Thursday, May 31, 2012


On June 5th Wisconsin is holding an election about whether or not to recall the Governor.  He's been in office for about a year and the role he's played in that span of time has proven divisive in our state.  I've become somewhat accustomed to the polarizing effects of politics on the national stage because it's so broad it feels distant.  I don't like it, but it's more theoretical and less personal somehow.  This kind of polarization on a local level is different.  And for many it is deeply personal.

Politically, I think of myself as liberal.  In terms of my personal choices I'm fairly conservative, but I don't believe in imposing my own lifestyle on others because one, that's not fair, and two, that would make the world incredibly dull.  For instance, I believe marijuana should be legalized, but I personally have zero interest in trying it.  (I don't even drink coffee, I am just that boring.)

Truthfully, I'm not sure anymore how other people define the terms liberal and conservative.  The words are charged with unintended meanings and are often just shortcuts to describing other things with derogatory stereotypes.  Here's what they mean to me in their basic, ideal forms:

Conservatism is about preservation, conserving things that are good.  I always think of our local 4th of July celebrations as classically conservative affairs.  I like the tradition of parades and fireworks and I want my kids to have what I had and I hope their kids one day enjoy the same.  I like feeling pride in my country for all the wonderful things about it and I'm glad I was born here.  Conservatives focus on values and traditions worth protecting, and that core informs their opinions.

Liberalism is about freedom to change.  Just because something has been done one way for a long time does not mean it's worth preserving, and just because something works for one person or group does not mean it's appropriate for everyone.  Liberals see things that need fixing and want to employ new approaches so that we can move toward something better.  Some things are too important (like ending the oppression of minorities) to be left to natural forces of change that would take too long to be fair, and sometimes we as a society have to collectively implement those changes. 

By these definitions all of us can to some degree relate to both sides.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Choosing not to Choose

I recently made a cringe-worthy awful mistake in a comment on someone's blog.  I didn't mean to upset anyone, but it left me feeling kind of sick.

Heather Spohr in her blog on Babble wrote a post about why she thinks it's fine to say she loves her children more than her husband.  Apparently this was the hot button issue of the week since we are done being shocked by the 'Are You Mom Enough' Time magazine cover (which I hope has now gone the way of Tiger Mom and Octo-Mom and any other mom-centric craziness of the moment that people want to get worked up about).

Anyway, her argument was essentially that her love for her husband was conditional (based on whether he cheated on her or molested her children) but her love for her children was not.  Personally I don't agree that love of children is unconditional, because if I had a psychopath for a child who killed others without remorse I would be sad and wounded about it forever, and probably not wildly and unreservedly in love with my kid anymore.  And what if one of your children grew up to molest your grandchildren?  This standard of whether or not to revoke love applies to spouses but not kids?  (Extreme, I know, but my head goes to extreme examples to test rules.)

I was most struck by the absurdity of wanting to quantify love to begin with.  Love for a spouse is so completely different from the love for a child that it's strange to even begin to compare the two.  It seems like asking me if I'd rather have my hands or my eyes.

So, thinking of my own children, or of me and my brothers growing up, I commented that if love was quantifiable, would you feel comfortable saying you love one child more than another?  Would you love the first more because you have more invested, or the youngest who happens to be more reciprocal with his or her love?

Well, not being a regular reader of Heather Spohr's, and somehow having missed a crucial bit on my first read through of her post, I didn't realize that her oldest child died three years ago, which she brought up in her reply.  My stomach dropped.  I hadn't meant to be insensitive.  I was using 'you' in a general 'you' kind of sense, not her specifically.  Just...ugh.  I hope she accepts my apology because it's sincere.

But it got me thinking about why on earth are we even asking such questions to begin with?  What purpose does it serve to speculate which loss would be greater or which person you love best?  Why put ourselves through the anguish of a Sophie's Choice moment when no such choice is necessary?  In a real crisis none of us knows what we would actually do anyway, so... Why?

I'm not saying that it's not an interesting exercise to examine the relationships in our lives periodically and see where things stand, but I honestly don't want to know where I stack up against my brothers or my husband or our kids or my parents.  I can only think of one instance in my own life where such a question arose and it was painful.

I was spending the evening with my grandmother in her home in Ohio.  It was a few years after college, that much I remember, but there was a timeless quality about visiting with my grandma that makes pinpointing dates fuzzy for me.  I was alone with her in the family room, she was in her favorite chair, and I was on the floor near her feet.  We were talking the way we always did about nothing and everything, and we wound our way to the topic of grandpa.

We'd talked plenty of times about how much she missed grandpa, but this was different.  This time she talked about the many things that were hard about being alone, but claimed the hardest was not being the most special person in the world to someone anymore.  She wept as she said, "I'm not number one to anybody now.  I was number one to Tony, and when I lost him, I was no longer number one."

She cried for a long time, and I hugged her, and I couldn't think of anything to say.  Because the horrible truth was she was right.  If you looked at love in that manner there was nothing but a hole in her life that would never be repaired.  I loved my grandmother dearly, but it would be wrong for me as a married woman with children to put her above all others in my life.  She wouldn't want that, even if it was something I could give.

My mind raced around to all the relationships in our family, to see if I could single someone out to whom my grandmother could be number one again, but it was as if everyone had already been chosen for teams and my wonderful grandmother was left on the sidelines, unpicked.

But she was not unloved.  Not by a long shot.  My grandmother touched many lives and made a difference in this world.  I loved my grandmother.  I hated the idea that my love, or the love of the many people in her life, could be ranked, and that any of the love we had to offer could be seen as simply insufficient because it didn't compare to the love of my grandfather.  I understood what she was saying, and she was entitled to her pain, and no, no other relationship was ever going to match the one she had with her husband.  But there is more than one kind of love.  I was her first grandchild.  I know the love we shared was special to both of us.  It was a completely different sort of relationship from the one she had with her husband.  They shouldn't be compared, and I don't think they're meant to be.

It's a destructive process that allows us to take something as precious as love and quantify it for comparison.  It leaves us diminished, not enlightened.

When I had Aden, I learned how deep love could be.  When I had Mona, I realized love could be huge.  When I had Quinn after suffering a couple of miscarriages, I knew not to take love for granted.  Love is not a commodity.  It is a gift.  We should not be reckless with something so important.

I love my kids.  I love my husband.  I love my parents and my friends and my cousins and my brothers and my niece and my uncles and my aunts and so many others including my silly dog who barks too much.  I'm not interested in ranking any of them.  I can't live on one kind of love and be a whole person.  There is a lot of love to go around without wasting time announcing who gets how much.  Let's move on to a new game.  This one serves no purpose and I'm not playing.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Welcome to the world new violin!

Thanks again to everyone for their input about the fittings.  I think the rosewood looks nice.  (I'll save the boxwood set I bought for a different violin.)

The instrument sounds pretty good, if I do say so myself.  It sounds really really new, but balanced and clear.  It's exciting stringing up an instrument for the first time, but also somewhat funny.  You can kind of feel it freaking out under all that tension, like it's been hanging around in this relaxed state for all of its existence and all of a sudden ohmygodohmygodohMYGODwhatisHAPPENING.  So new violins sound unsure and a bit startled the first day.  Then you play them in and they settle down.

This violin is playing in quickly and well.  It's comfortable, which is good, although I still may make the neck a little thinner.  (After I have some other people play it and get some feedback I'll come to a decision about that.)  The VSA competition isn't until November so I have months to play it a lot and tweak anything I need to tweak to make it better before judging, so that should help.

It's sister violin is about ready to set up, but the client I built it for wanted a very dark color, so it's still essentially wet.  It's dry to the touch, but if you pressed something into it hard it would pick up an imprint, so that one needs to sit a little longer before I can hear it.

So I'm done!  Done.  Hm.

(Now what?)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Crazy Mixed-Up World

Quinn is good at maps.  He gets this from his father.  He most certainly does not get this from me.  I have tried for years to learn some basic geography and I am still surprised every time I look at a map at where everything really is.

This is Quinn at 18 months old (still wearing a diaper) putting together a map puzzle of Asia by himself, happily naming each country in his baby lisp.  (The joke for a while was, "Oh, he's probably just reading it.")

I picked up the puzzle on a whim at the local natural history museum one afternoon because he seemed interested.  I didn't expect him to master it in a couple of days.

For Christmas my parents got him the Africa puzzle, which he also learned in a couple of days.

So of course we got him all the puzzles.  The only one that bored him was South America, and I think that was because in order to fit nicely on a square the puzzle has a lot more ocean than any of the other map puzzles.

In any case, Quinn loves to learn things, and he will focus intensely on something for a stretch of time, and then just let it go.  Which is what happened with the maps around age three.  He was doing the Europe puzzle at the violin store almost daily when he spent his mornings there with me while his sisters were at school and his dad was in Iraq.  Then, one day, that was enough of that.  No more maps.  He was only interested in things that were purple.  Then he was into planets.

But recently at school, where he is a K4 in a mixed age Montessori classroom, he started working with maps again.  They have sets with pieces the kids can trace to make their own maps of different areas of the world.  Quinn got inspired and made me one of the United States, one of South America, and one of Africa.
I don't know which I like better: The actual maps, or the smile on Quinn's face when his dad brings him by the violin store after the half-day pickup and he says he has a surprise for me in his backpack.  (Okay, the smile, but the maps are awfully cool.)

Anyway, the school maps inspired Quinn to dig the old map puzzles out of the game cabinet, and he was familiarizing himself with all the countries of the world again.  (And this time he really was reading the words on the pieces.)

Then one evening I came home from work to discover that Quinn had dumped all the map puzzles into a single heap.  The puzzles take me forever and I have to keep referring to the pictures on the boxes, so I have always been very careful to make sure we put one away before we get out another for fear of a time consuming mix up.  Seeing all the countries of the world scrambled together put me in a mild panic.                                                               

I offered to start helping Quinn sort them out, and began picking out pieces of the United States and Canada and putting them in pile.  And my poor boy started to quietly cry.  I froze.  Then I scooped him into my lap and apologized.  Just because I assume something needs fixing because it makes me uncomfortable doesn't mean that that's true for anyone else.  I had interfered in something that I shouldn't have, and since my son loves me he can't just yell, "No!" to make me stop.  I had to make myself stop.  And I left him and the mixed-up world alone.

Not that Quinn leaves me alone.  He would pick at the puzzles a little in the morning before school and again in the evenings before bed, all the while chattering away at me as I did my own projects at the dining room table or in the living room.  And after a few days he had sorted out everything.

Quinn fixed the world.

I don't know.  The kid is smart enough maybe by the time he's finally in full day kindergarten he'll figure out how to fix the real one.  Let's all just be glad that he uses his powers for cuteness instead of evil.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cello Lamp!

One of the best parts about having hired Robyn as my assistant at the violin store is that I am free to tackle projects just because I want to.  Having another luthier around who can do repairs has been almost magical.  I can leave a pile of rental instruments on the floor by my bench with a note saying they need to be cleaned up and put away, and when I come back the next day it's happened!  I'm not drowning in work every minute.  Which means now when I have an idea to make something that is purely for fun I can occasionally indulge instead of looking wistfully from the workbench all the time and wishing I could flex more creative muscle.

So I made two things for the new teaching studio space we are expanding the store into just to make it more fun.

Behold the cello lamp!

I wish I did not own as many broken cellos as I do.  Many a sad, sad rental story behind them.  (We no longer rent cellos because my heart couldn't take it anymore and it was getting expensive.)  Anyway, this was a 3/4 size cello with a giant back crack that really couldn't be fixed in any affordable manner, so I glued it shut enough with Titebond and then merged the whole instrument with a $17 lamp I found at Target.  I removed the fingerboard, drilled a hole in the top at the base of the neck joint, and ran the cord up through there and along a channel I cut all the way up the neck.

The only truly tricky part was getting the top piece of the lamp to fit securely at the top of the scroll, and I wound up running a whole extra piece of pipe through it but had to get it bent to the proper angle so it would stand straight when viewed from the side.  Luckily the electrician in the store across the street had a gadget for bending conduit pipes and was able to pop my lamp piece into the correct shape in a matter of seconds.  Anyway, I think it looks super cute, and now this cello gets to live on in some new fashion instead of ending up in a garbage heap (which is too depressing).

My other moment of purely for fun violin store prop creation was my 'bow-quet.'

Most people don't notice right away that all the stems in the vase are actually violin bows.

I have an inordinate number of broken bows that I will eventually think of enough creative uses for to justify keeping them, but this was the first chance I've had to do much of anything with finding them a new use.  My kids want to make bow-quets too with their own flowers, so this summer I might give them each a stack of sticks and a vase and let them go to town.

There were probably wiser uses of my time, but what's the fun of having ideas if you don't occasionally get to try them out?  Besides, it's my name on the window, and if the shop is going to represent me, it needs reflect my personality.  I'm proud of that cello lamp, and the bow-quet makes me smile.  This summer I may buckle down and see if I can finish the coat rack I have in the closet.  It has violin and cello scrolls for the hooks, but I wasn't able to focus enough to get it done when I had the idea for it back when Ian was still deployed in Iraq.  But he's home now!  And surely he wants to use all that Army Major expertise on helping me with yet another goofy project.

(He will, too.  Because he loves me, crazy projects and all.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day and Movies

I hope everyone had a wonderful Mother's Day! 

Mine was the best ever (with the possible exception of the first one I got to spend as a mother with a five month old baby Aden in my arms, because there is nothing quite like certain firsts).  It was a day filled with lots of nice moments and bookended with movies.

My kids made me breakfast in bed, which as sweet as it was, actually put me in an uncomfortable quandary. 

They have breakfast in bed down to a kind of science, where they know to clean up the kitchen as part of the present, and they give thought to what might be too messy (for instance, they always serve me water in a water bottle to avoid spills).  This morning they served me this:

That's a bowl of clementines all peeled, and a couple of slices of something we call a David Eyer Pancake (that they baked themselves) along with an overabundance of powdered sugar on the side to sprinkle on it.  (There is also the aforementioned water bottle, a little bouquet of things from our front garden, and the appropriate silverware and a napkin all on a tray that belonged to my grandmother.  This is several steps up from when Aden was three and she served me an uncooked egg in the shell with a fork a flower.)

So what was the quandary?  Well, I'm doing 30 days again of no grains, dairy, legumes, or sugar.  I fell off that 'paleo' diet wagon a couple of months ago and my weight started to creep back up and my headaches returned.  I miss bread and cheese and chocolate but I can't take the headaches anymore.  I want to do a whole month off of those items again and then experiment with adding things back one at a time so I can pinpoint what my problem might be.  I'm on Day 13.  And my adorable children specially cooked me a meal of flour mixed with milk and garnished with pure sugar.  Do I choose my own self-imposed food rules, or create a Mother's Day exception?

I really agonized.  And then I told them I couldn't eat it.  I thanked them, and ate the clementines, and then asked if I could feed the David Eyer Pancake to them instead, which turned out to be fun.  I haven't lifted a fork to any of their mouths in years, so they pretended they were little birds and each took turns having bites until the plate was clean.  Then Aden made me an omelet--with a tiny bit of cheese.  That I decided to make an exception for because come on.  (Cheese was the first thing I was going to add back into my diet anyway, so why not.)

I also got some amazing gifts:

Quinn made me a tissue flower, Mona let me have the duct tape 'angel dragon' she made a couple of weeks ago that I've been admiring, and Aden bought a watch from Target and replaced the band with one she crocheted herself.  They all pitched in to make the card.  I don't even know how to describe how much I love all of this.

Next we sat on my bed and folded laundry while watching episodes of Phineas and Ferb.  (We call these "Fold Phineas and Ferb Parties" and it makes laundry a pretty enjoyable event in our house.)

Then I made all the kids get out of my bed for a while and gave some thought to what I would like to do that would be just for me for a change.  And I picked archery.  I took archery lessons back in 2005 just because it was always something I wanted to try, and I loved it.  Aden used to come with me in her pretty little dresses and help collect my arrows out of the hay bale targets at the public park and it was so cute.  But then Ian got deployed and that was the end of that.  My bow and arrows have been gathering dust ever since.

Using the bow stringer
Until today!  But it almost didn't happen just because it had been so long I didn't remember how to string up my recurve bow.  I turned to YouTube where several different people demonstrated stepping through the bow and bracing one of the limbs against a leg, etc. and none of it rang a bell.  I tried to copy what they were doing, but no luck.  Then I found a different guy who said the bracing against the leg method was the wrong way to go and he was leaving one end of the string slipped down a ways, bending the bow, and sliding that end all the way up into place.  That looked more familiar, but still no luck.  After about half an hour of messing with my bow and trying to jog my memory and getting ready to give up, I looked at one more video and found a guy who said what I really needed was a bow stringer.  A bow stringer....  That method involved hooking a string to each end of the bow and standing on it to pull the limbs far enough to slide one of the ends where it should be.  THAT was starting to look familiar.  So I went to my arrow quiver and emptied it out and I'll be damned if I don't own a bow stringer!  Ha!  The second I saw it, it all came back to me.  Nothing to it.

So off to the park!  My kids loved it there.  Aden and Quinn retrieved my arrows, Mona collected broken bits of balloon from around the targets and created some pretend cooking game with them.  The dog even had fun running free until it was time for me to shoot and it seemed safer to put him back on the leash.  I was pleased to discover my aim is actually not bad considering how long it's been.  I think next time I'm feeling down I will head back out to the range to clear my head.  There's something nice about concentrating on an activity that is simple but not easy.

Perfect weather, perfect company, and I got a chance to do something with no purpose other than it's enjoyable.  Can't ask for a better Mother's Day than that.

After the park we got the kids a pizza and left Aden in charge of everyone while Ian and I went to a movie.  We've been experimenting more often with leaving them on their own for short stretches and they do fine.  It still makes me nervous and will take some getting used to, but the idea that we have the freedom to escape to a movie from time to time is a wonderful new thing.

Now, the movies at each end of my day could not have been more different.  In the morning I watched Melancholia on my laptop, and in the afternoon Ian and I went to see The Avengers in the theater.  Melancholia is about the world ending with no hope of saving it and some question about whether it even matters.  The Avengers is about saving the world and it's all very self-important.  Melancholia moves in a slow and deliberate way, with music by Wagner to imbue everything with a gorgeous sense of tragedy, and it made me cry.  The Avengers was all explosions and smashy smashy cool things to see and it made me laugh.  Melancholia was calm as the world ended.  The Avengers was frantic as it was saved. 

I don't know if I can recommend Melancholia because it's haunting, and once you've seen it you can't unsee it.  I don't want to be responsible for someone else having to ponder elements of it the way I seem to be.  It's beautiful, but painful.  The Avengers I would recommend purely for Hawkeye shooting aliens with arrows--sometimes without even looking (man, do I need practice!)--but also the Hulk hitting things and Robert Downey Jr being born to play Tony Stark.  It's all so silly, but the best kind of silly.

My day also included cooking with my kids and my husband, watching my kids make things out of modeling chocolate, walking with them to Target, playing games with them on the computer, seeing them bike, hearing them laugh, and just being proud that I have any connection to these lovely little people at all.  My life with them isn't the extremes I saw in either movie.  It's just right.  And I'm the luckiest mom in the world.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Creativity in a Commercial World

Thanks for all the feedback about violin fittings.  Between the comments and direct emails the opinion was overwhelmingly for rosewood, with a few for ebony and almost no one speaking up for boxwood.  It actually caused me to order more sets of both rosewood and boxwood, because every individual piece is different in coloration and I decided I want a few more options before I choose.

Here's what it got me thinking about, though: As a luthier (or an artist, or a writer, or a designer, or a scientist....) who wants to make a living at it there is a constant tension between what one wants to do and what will sell. 

People ask me occasionally if I would make a violin in an unconventional color like blue.  I could, but someone would have to pay me for it up front because I don't think it would sell.  Classical players tend to be conservative in their tastes, and if you play in an orchestra there could actually be a clause in your contract about the appearance of your instrument.  But the truth is, I don't want to make a blue violin.  It doesn't appeal to me.  Maybe it will someday, but not today.  So would I build one if you paid me?  Probably. 

Is that selling out?  Not really.  It's a challenge to work within different parameters.  I would find a way to do it in a manner that I still found satisfying.  However, if a job completely offended all my sensibilities I would turn it down.  For instance, there is no price at which I would carve swastikas into my instruments.

So as much as I was leaning against rosewood fittings I'm reexamining the idea after all of your input.  The only person who shared my thoughts on fittings for my new violin, interestingly, was Aden.  She has a good sense of color and design and I trust her taste, so I asked what she thought.  She studied my violin for a minute against each of the tailpieces I had at home and then said she understood why everyone was attracted to the rosewood because it was pretty in and of itself and it did go with the varnish.  She liked the rosewood, but thought the boxwood was not as distracting.  This is what I was thinking, and is probably why most of the violins I've seen out there built by Stradivari and comparable people currently have boxwood fittings on them; so you will look at the actual lines of the instruments and not have your eye drawn too quickly to details.  I want people to look at the violin (which I made) as opposed to the fittings (which I didn't).  Boxwood is understated.  Rosewood is showy.

However, I also want this instrument to sell.  It should have a home and be out playing in the world or else what good is it?  If the general consensus is rosewood, and that feature is enough to give my violin an edge over another with a buyer, then it makes sense to use rosewood.  In the end the violin is not for me, so in some ways my preference doesn't matter, even if it's my work.

Klein viola 2008
Building an instrument for a competition affects my choices, too.  The last time I entered an instrument I made the mistake of using a viola I'd built to amuse myself because it was the only instrument I had available.  If I was going to be at the convention, I felt I should enter something and get feedback from the judges.  But this was not the right instrument to enter.  It has mismatched pegs because I liked them all and couldn't decide.  The varnish color is too bright with questionable shading elements.  The rib heights are extra tall because the viola was for my personal use and my neck can handle it.  I carved a little flower on the back of the scroll.  All of this made me happy while I was creating it.  It did not make judges happy.  Not at all.

Quirky Klein Scroll
But there is a big difference between what judges like and what regular people like.  People like unusual touches and unique elements on their instruments.  They want things to be special.  Judges just want things to be correct, and you have to earn the right to branch out creatively or deviate from the standard.  And since Stradivari set the standard, it's dauntingly high.

The first instrument I ever entered in a Violin Society competition was a violin on which I used a combination of potassium dichromate and tannic acid to create the ground color under the varnish.  It gives the wood an aged look that I kind of liked.  People loved it.  Judges hated it.  Every judge said, "Oh, potassium dichromate?" and shook his head.  But that instrument only took a month to sell.  Whatever judges are judging versus what people are judging can certainly be different.

I've been going back and forth in my mind about this question with my writing as well.  Fellow writers try to console me as I'm getting buried in rejections that it has less to do with writing and more to do with business.  It doesn't matter if an agent likes my book, it matters if an agent can sell my book.  And selling books is becoming a very complicated business indeed with everything about the industry in flux, so I don't know what to make of it.  I don't want to write books while thinking about what sells.  I just want to write good books.  I feel if I ever start writing based on what other people want then I shouldn't bother, but is it really more personal than building violins?  Maybe what the judges in that industry want is different from what people want anyway, and I should just bypass the system somehow.  I need to think about that more.

In the meantime, I'm getting my new violin ready to play.  This one is constructed by the book because I want useful feedback.  I do not want anyone distracted by color or creative carving or pegs that are fun, I just want to know what things I might be doing well and how I can improve.  Will rosewood vs. boxwood affect that?  I don't think so, but it's hard to say.

I like this violin and I'm looking forward to hearing it.  I like that it is simple and straightforward.  But I have some overly creative ideas that would probably make judges keel over and I plan to get to those soon.  Because some things you make to sell, and some things you just make because they must be made.  Stay tuned.  (And no, I didn't realize until I typed it that that was a pun.)

My two latest violins, all polished up!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

I could use an opinion....

I finished polishing out my latest instrument the other day.  I built it with the idea in mind of entering it in the Violin Society of America (VSA) competition at their convention this fall in Cleveland.  These competitions take place every other year and luthiers from all over the world submit violin family instruments and bows for judging.  It's a great way to get feedback from experts about your work and see where you can improve.

(Isn't the back pretty?  Not the easiest piece of maple to work with, but I like the way it came out.)

This violin is one of two I started last spring and I am excited that I will finally be able to hear it soon.  But first I have to select fittings for it.  Fittings are most of the pieces you add to the instrument to actually make it playable (pegs, tailpiece, endbutton and chinrest) and they usually match in terms of wood, coloration, and style.

Ebony (black) is kind of the basic standard, so I originally figured I'd just do that.  But as the color on my violin developed during the varnishing process I started picturing rosewood instead.  I was all set to go with that today, but then I pulled out a tailpiece made of boxwood and now I'm kind of leaning that direction.  I'm not sure.  Anyone else feel strongly about one over another?


Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Science of Praise

My kids had their annual science fair at school last week.  It's always crowded and busy and there is always a bake sale where we can buy a couple of cupcakes for the price it would cost me to make an entire batch of them better at home (but we buy some anyway because it raises money for some worthy cause plus apparently it's exciting to buy a treat at school).

Anyway, Quinn's kindergarten class all did planets, but since he's still only a K4 and not in school the whole day yet he was not part of creating any displays for the science fair.  He pointed out what the K5s did and he's looking forward to making something great next year.  Considering how organized he is with the blocks at the violin store I can only imagine what he'll do when he's given real work to display.

(He actually organized all the blocks into categories and then made a chart, so he's a serious kind of five year old.)

Aden's class had some entertaining displays, including one about the science behind why dropping a mentos into diet coke creates a geyser, and another that made soap bubbles filled with fog from dry ice that you could hold if you were wearing gloves.  Aden did a project on her own about vibration and I was really proud of her.  She created a nice poster and had lots of props for doing demonstrations including a slinky for simulating echos and her violin for making musical sounds.  I was impressed with how well she engaged people who came by her display and how clearly she explained her work.

And then there's Mona.  Aden can move me to tears and Quinn leaves me astonished, but Mona makes me laugh every day.  I love Mona.

I love all my kids, but Mona has a particularly lively role in our family.  In fact, when we split up for the first couple of days of spring break recently and I had just Aden and Quinn with me, it was sort of eerie.  Aden and Quinn are both polite, and quiet, and at the dinner table are very still.  They think carefully before they speak, and often don't speak unless they are spoken to.  I'd never really noticed how mature they really are because usually, fidgeting between them, is Mona.  Mona who can't keep her butt on a chair for a whole meal.  Mona who has no volume control.  Mona who likes to get a laugh but also doesn't want to be the center of attention, so she struggles with conflicting feelings of self-consciousness and pride and embarrassment mixed with a crazy sort of showmanship.  Mona is hilarious and life without her is much too orderly and dull.

So, Mona's science fair project was a display she worked on with three other kids about magnets.  Her primary contributions were the three pages of written information that she would read to people as they visited the display, and she also made 'metal detectors,' which were these little devices she created out of refrigerator magnets and popsicle sticks that could be used to pull iron filings out of a dish of sand.
It was wonderful to watch Mona work with both children and adults, happily sharing all she'd learned about magnets.  At one point I asked her if she'd like to take a break and get a treat from the bake sale, but she was more concerned about getting a chance to see her sister's vibration display on the floor above, which I thought was very sweet.

But the best moment of the science fair was when Mona read her whole report about magnets to some random mom and when she got to the end she looked up and asked, "Do you have any questions or compliments?"

Questions or compliments!  I suppose she meant 'comments' but Mona is more inventive with language than her siblings.  Aden and Quinn have large vocabularies and they are cautious about using words properly, which I think is great, but Mona has a large vocabulary too, she just plays fast and loose with it.

Questions or compliments.  Yes, Mona, I have several of each.