Saturday, July 25, 2020

Cribbage, Anyone?

I love games, and my most reliable partner for games in our house is my son, Quinn. He's 13, which means he's most often inclined to be off in some corner of the house doing his own thing, but almost anytime I ask when I'm home from work, he'll agree to a game.

If we can convince anyone else to join us, we'll usually play Settlers of Catan, Sorry, Uno, Spite and Malice, or Code Names. If it's just the two of us? It cycles among Backgammon, Rummy, Abalone, Boggle, and Cribbage. During isolation, it's been pretty much all just Boggle or Cribbage.

But our Cribbage board was annoying. It's the type where you have to move your pegs around your track twice to finish, and on evenings when we're fading a little, we can honestly forget which round we're on and suddenly have no idea who is actually winning. We decided it would be better to have a board with one, long winding track from start to finish.

So why not make our own board? Looked easy enough, and I can make things.

Of course it didn't go quite as planned, but I like the final result anyway. Behold our new Cribbage board!

Pretty, huh?

Now let me explain what a goofy adventure this turned out to be.

At least as a violin maker I knew I could find a nice piece of wood lying around to work with. I happen to have a small pile of odds and ends that were given to me by a nice wood supplier in Washington state when I was out West for a VSA convention many years ago. Wood that was too thin or didn't have its book-matched partner, etc. I dug around in that pile and found a piece of maple that was never going to be a violin, and made it into a shape and thickness I could use.

For pegs in the board we went to American Science and Surplus and found matching rods of brass, and "music wire" (whatever that might be--didn't come up in music school), and I sawed them into little pieces and polished the ends smooth. (Quinn has barely been out of the house since the pandemic shut everything down back in March. It was strange to wander around one of our favorite stores while wearing masks, but it was also nice to get out and do something purely fun for a change.)

Once I knew the thickness of the pegs we'd be playing with, we decided how we wanted the layout of the track to go. We penciled in spots for drilling, and I hit my drill press. This is where my general lack of patience decided to teach me a lesson. There are 120 holes per player on the board. (Plus a few extra for a tally of how many games each person has won.) The smart thing would have been to poke a hole to mark each spot before trying to drill them, but ugh, that seemed like a lot to do. I thought, eh, how hard could drilling holes in straight lines be?

Ha! After the second hole I just started laughing. The flame in the wood was guiding my drill bit into odd places, and it was beyond my control. After about half a dozen holes I realized I was either going to have to start completely over, or just deal with the bizarre mess I was creating. I decided to plunge ahead with my Cribbage board that with each new hole was looking more and more like the drill press version of a failed test for drunks at a traffic checkpoint. I showed it to Ian and Aden when I came up from the basement, and they both asked what happened. I told them at least no one would ever ask where we bought our new Cribbage board from.

So I pondered the wonky holes for a day and decided that an artistic solution was the way to go. I got out a nice pen and went to work between projects on my bench one day. I created the vine design, and now it looks maybe like it's all on purpose. Quinn looked pleased anyway, when I showed him the finished board. That's all that really matters to me.
I used an old box from a rosin I bought at a violin convention in 2004 (from which the rosin has long ago been used up) to store the scoring pegs. Maybe someday I'll make a case to keep the whole thing together along with the necessary deck of cards, but not now.

Not exactly the kind of project I was hoping to complete during all of our unexpected free time, but still fun. It always feels good to make something. Strangely, of late, I feel busier than ever. Which I don't understand since so many activities were wiped from our calendar. But somehow I'm having even more trouble making time for the things I most want to do.

In any case, one day when we look back on our pandemic days, we'll have a pretty cribbage board made from violin maple to show for it. I love game time with Quinn. That will be part of this whole mess I will be able to remember with nothing but fondness.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Dear Dad, 2020

Hey Dad.

I can't believe it's been almost five years since I've heard your voice or made you laugh. The words "I miss you" are inadequate to how I feel. But they are all I have, so... I miss you.

This year has felt like a decade. I'm not even sure where to begin to catch you up, and I'm not sure what articles you would even clip, because everything is insane. The news moves so fast, and it's all either ridiculous or dire (or both), and there's no way you could have even hoped to keep up. (Although I'd have bought you fresh scissors for Christmas so you could try.)

Last summer we didn't do any big trips. We did a couple of really nice family events at the cottage, and Arno and Barrett got us kayaks we can use there. (I wonder if we could have ever talked you into a kayak? I doubt it, but it's hard to know. You did tell us about your traveling in Europe on a Vespa, and I can't picture that either. Your moments of unpredictability remain some of the best family lore.) I'm wishing we had done some real travel, because all of our hopes for that this summer were dashed. Quinn was supposed to do a class trip to NYC and Boston, but when we talked about it early in the school year, he admitted it would be more fun with his family, so I told him we'd use that money instead toward all of us doing a big East Coast trip together. We had plans to hit lots of small states, and go as far north as Maine to visit Ian's sister Ursula and her husband. But no.

Because a pandemic hit this year, and the world ground to a halt right around my birthday. (Which is in March, so I'm a Pisces. Every time I see a horoscope, I think about you reading mom hers from the paper, and when I'd request mine you'd ask, "When were you born?" every time!)

Mom's doing okay. She's got a ton of interesting art projects, and she's been in the garden a lot, but I know she's tired of feeling isolated. I wish she had you at this time. I think you'd have been perfectly happy to ride out Covid-19 at home, clipping articles in the library and not having to share Mom with guests.

For the rest of us, though, it's been strange. Everything got canceled, Dad! My concerts, my varnish workshop, my book signing at Boswell's (wouldn't that have been fun?), Ian's Army retirement ceremony, Aden's high school graduation.... Just, everything.

And being trapped in the house with a lot of unexpected free time was not as useful as it might sound. All of us felt a creative drain. I think because even though on the surface it may have looked like a vacation, it was really a crisis. Being in survival mode makes it hard to focus during waking hours, and even though we were sleeping more it wasn't very sound. But I think we've leveled out. Aden is drawing and painting again, and making small things out of clay lately. Mona is drawing on the computer and started constructing something today out of feathers and wire. I've been finally getting into my home shop, and today I worked on a cribbage board with Quinn of our own design. We're starting to feel like ourselves again.

So the pandemic is weird, wearing masks is weird, social distancing in Target is weird, not letting people inside my store while still trying to run my business is weird.... It's all weird. And sad.

And the Black Lives Matter movement has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon after even more deeply upsetting instances of police violence caught people's attention. I'm hoping this time around will lead to real change. I've been thinking about it a lot, and compared to the first time I saw video of the police beating a black man in my lifetime (which would be Rodney King), today we can instantly follow up with research. White people are actively learning things we didn't know. We're seeing things in new ways, and a lot of people I know are willing to accept hard truths and history that is new to us. Today I read about the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia. Last week I read up on the Tulsa Massacre. I wonder if those events are in your files somewhere? I may look next time I'm back home.

I wish I could ask you about any of this. Because the other day someone posted a piece about Detroit and the "'67 Rebellion" and it stopped me in my tracks. Growing up, it was always the "'67 Race Riots." I remember you and Mom talking about watching things burn and how scary it was. But I realize now we never really talked about why it happened. Those desolate stretches of Detroit that never got restored after the fires were just a fact of life. Never occurred to me to think of it as part of a rebellion. My new homework will include rethinking my hometown.

You taught us so much about the destructiveness of discrimination in connection with your family's Jewish history, it would be fascinating to get your perspective on the struggle of minorities now. You'd have been proud of Aden for going to a march.

You'd be proud of Aden in general. She's registering for her freshman college courses tomorrow! She has to do all of it online, and we've never gotten to visit the campus in person (pandemic and all), but it's still exciting watching her prepare for college. She's nervous. She isn't sure how much of a grown up she's expected to be, or how much of a grown up she already is. But Dad, she's so lovely. She's grown into a remarkable artist and person. When she talks to you about something that excites her (video game design, anime, certain YouTubers who cook creatively...) she just lights up in a way that you can't help but be drawn in. She's sweet and kind and has such a tender heart.

Aden didn't mind too much not having a high school graduation. (She understands that was more for me.) But she was sad not to have been able to say goodbye to people in her school. They didn't know when they left for the day in March that they weren't going back. There were people she would have liked contact information for, and teachers she would have liked to have thanked. Not to mention she finally got her schedule just the way she wanted, with an interesting English class on African-American Lit and a ton of art classes. When she went back a couple of weeks ago to pick up her things, a piece she'd been making was still sitting on the pottery wheel where she'd had to abandon it. Lots of projects she was excited about were left unfinished. Everything about her senior year was left unfinished.

I wonder how odd her first year of college will be with these added complications? But she's not alone. I reminded her that everyone will be in the same boat, and the class of 2020 can bond over not having had graduations, and trying to make new friends from behind masks and at least six feet apart.

I was sad I didn't get the experience of touring colleges with her. I remember your taking me to look at Oberlin. That was a nice trip. And I'm still glad I backed out of staying in that weird dorm and just sharing your hotel room since it had an extra bed. (You told me the place missed out on calling itself the "Oberlinn.")

I'm going to try to write real letters to Aden at school. Getting mail helped me a lot my freshman year at OSU. Mom wrote letters, and you sent post-its, and I still have them all. I know if you were still around you would send Aden packets of articles and she would love them.

So Aden's doing okay. I'm feeling like I haven't prepared her well enough to go out into the world, but she can cook, and do laundry, and can write a good essay when she has to. If she can just be a little brave and find some friends I think she will do well. I hope. Was it hard when I went off to college? What advice would you have for me now as the parent, I wonder.

Mona is doing okay. I think. I can never be sure. She still gets anxious, and is already a little panicky about the idea of school starting up in the fall again. I'm not sure how to help, however she's at least willing to talk to me. I'm so proud of her, Dad. She works so hard. She's been doing online gym for summer school so she can take that out of her schedule for her junior year. Can you believe she's a junior? And she's driving. Or, at least, she supposedly knows how. She needs practice. You were always so calm with me in the car when I was learning. Ian is like that. I am not. I never expected to be as freaked out as I am trying to help my kids learn to drive, but yikes. It's really nerve-wracking.

She finished her two years of French, and did well, but I have never heard her speak it. All she would tell me is the numbers are weird.

She's working on the cover art for my new violin repair diagnostics book. She's excited by the idea, but struggling a bit to get something together for me to look at. I hope that works out, because I think that would be a cool thing to have in her portfolio when she's ready to apply to art school.

Mona's still in pain. It's been two years of this now, and I hate it. We've been to our regular doctor, two different ENTs, the pain clinic at Children's, she's had an MRI, dental x-rays, tests by vestibular rehab, and a recent trip to a neurologist. Nobody can tell us what it is. Although for the migraines that accompany the ear pain, the last doctor did recommend she go cold turkey off any pain medicine to sort of reset her system (since, ironically, at some point migraine meds start to cause migraines). We have prescriptions for more things she could try, but she said she'd rather not. I don't blame her. Thankfully, her ears in the past couple of weeks feel plugged up and there's a lot of pressure, but less pain. The orthodontist said there's a chance she'll just grow out of whatever it is. He said he sees a lot of teens with odd pains and issues that simply go away once their bodies get past this stage of rapid change and growth. I hope he's right. Mona shouldn't have to deal with chronic pain. Life is already hard enough without that.

Quinn continues to take things in stride. Dad, he's getting so tall. When he's not slouching I think he's my height. Possibly taller. And his hair is down to the middle of his back and all wavy and doesn't tangle and it makes his sisters really jealous. His voice is changing, too, but we are careful not to comment. He's very sweet, but at thirteen is easily embarrassed. He's super fast at games like Tetris. Still doing in fine in school. He's stopped playing violin but still takes piano. It got to a point where both were suffering and he needed to narrow his focus. In March, before the pandemic, he went on a school ski trip and broke his left wrist, so I got to be one of his hands for his online lessons. I miss that time with him.

And I asked him recently, since our Latin lessons got canceled in this new era of not going anywhere, if he wanted to continue that when possible, or just be done. I fully expected him to say we should let it go, since this was the perfect opportunity to do so. But he surprised me by saying when we could go back to the university and have Latin again, he wants to. On the one hand, the ablative case hurts my head, but on the other, I really liked that time with Quinn once a week. We always had a nice time on the drive, and sometimes stopped at the lake to look for beach glass on the way home. I wonder how much of wanting Latin lessons again is really that? Or is that just motherly wishful thinking?

Dad, he's so sweet. He's always willing to come out of his room if I call up the stairs and invite him to play a game. And the fun thing about playing with a smart kid is I never have to go easy on him. He hasn't beaten me at Boggle yet, but he always finds some really good word that I missed. You would have loved playing with him.

And he's funny. He has this amazing deadpan sort of delivery that is hilarious. He took some sort of aptitude test at school that recommends different professions, and his list was wacky. It included artist (which I thought was odd, since there was no way to assess talent in that area on a test like that), and cartographer (because he's still freakishly good at maps), and BARTENDER. Bartender? What kind of exam suggests that to a seventh grader? I laughed so hard! But maybe it's right, who knows. When I was talking about that with Mona, she said, "You know what I think Quinn should be? A Comedian." And at the one parent-teacher conference I got to go to for him this year, his teacher remarked that he was really funny. She said it took a while to recognize his dry humor, but that he's always making people laugh. So it was a surprising idea at first, but I can imagine it. You'd have to be really smart, and methodical, and good with language, and he already has the delivery and timing. But you also have to be comfortable in front of crowds, and right now, that's hard to picture.

Anyway, I think Quinn is coping best of all of us with the shift to a pandemic schedule. He finished the school year on Zoom, and now he's got video game goals. He seems content.

I think Ian's content, too, as much as he can be with all of his concerns about keeping us financially solvent in these strange times. I don't think he misses the Army. Probably parts of it, but not the hassle. I like having him around more. I couldn't ask for a more supportive husband. Our anniversary is tomorrow! 23 years. I should break out the poem you wrote for us as our wedding reading and share it with the kids.

I'm doing okay. That last novel of mine that you got to read the draft of years ago? Just Friends, Just War? I finally polished it up and got it out into the world. Sort of. My launch got canceled, but everyone who has read it seems to have liked it. I wish you could have read the final version. Barrett made a really nice cover for it. If Mona gets too stuck on the cover for the repair guide, I may use that instrument drawing you made for me that I have framed at the violin store. I don't think you'd have minded. (Heck, I feel like if you were still around you'd have cranked out fifty versions for me to choose from in a day!)

My health is better, so that's good to report. The mastitis thing seems to finally be gone. I hope. If it returns again I am not going to the doctor. They just exacerbate all of that mess. I stopped taking all pain medication last year after my colonoscopy showed poor side effects from them, but I don't get headaches the way I used to. Only problems are some high blood pressure that my doctor put me on pills for (so that seems under control), and my back is goofy. Eh.

Since the pool closed and I can't swim now, I broke out my old dojo notes and have started up our old stretching and blocks and strikes warm up. We do that as a family almost every evening. The kids are getting more flexible and better coordinated, so that's working out well. Plus, it's about an hour every night where we listen to music and catch up. I really like it. (It makes the dog nervous, and the bird is fascinated.)

That's been the most reassuring thing lately: enjoying being together. Because when we block out the news for a little while, and forget that the world looks like it's coming apart at the seams, our own little space with each other really couldn't be better. (Well, it could be less cluttered, but that's how we know it's real life and not a movie.) I love my little family. Despite everything, we know we are really lucky.

Arno and Barrett and their families are also doing fine. Your other two grandchildren are amazing and you'd be so proud, Dad. I do feel better about the future looking at all your beautiful grandkids and knowing they are next in line to help run the world. They'll do it with intelligence and compassion, which is sorely needed.

Well, this note ran past midnight. I should sleep. I love you. And I really really miss you.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Black Lives Matter

A week ago today, my daughter and I attended a protest march. I needed a few days to process the experience, and then I was too busy to write about it, but I'm making the time today. I want a record for myself of what it was like. Beyond that, I want to share for others who have not been to a Black Lives Matter event how it was from my perspective. I see too many people characterizing these marches as violent, and referring to protesters as thugs. I am not a thug. I didn't meet anyone I would describe as a thug last Sunday.

Black lives matter. Regardless of how anyone wants to view people or organizations associated with those three words, that phrase should not be controversial. Because it is true that black lives matter. Even when people choose to combat that concept by muddying the issue with phrases such as "All lives matter" and "Blue lives matter, " I will agree. All lives (and "blue" lives) do matter. That does not negate the fact that black lives matter. We should all be able to acknowledge that. (And not follow it with anything beginning with "But...")

I am humbled and dismayed by how much I do not know about the black experience in America and the world. Only in recent years with video recordings making certain actions clear and undeniable am I starting to comprehend how different my America has been from the one other people in my community know. I am angry about the history I was taught in school that excluded important details of slavery, events such as the Tulsa Race Massacre, not to mention anything truly instructive on Native Americans, or how the Chinese were exploited in the development of the West, more than a line or two about Japanese Interment Camps, among other things. My children are being taught better, but still not enough. We're doing our homework together.

I believe most people are decent at heart. We can be easily misguided by our own narrow experience. I think what we are witnessing at this moment is a collective realization of how much unfairness exists all around us that we unconsciously contribute to every day, and that we need to change. The marches are one way to demonstrate that we care.

I also believe the marches would be bigger if it weren't for the pandemic. I know my own reluctance to join the BLM crowds has been tied directly to the health risk involved at this time. My family is looking for other avenues to lend support, such as making signs or donating food.

But risks have to be weighed, and some things are too important to ignore.

When a friend who needs a wheelchair for going long distances asked for a volunteer to push her at a handicapped accessible march last week, I jumped at the chance. Since there would be vulnerable people visible in the march, I figured mask usage and social distancing concerns would be better adhered to than on average. My oldest daughter wanted to come, too.

We drove to the other side of town to pick up my friend, and managed to find a spot for my minivan not too far from the gathering in Veterans Park by the lake. There were two marches scheduled at that end of town: The accessible march, and a BLM/Pride march closer to the festival grounds. A third march led by athletes was meeting downtown, and the plan was at some point for all three to join together.

The event began just beyond the parking area near the kite store. We settled in on the ground facing a pickup truck where sign language interpreters were standing. There were several interpreters at the march, identified with bright vests and yellow pool noodles they could wave above people's heads to be found in a crowd. They, and the deaf marchers in attendance, wore masks with a clear section in front so their lips were visible.

Around 2:00, when enough people were assembled to begin, we were led in nine minutes of meditation. We were asked to either close our eyes or cast them to the ground, and then told to concentrate on our breathing. Then on our emotions. Then on our thoughts. Then back to the breath coming in and out of our bodies. I've participated in many acts of meditation. This was by far the most profound.
I appreciated all of the speakers, and according to my friend, this was the best opportunity she'd had at a recent march to actually hear people clearly. There was a man named Harvey who had been put in his wheelchair by gun violence. He was glad to be able to attend a march on a route designed to accommodate his needs. There was a single mom who choked up as she described the challenges she's faced raising two black sons in Milwaukee, one of whom has disabilities which compounds those challenges. There was Nuno Davis, a deaf woman who had come from Maryland just for this accessible march. She gave her impassioned speech in ASL while standing in the back of the pickup, and someone translated for us through a bullhorn. We all learned how to sign "Black Lives Matter" in ASL. Khalil Coleman and Rafael (Pancho) Mercado energized the crowd and explained hand signals for keeping us organized as a group. We were asked to remember to drink water, and to check on the people around us as we went.

Even as each of these speakers expressed frustrations with trying to function in this country as people of color, they were overwhelmingly positive. They celebrated the diversity of the crowd. They asked people to refrain from cursing. (There was about twenty seconds of "Fuck the police" about five hours in, which didn't catch on, but that was the only such chant I heard all day.) The general atmosphere was of support for one another, and a desire to be heard and make our city better by holding the police accountable.

The march was set up with the people in wheelchairs at the front so they could set the pace. There were about eight or so wheelchairs in a group of a few hundred people, so my friend and I were in a position to lead the march in a manner we weren't expecting. For my part, this was fine, because although I was in a good mask, I was not eager to be pressed in too close to so many people. It suited me fine to be spaced far apart and in front of the large crowd. Plus it was helpful in guiding my friend's chair to have a clear path and not be concerned about bumping into anyone. I did my best to keep my friend positioned in the second or third row when possible, because she really didn't want undue attention.

Marching for a cause is a bit of a conundrum for introverts. We're not particularly inclined to be seen or heard. But that's the whole of our contribution when involved in a protest this way. In my friend's case, there is the added element of the wheelchair, which draws a peculiar kind of attention. I was of mixed mind about how she was being included in this march. On the one hand, there was a practical reason for her to be up front. The march was designed specifically around her sort of needs. But it was hard to get away from the idea of her being used as a prop. I know that made her uncomfortable. At the same time, she was there with a sign which she wanted people to see. (It read: "When George called for his Mama, all moms were summoned.") So why not be seen? If the wheelchair in this instance amplified her message, all the better? And the focus on the disabled caught the needed attention of the press. I don't know. It was awkward, but maybe for the best, and I haven't worked that bit out in my head yet. There is a fine line between tokenism and awareness sometimes. I think my friend handles it with grace. I don't know if I would do it as well.

We walked out of the park and south along Lincoln Memorial Drive. We took over one side of the boulevard, and cars lined up on the opposite side honked in support. The basic chants were mostly call and response: "I can't breathe, can you breathe?--I can't breathe." "Whose city?--Our city. Whose state?--Our state." "Don't arrest me!--Arrest the police." Along with repeated chants of "Black Lives Matter" or the sing-song "Ain't no power like the power of the people 'cause the power of the people don't stop."

We got as far as the intersection by the art museum before we stopped for a while. Apparently marching involves a lot more stopping and standing than I knew. We waited for the Pride march to join up with us, then the march from downtown.

That's when the food appeared. I had my own water, but volunteers all along the route were omnipresent with water bottles offered out of the trunks of cars and in wagons. There were boxes full of snacks, and whole bagged lunches. I took a bag marked PB&J, and shared my sandwich with my daughter. In the bag was also an apple, a granola bar, and fruit gummies. My friend said her son had been marching every day since the protests began (this was day ten) and that he'd been living off the snacks donated by volunteers.

The weather was perfect: Sunny, just cool enough to not be sticky. It was sort of fascinating to get to eat lunch in the sunshine near the entrance to a freeway in a place I normally only drive. Everyone was pleasant and generous.

We gathered in a circle at the intersection where someone set up speakers and a microphone. The interpreters were always in sight. The people in wheelchairs (at this, and every stop) were escorted to the front to make sure they had an unobstructed view. Organizers spoke, and kept the themes positive. To be honest, their words didn't stick with me as well as the presence of a four-year-old girl who got to lead the crowd in repeating "Black lives matter" over and over. It was done with the glee you'd expect of a child who doesn't tire of reruns. It was hard not to think about the world she's growing up in. I can't imagine anyone not wanting the best for her. I thought about how many of my own children's opportunities I tend to take for granted.

Eventually everyone reassembled into a procession again, wheelchairs at the front, followed by people with banners and everyone else. All along the route were people to cheer us on, offering water and handing out extra signs for anybody who wanted one. At that point the group was very large. I saw an estimate later on the news of thousands, but really don't know. Again, I was grateful for the excuse to be essentially out front and able to keep some distance between our trio and others.

We headed past City Hall and over to Red Arrow Park--a small skating rink where Dontre Hamilton was shot and killed by police in 2014. He was a man with mental illness who had been sleeping in the park. People ever since have placed small memorials to him there that are repeatedly swept away. I often play in the performing arts center across the street. There is never a time I see that park that I don't think of Dontre needlessly losing his life there.

There were speeches at the park, followed by another break for food. Some generous donor had provided a car with 60 pizzas, and children followed by women were invited to partake. That was maybe the only other thing in the day that didn't sit with me well, in addition to people in wheelchairs being made to feel a bit like props. There were a few times one of the organizers described men as the protectors of women, and sort of lumped women and children together as a weaker category. I know it was well-intentioned, and no harm was meant by it, but I think for a march that included a sizable LGBTQ+ section of the community, it was not particularly sensitive. I wondered how it would be possible to broach the topic with the speaker somehow, because I'm sure he wouldn't have wanted to alienate anyone present. But if I, as a cis-gendered hetero white woman found the "protectors of women and children" thing uncomfortable, I can only imagine how that sat with any queer or non-binary people in attendance.

But you know what? Compared to the way BLM marches seem to be portrayed on social media and in the news, these are exceedingly small quibbles. People always get points in my mind for their good intentions if they are doing the best with what they know. I only bring them up in order to highlight how overwhelmingly positive and inspiring everything was. If the only thing spoken that made me cringe was someone saying men have a duty to protect women and children, well, then I wish all the problems of the world could be so insignificant.

My daughter and I ate our pizza standing well apart from others so we could remove our masks with less worry. It felt good to sit in the park for a bit and rest our feet. I also had the opportunity to talk with a couple of women with signs listing black people tragically killed by police. We'd been chanting the name "George Floyd" of course, and sometimes "Breonna Taylor" (and then the call and response would turn to "Say their name--Which one?"), and I recognized several of the names on one woman's sign (Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown....). But I was shocked at how many names I did not know of local victims on the other woman's sign.

We reassembled after the break in the park to march over a bridge and toward the police station. That area was blocked off by dumpsters so we could not walk in front of that building. We stopped again so people could speak, then wound our way back toward the lake where we started. As we passed through the tunnel under the convention center, everyone was struck with the same urge as every little kid in that space to make a lot of noise and hear it echo. It was one of the only moments I took any video because I wanted to remember it. It was impressive. (I am not sharing it here, or any photos that protesters could be identified from, since I do not have their permission.)

During the downtown portion of our march we were joined by a few men carrying rifles. I am not comfortable around guns. However, in the wake of lock down protests where white men felt entitled to openly carry with impunity, I don't think there should be a double standard when it comes to black citizens. Anytime I see a Walmart I think of John Crawford who was killed in one in Ohio for carrying a BB gun that was for sale inside that store. These black men with their rifles were making a statement, and did not make me nervous. If anything, I was nervous for them.

As the sun was setting, we walked back along the road in front of the museum, and back into the park. I drove my friend home, and then on our way back to our side of town, my daughter and I were stuck in traffic in the dark watching the same march continue up by the university. It was amazing to watch the group we'd walked in front of for seven hours from the outside. I hadn't realized just how many cars had joined the procession at the rear. It was noisy and energetic.

The whole thing was a great experience. I am beyond glad I went. And it was a joy to see the kind of light the day brought to my daughter's eyes. She's been stuck at home so long, deprived of her end-of-high-school experience, apart from friends, and feeling helpless about these important issues we are all grappling with lately. She said it felt good to get up and do something, even if it wasn't much. We both agreed we felt better about our city having spent the day with so many people in our community who want things to change. It gave us hope.

So here is a big takeaway from this event for me: The positive is seldom reported. Not a big surprise, but in the context of our current state, it leaves the wrong impression of BLM protests. I talked to one woman at our march who said the one she was in the day before, they walked peacefully in a northern suburb for ten hours, and the only part that made the news was the lawyer who came out to spit on a young black man in the march. That moment was despicable, and deserved press, but I have a feeling if that hadn't happened, those hundreds of people out there to make a statement against racism would have been overlooked entirely. Our march got press because it had a couple of gimmicks: the wheelchairs, and the professional athletes. I wonder if it hadn't been for those things if it would have merited a mention at all.

There were no police in sight anywhere on our march, with the exception of a couple of cars at a distance helping redirect traffic. I don't believe unless there is a specific reason for police to be involved, they should be anywhere near these protests. The few marches in our area where there was trouble, protesters have reported that the police overreacted to situations they misinterpreted, and escalated the conflict. I believe them. I can't speak to the devastation to property in places like Minnesota, but I can say that any time we care more about property than we do about human lives and dignity and justice, we are putting our empathy in the wrong place. I love the store I run. It's an extension of myself, and I think I do good work for our community. If something were to happen to it, I would be understandably upset. But I don't think it is worth more than a human life.

I hope these marches are the beginning of a larger trend of learning and change. I hope at some point when they die down and fade away, that the momentum continues in other quiet but meaningful ways. In the meantime, our family will look for more contributions we can make to the Black Lives Matter message. This weekend both of my daughters joined an event where they participated in a protest using chalk on a sidewalk in a park near our home. We plan this week to make signs for others to carry. Someday soon we hope to be among the people handing out snacks that keep others marching.

Because black lives matter. Obviously.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Update from Our Corner of the Pandemic

The short version, if you have no time to read, is we're doing fine. We're healthy, and we're adapting.

The longer version, as with everything in these strange times, is a bit more complicated.

I keep thinking back to my birthday. My birthday was March 14th, same as Einstein and Telemann and Billy Crystal. It was a matter of weeks ago, but feels like ages. It was a Saturday. I was at work for most of it. Saturdays are usually my busiest day at the violin store, and this particular one last month was probably typical, but now in my memory it feels almost frantic.

There were people in my store--actual other people who do not live in my house. I kept them spaced apart using appointment times, and I washed my hands before and after each visit, and I required everyone wash their hands the minute they arrived. One family was in masks. I broke social distancing rules for them so I could fit the kids for rental instruments, but I did it as quickly and efficiently as I was able. It was nerve-wracking. I was honestly relieved when the official lock down order came the following week, and I didn't feel as if I needed to let people inside my store anymore.

I spent a quiet couple of weeks in lock down doing shop tasks. I sharpened my tools. I got to work on the non-pressing, time-intensive projects that most violin shops have lurking in their corners. I passed along a couple of those projects to my assistant down in Chicago so she could still clock in hours from home if she wants to.

Then the calls started to come. I knew they would, because music is definitely something many people stuck at home want to do, and with all music lessons being taught at a distance, there were bound to be broken strings as people with no experience started trying to tune violins. Then there was a rash of fingerboards coming off instruments for some reason. And violins getting dropped. So I had to develop new protocols for doing work out of my shop.

Currently the way we operate is this: We are by appointment only. No one is allowed inside the store. Simple things like changing a string, I can do out on the front steps while wearing a mask as people wait more than six feet away, and I wash my hands thoroughly before and after. More involved repairs sit in a quarantine line. There is no way for me to disinfect a violin or bow currently, other than with time. (And I've already heard of parents who have taken a Clorox wipe to their kid's instrument and were shocked the varnish came right off. My post-pandemic work load will not be pretty.) Violins sit in a row on the floor, tagged with dates, until they are safe for me to handle. (I recommend people also let the instruments sit at their end when they get them back, but I can't control what other people ultimately do.) Any work I can't figure out how to do safely (such as soundpost adjustments where I need the player in the same space and we have to pass the instrument back and forth between us several times) I have to turn away.

Business is certainly way down compared to normal, but I am far from bored. I'm maintaining a similar work schedule. I actually kind of like the built-in "stop switch" that comes with the quarantine lineup. Normally I am compelled to keep working until everything is off my bench, which means I often put in late nights. Now? Well, there is work to do, but I can't touch all of it. I have to stop and go home at some point. Which is good. I like the extra time with my family.

Which brings me to the first and most important way in which I am lucky during this pandemic so far, beyond not being sick: I really like the people I'm in lock down with. I like our home, I love my husband and kids.... And we're a whole group of introverts who get along fine. Especially on cold, rainy weekends, we're doing exactly what we'd normally be doing. We're each doing our own projects kind of near each other, and then gathering together periodically to watch a movie or play a game or eat a meal.

Our house is just big enough there is space for any of us to retreat from the group if we want to be alone. We have a treadmill that we moved into the room with the TV. I set up a card table in the living room with a jigsaw puzzle people can work on when they feel like it. I've been reading aloud to the kids in the evenings sometimes. (We finished The Hobbit recently, and just started Sophie's World.) We have movies, books, recipes to try....

My head is still not in a good space for creative work yet. I need the house to be less cluttered for that to happen, and two adults and three teenagers inside all the time is making that difficult. But I'm not stressing about it. I am making it a goal to get into my workshop in the next couple of weeks, and I may just dive into an early edit of my next novel, even though the one I released this year didn't even get a real launch.

The issues with contemporary fiction writing are funny right now. I was originally concerned that my next novel got locked into 2019, and that that would feel out of date by the time it was released in 2021. Now it's fine, because I don't have to include the pandemic in the story line. I recently heard an interview with Stephen King, where he said his current story had a plot point where a couple of characters go on a cruise in 2020. He had to bump it back to 2019 for it not to ring false for readers. A lot of writers are debating if we integrate these weird circumstances into our fiction or not. Most seem to agree that unless it's integral to the plot, we should ignore the pandemic. It will certainly date the stories the same way the Blitz would.

Which brings me to my kids, because I've been thinking a lot about how this will be a defining period for them that they will be asked to describe for children in the future. The same way 9/11 is something my children only know from history books, but it's a vivid memory for me. I hope regardless of what is happening in the world at large I am helping guide them through this time in a way that is healthy in all senses of that word.

The first few weeks of lock down and social distancing were unsettling. We all had adjustments to make, and things to give up. There were moments of stress that caused everyone to break down in tears at different times. Things have turned around, and at this stage we're all faring better.

I was most concerned for my oldest, because she's the most social of all of my kids, and to have her senior year come to an unceremonious halt was rough. But she's found ways to do Dungeons and Dragons online with friends. She meets someone down the street for a socially distanced Pokemon battle about once a week. She's learning guitar. And when I reminded her that we have the violin store building to safely retreat to for a change of scenery, and that there was an empty Airbnb just sitting there, she devised a schedule for coming out with me to work three days a week. She has the little apartment above the store set up as an art studio. She's been improving her painting skills, getting better at drawing hands, and enjoying a break from her siblings. Real time alone to both relax and be productive has greatly helped her mood.

It's also helped that she finally came to a conclusion about college. That was a lot of stress even without a pandemic looming all around us. Aden was accepted everywhere she applied, and was offered some impressive scholarships, but nothing felt quite right. So a week before all the deadlines were coming due to commit to a school, we did a Google search, and found a new one that checked all the boxes. We got the acceptance letter from UW-Stout a couple of days ago, and Aden is actually excited now about the prospect of college. We still don't know if she'll be able to attend physically in the fall, or what kinds of changes the school will have to make to accommodate college life in the midst of a pandemic, but it's fun to see my daughter looking forward to the next step of her education. We all feel good about it, even if certain elements remain unclear. However it pans out, Aden's not alone. The class of 2020 will be forever bonded through these strange rites of passage.

My middle child is simply enjoying being at home. She misses her friends and her teachers, but the chronic pain she suffers (still undiagnosed, but there's an appointment lined up with a neurologist in a month) makes life in the noisy school hard. It's helping that she can sleep when she needs to, or take medication without a hassle if her headaches get too bad. She's been diligently doing some online classwork every day, even though the district already declared everyone Pass/Fail for the term. If they ever convert that into real grades, the work she's doing now can be used toward improving them. Early on in the lock down, Mona was doing a bit of sewing and made me this adorable fish:
She'd like to sew more, but is awaiting inspiration. She's doing well with this overall, and I'm glad.

My youngest simply takes things in stride. He seldom understands why anyone makes a fuss about anything in general. He's been doing mandatory online school for about a week. It took the district some time to make sure every student who needed a laptop had one, and now that there is a modicum of equity, classes have begun again. We set him up in a little room off the kitchen that we call "the nook" and he gets himself up in the morning and sequesters himself in there with his computer and his lap-desk until noon.

Quinn's cast is off, so I don't need to be his other hand in piano anymore. Which is too bad, actually. I liked having time with him at the keyboard, laughing as we tried to coordinate our efforts into a coherent piece of music. The trip to the clinic to remove the cast was an adventure. I figured the last place I'd want to take my kid right now was to the hospital, but Children's made it about as safe as you could ask. They sent us to a satellite clinic for non-covid-19 patients only. We were pre-screened on the phone, screened again at the door by a man in full PPE, I was given a mask since I have a cough from an unrelated issue. We never saw another patient once inside the building. The people at reception were in masks and behind plastic sheeting. We never shared a room with more than one medical person at a time, and they did as much as they could at a distance as possible. It was far less nerve-wracking than the grocery store.

In any case, being 13 meant my son spent a lot of time in his room with the door closed anyway. I don't know how much quarantine has changed things, other than his friends from down the street can't join him on the trampoline now. He's made using the treadmill part of his daily routine, and he's always willing to accompany me on a walk with the dog if I invite him. He has Minecraft, and a dry erase board to doodle on. If he's suffering in any way, we can't see it. He's about as nice a person to be cooped up with as one could ask for.

My husband remains the person who keeps things working and I'm grateful for that every day. The biggest recent project was when the dryer stopped working. That's the kind of thing if I were on my own with the kids (like during the deployments) would have put me over the edge. But Ian simply consulted YouTube, took the dryer apart, and fixed it. He's amazing.

Ian's also been sweet about indulging my scavenger hunt obsession. Our little corner of the south side of Milwaukee is called Bay View, and I really appreciate the kind of caring, creative place this neighborhood is. A local record store put together a scavenger hunt all over Bay View to provide people with something to do when out for socially distanced walks. It's based on a box of 64 crayons, and those crayons are in shop windows and on display outside of historic locations. It's great, because it directs people toward local businesses that could use support. (Last week I picked up pie from one of the locations when we went to collect the information we needed off their crayon. Without the scavenger hunt, I wouldn't have realized they were even still open and offering curbside service right now.) Anyway, I've learned a lot about my community in the past few weeks of solving clues and hunting down crayons. And every time I have a hunch, Ian's happy to go with me there, by foot or bike or car.

In fact, last Saturday was the first day in all of this that I felt unabashedly great. Since we're by appointment only at the store, and no one was scheduled after noon, we closed up just to explore some scavenger hunt options. We ordered a sandwich ahead, and walked in the sunshine together, and went through our list of clues. We walked by the lake, found some crayons, split our sandwich, and enjoyed each other's company. The loop we made was about three miles, and then we got some more work done at the store. I loved it. On a normal Saturday I'd never be able to take a break like that. Ironically, because of the lock down, I was not trapped in the store.

I'm starting to become aware of all the ways during normal life that I box myself in, and how too full a schedule can look like a form of quarantine. There are normally days where every hour was spoken for: The alarm would go off at six, I'd prepare breakfast and make sure everyone got off to school, swim my mile, get to the violin store with hair that was still wet and get to work, try to get home in time to see the kids for a few minutes before heading off to a rehearsal, and crawling back in bed where I started sometime after ten. It was all stuff I had chosen and that I enjoyed, but with that kind of schedule I was quarantining myself off from time to create, time to read, time with people I care about. I'm wondering how to restructure my life when the pandemic no longer dictates my options so that I have more true freedom.

I feel right now that we have reached a good place. I know I have. I'm past the grieving and the ennui. I'm excited to get up in the morning and tackle things, which was hard about a month ago. (Not everything, but enough. I'll get there.) Limiting the amount of news I listen to has helped. I acknowledge I am in a privileged position where other than the general isolation, we're not in distress. But I don't think anyone should feel guilt about being happy right now if they can be. I lived through enough of that during the deployments. When Ian was in Iraq, and one of the kids did something adorable, it was bittersweet, because I was always acutely aware that their dad was missing it. And there was an underlying sense of it being inappropriate to have fun while he had to be at war several time zones away.

My heart breaks for people who are enduring great loss at this time. I have concerns and fears about the future. But that's true every day, not just during a pandemic. I can be sad for others while still being proud of my daughter for getting into the school of her choice. I can honor people's sacrifices while still being glad to get to snuggle with my son on the couch during a movie. I don't have to feel guilty when our chattering bird makes me smile. Hardship comes to everyone at some point. No one escapes pain in life. So if you've managed to escape some now, during these peculiar and difficult times, appreciate it. Don't try to mitigate it to balance things out in the world. Take joy when you can get it. Especially now.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

End of an Army Era

Today was my husband's last Army drill.

The official retirement date on his orders is the 15th, but today was supposed to be his retirement ceremony. That bit of formal recognition of 21 years of military service was canceled by the current pandemic along with everything else. It was supposed to happen between 11:30 and 12:30 central time, as our handy online calendar notified us this morning.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

There's A Duck On Your Head

Today was supposed to be my official book launch. I was all set to do a book reading/signing at Boswell Book Company--my favorite local bookstore. I was going to make cream puffs for it.

When I was offered a list of available dates by the bookstore, and April first was on it, that made the choice easy. I figured, first of all, April Fool's day was easier to remember then a random day in March. And second, if nobody showed, then the joke was on me. Turns out the joke was on all of us, and we nearly all get to stay home.

My dad loved April Fool's Day. Not in a mean prankster kind of way--my dad was anything but mean--but in a devious actor kind of way. I think he always wanted to play a villain in a movie--the clever, dastardly type. He liked the idea of being able to fool us as kids on this one day when he could test his lying ability without being judged negatively for it.

He was good at it, too. He once told us he'd had the car painted purple, and we knew it couldn't be true. It would be silly, and a waste of money, but he said it in such an offhand way as he continued reading the paper, that I did have to sneak off and take a peek through the window at the driveway. He grinned proudly to himself when I came back to the kitchen.

Every year we could at least count on him to tell us there was duck on our heads, or a pig in the sink. My kids do not like teasing of any kind, so April Fool's is not a thing in our house. I did tell my son there was a duck on his head this morning. He smiled. (I'm not as convincing as my dad was.)

In a parallel universe where all our plans did not get canceled, my book signing is still on. And the cream puffs are ready. And I'm still trying to decide exactly which section of my novel to read, and hoping I don't flub the words as I try to share them.

But in this universe, all I can tell you is if you want my book it's online. (Or available for curbside pickup from Boswell's since they have a whole box of them here in Milwaukee.)

And, not to alarm you? But there's a duck on your head.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Plague Break

This is how my daughter has been referring to this unexpected and peculiar time off: Plague Break. It's like Spring Break (which according to our calendar is still approaching) combined with a pandemic. Strange times.

Our family is beyond lucky. As of this moment, the corona virus has not seemed to have touched us, or anyone we know personally. I expect that to change as the year drags forward, but today? Today we are healthy. Today we are fine.

Our state went on official lock down on Wednesday morning, March 25th. There was a flurry of activity in my store right before then, since many people don't view violins and instrument repairs as non-essential. One person even drove up from Chicago to have me set up her soundpost, since Illinois was on lock down already and no shop down there could help her.

Before this week, we'd been by appointment only at the violin store as soon as the public school closures were issued. The protocols we instituted involved lots of hand washing (for both us and our customers), social distancing, and anything people handled and didn't take with them got put into quarantine for several days. It was an odd way to work.

Since the lock down, no one is allowed inside my store. They can leave things on the doorstep that I can bring in after they've backed away. I have been able to deliver certain items. I recently left a violin bow on a porch and found the payment for it in the mailbox. I appreciate more than I can say that I have customers that think to call me first, rather than spend their money online.

Interestingly, we had more rental instruments go out in the past week than come back. People have time to play. I've been carefully asking each person who does return an instrument why they are doing it, because I don't want anyone to feel they can't play violin simply because we're in a peculiar time of financial strain. I would find a way for them to hang onto it for a while, rather than take a violin away from a child at this moment. But so far everyone has assured me their child lost interest, nothing more.

I've been at my store each day, primarily to wait for packages that were already in transit before the lock down order. I've been sharpening tools for work that isn't there. It's very odd to be caught up on repairs.

Very soon I will shift to being completely at home, the way my husband and children have been. I'll join the full-time quarantine, where at least we have each other and there are hugs and a well-enough stocked pantry. (On my last visit to the grocery store at the beginning of the week, I discovered the losing pasta type is Mafalda. Apparently people will take everything else before they will take Mafalda. Who knew?)

What I find really striking so far about this momentous shift we've all been asked to make in our lives, is how quickly so much of it has sunk in. It's only been about two weeks since school was canceled and social distancing rules were explained to all of us. Now when I see images in movies or online of crowds of people smashed shoulder to shoulder anywhere I feel something akin to panic. I'm conscious about how I wash my hands in a way I didn't used to be. Every time someone touches their own face I feel a small alarm go off in my brain.

I'm surprised by how exhausting all of this has turned out to be. And how hard it is to be motivated to do the kinds of projects I usually want to do. Seems like a perfect opportunity to write, or organize things, or get some real work done in my home shop. But I haven't really done any of that yet.

Part of it is that in some way, too much time can be a burden. I've often found that when trying to get somewhere on time, that too much time makes me as late as too little. And in terms of projects, I'm reminded of the saying, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person." People often ask how I have time for all the things I do, and the truth is you grab moments when you can get them and use them to the fullest. But if tomorrow is just as empty as today, there's no hurry. So I keep putting things off because I can.

Another part of it is stress and grief. Those things make you tired. I tried to explain that to my oldest the other night when she was getting depressed and wasn't sure why. I told her it's because this looks like a vacation of sorts, but it isn't. It's a crisis. And even though in our own home things are about the same, having choices taken away never feels right. And she has legitimate things to grieve over. She left school believing she'd go back the following Monday. Instead, without any goodbyes, she's simply done. Not exactly the way we imagine finishing our senior year. She's trying to make decisions about college under unusual circumstances. She misses her friends.

The stories about people this pandemic has impacted directly are scary. There's no getting around that no matter how many cookies we bake. The fact that there is no end date is stressful. All of it makes us want to sleep in and tune it out a little longer.

As much as we've had to give up at this time, I am impressed by how many good things we had, if that makes sense. Most of us tend to focus on the negative side of being too busy. When all of it grinds to a halt, we can appreciate anew what we liked about all of those activities.

Because talk about cancel culture! Watching one thing after another go down like dominoes was rather shocking. Two concerts I was supposed to play were called off. My book signing is indefinitely postponed. I doubt my daughter will have a public graduation. My husband, after 21 years of service, was supposed to have his Army retirement ceremony next weekend, but instead, he just stops going to drill with no real recognition. Almost without exception, everything getting canceled was something we were looking forward to. It's sort of astonishing to be forced to step away from it all and realize how good we had it.

Currently the only thing keeping us tethered to the day of the week is the fact that my son has remote piano lessons on Mondays. That's it. Bedtimes don't matter, mealtimes don't matter.... All my kids are teenagers so the schedule has gotten very loose. The funniest part of Quinn's piano lessons is that he broke his wrist in two places on a ski trip right before the school closures. His left arm is in a cast, which means to play his assignments, I am now his left hand. I'm a viola player, so I don't read bass clef, and looking at chords is confusing. I gave his teacher a good laugh at least, last lesson. I will do better next time! And since I'm not taking Quinn anywhere near a hospital until the pandemic is under control, who knows how long he'll be stuck in that cast? I could become better at bass clef than I ever planned to.

I am enjoying reading more. I normally don't have a schedule that allows me to finish a book in a single day, and now I do. I'm reading to the kids as they gather to do projects some evenings at the dining room table. Mona has been sewing some beautiful things. Aden is drawing more. I've made a new friend on social media whom I think of as my "plague buddy," and we can tell each other stories that people in our own homes have already heard too many times. It will be nice to meet him in real life when the world goes back to normal.

I do wonder what normal will look like, though. I imagine a year from now it will look more like what we remember from just a few weeks ago. But the rest of this year I think will be strange and complicated. This is not something that will simply end in a couple of weeks and everything springs back to life as if we flipped a switch. There will be ripple effects, and I expect to feel them for a while.

Yesterday would have been my dad's 91st birthday. I took a walk by the lake for an hour and called one of my brothers, and then my mom. We agreed that Dad would have weathered quarantine just fine. He would have happily clipped articles at his desk and looked forward to whatever Mom made for dinner. We wonder if he would have noticed the plague break much at all, aside from the newspaper articles suddenly being entirely about covid-19. I feel bad my mom doesn't have his company right now as she's stuck by herself at home.

I loved my walk by the lake. I'm going to take advantage of so much time laid suddenly at my feet and try to do that every day that I can. This afternoon my family came out to walk a little with me. Even the dog who (because he is the world's weirdest dog and doesn't want to go for walks) enjoyed it for a little bit. The lake provides perspective you don't get anywhere else. It's always beautiful, always different. It makes our own concerns seem smaller and fleeting.

If we do this together we can be proud of how we looked out for one another at an uncertain time. Take care of each other and try to see the good. There's always good if you look.

I hope you all stay healthy.