Tuesday, December 19, 2017

It's what we do

We just finished all our holiday cards this weekend.  I'm behind on all things Christmas, and still need to bake and figure out many of the presents, so I was tempted to skip cards altogether.  But Quinn wanted to do them.

Quinn likes lists and excuses to hand write things and organizing stuff into piles, so holiday cards are right up his alley.  I decided if he really wanted to help it would be worth going to the trouble.  We talked about what to make and settled on an origami star.  YouTube showed us how to make one, and we got to folding.

In the past when we've done our little home assembly line process of putting together holiday cards I thought of it in two parts: The making of the actual cards, and then considering whom they are for and what to put inside.  It never occurred to me that the second half of that process would be done by anyone but myself, but the part that most interested Quinn was addressing envelopes.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Surprise Cakes

This year has been the birthday season of the surprise cakes. 

The first birthday is Quinn's, and he couldn't decide what kind of cake to ask for.  Mona wanted try her hand at making a cake this time, and offered to surprise him.  He liked that idea, and the result was this adorable cat cake.

Pretty much all of this was Mona.  I baked the actual cakes, but Mona did all the sculpting and decorating.  I would like to mention that my end of it was no small deal in that I wound up baking three sets of cakes three days in a row.  Her original idea was a "transfer mouse" from some online game the two of them like to play together, and she wanted it standing.  I tried to explain (based on my vast amount of experience with past cake wrecks) why the way she was going at it wasn't going to work, but some lessons one must apparently learn for oneself.  There was one collapsed cake, then another even more collapsed cake, before Mona finally accepted my adage of "The cake should be wider than it is tall to remain stable" and the cat cake came to be.

We had a nice quiet birthday with Quinn this year.  He made a million cereal treats to take to school both for his classroom and for the after school geography club, and for dinner we tried a new taco truck and ate while watching anime at home.  (I highly recommend the short series "Erased" if you haven't seen it.)

He did love his cake and asked if he, in turn, could surprise Mona with a cake for her birthday.  Mona was scheduled to spend her birthday weekend at a sleepover for a friend whose birthday is on the same day, so Quinn and I decided we needed to make a cake that was easy to transport so she could take it to the party.  It wasn't at all what Mona was expecting because the cake was simply cake-shaped, but I think it came out cool and Quinn did a good job.

We made a "checkerboard cake" which means we used different colored batter in concentric rings in the cake pans so that when the layers were stacked they would look like a checkerboard when you cut into it.  That way the surprise cake had a surprise inside as well.

This one took a couple of tries, because the first attempt was with chocolate cake and white cake, and we learned the hard way that the two textures of cake don't hold together, so we just added different colors to white cake.

Quinn also wanted to go crazy with frosting colors and the piping bags, so we did.

Right before Mona's birthday, though, was another cake decorating/fundraiser event at Aden's school.  Last year Aden made a spectacular dragon and geode cake, and it won first place, but it was too beautiful to cut into and wound up not being the best choice for a fundraiser where people pay to buy slices after the awards.  This year she went with something more accessible: a candy sushi plate.

The fish part is just a basic chocolate cake cut to the right shape and frosted, and I helped again with baking and a bit of the crumb coat which got tricky, but the rest of it was just Aden working late into the night with cereal and marshmallows and candy.  There are Oreo crumbs in there, gummy fish, fruit roll ups, Twizzlers... 

I think she did a beautiful job.  (And so did the judges, who awarded her first place for the second year in a row.)

My mom was in town briefly in the middle of birthday season and decided to make a collective cake for us to celebrate with all together.  The cake itself was a chocolate chip cake with custard filling that was delicious, but to top it off we put on a "magic candle" we found at the grocery store. 

You light the center wick, the flame gets kind of high (the instructions suggested we should be 3-4 feet away from it), it sparks briefly, then opens like a flower with tiny lit candles that burn down quickly as they make the whole thing spin slowly.  It was also supposed to make music, but we didn't get that to work until after the candles went out.  The package described it as making "continuous music" which is apt, since the only way we could shut it off was to crack the candle housing open and disconnect the battery from the speaker.  We loved that weird thing.
For Aden's birthday she wanted to continue the surprise cake theme and have her siblings make whatever they chose.  They settled on a shield and sword from the Legend of Zelda, which worked out well because Aden had a skating party at Incrediroll again, followed by a sleepover, so we had a cake for each site.

This time we used fondant to decorate with.  I baked a couple of cakes again, but the kids made the fondant themselves and did all the real work.  I helped with some frosting work again, and I cut out the white and yellow fondant bits for the shield, but the rest of it was all Quinn and Mona.

Aden managed to walk into the kitchen at the wrong moment and saw the drawing we were working from which spoiled some of the surprise, but she wasn't expecting two cakes, so part of it was still unexpected.  Cake is cake, though.  Surprise or no, it still tastes good.

Best cake making tip I can share this year is the glory of parchment paper.  We cut out parchment paper to fit along the bottom of all the pans and it made lifting the cakes out to do things with incredibly easy.

In between Quinn's birthday and Mona's birthday is Thanksgiving, and I feel the need to show that not everything we make comes out pretty.  My grandma used to serve orange jello at the big holiday meals, and I inherited her cut-glass jello plate and the mold in the shape of a ring that fits on it perfectly.  I also inherited the recipe, but have yet to make it work. 

The orange jello calls for (appropriately) three boxes of orange jello, orange sherbet, mandarin orange slices, and crushed pineapple.  The problem is this is one of gram's recipes where the amounts of everything are unclear because it just says "a can" or "a box" and we have no idea what the proportions are.  Every year we make a new guess and every year we end up with orange soup.  Luckily orange soup is still delicious, but I think gram would horrified that we're serving a giant bowl of brightly colored goo in her honor on our holiday table.
We'll try again at Christmas.

In the meantime, no more cake for a while.  We are caked out.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Rare and Beautiful Things (VSA 2017)

Amati violin at the Smithsonian
I made a hastily arranged trip to DC recently in order to attend part of a VSA (Violin Society of America) convention.  It's an off year (meaning there was no makers' competition which is a much bigger event and lasts a whole week) and I wasn't planning on going, but I won a lottery for a special pre-convention tour that was too good to miss.

Thankfully I have friends in the area who were willing to put me up and drive me around which made the trip even feasible.  (They also own one of my violins so I was able to at least offer some instrument maintenance in exchange--Although I have to say I found doing bench work at a kitchen table to be surprisingly disorienting when I'm used to being surrounded by all the tools and light I need.)

The pre-convention tour, that was only available to a smaller group than would attend the full convention, included a trip to the Library of Congress in the morning, and the Smithsonian in the afternoon.  Both places have an impressive collection of rare instruments, including some of the most famous that Stradivari ever built.  I had the opportunity to study and play the collection in the Library of Congress many years ago, but have never seen the ones in the Smithsonian other than in photos.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween: Bay View Style

Happy Halloween!  It's been over for us for days, but I hope everyone else out there who has fun with it on the actual day has a good time.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Aden the Armadillo

Aden really likes being a kangaroo.  Up until a couple of weeks before Halloween she thought she would just be a kangaroo again this year.  But her sister in particular couldn't believe she'd pass up the chance to be something else, especially since she could always still just be a kangaroo if she changed her mind.

So at the last minute she decided to be an armadillo.

By last minute I mean about a week ago I had a couple of hours to sew together a basic jumpsuit and tack on a couple of ears, and then Aden was supposed to do the rest.  She really wanted to make all of it soft so she could lounge around in it, and she had ideas, but wasn't sure how to execute them and kept putting it off.  We wound up the day before the Halloween Dance staying up late and getting the last of it done.
After some trial and error we ended up with a fleece armor-shell filled with batting and the outside layer folded with nine pleats (for a 9-banded armadillo).  I stitched it to the body and attached the tail to the underside of it.  And I added a small snout like a bill to her hood.

All the lighter color details Aden did herself with paint, plus she added claws to a pair of gloves.

It's not as flashy as her siblings' costumes this year, but she's very happy being an armadillo.

And she seems to be past her worries about being too old to Trick-or-Treat, which I'm glad about.  There are so many adults who dress up in our neighborhood she doesn't look out of place, and it's just a big welcoming event here, regardless of how old or young the kids are.

At school next week she's just going to be a cowgirl because her school is already warm, and changing in and out of a heavy costume for gym sounds annoying, but at home she plans to hang out in armadillo mode often.  She loves being an armadillo.  (And I love her.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Quinn the Lion Fish

This is officially the most labor intensive costume I've been asked to do yet.  But I think it came out looking good!

When I asked Quinn a few months ago what he wanted to be for Halloween there was a deceptive pause in his answer that gave me hope for a simple costume this year.  He said, "I want to be a lion... fish."  A lion would have been easy.  My mind went to a couple of elements I could use to make it cool and knew I could knock it out in about a day.  But then the word "fish" came into the picture and I realized, no, this was going to be a challenge.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

I guess the best of Dorothy Parker isn't good enough.

Our car gets broken into about every six weeks.

For the most part our neighborhood is fairly safe.  I'm not nervous walking our dog at night.  Our street dead ends into the railroad tracks a block away from our house so there isn't a lot of through traffic that direction.  We have nice neighbors.  I don't feel scared in or around our house.  (Although there was a carjacking on our corner a few months ago, but I'm still more nervous about running into a skunk than a criminal.)

Our garage only holds one car, so we tend to park the minivan inside, and the sedan in the driveway by the alley.  We can't keep a garage door opener in the sedan because then someone could use that to break into the whole garage and they might take, I don't know, our kites or a rake or something.  We tend to keep the doors to the car unlocked simply because I'd rather deal with people rifling through everything than a smashed window, but it's still annoying.

I don't know if it's the same person or group who does a regular round of rummaging through cars on our block, or if it varies, but they always go through it the same way.  We come out in the morning to find all the compartments wide open and everything a more jumbled mess than usual.  I mostly get pissed off if they leave a door open enough to keep the dome light on which runs down the battery.  Our last car they used to steal the radio out of over and over, but that hasn't happened in years (probably because there's not much of a market for them anymore).  Lately nothing gets taken that we've noticed.  They leave the change on the floor, they don't want pens or the car owner's manual, and last week they even rejected our GPS which we'd accidentally left in the bin between the front seats and they dumped it on the floor mat.

There is not much of value in our car, but when it's rifled through, there is one thing we always check for.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Did Something Eat Something Else?*

(*George Carlin)

Some pictures only a blogger would take.  And some situations become less annoying if they could make a good post.

So with that as explanation, here are some pictures of empty food containers as I found them in their natural habitat:

I know this is not unique to our home, but come on!  Why, children, why?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Mona the Ostrich

Mona is amazing.  And she makes amazing costumes.

I have really enjoyed making costumes for Mona, but a few years ago she decided to have a hand in her costume creation and did the head to her tapajera outfit without my help.  Then the following year she did most of her griffin outfit herself.  Last year she didn't need me at all and did her scorpion costume completely on her own.  (She still wears it and was a hit at Bug Day at the nature center recently.)

This year she outdid herself with an ostrich costume.

She was so excited about her ideas for it that it's already finished well in advance of Halloween.  It was fascinating to watch her work out how it would all go together.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Enough and Done

Yesterday morning I woke up to the news of what is now being called the largest mass shooting in our nation's history.  The story was on the radio as I made breakfast.  It was on my Facebook feed as I checked on it at work.  It was on the radio again as I cooked dinner.  Discussion of it was absent at my evening rehearsal, but then I was confronted with it again from multiple sources when I went back to work to finish a few things before finally returning home to crawl in bed.

I was not surprised this shooting happened.  In all the coverage I heard in and around Las Vegas, nobody sounded surprised.

You know what did surprise me a little?  I had no tears for this event.  None.  I am fatigued.  I was distressed in the abstract.  I was sad for the victims and their families in a general way.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Getting Older

Getting older is weird.  Because I don't feel old, really, I just feel like me.  In my mind my college experience wasn't that long ago, but it really was.  My high school just had a 30 year reunion.  I remember my high school self, so that doesn't seem distant, but the numbers don't lie.

I think about how when I was in elementary school I couldn't understand why people referred to kids in high school as "kids" since they sure looked like adults to me.  Now even college kids seem very young.  And what used to sound "old" doesn't seem all that old now.  When I was a kid, 50 sounded very old.  Today I have trouble seeing 60 as particularly old, but that's getting into retirement age for many so I guess I have to accept that fact.  I think about how my grandfather was 70 when he died, and that seemed okay at the time because he was an old man, but now I find it shocking he died so young.

The really sobering markers of aging aren't the ones I was expecting.  It's the odd bits of change and history that slowly slip by rendering all your memories out of step.  Realizing news events from my childhood that resonated with me are completely unfamiliar to many of the people I talk to on a daily basis is disconcerting.  I have to explain to my kids things like the eruption of Mt St Helens or the Iran hostage crisis or the Challenger explosion.  Those are peripheral tidbits that don't necessarily come up in school.  But they sound as ancient to them as my dad talking about seeing the Beatles at Shea Stadium or people describing when Kennedy was shot did to me.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Happiness may be a choice, but it's not always the right one.

When my husband and I decided to get married I didn't originally picture myself in a big white dress.  I seldom have interest in doing what other people usually do, and I was not one of those people who had her "big day" all mapped out in her mind ahead of time.  The marriage interested me, not the wedding particularly.

As the details of the event came together I learned a lot of valuable lessons.  There are certain rites of passage that remain in the culture for a reason, and how you handle them can tell you a lot about yourself and others.  I assumed from the start I would just buy myself a nice dress I could use again because that kind of sartorial practicality seemed like me.  But it also seemed like friends of mine who had married before me and chosen a big white dress.  One of those friends told me to just try one on, because why not?  When she had, she'd discovered she liked it.

To my utter surprise I liked it too.  Because it's fun and it's a way to set that day apart from any others.  I realized that my wedding day was the only day I could wear such a dress and have it mean something important.  I could certainly wear a wedding dress any other day I wanted, but it would only be an oddity or a costume.  I had one chance to wear such a thing with any meaning to it.  Why would I pass up that chance?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Stray Thoughts in the Morning

Things are moving a mile a minute anymore, and any one of these thoughts could have been a post in a less hectic time, but in no particular order here are things I've pondered and learned from lately:

It's good to be able to return to a space that doesn't change.  Our cottage is that for us.  My brother was able to come with his family this summer, and he hadn't been there in almost 17 years.  He remarked immediately how amazing it was that it felt the same.  That's been by design--we've changed very little since my grandma died, and the place still feels like her.  She would lament that we've let the garden go, but someday we'll be there long enough to plant begonias by the front porch again, and weed some of the plants along the stairs on the hill.

It's also good that at the cottage the internet is spotty at best.  There is just enough of a signal from the neighbor's house that he said we could use that usually every other day I can upload email while I'm there and at least make sure everything is okay back home.  Otherwise being unplugged is a good thing for everyone.

My dad has been gone for two years now.  It doesn't really get easier.  I just don't burst into tears about it as often.  But damn I miss my dad.

My grandmother would have been 99 this year.  I miss her too.  There is so much I wish I could talk to her about.  It would have been so nice for my kids to have really known her. 

Grandpa, too.  I remember when he died he seemed really old.  But now 70 doesn't seem that old.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

So Close

I took the kids down to Illinois to see the eclipse on Monday.  Ian's off doing Army things so I was on my own with all the driving.  (We left Milwaukee at 5 in the morning and got home at about 9:30 at night.)

We had our NASA approved viewing glasses that we picked up from American Science and Surplus a week ago before they were sold out.  We had a bag of car snacks the kids had picked out at Target the day before (grapes, carrots, granola, pop tarts...) and we filled up our bottles with familiar Milwaukee water.  I had an iPod of podcasts to listen to if radio had nothing to offer.  The kids had some multi-player game that they could coordinate on their little devices.  We had the GPS and the iPass and everyone settled into their respective seats in the minivan as we hit the road while it was still dark.

My kids love a road trip.  They had been looking forward to it for weeks.  They are good travelers and undaunted by long stretches in the car.  They never whine.  They never ask to stop unless they need to use the bathroom, and even then they give as much warning as possible in case it will take time to find an exit.  They don't get carsick.  They can sleep when they need to as we roll along.  They sing sometimes, although they tend to amuse themselves quietly.  When they were younger and their heads didn't pop above the seats it was possible to forget they were even back there.

I had planned to get us to Carbondale, Illinois where big eclipse festivities were going on and where totality viewing would be one of the longest in the country.  I plugged a random restaurant with a Carbondale address into the GPS and gave us a cushion of well over an hour to reach it.

The problem is it doesn't always matter how much you prepare or plan.  Life doesn't work that way.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Nazis Are Bad

Apparently in 2017 this still needs to be clarified.

My mind is reeling from everything that is going on in the news and our society and I do not have the time right now to sort it out into words the way I want to, but in a moment where silence contributes to the problem I can't not put something in this space that condemns hatred.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Family is interesting because you don't get to choose.  You get what you get.

Sure, you can choose to interact or not, to be an active participant in different lives or not, but who you are and where you fit, in an objective sense, is out of your control.

When I had my first baby, I became a mom.  My husband became a dad.  Whether my brothers were interested or not, they became uncles.  My parents became grandparents regardless of whether they were ready to think of themselves that way yet.  A new life creates labels like "cousin" and "great-aunt" and "niece" automatically.  When I chose to become a parent it imposed new levels of identity up and down my family tree forever and always.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Reading the Bill of Rights

When I work in the kitchen or drive somewhere I usually listen to the news on the radio.  Quinn, if he's helping me out or along for a ride, listens too.  We used to play a game on the drive to Latin where before I would turn on the news we would each guess what the topic might be and see who got closer.  But now it's all Trump all the time, so that game has lost its appeal.

Usually when we listen to the news Quinn has questions.  Some of them are obvious, many are not, and too often I can't answer them as well as I'd like.  (That's where Google comes in handy.)

The other day during a particular news story they kept talking about first amendment rights and Quinn asked what that meant.  I explained that the first ten amendments of the Constitution of the United States are referred to as the Bill of Rights, and the first one guaranteed freedom of religion, speech, and assembly.  We had an interesting discussion about what the exceptions were.  We talked about different ways people have found to confront speech they didn't like.

In any case, the thing that surprised me as I had this conversation with my son in the kitchen as I was chopping vegetables, was that I realized as I was talking to him that I couldn't name all ten amendments.  I can name all ten commandments from the bible even though it's not my thing.  I apparently use the Jewish numbering which I didn't realize until I looked it up to explain to Quinn that different religions using those same commandments actually number then differently.  (This is something I wonder about when people put up ten commandment monuments since however they get numbered is a nod to a particular sect, not just to Judeo-Christian culture in general, but whatever.)  The average person I run into who claims to construct their life around those commandments can't actually name them, which I find either amusing or irritating depending upon the day.

But then I claim to hold up the Constitution as central to the choices I have available to me as a citizen of this country, and yet I wouldn't be able to tell someone what was in the entire Bill of Rights.

I had Quinn Google it and read me each amendment aloud.  I was sort of stunned by how much of it was unfamiliar.  So for anyone else on this American holiday who wants a refresher course on the Bill of Rights, here they are along with a few notes about what Quinn and I discussed as we read through them:

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Another Two Weeks

Today was our 20th wedding anniversary.

We didn't do anything particularly special today other than share a sandwich at lunch.

Ian got up early to run, I swam.  There was an appointment with a roofer to get another estimate on the latest house project that needs to be tended to sooner rather than later.  When I left for work all the kids were nestled into spots on couches and cuddled together to do things on laptops.

I did a lot of bow work today at the store.  Ian brought me lunch and did work on his side of the store which is so different from my side.  His thing is all Quickbooks and bills and rental lists, and mine is all chisels and knives and planes.  It's a good thing we have each other because each of us is lost on the wrong side of the store.

In the afternoon he picked up this week's farm share box on the way home where he had to do an Army conference call.  I finished my last few appointments and then swung by the house to grab the kids to go volunteer at the soup kitchen downtown.  Then we stopped at Michael's and Goodwill to poke around for stuff for a project I'm doing, and then home where we were unsuccessful at coaxing the dog out from under the couch for a walk.  (Chipper currently remembers how to do stairs, but has forgotten he likes to go for walks.)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day 2017

Dear Dad,

You've been gone almost two years now.  It still hasn't really sunk in that I won't see you again, or get a hug from you anymore.  I miss making you laugh on the phone.  I miss being able to ask you questions when I'm having a grammar moment.  I don't automatically reach for the phone now when those moments happen, but I still haven't quite let go of the belief that you are out there and I just haven't seen you in too long.

When I haven't seen someone in a long time I'm usually a little surprised when we are reunited that there are details I forgot--bits of mannerisms or scents or motions that go with a person that you don't hold onto well at a distance.  I'm still adjusting to the idea that my perceptions of you will not be updated or renewed, but I'm left with whatever I already have.  It's not enough, but it will have to be.

What would I tell you today, this Father's Day without you again, if I could call?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Varnish Workshop 2017

I went to my third varnish workshop in April and this was the best one yet.  I went for the first time in 2013 when it was in Boston (during which the marathon bombing occurred, so that was memorable even without all the cool new information about turpentine), and again last year when the workshop moved to Chicago.

This year it was in Chicago for the second time, using the facilities of the Chicago School of Violin Making while the regular students were away on break.  (It was a long commute from Milwaukee, but it was nice to sleep in my own bed at night.)

I think the most natural question of the uninitiated at this point would be, "What is there still to learn by going to this workshop for a third time?"  And someone who has never varnished a violin or doesn't know anything about it probably assumes there can't be that many ways to do it, so it would be hard to imagine a whole week of it yet again.

But the better you become at anything the more capable you are of learning new things.  It's great to feel you are improving your skill set while also adding to it.

The first varnish workshop was a revelation about how to see violin varnish, how to read the wood as you progress, to understand ground in more depth, and how to use materials very different from what I was initially trained with in school.

By the second workshop I was able to move past more general ideas and focus on finer details.  I learned a huge amount about preparing an instrument while it was still in the white in order to influence the look of the varnish later.  I was led by the hand through explorations in color in ways I never would have conceived of on my own.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Other Mothers

I've always been irritated with people who are quick to dismiss Mother's Day as a greeting card holiday.  Holidays are what you choose to make them.  The commercialization of certain holidays can indeed get out of hand to the point where the real sentiments get lost, but that's the fault of capitalism and the juvenile insistence of the average person in this country that everything be fun or dramatic rather than meaningful.

Major Christian holidays in this country get a lot of attention, and I know members of minority faiths who resent how little the mainstream knows about other holidays when they come around, but I've often felt they should be a bit grateful that the relative obscurity shields them from some of the nonsense, and they don't see important traditions reduced to another excuse to buy unnecessary things.  My kids were surprised to learn Easter was a religious holiday at all, because they've only known it as egg hunts and candy.  For us that works, again, because we can make holidays what we like, and for some of them that means making them silly.

But even secular holidays aren't immune from further secularization.  Mother's Day in this country was eventually denounced by its creator who found its reduction from something meaningful to something used as a marketing ploy to be deplorable.  However, we can pick what we like and reject the rest, just as we can on any other day.  The tricky part is navigating the larger context and being prepared for the various meanings any holiday has for others.  We can't assume it's the same for everyone.

Mother's Day can be complicated because mothers are complicated.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


Quinn (and consequently I) have been taking Latin lessons once a week at the local university for a couple of years now.  I love having an activity that I get to do with just him where we can chat in the car and walk together to the library and maybe share a snack if there's time.  Plus the Latin is fun, too.  All of that I sort of pictured ahead of time when we signed up.

What I hadn't pictured was our regular inspection of the flags.

We fly an inordinate number of flags in our country.  Quinn loves flags (or, at least, he loves anything related to geography that can be put into an orderly list) and can currently identify all 197 country flags we found on an online quiz.  He pays attention to them in a way I normally don't.  On our short commute to the university we pass many flags flying outside of schools and government buildings and people's homes.

It seems more often than not anymore, those flags are at half-staff.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Fudge and Moccasins

So much to write about, so little time to write.  I am so behind here!  I just finished an incredible week at this year's varnish workshop, but I need a bit more time to process it all before I can share any of it in a post.  The kids just had their science and multi-cultural fair, Aden played in the pit orchestra for her first musical, work has been busy, I've performed in a couple of great concerts, but I don't think I will get a chance to write about any of it.

However, I do want to take a second to describe a bit of our recent trip to The Wisconsin Dells over Easter weekend.  It wasn't possible to go to New York this year for our tradition of staying in my brother's apartment and setting up egg hunts in the nearby rose garden.  So instead we headed west for my other brother's home in LaCrosse and on the way stayed a couple of nights in The Dells.  It's something we've been meaning to do with our kids at some point, and now was apparently the time.
Trojan Horse on the way to our hotel

The Wisconsin Dells, for those who are not familiar, is a small town not far from Madison with a small local population but a ton of visitors during vacation season.  It was a spot where in the past river traffic had to stop at the falls in order for people to change boats, and as a result tourist attractions were born.  Today it's a kitchy place full of water parks and different theme hotels.  There are various boat tours (including the famous "ducks" and we saw intriguing ads for something called "Ghost Boat"), lots of mini golf, go carts, ice cream and restaurants, and goofy souvenirs.  It's the sort of place that always seems to have fudge and moccasins.  (We got both.)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Peeps Art

My kids, my mom, and I all have pieces on display in this year's annual Peeps Art show at the Racine Art Museum.  None of us won a prize, but when a TV station interviewed the artist who took first place and asked her what things in the show she liked, she singled out Mona's bird (which got a nice close up).  And this morning my Peeps orchestra was featured in the paper!

I liked all the things we entered so I thought I'd share them here for some pre-Easter fun:

The first person to finish the Peeps Art project was Quinn.  He likes maps and decided to do the United Peeps of America (Land of the Peeps, Home of the Other Peeps).  Note the different types of Peeps for the different oceans.  He also did the map outline freehand (because tracing would be cheating, even though there is no one anywhere who expects a ten year old to draw the U.S. freehand).

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The mechanic whose car doesn't run

Earlier this week I finally rehaired my bow.

Violin family instruments use horsehair on their bows, and that has to be replaced periodically.  Bow hair is coated with rosin (which is sort of a refined block of tree sap that looks like a white powder on the bow, and that you reapply about every four hours of play), which makes it sticky and able to grip the strings.  The physics of what's happening is kind of like plucking a string really fast over and over--the rosined hair grabs the string and lets go repeatedly causing the string to vibrate.  The hair itself is covered in little scales that hold the rosin.  Over time and use the hair gets stripped and won't hold rosin well, and the hair even if you don't use it eventually loses elasticity.  I have some customers who play aggressively enough their bow hair only lasts a couple of weeks.  Most full-time professionals don't usually let their bow hair get older than six months.  The average person should get a rehair once a year.  No horsehair works well longer than two.

It's easy to forget the last time you got your bow rehaired.  I often hand out little reminder cards like the ones people get for oil changes so my customers can remember.  The part that's tricky is you don't feel the changes from one day to the next.  The wear sneaks up on you.  It's insidious, because when you play your bow doesn't feel that different from how it felt the day before, but if you were to jump back six months to compare you would definitely feel the change.

Anyway, last week at rehearsal I realized that I had just let my own bow go too long.  Bow rehairs are not my favorite part of my job and I'm already swamped with work, so the idea of taking time to do my own bow is not appealing.  I tend to put it off as long as I can, which makes me feel like a hypocrite as I chastise others about doing timely maintenance on their equipment.  But my own bow was well overdue and I couldn't ignore it anymore.

What a difference.  Good grief, playing at rehearsal last night was so much easier.  And I wondered the same way I do every time why I don't rehair my bow more often since I can do it whenever I like.

The same thing happens with sharpening my tools.  There is nothing more satisfying than the first few cuts with a freshly sharpened plane blade or a well-honed knife.  You don't realize how much you've been struggling with your tools until you take the time to get them back into optimal condition.  In an ideal world I would set aside an official sharpening day every two weeks and keep everything up to snuff, but real life doesn't work like that.

There is just so much to do and so many unexpected things that come up.  Maintenance takes time and gets annoying.  It doesn't feel like progress, but it facilitates it.

I'm trying to do better about applying that lesson to my health and my mental well-being.  There is a lot that wears you down day to day that you don't notice, but would if you could step back.  It's hard, because a lot like the mechanic whose car doesn't run, we don't always take care of ourselves first even if we are the most obvious choice to do it.  We expend all our energy on work for others.  The last thing we want to do at the end of the day is more work with no external appreciation or compensation for it.

But it's worth it.  I just keep forgetting.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Packets

One of the lovely things about my dad was he collected packets of articles for people he cared about.  He lived to file articles.  There are still dozens of large boxes of them to sort through since he died, and it will be a long term project to go through the raw feed of material he meant to separate out into particular piles, but I have in my possession about fifteen packets just for me and my family.

From the time I left for college to about a year or so before he died, my dad assembled collections of articles for me in big yellow envelopes.  He did that for my brothers.  He did that for other friends and family as relevant articles presented themselves.  If you expressed an interest in a topic around him you might get a file of papers in the mail.  It was his obsession to clip and save from printed material, and in its distilled form the packets were personal filing masterpieces.  I don't know anyone who got one who didn't feel special for receiving it.

If he really deeply loved you, though, you got a lot of packets.  And my dad deeply loved me.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Clean Sweep

In recent weeks (months?) the house has really gotten away from me.

I don't think I was mentally built to be a full time stay-at-home parent, but at least back during Ian's two deployments when the kids were much smaller I adapted well enough.  There was no real upside to Ian being away, but there was some satisfaction in staying on top of most of the basic chores while stuck at home.  With another responsible adult around there is always the hope that the other person will do some of what needs to be done and you can sidestep a chore, but when you are on your own you just have to do it.  I had a pretty good system of starting laundry in the morning and folding it all at night, of making meals and cleaning up with a certain rhythm, and keeping things fairly organized and tidy.  When Ian goes away for brief Army obligations now, I still fall back into those old patterns.  But lately my schedule has been rough and my work days long, which means the kinds of things that are important to me in running a house have kind of suffered.

So between Ian having just been out of state for a few days for more Army stuff, and my mom coming to visit soon, I had a lot of incentive to buckle down and try to get the house back in order.  I do what I think of as a Baryon Sweep (which is a Star Trek TNG reference for those who don't try to give house cleaning geeky connotations) where I start at one end of the house and clean thoroughly, pushing misplaced things into the next room until eventually I get to the other end and everything in my wake is clean.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bated Breath

All of my kids at some point when they were babies had croup.  Each time it was awful.  Each of them made a trip to the emergency room at Children's Hospital for it.  Each time we were told there really was nothing they could do.  But when your baby struggles with each breath and won't stop crying and coughing it's nightmarish and you just want help.

The thing about those times I remember best was the drive to the hospital with the baby rear facing in the backseat, always in the dark, out of reach.  And I couldn't tell what was worse: Hearing each tortured inhale, or the silence in between breaths.  Each strangled breath was bad, but wondering if something worse had befallen my baby to cause the silence was equally bad.  Times like that when your imagination is spinning out of control and your instincts are hyperactive make for a very long drive (even when it's only 10.7 miles).

We are far from the baby stage now.  Those parenting challenges are hard, and some things do get easier as your kids grow, but somethings don't.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Escape the Room

This past weekend we decided to try Escape the Room.  It was really fun.

Escape the Room is a game where you are in a room filled with puzzles and locks and have one hour to figure how to get out.  We managed to escape (with lots of hints from the Clue-Master) with over three minutes to spare!

I'm not going to give anything away because it would be a lot less fun for anyone who wants to try it to know much in advance, but I will mention a few general things, and some that were unique to our experience.