Sunday, May 14, 2023

A Few Thoughts This Mother's Day

When I was a child, Mother's Day didn't appear complicated.

Teachers gave us assignments that would provide us with handmade gifts to take home that weekend. Those teachers instructing us to make cute little paper flower projects and tracings of our hands seemed to assume that everyone had both a mom and a dad at home. I wasn't aware of any kids from divorced homes when I was small. Back then in our tiny Detroit suburb there were no visible variations on what a family was expected to be--with the exception of single mothers, who by the 80s I noticed were generally considered lacking at best, and the source of all of society's ills at worst.

I'm sure whatever cards or acknowledgments my brothers and I made for our mom on Mother's Day were woefully inadequate. How could they not be? My mom was (and is) amazing, and I don't understand looking back at how she did everything she did. I really don't. I'm a pale imitation of her on my best day when it comes to mothering, and there are never enough words to convey what we've been given by having her as our mom.

But time and age cast us in new roles, and a range of different families have finally become visible. For a variety of reasons, Mother's Day is no longer uncomplicated.

Let's start with loss. My husband's mother died a year ago. He tried to call her last Mother's Day and she didn't answer. He figured out a day or so later that she had passed away at home in her bed. He has no one to call today. I don't know how to help him with that, other than to hug him and hope he's okay. 

For the mothers I know who have lost children... I can't imagine they brush this day off as another greeting card holiday. I can't dwell on that thought very long without coming undone.

I know people who have dysfunctional mothers. That's a whole different struggle, and a loss in its own way.

Then there are the welcome variations that change the shape of Mother's Day when it comes to those school projects. I didn't know any gay couples with children when I was growing up. I'm glad my children can't say the same, because we know some lovely families with two moms, or two dads, and they are wonderful role models for my kids as well a their own. I'm mystified by people who fear their children knowing such families exist, because whatever harm they're concerned about is only in their minds. 

I know people whose lives were enriched by being part of a blended family. I don't know how single moms manage, and they deserve support and respect. I think every Mother's Day about families coping with separations like we lived through when Ian was deployed.

The composition of a family isn't as important as compassion, support and love. That's the difference between a family that's good and one that isn't, not anything to do with race, religion, or gender.

So I do not take for granted on this particular Mother's Day, that I was able to give my mom a call, and that all three of my children happen to be home. They brought me breakfast in bed, got Indian food for dinner, and picked me flowers. I loved all of it.

I will admit, I kind of miss the assigned school projects. I loved all the little ceramic dishes and bead bracelets and heart necklaces. But the finest idea any of the teachers ever had in my children's elementary school was the one who had my youngest write me a letter on pretty stationery.

A few years ago, things were so fraught between me and one of my kids that I gave up on Mother's Day. I didn't see the point if I was failing at my role so badly. I declared it "just a day" and told everyone not to worry about it. The baby of the family ignored that. She brought me breakfast in bed, and when I asked why, she said it "felt important." And she gave me her school assignment letter which listed all the things I do that matter, and she ended it with, "I love you. We all do." Which to this day makes me cry because I needed it so much in that moment.

Now we are in a different moment. Mother's Day is back to being a sweet excuse to defer to me all day for decisions about what to eat and do on a quiet Sunday at home. It's peaceful again. But not ordinary. And richer for the ubderstanding of how complicated it could be.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Peeps 2023

It was a good Peeps season!

As usual, it started with general brain storming to see what we could come up with for the annual show of Peep art at the Racine Art Museum. Mona, having won last year for her spectacular Peepzilla (which even made it into People Magazine), decided to not focus on what might win, but what would be the most fun to make. I landed on the idea of "The Picture of Dorian Peep" because it made me laugh. And Quinn envisioned a jar full of Peeps.

Turns out the concept that Mona found most intriguing was a Peep Jack-a-lope. She created her "Peepalope" out of recycled plastic bags and bottles, paper, tape, glue, paint, and of course Peeps (look at the antlers).

It didn't get any awards, but it was much admired, and I think is one of the most interesting pieces Mona's made in a while.

I was originally only going to do a painting for "The Picture of Dorian Peep" but then I decided it would be funnier as a sculpture with the young and perfect Dorian Peep standing nearby. (If you don't know the literary reference, Google: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.) I sawed him out of a piece of basswood, painted him, and dressed him up. The painting is on basic canvas board, but I added a bunch of art gel to it for a thick paint texture. It was fun to paint something that was supposed to look bad. The frame was made of Peeps on mat board that I spray painted gold. I was amused to find the eyes on those Peeps came out very shiny! I think the Peep frame mimicked a fancy carved-wood gilded frame pretty well. I stuck all the parts in place with Plasti-tac on top of a wooden tray.


I'm pleased with how it came out! The judges liked it too, and I got an honorable mention.

Quinn simply wanted to cram Peeps into a jar. I think it took about ten minutes total, and in the art museum's virtual tour of the exhibit, they used her piece as an example of how artistic creation doesn't have to be complicated. After throwing lots of ideas for titles around during various car rides, Quinn settled on "Jarmaggedon." It makes me laugh.

The museum show in Racine was great! Some inventive and well-made entries this year. The Peeple's Choice award was given to the clever toy store display. The longer you looked at that one, the more details you found to delight in.

Once we picked up our pieces after the show ended, we put them in the violin store window. It's been funny to watch Domino join the display when she's up there looking for other dogs.

We're already thinking ahead to 2024! (Personally, I'm curious about the sequel to Jarmageddon.)

Friday, March 31, 2023

Car Stories

This month has involved a lot of car stuff: driving, searching, buying, donating, moving plates, fixing, parking, and a couple of trips to the car wash.

We started March with one set of cars, and are leaving it with a mostly different set of cars. It's an exciting change!

The cars I grew up with were green. I have a vague memory of a blue car that something was profoundly wrong with and went away quickly enough that I don't remember what it was. And we had a white Pontiac Sunbird for a while, which was convenient because that was the same kind of car they had at our high school for driver's ed. (Do any schools still have an on site driving practice area like that now? We had a whole course beyond the athletic field where about half a dozen of us would drive around and around during summer driver's ed, and I remember the true skill we were honing was being able to turn the radio off when we got back around to where the instructor outside would hear it.)

But the true cars of my childhood were the 1972 Chevy Monte Carlo, and the 1980-something Ford Grenata. Both green. Both before shoulder harnesses in the back, or air bags, both with ashtrays and cigarette lighters (standard), dial radios, pull up door locks that reminded me of golf tees, and crank roll down windows.

The Monte Carlo was huge. Just a long, boat of a car, and when my dad started driving us to high school, my brothers described it to their friends as "the Limo" when we would pick them up. "The Limo" was famous toward the end for raining little bits of rust on the driveway every time we slammed the doors. My dad would insist we leave the doors UNlocked when we parked that car in downtown Detroit in the hopes that someone might steal it, but no, we had that car forever. That was a hell of a thing to practice driving in, but it was solid. It still worked the day my dad took it to the junkyard. I think he got $25 for it.

The first car that was mine was a blue Buick Cutlass Sierra that my grandma gave to me a few years into college when she was retiring it for something new. We went down to the DMV to transfer the title, and they insisted there had to be a sale for it to be legal, so Grandma charged me $1 for it. (I don't think she took the money, though.) She told me she'd had it all checked out first to make sure it was in good condition. That was something Grandpa had been serious about, making sure to put things like new brakes into a car before he sold it. He would say that anyone buying a used car like that wasn't going to be able to afford certain repairs, and he wanted people to be safe.

The Buick was a good car, although at some point the connection was broken under the passenger side of the big front bench seat, so it would slide back and forth as you sped up or came to a stop. I loaned the car to my brother at Cornell for a while (I think when Ian and I were backpacking around Europe after college), and he dubbed that feature "the pleasure seat." 

My friend Gabby and I drove that car across the country, from Detroit to Santa Fe and up the continental divide to Glacier National Park. The big bench seats made it possible for us to sleep in the car to save money. (Although the backseat was better than the front, because there were seat belt things sticking up in it that you had to cover with something so they didn't poke you all night.) We slept in the parking lots of some of the finest hotels in that car.

Ian and I took that car out west twice, and drove it across most of Canada over two different trips. We got into a fender bender while visiting people in Seattle, and wound up having to stay extra days there to get the Buick fixed. The best man at our wedding said in his toast that he knew watching us deal with unexpected car trouble, and still have fun, that we would be a couple that could last.

When I say "fixed," I mean only sort of fixed. The driver's side door wouldn't close at the top, and insurance refused to pay for it. I'll never forget the official looking woman at the desk saying, "We've determined the amount of the repairs exceeds the value of your car, so we're declaring it totaled." And she held out her hand expecting us to hand over the keys. To a car that still ran. From people who were on the other side of the country with no other transportation home! We protested. They agreed to let us keep the car, but we could only have insurance to cover other people, not the car itself. We spent quite a while putting up with rain getting in that side of the car before we were able to afford a replacement door that was sort of the right shape, but it did close all the way.

The Buick was with us while we lived in Pennsylvania for a couple of years, and our move to Milwaukee. But eventually we reached that point where adding oil to it all the time and paying for repairs was getting ridiculous, and we traded it in for a used Ford Taurus (white). 

The Taurus was the most frustrating car I've ever had, and caused me to swear off Fords forever. Probably unfair, but that particular car left me stranded so many places. I hated it, and when it finally blew a tire on one of my endless commutes back from school out in Oconomowoc, I think about then we called it done. With that flat, I mostly remember thinking something weird had happened to the road, then figuring out it was the tire and pulling over, and being stuck in the middle of I-94 for a long time.

This was in the late 1990s, so not as many cell phones out there, but I did have a big clunky one we kept in the glove compartment for emergencies, and the first person I called was Ian to thank him for the phone. He told me to call AAA and ask if the tire could be patched when they got there. A cop stopped at one point to tell me he'd gotten lots of calls about me sitting there, and made sure I had help on the way. I didn't dare step outside of the car until there was a tow truck to provide cover from the traffic, and when I did finally walk around and see the tire, I laughed, because it was completely blown to bits in a full circle with cables and bits sticking out all over. I went ahead and asked, "Can it be patched?" and the guy looked at me as if I were insane.

After the Taurus was a used Hyundai Elantra (also white). I figured even used, it still had a good warranty, so it would work out better. I really liked the Elantra. That was the first car our kids knew. That was the car I brought my babies home from the hospital in. 

The Elantra had one fatal flaw, though. If you had the lights on, and shut the car off, the parking lights would remain on, but there was no alarm to warn you about it before you got out of the car. So if I started driving when it was dark, and it was light out by the time I stopped, it was very easy to not realize I had left the lights on and the battery would be drained by the time I got back in the car. That happened to me once when I took Aden and Mona to Michigan and back on the Lake Express ferry. We parked the car on the Michigan side in line for the boat, went off to play on the beach for a couple of hours, and came back to realize the car was dead. They loaded everyone else around us onto the ferry while we got our battery jumped, ran it for a while, got on the boat, and hoped with all our hearts that it would start when we got to the other side of Lake Michigan. (It did, thankfully.)

My dad made me the funniest set of little cards to help with this problem. They were little reminders for the dashboard telling me to check the lights. Little poems with sayings like "If you don't want a fright, shut off the lights!" I still have them. They still make me laugh.

In 2006 we bought a used minivan. We'd gotten by okay with just one car (despite it being tricky on drill weekends when I was home alone with kids and no car), but Aden and Mona were 4 and 2, and Quinn was on the way, and we could not fit three car seats into the sedan. Plus we were headed into a time where two adults and three kids was going to get complicated without a second car. So after some online searching we found a 2005 Kia Sedona in Kenosha. Green. Apparently I was back to green.

The girls had so much fun crawling around that new car when we brought it home. So much more room than in the little Hyundai!

I assigned seats in the minivan, because Aden was the only one old enough to get herself in and out of the buckles of her car seat. She was relegated to the far back corner where I couldn't reach anyway. She objected. Now she feels out of place anywhere else. Mona and Quinn were in the middle seats where they were easier for me to buckle. Unfortunately when Ian was deployed the first time, Mona figured out how to open her 5-point harness, and I had to stop driving on freeways because I would be driving along in the minivan and suddenly I'd realize Mona was standing next to me. There was a long stretch of having to pull over every couple of blocks to get her back into her car seat. 

And after a few more years, we decided it was time to replace the Elantra with a new sedan, and found a used 2008 Hyundai Sonata. "Sage," which was really just a way of saying "light green." Which is funny, because my only request for the new car was "not green."

I have lots of fun pictures of us in the minivan, but probably because that was the adventure car that went to national parks and far flung states. Apparently the sedan did much duller things that did not inspire photographs, so here it is on its last day at our house (missing door handle and all):

The introduction of the Sonata did not go over well with the kids. Well, Aden really. Aden was not always big on change, and she was determined to dislike the new car in loyalty to the old, and she got her siblings on board with that idea. They were so sulky and grumpy! It was amusing at first, but then eventually Ian and I explained that buying a car was a big deal for us, and should be something to be excited about, and she was raining all over the parade. Years later she understood she was being inconsiderate and did apologize, and I think that factored into her not expressing too much sorrow over the retirement of both the minivan and the sedan this month.

Here are all the girls enjoying a final trip to the bakery in the Elantra on our way to trade it in.

The minivan was a good car. It survived a couple of small accidents. One happened on our short drive to violin lessons where we were smashed into by a grumpy nun. Hit us right in the brain! (A magnet gifted to us by my brain-mapping brother.) I had to keep my kids occupied on the sidewalk for a long time before the poor car got picked up. They spent much of that time saying over and over, "The tire is flat! Our car is leaking! The tire is flat! Our car is leaking!" I was mostly alarmed to learn that inside the bumper was just a lot of Styrofoam.

In all these years the minivan only left us stranded twice that I can recall. Once near Chicago on our way back from the cottage, and once in Michigan on our way to the cottage. We took that minivan on Mold-A-Rama adventures as far away as Knoxville and Florida and San Antonio. It's been back and forth to New York City several times, and all the way to the Badlands and Yellowstone. It's made more trips to and from Michigan and Ohio than I can remember. It's hauled more instruments and children than I can count.

Our kids grew up in that minivan, and we showed them as much of the country as we could with it. And we've developed a tradition of enjoying Christmas morning at home, then driving all day to Detroit for Christmas dinner with my mom. I felt weird about condemning them to Christmas in the car the first time we did it, but it's become one of their favorite things. My kids really like a road trip. We once gave them the choice on our way back from Florida to break up the drive and stay overnight somewhere, or simply go non-stop back to Wisconsin, and they all instantly said, "All the way home!"

But that poor minivan has been falling apart. The rust holes in the doors put the ones in the old Monte Carlo to shame. The side doors stopped opening from the inside. The heat didn't work anymore, so we started referring to it as our "three season car" with "solar heat," which in Wisconsin where even spring feels like winter half the time, is not great.

At the same time, the poor Sonata after years of reliable use was also coming to bits. The driver's side mirror cover was a cracked mess, the engine was making weird noises even after an expensive repair, and one day about a month ago one of the back door handles simply came off in my hand. The last straw was driving with Mona in a storm and the windshield wipers stopped working. We slowly and carefully made our way home, but that was one problem too many. I just wanted something reliable, and the 18 and 15 year old cars weren't it.

So when Ian came across a good deal on a 2017 Nissan Leaf, we went out to try it on my birthday. I had not been sold on the idea of an all electric car, because I wanted the security of still being able to get to Detroit at a moment's notice if my mom needed me, or still doing long road trips, and I liked the idea of that option in any car we had. But the truth is for daily driving to and from work and the grocery store and rehearsals, we don't go very far at all. We could get rid of the minivan and use the Sonata for any distance driving a bit longer. And the Leaf was affordable so I told Ian we should get it.

The Leaf is adorable! It plugs into the outlet on our deck near the driveway, and we'll never have to buy gas or oil for it. It has a rear camera for backing up, and GPS, heated seats, and a HEATED STEERING WHEEL. I never knew I needed a heating steering wheel, but apparently I do, because it is the best thing on a cold morning. There was nothing this fancy in any of our previous cars, so this is exciting. The Leaf also plays weird little clown music when you turn it on which makes us laugh. It's odd getting used to it being so quiet, and my biggest problem is remembering to shut it off when I get out for an errand, because I don't need a key. As long as the fob is anywhere on me, I can turn the car on. The only issue we had with the Leaf was in the first week it would act weird if we made a brief stop, refusing to start while showing us all the dashboard lights and not playing the clown song. After some internet research, Ian figured out the little battery in the car probably needed to be replaced, so we called the dealer and they installed a new one. With luck, that will be the last thing it needs for a long time.

We decided to swap out the minivan when we got the Leaf. We wanted to donate it to public radio (good NPR listeners that we tend to be), but they needed you to produce a title on pickup, and we didn't have one. We also didn't want to pay upwards of $150 dollars for one, so we settled on the Kars4Kids charity which didn't require a title, just proof you owned the car. They were beyond efficient! Arrived first thing the next morning and took the minivan away.

The most amazing thing to me about the story of the minivan is we bought it while I was pregnant with Quinn, and Quinn was the last one to drive it. She parked it across the street from our house after her evening of driving practice with her dad.


We decided the next car to replace the crumbling Sonata should be big enough to haul cellos and seat not just our family but guests, and we wanted a hybrid. Since Ian picked the Leaf as the car that satisfied his needs in a car, we decided I could choose the next one, and if we stumbled across a good deal on that particular thing, we would go look at it. No rush. But then I decided a Toyota Highlander Hybrid ticked all the boxes, and I found one in town to test drive the same day that we bought the Leaf.

The hybrid has a third row of seats that fold down, so it can hold eight people if we need to, but otherwise it's just got a big trunk. It will be great for trips to the cottage and various road adventures. We found a 2019 one that we could afford and a reasonable amount of miles on it, so we got it. Signed papers for it about eight hours after we signed the papers for the Leaf. Which is crazy. But there we are. No heated steering wheel, but heated seats, sunroof, and fancy settings that will do things like readjust the seats the way you want them when it recognizes your fob in the driver's seat. I can't wait to take a road trip in it!

We went through the same thing again with contacting Kars4Kids and the next morning the Sonata was gone, too. (And just a side note about donating the cars: I had started to fill out the online form for a donation for public radio and stopped when I got to the part about the title information. Someone from public radio contacted me anyway the next day, I explained I already donated the car without the title, and that I would keep them in mind the next time. The guy should have left it at that, but no, he tried to make me feel bad, and ended with, "Good luck, Sweetheart." Um, no. I hope the call was recorded and someone explains to him how unproductive that was. I'm still a bit annoyed. Kars4Kids may have a jingle worthy of being the national anthem of Hell as portrayed in The Good Place, but they were super efficient, polite, and appreciative. No "Sweetheart" stuff there.)

We are adjusting to the new cars. We even have a third one, which is an old Prius that was Ian's mom's that he drove back from Oregon a couple of months ago. That's a hybrid that we think of as a car for one of the kids when they should need it. Currently Mona's in charge of driving it to the opposite side of the street every night. 

I will admit to a sense of guilt as a Detroit-born girl that all our current cars are Japanese. But....

I love not caring about the prices at the gas stations since we now very rarely go to one. I love the push-button trunk door on the Highlander, and the defrosting side mirrors, and the compass, and the blue-tooth connection to my phone, and the built in GPS, and (you know) working doors with handles!

I'm sure a lot of this sounds run of the mill, and both our new cars are pre-pandemic, so there's probably even fancier things out there, but for us this is exciting. Mona even said as we were driving the hybrid home and admiring the blind-spot warnings on the mirrors and enjoying the map displaying what street we were on and the direction we were going, that "Cars sure have improved in the past several years!" I told her I remember hearing a review of the latest cars on the radio at one point, and the guy said that really, you can't buy a bad car anymore. They're all excellent and simply competing over small luxuries. 

I think that's true, but it makes me wonder when my kids recount the list of cars from their lifetimes, what about these new cars will seem antiquated and clunky. What will be their dial radio and roll up windows? Hard to know. I just hope whatever adventures they have on wheels are as fun. 

Oh, and both the new cars? Not green. RED. Opposite end of the color wheel. Finally.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Last Student Driver

16-year-old Quinn has her driver's permit and has been going out for regular practice in anticipation of her first outing with an official driving instructor. She's our youngest, and our last one to learn how to drive.

Our oldest still doesn't have a license yet. She got dinged on her test for not turning to look behind her at one point, so she needs to take the test again this summer. Our middle daughter has a license, and I must say it is handy to have another driver in the house. All three kids are good drivers. They don't take risks, they're careful, they work hard to follow all the rules, and even though they lack experience they are doing well so far.

But teaching the kids to drive...  Nothing quite prepared me for how it would feel to be in a car with one of my kids behind the wheel.

Which is funny, because I remember distinctly as a teenager feeling I would do a much better job with teaching my own kids one day than my parents were doing with me. I was insulted by how often my mom tapped the phantom brake on the passenger side of the car when I was doing my driving practice. My parents' nervousness felt like an undeserved lack of confidence. Surely I would be more relaxed when it came time for me to teach my children to drive.

I was so wrong. I am a jumble of nerves when I'm not in control of the car. In fact, I've noticed that there are times if I pay too much attention to how my husband is operating the car it makes me nervous, even though he's an excellent driver and there is nothing to worry about. There's just something disconcerting about paying close enough attention that you feel the slight differences in reaction time and judgement as the car is moving. When I'm in the car instructing the kids, I have to pay attention to every choice and action, and they're invariably a little different from what I would do, and my anxiety level rises.

I've spent a lot of time with each of my kids in the parking lot of the Chuck E Cheese's near our house. We've been around and around that lot, using the turn signals, stopping at signs, parking in empty spaces. That's all fine. When they move out onto the actual streets, that's when Ian takes over.

My husband is a really patient and calm driving instructor. He taught my sister-in-law from India how to drive by taking her on long boring roads here in Wisconsin so she could get the hang of everything without the distractions of the streets in New York City. He's good about finding routes for the kids so they can practice all right turns one day, easy left turns the next. If he's nervous at all, he doesn't show it. (Of course, he's lived in a war zone twice, so the bar is different for him.)

The best bit of advice I think I've given my kids as drivers is to be predictable. When I drove with Aden and Mona to New York a couple of years ago, Mona did a lot of the driving in both Indiana and Pennsylvania. She started off a little erratic, and I understood her confusion about what to do with people merging onto the freeway near her. I explained that in most cases, it made sense to remember that it was the job of the people merging to adjust to her, not the other way around. If she suddenly slowed down to adjust to them, it disrupted the flow and made things potentially more dangerous. She got the hang of that philosophy in Indiana, which was good, because by the time we hit the winding mountain roads covered with trucks in Pennsylvania, there were some precarious driving moments that she handled very well. My anxiety level was through the roof, but I was still proud of her.

Other advice I've given them: Start any kind of turns early when traveling at high speeds so they will actually happen at the right time. Use the "two second rule" to keep a safe distance behind the car ahead of you. And something my Uncle Joe told me when he went out driving with me on my permit once was to kind of center your view of the steering wheel down the middle of the road or lane to position the car correctly in that space.

It's strange adjusting to how some driving techniques have changed since I first learned. For instance, keeping your hands at "ten and two" is no longer considered safe because if the air bag were to deploy it would break your arms. Now kids are taught to keep their hands low, more like "eight and four" which I remember being strictly forbidden when I was in driver's ed. I was a bit alarmed when I realized Mona had been taught it was okay to leave one foot on the brake and the other on the accelerator. I made her learn how to use a single foot for both pedals instead, because riding the brake is bad, and even just lightly tapping it can cause the brake lights to turn on which could cause confusion.

Thinking back on my own days of learning to drive with my parents, two moments stand out.

The first is the time I was backing out of our driveway and hit a tree. That sounds dramatic (which is how my mortified self thought of it in the moment), but I really only tapped the tree. The house where I grew up has a shared driveway, and requires some tricky maneuvering. I slowly backed up, not really by using the accelerator but more by letting go of the brake, and bumped our enormous green 1972 Monte Carlo (we used to refer to it as "the limo" it was so long) into the oak next to the house. My dad and I both got out to inspect the tree and found a small fresh gouge mark in it. I felt horrible until my dad pointed out an identical (less fresh) gouge mark a few inches over and said, "I did the same thing last week."

The second is the time we took a trip out East and I ended up for some reason driving us on the New York Throughway. When you first learn to drive, you are hyper aware of all the rules and speed limits, and all of those things went out the window on the New York Throughway. The average speed people were doing was about 95mph. (Not hyperbole.) My mom was in the front seat with me telling me to slow down, since the speed limit was only 55. My dad (who was from New York) was in the back seat with my brothers telling me to speed up. That was... nerve wracking.

So far, aside from Mona navigating the PA roads better than I expected, the only memorable driving moment with my kids was when we sent Mona up alone to retrieve her sister from UW Stout, four hours away. There was a crazy bit of texting between Aden and her father about a storm system up there. Aden was worried and kept saying, "It looks bad" and her dad kept checking the radar maps and saying, "It should be fine." Then Aden said there were tornado warnings and they were all in the basement of the dorm. And finally Mona, having arrived, piped up to say, "You all worry too much. I'm here, let me in, I need to use the bathroom,"

Anyway, so far Quinn is doing well with driving. And I'm sure one day I'll be able to relax a bit with one of my kids behind the wheel. It's just disconcerting when in my mind it's so easy for any of them to be babies again to me, or age seven, or twelve. How did they all get so grown up? It all went so fast.

This is why I needed a baby-sized dog. And I don't have to worry about her ever wanting the keys to the car.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023


I recently lost everything that was on my laptop.

I know I should have backed things up properly. I know about the Cloud. I even bought an external drive for storage this summer when I upgraded my machine, but I just never found the time to use it. I don't have a good excuse, but that's not really relevant right now. A small object fell on my keyboard in exactly the wrong way, which required replacing what was inside my computer. My last laptop was already wiped of all information. More than 20 years of notes and writing and projects and memories are gone. It's a lot to get my head around.

I would have guessed I'd be more physically upset about it. I'm sad, but I haven't cried. I'm also not letting myself think about it too much for fear of being overwhelmed. I'll have moments in the middle of the night where I'll remember some random item (like a recording of my brother's laugh that I used to click on when I need cheering up, notes on various instruments I built, bookmarks to sites I'll never find again...) and I feel that loss.

But loss is a strange thing. There are many types of it. And our predictions of what it will be like don't always match the reality when it happens.

The death of my grandparents, the death of my dad... Those are obvious forms of loss that I still feel every day. Not with the kind of crippling intensity that I did when those losses were fresh, but they are still hard. That shouldn't surprise anyone.

There are other losses, though, where my reactions do surprise me. The other day one of my daughters asked about a situation that caused a schism in my extended family about twenty years ago. As I was describing it, I began choking up. There are people whom I loved dearly that I always expected to be a part of my children's lives who chose not to be, and for reasons I still don't quite understand. People cut me and my family off, and that loss still hurts, even though I try regularly to let it go.

Sometimes I mourn a bit the losses I see unfolding in front of me that won't really be felt until later. The kids still living at home with us are teenagers, which means they are absorbed in their own private issues, and don't feel any pressing need to spend time with their parents. I'm acutely aware of how the number of days where they live with us are dwindling. They don't realize this time is special, because for them it's all they know. But every evening that goes by where they don't want to talk, or every concert I perform that they don't attend, I wonder if they will regret not being present for when I'm no longer around. But that's true for all of us all the time. If anything terrible happens to anyone in this house tomorrow, I'll wonder why I spent time writing this post tonight rather than be with them. That vague anticipatory sense of loss is something I wish I could dismiss, but I don't know how.

I often think about a friend of mine who while on a trip far from home found out from her parents that their house had burned down. Everything she had with her in the car was now everything she had period. The concept took my breath away when she told me. My mind went to childhood mementos like my stuffed toy dog Tippy, and fun things from my friends, and photos, and my favorite books and records, and my instruments. But she said it wasn't that bad. There was freedom in being released from objects.

Losing everything on my laptop was like a virtual house fire. A lot is gone that I wish I still had, but there is an unexpected sense of relief about some of it.

I tend to cling to a lot of things, both on my computer and in real life, primarily because I don't like losing memories. Small reminders keep things in my mind in a way that keeps them alive. It can look like hoarding, since I still have physical files of notes on my former students' lessons, and research I did in college, and articles from my dad, etc. etc. etc. I feel like as long as things don't pile up to the point where our lives are in danger, it's okay.

On my laptop, I liked the fact that memory hoarding was so compact, and all of it at my fingertips. I should have protected it better.

But I've also thought about so-called "death cleaning," and how people will have to deal with all of my stuff one day. I've seen how hard it's been on my husband this past year dealing with his mother's house and all of her belongings. It's got me asking who am I keeping things for? I don't want my kids burdened with old Christmas cards and notes I passed in seventh grade and a pile of Solo/Ensemble medals. Very little of it is of interest to anyone but me, and when I'm gone, it will be meaningless. I can picture poor sentimental Aden tortured by the idea of throwing out things I loved simply because I loved them. She doesn't need that guilt. I figure a few years from now when all the kids have moved away, I can start chipping at the contents of the house and worry about it then.

It occurred to me there is a role for "death-cleaning" for the contents of my computer as well. I wrote a lot of stories that I didn't ever intend for others to read, but I liked having them. I don't have to worry about them anymore. Maybe it's good that a whole lot of memories have been cut loose and I'm not responsible for them. There was a lot on my laptop that I won't remember having been there, so that loss is mysterious, but not necessarily painful.

There are projects that I am of mixed mind about. I had this idea about writing a letter to my kids each year on their birthdays, telling them what they were like, sharing stories and thoughts personalized to them. That was hard to keep up with, so although I did print out letters the first few years, I simply had running notes for each of them beyond that, and I always intended to find a quiet weekend at the cottage to buckle down and turn those into more letters. All of those are gone now, and it's kind of okay. That's not looming in the back of my mind as something I need to do anymore. I'll do something simpler one day to replace it. But I don't have to feel guilt that I'm not working on it.

Sort of like when I told the kids certain things got "lost in the move" when we bought the new house. There are opportunities for things to go sometimes. I'm trying to look at the data loss that way where I can.

The hard things are the writing projects I'm still interested in. Luckily my latest two novels I was able to retrieve drafts of from friends and family who were test readers and still had digital copies. I don't have to retype hundreds of thousands of words from printouts, so that's good.

But my sequel to my repair guide is gone. That hurts. Because I don't know if I have the energy to rewrite it.

Rewriting something that's been lost is a particular kind of pain. When I wrote my first novel, Almost There, I was doing it in a program called AppleWorks that was apparently notorious for not saving things. I would actively stop and save my work every few minutes, only to discover later none of the changes took. I remember losing essentially all of Chapter 10, and being dazed and upset by it, only to have to dive back in at some point and try to write it all again. 

There are few things I find more fun than getting into the flow of a first draft. It's enjoyable to simply write, and let the ideas come, and revel in finding the right words.

There are few things worse than trying to recapture that. Writing something again has no flow. It's all second guessing, and feeling sure whatever I wrote the first time was better. I'm positive that the new chapter that replaced the lost one from Almost There is superior to the original. That doesn't mean I don't still believe there were particular phrases and sentences that I would have loved to have kept.

I don't really want to rewrite the repair guide sequel. I liked what I had down. I'm frozen at my keyboard when I try to redo any of it. Maybe that's a project I can let go, then, and not worry about? I haven't decided.

I also had a collection of emails between me and Ian when he was deployed in Iraq that I had hoped to put together as a memoir, primarily for our kids. That's been a project I've felt guilty for not pursuing for many years. Maybe I can let that go? (Since it was essentially "lost in the fire?")

Thankfully I did have my photos backed up on an external drive, because my last computer didn't have enough memory for all of them. I've lost photos between July and New Years, and some of those I can probably copy off of Facebook. I don't have the video clip of me and Quinn meeting our new dog for the first time, but ultimately who cares? I have the dog. (Who is curled up at my side and reminds me to live in the present as much as possible. Domino's a good dog, and good for me.)

Do I wish I hadn't lost everything off my laptop? Of course. But it's also not a bad reminder that nothing lasts. I can't hold onto all of it forever, even if I hadn't lost it. Someone, someday, was going to wipe it all away anyhow.

Maybe this is a good time to look forward and not back.

In the meantime, I'm no longer worried about backing up my computer. There's nothing there! And that's sort of freeing.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Back To Bed

"Back to bed" is a phrase I think evokes the idea of giving up. That things are going so wrong there is no point in going on with the day and simply going back to bed would make more sense so one could reset and start over later. There's been a lot during pandemic days where time and purpose became battered to the point of feeling like we should all just go "back to bed."

But I never hear it that way. For me, there are few pleasures in life greater than getting to go back to bed.

When you think you have to get up, or you need do something very early, but then it turns out there's time to crawl back under the covers and steal a little more sleep before your day must begin. I love that.

I have trouble sleeping many nights, and it's usually not until morning that I find it easier to rest, which never seems fair when I have to get up to keep to some kind of schedule. An alarm going off and interrupting real sleep is an unpleasant way to start the day.

But between my children growing up, and the pandemic shutting everything down, I don't think I've set my alarm for the morning more than a couple of times in the past three years. Quinn doesn't need me before school unless her bus doesn't show. The pool where I swim only recently re-opened, but as long as I'm in it by 9:00 I can make it to work on time after swimming. (That's one of the perks of running your own business: Setting the hours. My parents' art gallery didn't open until 11:00 because they were not early-risers either, so my 10:30 start time almost seems ambitious.)

I am not wired to be up before 8:00. I can do it. I did it for decades while raising children and I kept my alarm set for hours that are always still dark, but it's painful. For me, it physically hurts to wake up too early. During the kids' elementary school years I wanted a snow day as much as they ever did. Because sometimes that meant going back to bed!

Back to bed is the best.

One of the things I really love about our new dog, Domino, is that she also likes to go back to bed. The first week we had her, I was concerned because she needed to get up very early for a walk, and then wanted to play in the living room when we got inside again. I started resigning myself to returning to a phase similar to when my kids were small and I would have to be someone who would get up and stay up, but no. After the dog was settled into her new home, she started sleeping in, and then when given the option after her first walk of crawling back under the covers? She jumps at it. Domino has a lot of energy, and when she's wound up she wants to bounce and prance and play, but almost any time that I can crawl back in bed, she'll happily join me. She burrows deep under the covers and snuggles up. It's perfect.

I admire people who can get up early and accomplish a lot before noon. But nobody ever accuses me of not doing enough things, so I don't lament not being an early bird. I do wish I had more opportunity to go back to bed on an average day, though. It's like an unexpected bonus, a surprise gift, a stolen stretch of dazed calm. It's a welcome time-out in a busy day. I've had a few chances to go back to bed over this winter break, and it's made the vacation that much better.

Looking back on 2022 this New Year's Eve, "back to bed" is a good summary to me. There were parts that were frustrating or disappointing because that's life, but overall? There were more unexpected bonuses and moments of joy than anyone deserves. I got to go to Venice with my mom. I got a new dog that loves me. I got to improve our house with a new deck. I got to spend time with my husband and kids. I got to make music. I got to put instruments I made in the hands of people who were excited to play them. I made new friends. I had time with family at the cottage. I put out an ABC book. My back problem appears to be gone. Stitch Fix finally sent me some decent concert clothes. I feel more calm.

The pandemic damaged my sense of time in that 2020 was a slow blur, 2021 was disjointed, but 2022 unfolded in a way that felt more welcome and familiar. Like going back to bed.

I'm looking forward to 2023. I hope you are, too.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Korinthian Violins A B C

My new book is out! I mostly made it as a cute little gift to have in my shop, but copies are available on Amazon if anyone wants one. (And if you like it, please give it a good review!) It's a tiny paperback for $15.

For anyone who simply wants to see it, here it is! Enjoy. (And I'll type the text in case it isn't readable in the images.)

This book is dedicated to Robyn Sullivan and Carol Kraco. Both spent many years contributing their time and talents to make Korinthian Violins the place it is. They have moved on to new adventures and they are missed. We hope this book reminds them of fun days in the shop they helped run for so long.
Welcome to Korinthian Violins! We are a small violin store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, only a couple of blocks from Lake Michigan. We think our shop is special, and we want to show you the reasons why from A to Z. (And if you are reading this in our store, see how many of these things you can spot in real life!)
A is for Armadillo. This cute little sculpture has been posing in our store practically since we opened in 2008. He was made by Detroit artist Dick Cruger.
B is for Box of Crayons. I liked this broken violin body and found a new way to use it. Sometimes repurposing things makes the world a little more interesting.
C is for Clock. This large music clock on the back wall was the first thing I made for our store. Do you know what all the music symbols on it are? (If not, find a musician to ask!)
D is for Drum. This drum came from West Africa and used to be in my parents' art gallery in Michigan until my dad passed it on to me for my music store.
E is for Escher Lizards. This floor puzzle is based on designs by M. C. Escher. Repeated interlocking patterns like these lizards are called "tessellations."
F is for Fancy Floors. Our building is over 100 years old, and still has the original tiled floors, which I think are beautiful even with the cracks.
G is for Gifts. We have lots of fun gifts, many of which were made by me, or people I know.
H is for Halloween! Korinthian Violins won a neighborhood association award for our Halloween window display in 2020, which included this Cell-O-Lantern.
I is for Intersection. Korinthian Violins is at the intersection of Rusk and Delaware Avenues.
J is for Jar of Tips. Bow tips! Sometimes people put money in the jar, which always makes me laugh since the jar is a joke.
K is for Korinthia! I love having my own violin store! People are often surprised that it's my name on the window.
L is for Lamp. We find lots of things to do with broken instruments. This cello lamp can be found in our teaching studio.
M is for Mold-A-Rama. Our family collects figures from Mold-A-Rama machines around the country. We have our own machine that makes a corythosaurus dinosaur.
N is for Novels. I like to write books! Just because people know you for doing one thing doesn't mean you can't do other things, too.
O is for Open. I like that when the case on our front door is open it means the store is open to visitors.
P is for Peeps Violin. Our family enjoys entering the Peeps art competition at the Racine Art Museum every spring. I have also had on display a Peeps orchestra, and a Peep-A-Rama machine.
Q is in Bow-Quet. We find many ways to recycle things at Korinthian Violins, like these broken bows.
R is for Rubik's Cube. I love having my very own cubes for my collection! We offer free cube solving at Korinthian Violins.
S is for Sparkle Cello. No, it doesn't play, but it's very pretty, especially in the sunlight inside our front window.
T is for Toy Box. Cellos are fragile, and many got broken when our store used to rent them, so we found some of the broken ones new uses, like this one for toys.
U is for Ukulele. I thought it would be fun to play ukulele during slow days, but our store is very busy, so it just keeps me company on my bench.
V is for Viometer. I use this tool to help measure new players to see what size violin they might need.
W is for Walking Sundae. A business in our space once sold walking sundaes and the sign is still on our side window. (That's a treat that looks like a sundae, but is made from less-melty things such as pudding and cake.)
X is for Xylophone. We have a couple of xylophones in our store, but my favorite is this one made from bamboo.
Y is for Yellow Stand. And its friends! We love having colorful stands for sale, and we put them all in rainbow order in the window every June for Pride.
Z is for Zebra. Because Z is always for zebra. Our zebra's name is Buzz, and you can hunt for him in a different spot every time you visit. (Searching for a buzz is very common in violin shops.)
Thank you for spending time with the A B Cs of Korinthian Violins! If you want to know more about our store, please visit us on our website at: (And much love to my husband, Ian Weisser, for being the other half of Korinthian Violins, and for showing me how to format this book.)