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).

My mom also threw her hat into the Peeps ring with her drawing in iridescent pink ink called Pink Sugar.  The photo doesn't do it justice.  The funniest part was when she absentmindedly ate the Peep she was using as a model.  (Thankfully that didn't stop the progress of the art.)  It wasn't the flashiest thing on the wall at the museum, but it was far and away the most elegant.  (Quinn voted for his grandma's Peep.)


My piece is the Milwaukee Peeps Orchestra.  I figured it would be cute to display in my violin store after the show.  The dog ate the first conductor and I found the mangled little baton on the floor.  The dog also ate the assistant conductor, so I had to go back to Target for a new package of them.  My favorite part of my little group is the wonky music, because it looks like what I imagine a Peeps orchestra actually being capable of playing.  (I also like the slightly confused Peep in the second section who isn't playing.)






Mona started off making a dragon, but the Peeps weren't working out with the hot glue the way she imagined and the whole thing started to exceed the size requirement, so she switched to her Candy Bird.  It's brilliant.  Her use of the rows of Peeps from the underside all glued together like plumage is clever, and combining it all with felt is seamless.  I think it's just great and we were all surprised it didn't win.




Aden's piece she finished up at the last minute so the best pictures I have of the whole thing were taken in the car on the way to Racine.  She's a fan of the Legend of Zelda, so she amused herself by making the Legend of Peep.  The one tricky part was to dress them properly she had to cobble together taller Peeps first.  I love her little Peeps figures.






So that was fun!  There were tons of Peeps and art supplies on the dining room table for about two weeks, and I miss our having a group project to do now.  We're already looking forward to next year.



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.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Now What?

It's taken some time since election night to get my thoughts in order.

Watching the returns made me panicky.  The next morning I felt ill.  For the most part over the past several weeks I've gone back and forth between trying to stay informed (which alarms me with each new headline) and avoiding the news (which preserves my sanity and any good faith I have left toward my fellow citizens).

Donald Trump is the new president of the United States.  This says some unflattering things about ourselves as a nation, and reveals some important truths we must come to grips with.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Luna Moth Dream

If I really wanted this blog to be entertaining I would simply write about my brothers all the time.  Either of them is an easy go-to topic for me at parties because there are endless interesting stories available, and in case I'm in a situation where the company is boring, talking about Arno or Barrett keeps me amused.  I love them and could not have asked for kinder, funnier, or more intelligent siblings.

Arno is a neuroscientist who currently works at the Child Mind Institute in New York City.  He always talks to me about his work as if I'm a knowledgeable colleague, which is flattering, but consequently I have no clear idea what he does.  The bits I can follow are fascinating, and he does important research that will improve people's lives, but don't ask me to explain any of it.

But this post relates to a project coordinated by my other brother.  The baby of the family by four minutes, Barrett is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse where he specializes in entomology and insect sleep research.  He's also a talented artist who has done lots of model making and scientific illustration, and he is particularly interested in cultural entomology which is where insects meet art.

Last year he commissioned 30 artists to make small books with the theme "Insect Dreams."  He was generous enough to invite me to participate, and despite the limits on my time there are moments when an intense little project is a good distraction from other things so I recently buckled down over a weekend and made my contribution.

Want to see?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Who We Want to Be

When I was in high school I remember walking out of a local grocery store past a man collecting donations.  He may have been a Shriner, and he asked me as I stepped through the door if I would, "Help the retarded* children?" and having no change on me I simply said, "No" and walked on.  But then I felt terrible.  What kind of person was I that I didn't want to help the retarded children?  Wouldn't a decent human being go find some change to give that man?  I nearly cried I felt so guilty.  I felt guilty enough I obviously still remember it to this day.
[*please see the comments]

Of course, this is kind of silly because we are bombarded with requests from all levels of charity all the time.  Most of us don't want to live the kind of life where we give everything away, but each of us needs to find a balance where we maintain the life we want while still sacrificing for others.

The part of this that interests me is the narrative we tell ourselves about how good we are or want to be.  Feeling sad about "the retarded children" is not the same as actually helping them, although it can feel that way.  Being sad about it makes me a good person, right?  Not really.  It's only the potential for good.  Without action it's not tested or true.  It's fine in your head to decide you approve of helping others, but if you don't do something with that feeling it makes the same impact on the world as if in your head you loathed the idea.  It's great to make up your mind to be against racism or bigotry or sexism or cruelty, and another for that to become real.

The problem for me is day to day life is busy with mundane activities and I'm exposed to the same situations and people over and over.  Most of our time is consumed by little bits of necessary routine, such as getting dressed and brushing our teeth and moving around dishes and laundry.  Being a parent means managing other people's daily routines as well, which often feels like falling behind while simply trying to stay one step ahead so appointments aren't missed and things are signed and everyone is fed.  There is a lot to do just to feel like we're even treading water rather than going under, let alone moving forward.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Dear Child of Mine

You are beautiful and talented and smart and amazing and funny and kind and the world is better for having you in it.

You are right when you say I think those things because I am your mom.  But it's not because I am blinded by my love or exaggerating your worth because you are mine.

My love means I see you with greater clarity, not less.  I have studied you since before you took your first breath.  I have watched you grow and change, and I remember you before you remember yourself.  I care enough to examine you to a degree of detail unmatched by anyone.  I know you, I see you, and I adore you.

I'm sorry the backlash against using the word "special" in our society has robbed you of the chance to rightly own it.  I'm sorry there have been other parents who somehow labeled their children special while equating it with entitlement, and without tempering it with the idea of humility and respect for others.  They have tainted the word and made it unfairly wrong to use earnestly.

But you are special.  And worthy.  And loved.

If I could have anything on this day, it would be for you to see yourself the way I see you.  Then you would know how right you would be to love yourself too.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Looking Back on the 2016 VSA Convention

Before the past year slips too far from memory I want to take a moment to reflect upon the VSA convention I attended back in November.  It was quite an experience and I'm very glad I got to go.

2016 was a competition year.  The Violin Society of America (VSA) has an annual convention that moves around the country, and every other year they hold a competition for violin making with awards for workmanship and tone.  This year I entered my latest commissioned violin.

Renaissance Hotel, Cleveland
The convention was in Cleveland again.  I drove myself out there, and shared the drive back with my friend Robyn.  I loved having a few days alone in a hotel room where the bed magically got made every day and new towels just appeared.  (There are few things I envy the rich for, but maid service is one of them.)  I also enjoyed Robyn's company the last few days of the convention and sharing a room with someone who didn't need me for anything other than occasional grown-up conversations.