families, don't get enough sleep, and hardly have any time for leisure. This is especially difficult for women, duh, since women do the vast majority of child care and household tasks whether they work for wages or not. In fact, the overwhelming workload of holding down a paying job and managing family life is the reason many women drop out of the workforce.

There is a lot packed into that book, like so many statistics it makes your head swim, and not much good to say about the culture of the American workplace, where the "ideal worker," a mythical stereotype perpetuated in this culture, is celebrated for putting in long hours and ignoring his/her own family and personal health purely for the sake of achievement. Having children and wanting to spend time with them stigmatizes workers, men more than women, though men are far are less likely to ask for parental leave or flexible work hours in the first place, which is why women make less money, get promoted less often and are considered less dedicated to their jobs once they have children.

It sucks a whole lot and it's really unfair.

But in some ways, reading this book was reassuring, though in a rather backhanded way. I have always been plagued with self-doubt when it comes to academic/professional success, with constant second-guessing and self-deprecation. That only got worse when I had kids because I had them both in graduate school in the space of less than two years. Anya was born literally hours before I was supposed to turn in my paperwork, and the prospect of looking for a job in a tight market with two kids in diapers? No fucking way. Parenting eventually got a little easier, but the job part certainly didn't, and meantime, I felt more and more sidelined and forgotten. By now I've more or less accepted that most people presume all those years studying music were just killing time until I could make babies and get out of the way. What a nice little hobby I had there.

I have felt like a failure to myself for not pursuing employment right away. Clearly, I must not be driven or ambitious enough. I lack entrepreneurial spirit, a sufficient work ethic, and the willingness to sacrifice even more sleep in order to succeed.

That might be true. It's reinforced for me all. the. time. (All those comments about how great it is that I'm "staying home"? Yup, those really add up.) But I'm starting to realize that it's not completely all my fault. There's really no such thing as maternity leave for graduate students. When I got pregnant with Daniel, I took a semester off and forfeited my assistantship. I had to go back part time and pay for a sitter for every hour I needed to practice. I can't help it that my husband works a job with no options for flex time. And by the time Anya was born I knew there was no way I could pay for daycare for two kids and find a job that would cover the cost. I just didn't have options for a while there. I've only had one year with both of them in public school, and by now I've just been out of the loop for so long I'm not sure how to get back in, though I want to.

Now I know my life looks ideal to a lot of you, enviable even. I have a lovely family and now more often than not I get enough sleep and my husband is a wonderful father and cleans the shower and makes me two double-shots of espresso every morning (that's worth more than the shower-scrubbing, even) and we do fun things every once in a while like take bike rides or go camping. I have time to volunteer at the school and grow tomatoes and cook a good dinner every night.

My life doesn't suck and I can't really say it's unfair, but there is still a big, fat, glaring omission up there.

What's missing for me is fulfilling work in my field, work that I love and am good at and that would affirm all that time I spent in school, and it's frustrating that so few people get that. I didn't "opt out" on purpose. I put things on hold because I couldn't see any other option and just now I spent an hour and a half writing a cover letter for a part-time position that may not even be open and trying to make my CV look like I didn't fall off the face of the earth in 2007.

It's going to be hard, and my self-confidence is probably going to take even more of a beating, but I have got to put myself out there. Our family life won't allow me to look for something full-time, but I want more balance in my life. I want a job that pays more than nothing.

Monday, August 04, 2014


Thirteen years ago today, Stuart and I got married in the middle of Kansas. And today, as per usual, we aren't celebrating.

This tradition of not celebrating our anniversary is an accidental one, and not one we'd like to uphold. A few times we've managed to go out for a fancy meal at some point in the summer. But most years stuff happens to stymie us. Once Daniel got an ear infection and we had to cancel our plans. A few years in a row we were traveling for other family events (a couple weddings, a reunion), last year Stuart had to travel for work so we didn't even see each other on August 4, and this year he took the day off not to celebrate but to help out with the kids because Daniel had an appointment with the oral surgeon first thing this morning to have five teeth pulled. FIVE.

It's okay. A good marriage isn't about the wedding or the anniversary of the wedding. We're happy, and we're good for each other.

I'm used to this day not being special, and I'm definitely not the sort of gal who needs or wants to be peppered with attention and fancy gifts. But next year, we swear, we're going to find a way to celebrate for real, maybe even with a weekend away Without The Children because we've never done that before. We never even got to have a honeymoon (we were grad students - no money, and no camping skillz either at that point) so I think it's overdue.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

stirring the poop soup

A week has passed since Stephanie's consultation and treatment for my worm slime problem, so this morning I opened the compost tub to see how things are looking. No escapees this time, and no standing liquid, but it's still kind of stinky. Not putrid and gut-churning like before, but unpleasant enough I brought the whole operation outside on the deck for the sake of fresh air.

I stirred in some more shredded paper and broke up some of the bigger clumps. That the tub contains sticky clumps rather than gooey sludge is a good sign. I noticed the worms are hanging out mostly in the bottom of the tub now, which is another good sign. 

I can't bring myself to do this with bare hands. Yet.

Then I posed for a goofy picture and buried a handful of frozen-then-thawed cucumber peels and espresso pucks in the middle before putting the lid back on and setting it back downstairs. 

That my husband doesn't blink an eye when I ask him to take a picture of me holding a pile of shredded paper and worm shit is a testament to the strength of our marriage. 
I'm not sure how long to leave them now. Maybe another week? I'll have to consult my worm expert.

Meanwhile, because I don't have enough weird ways to spend my time, I thought I'd try experimenting with avocado pits last week. I know a man from Mexico who told me earlier in the summer that the pit is the best part of the avocado. We were talking about gardens and food and how much we both love cooked onions and guacamole on refried beans with tortillas. He said he grates the pit and cooks it in water, strains the pit bits out and drinks it. "It'll give you so much energy!" he insisted.

So I looked it up on the great world wide web and found several websites extolling the health benefits of avocado pits, though none made any claims as to the flavor. Some people put them in smoothies, some make tea. I grated two pits, toasted them on the stove (the shavings turn a beautiful rust color) and cooked them in a quart of water. After an hour or so, I strained out the liquid and drank a little of it.

Avocado pit juice is hard to describe. It's a mild flavor that changes from the moment you sip to the moment you swallow. It's not bitter or unpleasant or sweet or particularly bad...but it's not particularly good, either. It tastes like something that should be put in a fancy bar of soap.

And you know what? That's the other thing The Internet told me about avocado pit juice: it's very good for your hair and can be used in homemade shampoo. So that's how I've been using mine. I keep it in the fridge, and when I come home from a run, I pour some pit juice in a little jar and take it to the shower to mix with a little shampoo. It's messy and runny but I think my hair does feel softer and cleaner than it usually does.