Sunday, June 19, 2022

Dear Dad, 2022

Dear Dad,

Wow, what a year. We’re in this weird phase of moving out of the pandemic, while the pandemic is also still here. The beauty of being vaccinated, though, is hospitalization and death seem off the table. Long Covid is still a concern (I know too many people suffering with that to take it lightly), but the fear has lifted. Now it’s just an annoyance. I’m tired of masks. I’m tired of takeout rather than eating in restaurants. I’m tired of the social stress of people behaving without care for others and the divisions it causes. (Someone actually stuck a flyer on the door of the violin shop by the sign saying we require masks condemning our “virtue signaling.” That was just cowardly and rude.)

But the exciting thing about life getting back to something closer to normal is we get to do stuff again! There are concerts to play, and people to see.

The event where I thought about you most was when Mom and I went to Venice. Dad, we went back to Venice! But this time I got to play a concert there with my mandolin orchestra. I wish you could have heard us. You’d have loved it. We played against a backdrop of Tintoretto paintings. It was wonderful to have a chance to travel with just Mom for a week in Italy like that, but you would have loved it so much. The food, the canals, the gelato, the art, the endless places to wander. . .  You wouldn’t have kayaked with us, though. Mom and I would have waved to you as we paddled and you stayed in your suit and tie on a nice civilized path alongside the water. But oh, Dad, you would have loved all of it.

The garden back in Detroit is looking amazing. I don’t know how Mom does it. Our yard is such mess! Literally, right now, because we had a new deck put in, and the old pile of deck garbage is still here. The new fence doesn’t go up for another week or so. But it’s so nice to be in the backyard! I’m sitting on the new deck right now in the shade of the beech tree, perfect temperature, nice breeze, no fear of rotting boards giving way underneath me and sending me to my doom. We even strung some lights from the garage to the terrace above the new deck the way I always meant to and never did. We might repaint the mural on the garage wall from a dozen years ago. Quinn in particular feels it's time to paint something much better. Mona has ideas.

I got to do the varnish workshop again, finally. I still had those three instruments in the white I bought to use in 2020 before the pandemic shut everything down. And I had three instruments of my own to varnish, so that was fun. (I don’t think I’ll build three instruments at the same time anymore. Two is plenty. Three gets overwhelming.) I built a violin for Mona that she doesn’t want, but I’m glad I did it anyway. The little bird Aden drew on the back of the scroll came out cute. The violin sounds nice! I still need to make one with simpler wood for mom to paint. That’s one of the many projects that never quite seems to happen, but I do want to make a violin in the white for mom to decorate. That would be cool. I wish I could have done that with you, too! I’m trying to picture how fast you would get that done. It would be funny, because my part, building the instrument would take months, and then you would paint something amazing in under ten minutes and that would be the only thing anyone would comment on or praise. (And that would have been fine.)

Which reminds me, I did an internet search not long ago for your ties. I think often about all those ties you painted in that sweatshop in Brooklyn and there have to be some of those still out there in the world. I feel certain I would recognize your work if I saw one, but who knows? Mona and I went through a portfolio of Mom’s old prints from early in your marriage and before, and it’s fascinating to see what elements of her style have persisted, and what things are hard to recognize as her hand. Maybe those ties of yours don’t resemble what I think of as your work. Maybe I’ve passed one on the street and didn’t know.

Writing is weirdly stalled. I need to buckle down for one more edit on my latest novel, and figure out what I’m doing. I feel if I play the numbers game, I have a shot at a traditional publisher. But maybe I’d like the control better of staying indie and just investing in real marketing for a change. Or maybe creative control but with some support from a hybrid publisher is the way to go. I don’t know. All the non-writing bits of writing gets really discouraging and frustrating. But I like the new book. It’s fun. (And wouldn’t make you weep like the first one did!)

I think the oddest thing at the moment that I wish I had you here to talk about is the transition away from having kids in the house. We spent so many years where everything was centered around the needs of our kids, and scheduling things based on school calendars, or having to base so many meals adjusted to boring palates. . . And now they are essentially all grown up and it’s wonderful in new ways, but very different. Ian and I actually have to figure out what we want to do. We’ve spent a long time tag teaming to get things done, but now we can do things together again. So there are good things which are exciting, but it’s also a bit sad. I’m looking back on all their childhoods and wondering if it was okay. I don’t get a do-over. Maybe it wasn’t enough. I tried, though. I really did try.

I keep thinking there will be some relief at least in not being responsible for all of them in front of me all the time, but then I think about that lunch at your house where Alit was over. She’d just had her first child, and she said she had been experiencing nightmares where she was scared for the baby or didn’t know where she was and was panicked, and you looked at her sadly and said, “That never goes away.” So I’ve thought ever since that I should be prepared for that to be the case.

Luckily, though, at the moment it doesn’t seem to be. Aden finally got to leave for her first year of college, and when I don't hear from her, it means she's happy and busy. At the moment, Aden’s off being a camp counselor to six and seven-year-olds. She loves it. She found the job herself, and she’s teaching little kids art, and seems to be really enjoying everything. She loved her first year of college. There were a couple of complications, but you know what? She handled it all herself and did fine. She loves UW Stout. She’s made good friends. She’s adorable and sweet and making beautiful things. Aden’s even in a print club where they did some giant woodcut pieces that they printed on fabric using a steamroller! How fun is that? Anyway, she’s amazing. She’s still magical. All blue eyes and happy laughs and funny and kind. Just like the tiny girl you remember, only taller. I really miss her. I was supposed to have a week with her between college and camp, but then Ian’s mother died, and she agreed to go with her dad to Portland to help him sort out the house and the estate stuff. I don’t know if she was helpful in a practical sense, but the emotional support she gave Ian was invaluable. With a little luck she’ll be home for a week or two at the end of the summer, but that seems like a long time away. We have lots of Star Trek to binge together whenever she gets back.

Speaking of Ian, he’s doing okay. I think he’s still in a bit of shock after losing his mother so unexpectedly. The stress of managing the house in probate, etc., is a bit much. I’m trying to help where I can. But I know what it’s like to lose a parent, and there’s really only so much anyone can do. That’s just a hole in your life that never gets filled. You learn to walk around the hole or face away from it sometimes, but it’s always there. I feel like the yard that is my life has a few big holes at this point, and maybe when there’s nowhere left to walk that’s how you know it’s time to go.

I wish you were here to talk with Mona. She finished high school a semester early, and graduated 6th in her class! You’d have been so proud, but you wouldn’t have had a ceremony to watch. She tried a semester of college online through UWM, however it was awful and turned her off of college entirely. I keep telling her that that wasn’t college, that was sitting at our dining room table watching assigned YouTube videos, and she should do a real semester of art school somewhere in person before she makes up her mind if that’s of any value or not. I feel like she might have listened to you. She did apply to Pratt based on the idea that you thought she should go there when she was only 11. You loved college so much (14 years of it? Am I remembering that right?) and you would have had lots to tell her about why she should give it a go. She’s not really listening to me, so nothing I say gets through. If you were still around, I would find a way to send the two of you off to Paris for a bit, and you could give her the tour you once gave the St Paul School boys, and you could draw together and see all the museums, and I would be satisfied that that was enough of an education if she still didn’t want to do school. She is focusing in on jobs and putting together a resume. The most enticing plan of the moment is to set her up in Nancy’s house in Portland and let her get a fresh start in a new state, but with housing and transportation covered so there is a cushion while being far from home. We’ll see. I know she will be fine. It’s just hard to see her so anxious while she’s living in a time of unknowns. But damn I wish you could see her work. She’s so good. She won the Racine Art Museum Peep contest this year with her Peepzilla, so her sculpture abilities are as strong as ever, but her ink drawings are mind blowing. I would give anything for you could see.

Quinn came out as trans recently. She surprised us with a cake that was the trans-pride flag inside. Not that the news was a surprise, just the cake. Remember all those conversations we had when she was only two and insisted she was a girl? Changed her name and everything for a couple of years? I know you thought I was being overindulgent and not helping her in the world by going along with it at the time. But now I’m wishing I’d advocated more for her earlier. It’s so hard to know. She needed to come into herself in her own way and her own time, so maybe an official coming out did have to wait until now. I don’t know. But I’m really proud of her for being so courageous. This country is so cruel to trans-people, and the rhetoric is so nasty, that I’m already fearful about places she can’t go and be safe. As if anyone has anything to fear from someone as sweet as Quinn! I wonder how you would have handled her coming out? I suspect it might have taken some adjustment (heck, I will be stumbling over pronouns for a while out of habit), but I also picture you doing some amazing drawing full of rainbows and weird birds to send her in celebration. I know your love would never have wavered. There’s nothing not to love about Quinn. I’m hoping the fact that her entire family is in her corner will help what will likely be a complicated path. I’m going to smooth it as best I’m able.

Well, the lights above the new deck have switched on in the dusk, and the bugs are far too interested in my laptop screen. Time to wrap this up.

I love you, Dad. That never changes. I hate that you didn’t get to go with Ellora on her tour of colleges (I can’t imagine anything that could have made you happier!), or that we can’t really tell you she got into Berkeley. I hate that you don’t get to see how little Rivyn (not so little now at seven!) is a bundle of creative energy like his father and such a pure delight. You would be amazed at the beautiful work Mom is doing lately. She told me she misses how she always counted on you to look at a piece and be able to tell her when it was done. It feels unfair that life goes on and you’re missing some wonderful things. But life isn’t fair.

I love you. Happy Father’s Day. I will try to make you proud even though you can’t see.

Love, Kory

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Why A Women's Night Out

I started this post in a side note about my recent varnish workshop, and it was getting pretty long and off topic, so it made sense to simply get it all off my chest in its own place.

Until the creation of the Women In Lutherie group, I felt rather alone. Working in a male-dominated field is tricky. There are some wonderful, humble, supportive men out there, but they are not as vocal as the ones who feel the need to posture, or make everything some sort of competition where they must win. The number of men (particularly in online violin maker groups) who can't wait to tell you you are wrong is staggering. 

But the Women In Lutherie group is not like that. It's empowering and friendly. And as of this moment, it has more than 600 members. Now I don't feel so alone. These women have helped my confidence, my techniques, and my sense of belonging in this field. It's wonderful.

So of course at the latest varnish workshop in Chicago, which had the largest number of women yet in attendance (out of 14 people, six of us were women), we wanted one night out together to relax and talk among ourselves.

A few of the men at the workshop expressed disappointment at being "excluded" from the Women In Lutherie dinner. None of us want to make anyone feel bad, but we're also tired of being made to feel we have to justify ourselves. We simply said, "Go do your own thing! We'll meet up together tomorrow!" It was not forever. It was for one dinner.

On any given night when a bunch of luthiers get together, it's nearly always a men's night out. They get that by default often enough. When it came up again that "how would we have felt if they'd gone off and had a men's night," one of my friends finally blurted out in frustration: "Every night is men's night!" But the thing I wanted to say, and didn't find the opportunity in that context, was this:

Our experience is different. It just is. And sometimes it's a relief to be with others who understand, and whom you don't have to explain any of that to. It's nice to be among luthiers who never ask "what wood are violins made from?" It's nice to be with fellow musicians sometimes who get what that means. It's nice to hang out with friends who went to your same school and shared certain experiences. There are lots of different ways to feel a sense of belonging and comfort. And sometimes also safety, and shared frustration.

When women get together, do we talk about men who make our lives complicated? Sometimes. And if that makes any man nervous, he should ask himself why. (Because the men who are not nervous, know we're not discussing them in any bad light.) 

In what way is the experience of a woman luthier different? Here's one example:

Any of those men in the workshop, if they were seated behind a bench in any violin shop in the world, and a new customer walked in, would not only be assumed by that client to be the luthier, but probably given the benefit of the doubt that they were experts in their field.

I am not granted that. No woman I know is granted that.

My name is on the window, I wear an apron, I sit at a workbench with tools in my hands, and still people address my husband if he's behind his computer at the other desk. I have to explain I am the luthier, then prove myself worthy. It's exhausting. And demoralizing.

I recently spent half an hour with an older man, explaining what work his violin needed, and I thought by the time he agreed to all of it that I had earned his respect. But when I was writing up his work ticket, he looked past me to my husband and said, "How often do you have to bite your tongue to keep from interrupting her?"

To his credit, my husband didn't miss a beat and replied, "Never. She's the luthier."

I know the man thought he was being cute or funny. But would it ever occur to him to say that if it were the other way around? Would he ever assume the woman was the luthier in the room? Men are assumed to have knowledge about tools. The default about women is ignorance. 

I have two major thoughts about that incident. The first is, for the occasional person who says something like this, how many are simply thinking it? That's a hard idea to shake when working with people.

The second is, many of us in this (and other) fields suffer a certain amount of imposter syndrome. We all harbor doubts about our abilities and worthiness, because there is always someone better, someone more talented and successful, and to find the balance of humility and confidence that allows us to function can be tricky from day to day. Men in lutherie tend to at least be granted a level of trust that they must know what they are doing. If they are feeling insecure, they can feel somewhat assuaged by those who walk into their shops starting from a level of belief in the abilities of the luthier before them. The average person tends to bolster their confidence.

Women, by comparison, tend to feel undermined. When your own doubts are subtly (or not so subtly) reflected back at you regularly, it makes the work harder.

This hurts everyone, frankly. Not just for women who aren't given enough opportunities or encouragement, but I've met men who are not as good as they think they are, who do damage because they overstepped their abilities since their egos were not in check. Women don't want to make mistakes, men don't want to be wrong. Both things feed into how we are perceived overall.

Maybe men don't want to believe my experiences as a luthier are different. That doesn't change the truth of it for me, and other women I know. And there are times I don't have the energy to explain it.

The dinner out with the women during the workshop was illuminating and delightful. The dinners out with everyone were also fun. Just different. 

Would it be nice if the world functioned in a way that a women's only dinner (or group) felt unnecessary?

YES! YES IT WOULD! Let's work toward that! Let's hope for that! I would love to feel as welcomed and understood and supported and included in the world of lutherie as a whole that a Women In Lutherie group could be cast off as a curiosity.

But that's not the world we are in at the moment. I don't just like this group, I need this group. I am better because of this group.

And for men who don't want to feel left out, you need to change your end of things. That's not our job. You need to help make the general space welcoming enough that we don't want to occasionally retreat from it. That's a good goal, and not just for lutherie.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Death Of My Mother-In-Law

My husband's mother recently passed away. We're not exactly sure when. Ian called her on Mother's Day, and she didn't pick up, which wasn't unusual for her. A couple of days later he got a call from her doctor's office saying she didn't appear for a post-surgery followup. He called a neighbor to check on her. The neighbor found Nancy dead in bed.

It was sad breaking the news to the kids. They called her "Oma," which was the name she picked for herself when she became a grandmother as a means of differentiating herself from my mother. Aden and Quinn were at home, so they were told in person. Mona had just left that morning for a summer job in a different county, and we had to tell her over a bad phone connection. They were all somber. But Oma has always been a somewhat remote figure in their lives living all the way on the West Coast, so I don't know if they really knew how to feel. I'm not exactly sure how to feel, because it hasn't really sunk in for me yet that she's gone.

Nancy was many things. She was generous. She was curious. She was adventurous in that she traveled to more places than anyone else I know, but then also led a predictable and simple life at home. She managed to get a good city job in the planning department in an era when I don't imagine that was easy to come by for a single mother. She was a teacher, at one time in a one-room schoolhouse in California, and until recently a tutor in English as a second language. She was thoughtful. I never heard her raise her voice or say anything mean about anyone (short of a few politicians). She was practical, preferring often to eat out of reusable food containers than regular dishes. She liked heating her house with a wood stove when possible. She seemed unconcerned about other people's judgement, wearing what she liked, and was unapologetic about her tastes and interests. She loved colorful things, clever woodworking from the Saturday Market, shiny souvenirs, Hawaiian pizza, dangly earrings, maps, Jeopardy, and skiing. She drove a stick shift most of her life and always named her car. (In the last several years she drove a Prius.) Most importantly to me, she did an excellent job of raising her only son into the man I love. Her example taught him self-reliance, and respect for women as equals.

The thing Nancy prized over all else was her independence. Her childhood home was not pleasant. She didn't associate family with joy, and the responsibilities that family can impose she did her best to see as her choice rather than as an obligation. She was incredibly good to her brother, nieces, and nephew. She was certainly good to us.

However, Nancy seemed most satisfied with doing things apart from family. She had friends, and activities, and routines, but we were only allowed to know about them superficially. She reminded me very much of the way teenagers only give one word answers to their parents so as to keep their private lives private. The kinds of questions I might ask my own family felt more like prying with her. She preferred we didn't intrude, so we had to be content with some things being left unanswered. I don't believe it was anything against us, but a pleasure she took in being owner of her life. 

I did have the opportunity to get to know her a bit better on a road trip she joined me and Ian on back in the late 90s when I needed to deliver a viola I'd made to a player out in New York. When Ian's not driving, he tends to sleep on long car trips, so Nancy and I had many hours together just to talk for a change. I learned a lot that explained why the two of us navigated family events and interactions so differently. I find my family a source of inspiration and peace. Growing up, she found hers something to overcome. She told me once of a pivotal moment when she was 18 and had graduated from high school, and while driving her car came to a literal fork in the road where she could go back to a home she disliked, or pick a new road and create a different life. She picked the new road and never looked back. That was Nancy.

The fact that when she found herself pregnant she was able to make all the sacrifices it took to create a settled life for a baby is impressive to me, since raising a child is the opposite of freedom. But she did it. She kicked out the man whose unreliable behavior could not be tolerated around an impressionable child. Ian's dad died when Ian was only three. Nancy was a single mom in the 1970s and somehow managed everything on her own. No support from family. No resources except what she could find by herself. She raised her son to be capable and independent, as well as ethical and kind. (Although, having enjoyed much of the hippy culture of the 60s, I don't think she ever knew what to make of Ian's decision to join ROTC. Teenage rebellion takes many forms.)

Nancy worked for decades as a city planner in Portland OR. It wasn't a coincidence that when light rail was installed, there was a convenient stop near her house. She was incredibly smart about her finances so that she could provide for her little family of two. To say her home was modest is an understatement. But she provided as many opportunities for her son as she was able, including getting him into an expensive Montessori school with a scholarship.

The only place she splurged when she could was travel. Reading of her adventures in every Christmas letter was always surprising.

We wished more of her travels had led her here while her grandchildren were growing up, but we did manage a family trip out to Portland a summer before the pandemic hit. We'd taken the kids out there once before when they were small, so this was the first time we were able to really show them around. I'm glad we did, since we had no idea it would be our last opportunity for such a visit. Nancy somehow found space for all of us in her tiny home and our kids got a sense of where their dad grew up, and got to know their Oma a little better in person instead of from afar.

Nancy was one of the few people to read all three rough drafts of my novels when I first wrote them long ago. That's a lot to ask of anyone, and I appreciated it more than I think she knew.

I can't think of anyone who lived a life somehow so completely on their own terms and yet unselfishly the way my mother-in-law did. She never neglected a birthday or forgot to send things for the kids to open under the tree every year. She used a lot of her time volunteering at the art museum and the science center after she retired, and I wish I knew just how many adults she helped learn to speak and read English. She lived the life she wanted while also helping many. Not enough of us can say that.

Literally in the end, she went the way she wanted to go. Her health and cognitive function were starting to slip into a state where her independence was threatened. As much as she loved her son (and there's no doubt she loved her son), the last thing she wanted was for him (or anyone) to be involved in her care or decision making. She always intended to die as she lived: On her own terms. Her spiraling health concerns simply brought her down more rapidly than we were expecting, but maybe not earlier than she was ready for.

So as sad as it was to learn that she died in her sleep at home, it also wasn't tragic. The "when" was too soon. The "how" was exactly what she would have preferred.

Nancy was unique. I hope she enjoyed her life. She will be missed.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Peeps! 2022

It was a good year for Peep art in our house! At this year's Peeps art show at the Racine Art Museum, Mona took first place in the adult individual category with her fantastic Peepzilla sculpture, and Aden and Quinn and I placed second in the group category with our giant Sparkle Peep.

Mona definitely had a vision for her Peep sculpture this year, but the rest of us didn't have any specific ideas, so we just decided to go big! And sparkly!

I built a basic bunny Peep from foam board, paper, and tape.

Then we just started gluing on acrylic gems. Lots and lots and lots of acrylic gems. Aden started in one area while she was home over break, then Quinn and I took over after she left. It wasn't hard, but it took a while, and by the time we got to the back there was no time to sort colors or be fussy if we were going to make the deadline, so it was simply random. The end result definitely looked like a group project. But it was a group project, so we'll just call that a bonus.

Sparkle Peep looks especially pretty in the sun! It will have a home in our violin shop window when we get it back (near its inspiration, the Sparkle Cello).

I originally ordered what I thought would be an appropriate quantity of acrylic gems online, but I apparently misunderstood the sizes listed, because the boxes that arrives contained very very tiny jewels. We had to go to a craft store to get bigger ones. I can't begin to imagine how long it would have taken to cover that entire Peep with these little things.
After gluing on a bajillion gems, I coated the whole thing with Mod Podge so they wouldn't start shedding. (I did the same with the Sparkle Cello, so I know it works and dries clear.)

Finished Sparkle Peep!
Now, there is a strict size requirement at the museum for this show. I built a box to test our things in, so even though Sparkle Peep was impressive for its size, it definitely fit within the dimension limits.

Peepzilla did too. . . Until the Peeps got added to the tail. At first we thought we were going to have to simply take Peepzilla home, but Mona finally agreed to snip off the ears of two of the offending bunny Peeps in order for the sculpture to fit in the box. I was proud of Mona for doing it, because I know how painful it is to be forced to alter your work when you don't want to. And Peepzilla is spectacular, so I'm glad people got to see and enjoy it.
Pre-pandemic, the Racine Art Museum held a opening night event for all the artists in the show. There was food, and the first public viewing of the works on display, along with the announcement of the prizes. There are three major categories: Adult Individual, Group, and Young People's. There is also the coveted "Peeple's Choice" award that is voted on by the public and announced after the show comes down. We just got news the other day that Peepzilla also won that prize!

Anyway, this year we thought the tickets they gave us when we submitted our pieces were for an in-person opening again. Last year (when I won for my Peep-A-Rama), it was all online. We drove all the way to Racine before realizing this year was virtual too! This was an excellent lesson that as fans of The Amazing Race we should have known already, which is "Always read the clue." Said right on the tickets: "Virtual awards ceremony." Oops.

We drove back home in time to catch the announcement of the big award of the night, the Adult Individual category: Peepzilla.
I can't describe how much I love that Mona's thing, and our group thing, are arranged in such a way that they are the first things people really see when they walk into the exhibit.
Mona dismisses any praise from me as simply "Mom stuff," but seriously, Peepzilla is excellent. It deserved the Golden Peep. (As well as the second Golden Peep it earned for Peeple's Choice.)

And Sparkle Peep looks so BIG. Which is what we were going for, so yay!

The line for the exhibit on the afternoon we went was long enough Ian had to go put another hour on the meter. But it was great to see so many clever things on display.
And as far as trophies go? I don't think there are any awards cuter that these Peep art awards. They are hand blown glass by a local artist and they are adorable. (The first one here is Aden's from a few years ago, the tall one in the middle is mine from last year, and the last one is Mona's. I can't wait to see the second one she gets when she goes back down to the museum.)

The Racine Art Museum always offers to keep winning sculptures for their permanent collection, and Mona is leaning toward letting them hang onto Peepzilla. I think that's a good idea, because they would store it more safely than we could, plus it sounds more impressive on an art resume to say something you made resides in a museum than in our house.

Sparkle Peep, however, will have a proud and glittery place in the violin store window for passersby to enjoy. Does it make sense for a violin shop to have a giant Peep covered in jewels on display? I think only at ours.

Happy Spring!

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Spring Catch Up Post 2022

Just taking a moment to jot down some of the interesting things going on before those memories are overwhelmed by all the new interesting things coming up.

Kid update: 

Quinn is doing fine and seems to be enjoying high school. He's at the end of a truly non-eventful spring break, but when I asked him how it's going, he said it's been boring and he's enjoying that very much.

Mona graduated from high school last semester and is almost done with a virtual semester at UWM. She hates it and will leave after finals. But I keep telling her watching assigned YouTube videos at our dining room table is NOT COLLEGE and she should not make any decisions about the value of higher education based on this experience. She was accepted into art school for the fall, but is unconvinced about going. In the meantime we have a lead on a brief internship this summer that could be valuable, and we're looking into possibilities for art careers that don't require school.

Aden, meanwhile, is finishing up her first year at UW Stout and she loves it. There were a couple of alarming (especially for parents from afar) incidents in the dorm earlier this term (an intruder in the night and a fire on a different floor), but those seem to have been resolved. I'm proud of how well she's adapted to life away from home. She has made good friends, loves her classes and teachers. . . the school has been a good fit. I miss her, but I'm really happy for her. (She did choose to come home for spring break a couple of weeks ago, rather that go off with friends somewhere. I appreciated the snuggle time on the couch with her, eating popcorn and watching season two of Chuck.)

Peep update:

We have delivered our entries into this year's Racine Art Museum Peep Art competition! While Aden was home over spring break we started a giant Sparkle Peep, and she and Quinn and I entered it in the group category. Mona created the spectacular Peepzilla for the individual adult category. Sadly, she had to clip the ears off of two Peeps on the tail for her piece to fit in the box they use to test the size requirement, but I'm proud of her for doing it. People need to see her wonderful work. (And I told her I can reattach those bits when she brings it back home.) More Peep stuff after the opening at the museum this coming week.


Instrument update:

I have been working very hard to finish three instruments that I got behind on during the pandemic. I started two violins and a viola a few years ago, and then wasn't in a good mental place to work on them for a while. I finally decided the only way out is through, and made myself get into my shop every day.

I think the big trick for getting back to work on something I've been avoiding, is to break it down into chunks that aren't overwhelming. For instance, corners on violins are hard. Three instruments times two plates times four corners per plate is way too many corners to face on an average day. But if I go into my shop with the expectation that I only have to do one, then that I can do. One stupid corner. Not all 24. Just one. Once I'm actually doing the work, I remember why I enjoy it, and usually wind up doing more than the minimum. But if something goes wrong? Then I still don't feel like a failure because I usually surpassed whatever my goal was in the shop at that point anyway.

My hope was to get one of these instruments done in time to submit to the first ever International Celebration of Women Luthiers exhibit in Georgia recently. I didn't make it. But I got close! All three instruments are "in the white" and just need some last bit of preparation before varnish.


Atlanta update:

I did make it to the International Celebration of Women Luthiers in Georgia myself, though! It was an amazing weekend. I got to see some spectacular instruments and bows, and unlike other competitions and exhibits, I got to try the bows! (Most of the time you can only admire the pretty bows, not use them.) Several of the builders with things in the exhibition were there for a panel discussion, and on the third day we got to hear professionals play everything in a hall so we could compare all their qualities. Honestly, there wasn't an instrument I didn't like.

But easily the best part of this trip was the people. I got to meet so many remarkable women that I'd only ever interacted with online, and everyone was welcoming and supportive and inspiring and kind. They invited me along at every turn to dinners and shop tours and I felt so included. There were so many new friends that instantly felt like old friends. My heart was so full after this trip.

The lovely Huthmaker Violin Shop!


Performance update:

We had such a wonderful concert with Festival City Symphony earlier this month, and there is another coming up next weekend. I'm grateful to be playing in an orchestra again, however, I am ready for the break after the season finale. But orchestra people are among the best people. It's nice to be among them again.

Time Management update:

One of the things people ask me most often is how I have the time to do all the different things I do. The answer is I don't. I have to steal that time from other places, most often sleep, exercise, and cleaning. All that instrument work was happening mostly between midnight and 3a.m. Which meant if I was going to be awake enough to work at the shop I had to cut out swimming in the morning. And the house is a mess, because if I don't clean, it doesn't get clean. Everyone else doesn't mind living in a pit, apparently, but it still bugs me. However, I would rather be remembered for having created a few nice things than for not letting the dishes pile up. There will be time to clean. (And when the kids leave the house one day, most things will STAY clean after I turn my back, which is a very exciting concept.)

But! Now that I'm in the varnishing stage with those instruments, breaks are built in. Once you put on a coat of something that needs to dry, well, you have to leave it alone until it's dry. Which means I'm back to going to bed before midnight, and I started swimming again. (House is still a mess, though. Oh well.)

We did take a moment to dust and reorganize the Mold-A-Rama collection recently. We were contacted by someone writing a paper about zoo souvenirs, and wanted a sample of what's on our mantel. Quinn and I spent an hour cleaning everything and putting them in a new order, and that was fun to revisit so many memories. (We really need to get down to the Oklahoma City Zoo before the year is up.)

Covid update:

Overall, it's nice to feel things transitioning back to something normal. Numbers are looking a lot better here in Wisconsin, but I really wish people could take the pandemic seriously just enough longer to get past things a bit. I'm one of a very few people in either of my orchestras still wearing a mask, and we still require them at the violin store. I only ever see one other person in a mask at the pool. I know too many people struggling with Long Covid to treat it lightly, and until we are squarely in 1% territory, I'm keeping my mask on in public places. Besides, I need to stay healthy for my travel plans!

Travel Plans update:

I'm returning to my varnish workshop in Chicago at the end of April! And right after that, I'm going to ITALY!!! Lots of planning for all of that. More soon.

Writing update:

Not much to report, other than lots of rejections for my latest novel, but we'll see. I'm signed up to pitch it to live people at the end of April. I'm also working on a kids book project, and a followup to my violin repair diagnostics guide that will actually walk people through doing some simple repairs. (There are other repair books out there, but they are boring. Mine should be less boring.)

General state of the world and brief TV show update:

There are so many things in the news that make me unbearably sad. I don't understand why it's so hard for people to be kind. That sounds Polyanna-ish and naive, but still. I get tired of people who are rash or illogical or selfish, and that's all the news seems to be filled with from the smallest stories to the biggest. Among the biggest is obviously the war in Ukraine. My dad was a pacifist, and I lean that way most of the time, but it's hard for me to see how doing anything short of driving Putin back to Russia without concessions will result in anything but long term strife for democracy around the world. That may be worth real sacrifice on all our parts.

Out of curiosity about Ukraine and its leader, we recently watched the first season of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's TV show "Servant of the People." It's very good. Well made, funny, and it's obvious how the man got elected president for real (with 70% of the vote) after doing a charming dry run on his fictitious program. It's also obvious why in peace time he disappointed his constituents a bit since there is no way for someone to live up to what a fictional character can achieve on TV. In war time, I don't think they could have asked for a better president.

The meta element while watching the show is startling. Obviously to watch someone play the role of the president of a country, knowing he then became the president of that country, never gets less remarkable. But there are so many sweeping shots of Ukraine looking beautiful, and every time I watched the opening credits, I wondered how many of those sites are still standing and how much is in ruin. The references to Putin are painful.

And in a really chilling moment in the last episode of the first season (and please please please Netflix, put up the other two because I really want to see what happens next), Zelenskyy's character has an imagined interaction with Ivan the Terrible, where the latter lays out an argument for ruling with cruelty trying to convince him that Ukraine belongs with its Russian roots. The president insists to his imagined death that Ukraine belongs with Europe. For a comedy show and at this time, it's deeply poignant.


Well, now I'm just talking about TV, so it's time to wrap this up. The funny part about any kind of "journal" is that you only have time to write when there is nothing going on. All the interesting things are hard to take time to describe. My life has been busy and interesting of late! Looking forward to making more time to share the things coming up.

I leave you with Lake Michigan looking beautifully blue:

Monday, February 28, 2022

Holiday Shift

A couple of weeks ago, I dropped my son off at the mall to see a movie with friends. I arrived a bit early to pick him up afterward, and as I was wandering about and looking at the different shops, I was surprised to see a long line outside of a jewelry store. It was a small shop with Covid protocols in place, which meant a limited number of people inside at a time, but still, why would there be a line at a jewelry store half an hour before closing?

But then I remembered the next day was Valentine's Day. Last minute jewelry purchases suddenly made more sense.

When I mentioned my initial puzzlement about the jewelry store line to my daughter later, she said, "Oh yeah, Valentine's Day. I still kind of think about that as something to be excited for, but I guess that was a long time ago."

The last real time she would have done anything interesting for Valentine's Day would have been in sixth grade, so half a dozen years back. She used to make amazing Valentines for the kids in her class. My favorite was the year of the "pocket mice" which were all little pink and red sculptures made from colored duct tape. All my kids made their own Valentines to hand out at school, which meant when all three kids were in elementary school there was a lot of cutting and pasting going on at our dining room table for over a week every February.

But now Valentine's Day barely registers. We get a lovely box from my mom every year, and that we still look forward to. The box always contains some lovely handmade cards made specially for each of us, shortbread heart cookies, and surprises. This year there was a lot of much appreciated homemade jam.

Aside from my mom's box, there is no Valentine's Day at our house at this point.

In fact, I'm starting to realize how much of a shift all the holidays have taken now that we are transitioning from having a home full of kids, to a home with just adults. 

My oldest is away at college. My middle kid graduated high school early and is doing classes mostly online at a local college. She's home, but is separated from what the rest of the house is doing much of the time. My youngest is in high school, and tends to go along with whatever is happening, rather than make suggestions or instigate anything.

Halloween was the first holiday I noticed slip away back in 2020. The pandemic killed that prematurely. I really enjoyed putting together costumes for my kids. Quinn was interested in dressing up as at least one of various categories of animal over his trick-or-treating years--and I think 2020 he was due to be an amphibian--but no trick-or-treat, no school dance, no costumes. That's done.

Halloween was a big deal for so long! It was several weeks of planning and work and the excitement of the reveal. Now we hand out candy, which is okay, but comparatively dull. Maybe we can become one of those houses that builds something cool? Bay View has several spots that put together amazing displays that people come from all around to see. Going forward, if we want to still experience Halloween as an event, we may have to do something like that. But the era of my kids doing trick-or-treat in costumes is over. If I still want to do Halloween, it will have to be in some other way.

Christmas has shifted in a more subtle manner. The logistics of it haven't changed: We unwrap presents at home in the morning, and then drive to Detroit to have Christmas dinner with my mom. There was a bit of a pause in that in the beginning of the pandemic, but we returned to it. The kids are still allowed to empty their stockings before the "grown-ups" come downstairs. Once everyone is up, we start unwrapping things from under the tree. It's still fun. I usually manage to find things the kids all like. But my kids commented this year that it's not the same as when they were little. The anticipation is different. The excitement is replaced with a level of appreciation that is nice, but not the same.

Fourth of July we started skipping even before the pandemic shut it down. The parade is very different from a child's eye view, and my kids stopped seeing it as something worth the effort of getting up early for. In a normal year, Milwaukee has a lot of fireworks. As my kids got older and we asked if they wanted to go watch the fireworks in the park, or by the lake, they shrugged it off as something they could do later. Fourth of July has become just a lot of noise.

Easter, strangely enough, has stuck around. We used to travel to see relatives for Easter, and hunt eggs in New York, or Ohio, or once at the cottage in Michigan. In 2020, in order to keep all the days from blurring completely together, Ian and I hid more than 80 plastic eggs all over the house. Because we didn't have to worry about making things too hard for small children, we got to be incredibly wicked with our egg hiding, which was fun. But Aden won't be here for Easter this year. I don't know if I can convince the remaining kids to hunt for eggs without her. Maybe? I hope so.

The only holidays I can think of that are improved by my kids getting older are New Year's Eve (simply because staying awake until midnight is no longer a problem) and Thanksgiving. When they were small, my kids were not interested in eating the food (aside from the rolls and pie), and there's not much to Thanksgiving if you don't want to eat. But now they all contribute to the meal and it's really great. Mona's good at mashed potatoes, Aden makes pies, Quinn starts the orange jello days ahead in the hopes it will gel, and they all help with setting the table and making cool place markers and centerpieces. They're also old enough to take pleasure in sitting at the table afterward and partaking in conversation with the visiting relatives, which was once the most boring thing imaginable. And we play games, which I enjoy better now that we don't have to make concessions for their ages.

We're not quite empty nesters, however it's getting easier to imagine. There are certainly still ways we are involved as parents, but the hands-on elements are fading fast. It's strange now to remember my kids once needed me for everything from bathing to getting dressed to crossing the street. Quinn may be here for another few years, but he does his own laundry and can cook for himself, and aside from needing a ride once in a while when the bus doesn't show, he functions independently from us.

We spent years building up all manner of holiday traditions, and most of them are now obsolete. Ian and I will have to start deciding where to put our holiday energy going forward. Life with Ian is fun, so I'm not worried we won't find things to do, but it will be like starting from scratch.

What did we do before we had kids? Hard to remember. But I'm starting to understand all those parents who clamor for grandchildren. I'm not in any hurry to be anyone's grandmother, but I see the appeal. In the meantime, I'm thinking about how we replace all the cute parts of various holidays with things we can be excited about in new ways. (I'm thinking travel....)

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Beat Saber

Have you heard of Beat Saber? There's a lot of Beat Sabering going on in our house lately, so I thought I'd share.

For Quinn's fifteenth birthday a couple of months ago we reserved time for just our family (slightly reduced to four with Aden away at school) at a VR (Virtual Reality) place nearby. I wanted to do something different for his birthday, but it's hard coming up with anything in a pandemic. The VR time was perfect. It's like video games with a headset over your eyes, and a controller in each hand. I was surprised at how immersive it was. We each took turns trying different things: Mona wandered around in something called Half Life, Ian did some sort of space/shooting game, then moved on to mini golf. Quinn and I got introduced to Beat Saber, and were even able to compete against each other for a few rounds.

Beat Saber turned out to be insanely fun, and we ended up getting a VR system for home so we could do it whenever we like. 

The VR system was the family Christmas present this year, which made shopping pretty easy since we all agreed to share the one thing. (This does not mean there weren't "presents" to open. I've taken in recent years to wrapping up things we need anyway in order to make Christmas morning a fun event. There's a lot of cereal that gets wrapped in pretty paper. Mona got some pasta sauce and some spices we were out of. Everyone needed new blankets, so those went under the tree. Hair products, pens... Anything we're low on that needs to be replaced in December ends up with a bow on it and we call it Christmas!)

The VR system was a bit of an extravagant expense for us, but we could justify it on a few levels. Not the least of which is that the pandemic continues to drag on, and it's an activity we can enjoy in the house.

Also, exercise. I'm feeling the last game I played in my arms as I type this, and until I feel safe being in a gym again, I need something to do on the days I don't swim. 

And finally, my daughter is a video game design major, so it seemed like a good thing to have. It really made her laugh, though, because she said it was like we skipped several important gaming system steps. We have an Atari from the 80s (Frogger, Space Invaders, and Pitfall 2 are still fun), then a couple of years ago Mona asked if we could get a Switch, and now we have a VR system with its own dedicated gaming computer.

I have to be the only parent around who has been trying for years to convince her kids we should get something with which to play video games, who is then repeatedly turned down. My kids know money is often tight, so they seldom ask for anything. But I don't have a problem with video games. I spent a lot of time (and quarters) at Alligator Alley when I was in Jr. High getting good at Centipede and Ms Pac-Man and Tempest. Moon Patrol had the best music next to Mad Marbles, which was a game I only ever saw in an ice cream place in Binghamton NY. That was a fun game! (And when I told Aden it had my favorite video game music, she found a cover of it on YouTube somehow, and it's in her regular playlist.) I didn't want my kids to be unnecessarily out of step with their peers if there was something everyone was playing except them, but no. No gaming systems for us.

But the VR thing was something I wanted, damn it. So my husband found something on sale and set it up and I love it.

So, getting back to Beat Saber. It's a game where you feel like you're standing on a little platform, you have a light saber sword in each hand, cubes keep coming toward you from off in the distance, and you have to cut them in half before they shoot past you. The whole thing is set to music, so the rhythm of how you're slicing things matches up with the beat and the melody. That's the basics of it. There are additional things, such as the cubes are color coded so you have to hit them specifically with your right hand or your left, and there are arrows on the cubes to indicate from which direction you are supposed to strike them. 

Part of what makes it fun is the hand controllers can vibrate, so it feels like there is a bit of resistance every time you cut into a cube. They also zap a bit when you touch the swords to each other, or if you decide to jam one into a passing wall.

I'm sort of amazed at how fast we've improved at this game. There are Easy, Normal, Hard, Expert, and Expert+ levels. I'm currently working my way through all the available Expert Levels, although a few weeks ago I didn't think that would be possible already. Quinn is in Expert+ territory. Aden is our resident master at the single sword levels, which is much more exhausting. You can modify the parameters so there is nothing to duck if you don't feel like it, or you can speed things up or slow things down, or you can have things come at you from 360 degrees if you want to be spinning around in place that much.

It's been really nice after being hunched over at my bench for long stretches to walk into the living room, put on the headset, and do a few rounds of something physical in what feels like a different space entirely. Especially when it's too dark or cold to go for a walk, I like swinging around imaginary swords as a way to get moving more.

The latest fun thing is that Aden figured out how to download new songs. Apparently people can design their own Beat Saber levels and offer them for free to the public, which means some are great and some are bad. But the interesting thing for me is standing in front of the search bar trying to think of a song to type in. It has to be something someone else who plays Beat Saber would have wanted to design a game around, which means people younger than I am. So "Take On Me" by A-Ha remains something people still know, but "Burning Down the House" by the Talking Heads is apparently too obscure. I found "Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel, but no "Shock the Monkey." Aden can find many an anime song that I've never heard of, but most of the things I've typed in result in the computer equivalent of a blank stare.

We have the system set up with a monitor so other people can see what you're seeing while you're in the headset. I'm finding it really interesting how differently we each use it.

Mona hasn't bothered with any of it, because she says it's only fun if you are doing it with someone, and we only have one headset. (Although, technically, if someone wanted to reserve time at the VR place again, we could play each other remotely.) Ian has no interest in Beat Saber, but has explored the Google Earth function, and even found our cottage there.

But watching Aden and Quinn play Beat Saber is fascinating. Aden gets bored with anything that isn't fast and challenging and skips all lower levels. She wants interesting patterns to good songs, and as she plays looks like she's dancing. She doesn't care in any way about her score or technique. Quinn works through things methodically, and with efficiency of movement. He wants to be able to get through all of the highest levels in order. I'm actually really interested in technique. The more perfectly you cut a block, the higher your score. The most you can get for cutting a single block is 115 points, and my goal is to score at least 100 on every block I hit. I'm happy to go back to lower levels and make them as perfect as possible, and then try to apply those skills to the faster, more complicated levels.

The saddest thing about Beat Saber is there are few things where the disconnection between how you feel while doing it versus how you actually look is as silly. Swinging virtual light sabers around is fun and feels cool, but they are the combat equivalent of singing into a hairbrush in your bathroom. Very few people can pull that off in a way that anyone would want to watch.

But I don't care! Nobody's really watching.

Beat Saber is fun, I'm getting better at it, and it gets my heart rate up. It's a good addition to my routine. And if I know anyone with their own VR system who wants to meet up for game, let me know! It would be interesting to give that kind of remote play a try.