Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mold-A-Ramas at the Field Museum

We're getting better at these little jaunts down to Chicago on our quest for Mold-A-Ramas!  We've hit nearly every site that has them in the Windy City.  Yesterday we went to the Field Museum.

Ian stayed behind to help out at home, but I went with the kids, my mom, my brother and his wife.  I'd never been to the Field Museum before, and of my kids only Aden had visited on a school trip a couple of years ago.  My brother will be starting a position as an associate researcher there soon, so we're hoping on return visits to get a behind-the-scenes tour.  For this trip the actual, uh, in-front-of the scenes tour, was plenty.

The Field Museum was packed.  I don't know if the day after Thanksgiving was just a good family outing day or if it's usually that full, but I liked seeing so many people enjoying such a beautiful space and learning things instead of shoving people aside to buy cheap electronics (which is apparently our modern tradition and it depresses me to no end).  The staff at that museum right on down to the guy emptying the garbage cans was exceptionally friendly and nice.  Even the cafe food was delicious.  And our membership to Discovery World here in Milwaukee was reciprocal so we got in free!  All around, a great experience.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Collaborative Thankful List

I had other plans this morning.  Not very interesting plans, mind you, but different ones.  They involved things like swimming and buying eggs.

But Quinn has a cough.  No fever, nothing scary, but we want to give him some extra time to be warm under covers and rest up before all the guests arrive for Thanksgiving.  I'm not entirely sure how many people will be here.  I extended invitations to friends with indeterminate plans because I believe in always making extra space at the table, particularly on a day like Thanksgiving, but we don't know if anyone is taking us up on it or not.

In any case, I have a moment to write snuggled up here with my wheezing boy.  He's agreed to help me make a list of what we are thankful for.   (You can decide for yourselves who suggested what.)

We are thankful for:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mold-A-Ramas at the Willis Tower, and Quinn Turns Seven

Do you know the story of the Taoist Farmer?  I heard it the first time in a martial arts class many years ago.  The version of the story I remember is that the farmer's horse runs away, which seems like bad luck, but then the horse returns with two wild horses, which seems like good luck.  Then one of the wild horses throws the farmer's son breaking the boy's leg which seems like bad luck, until all the able-bodied men in the village are soon conscripted into war.

Quinn's recent birthday felt like that all day.  There were both figurative and literal ups and downs, actual dark clouds along with rainbows and tears.  It was exhausting, and not a birthday we are likely to forget.

When I asked Quinn a few weeks ago what he'd like to do for his seventh birthday he was ambivalent.  Since he could take or leave a friend party, I decided we should just stick with family and do something interesting.  I suggested a trip to the Willis Tower (still the Sears Tower in my heart) for a trip to the Sky Deck and to add the two Mold-A-Ramas they offer there to our collection.  He loved the idea.

My thought was that if we were going to make the visit to the Willis Tower for Mold-A-Ramas at some point anyway, may as well tie the overpriced experience to an important moment.  I figured every time we drive through Chicago in the future we will see that famous skyscraper and remember celebrating Quinn turning seven.  What could go wrong?

Well, the weather, of course.  We woke up to rain, and wondered if driving all the way to Chicago just to look at the inside of a cloud at 1,353 feet up in the air was worth the trouble.  With the Museum of Science and Industry as a backup plan we decided to chance it.

By the time we reached Chicago the clouds had broken up and we decided to the top of the Willis Tower we would go.  We parked several blocks away, enjoyed a windy walk downtown, made our way through several lines to buy tickets (Ian was free with his military I.D.!) and wait for an elevator, and then we were on the Sky Deck.

It really is amazing.  Pricey enough I doubt we'll do it again, but certainly worth doing once.  The views every direction are tremendous, and there are four glass decks that protrude a few feet out from the building so you can look down to the ground underneath you from where you are standing.  The kids all felt very brave.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Work of Art

The amount of work that goes into creating good art is undervalued.  I think the overall problem is the artistic process is misunderstood.  We talk about "talent" and having "a gift" as if people in creative fields just come by what they do magically.

Talent is a starting point, not an end in itself.  The gift is an opportunity, not a finished product.  Even if you start at a more advanced place than others, that simply raises the bar for what you can or should do.

My parents are artists.  They ran a gallery for 40 years.  They often apologized to us when we were growing up that they should have realized you have to be rich first and then open a gallery, and that it doesn't work the other way around.  We never lacked for anything, so whatever depths their financial struggles sunk to we remained largely unaware of them.  We admired them for doing what they found interesting, even though it was often hard, and we learned many valuable things.

We saw, up close, the time and effort and thought that goes into creating art.  There are many drawings abandoned along the way before one finds its way to completion.  There is the challenge of having to work when time allows rather than when inspiration hits.  Most people when they create art do it alone.  You can't usually get help with it and still claim it to be yours.  There is trial and error and frustration, but eventually beauty.  When a piece of art (or music, or writing) is just right it's as if it was always meant to be.  After untold hours of preparation and toil the result can look effortless.

Unfortunately to too many without direct experience in creative fields, they believe it really is.

I've been watching my daughter, Mona, this week with great interest.  Mona is many things, and one of those things happens to be an artist.  All of my kids have a decent degree of talent when it comes to art.  Mona is the one at this time willing to struggle for it.

Paper turtle Mona made at six
She has been building "creations" now for years and they are ever evolving and improving.  She's gone from simple paper cutouts to hand colored tape to duct tape and recently to using wire as a foundation so that she can expand the limits of what her creations can be.  They are detailed and thoughtful.  There are many prototypes and pieces abandoned and begun again until they are right.

At seven she was coloring tape and giving things more structure
Then she discovered duct tape and combined it with paper.
And things began to appear like the Cup O' Snakes.  (Because why not?)
And sometimes she still goes back to paper.
Her latest school project is a presentation on bats that she's doing with a friend.  In class the two of them work on research and writing.  At home, Mona has been working on models.  She's been working hard.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

For Love of a Dog

This is our dog, Chipper.
Fresh from the groomer sometime last fall
Pound photo that made us want to meet him
We met him at the pound on 11/11/11 and adopted him two days later.  They think he was about two years old then, so I guess he's now about four.  He seems to be some kind of poodle/cocker spaniel/something with an under-bite like a Lhasa-apso mix.  We sometimes refer to him as a Lhasa-cock-a-poo.  More often we refer to him as "Chipper-Dog, " "Silly Dog," "Dumb Dog," or "No!" 

I have mixed feelings about our dog.  Right now, as I'm typing, he's snuggled up next to me all warm and adorable and I love him.  Other times not so much.

Aden's first word was "doggie" and she has always wanted a dog.  When all the kids were finally old enough that it didn't seem like such a ridiculous idea to add another set of chores to our home, I told them we could start looking.  The dog would have to be a type that didn't shed because Ian has allergies, and I wanted it to be a rescue.  It was important to me to save a dog that really needed a home.

Chipper is cute.  That much everyone can agree on.  He's thirteen pounds of scruffy fluff and wiggle.  He is the fastest dog I have ever seen.  He likes children, hates men (except for Ian whom he respects/adores), only wants to sit next to my mom when she visits, and loves to play fetch.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Permission to do what now?

Quinn brought me a permission slip to sign this week.  His class is going on a field trip next month to see The Nutcracker.  Sounds lovely.  Wish I could go, too!  At least, I thought I did, until I read the permission slip.

It's a generic sort of catch-all kind of permission slip.  So, for him to watch a ballet, I had to check off if Quinn was allergic to anything, if he needed medication, if he had asthma or kidney disease or other conditions.

But the one that made me laugh was having to circle his level of swimming expertise.  (We chose "cannot swim" because his particular doggy paddle will not get him far in an emergency.)

Sounds like one hell of a production!  If the audience's swimming skills are an issue I'm a little worried for the pit orchestra down below the stage.  But hey!  Have to keep things fresh to appeal to today's kids!  (Just need to remember to pack his water wings along with his lunch before he heads off to the ballet.)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mold-A-Ramas at the Brookfield Zoo

For Mold-A-Rama collectors (which we have decided we are) there are three, big jackpot places to get Mold-A-Ramas: The Milwaukee County and Brookfield Zoos (each with thirteen machines) and the Henry Ford Museum (which has ten).

I don't think if our own local zoo here in Milwaukee had so many I would have paid much attention.  But being able to start our collection with that many Mold-A-Ramas so easily kind of got us hooked.  Getting all ten figures at the Henry Ford Museum when we were visiting Detroit was a great deal of fun.  Getting only two at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago was less exciting, but satisfying in a different way.  This weekend we finally hit the last of the big bonanza locations for Mold-A-Rama collectors: The Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.  (Which my GPS had never heard of, but since we had my husband along it didn't matter because he can find anything.)
We had the rare, free Sunday to do with whatever we liked, and seeing as the weather was cool and beautiful and we even got to turn the clocks back an hour to give us extra time, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to splurge on a trip down to Chicago for a Mold-A-Rama hunt at their zoo.
The Mold-A-Rama machines in the Brookfield Zoo are in beautiful shape.  Most of them are pristine.  (So far the ones we have at the Milwaukee County Zoo appear to be the shabbiest around, probably because so many of them suffer outside in all the Wisconsin weather.)  But the best part about the machines at the Brookfield Zoo is not only are there thirteen of them, but they have additional molds to go with them.  For Halloween they switched out six of their regular figures for "limited edition" Mold-A-Ramas, including a skull, a devil head, a Frakenstein's monster head, and a few dinosaurs.  Someday when they switch those six machines back to their regular molds we may visit again and collect those as well.

In the meantime we made quite a haul!  All the machines were working, and we managed to collect all thirteen over the course of our four hour visit.  (Supposedly our zoo has additional molds as well, but, aside from a few dinosaurs that were used during the traveling Dinosaurs Alive exhibit a few years back, we don't know what they are or on what occasions they get used.  But we're keeping an eye out!)

Most of the Mold-A-Ramas were new for us.  We now have doubles of the alligator and kangaroo, and our we're up to three waving gorillas in our collection, but the eagle is new, as are the grizzly, penguin, dolphin, stegosaurus, T-rex, apatosaurus, and the three Halloween heads.
New additions to the family collection.  (We're up to 38!)
Mona picked up an apatosaurus for her personal collection
Quinn couldn't resist getting an eagle
The zoo itself is quite nice.  It's not as big as we were expecting so it wasn't hard to get around.  It's a bit dated, and there are way too many gift shops to try to navigate with kids in tow.  They have a cassowary but it wasn't out, which deeply disappointed Aden so I promised her we could go back again one day and maybe catch it then.  We did see wombats, though.  And the bat display had you in the same room as the live bats which added an element of "danger" that was interesting (Mona hoped one would somehow land on her finger).

The highlights were the primate exhibit and the dolphins. The primate house was the best I've ever seen.  Very large rooms with tall, artificial trees and no glass or mesh between the visitors or the different groups of animals.  It's all cleverly spaced so it looks as if, for instance, the tamarins and the gibbons are in the same environment, but then you realize the gaps between their areas are too large for them to traverse.  (Though how one keeps a gibbon out of anywhere is beyond me.)  There were three such enormous rooms, the final one with gorillas where you could walk up and around their whole space to observe them.  There was an underwater viewing area for watching the dolphins be dolphins.  Mona was thrilled, saying she'd never seen a live dolphin before.  I keep thinking that can't be right, and yet, it's probably true.

In any case, the Mold-A-Rama hunts will continue, but the thrill will now come in procuring the obscure rather than the windfall.  Once we have exhausted the possibilities in nearby Chicago we will start planning treks a bit farther afield.  Can't wait!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Old Writing, New Writing

I wish I had more time for writing.  I have about a dozen drafts sitting on my blog on a variety of topics, but they all take more thought and care then I have time to give them lately to get them done and out into the world.  I hope I get to them.

I'd also like to get back to editing my second novel.  I'm trying to update it and put it into a presentable form so that I can hand it to an editor at some point and get some much needed help.  I'm excited about getting it finished.  It's not a tearjerker like the first book, so it may be easier to promote.

Speaking of promotion, if you haven't yet gotten a copy of my novel, Almost There in all it's forms can be found here.  Anyone who has read it and liked it and hasn't put a review up on Amazon yet, please take a moment to do that and I will be soooooooo grateful.

I'm in an odd place with my writing at a moment where I am too swamped with work and kids and life to commit to anything new.  Everything I have to offer is from the past.  My piece for This I Believe was recently featured as an essay of the week and I've gotten feedback from people all over the country who heard Amazing Grace on the radio and were touched by it.  I recently went to Michigan to speak at my mom's book club who were all were nice enough to read my novel.  But all of that is writing that comes from a time before I even had my third kid.

I'm lucky enough to have offers to write for online publications and for radio (some of it pays, some of it does not), but I don't have time, and it's frustrating.  I don't lack for ideas or passion, just time.