Monday, September 24, 2012

Doors Open Milwaukee

This weekend was Doors Open Milwaukee, where over a hundred different places were open to the public for tours and a peek into places most of us never get to see.  It's an interesting event the city tried last year, and it was such a hit they decided to repeat it.  I'm hoping it becomes a new annual tradition because it's a great idea, and it will take years for us to get to everything we want to see.  Too often we neglect to seek out the interesting sights in our own neighborhoods, and it's easy to forget to be curious about places that form the background to our daily lives.

Now, outings with kids are always a gamble no matter who you are.  My kids are unusually good on car trips and in restaurants, and can be trusted not to touch things when we go into stores or other people's homes, but even they get whiny when they are hungry and tired.  Ian and I explained at the outset that Doors Open Milwaukee was optional.  At any point on our tour we could go home.  This was either a threat or an offer, whichever need it met.

The weather looked beautiful but was cold.  Our first stop was the city hall to try and get tickets for the building's bell tower, which meant waiting in a long line at 9:00 a.m. outside.  (Everything on the Doors Open Milwaukee tour was free, but some spots with limited space required tickets.)  There was much complaining about the cold and the wait, even though I think I kept the kids fairly well entertained in the line.  Then I think Mona's mood was officially broken when we were unable to actually get tickets to go up to the bell tower.  I reminded her that it was still really cool to get to stand inside the city hall, but the whining had begun.

Milwaukee's city hall is modeled after a building in Germany and is quite striking.  (And anyone old enough to have watched Laverne and Shirley might remember it from the opening credits.)  Here is the building we did not get to the top of:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Some Days it's Good Just to Breathe

Some days my little violin store is very busy.  Some days it's quiet.

On one side of the store is my bench, with all the instruments hung overhead lined up for repair work, and my tools and varnish and glue.  On the other side of the store is my husband's desk, with the computer, files, paperwork, and bills.  The two sides are equal, and without either half there is no store.

Because all of our children are now in school full day we can finally both work in the violin store for a few hours at the same time.  Until recently we had a tag team approach, where one of us would be home with the kids and the other would try to make progress in the store at the bench or desk.  It's nice as I do repair work to look over and see my husband just a few steps away.  I like that we run our business and our lives together.

I often tell Ian as he's sifting through the receipts and post-it-notes on his desk that for every bit of paper representing a person who came into the store, there were usually three or four other people who left no evidence of their visit.  I spend a lot of time talking to people who are curious about violin making, or want to tell me about a relative who played music, or who simply like the atmosphere of our little shop and want to hang out for a bit.  Sometimes when I'm drowning in repairs I'm not as willing to chat, but most of the time I'm happy to share what I know and I enjoy hearing people's stories.

Today while my husband and I were both working a man came in who looked familiar.  Turns out he'd stopped in a few years back and tried to sell me insurance.  He said he was in the neighborhood and was glad to see that we were still in business.  He was considering taking up violin.  He was concerned that he might be too old for that.

I assured him (the way I do many people who come into my store saying the same thing) that there is no "too old" for music.  He was too old to be a child prodigy, but that was about it.  My oldest adult beginner was 77 and he did just fine and was one of my all time favorite students.  The man told me about the violin music he'd had at his wedding.  That he'd always loved the sound.  I listened, and then gave him more general information about violin and how to get started.  As I talked I continued to work on the violin at my bench, and the man listened and occasionally paced around while looking at things on display.

But there was something about the way this man lingered in my store that was different from most people.  There was something forced in the smile he gave me, as if he had to remind himself to do it.  He seemed distracted and a little lost, but not ready to leave.

Then, as an aside during one of his questions, he mentioned his wife had died. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I had a much shorter fuse back when Ian was deployed.  The stress of the situation and all the responsibility for our children would drive me to yell too much.  There were times I really needed the kids to step up and do more so that everything wasn't all completely on me every minute.  But they were small.  It seemed like such bright little people should be able to follow certain instructions, but often they just couldn't, and in my heart I knew that. 

Still, there were days when I felt they were letting me down and they would get a loud lecture.  The one I remember best was the lecture about Responsibility.  They had responsibilities as members of our family!  As residents of our house!  They could not make extra work for me by dumping their dirty clothes all over!  If they wanted to have toys they had to pick them up when they were done!  There were rules!  They had to be more responsible!

And my beautiful, sweet children looked up at me, patiently listening to my ranting and raving as I flailed my arms around and talked about responsibility.  They looked sad and concerned and nodded in earnest agreement as I went on.  And when I finished Aden asked carefully, "Mama?  Um....  What does re-spon-si-bi-li-ty mean?" 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Another Pretty Tuesday

It's interesting, all these years later, that when people reflect on Sept 11, 2001, they usually remark on how beautiful the weather was.  And it was a particularly clear, pretty day.  I remember on my way to work thinking it was the perfect temperature, and the sky was spectacularly blue.

I was pregnant with my first child, who would be born almost exactly three months later into a world that operated differently from the one in which she was conceived.

I had listened to the news on my short drive to work, and even though a plane crashing into the World Trade Center sounded terrible I couldn't imagine that it was more than an accident or that the building would fall.  On my walk from the parking lot I remember looking at the tallest building in Wisconsin just blocks from the violin store where I was employed and couldn't help but picture what it might look like being struck by a plane.  I kept thinking that had to be a frightening way to die.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


The first week of school went well here.  Unless you count the second day where Quinn threw up.  Twice.  So he came home early, but had no fever and seemed fine.  We sent him back the next day and things were less messy.  (I have no idea what that was, but I'm chalking it up to 'transition.')

Aden, Mona, Quinn, first day of school
The first day of school Ian biked there with the girls and I followed along a few minutes later with Quinn in the car because we had at least six bags of supplies to deliver.  We get a list every year from each teacher of a dozen things that includes paper towels and pencils and copy paper.  I don't remember as a kid being responsible for any supplies beyond what I was supposed to use myself, but now basic things like crayons and glue are not available in the regular school budget apparently, so all the families pitch in.  That's fine by me, since my kids attend a public school and their education is essentially free to begin with, but it makes me sad that as a society education is such an underfunded priority.  So many of the good things about a community radiate from having a well educated population, so I'm amazed that schools have to fight for the money needed to do what they do.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Art Chopped

I enjoy competitive cooking shows.  I don't know why.  There is something amusing about people yelling over risotto that makes it fun to have on in the background while I work on violins.  For my 40th birthday my neighbor and I teamed up to make beef Wellington and risotto while trying to say mean things to each other in English accents and it was a blast.

At one point on a rainy afternoon this summer Quinn was having some sort of breakdown born of exhaustion and I needed to distract him so I pulled up an episode of Chopped on Hulu.  Next thing I knew the girls were on the bed, too, gathered around my laptop, and I was explaining that the chefs each get a mystery box and they have to use the ingredients in it to make first an appetizer, then an entree, then when down to the final two people, a dessert.  They were hooked.

Now, I have to say, I am impressed with how much more adventurous in spirit this has made my kids when it comes to eating.  There is not much that they serve on Chopped that if set in front of the average kid would even get touched, but my kids get all caught up in the judges' comments and decide everything looks good.  One episode involved star fruit, and they asked when they spotted some in the store if we could please please please get some.  And they liked it.  And we've gotten more since.  Aden watches with bated breath as the contestants open their boxes and immediately starts telling me what she would do with the ingredients, however weird they might be.  Mona says she wishes she could eat all of it, and Quinn echoes everything Mona says.  So, Chopped is a hit.

Last week we needed an activity.  I had the day off, Aden didn't want to change out of her pajamas, and Mona was bouncing off the walls, so I came up with Art Chopped.  I didn't want the kids experimenting with food in any kind of rushed manner, and we have lots of art supplies, so I told them I would pick out some items from the craft area and put them under boxes and they would have to make something.  It wasn't a competition, there was no time limit except done by dinner was preferred, and if they needed help they could ask.  (I know Aden would rather I set something up more authentic to the show, but I wasn't willing to pit the girls against their brother who is only five.)

Mona could not have been more excited.