Thursday, August 30, 2018


Due to a weird transition happening in our public school system's scheduling, my two oldest kids went back to class in the middle of August, but my youngest doesn't start until after Labor Day this year.  He got an extra three weeks of summer vacation, but while everyone else was in a different routine.  It's been odd.

I asked him if there was anything he would like to do during this last little bit of time he had free while his sisters were away all day, and he decided he wanted to go to Iowa.  He has a passion for geography as well as a desire to check things off lists, and Iowa is the only state that borders Wisconsin that he'd never been to.  We took to Google Maps and determined the closest destination from our house would be Dubuque.

I picked a day that was likely to be slow enough at work that I wouldn't be needed so that Ian could take the store, and after the girls were off to school, Quinn and I hit the road.  It's only about two and a half hours to the Iowa border, so not a big deal in our book.  We fussed with the GPS and found a restaurant to aim for, and enjoyed an easy drive where we left the rain on our side of the state and enjoyed clear skies over the Mississippi.
We worked on filling out passport applications (which didn't go well in a moving vehicle so it was funny), and we made observations about the landscape as we moved into the beautiful Driftless Zone.  We played word ladder games, flipped through radio stations, and made a list of things to Google when we got home.  We narrowed down what he wants to be for Halloween and talked about ideas for future trips.

Dubuque is nice, but mostly struck us as quiet.  We didn't see more than a couple of people walking around, but there was a huge line of cars quietly waiting in the drive through line at McDonald's.  We had lunch at a place called the Sunshine Family Restaurant that we chose mostly for the weird way our GPS pronounced its name, and the fact that they had breakfast all day and Quinn was in the mood for an omelette.  It was good, and fast, and friendly.

We walked around, admired the pretty city hall building (which made us laugh because it had scaffolding on it just like ours which seems to be eternally having work done), stopped in an art supply store, and then stopped at a couple of gas stations and a drug store looking for the right souvenirs.

The main thing we were hoping for and didn't find was an Iowa magnet for Quinn's state magnet collection, but I'm sure we'll find one at a truck stop in the future.  We found a shot glass for Aden's collection, a silly key chain for Mona, a fresh pack of Dubuque playing cards for us (we've been playing a lot of rummy 500 at the violin store when he gets bored being home alone), and a new spinny lawn ornament for our side garden which we recently gave up on and put a tarp over and covered liberally with spinning decorations plus a couple of flamingos.  (It's gorgeous.  Or at least more interesting than the weeds were.)

We had an enjoyable drive home where we shared some candy and laughed at whatever.  (Including at a billboard that read "Your membership pays" and then had a "Dupaco" logo, so Quinn read it all as "Your membership pays Duapaco" which is probably more accurate than what they were going for.)

There are a lot of things I feel behind on, and I get frustrated often about how much I'd like to accomplish that never seems to happen, but I never regret taking time out to really spend a day like I did with Quinn.  When I stop and think about it, everything else is actually the time out.  Sure, there was a pile of rental instruments that needed cleaning at work, and some writing I need to get done for a panel discussion coming up, and endless chores at home.  I need to make a living and keep our lives in order, but days were I get to hang out with my son and have lunch with him in Dubuque simply because it sounds fun are the whole point of anything.  That's the kind of thing I should be basing my life around, and I try to as best I can.  I like my job, but I like being home after school to talk with my daughters about their day as I make dinner more.

I wish I had more Dubuque kind of days, but at least I'm always appreciative of the ones I do have.  Everything else is there just to make those possible.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Wild West

We spent the last two weeks of July doing a whirlwind tour of the West.  We visited nine states and drove over 4000 miles.  (We saw a lot and this post will be long, but there are lots of pretty pictures like this one from Utah.)

It wasn't the most convenient time for this trip for several reasons, but we kind of felt we needed to do it.

First of all, Ian's side of the family is all out that way, and there were several relatives of his we hadn't seen in a long time or had never even met, and we felt a need to address that.  It's hard for us to travel anyplace we can't reach by car, so usually seeing family means seeing my family, but we wanted our kids to get to know the other side of their family, too.

And second, our oldest is halfway through high school and we won't have that many opportunities to travel together as a family in a few years and there is a lot we want our kids to see.  We've barely scratched the surface, really, of what we want to show them in the world, but at least when they go off on their own they will have a decent idea of the scope and variety of what's in our own country, and that's a start.

My kids are good at road trips, but we didn't want to spend time driving across parts of the country we've already seen, so we flew to Salt Lake City and rented a car to drive from there.  The plan was to pick up camping gear in the first few days of the trip to use later, but the one snag in the plan was the equipment we scoped out at our local Walmart that we figured we could find during our travels was not available in the quantities we needed at any single store.  We had to stop at several of them to get five cots (after our air mattress disasters we decided cots were the new way to go), but toward the end of our trip my kids said they preferred to go hungry rather than stop at another Walmart for snacks and supplies.

Our flight left Milwaukee very early on the morning of the 17th, and an incredibly kind neighbor (thankyouthanyouthankyouAubrie) drove us to the airport at 3:30a.m.  We flew first to Phoenix, then on to Salt Lake.  One of the advantages of finally traveling with older kids (they are now 16, 14, and 11) is that we could take Southwest and not have to worry about all of us sitting together.  (I remember flying to New York when Ian was deployed and trying to manage five-month-old Quinn in my lap while tending to the girls across the aisle.  Very different times.)

We picked up our rental car at the airport from Enterprise, which was the only rental car place in the city that my husband said didn't have a one-star Yelp review.  That never even occurred to me to check because how bad could a rental car place be?  Apparently pretty bad because the lines and complaints at every other place were impressive.  We piled into our new minivan and drove north through Boise to Nampa, Idaho.

It's so interesting to drive through landscapes that look nothing like home.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Today We Bought a Building!

We've been renters in our violin store space on the corner of Rusk and Delaware for over ten years now.  For the past six of those we've been renting the entire first floor so we could provide studio space for teachers and to expand our storage a little.

Then not long ago our landlord said he wanted to retire and sell the building and was nice enough to give us the first crack at it.  After a few legal hoops and lots of emails and signatures the building as of today is now ours!

We've had the past few months to contemplate what it would mean to move our business if the sale didn't work out, and frankly there is no place else we would rather be.  We're in a residential neighborhood which is just enough off the beaten path I don't have to deal with much distracting foot traffic, it's two blocks from the park by the lake (with its farmers' market in the summers where I can grab a little lunch on Saturdays), close to coffee shops for customers, big windows, lots of free parking, a simple drive to direct people in from downtown, an easy walk from two of my kids' schools and only about a 25 minute walk from home.  It's old and charming and friendly and I love it.

I'm really excited.  A little nervous because it's a lot more to be responsible for, but overall I think it will be great.  This is a new chapter for Korinthian Violins with lots of possibilities.  (So if you need a violin please stop by--we have an impressive mortgage to pay!)

Sunday, August 12, 2018


My two high schoolers go back to school tomorrow.  My oldest will be a Junior.  My middle child will be starting ninth grade.  My youngest will be in sixth grade but he doesn't go back until after Labor Day.  This year they will all be going to different schools, two of them on buses, one walking, all leaving the house at different times.  We've bought supplies, cleaned out backpacks, and made sure everyone has a key to the house.  I've set my alarm for the first time in months.  I'm not sure what more there is to do but I don't feel like we're really prepared for this shift into a new more intense schedule.

The biggest change will be for my middle child venturing into a new school where she doesn't know anyone.  Mona had her two days of freshman orientation last week.  She will be in the class of 2022.

From my perspective this feels strange for a few reasons, including the fact that I remember when the idea of the "Year 2000" seemed very far away.  All the futuristic stuff when I was a kid was set somewhere after 2000.  And now I have children who will be graduating two decades or more into that spacey sounding millennium.  (Still no flying cars, though, or even real hover-boards.)

Also, high schoolers seemed very grown-up to me when I was a child, and now of course they seem outrageously young.  Even though I didn't feel like an adult at 14 I remember that knowledge of it being the oldest I'd ever been and it seemed like a lot.  In many ways I wanted to be autonomous, but it was scary to start really thinking ahead about a future away from my parents and how hopelessly unprepared I was for it.  I see my daughters struggling with those ideas now.  I'm struggling with it from the other side, thinking ahead to letting them go.

For orientation I walked my daughter to her new school both days, which is about ten minutes from our house and at the other end of our neighborhood park.  It's the school my grandpa attended back during the Depression.  It's a school that has a troubled reputation but is in transition.  It was my daughter's first choice, even though she had lots of possibilities available to her around the city.  I'm proud of her for wanting to go to our neighborhood school even though she doesn't know anyone there.

It was hard to leave her there both mornings.  It reminded me too much of her first day of kindergarten.  Which is funny, because I don't really remember the first days for my other children.  I have pictures of Aden with her earnest smile and bejeweled purse posing outside of Head Start downtown when she was three, but I can't remember much about the actual drop off.  She loved school, but she usually cried when I left.  Did she cry that first day, though?  I don't remember.  I don't think so.  And Quinn's first day?  I'm pretty sure I cried.  But did he look back at me when it was time for me to go?  Or did he wander off into all those Montessori materials and not bat an eye that I was leaving?  I don't know anymore.

Mona I remember, though.  Everything has always been more extreme with Mona.  She always climbed the highest, swam the farthest, and continues to surprise us at every turn.  Guiding her has always been my truest test as a parent and not one I often feel I'm passing.

On her first day of kindergarten she clung to me and cried in a way that I didn't feel I could leave her.  I ended up sitting with her on the floor outside of her cheerful looking classroom unsure of what to do.  Her teacher (to whom I am forever grateful for being on Mona's side so fiercely in her first years of school) came to us in the hall and said the perfect thing: 

She started by saying that whatever I wanted to do she would support because I knew my child best.  But that in her experience at that moment Mona was in charge and didn't really want to be.  She was sure Mona would be fine after I left.  And of course she was. 

That doesn't change how painful it was to walk away.  Leaving your child with other people to a world you are not directly a part of is wrenching.  I knew Mona needed to form her own relationships with friends and teachers and that's how it's supposed to be, but it's scary.  It felt the same all over again leaving her at the high school, although this time all the tears were mine on the walk home.  I just want it all to go well, but I can't control that.  I want my baby to be okay.

The orientation turned out to be a bit overwhelming and didn't go as well as my daughter hoped, but she admitted it had nothing to do with the school or the people there.  She said everyone was nice.  There are amazing opportunities in this high school, such as a mural club and a classroom where they put together an entire race car every year and culinary classes...  She's looking forward to French class and a course in computer applications in art which she will rock.  All of that is harder to face until you have friends, though.  She was acutely aware of that the first day, which was lonely.  The second day a couple of kids found ways to introduce themselves and now she feels better.

She's created a beautiful dragon costume out of a hoodie that she plans to wear on her first day.  That should send a clear message about who she is and what she's about, and with luck attract people to her side who can appreciate her.  I hope it's a good year.  For all of us.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Won't you be my neighbor?

I took my family out to see the new documentary about Mr Rogers, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?"  It's a lovely film.  I think I cried the whole way through it.  There was something good about watching it in a theater and sensing other people getting choked up as well.  My eyes hurt for hours afterward, and I found it very hard to sleep that night because there was so much going through my mind and pulling at my heart.

Mr Rogers was genuinely kind in a way that is far too rare in this world.  We may never see another like him.  There are many people I love and admire and that I have felt lucky to learn from, but Mr Rogers managed to distill the core of what humanity should be centered around more simply than anyone: That we are able to love and be loved.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Promise of America

Like many I know, I have mixed feelings anymore about the 4th of July.

That's been true for me since I first visited the Statue of Liberty as a child and watched a short film in the welcome center.  The film featured famous people talking about what the Statue of Liberty meant to them, and it included James Baldwin whose statement is the only one that stayed with me.  He quoted the beginning of the Declaration of Independence and said it was problematic since he hadn't been included in those ideals.  He highlighted that for black people whose families were brought here by force to work as slave labor for others who claimed to believe "all men are created equal" the Statue of Liberty represented only a cruel irony.

It was the first time I truly recognized that symbols of our country flouted as patriotism were painful for many Americans.  It broke my heart that people with as much right to the ideals of America did not feel a part of that dream.  I had a child's love for my country that was uncomplicated.  I had to rethink it.

Our country's history encompasses many dreadful and shameful things.  Too much of that was whitewashed in school when I was young.  There is less of that in my children's education, so they understand better than I did at their ages that there is much about American history that is disturbing and unpleasant.

I asked them this morning on our way to the annual parade how they feel about the 4th of July.  My oldest said she wasn't sure how to feel.  She sees so much happening in our country anymore that is hard to take pride in, that she'd rather think of the holiday as more a celebration of our neighborhood traditions.  My middle child was conflicted because she doesn't want her disgust for the current president to contaminate her ability to enjoy the day.  My youngest doesn't know.  It's hard for him to see the 4th as something other than a candy holiday (and asked why anyone would bother to go to a parade that didn't involve throwing treats into the crowd).

Here's what I told them:  America is a promise.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Varnish Workshop 2018

The varnish workshop that I’ve come to attend on an annual basis since it moved to Chicago (instead of Boston) has become one of the highlights of my year each spring.  I don’t need it in the way I used to—when I lacked the knowledge and tools to use oil varnish with confidence—but for something deeper now. 

I don’t mean to imply I know all I want to know to varnish a violin.  That remains a lifelong process, and I learn something new and useful at the workshop every time.  But if I never returned I could certainly proceed on my own and feel capable of varnishing instruments in a way I can be proud of.  The very first workshop I attended succeeded in doing that.

No, what I get now that I’ve done this four times is that rare and cherished sense of being among “my people.”  The participants at the varnish workshop run the gamut from absolute beginners to luthiers at the top of their field, but everyone there has something to learn, something to teach, something to share that is valuable.  The atmosphere is industrious but relaxed, and it changes a bit each year with the different personalities in attendance, but they are all people who get what it is that interests me about this field and I don’t have to explain it.  We share a language and an aesthetic and there is a pleasure in that that I don’t experience in group settings very often. 

The other thing that’s nice about the varnish workshop is simply being able to block out an entire week of time to do what I want to do all day every day.  Other people may want a vacation at a spa, but that’s not for me.  Much more satisfying to be productive and feel I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing rather than using all my energy on the chore treadmill that is often day-to-day life.  The varnish workshop has become a favorite playground.