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.

Ian is away on an Army assignment again, but this time only in Poland, and for only a few weeks.  There is always a bit of stress trying to manage everything alone with him away, but the psychological difference between essentially a business trip and deployment cannot be overstated.  Taking on my husband's share of the chores while assuming he will be back soon, as opposed to doing those same tasks while constantly worried he will never come home, feels very different even though the choreography of my day may look the same.  My worry is of that low level variety where I am aware that life is unpredictable and anything can happen at any time, but I will gladly take that over the constant dread that comes with having my husband in a war zone any day.

In 2010 my kids were 3, 6, and 8.  Today they are 9, 12, and 14.  It's sort of shocking to realize that even my youngest now is still older than my oldest was back then.  The difference is enormous, not just in the general responsibilities, but in our relationships.  Until I reread that old post I had forgotten the weight of having to shield my children from so much.  I wouldn't have to do that today.  Their understanding of what a deployment means would be different if it happened now, and we would have to support each other in our fears and our challenges.  Trying to provide as normal a life as possible for my children when they were smaller and couldn't possibly grasp the bigger picture was necessary but hard.  They needed me to make them feel safe, and I couldn't afford to be an emotional wreck around them.  They are more resilient now.  They understand what supporting family in good times and bad means.  It would be a different ordeal with them being aware, but both innocence and knowledge have their price.

The strangest thing on this Memorial Day is probably how much more the political landscape scares me now compared to back then.  How can it be that things feel less stable today than they did during official military action?  Clinton's hawkishness has always concerned me deeply.  Trump's immaturity and unpredictable behavior is terrifying.  I'm not comfortable with either of these people having the power to command my husband where to go and what to fight for.  I understand the fascination people have with Trump, because reasonable politics are boring and he's playing this campaign like a reality show, but this isn't entertainment.  This is literally life or death for my family.  For many families.  I don't find his antics amusing.

So what are we doing on this long weekend?  Simple things.  Cleaning up, being together, settling Catan, and wishing Ian were here and hoping he has interesting stories to tell of his time in Poland when he returns. 

The best thing is a friend asked us to bake her a gender reveal cake for their first baby.  We made a prototype on Saturday to make sure it would be just the way she wants it.  She asked for lemon curd filling which we've never done before, so Mona helped me squeeze lemons and Quinn ran the mixer.  We needed to make sure whatever dye we put in the cake would look right when baked because if we goofed and the inside was all brown (the disaster default of most dye issues) that would make for a confusing event.

I think my friend thinks we're doing her a favor by making this cake.  The truth is, on a holiday weekend that I usually struggle with, I prefer to focus on a joyfully anticipated baby than on loss.  It's a good distraction and a fun project to do with my kids.

I miss my grandpa.  I miss my grandma.  I miss my dad.  I don't need reminders about missing people and mourning the dead and acknowledging sacrifice.  I prefer today to think about how lucky we are to have gotten to this point and appreciate how much has happened in the past six years.  I am so grateful for so much.  I just want to hug my kids and be happy for my friend that she will soon have one of her own to hug as well.  Memorial Day in 2010 was hard.  This one I might actually term "happy."

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.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"That's good, right?"

I'm reluctant to hit "publish" on this post because it's one of those things where I know someone out there will think I am whining, and I'm not.  I just feel like putting into words part of my experience that I think is misunderstood.

Let me start by saying I love my work.  I am very lucky to get to do what I enjoy, and to run a business with my husband.  That's all good.  I don't take any of those good things for granted.


I am swamped lately.  Swamped isn't fun.  And when people ask anymore how business is going and I say it's really busy they nearly all look pleased for me and say the same thing:  "That's good, right?"

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Clef Pride

I love playing the viola.

I don't love having to constantly explain what a viola is, but I figure with each person I take the time to tell, that's one more potential viola fan, so it's worth the effort.

One of the things that makes playing viola somewhat special is that we use an unusual clef.  Violists use alto clef.  "What's that?" the non-violists out there may be asking?  Well, let's start by just explaining what clefs in general are:
Alto, Treble, Bass, and Tenor Clefs
Most people are familiar with a "treble" or "G" clef.  It gets used often as a symbol for all music, even though it only applies to music in the upper register.  A good many people also recognize the "bass" or "F" clef, which applies to music in the lower register.  (Pianists use both of these at once, with the right hand usually playing in treble clef, and the left usually in bass.)

The job of a clef is to tell you what the lines and spaces on the staff mean.  (The staff is that set of five lines and four spaces that the notes are arranged on.)  Now, clefs are technically moveable, which is why they have more than one name.  A "treble clef" is really only called that when it is set on the staff in the position where we are most accustomed to seeing it.  The important part of that symbol is the tail bit on the inside of the spiral, because it overlaps the second line up from the bottom of the staff which is the note G above middle C.  This is why just on its own away from a staff it's really a "G clef" because its job is to show you where G is, but it rarely if ever moves, so calling it a treble clef is fine.  If you moved that symbol higher or lower on the staff you'd be shifting the designated location of that G, and therefore all of the other notes as well.  (The "bass" or "F" clef shows you where the note F below middle C is--it's the line between the two dots.  It also rarely moves.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Varnishing in Chicago

In April I was lucky enough to attend a week-long violin varnishing workshop.  I really enjoyed the one I attended three years ago in Boston, and decided the time was right to repeat the experience.  Only after I committed to it did I find out that this year they were holding it in Chicago!

On the one hand, that was great because it was incredibly convenient.  For nearly all of it I commuted home at night, which meant I was able to still attend an evening orchestra rehearsal, I could check in with the kids in person, and sleep in my own bed.  On the other hand, driving back and forth to Chicago every day was exhausting, and there is something to packing up and leaving town and not being distracted by your normal everyday life while trying to immerse yourself in another experience.  Overall, though, it was great to have the workshop so comparatively close.

The workshop was held at the Chicago School of Violin Making.  I have several friends who got their training there, and my own teacher taught at CSVM for years before moving to Wisconsin which is where he took me on as a student.   I enjoyed having a chance to work in that space for a week and get a feel for what that environment is like.

The workshop was led again by Joe Robson, who is a varnish maker, and luthiers Marilyn Wallin and Todd Goldenburg.  The dozen or so of us in attendance spanned the range from people oil varnishing for the first time to accomplished builders.  It was a really pleasant and interesting group.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Unique New York

(A bit overdue at this point, and with fewer details than I originally wrote, but at least I got something down while I remember anything.)

We had a great trip to New York for spring break!
We didn't stop in Ohio this time, so it was a long drive in one shot from Wisconsin.  Thankfully my kids all continue to be excellent travelers, making 15 hours in the car together possible--even pleasant.

In any case, here is a summary (with lots of pictures) so I won't forget:

My kids' spring break didn't line up with my niece's this year.  She only had off the Friday before Easter, and we had from then up through the beginning of April.  So we decided in order to get the most time for cousins together that we would pull our kids out of school a day early and drive to New York all that Thursday.

The car ride was (blissfully) uneventful.  We finished reading the book Wildwood (which we enjoyed) and started Birds, Beasts, and Relatives, which is part of the My Family and Other Animals series.  I really like reading to my kids in the car.  (It's amazing how much faster it makes the time seem to go.)

We arrived around midnight in New York City where my sister-in-law had an air mattress already set up for the girls and the trundle bed pulled out for Quinn.  My brother was out of the country for a business trip, so it was "just" the seven of us (plus Pepper the dog) for the first few days.  I am amazed every time we visit that they are able to find space for us in that apartment, but they do, and we're grateful.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Knee Jerk NO

Before I begin, let me say that I started writing my NYC post again, and Blogger randomly lost about two hours of writing.  Not the whole post this time, just back a day's writing, but what is going on?  I am beyond frustrated.  I don't know how many times I can try to recreate that work and not go insane so I may have to scrap it.

Some people don't understand why I don't just write blog posts on my desktop and then copy and paste when I'm ready to post, but there's something irritating about that that is hard to describe to someone who doesn't blog.  It's not like regular writing.  It's more immediate and I want to arrange something as I'm thinking about it in the format where it will live.  I've started copying and pasting from Blogger to email as a backup in addition to hitting the ineffective "save," but I still don't understand why now I have to do that.


The other day when we were all in the car together, Ian was telling a story about how in Iraq there was a point where he and another officer were in charge of a group, and the other guy was the picture of a big tough military guy, and Ian by comparison was not imposing.  But Ian was the one everyone considered the hard ass really in charge because he was the one who would say, "No."

I laughed and said, "Which one of you was the parent?"

There is a lot of knee jerk "No" when you are a parent.  More than there should be, and I make a conscious effort to stop and reassess before I simply say "No."  Many times when my kids make a request and my first instinct is "No" and I take a moment to really think about it, I wind up saying "Yes" instead.  Because many times the request is harmless.

I think the automatic "No" comes from exhaustion.  There is so much responsibility and so much to get done in so little time that deviating from whatever plan is in action feels like one thing too many.  And so much of parenting, particularly of small children, has such a meandering pointless feel about it that it can get frustrating.  Adults usually like to feel they are accomplishing something.