Sunday, December 29, 2013

Concert Rave

Quick post.  I still have enough people staying in my house at the moment that I keep losing count (we set the dinner table for 17 last night, I think...) so I haven't had time for writing.  I still don't, but we're in a down moment where people are just reading, etc. so I will blog!

Before I forget the details I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the kids' school concert.  It was wonderful.  It was everything the girls' last choir concert wasn't.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mommy's Sweatshop Relentlessly Cranks Out the Joy

I believe in holiday cards.  I know we stay better connected online anymore, but there is nothing like getting a real piece of mail from someone you care about to make you smile while sorting through the junk and bills.  There are even some people we only really catch up with at this time of year, and when I'm going through my address book and figuring out how many cards to put together I'm glad to stop and think of them.

Some years when we are pressed for time we just take a family portrait and use that as our card.  But when we can we like to make our cards.  We set up the assembly line and I put the kids to work.

This year we went with a potato print of a Christmas cookie.  We haven't done a potato print in a while.  The last time was three years ago where we made trees and decorated them with stickers.

For the most part that worked out well.  The kids liked stamping the trees one day, and the next when the paint was dry we broke out the giant sticker box and I told them to use whatever struck their fancy.  They used a lot of foil stars and shiny things.

But then Quinn, in his 3-year-old innocence, came up with this bit of horror that I kept for myself because it makes me laugh every time:

(The heart reads "1 month old" in case you can't read it and want to fully appreciate the inappropriateness of this card.)

The kids like helping make the cards, but it always happens on a deadline around birthday season and preparing for concerts and lots of visitors, so I have to keep things somewhat simple, and I have to remind myself it's supposed to be fun and not lose my patience with the production line.

Thankfully the median age in my in-home sweatshop keeps rising and the quality of my slave labor fun crafting projects seems to improve, or at least get more efficient.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Concert Rant

Three hours.  My kids' choir concert Sunday was three hours.  There is no excuse for a children's concert to run for three hours, unless it is an extraordinary three hours that feels like less than half that.  But it was not.  It was an insipid three hours.

I feel terrible writing that, because I don't fault any of the children, or the instructors.  My children have loved their choir and it has provided them with some wonderful experiences.  There is no individual I have a problem with and I could go on and on about any number of positive things.

However.  I think I am done with this group and it's time to find my kids somewhere else to sing.  And I need a moment to rant, because I actually left this concert feeling mad, and that should not happen.  How do you mess up children singing?

Granted, we already went into the concert a bit worn out because Saturday Quinn had a piano recital in the morning and Aden had two choir performances in the Nutcracker, and Sunday was Mona's turn to sing at the ballet before both Aden and Mona were required to be at the 3:30 call time for their concert.  So Mona left for the Nutcracker at 1:00 in one outfit and was asked to bring her choir gear to change into and a snack to eat.  A snack.  What would you pack?  I went with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bottle of water.  Had I any idea she wouldn't get any food again until bedtime I would have chosen differently.  (Not that she even got to eat her sandwich, so that would have been out of my hands regardless.  Anyway....)

The choir is expensive.  But that's okay.  I believe in paying good music teachers well.  I believe in expert instruction and students learning good technique while also having fun.  I just want a place for my kids to sing with others, and I don't mind paying for that.

Then there are the overpriced uniforms.  And the fine if you don't volunteer.  And the fundraisers.  And the constant requests for donations.  And the silent auction baskets (with starting bids higher than anything I can afford to pay) and cookies for the concessions stand and the driving to special events and extra rehearsals.

I also have to buy tickets to the concerts.  I have to pay usually about $15 to hear my kids sing each time, and I never get to sit in the good seats because those are reserved for "Season Ticket Holders."  I was already resenting that after paying for my kids to be in the choir I also had to pay to hear the results of all that tuition money (and that it's too expensive for all of us to go), but the Nutcracker kind of pushed me over the edge.

I am very glad they got to sing in the Nutcracker.  I am.  They LOVED it.  They got to sing in the pit where the orchestra was performing, and they got to see their teacher there who is with the ballet orchestra, and they thought all the behind the scenes stuff of a professional ballet in action was exciting to witness.  However, if they wanted to stay and watch any of the Nutcracker after their part was over they had to buy a ticket.

As a musician this sits with me very badly.  Because at that point those children are just working for free.  The work we do in the arts is already drastically undervalued, but to not even set aside a small row of seats for any choir children who want to stay and watch some of the show they contributed to strikes me as wrong.  Maybe that has nothing to do with the people who run the choir, but you know what?  If I were negotiating whatever deal that was, that seems like a fair request.

Then there was the actual concert.

Call time for the singers was 3:30.  Doors didn't open for parents to sit down anywhere until after 4:00.  The concert itself started at 4:30.  The seats were uncomfortable and the people behind me kept talking (which makes me crazy), but I figured what difference did it make?  I was there to hear children sing.  I love to hear children sing.  Concert-wise, this was like shooting fish in a barrel.  Everyone there was excited to hear their children sing and were willing to pay money to do it.  This kind of event was primed for success.

I'm not going to pretend I know what it's like to run an operation like a children's concert at that scale.  I'm sure it's hard.  But I do know what it's like to program a recital and help put together a concert of children with parents in the audience.  I know what the needs are of people both onstage and in front of it, and this concert did a disservice to both.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Human Sacrifice

It's one thing to volunteer one's life for a cause.  It's another to fail to protect innocent people from the lethal consequences of your cause.

One year from Sandy Hook and I can't look at the news.  I can't be dragged down into the emotional turmoil that felt as if it was tearing at me from inside as more details of that tragic day unfolded.  It's too much.  It's too sad.  And it doesn't end.

Last year I tried to sort through my thoughts in a post that (for me) went a bit viral.  It gave me hope that others felt the same confusion and anger that I did, and that change might happen. 

It won't.  Because among the things I've learned since Sandy Hook, I've come to realize how deeply fearful Americans can be, which combined with our stubbornness and our willingness to cling to what appeals to us even if it's irrational sets us up for bad policy again and again.  Combine that with commerce and power and marketing and pseudo-patriotic machismo and we will remain a danger to ourselves and others for a long time to come.  It boggles my mind.

Because there are lots of rights and concepts that may be good to argue about in theory, but when the reality is the brutal, senseless deaths of children, I don't care about the abstract anymore.  I care about those children.  I care about my children.

But apparently the potential death of my children is not worth any inconvenience to people who like their rights the way they are.  Nothing will change because too many have concluded the cause is worthy of human sacrifice.  I just don't see why simply being an American, though, requires we all be part of that deadly lottery.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Cake Wreck 2013

I'm officially declaring Aden's cake this year a big failure.  (Emphasis on the word "big.")

This is okay for two reasons:  First, for all those people who somehow think I can do anything it's nice to show I can't, and second, disaster tales are way more fun to tell than success stories.  So come see how badly cake making can go!

Aden wanted a Minecraft themed cake, and she decided she wanted it to look like a crafting table from the game.  I didn't know what that was, but found this (unfolded) image online:
Essentially it's just a cube with pixelated images laid out in a 16 X 16 grid on each side.  As far as cake shapes go, a cube didn't sound bad.  But our first mistake was deciding how big to make each side.  Ten inches sounded like a simple number.  (Heh.  Lesson one: Smaller is better.  Smaller may have worked.  In retrospect, eight inches tops would have been the way to go.)

My plan was to make a cube of layer cake, frost it, and stick pages of sugar paper on that I'd paint appropriately with food coloring.  Sounded time-consuming, but doable.  But then the store did not have enough sugar paper.

Friday, December 6, 2013


My Mona is ten!  How can my baby girl be ten?  

Since Thanksgiving fell so late this year, Mona had the chance to have extended family at her birthday party.  I told her we could arrange a friend party if she wanted it, but she liked Quinn's birthday adventure in Chicago and wanted something similar.  We declared it an extended Mona birthday weekend, and spent a day with visiting relatives at the Field Museum, and on their last morning in town we threw a breakfast party with crepes and a chocolate fountain before everyone headed for home.  We spent the rest of that day exploring the Museum of Science and Industry and had a blast.

For Mona's actual birthday this week she took cupcakes to school, got to pick where we went to dinner (who knew she liked Culver's that much?) and I baked her a cake.  I love having the chance to bake interesting cakes for my kids.  Mona didn't decide until the day before her birthday what she wanted this year, though.  She wanted a cake in the shape of a Mold-A-Rama from our collection and thankfully she chose probably the easiest one to turn into a cake: the Space Shuttle figure from the Museum of Science and Industry.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mold-A-Ramas at the Museum of Science and Industry

As part of an extended birthday celebration for Mona over Thanksgiving weekend we took a couple of trips down to Chicago.  The first was with relatives to the Field Museum, and the second was after the guests left and just our little family went to the Museum of Science and Industry.  That was where we sought out the last set of Mold-A-Rama machines we know of in Chicago.  Mona declared it the best birthday destination ever.

The Museum of Science and Industry is a spectacular place.  It was all decked out for Christmas with sparkling trees and lights everywhere, so it was particularly festive.  There was so much to touch and marvel at, and now that we know we can get in free with our reciprocal membership to our own science museum we will go back!  (Although, to get into the submarine or the mine exhibit we'll have to buy tickets next time.)

Plasma balls, baby chicks hatching, an enormous train set, and a little kids' area called The Idea Factory with water guns and plastic balls that none of my children felt too old for.  I even got some Christmas shopping done in the gift shop, so life was good all around.