Thursday, April 28, 2011

New York Adventures Part 2 (Babble)

Where was I?  Oh yeah, New York.  Which now seems like a lifetime ago since we are currently back in the swing of school and violin and work and normal life in general.  Good thing I like my normal life or that would be depressing.  (Quinn is pining for New York, though.  He’s finding the return to normal life a step down from subway rides, pigeons, and a playroom instead of school.)

There was a lot to love about New York, most of which included spending time with people I love, but if I had to choose one thing specific to this trip that was special to me, I think it would be seeing how interested my girls were in the museums.  Aden in particular was wide eyed at everything.  She seemed to be trying to read every label at the Met.
(Aden, cousin Ellora, Mona and Quinn at the Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

It’s amazing to me that Aden has reached an age where she’s not only interested in things, but has just enough life experience and skills and stamina to really explore them.  She was deeply disappointed that we couldn’t spend all day at the Met, but her little brother was not up to more than a couple of hours, and her cousin was hungry.  Mona was game, but not able to grasp as much of the information as her sister.  Aden marveled at the Egyptian exhibits, loved the Tiffany glass, was impressed with the armor…. 

My favorite thing was an altarpiece ca 1390-1400 from northern Italy that was carved from bone.  It was exquisite, and Aden noticed details in it that I missed.  There was a time when she would have fallen limp from boredom next to such a thing the way poor tired Quinn did, but not this trip.  She studied it appreciatively and only moved on when I said we had to.

The same was true at the American Museum of Natural History.  Aden and Mona both were thrilled to be there and hated that we couldn’t do more, but between their brother dragging his tiny feet and our need to catch a plane the same day, it wasn’t possible.  The truly fun thing about that museum for us is that my brother, Barrett, used to work there as a model maker, so his tours are the best.  He came down to the city to overlap with us for a couple of days at the end of our trip, and at the museum he pointed out the frog he made on the Wall of Biodiversity (which Aden declared sincerely to be the most realistic of all the frogs on the wall) and his insect models in the rain forest display. 

One of the best parts about having Barrett along is he not only can answer most of my kids’ nature questions (which is way more interesting than listening to me say, “Hey, let’s Google that when we get home!”), but he knows odd behind the scenes information and things we would certainly miss (like the fact that they added a navel to the life sized blue whale model in the ocean life room during the last renovation).

(Quinn pointing out dinosaur footprints.)

I’ve decided that next year I want to get Aden and Mona each a sketch book and a nice set of pencils and pens and plan an entire day at one of the museums.  We will get there when they open, plan for snacks and a hot dog break out front with some time to feed pigeons, and stay until they close.  I want us to be able to take down notes about things that are interesting, make sketches of amazing displays, and take our time really learning about what’s there.  Ian and I agree that as much as we like to stick together as a family, it would be worth it from time to time to split up.  Quinn could have a day in the playroom at home while the girls and I explore something else.  I would have done that this time had I known, but my daughters have grown up more than I realized since last year.

We saw two shows on this trip.  The first was for the kids, which was a musical adaptation of the movie Madagascar.  The show itself bothered me, but being in Radio City Music Hall was magical.  It’s so grand, and I remember going there as a kid to see a Lassie movie, and the real (then current) Lassie was there!  I was excited to take my kids to such a famous place at an age where it would be so impressive.

But the show was not what it should have been.  The kids enjoyed it, but kids don’t have high standards.  The musical did the bare minimum it needed to do to appease children under ten, which was to feature the characters they know, glean the most memorable lines from the movie, and play the “I like to move it move it” song as often as they could get away with.  The music was taped, the choreography was boring, and they even dragged out six animatronic figures to fill out the ranks of the lemurs during a dance number like it was a Chuck E Cheese show. 

Now, again, the kids really liked it, so I’m not knocking the fact that we went, and considering my sister-in-law treated us to six tickets I don’t want to sound ungrateful to her because I’m not.  But!  I have to say, I was distressed at the lack of quality.  Would it have been more expensive to do it well?  As in hiring live musicians, and real dancers to fill out the background?  Of course.  But this was Radio City Music Hall in New York Freaking City.  They should not do the bare minimum, they should do the best.  The bar should be high.  If this was the touring show they brought to Milwaukee, I would have shrugged and said, “Oh, well.  They have to cut corners to make a profit on the road.”  But in New York?  It should be awesome.  They should make it so we leave the theater saying, “Wow!  That’s why you see things in New York!”

For that experience, we went to The Book of Mormon.

We almost couldn’t find tickets that we could afford, but after some internet searching and a willingness to splurge more than we had originally anticipated, Ian and I were able to go.  And it was totally and completely worth it.  The only stage production I’ve seen that surpassed it was a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in the original theater in Prague where it premiered, because that was transcendent in its greatness.  But this was funnier.  And look how close we were!
(We were way off to the side, but in row H.) 
I don’t think I can say enough good things about this show.  The timing of the jokes was perfect, I liked all the music, the voices and the pit orchestra were excellent, and the staging was so good it seemed unreal.  There is a number in act 2 about a Spooky Mormon Hell Dream that is an unbelievable spectacle, and then they strike the set and return it to a dreary little village in front of your eyes in a matter of seconds that left our jaws on the floor.  I would go again just to see that, to tell you the truth, because I watched them do it in front of me and I don’t know how they managed it.  And then you don’t have time to dwell on it because they cut right to a joke and you are laughing again.  And it’s completely obscene, but because all the swearing and crude references are used in the service of really profound and important themes it’s not gratuitous. 

Weirdly, despite the fact that the show doesn’t shy away from violence or topics like female genital mutilation, the overall effect is very sweet.  It’s a clever, hilarious toe-tapper that also makes you consider the origin and function of all religions.  It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen.  It left me thinking and laughing and humming great tunes, and I am so glad we went.  (My brother asked me if someday I would like a cast recording if one becomes available, and I told him I would, except that I don’t know where I could play it.  They didn’t even list the names of the songs in the program because they were so dirty.)

What else did we do in New York?  Well, every year we go to the Nintendo store and let my kids pick out a Pokemon toy.  My kids aren’t even that into Pokemon anymore, but they love getting a new toy to take home, and love knowing they picked them out near Rockefeller Center.  It’s a simple tradition that makes them happy so we always squeeze it in.
(Aden with Pikachu.) 
For myself, there were a few things that turned this into a work trip.  First of all, I was able to view instruments and bows for an upcoming auction at Christie’s.  My sister-in-law works there and was able to arrange for me to see things before the public viewing while I was still in town.  (I have a whole post I plan to write about that.)

I was also able to peek my nose in at the Babble headquarters which is down on Broadway.  That was fascinating, because I’d never met anyone I work with there in person.  Every once in awhile I read something in a comment thread suggesting that all the bloggers and staff actually know each other, (and maybe there are secret parties that only I am not invited to and I’m off base here), but really we’re way off in our different corners of the country doing our own things.  Until this trip I’ve never met anybody.  It was kind of nice to see Babble is a real operation with lots of busy people working hard and not some crazy hoax that I get emails from.  Everyone was so sweet to us, and my kids each got a bag of goldfish crackers which made them happy, but Quinn did pass out on a couch almost immediately.  I regret I didn’t get a photo because that would have been perfect here, but I do have a shot of him passed out on my husband’s shoulder once we got outside again.
Anyway, I work for nice people at Babble and that’s good to know. 
The other work thing I did was meet with a friend who is editing a book my husband and I have been working on.  We collected all our emails from the period of his first deployment because I think they are very interesting gathered all together.  Ian’s accounts of his time in Iraq during the surge are unlike anything else I’ve ever read, and my struggles at home with three tiny children were the most intense time of my life.  Even if nothing comes of it publishing-wise, it’s an account I think is worth preserving for our own family.

My friend, Alice, lives in Red Hook, which is a section of Brooklyn with an excellent view of the Statue of Liberty and some nice little neighborhoods.  She lives within walking distance of Ikea, so we took the ferry service Ikea runs from Manhattan to the store.  We loved seeing New York from the water (both in the afternoon and then at night on the return trip), Ikea is a convenient place to eat with kids, and we had a nice time relaxing at my friend’s home.
(Aden and Quinn on the Ikea Ferry)

The only downside to this excursion was when the editors at Babble asked what wonderful things we would be doing in New York that day, and I said we were going to Ikea.  I immediately realized that could not sound less inspired unless I topped it off by saying we were hoping to find a McDonald’s or something, so I started sputtering that we’d already been to the Met!  And Radio City Music Hall!  Oh yes, I can be so cool it hurts.  (If this blog suddenly disappears you will know why.)

And last but not least were the Easter things.  There was a bunny play!
The bunny play started off well, but grew painful as they got into the unrehearsed portions at the end.  (It would have gone better except that I took Aden out with me to Chelsea all afternoon instead of letting her stay home and organize everything, but it was worth it to have that time with her in the city.)  Aden loved directing everybody and has learned how to make things work better next year.  And Mona has great stage presence, so she was fun to watch even as things dragged on too long and got weird. And we dyed eggs!
Ian and I fled to Book of Mormon, though, rather than watch the chaos of the hunt unfold.  There were too many elements that my kids weren’t prepared for so I had a bad feeling about it.  My kids are used to searching for the specific eggs they each decorated, but because there were extra kids invited along my brothers divvied up the eggs at random.  They also thought filling the plastic eggs with things like chess pieces and an occasional potato would be a hoot–which it is until you watch a kid who was expecting chocolate open those eggs.  We asked how it all went when we got back from the show, and all anyone would say was that in maybe ten years they could all laugh about it.

I did like Aden’s homemade basket constructed from an egg carton.  And Quinn and some of the other kids had fun.  But otherwise it sounds like we have nowhere to go but up for next year’s egg hunt.

And that about roughly covers it.  We had long delays getting home, but overall it was fine.  Can’t wait for next year!

(Aden and her dad by our subway stop.  I’m proud at how good my kids got at using the subway!)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

New York Adventures Part 1 (Babble)

We just got back from our annual Easter trip to New York City.  It’s expensive and exhausting getting a family of five to New York and back, but worth it.  I’m impressed with how much we manged to pack into a week, and yet there was so much we never got to.  We already have plans for what to tackle next year.  Our trips tend to be a paradox of feeling both long and short at the same time somehow.

I could write about a hundred blog posts on different aspects of our adventure, but just to organize it in my head a bit here is the quick rundown of what we did:  Monday we went to Hoboken to see Carlo’s Bakery of Cake Boss fame.  Tuesday we spent a quiet rainy day at the apartment doing sand art and letting the kids play in the playroom across the hall.  Wednesday we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the park.  Thursday we saw Madagascar Live at Radio City Music Hall, made our annual pilgrimage to the Nintendo store to get Pokemon toys, and I got to look through violins and bows for the upcoming instrument auction at Christie’s.  Friday we visited the Babble office and then took the Ikea ferry to Brooklyn to meet with a friend who is helping us work on a book.  Saturday some people stayed home and a few of us hung out in Chelsea all afternoon, and then the kids put on a play after dinner.  Sunday we dyed and hid eggs, and Ian and I were able to go off to see Book of Mormon on our own.  Monday was the Museum of Natural History and the flight home.  Mixed in with all of that was a lot of time on subways, eating from carts, walking, rain, wind, and Quinn threw up a few times in the night (you know, to keep it real I’m sure).

So I’m just going to dive in and see how much I can get to writing about, and if there is something in that list anyone specifically wants to hear more about just speak up.
First off, navigating an airport with three small kids is a special event in and of itself.  I’ve been doing this for awhile, and I’ve got some ideas to share for anyone interested. 

Always assume there will be a long delay.  The only times I’ve gotten in trouble traveling with my kids is when I’ve paced myself in terms of activities and snacks only to find out there is an extra two hours to fill that I hadn’t planned on.  I keep a box at home of art supplies we use just for travel.  Those twistable crayons are great, lots of pads of paper, and little activity books with mazes and dot to dot games, etc.  I usually pack Uno cards, a ball, and a DVD in my laptop.  When the girls were smaller a magnadoodle kept them very busy and was perfect for the airport and the plane.  Usually I hide small chocolate eggs or Hershey kisses at our gate (on the Milwaukee end, anyway) and that keeps them happy and occupied during delays.  I dole out single tic tacs to any child willing to read me an ad on the wall and explain to me what it means.

(Kids hunkered down with their projects at the Milwaukee airport during a long delay.)

The biggest revelation about travel came a few years back when I realized my girls, at least, were capable of dragging small travel bags themselves.  We found cute ones at Target pretty cheap.  It’s so much easier for us to each have our own carry on bag instead of trying to pack one big one to check.  Quinn now has his own bag, too, and we get around like a little luggage convoy when we travel.

(Kids at LaGuardia wheeling along.) 
We try to keep the kids in shoes that are easy to slip on and off (although remembering to check that they are wearing socks is an issue for us), and they are good about helping get those trays onto the conveyor belts for shoes and jackets.

Anyway, New York!  What’s the first thing we did in New York?  Leave for New Jersey!  It only takes a bit over an hour to get to Hoboken by subway so we took the kids to visit Carlo’s Bakery.  Aden and Mona are big fans of the show Cake Boss (although we haven’t seen any recent episodes because we only watch what’s available on Netflix) and they really wanted to see the famous bakery for themselves. 

Sounded like a great idea, but unfortunately many many other little girls also had the same great idea.  In fact, when we exited the subway station and stepped onto the streets of Hoboken, a man passing us the other direction saw our little band of kids, shook his head and smiled while saying, “Carlo’s Bakery,” and nodded the right direction.  And we found it all right.  There was a line to the end of the block, and when we got behind a woman at the corner, she said, “No, this isn’t the end of the line.  THAT’S the end of the line.”  And she pointed down the next block and the block after that to a sea of people that we never did spot the end of.  Estimated wait time was four hours.

(Part of the line in Hoboken) 
We weren’t doing that.  We used the bathroom in the city hall across the street, asked a guard inside where he would take kids for cupcakes that wouldn’t require an all day wait, and he sent us to a cute place called Crumbs with no line a few blocks away.  It wasn’t exactly like being able to say we stepped on the set of Cake Boss, but what kids are going to complain when they get handed this?

(Aden, Mona, and their cousin Ellora with a snack in Hoboken.  Mona’s favorite movie candy is Sno Caps, so that she could order a cupcake covered with them made her day.)

But we did peek in the window of Carlo’s Bakery, and we can say we were there, and that was fun even if we didn’t go inside.  Although the kids have already asked if next year we can plan ahead and get there very very early.  Since we have a backup bakery now, why not?

So when my kids think of New Jersey they think of cupcakes.  When they think of New York they think of the playroom across the hall from their cousin’s apartment.  A lot of time in New York is spent playing, and this trip they put together a network of stores.  Quinn sold balls.  When I selected a few to buy, he told me they were $5 and then handed me some homemade money.  Aden’s a little more savvy and actually takes money rather than giving it out when you buy something from her, and Mona’s thing was all about adopting animals so they could go for a ride in her cart.  Or something.  I have a hard time following the ins and outs of their games.

My brother and his family also have a dog, and this is also a big part of New York for them.
I think we are very lucky to have family in a place like New York City so that our memories are so personal.  We had a great time exploring the Met, and we do things other tourists do, but we get to combine that with the fun of cooking waffles in the morning and hanging out in a real home.  It’s a big adjustment squeezing five extra people into an apartment that usually holds three, and it doesn’t always run smoothly, but it’s family and that’s important even when it’s not easy.  There’s nothing like seeing my kids with their cousin and hearing them whispering together in their bunk beds at night.  I love that.

And I think that’s all the energy I have for blogging right now.  It’s great to be home, but the flight back took longer than expected, and you never realize how tired you are until you have a moment to really sit still, and I am wiped out.  More soon.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

How do you hold onto something you cannot touch? (Babble)

Memory is fascinating.  When the topic comes up, most people think about how good they are at keeping track of details or how far back they can remember.  But memory is broader and deeper and more ethereal than that.

When my grandmother started showing signs of dementia, the way in which her memory defined her was both alarming and intriguing.  The rules of conversation had to be completely rewritten to accommodate her when we visited.  Relationships formed in recent decades went out of focus, but figures from the past loomed large.  The purpose of time spent with grandma had to be accepted in new ways because we would travel ten hours to visit with her knowing as soon as we left our efforts would be forgotten.  I hadn’t realized how much I considered visiting people in terms of ‘creating memories’ until that part of it left the equation.

Being with grandma toward the end was about being purely in the moment because the memory would be one sided at best.  In the case of someone like Mona, neither she nor my grandma would likely retain a memory of their time together, Mona being too young to remember and grandma being too old.  To watch any interaction between them was surreal knowing I would likely be the only person in the room to come away with any memory of that time at all.

I seem to have a pretty good memory, although I wish it were better.  One of my brothers doesn’t remember much from his childhood from before age 12, so when he wants to recall something from his past he asks me.  He declared me keeper of family memories at one point.  It’s a nice role, I just hope I do it justice.

But parenting has altered how I think about retaining memories.  I used to fear losing any memories about my past because it felt like part of me was disappearing.  I kept things simply because I had clear memories associated with them, whether those memories were worth holding onto or not.

That changed when I was pregnant the first time and was clearing space for the baby.  I didn’t care about the details of my past the same way.  My childhood was done.  I was excited about the new memories coming that would be about a new childhood.  Building memories for the baby mattered to me more than preserving my own past.  I was able to let many objects go.  I would look fondly at something, enjoy the memory that went with it accepting that it may be for the last time, and then give it up either to the trash or Goodwill.  Having children is more about looking forward than looking back most days, and I’m fine with that.  It’s almost a relief.

It has been stunning to observe how memory works in my children and what they experience.  I am constantly amazed by either something they remember or something they don’t.  Aden has an excellent memory for the objects in my parents’ house in Michigan, for instance, even though typically we only visit once a year.  She also has a very good memory for language and emotions.

Mona seems to have very strong tactile memories which help her when she’s building things, but labels don’t concern her.  She can never remember which room I mean when I say ‘the living room’ or ‘the dining room.’  She has no interest in remembering which of her twin uncles is which and uses their names interchangeably, even if only one of them is around and she’s been told which one it is.  But obscure moments from visits to the cottage she can describe in detail, or whole strings of dialogue from a show she likes that we haven’t seen in awhile will roll off her tongue with no problem.

Quinn learned the name and location of every country in Africa in three days at age two.  It was impressive, and then he was bored by it and forgot everything.  He’s gone through several different phases of learning something incredible and then just letting it go.  He recently rediscovered his love of sign language, and I can’t tell if he’s picking it up quickly because he remembers any of it from when he was a baby, or just because he picks things up quickly.

I think a lot about where the cutoff for some memories are.  I can tell you with certainty what I ate for lunch yesterday.  A week from now that will get sketchy, and at some point it will be gone.  I think about how that relates to what my children know.  All my kids have been to visit their grandmother in Portland, Oregon.  If you’d asked them on the day we returned to Milwaukee if they remembered any of it they would have of course said yes.  A week later that would have still been true.

But somewhere between now and then there was a day where it slipped away from them, and they no longer remember Portland.  Fall of 2008 was half of Quinn’s life ago, so he doesn’t know what I’m talking about when I refer to something we did on that trip.  Mona might remember it if we returned there, but can’t recall anything on her own at this point.  Aden, if you jog her memory a little, can remember quite a bit, mostly about a unicycle race in the mud we saw.  She can tell you a bit about her grandmother’s house, but those memories are not very stable.  I wonder about knowing something one day, and having that memory evaporate the next.  I think that’s how our memories of being babies vanish, one day at a time.

Today my grandma lives only in memory.  I feel her keenly, some days more than others, but I wonder how strong any of my kids’ memories of her will be over time.  Quinn does not remember her, and I don’t expect Mona to for much longer.  Aden clings to memories like precious objects the same way I tend to, so she will resist letting her great-grandmother go.  Photos will help, but photos can trick us into thinking we remember things that we don’t.

I have a feeling Aden may be the keeper of our little family’s memories in the long run.  She’s a sentimental pack rat who likes to bake and that’s a recipe for handing down family stories and traditions.  I wonder who I will be to her when I’m no longer here.  I trust Aden to edit me in a good light one day, but I think about that as I interact with her in the present sometimes.  I can’t know which of the things we do now will stick with any of my kids.  I can only hope they look back one day and see a lot of love and maybe a few really good cakes.

grandma and Mona at the cottage

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Perler Bead Love (Babble)

Do you do perler beads?  I had no idea what they even were until a few years ago.  If you’re still in a parenting stage that involves being wary of choking hazards, then you likely aren’t stocked up on perler beads, but we are drowning in them at our house.

For the uninitiated, perler beads are tiny plastic cylinders with a hole in the middle that you arrange on a little pegboard and then melt with an iron so they stick together and maintain their collective shape.

You end up with colorful and useless little shapes to keep forever and ever.  I’ve already decided that one day when my kids are grown I will gather up their perler bead creations and declare them to be coasters, but in the meantime they are just ever present little objects scattered around our home that I am forbidden to throw away.
Aden does rather creative things with perler beads, making things of her own design like small animals that come with accessories.  For Easter she made a series of small bunnies with carrots and baskets.  But right now supreme ruler of perler bead land is Quinn.  He loves them.  He’s been cranking out lots of shapes lately.  He likes to line up the empty pegboards in the order that he will fill them in….

….and then line them up again by category when they are finished.
The whole perler bead activity is a good fit for Quinn and his interest in lining things up.  He’s good at arranging all the little beads and carefully bringing them to the kitchen counter for ironing.  Quinn likes it when I just hang out with him while he does his own thing, so sometimes I’ll play around with the perler beads myself.  I decided to make an alphabet, so every time I sit down with him and he’s in perler bead mode I make the next couple of letters.  For some reason Quinn’s favorite letter is R (I think because it’s fun to do in sign language which is just crossing your fingers, but who knows?), and he’s looking forward to me making that one when I get there.
In any case, one day I will have many coasters and fewer beads on my floor.  (Luckily stray perler beads aren’t as painful to step on in bare feet as legos, but they just as ubiquitous.)  As far as crafts go it’s less messy than painting, and light years better than moon sand (what a horrible gritty mess that stuff is) and it’s easier to clean up than play dough.  It’s one of those phases that could be annoying if I weren’t sure it will be short lived.  Too much of childhood goes by quickly, and I like how seriously Quinn bends over his perler bead work as if he’s doing an important job.  And it is an important job because it’s part of being a kid.  He’ll be independent soon enough and won’t need my help with little things the way he does now.  Despite the frustrating repetition sometimes of tending to small children, something about the perler bead projects reminds me what my role is as a parent.  On some level, picking up and ironing perler beads, along with respecting those odd little plastic creations once they are formed, makes me a parent.  And I love being a parent.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stolen! (Babble)

When I tell people I build violins, after we get past the questions about wood and how long everything takes, they usually want to know where the very first instrument I built is.  The answer has never been particularly interesting because I didn’t feel as if I should sell it, so I had it on long term loan to the music therapy department of the conservatory where I teach.  One of my dearest friends uses it from time to time with some of her clients.
But now I have a cooler answer: I think it’s been stolen!
(My first violin, front and back views.)

Sometimes when we team teach a violin/music therapy student, we pull out my violin to use.  When we’re done I leave it for my friend to put away again, but something went awry the other week and distractions happen and the instrument got left in the room.  And now it’s gone!

My friend, of course, is upset and embarrassed, and I don’t mean to write this so that she should feel worse, because I don’t want her to feel bad.  I forgave her before I even knew about it if such a thing is possible.  If anyone is a decent enough person to deserve a free pass, it’s my friend, so I really am fine.  And now my first violin has a new mystique!  I mean, seriously, when people ask me about my first instrument I can say it’s been stolen!  That’s actually interesting.

There aren’t that many places you can take a violin to in Milwaukee, so I wonder if it will come through my door for repairs or an appraisal.  How wild would that be?!  Ian says if it does we should get a nice photo of the person with the instrument before finding some excuse to hang onto it.  That’s way more exciting than it sitting safe and sound at the conservatory.  Where is it?  What is it doing?  Is someone at least playing it?  Does it sound good?  Does someone feel bad about playing a stolen violin, or is it exciting?  I’m intrigued.

But the whole thing got me thinking about our relationships to the things we make, which includes children.  I forget sometimes that my husband and I made our children because I honestly think of them as making themselves, which is closer to the truth.

I started thinking about that way back when I was a kid and I begged my parents to let me watch a made for TV movie one night.  I had gotten completely sold on the idea that I must watch ‘Loving War’ starring Cheryl Ladd.  I had never heard of Cheryl Ladd, but the ads made it sound very important that she was in it, and I remember trying to convince my dad to let me watch this movie!  Because no child should miss it!  And it starred Cheryl Ladd!  I can be such a sucker.  My dad remained unimpressed by the star power of Cheryl Ladd but did say I could watch the movie, which was essentially the tale of a single woman raising a daughter and the tension that ensued.  I remember in particular a scene where Cheryl Ladd is inspired by a mother and daughter happily buying material together to make dresses and she tries to reproduce the scene with her own child but it just ends up in a fight.  Anyway, the heartfelt theme song to this must see TV drama had lyrics that went, “(something something) my flesh, my blood and my bone, something I made that I don’t own, (something something) Kind of like a loving war.”

(And by the way, I have now checked the internet for this oh so fabulous drama and I’m starting to doubt my sanity because it is nowhere in Cheryl Ladd’s filmography, but I remember it!  I do!  I swear!  I can hum that tune that I still remember a few of the words from.  And trying to use the name of Cheryl Ladd as a selling point to my father who would not have watched Charlie’s Angels if you had held a gun to his head is the only reason I know her name to this day.  So either I invented it, there is a cover up involved, or the internet has not done a thorough enough examination of the work of Cheryl Ladd.  I have no idea.  Anyway….)

I was really struck by the idea of a child as something you could make but not own.  My grandmother ran into people through the adoption agency where she worked where that was an issue.  There were people with no investment in the lives of children they had made who nonetheless felt entitled to them on some level that had to do with ownership.  I remember one story in particular of a boy in foster care whose foster parents desperately wanted to adopt him as their own, but the biological parents lived out of state and performed the bare minimum number of duties necessary to prevent themselves from technically losing their rights.  They would make one brief visit a year and then return to their lives secure in the fact that the child was still theirs, and leave the actual parenting to others.  My grandmother believed the loving thing would have been to let him go, but she said some people can’t give up on the thought that something belongs to them, even if it’s a person.

In terms of objects, questions of ownership aren’t always straightforward either.  We used to have discussion in our home about what obligations are involved in owning art.  There was a collector back in the 90’s who supposedly asked that he be buried with a Van Gogh painting he paid millions for.  For all kinds of reasons that’s wrong, but is someone really entitled to do that?  It’s already questionable in my mind for private collectors to squirrel away great works of art out of sight from where the public can appreciate them, but can you destroy them?  Is that legal?  If you own a Strad how much are you entitled to do with it?  Most people who play expensive instruments like that don’t own them outright and are under contract to have them only worked on by certain people, so the risk is small that anyone would ever deviate from what was appropriate, but what if you did own it? 

Actually, the crazy part of important instruments like that is they own their players in a way.  They have stories centuries long, and if you are privileged enough to play one you become a chapter in their book, not so much the other way around.

But what about things you make yourself?  This gets us back to my violin.  (Which, did you hear?  May have been stolen!)  People are often surprised when I tell them I don’t miss the instruments I build when they sell.  I will make more.  They are not intended for me.  They are supposed to be out in the world making music.  My interest is always in the next instrument, the one I haven’t built yet.  I want to make lots of violins, not own lots of violins.  It’s the process of creation that excites me, not collecting.  I like the viola I built for myself, but if some other player fell in love with it and asked to buy it, I would be thrilled to send it off toward new musical ventures and I would pull some spruce and maple out of my woodpile and make something new.

We talked about this a bit at our last parent/child book club meeting.  At the end of Little House on the Prairie, it’s kind of shocking after everything they built and everything they survived that they had to up and abandon it all.  The house, the stable, the well, the farm….  They worked so hard, but because the land they built on was in a disputed territory, they packed up the wagon again and left.  In the book, Pa doesn’t seem overly concerned.  He’s confident that they can build again.  The other people in the book club found this perplexing, but I think I understand it.  I told them that when you have the ability to make something, you take that with you, and the objects matter less.  If you can make a house, you know how to make it again.  I think it’s harder to give up objects you can’t make yourself.  I can’t make a house, so the idea of abandoning one is painful.  In Pa’s case, he would have probably been more upset if he’d lost his fiddle.  (I can’t do anything else that man managed in that book, but at least I’m one up on him there.)

I love interesting objects.  I would miss our pachinko machine if something happened to it, or the tiny dish of stars I bought in Venice, or the coffee table that used to sit in my grandma’s family room.  There are things that are precious to me and irreplaceable, but in the end things are just things.  We are caretakers of objects in this lifetime, but they are not as important as the people who enjoy them.

So maybe my violin will turn up.  It could just be misplaced somewhere in the building.  Or maybe someone really did swipe it.  I’d prefer it was stolen and being played than lost and silent.  In the meantime, if someone tries to sell you a one of a kind first ever violin made by someone named Korinthia Klein, slip me an email.  I want to meet them!  (And introduce them to these nice people in blue….)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Books in Production (Babble)

Aden and a friend of hers have been working on a series of small books.  I think it’s an adventure story about bunnies….  No, wait, one of them was about the cat that was stuck in our deck.  I’m not sure.  I hear so many bits and fragments of ideas for projects that it’s hard to keep them straight.  Anyway, Aden asked the other day, “Mom?  How do you get a book published?” and I burst out laughing thinking about the pile of unpublished novels I’ve written tucked away upstairs and said, “Honey, you are asking the wrong person!  I have no idea!”  Luckily I just write because I like to write and if those books never see any readers beyond my family and friends that’s okay.  And luckily for Aden I don’t mind helping her produce her books on her own.

We’ve actually been in heavy book production mode here lately.  We were trying to figure out what to get my niece for her birthday, and settled on making her some books.  Ellora is the most avid fan of books in the under ten crowd I’ve ever known, and it’s hard to buy things for her that she hasn’t already read.  So to sidestep that problem we decided to make our own.

Quinn’s was finished first.  It’s a book about a butterfly birthday.

He was actually feeling out of sorts the other day so I kept him home from school and we spent all morning deciding on the exact wording of the text and making pictures to go with them.  When we got it all done to Quinn’s liking we took it to Kinko’s to have the pages laminated and bound while we ate lunch across the street.  It was a really pleasant day and totally worth having him miss a day of kindergarten for, especially since he went back refreshed and happy to be there the next day.  (Even kindergarteners need a mental health day from time to time.)  Check out a few of my favorite pages:

Didn’t it come out cute?  I think his cousin will like it.

Mona’s book is almost ready for binding.  She did a counting book inspired by a book she really likes.  We still have to do some editing for things like backwards numbers and a few odd words, but she really wanted to do all the text herself so I’m proud of her.  Spelling is not her strong suit at the moment, but I like that she’s fearless about putting stuff down on the page anyway.  Over the summer I’m going to focus on spelling and writing with Mona.  Look how adorable these sheep are, though!

I don’t mind the word ‘sheep’ spread out over two lines, but I’m going to help her remove the extra ‘the’ that somehow found its way into that sentence.  I like the way Mona draws squirrels

Aden, of course, is making something complicated.  She is doing something like an I Spy book, but it involves challenges and stories and games….  I told her we’re on a deadline and maybe we could do all of that for Christmas and take our time, but no, she’s barreling ahead.  I’m getting worried about her getting it all done but I admire her ambition.  I just hope we don’t end up with a mess of tears and frustration to take to her cousin instead of a book.  We’ll see.  I have faith in Aden to come up with something, even if at the moment all she has done is an enhanced checker board:
I’m pleased with how seriously the kids have buckled down to produce these books.  They have so many of their own projects that they are working on at any given moment that I wasn’t sure they could focus on getting something specific done on time, but they’re really trying. 

In fact today they got up at 5:30 in the morning to get in some time on them before school.  It had me really confused because Ian got up with them and they all went downstairs and left me to sleep, but then I woke up at 6:30 to Quinn standing by my bed asking me to help adjust something about his shirt.  I got it in my head it was 7:30 and couldn’t understand why he hadn’t left for school.  I didn’t figure it out until I went downstairs and found the girls busily working at the dining room table and Ian still in his robe.  I am not a morning person, so all of that industriousness that early in the day kind of threw me for a loop.  Or maybe I just need to review how to read a clock.  Either way book production continues!  (Maybe I should just laminate my novels and bind them at Kinko’s too.  Because that looks professional!)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Glasses Are Still Weird (Babble)

I’ve now had glasses for about a year.  I’m not good about remembering to wear them, so I still think of myself as a person who “has glasses” rather than a person who “wears glasses.”  But I have at least grown to accept them more than I did when I first realized I should get a pair, and decided recently to get some glasses that were a little more bold.
My first pair of glasses (which I plan to keep by my bed) are simple and not particularly noticeable.  I needed time to ease into being a person with glasses, and these have been like the training bra of eyewear.  A lot of people last year told me when I first started wearing them that they couldn’t figure out if I’d always had them because they just blended in, which was fine by me.  This is what those look like:

But I’ve decided to embrace the whole glasses thing better, starting with bolder frames that really look like I’m wearing glasses.  I have plans to also invest in a pair that is truly fun and interesting as soon as I spot something that really strikes my fancy, but in the meantime these are my new, more noticeable glasses:

I figure these put me more on the Tina Fey rather than the Sarah Palin end of the glasses wearing spectrum, which seems more funky and fun.  I don’t know.  It’s hard to judge your own looks sometimes, so I’m going with the fact that Ian says I look good, and my kids aren’t objecting.

(I wish I had a photo of my kids when they were trying on anything within reach at Target optical, but they wouldn’t let me take one.  Mona was drawn to huge sunglasses, and Quinn liked everything with rhinestones.  The responsible adult in me kept telling them to put things back, but I loved watching them try on glasses.  If any of my kids ever need a pair they will look adorable.)

The thing that’s still funny to me is that I don’t wildly need glasses, but both eye doctors now have been just appalled that I don’t wear them all the time.  They act as if I’m practically blind which is crazy.  I see better with the glasses, but fine without them.  I’m typing this post without them.  (So if you don’t like my writing, be nice!  Apparently I’m doing this practically blind!)  All the people I know who wear glasses try mine on and say they don’t do anything as far as they can see, so I don’t think it’s dire and don’t understand what is freaking the doctors out.  Are eye doctors just easy to freak out?  I wish I understood what my prescription meant, though.  I asked for a copy in case I come across super cute frames at some other store, but it doesn’t say something like “left eye is 20/40” or anything that I was expecting.  It says: Distance–OD Spherical +1.5, Cylinder -2.25, Axis 005.  Distance–OS Spherical +1.5, Cylinder -1.75, Axis 003.  Near Add +1.00.  (Maybe those of you who can interpret that are freaking out, in which case, you are welcome for the adrenaline rush.)

I’m a big wimp in some ways, and the idea of any kind of eye surgery makes me just grit my teeth and wince, so embracing glasses is the most likely long term plan for me.  And I’m getting there!  Next pair of frames will be super cool, and I will be ready to show them off.  In the meantime, I really like the new ones.  I actually feel kind of cute.  (Not Mona cute, but there’s no way to compete with that.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

When Nothing Means Everything (Babble)

I love days like this.  There aren’t enough of them for me right now and I’m really excited.  I’m still in bed after sleeping in and you know what lies before me?  A whole day of nothing.  Nothing!  Like a big ball of bliss to kick around, there are no plans, no demands, just a whole lot of nothing.  It’s like the best present ever.  Like being handed a very special bouquet.
So much for us has to be tightly scheduled.  My kids can never seem to understand why my husband and I insist on getting things done at particular times, but we keep pointing to the clock and saying, “We only have an hour before we have to clear the table for dinner so you need to finish your homework now so we can get out of here in time for (insert violin or choir or swim lessons or a concert here).”  There is a lot to squeeze into an average day and we spend a lot of time badgering the kids into using the bathroom and putting on coats or hanging coats up or just getting a move on.

In terms of my job, Saturdays wipe me out.  I’m at the violin store alone and it’s our busiest day.  I’ve had as many as a dozen people at once in my little shop for hours at a time, and it’s exhausting keeping everything straight.  There are people exchanging rental violins and looking at instruments and bringing in bows to be rehaired.  Some Saturdays I don’t get to sit down at my bench to do repair work until well into the afternoon when there is finally a lull in the foot traffic.  By the time I get home I’m usually pretty dazed, and yesterday was no exception.

But today?  There is nothing on my plate.  (Except, possibly, waffles to eat that I hear Ian making downstairs.)  No school events, no book club, no concerts, no errands that must be done today, no Army related anything, no play dates, no travel, no visitors, no appointments.

I asked Quinn a couple of days ago when I was looking at the calendar and saw a big hole of nothing sitting on today what he wanted to do with it.  I told him I could take him to the zoo or the children’s museum or anywhere he liked.  He cuddled closer on my lap and said, “Nowhere.”  That surprised me a little, so I said, “Really, where is the one place you most want to go and I will take you there on Sunday” and he said, “Home.  I love being home.”  Can’t argue with that.  Home is my favorite place in the world, too.

And the bonus is that today is supposed to be warm.  Like, very warm.  Like, out of the 40’s and into the 70’s, just for today, and then it goes back to feeling like spring in Milwaukee again tomorrow.  People who live where it’s warm all the time don’t appreciate it in the same way.  Here, the moment the sun comes out and you can tolerate the air outside without a jacket, everyone goes outside.  People take it in and enjoy it for all it’s worth.  I lived in Mexico one summer in college, and every day was gorgeous, and it stopped registering after awhile.  No one ever said, “It’s beautiful out!  We must do something with it!” because it would be beautiful the next day too, and no one was interested.   When it’s beautiful here it almost seems like a crime not to get out and enjoy it, and no one takes it for granted.

I think I’m going to spend the morning working in our yard.  There are a lot of plants peeking up and too many dead leaves and sticks blocking their way.  We had an impressive hail storm last week that knocked a million tiny sticks all over our yard that need to be raked as well.  Being outside and neatening things up sounds great to me.  Normally there isn’t time.  There is talk of going out for a sundae at Leon’s Frozen Custard at some point.  We might grill something for dinner, which when we say that to the kids means they hear the word s’mores.  We might walk to Target for something.  We might not.

My life goes back into full tilt crazy tomorrow with getting the kids off to school, exercising, work, rushing home for dinner and then a rehearsal until 9:00, but today?  Ha!  If I do anything today it’s because I want to.  There’s not another hole like that on my calendar for a long, long, time.

Here’s wishing all of you nothing!  (And I mean that in the best possible way!)

UPDATE:  I’m sore from all the nothing I did today.  Got the whole yard raked (seven big bags worth), and that was really satisfying.  Of the kids, only Aden took real advantage of the weather by biking, making kites, pushing a neighbor’s baby in a stroller around the block, and all manner of general play.  Mona spent a few minutes on her scooter and the swing, but then retreated inside to make things out of paper and play on the computer.  Quinn, who has worn nothing but short sleeves and flip flops all winter, was decked out in a long sleeved turtleneck, heavy pants and socks.  He collected pine cones while I raked and then went back inside to draw.  They did all come outside to enjoy the latest bubble machine I picked up on a quick trip to Target today (I have a thing for bubble makers and this one was on sale!) and we grilled burgers and ate on the deck.  The day ended with s’mores and much needed baths.  Life is damn good sometimes.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Friday Night Movie Night 2 (with moral dilemma bonus feature) (Babble)

Ah, Movie Night.  Both times Ian was deployed in Iraq I found it very helpful to set frequent small events to look forward to.  There were too many days (weeks, months….) to try counting down to when “daddy was coming home” without it getting depressing, so I always tried to have something imminent to draw the kids’ focus toward something good. 

The most successful of these was the implementation of Friday Night Movie Night.
Friday Night Movie Night is now an entrenched ritual, and one that it has been nice to add Ian to now that he’s back.  We got a special popcorn popper just for movie night, and Aden is queen of the popcorn (although she doesn’t feel comfortable doing the last step of flipping the popper over to release the bowl it comes with).  We pull the convertible love seat out into bed-mode and pile on among pillows and blankets.  Five of us don’t really fit all that comfortably, but we make do.  (A new arrangement will have to be figured out when Quinn is no longer a pint-sized little sweetie who can sit directly in front of me without blocking my view.)  Sometimes it’s inconvenient and a bit of a hassle, but I love Friday Night Movie Night.

The biggest blow to this weekly event was the closing of our local video store.  Many a Friday afternoon was spent at Bucky’s Supervideo wandering the aisles and trying to come to a family consensus on what to rent.  But sadly, Bucky’s closed it’s doors a few months ago, and the DVD selection at our local library is… let’s say ‘unpredictable.’  The library is also closed on Fridays, so we actually have to plan ahead.  Or choose from whatever odd things are available on Netflix Instant View or already on our own shelves.
In any case, I thought I’d throw out some of our lessons learned thus far, offer ideas and suggestions for movies to those with small kids, and hope for more recommendations from anyone out there who are in the mood to just name good movies.

It’s hard finding things that all five of us want to watch, and if we get started late sometimes we need to keep movie night short.  To customize the length of movie night we often turn to things with lots of small episodes.  Our favorites are Shaun the Sheep, Spongebob Squarepants, and Pingu.  Shaun the Sheep is a spin off of the Wallace and Gromit claymation movies.  They are fun for adults and they keep Quinn laughing too.  Pingu is odd and sweet, and Spongebob is just funny. 

By comparison, we recently watched a collection of old Felix the Cat cartoons, and man they were weird.  They contained some uncomfortable portrayals of race that we had to explain, and even though the kids enjoyed them simply because they were cartoons, Ian and I found them to be really pitiful in every respect.  Which is funny, because I remember liking them as a kid myself, but they don’t hold up well.  They were amusing but only because they were kind of unintentionally surreal.  Anyway, it’s nice to have lots of little episodes in a row because you can find a good stopping point instead of interrupting a larger story if people are too tired to stay up.

Silent movies are fun.  My kids really enjoyed Modern Times and still talk about it.  I like that my kids know who Charlie Chaplain is, and that they are not put off by things in black and white or without speech.  They are fans of Harold Lloyd, too.  Since nearly everything had to be expressed without words, the gestures, etc., are exaggerated enough for even little kids to follow.  My kids also like the Marx Brothers, but only Aden is old enough to get the fast verbal jokes.  Everyone loves Harpo.  It’s fun to point out to the kids how many of the gags they enjoy in the Animaniacs and other shows were lifted straight from old movies and now they are in on the references.

Pixar movies seem to be a little too intense for my kids for some reason, which is a shame because I wouldn’t mind watching Up again, or Toy Story 2.  If there is one scene in a film that gets them too nervous they nix the whole movie.  (Maybe when they are older.)
We try to introduce the kids to things we liked growing up.  We did some old episodes of The Muppet Show and Rocky and Bullwinkle and those went over well.

We’ve seen every available Miyazaki animated film, (why those aren’t freakier to them than Pixar movies I don’t know) but Ian hasn’t seen most of them, so they are due for a rerun.  The kids like My Neighbor Totoro best, probably.  Ponyo is maybe the weirdest film I’ve ever seen, but if you give up on the idea that it needs to make any sense it’s enjoyable.

Actually, that reminds me of something I meant to write about a full year ago and never got around to.  I had a weird moral dilemma and would be curious about other people’s opinions.  One of the movies we watched while Ian was away that the kids liked best was Kiki’s Delivery Service.  It’s another Miyazaki film, and therefore it was originally in Japanese and the English version is dubbed.  My kids loved that movie, particularly Aden, who adored the music and memorized all the dialogue.  We got it in the mail through Netflix and hung onto it for weeks.  After a month of endless viewings we happened across a copy of the movie on sale at Target.  I thought, “Great!  We will own it and I can finally send the other copy back to Netflix!”

Unfortunately, the new copy of Kiki’s Delivery Service had been dubbed differently from the one we were used to.  Some of the lines had been changed, and something about the music was different.  (I’m not sure of the details because I, personally, don’t care.  But Aden can run a list off for you.)  The kids hated it.  Actually, I think just Aden hated it, and by extension the other kids decided they hated it too.

So I thought about it, and wondered if it would be wrong to mail our new copy back to Netflix and keep the old one.  There was a small sticker with a bar code on it around the hole in the center of the DVD on the Netflix copy, and it would be easy enough to pull that off and move it over to the other DVD.  I figured how bad could it be?  They get a newer cleaner copy, we get to keep the one that makes the kids happy, it was win win.  But Aden saw me messing with the little sticker on the DVD and asked me what I was doing.  I explained what I’d been thinking, and then she said, “Isn’t that stealing?”  So I stopped and said that maybe it was.  What lesson was I teaching Aden?

I pondered it for several days.  If switching the DVDs was potentially positive all around, was it wrong?  I decided to call Netflix.  I got a nice woman in customer service whose first reaction was that I try the switch and see if I get away with it.  I told her I didn’t want to “get away with it,” that’s why I was calling.  If I had permission, it wasn’t wrong.  I wanted to be above board.  She thought about it a little longer, and said most people when they wanted to keep something just pretend they lost it and paid the small fine.  I told her I didn’t want to pretend anything, that my daughter was watching, and I wanted to be honest.  She thought about it a little more.  She was a fan of the film and knew about the differences between the two versions.  She said the only potential problem for Netflix was that all the copies they owned were of the first version, and someone else trying to rent it again might be confused to get a different version in the mail.  It was an interesting conversation, and in the end she decided it probably wasn’t right of her as a representative of the company to suggest I do anything other than send back the copy they originally sent me.  Which is what I did.

Aden still refuses to watch the newer version, even though I have a hard time believing a year later she remembers every nuance of what is different, but she might.  I may insist on it anyway some Friday night and tell her to get over it already.

But what does anyone else think?  It’s not a quandary for the ages by any means, but it was an interesting little ethical puzzle to me for a little while.  Ethics are important to me.  I want my children to be compassionate, critically thinking, ethical people, and those are qualities best led by example.  So I’m comfortable with how that got resolved, even though I’m sure many people would have made a different choice and not seen it as a big deal.  But to me if the end result is that Aden can say to herself, “Mommy doesn’t steal” then it was worth it.

Okay!  It’s almost Friday!  Movie suggestions!  I need ’em!