Sunday, November 25, 2018

Grateful Place

We had a relatively low key, but warm and happy holiday weekend.  The biggest part of it was in advance of my daughter's birthday (and taking advantage of a Black Friday sale) we got her a bird.  We offered her one a year ago, but she didn't quite feel ready.  She's since done her research and finally feels prepared, and now the bird is adapting to us and we are adapting to the bird.  More details on all of that later as things progress and eventually I can get a good picture.

I can share some other birds, though.  The kids did custom made turkey decorations for each place setting this year, and I asked for a robo-turkey, and Ian asked for an 80s-music-turkey, and Aden delivered.



It was a good Thanksgiving.  One that has me simply appreciating the place where I am now.  Some of that is circumstance, and some of that is perspective.

I have reached a point in my life where I have officially abandoned the illusion that there is impending calm around the corner.  You know that sense that "If I can just get past...(fill in the blank with the hassle or crisis of the moment here)...everything will be okay and I'll have time to relax and can get stuff done I've been putting off."  Yeah, no, that will never happen. 

That feeling seems most acute for me with parenting, where we're always just trading one struggle for the next.  Because parenting is about guiding someone you're responsible for through the first part of their life, and life is nothing but struggle, even if things are going relatively fine.  I often think about when my oldest was in sixth grade and grew two inches that year.  There was nothing wrong with that, but it changed where we shopped for clothes, and her center of gravity had shifted so she couldn't take how she moved for granted anymore, and it changed how people perceived her in the world.  Those were all consequences of her growth that were as unanticipated as they were foreseeable.

I feel like I've spent most of my kids' childhoods thinking "Ugh, if we could just get past the diapers, or the potty training, or this irrational fear, or that allergy...." when the truth is the end of one thing is just the start of something new, so it doesn't stop.  There is no impending calm.  There is just life.

This year I had my son help me with the orange jello for the Thanksgiving meal.  My grandma's recipe is unclear in terms of amounts, so most of the time the chemistry is off and we end up with a fancy plate of goo.  I'm not exactly sure what we did differently this time, but I trust Quinn to remember it for the next time, and this year we got to serve an orange jello that would have made my grandma proud.


But the thing is?  We would have still enjoyed it if it were goo.  It's full of pineapple and mandarin oranges and sherbet...  How does that not still taste good even if it doesn't set?

Right now we are struggling with getting one kid through physics.  Part of me is looking forward to whenever we get past this, but part of me knows it doesn't matter because it won't really be an end when we do.  There will be a new thing that may as well be physics.  So I'm learning to remember that right now it's also fine to accept the goo.

Another bit of perspective?  Our sad candle.  We don't remember which birthday we originally purchased the sad candle for, but it's still on its original battery and it limps through the birthday song for us this time of year in its own pitifully determined electronic way.  It is sad, but brings us more joy than if it were unambiguously happy.  We root for the sad candle as it warbles away, and then shut it off quickly so that it can save up its small reserve of power for next year.  You don't have to be perfect to be loved.

For us right now we have some pretty impressive struggles ahead that I'm not sure how to deal with, but we are past some others that I wasn't sure how we would get through either.  On all the levels that matter, I am incredibly grateful for where we are at the moment.  Compared to last year or the year before at this time, I couldn't ask for better. 

My daughter looked at me yesterday as we sat at the table admiring her new pet and said she loved her bird, and she loved her life.  That is everything.

I don't really care that there is a storm coming this afternoon and two of the kids still don't have boots and that my floor is a mess and that there are three violin bridges waiting to be carved on my bench at work or that I'm probably forgetting something important.  The goo still tastes good and the sad candle still makes us laugh.  We're all fine.


Monday, November 19, 2018

Violin Shop MeToo


I recently returned from this year's Violin Society of America convention in Cleveland.  I had a great time, and am looking forward to writing a post about my experiences soon, but first I wanted to share my part of a panel discussion I was privileged to be a part of.

We got to talking at last year's convention during the women's luncheon (which is a nice place for women in the industry to connect since there are so few of us) about what we experience in terms of discrimination.  The esteemed Marilyn Wallin gave a brave speech about some of the things she's endured, including a man tearing up a check for an instrument of hers after he discovered a woman had built it and then declared the idea too disgusting to contemplate, to the fact that women in the early days of the violin making schools were not allowed to build cellos.  (She had to hire one of the male students to teach her.  Marilyn currently makes some of the best damn cellos on the planet.)  

It sparked quite a conversation as everyone began to share their own stories.  Everyone has them, which is very much what the MeToo movement has been about.  As we talked over lunch and beyond, I started to ask why we weren't sharing these stories with men.  We know all these problems are ubiquitous.  It's men who do not.

So we decided to put together a panel discussion for the next convention, and we collected stories that women were too uncomfortable to attach their names to and edited them enough to provide anonymity.  I wrote the intro, my friend Robyn read the stories, and Marilyn contributed a new piece before I read a closing, and then we turned the discussion over to the audience.  The only real stumbling block we had was that various people in charge of organizing the talks at the convention kept trying to change our panel into one about general diversity, at one point promoting it as "How to Bring Diversity to Your Shop!" which struck me as a terrible bait and switch that would understandably upset people. I tried to address the diversity issue a bit (which is incredibly important, just not what we were doing), but was relieved when the wording was changed in the program before it went to print, and finally read "Panel Discussion: Experiences of Discrimination in the Workplace."

For anyone who is interested but couldn't attend the VSA convention this year, here is my talk:

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Halloween 2018 Recap

I just wanted to take one last moment to post pictures of my kids in their costumes from this year.  Still impressed that 1.) Mona made hers pretty much on her own, 2.) We got Aden's done so last minute, and 3.) That I actually pulled off building a chimera outfit for Quinn in my spare time.


Shout out to whomever the guy was in our neighborhood that the kids said was able to identify all three costumes correctly at his door.  He actually said without prompting, "Jackal, Chameleon, Chimera."  That dude wins Halloween.

My kids also got a sense for the first time how unusually lively Halloween in Bay View is compared to the average neighborhood.  We went through over 400 pieces of candy before we had to go inside and shut off the porch light.  So many cute kids!  Our neighbor down the street was out as usual with his light up roller skates and juggling clubs entertaining everyone, people were out on their front steps to greet the crowds, adults were dressed up (sometimes as part of a theme with their kids--we saw a whole Incredibles family), and the party across the street shared some great chili.

Then we hit the street behind the violin store where they go all out and there was a porch of dancing dinosaurs with disco lights that rocked for hours, a giant spider web to pose in, and just blocks and blocks of happy people.  One of my favorite things was a bit of city construction work that someone decorated.  I didn't think to get a picture, but it was a ripped up bit of sidewalk with barricade around it, and someone had filled it with little headstones.  One house was playing silent horror movies on a big screen on their porch.  Another had giant dinosaur skeletons on the lawn and a T-Rex handing out candy while roaring.  (I know some of the houses in that part of Bay View go through closer to 2000 pieces of candy.)

We even stopped in Mona's high school on the way home where they had games and music and candy for anyone who wanted to participate.  It was all great.
But then the next day during the city-wide daytime trick-or-treat, I took my kids up to a more affluent neighborhood where we have a relative because they wanted to see her and to wear their costumes one more time. 
It was different from what they were used to.  People were in their homes and you had to go up to the door and ring the bell.  Most people weren't home, but it was hard to tell which houses they should try.  Several houses just had bowls of candy sitting unattended on the porch.  We saw a few other kids out, but not many.  My kids were really confused.  They kept asking where all the music and crowds were.  I told them this looked a lot more like what trick-or-treating is most places.  It's not the extreme decorating event it is in Bay View.  One house even decorates both stories and the whole yard as part of an elaborate theme each year and puts out a donation box that collects thousands of dollars for charity.  So when I say people decorate, I don't mean just a few pumpkins.

And I don't mean us--other than a few broken skeletons we just have our few pumpkins.
We do, however, have a real headstone that astounds people every year who touch it and go "What!?"
On the downside, trick-or-treat wasn't as exciting in the wealthier neighborhood, but on the upside, they gave out full-sized chocolate bars, so there was that.

You know what I like best, though, about Bay View Halloween?  It's inclusive.  I know there are kids at our door who are coming from other, less safe neighborhoods, and I am happy they do.  I want them to feel welcome on my block, and they do.  Also, right before a contentious election, there was something great about seeing people celebrating together regardless of the names on the signs stuck in their lawns.

There are also no limits on age.  Everyone dresses up who wants to, and my teenagers are praised for dressing up and being creative and not looked at with scorn for being too old.  My favorite costume this year was a man dressed in orange with a bunch of orange pool noodles tied to him, and after a minute I realized he was a big metal sculpture downtown called The Calling (which most people refer to as The Sunburst).  When I asked him if I was right, he smiled and called the woman he was with over and she stood by him and lifted her arms which had white blinds under them like wings, and she was the Calatrava addition to the art museum.  Another woman with them was the weather.  It made my night.  This is the world's worst photo of them, but I want to share it anyway:
This has been a year of my children being more vocally appreciative of the good things they have that they are beginning to realize are not universal.  Mona actually told me at one point this summer when were walking along the lake that she's glad to have grown up here.  This Halloween they all looked at me and said they were happy to have had such tremendous fun with that holiday in our neighborhood all their lives.  I am just fortunate to have been able to give them that.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Aden the Chameleon





In recent years Aden has waited until only a week or two before Trick-or-Treat before deciding on a Halloween costume.  She likes being a kangaroo, and can always happily fall back on that, but luckily when she has a last moment inspiration we've been able to put it together in time.  This year she wanted to be a chameleon.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Mona the Jackal


Mona does her own costumes.  She has for the past few years starting with her head for her tapejara, then she did most of her griffin, then the scorpion was all her, as was last year's ostrich.  This year she decided she wanted to be a jackal, and I got to help with bits of tailoring, but it's fair to say this outfit is again all Mona.

The head in particular is genius.  She started that months in advance, and the jaw somehow hooks onto her jaw so the mouth opens and closes with her own.  The dark spaces that accent her glass eyes (that she also made herself) are actually a mesh that she can see out of.  She used the same mesh at the back of the mouth so she can breathe easily.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Quinn the Chimera


 
Quinn has been selecting Halloween costumes based on checking different categories off a list: mammal, reptile, arthropod, bird, fish, etc.  Among the remaining categories he was contemplating this year were amphibian and mythical creature, and he finally settled on mythical creature, specifically a Chimera.

Now, I knew a Chimera was a mash-up of different animals from Greek mythology, but honestly didn't remember (if I ever knew) the specifics.  Being imaginary, the details vary depending on the source you use, but after looking online, Quinn settled on: goat legs for the lower half, lion on top, a snake for a tail, wings, and the heads of a goat, lion, and dragon.

So this was kind of like making several costumes.  I'm just glad he decided on it early so I could start it back in September.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Writing Again

Last week I got to use our cottage in Michigan as a mini-writing-retreat.

I went with a talented writer friend who helped me salvage my first novel a few years ago, and she agreed to help with the second if I would keep her on task with writing her own book.  We had five straight days (plus two chatty driving days) of writing.  For the most part no internet, no schedule, no news, no responsibilities.  There were a couple of trips to the library, a few trips to pick up food, and some lovely walks here and there, but more or less we stayed in the house and wrote without interruption.

I can't emphasize enough how much I needed this.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Shards of Beauty

Sometimes life is too full.  It overwhelms.  There are days I feel so much I wind up numb.

There are moments anymore where I don't know whether I'm in the throes of hormonal shifts, or I've simply reached a stage of my life where I cannot look back over so many years without stumbling into emotions of all kinds.  I miss people and places and situations that will never come again.  I look forward knowing certain opportunities have passed, and yet at the same time I don't feel limited because life is full of so much.

A couple of weeks ago my son and I went to our Latin lesson and the teacher didn't show.  We reviewed our notes a bit, wrote phrases on the white board (we left up a sentence that roughly translates to "Take your things and leave!" because it amused us), and then left early because we could.  It was beautiful out, so with our extra time we stopped at the beach.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Dubuque

Due to a weird transition happening in our public school system's scheduling, my two oldest kids went back to class in the middle of August, but my youngest doesn't start until after Labor Day this year.  He got an extra three weeks of summer vacation, but while everyone else was in a different routine.  It's been odd.

I asked him if there was anything he would like to do during this last little bit of time he had free while his sisters were away all day, and he decided he wanted to go to Iowa.  He has a passion for geography as well as a desire to check things off lists, and Iowa is the only state that borders Wisconsin that he'd never been to.  We took to Google Maps and determined the closest destination from our house would be Dubuque.

I picked a day that was likely to be slow enough at work that I wouldn't be needed so that Ian could take the store, and after the girls were off to school, Quinn and I hit the road.  It's only about two and a half hours to the Iowa border, so not a big deal in our book.  We fussed with the GPS and found a restaurant to aim for, and enjoyed an easy drive where we left the rain on our side of the state and enjoyed clear skies over the Mississippi.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Wild West

We spent the last two weeks of July doing a whirlwind tour of the West.  We visited nine states and drove over 4000 miles.  (We saw a lot and this post will be long, but there are lots of pretty pictures like this one from Utah.)

It wasn't the most convenient time for this trip for several reasons, but we kind of felt we needed to do it.

First of all, Ian's side of the family is all out that way, and there were several relatives of his we hadn't seen in a long time or had never even met, and we felt a need to address that.  It's hard for us to travel anyplace we can't reach by car, so usually seeing family means seeing my family, but we wanted our kids to get to know the other side of their family, too.

And second, our oldest is halfway through high school and we won't have that many opportunities to travel together as a family in a few years and there is a lot we want our kids to see.  We've barely scratched the surface, really, of what we want to show them in the world, but at least when they go off on their own they will have a decent idea of the scope and variety of what's in our own country, and that's a start.

My kids are good at road trips, but we didn't want to spend time driving across parts of the country we've already seen, so we flew to Salt Lake City and rented a car to drive from there.  The plan was to pick up camping gear in the first few days of the trip to use later, but the one snag in the plan was the equipment we scoped out at our local Walmart that we figured we could find during our travels was not available in the quantities we needed at any single store.  We had to stop at several of them to get five cots (after our air mattress disasters we decided cots were the new way to go), but toward the end of our trip my kids said they preferred to go hungry rather than stop at another Walmart for snacks and supplies.

Our flight left Milwaukee very early on the morning of the 17th, and an incredibly kind neighbor (thankyouthanyouthankyouAubrie) drove us to the airport at 3:30a.m.  We flew first to Phoenix, then on to Salt Lake.  One of the advantages of finally traveling with older kids (they are now 16, 14, and 11) is that we could take Southwest and not have to worry about all of us sitting together.  (I remember flying to New York when Ian was deployed and trying to manage five-month-old Quinn in my lap while tending to the girls across the aisle.  Very different times.)

We picked up our rental car at the airport from Enterprise, which was the only rental car place in the city that my husband said didn't have a one-star Yelp review.  That never even occurred to me to check because how bad could a rental car place be?  Apparently pretty bad because the lines and complaints at every other place were impressive.  We piled into our new minivan and drove north through Boise to Nampa, Idaho.

It's so interesting to drive through landscapes that look nothing like home.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Today We Bought a Building!

We've been renters in our violin store space on the corner of Rusk and Delaware for over ten years now.  For the past six of those we've been renting the entire first floor so we could provide studio space for teachers and to expand our storage a little.

Then not long ago our landlord said he wanted to retire and sell the building and was nice enough to give us the first crack at it.  After a few legal hoops and lots of emails and signatures the building as of today is now ours!


We've had the past few months to contemplate what it would mean to move our business if the sale didn't work out, and frankly there is no place else we would rather be.  We're in a residential neighborhood which is just enough off the beaten path I don't have to deal with much distracting foot traffic, it's two blocks from the park by the lake (with its farmers' market in the summers where I can grab a little lunch on Saturdays), close to coffee shops for customers, big windows, lots of free parking, a simple drive to direct people in from downtown, an easy walk from two of my kids' schools and only about a 25 minute walk from home.  It's old and charming and friendly and I love it.

I'm really excited.  A little nervous because it's a lot more to be responsible for, but overall I think it will be great.  This is a new chapter for Korinthian Violins with lots of possibilities.  (So if you need a violin please stop by--we have an impressive mortgage to pay!)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Orientation

My two high schoolers go back to school tomorrow.  My oldest will be a Junior.  My middle child will be starting ninth grade.  My youngest will be in sixth grade but he doesn't go back until after Labor Day.  This year they will all be going to different schools, two of them on buses, one walking, all leaving the house at different times.  We've bought supplies, cleaned out backpacks, and made sure everyone has a key to the house.  I've set my alarm for the first time in months.  I'm not sure what more there is to do but I don't feel like we're really prepared for this shift into a new more intense schedule.

The biggest change will be for my middle child venturing into a new school where she doesn't know anyone.  Mona had her two days of freshman orientation last week.  She will be in the class of 2022.

From my perspective this feels strange for a few reasons, including the fact that I remember when the idea of the "Year 2000" seemed very far away.  All the futuristic stuff when I was a kid was set somewhere after 2000.  And now I have children who will be graduating two decades or more into that spacey sounding millennium.  (Still no flying cars, though, or even real hover-boards.)

Also, high schoolers seemed very grown-up to me when I was a child, and now of course they seem outrageously young.  Even though I didn't feel like an adult at 14 I remember that knowledge of it being the oldest I'd ever been and it seemed like a lot.  In many ways I wanted to be autonomous, but it was scary to start really thinking ahead about a future away from my parents and how hopelessly unprepared I was for it.  I see my daughters struggling with those ideas now.  I'm struggling with it from the other side, thinking ahead to letting them go.

For orientation I walked my daughter to her new school both days, which is about ten minutes from our house and at the other end of our neighborhood park.  It's the school my grandpa attended back during the Depression.  It's a school that has a troubled reputation but is in transition.  It was my daughter's first choice, even though she had lots of possibilities available to her around the city.  I'm proud of her for wanting to go to our neighborhood school even though she doesn't know anyone there.

It was hard to leave her there both mornings.  It reminded me too much of her first day of kindergarten.  Which is funny, because I don't really remember the first days for my other children.  I have pictures of Aden with her earnest smile and bejeweled purse posing outside of Head Start downtown when she was three, but I can't remember much about the actual drop off.  She loved school, but she usually cried when I left.  Did she cry that first day, though?  I don't remember.  I don't think so.  And Quinn's first day?  I'm pretty sure I cried.  But did he look back at me when it was time for me to go?  Or did he wander off into all those Montessori materials and not bat an eye that I was leaving?  I don't know anymore.

Mona I remember, though.  Everything has always been more extreme with Mona.  She always climbed the highest, swam the farthest, and continues to surprise us at every turn.  Guiding her has always been my truest test as a parent and not one I often feel I'm passing.

On her first day of kindergarten she clung to me and cried in a way that I didn't feel I could leave her.  I ended up sitting with her on the floor outside of her cheerful looking classroom unsure of what to do.  Her teacher (to whom I am forever grateful for being on Mona's side so fiercely in her first years of school) came to us in the hall and said the perfect thing: 

She started by saying that whatever I wanted to do she would support because I knew my child best.  But that in her experience at that moment Mona was in charge and didn't really want to be.  She was sure Mona would be fine after I left.  And of course she was. 

That doesn't change how painful it was to walk away.  Leaving your child with other people to a world you are not directly a part of is wrenching.  I knew Mona needed to form her own relationships with friends and teachers and that's how it's supposed to be, but it's scary.  It felt the same all over again leaving her at the high school, although this time all the tears were mine on the walk home.  I just want it all to go well, but I can't control that.  I want my baby to be okay.

The orientation turned out to be a bit overwhelming and didn't go as well as my daughter hoped, but she admitted it had nothing to do with the school or the people there.  She said everyone was nice.  There are amazing opportunities in this high school, such as a mural club and a classroom where they put together an entire race car every year and culinary classes...  She's looking forward to French class and a course in computer applications in art which she will rock.  All of that is harder to face until you have friends, though.  She was acutely aware of that the first day, which was lonely.  The second day a couple of kids found ways to introduce themselves and now she feels better.

She's created a beautiful dragon costume out of a hoodie that she plans to wear on her first day.  That should send a clear message about who she is and what she's about, and with luck attract people to her side who can appreciate her.  I hope it's a good year.  For all of us.


Monday, July 16, 2018

Won't you be my neighbor?

I took my family out to see the new documentary about Mr Rogers, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?"  It's a lovely film.  I think I cried the whole way through it.  There was something good about watching it in a theater and sensing other people getting choked up as well.  My eyes hurt for hours afterward, and I found it very hard to sleep that night because there was so much going through my mind and pulling at my heart.

Mr Rogers was genuinely kind in a way that is far too rare in this world.  We may never see another like him.  There are many people I love and admire and that I have felt lucky to learn from, but Mr Rogers managed to distill the core of what humanity should be centered around more simply than anyone: That we are able to love and be loved.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Promise of America

Like many I know, I have mixed feelings anymore about the 4th of July.

That's been true for me since I first visited the Statue of Liberty as a child and watched a short film in the welcome center.  The film featured famous people talking about what the Statue of Liberty meant to them, and it included James Baldwin whose statement is the only one that stayed with me.  He quoted the beginning of the Declaration of Independence and said it was problematic since he hadn't been included in those ideals.  He highlighted that for black people whose families were brought here by force to work as slave labor for others who claimed to believe "all men are created equal" the Statue of Liberty represented only a cruel irony.

It was the first time I truly recognized that symbols of our country flouted as patriotism were painful for many Americans.  It broke my heart that people with as much right to the ideals of America did not feel a part of that dream.  I had a child's love for my country that was uncomplicated.  I had to rethink it.

Our country's history encompasses many dreadful and shameful things.  Too much of that was whitewashed in school when I was young.  There is less of that in my children's education, so they understand better than I did at their ages that there is much about American history that is disturbing and unpleasant.

I asked them this morning on our way to the annual parade how they feel about the 4th of July.  My oldest said she wasn't sure how to feel.  She sees so much happening in our country anymore that is hard to take pride in, that she'd rather think of the holiday as more a celebration of our neighborhood traditions.  My middle child was conflicted because she doesn't want her disgust for the current president to contaminate her ability to enjoy the day.  My youngest doesn't know.  It's hard for him to see the 4th as something other than a candy holiday (and asked why anyone would bother to go to a parade that didn't involve throwing treats into the crowd).

Here's what I told them:  America is a promise.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Varnish Workshop 2018

The varnish workshop that I’ve come to attend on an annual basis since it moved to Chicago (instead of Boston) has become one of the highlights of my year each spring.  I don’t need it in the way I used to—when I lacked the knowledge and tools to use oil varnish with confidence—but for something deeper now. 

I don’t mean to imply I know all I want to know to varnish a violin.  That remains a lifelong process, and I learn something new and useful at the workshop every time.  But if I never returned I could certainly proceed on my own and feel capable of varnishing instruments in a way I can be proud of.  The very first workshop I attended succeeded in doing that.









No, what I get now that I’ve done this four times is that rare and cherished sense of being among “my people.”  The participants at the varnish workshop run the gamut from absolute beginners to luthiers at the top of their field, but everyone there has something to learn, something to teach, something to share that is valuable.  The atmosphere is industrious but relaxed, and it changes a bit each year with the different personalities in attendance, but they are all people who get what it is that interests me about this field and I don’t have to explain it.  We share a language and an aesthetic and there is a pleasure in that that I don’t experience in group settings very often. 

The other thing that’s nice about the varnish workshop is simply being able to block out an entire week of time to do what I want to do all day every day.  Other people may want a vacation at a spa, but that’s not for me.  Much more satisfying to be productive and feel I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing rather than using all my energy on the chore treadmill that is often day-to-day life.  The varnish workshop has become a favorite playground.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Dear Dad (2018)

Has it really been almost three years since you died?  That's a long time to have gone without your hugs and kind words.  Do I still have your voice right in my head?  And your laugh?  I'm starting to wonder.  Until almost three years ago I got to refresh those details periodically.  Now whatever memories I cling to are all I will ever have.  I hate that, and it doesn't get easier.  I don't reach for the phone to call you on Mondays anymore, so at least I can say the reality has sunk in.  I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad one.

Oh, Dad.  What would I tell you about what life has been like since last Father's Day?  I guess that in recent months it's been better than the year before.  Last year was a nightmare and I'm still suffering occasional flashbacks of pain, but when I think back to where we were, and look at where we are, there is no comparison.  There are still issues to deal with and I'm scared every day that things could fall backwards into crisis again, but for now I will be grateful that on a day-to-day basis life in our home is normal again.  That's no small thing.  Normal is a gift.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Spring Catch Up Post

Life has been nuts.  I remember how hard running after toddlers was, and how babies suck up all of your day, but I also remember thinking something easier was just over the horizon if I could just get a little more sleep and make it there.

Yeah, no.  Bigger kids just have different issues that suck up just as much time, and complex problems that can tear at your soul.  Older kids can also be wonderful, and having real conversations with these people you made is amazing, especially when I think back to the days where we spent a lot of time just pointing to colors and that was as stimulating as things got.  I prefer playing Settlers of Catan to Candyland, there are just a lot more rules to remember.

Anyway, lately there has been little time to think, let alone write, so this is a giant catch-all post to sort through some of what we've been doing and to keep my memories anchored in time a bit better.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Bus

As this school year begins wrapping up I want to take a moment to acknowledge the greatest development for me in my children's school attending lives:  the bus.

Aden started taking a bus last year for high school which is almost six miles away, but this year the other two kids started taking a bus too, and to not have to get up and drive anyone anywhere first thing in the morning is amazing.  We still make breakfast (although on days when we can't it's just fine) and we still have to prod the kids awake and remind them to put on clean clothes, but that's it.  Not braving the cold or the snow or the rain or having to find a spot for drop off is wonderful.  Equally wonderful is not worrying about the pickup and having to interrupt my afternoon to get the kids at school or remember to write to note so they can walk to the violin store if I can't get them.  I love it, and I think the kids like having more autonomy.

Why didn't we do it sooner if it was an option?

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Spring Break 2018--Road Trip to San Antonio

I need to get down what we did for Spring Break (back in March!) before I forget it all.  There are times I wonder how much value there is to maintaining this blog, but when I go back and look at old posts I remember why I do it.  It's a good writing exercise, but beyond that it really is a good record of many things.  I'm often shocked by how much I've forgotten.  So in the interest of not forgetting all of this, here is our Spring Break 2018!

Our original plan to go to New York City was scuttled at the last minute this year, so I presented the kids with a list of alternatives and the one they all found most exciting was the idea of a big road trip to Texas.  Among the last of the Mold-A-Rama locations on our map was the San Antonio Zoo.  That was the one place that seemed impossible because it's just not near anything we had any excuse to visit, so we decided to make it a destination unto itself.

We hit the road early on Monday the 26th (the day after one of my orchestra concerts, which prevented us from getting a start on the weekend).  We drove straight to St Louis in a lot of rain.  We passed through many a small town (including one in Illinois with a sign claiming it was a "good" place to live and made us wonder if they were expressing honest doubt by throwing quote marks around good).  Before hitting the road we'd stopped by AAA for maps which kept Quinn entertained as he tracked our progress.

We arrived at a Drury Inn by the convention center in time to partake in the dinner buffet included in our stay.  It was a nice hotel, but peculiar in that most of the building was a parking structure and the actual hotel was just on the 5th and 6th floors.  There was a teeny tiny pool right behind the food service and the whole place was just packed with families.  I'm not sure why, really.  I felt like we were in St Louis at an odd time for tourists, but maybe not?

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Bonus Chicago Mold-A-Ramas

On the way back to Milwaukee at the end of our Spring Break Road Trip we decided to stop a couple of places in Chicago to add two more Mold-A-Ramas to our collection.  They were both places we already had Mold-A-Ramas from, but new figures we didn't have.

The first stop was MOSI (the science museum in Chicago).  We had a reciprocal membership to our science museum that was still good so Ian pulled up out front and Quinn and I popped in together and were back out in about ten minutes.  They've added a new machine to the building, not just switched out one of the molds for a new figure.  They now make a pair of chicks hatching out of eggs to go by the live chicks in the genetics display.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

In no mood for other people's updates

This is a short, grumpy post that I should probably not hit "publish" on, but sometimes this blog is my venting space, and I feel like I will get past these feelings sooner if I try to pin them down with words.  So indulge me a moment, and I will post about Mold-A-Ramas and the like again soon.

With apologies for being vague (since some stories are not mine to tell), one of my kids was pulled out of a school event that they've been looking forward to for over a year and I'm angry.  I get the problem, and I don't specifically fault the school since the people making the decisions were at the district level, not the teachers, but I do not think the way things were handled was fair, and the decision had the potential to exacerbate the situation they were supposedly trying to mitigate. 

In any case, I did everything I could to advocate for my kid, and since the decision left my hands I've been trying to just accept things and come to peace with it.  It's all okay.  The world certainly didn't end.  Compared to the nightmare I was living through a year ago at this time, this is like a dream scenario.  Life is good.

But then there is Facebook.  And blow by blow updates from happy parents nervously fretting about their kids off on an adventure.  I had expected to be one of those parents.  Instead I'm reminded with each post that I feel my kid was denied something they had earned and it hurts.  I don't want to resent those other families.  I don't for a minute wish anything but the best for those other kids.  I hope they have a fabulous time.

I just don't want to hear about it.  At least not right now.  Is that petty?

I feel a little like I did the first year or so after my dad died and I really didn't want to hear other people's stories about their dads.  Father's Day was painful.  (Father's Day is still painful.)  I don't begrudge anyone their happiness.  I just sometimes have trouble juxtaposing it with my loss.

I understand that we know things intellectually, and that we can't control how we react emotionally, but there is also the image in my mind of the person I strive to be, and that person is better at all of this.  Or at least better at accepting all of this.

Until I figure it out, I think I will stay off Facebook as much as I can afford to.  It's not helping.

The silver lining in all of this has been my kid, who is grappling with their own mix of emotions and reality and is doing it with a grace and maturity that I find astonishing and deeply reassuring.  That's more than enough to sustain me.  (As long as I avoid the jabs of other people's updates, at least for now.)




Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Mold-A-Rama" at Third Man Records


Jack White has his own "Mold-A-Rama" machine at Third Man Records in Nashville because of course he does.

And "Mold-A-Rama" has quote marks around it because technically that's a trademarked name used by a specific company, so the machine at Third Man Records is labeled a "Wax-O-Matic."  The machine at our store (which is still not up and running yet because we have to find a leak before we can put it out for public use) is not labeled anything at all other than as a way to "Make your own souvenir in seconds!" but we can at least claim to have something in common with Jack White.  (I'm also from Detroit, but I think much past that the similarities and any claim to additional coolness ends.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Mold-A-Ramas in San Antonio

We had an unexpected change of plans for Spring Break this year, and when I gave the kids a choice about other options, the one they all agreed on was a road trip down to Texas to get the (possibly) last Mold-A-Ramas from a zoo for our collection.  San Antonio was the one place on the Mold-A-Rama map that we didn't know if we'd ever reach.  There's no reason for us to go there.  So we seized the opportunity to do something random and went with it!

San Antonio is lovely, and I will write about the whole trip soon in a different post, but for now we will focus on the heart of our mission: The eight Mold-A-Ramas at the zoo.


It's a lovely zoo.  (And at this point we know zoos.)  It's compact and laid out very well.  It had the most memorable collection of birds I think we've seen at any zoo, including a ton of storks or cranes (not sure which but they were long and white) and vultures and grackles that were there voluntarily in droves to nest in the trees in the park.

We showed up very shortly after the zoo opened at 9:00, along with our small cooler to collect (and protect) our Mold-A-Ramas.  There were signs saying coolers weren't allowed in the zoo, but I showed the woman at the gate that there was no food in ours, and we'd come all the way from Wisconsin just to get Mold-A-Ramas and wanted to make sure they didn't break, and she let us take it in.

There are eight machines in the zoo, all arranged in pairs in four spots.  The first place we stopped, however, had no power!  We asked a zoo employee why the machines weren't on and she said that whole area of the park was having maintenance done and power wouldn't be back on until probably 1:00. 

Not an auspicious beginning, but also one of those times we are reminded that our collection is ultimately silly.  We were there really just to enjoy time together in a new place, so it would be disappointing not to get all the Mold-A-Ramas we came for, but nothing to get truly upset about.  I did call ahead before we settled into our plan to make sure the machines were running before driving to the other side of the country, and they assured me they were, so the two powered down machines were only a temporary setback.  We hit them again after lunch on our way out of the park and sure enough they yielded our precious plastic toys.

They were all figures we already have from other zoos, but they were all good, and the machines worked well.  We got another waving gorilla, the three monkeys, a triceratops, giraffes, a lion, a panther, an elephant, and a hippo.

A new twist on the machines:  They take credit cards now, and the price seems to have gone up universally from $2 to $3.







An excellent day and an excellent haul!  I can't believe we actually have Mold-A-Ramas we got ourselves from San Antonio.  I love that those little plastic animals represent such a fun family adventure.  It was a great trip.

Up next, a stop in Nashville for our only musical instrument Mold-A-Rama!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Peeps 2018

Last night we attended the opening of the annual Peeps Art Show at the Racine Art Museum.





















It landed on a night when we had everything scheduled at the same time (2 violin lessons, Latin, orchestra rehearsal, parent meeting for the model UN trip--that was a lot to reschedule or get to late), so we only had time to run through the exhibit and then hit the road again.  (Ask how much we have on the calendar for today or tomorrow--nothing of course.  Because the scheduling gods hate us.)

We left before they announced the awards, but I did read online this morning that Quinn's piece received the Racine Mayor's Award for the under 13 category!  He created "Peepsconsin"--a county map of Wisconsin made of Peeps (that he did freehand, I might add).





I'm more than a little surprised that Aden's "Jurassic Peep" didn't get at least an honorable mention since it was quite the show stopper and was even featured at the entrance to the exhibit.  (Maybe it will still get the coveted Peeple's Choice Award by show's end.)






Dog being helpful
My entry this year was a Peeps Violin.  The Peeps Orchestra I made last year was quite popular in our violin store window after the museum show was over, so I thought it would be fun to make something else that would look good there again.  I had an old destroyed violin that we'd covered in paint and beads about ten years ago that I decided to scrape off and decorate with Peeps.






I played with flattening Peeps with a rolling pin, but that didn't go as well as I hoped, and hot glue can do funny things to marshmallows.  For most of the instrument I wound up just cutting off the backs of the Peeps and attaching them with their own natural stickiness.  The f-holes are felt, and the strings are yarn.  (You're not supposed to use any food other than Peeps according to the rules, otherwise some kind of licorice strands would have been tempting.)

I take an odd sort of pride in the fact that even though the whole thing is ridiculous (and no, you can't play it except as maybe a maraca since there are some clackity objects caught inside), the setup in terms of string spacing and bridge placement is better than on a lot of terrible student violins that walk into my store that need my help.


Peeps are not an easy medium to work in.  We've found if you need to cut them up to do anything with, it's best to let them get really stale first.  Fresh Peeps are incredibly squishy.  Even stale Peeps gum up a lot of scissors, but fresh ones are really unwieldy.  We experimented briefly with melting Peeps, which has potential for future projects.  They're just sugar, so they caramelize when heated up enough, and we played with pulling them into long strands.

Also, we discovered the hard way that there is a lot of variation in terms of the color of Peeps depending on where and when you buy them.  So even though we stock up on a lot of Peeps when we're all thinking out our projects, we know now that if you run out of a particular color you can't count on purple Peeps from Target matching the purple Peeps from the grocery store.

This year with Easter being so early we were kind of rushed and only had a few days to put anything together.  Aden's was literally still drying as we drove to drop it off at the museum twenty minutes before the final deadline.  Mona was wrapped up in a different project and didn't get to a Peeps piece this year at all.  But we plan to think ahead in 2019!  The Peeps show is just too much fun not to want to be a part of it.

Go check out the exhibit if you happen to be in the Racine area!  It runs through April 8th.  (Or swing by the violin store after that.  We'll have at least our things in the window for a while.)  Happy Peeps Break!