Monday, June 27, 2016


I finished the violin I've been working on!
There is really nothing quite like stringing up a an instrument for the first time that you've spent so many hours creating and finally getting to hear its voice.

I mean, it started like this:
Spruce, maple, and neck block
And now, all by my own hands, it is this:

Most days lutherie is just a fun job that feels fairly ordinary, but on days like today where I come to the end of the long process and can kind of step back I am momentarily awed that I am capable of such a thing.  I go from "I make violins" to "Oh my god look I actually made this violin!" 

I'm really pleased with it.  I spent about half an hour playing it after I got the bridge finished (the first thing I am compelled to play on my new instruments is "Happy Birthday") and it has more power than I was expecting.  It's comfortable to play, but when I get it into the new player's hands this weekend I'll find out if there is any further tweaking I need to do to customize it. 

It needs to be played in to warm it up, because right now it has that slightly hyper sound of a violin under tension for the first time and it's not sure about the whole idea yet.  Despite that, it sounds well balanced and clear, and I know with time it will warm up and the edges of the sound will soften.

In the past few weeks I had one frustrating setback that literally gave me nightmares, but it turned out to be a useful learning moment.  After I got the instrument to color I put on the final coat of clear varnish that is used to polish through, but compared to the conditions I originally did all my varnishing in, the combination of AC and sunlight in my shop were problematic.  The scroll burst out into the varnish equivalent of a rash and I freaked out.
I had never had a problem like this before, but thankfully I have a varnish guru I can consult, and Joe always makes things better.  He explained the problem and walked me through all the steps I needed to get it under control again, and it all worked out:
All better.
I now have much improved varnish doctor skills, but that was still not fun. 

Speaking of varnish, check out how beautiful it looked after the final polishing when I held it outside at sunset:

I would normally describe the color of this instrument as a "warm caramel" but varnish is different in different light, and here you can see all the lovely ways the sunlight can dance through the wood and the ground and bring out many colors at once.  (I love to varnish. I can't wait until I get to do it again.)

Anyway, welcome to the world new violin!  I hope you get to play wonderful things.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hey Dad

I miss you.

Did I call you last Father's Day?  If I didn't I meant to.  I know I didn't get a hold of you every single one, but I certainly thought of you.  I'm thinking of you today.

I actually think of you every day.

Remember how I used to call you on Mondays?  Mom was usually out drawing in Ann Arbor and I knew you'd be a little lonely, so I'd call?  I miss that.  I still reach for the phone at work when I have a quiet moment on Mondays and want to tell you something, but then I remember.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Middle Ground

Every time there is another mass shooting in America I feel compelled to write.  Most of the time I give up before the post does more than cycle around in my head for a day or two.  I am frustrated.  I am stuck.  And I am on a loop because we never come to an end to these stories.

There is always a new one, always the same useless responses on all sides, and always inaction.  Gun people circle the wagons and deflect to tangential issues, gun control people ramp up rhetoric that further alienates the gun people, random people change their Facebook statuses and post sympathetic preprocessed words to make themselves feel like they've done something, when in fact they are more likely removing themselves further from being productive due to the false sense of involvement.  The discussion goes nowhere.  Nothing changes.  And we wait for the next news story and start all over again.  I've stopped feeling like my words contribute anything to this morbid dance.

This weekend I had to tell my kids about the shootings in Orlando.  I kept it simple: At least 50 dead that we know of and there is no reason "why" that will make any sense.  This is what happens in our country.  This is what we allow to happen in our country, and I'm not sure what the reason "why" is for that either.

However, today I am writing because maybe in this case I do have something to offer.  I'm in a position to write about this dispassionately, because I am not absorbing this tragedy.  I can't do that right now.  Sandy Hook about ruined me.  That story made me physically ill and continues to tear at me if I let it in.  I think as caring human beings we have to exercise our empathy with important stories that aren't our own when we can.  We should feel devastated by accounts of the Holocaust, and slavery, and child abuse, and 9/11, and any number of other horrors that people seem compelled to commit upon one another for reasons I can't fathom.

But we can't live there all the time.  We have to live our own stories and create good to balance the horror or what is the point?  I could choose at any time to wallow in the sadness of past or present.  It's easy to go there.  If feels virtuous at times to go there.  But it is not usually productive to go there, so today I will not.  My knowing details from Orlando will not change it.  My tears will not make it better.

But maybe some clear thinking will.  Media--social and otherwise--is nothing but emotion on all sides from what I can glean today while trying not to absorb much news.  I am setting myself apart from this deliberately for my own sanity.  Here are my thoughts.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Pigs in Space

My first baby just graduated from eighth grade.
How does that happen?  I remember a decade and a half ago the pregnancy test coming up positive, and telling Ian, and then telling my grandma (who cried).  I remember talking to Aden in my belly and enjoying having her with me everywhere I went even though I hadn't seen her yet.  I remember the baby who smiled at me for real at three weeks old, and who had full blown empathy at four months.

I remember a little girl starting at her public Montessori school who refused to walk down to her kindergarten classroom in the basement unaccompanied, which was a problem in the winter for her pregnant mom with the toddler in tow and a husband deployed in Iraq.  That problem was eventually solved by her finding a friend to walk with her.  That same friend was one of the last she walked out of the school with after graduation.

I can't believe time can come crashing all together like this.  Hundreds of trips in and out of that school, no particular one looking like a milestone, and yet she started as a tiny four-year-old I could scoop into my arms, and came out an impressive young woman who performed a violin solo on the stage for the graduating class and left clutching a certificate.  I am overwhelmed.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Rethinking the Kitchen

We've decided to take the plunge and remodel our kitchen.
We've been trying to figure out what to do with it for the past year or so, because it's sort of all or nothing, which is daunting.  The counter tops have reached a crisis level where they are buckling, one of them is burned, and the edges are falling off to the point where if we don't keep screwing in one section with bigger and bigger screws the dishwasher falls out.  Plus they are just not attractive or all that practical since they are textured.

The problem with just replacing the counters is that the layout of the kitchen is bad, and buying new counters to fit that layout sort of seals it in for a long time to come.  We looked into getting all of it rearranged.

After getting some estimates last year it looked like there was no way we could afford it.  Which was a shame, because now is when we use the kitchen.  Now is when we have three kids all living at home, now is when we host meal-heavy holidays like Thanksgiving, now is when we are cranking out cakes for birthdays and cookies for recitals, now is when we actively use the whole kitchen all the time.  We could wait until the kids are grown and gone but by then I may not care much.  A new kitchen for just me and Ian would be a luxury by then, not a necessity, and there are other things I would rather spend money on.

When a new kitchen seemed out of reach I decided I was content to simply get new counters and a new sink and then work with Ian one cabinet and drawer at a time to replace all the crumbling hardware and make them work at least a little better.

But finances work in mysterious ways sometimes!  Business was worse for us last year.  Which ironically means we now can (just barely) afford to do the kitchen because something about not having to do estimated taxes every month something something.  (This seems completely messed up to me that if we had done better last year we would have less money for such a project.  I will just keep working on my violins and try not to think about that too hard.)  When Ian got the final word on our taxes this year he gave me the unexpected green light on the kitchen.

New kitchen!  I can barely believe it's going to happen.

So what is so wrong with our kitchen?

Monday, May 30, 2016

"Happy" Memorial Day

I have a friend for whom wishes of a "Happy Memorial Day" or a "Happy Veterans' Day" really grate on her nerves.  These are not bubbly greeting card holidays.  They are meant to be secular versions of true "holy days" used to contemplate sacrifices made on our behalf.  For many they are simply a chance to enjoy a little time off, but my son finds it amusing that people could overlook their intended meaning and usually takes a moment to try and suppress laughter while saying, "Hey, Mom!  'Happy' Memorial Day!"

I don't usually write posts on Memorial Day.  I felt obligated to do so when I was a blogger for Babble and their only resident military family voice, and this post on the subject still expresses how I feel most accurately.  But I decided I will take a moment today to acknowledge what things have changed, for better or worse, since I wrote that Memorial Day post back in 2010.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Latin Review

Come June, Quinn and I will have been taking Latin for one year.  It's one hour a week after school up at the university, with usually one week off a month for a scheduling conflict.  The teacher is wonderful, and Quinn and I meet him in a study room at the library.

Quinn by our parking meter
It's fun having that bit of time with just Quinn.  We have a routine that involves laughing over whether the parking meter will give us a receipt or not (it rarely does, so Quinn collects the ones we do get), pretending to trip over a mysterious bit of useless curb on the way to the library, and critiquing the selections in the vending machine if we have to wait for our lesson.  (Observation about candy choices:  Most of them are variations anymore.  There are usually a couple of kinds of Starburst, a few different M&Ms, consistently three types of Skittles, a variety of Cheetos, several shapes of pretzels...  The Snickers even come in different versions now.  The only unique selections seem to be the Reese's Cups and the odd Take 5 or Zero bar.  You're welcome.)

Quinn on the tiny curb
We also got a good laugh one day out of a whole bunch of caution signs in the entryway which looked like they presented more of a hazard than they were attempting to prevent.  Quinn and I find amusement everywhere, so even without the actual Latin lessons we enjoy our weekly outing.

I hadn't planned on taking Latin myself, and it's humbling to watch Quinn do so much better with it than I do.  I can't tell if it's because I'm just old, or if he's that much smarter than I am.  (Probably both.)  Regardless, Latin has turned out to be really enjoyable.