Friday, February 28, 2014


I am not very good at being patient. Of course, parenting requires patience - lots of it - and that's probably the thing I've had to work the hardest at since Daniel was born just over eight years ago. Pregnancy, labor, tantrums, potty training - all that stuff that you're supposed to love and treasure just brought out the worst of my tendency to be impatient and just have this over and done with already. 

Now that my kids are age 6 and 8, the kind of parenting patience required is much different. No longer am I playing interminable games of peekaboo and CandyLand. No longer am I reading the same storybooks over and over again. Diapers are a distant memory (hallelujah for that). But they are at an age where they dawdle, even when we're running late, especially when we're running late in fact. They are old enough to have a bit more responsibility with household chores, simple things like setting the table and tidying their rooms and hanging up their own coats and depositing dirty socks in the proper receptacle but of course these tasks aren't completed without constant reminders and I often find myself losing my patience and turning into a nag. I hate it. Hate. It.

I have to be patient on a larger scale, too. This is more existential. Having kids completely derailed whatever career path I thought I was on. For years, people said to me over and over some version of "Be patient. Enjoy them while they're young. Be patient. You can always get a job later. Be patient." And that's what I've done. Well, I haven't been entirely patient and saint-like about it. I do my fair share of complaining about my limited employment options, given my chosen professional field and job opportunities in the area; my husband can attest to that. (Thank goodness he's a good listener or I'd be griping about this stuff even more on the blog.)

Work-wise, the school year got off to a really slow start for me. It was frustrating and yes, tried my patience. Things have picked up since then. These days I'm working with a lot of teenage kids, playing for contests and auditions, which there are a lot of in the spring semester. I enjoy it for the most part. I like working with young musicians and I don't even mind the hand-holding and counseling through the inevitable nerves that come with inexperienced performers. I even think I'm good at it.

Musically, though, this is not the most fulfilling work. I've had to learn a lot of music really quickly, mostly for people who more than anything need a live body at the piano to keep time and not screw up too badly. I'm doing a lot better than keeping time and not screwing up, obviously. And it pays, which is very important.

But I can't help thinking…is this it? Is this why I spent 7 years in graduate school and got a doctorate and wrote a really good thesis (no one will read it or care but I'm proud of it anyway)?

No. I like the freelancing fine, but I stayed in graduate school because I wanted to get as good as I could at something I love. And I wanted to learn how to dig really deep into pieces worth knowing. I thought I'd use the degree to get an academic job someday, but I'm pretty sure that's never going to happen. Given the current academic climate, I don't regret that.

Anyway, my point in all this rambling is that I'm tired of being patient. By this time, being patient feels like being passive. I ought to pursue something more actively but I'm not sure what. Some days I don't feel confident or smart or innovative enough. I do need to figure this out, though, before my patience wears out completely.

Friday, February 21, 2014

house woes

It's no secret that we live in a small house. When we moved in nearly ten years ago (!!), it was the perfect size for a young couple buying our first home. We thought having kids was a vague possibility too far in the future to think about. We weren't even necessarily planning on staying in Madison more than a few more years. I'd finish my degree and we'd both find fulfilling jobs somewhere, maybe even in a different city.

Of course, the timing didn't work out quite like that. I had Daniel in the middle of my doctorate, Anya was born just before I finished (hours before, literally), I could barely keep up with all the diapers much less look for a job. Shortly after that the economy tanked, the housing market took a dive, and we considered ourselves very, very lucky to be on sure footing through all of that. We even managed to have the basement finished and add a bathroom a few years ago, which has proved invaluable for having overnight guests (which happens often, with family living out of town) and just giving us a little more space to spread out when we need to.

The problem now, as it has been for a long while, is the kitchen. We have no dining room, so we eat in the kitchen and it is very, very cramped. For over a year, we have been talking with our builder about doing an addition/remodel. The project is straightforward enough: build onto the back of the house to have a dining area, with one corner a mud room/pantry closet. Remodel and update the kitchen in the process, since the metal cabinets are from the early 1960s and starting to rust through the many layers of paint covering them.

Unfortunately, it looks like even this "fairly straightforward" project may turn out to cost more than we bargained for. I'm meeting with the guy next week to talk about numbers and I'm afraid of what he's going to say. It's not that I'm all that surprised, really. Construction projects always go like this, right?

Stuart and I have been going around and around in circles with this problem for a while now. How much is it worth to us to stay in this house? What if we can't afford to fix the house? Should we move? Is it worth leaving this neighborhood for a few hundred square feet of living space? Assuming we could afford to borrow the money to pay for a renovation, it is worth doing so for this house? Because, as Stuart has pointed out many times, building onto the kitchen doesn't change the fact that we have no garage and that the bedrooms are small with tiny closets and the bathroom upstairs is narrow and cramped. There's also the matter of the shared driveway with the mean lady next door.

We tend to disagree about a few of these details, and I hope he doesn't mind that I'm saying so here. Stuart would really like to have a garage, or at least a car port. I don't care so much about that (though my resolve on that point weakens when I have to remove 6" of new snow off the cars in the open driveway and toss shovelfuls of it over the heap that is already chin-high). Garages often just get full of junk and they're another space to clean and maintain. The small closets are kind of a pain, but I also see them as motivation to keep a small wardrobe. I don't like the cramped bathroom, but it's just a bathroom. You do your business, you take your shower, it's fine.

I guess what I'm saying is that none of these things are deal breakers for me. I can live with  small closets and a narrow bathroom and no garage. I can even live with Cranky Pants next door.  I like living in this neighborhood, which is full of modest, quirky houses and people to match. I've even had several people from a nearby, more affluent development tell me they like our neighborhood better than theirs.

can't live with the old, badly-designed, too small kitchen much longer, especially since I probably spend half my time in there during the day. It's worth a lot to me to fix that so we can stay here, so our kids can keep walking to school every day. But it might prove to be too expensive, no matter how badly we need it. So then the question is, do we look at more modest improvements, like updating the kitchen without expanding it (thus saving the cost of excavation), or live with it as is for another ten years when the kids will be nearly out of high school, or move? There's no good answer. Selling our house would be difficult, I think, since we'd probably have to pay for some expensive updates even to put it on the market (the siding and deck are in bad shape), and once again it comes down to what we can even afford to do.

Just asking these questions reveals the position of privilege we are in. That we own a home, that we can even discuss improving it, shows a place of stability not everyone enjoys. I know that, and I remind myself of it often.

But still, every time I have to ask someone to scoot his chair out of the way when I open the fridge, or yank extra hard on the heavy, rusting metal gadget drawer, or fruitlessly scrub at stains in the chipped porcelain sink, or kick the table and 3 pairs of snow boots out of the way because I can't get the groceries in the back door, I feel awfully frustrated knowing there may be nothing I can do about it after all.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

helpful hints

I had a round of rehearsals this morning that were rather disastrous. The details of the whole fiasco would make a great blog post, but to write about it would be unprofessional and in really poor taste, so instead I'm just going to make a list of some tips, helpful hints if you will, that may come in handy should you find yourself in need of an accompanist.*

1. If you are meeting in a place where your pianist has not been before, be sure to give him/her the address and ask if driving directions are needed. Sometimes google maps is wrong.

2. It is your responsibility to get the music to your pianist. It is not the pianist's responsibility to come to you for it, especially if you are located in a different town. This may require you to spend a little money on postage. Trust me, this will be money well-spent.

3. When you do send the music, make sure your pianist has the right music so he/she doesn't waste time learning the wrong piece.

4. If you expect your pianist to play an orchestral reduction at lightning speed, you should get him/her the music at least a week ahead of time, if not more. One day is not a reasonable amount of time.

5. The music may be easy enough to sight-read. The pianist may have played the music before and doesn't need to practice much, if at all, to prepare for rehearsal. However, this is for the pianist to decide, not you. It's best to play it safe and get the music to your pianist well in advance. Most of us prefer to come to rehearsal prepared.

6. Most pianists prefer the other musicians to come to rehearsal prepared as well. It saves time and anxiety.

7. Please pay your pianist promptly. For many of us, this is a living, not a hobby.

*Not everything on this list is an indication of what went wrong this morning, just to be clear. Just a few things prompted this post.

Friday, February 14, 2014


We've  never been big on Valentines Day around here. Back in college, a friend of ours dubbed it "Jerk Appreciation Day," and ever since we've never made a big deal about it one way or the other. I always figured there were two ways to look at Valentines Day: either be all mushy-gushy about it and be one of the 6 million people who get engaged (I heard that statistic today, though I don't know if it's true), OR be a total cynic and gripe about how it's just an excuse for Hallmark and Victoria's Secret to widen their profit margins.

Since my kids started school, I've discovered there is a Third Path. Valentines Day is really all about the children, you see. At the elementary level, where kids are too young to know much about romantic love (one hopes, at least), Valentines Day is a celebration of friendship. Instead of anticipating a nice evening out with my spouse, I spent the week making heart-shaped cards with googly eyes for Anya's class and taping Hershey's kisses inside shiny red origami boxes that I folded myself because Daniel couldn't handle it. And while it's not like I am not so ├╝ber-crafty that I have to hand make everything my kids bring to school, I still couldn't quite stomach the thought of buying the Star Wars/Angry Birds/SpongeBob themed valentines available in the store. We're surrounded by enough branding as it is. If my kid is going to hand out something that is going to get pitched in a few hours, George Lucas ain't gonna profit from it, is all I'm saying.

Where was I? Oh yes. Valentines. Here, Valentines Day corresponds with the 100th day of school (roughly - we missed a few days due to extreme cold, so there is some wiggle room for determining the actual 100th day) and with February 14 falling on a Friday, today was basically a free pass for the kids. Last night, Anya was so excited she could hardly sleep - "Mom, we're going to have a party all day  at school tomorrow!!" - until I insisted that with all that partying she was going to need a good night's sleep to be ready for it. Ah, the innocence of Kindergarten. As a second-grader, Daniel is already such a seasoned veteran of in-school parties, he was mostly thinking about all the candy he was going to bring home. Alas, one kid in his class went a little nuts with the treats and had to go throw up (he made it to the bathroom, thank goodness) before coming back to open his valentine candy.

There were plenty of parent volunteers in both my kids' classes today. Not one of them had special plans for the evening, as far as I could tell. Just about everyone I talked to was looking forward to getting PJs on and watching a rented movie. One guy I talked to said his wife has a standing ladies' night out every Friday with her girlfriends and she saw no reason to skip it tonight. My own husband is out playing foosball with a work buddy, so I'm parked in front of Blogger with a beer and a couple of Girl Scout cookies and you know what? I'm not complaining. Anything more would just be too much effort anyway.

Happy Valentines Day, everyone! However you celebrate - or not - I hope someone made you feel special today.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Guest Post From MadtownMama's Son

8 things about MadtownMama's son:
1. my birthday was yesterday & i turned 8 yesterday
2. my birthday is, always on a calendar, sitting on top of valentine's day
3. i'm learning lots about the computer

this is the god's eye i made at home
 this is the god's eye i made at school
5. i like soccer
6. i always wished for a pet
7. i like spying on my family
8. i like to freak my mom out