Monday, November 28, 2011

Odds, Ends, and a Hopeless Challenge (Babble)

Did you have a good Thanksgiving?  I hope so.  We had a lovely time here with friends over and lots of food and it was great.

But first thing the next morning I drove to Detroit to visit my parents.  My dad has been back in the hospital, and it was hard to decide what to do.  I felt I should go out there but didn’t know if bringing the kids would be too much, and I didn’t want to be apart from them during Thanksgiving (or a birthday).  I finally decided it made more sense to go alone right after turkey day.

I always try to take a picture of my kids right before I leave for a trip by myself, and this was Friday’s:
They are all in the glow of the computer because Mona didn’t want to stop the game she was in the middle of, so rather than have her quit I had Quinn and Aden pose on either side and told Mona she had to look at me when I counted to three.

Anyway, my dad’s health problems are posing all kinds of difficulties for my parents at the moment, mostly because his mobility is limited.  But we played Scrabble and I read to him a little, showed him photos of the kids and pictures of our new porch, and talked about our new dog.  It was a nice visit.

However, I’m still feeling out of sorts after the long drive there and back and frazzled about Mona’s upcoming party and a concert I have to play this week and about a million other things that are making it hard to focus on one coherent blog post, so here is a hodgepodge of things for your consideration.

Let’s start with a couple of Mona Creations.  The first is a Firebird that I actually convinced her to let me keep so it doesn’t get destroyed.  She offered me shared custody for about a week, but then recently told me I could just have it.
Then there is this Squid, which is just cool.  My kid can make a squid.  I am beyond proud.
Next, the dog went to the groomer and came back looking like a different (if equally cute) dog.  It’s hard to get a good picture of the dog because he just comes out a black blur most of the time.  I got the most satisfying crazy happy greeting from the dog when I returned from Detroit.  It’s ridiculous how much I love this dog after only two weeks.
And now a challenge!  My dad asked me when I was visiting if I would please go out into the library and get his Escher book.  It was in the shelves on the wall on the right side of the room.  Which looks like this:


My dad said it wouldn’t be hard because it was all in alphabetical order.  I don’t know what alphabet he’s using but it’s not one with which I’m familiar.  So the book on Escher is supposedly in this section, so if you spot it let me know:
And that’s about all I have time for because I am already late for a rehearsal.  Take care and enjoy your leftovers!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Good List (Babble)

There are lots of different reasons why I write the blog posts I do.  Sometimes I want input.  Sometimes I want to share news.  There are concepts that bump around my brain and writing them down helps me get better clarity on them.  Often when I write about my kids it’s purely to document something for myself so I don’t forget.  When Ian was deployed many posts were to keep him up to speed with how things were going here at home.  Now that he’s back, it’s more to help faraway friends and family to check in.  I’ve made new friends through this blog.  I’ve developed better writing habits.  I’ve made interesting connections.  I love writing this blog.

Today’s post is purely selfish.  As we reflect at this time of year about what we are thankful for, I realize I have more to be thankful for than in any other time in my life.  I just want to take a moment to jot down what many of those things are so that during the silly self-pitying moments that will inevitably creep into my life in the future I will have a place to refer to and remind myself to get some perspective.  So here is my list of things I am thankful for:

My health.  Health is always one of those things generally healthy people use as a last resort when trying to muster gratitude, but honestly?  Everything hinges on it.  And I have had numerous reminders lately from my dad’s struggles with cancer to simply a friend with pink eye to not remember to appreciate my health.  Because I am healthy I feel limitless.

The health of my kids and husband.

Aden’s kindness.

Mona’s creativity.

Quinn’s curiosity and interest in learning.
My husband is home.  In one piece.  When I was swimming this morning I was listening to some old podcasts of Fresh Air and wound up hearing their Veteran’s Day program.  I’d listened to it when it aired and was not in the mood to hear it again, but sometimes the buttons on my waterproof ipod freeze up in odd ways and I couldn’t change any settings.  So as I went back and forth in the pool at the Y I listened to the whole show again about soldiers injured by IEDs and the effects of brain injuries and PTSD and the number of suicides vets commit every day and the number of ways our country lets its soldiers down when they return home.  Those kinds of stories still affect me deeply, but don’t hit me with the stark sensation of abject terror that they did while Ian was in Iraq both times.  My soldier is home.  I wish every family with a soldier could say the same this Thanksgiving.

I love our house and still can’t believe we get to live in it.  There is nothing like waking up every day in the right space.  And we just had a roof put over our front porch, so a nice place just got even nicer.

Our business is doing fine.  I’m proud of us that during tough economic times our small business can provide for our family, and that we can even afford a couple of part time employees.

I’m fortunate that the number of customers I’ve dealt with that have caused me distress or disappointment I can count on one hand.  The vast majority of people who walk into my store give me faith in the kindness and creativity in my community, from small children excited to start violin to their parents who are excited for them, to symphony players who dedicate their lives to beauty, to fiddle players who light up when they find the right bow….  It’s hard not to feel good about people in general when you meet them in a violin store.

I’m thankful that I still have both my parents.

I miss my grandma, but I’m glad we were able to keep her cottage in the family.  We’ll be making her recipe for orange jello for Thanksgiving.  I have her jello mold and the glass serving dish for it.  Normally it’s a Christmas thing, but my kids love it as much as my brothers and I did when we were little, so better to err on the side of more orange jello.  Grandma would approve.  I was lucky to have had a grandma like that even though it hurts now that she’s gone.

I’m thankful for music.  All music.  Some well meaning Christian ladies came into my violin store a few weeks back to give me some tracts about God and music, saying something about how awful certain kinds of music could be like that ‘heavy metal’ stuff, thinking they were on safe ground with such statements in a cozy shop that caters to classically trained musicians.  I smiled and said, “Oh, but I love heavy metal.  I think all music is sacred.”  They looked so confused and stricken, but I loved the hours I spent in college learning Fade to Black on my guitar.
(Quinn’s drawing of a radio playing music.)

I’m thankful for our new dog.

And that my husband still thinks I’m pretty and fun to talk to.

And that my kids still want my company.

I’m thankful for decent woodworking tools and having a room of my own in the house just for building violins.

I’m thankful for my hands.

I like the school my kids go to.  I like all of their teachers and am so impressed with the patience they show toward the kids.  It bothers me that people don’t value education in a community enough that our school had to cut both art and gym, but I’m still thankful that Montessori is an option in our public school system even with budget cuts.

I’m thankful for flashlights and Rubik’s cubes and for living within about two miles of nearly everything we need.

I’m thankful for having the two best brothers in the world and for the people they’ve brought into our family.

I’m thankful for every day that I get to do things that interest me, and be with the people I love most.

I’m thankful for being alive at this particular moment and place in the world.  I get tired of the gloom and doom and people who pine for some magical yesteryear that was not the sparkling land of perfection and innocence they imagine it to have been.  There is still a lot to work toward and improve, but I will take modern dentistry and the internet and my right to equal treatment under the law over anything you want to offer me from the past.  I still believe these are the good old days.

I am fed.

I am warm.

I have friends I can count on.

I’m thankful that my problems right now really don’t qualify as problems.

And I’m thankful for my readers!  You are the final step that turns what I write into something meaningful.  Thank you for that.  And I hope all of you have as much to be thankful for this season.  I wish you the best.
(I asked Quinn once this summer what he wanted to learn to write, and he said, “Everything!”  So I wrote down everything.  And I guess that sums up what I’m thankful for.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

On the Radio (Babble)

In 2005 when I made a conscious decision to try my hand at writing the first thing I wrote was an essay for the This I Believe project.  It felt like a school assignment, and since the last place I’d formally written anything was in school it seemed like a good way to get my feet wet.  I posted the essay on my blog last year when it was selected for inclusion in a book.  This year I’m pleased to announce that they recorded my reading of the essay for broadcast on public radio.  If you happen to catch The Bob Edwards Show anytime the weekend of the 25th through the 27th you might hear me!

The show is not, however, broadcast in Wisconsin, so I won’t be able to hear it.  But they did send me a link if anyone wants to hear me read on the This I Believe website:

Amazing Grace by Korinthia Klein

It was interesting doing the recording.  I went into the local studio here in Milwaukee and worked with someone over the phone.  I would read, and they would record, and then the person on the phone would ask me to repeat a particular line with a different inflection or ask me to pause in a new place.  All the reading went fine.  It was the guitar playing that freaked me out.

It makes perfect sense that the producers would read my essay and then want me to actually play “Amazing Grace” on the guitar.  What a natural moment for radio!  Except that I don’t really play guitar.  I took some lessons in high school, kept a guitar nearby to mess around on in college, but I don’t really play.  Not the way I play viola in any case.  So when they asked if I would bring an instrument with me to the studio I got very nervous.  The stings on my acoustic guitar I’m pretty sure are the same ones I actually learned “Amazing Grace” on the first time.  There’s nostalgia and then there is simply ridiculous.  So I borrowed a guitar, practiced for a week, and then stumbled my way through the song in a real recording studio feeling rather guilty.  There are actual guitar players who slave away at what they do who will never get the kind of exposure my pitiful little plunking could get, even if it is just on a public radio show that I won’t even hear in my own state.  But it is what it is.  I did my best and I hope it works.
The link above does not include my guitar playing, just my words, but if I find a new link after the broadcast that does include my playing I will put it up.

Reviewing that essay again has put me in the proper frame of mind for the upcoming holiday.  I love Thanksgiving.  I love that it’s about making a grand meal and sharing it with others and remembering to be thankful.  This year we are having friends over to our home and we will eat too much and the kids will play, and our new dog will follow Ian around (Chipper gazing at Ian is the embodiment of ‘thankful’) and it will be great.
Then first thing on Friday morning I’m driving off alone to visit my parents for a couple of days.  My dad has been back in the hospital. He’s currently doing rehab again.  With luck he will be home by the time I visit so we can spend time at the house instead of in a hospital.  I don’t like associating Thanksgiving with cancer.  But I still like the holiday.  And I am thankful every single day.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Want to See Our New Dog? (Babble)

The kids (particularly Aden–well, almost exclusively Aden) have been begging for a dog for a while.  We’ve been putting it off until certain milestones were met because there’s a limit to how many small mammals we really want to care for in the house, but we recently reached a point where a dog seemed doable.  If we found the right dog.

Ian has allergies, primarily to cats, but sometimes to dogs.  We had rabbits for years.  I didn’t realize just how many years until I was filling out an application for adoption at a local animal control center and I had to list all former pets.  Our first bunny we had for about six years.  Her name was Cujo and she taught us a great deal about learning not to become too attached to possessions.  Rabbits chew EVERYTHING and you can’t yell at a bunny, so eventually you acquire a zen sort of attitude of “they are just things….”  Cujo was killed by a cat in our backyard not long after we bought our first house.  We had to go out and buy a shovel specifically for burying her which was awful.

About six months later we adopted a bonded pair of bunny sisters from the humane society, and we wanted to name them Polka and Dot, but Polka turned out to be more of a Scout.  They were supposedly a couple of years old when we got them and they lived another six years or so.  Dot died of bladder cancer, but we think Scout died a couple of months later from grief.  They really didn’t know what to do apart from one another.

We’ve lived long enough without pets that I had stopped thinking of us as pet people.  (Although I toyed with the idea during a brief period a year ago when we weren’t sure if we owned a cat.)  Ian told me he’s always thought of us as pet people, just pet people on a hiatus.

So last week our neighbor (who takes in foster dogs) forwarded us a picture of a little Lhasa Apso/Miniature Poodle mix that had just come into the rescue shelter that she thought might be a good fit for us.

He’s two years old and very sweet.  We wanted to find a dog through a rescue shelter if we could, but it had to be one that didn’t make my husband sneeze. We set up a meet and greet on Friday.  I couldn’t decide if it made more sense for us to go alone and check out Ian’s reaction to the dog, or if the kids should come too.  We decided since it was so important to see how the dog was with the kids that it was worth risking it not working out, so we surprised them with the trip to the shelter.

The poor dog was so traumatized by the shelter experience that he was pretty skittish and nervous, and he barked at Aden at first.  But eventually he climbed happily into my lap and let everyone pet him and he warmed up rather quickly.  We all fell in love with the dog.

But Ian seemed to be having some kind of reaction after we left, which gave us concern.  The dog wasn’t officially available for adoption until he’d seen a vet on Sunday, so we went about our weekend and on Sunday afternoon Ian went out by himself to spend some time with the dog.  I told him if he had any kind of allergic reaction to leave the dog there and bring home ice cream instead to soften the blow.  But if he was sure the dog wouldn’t be a problem to bring him home.  There was a possibility that the cats at the shelter were what caused Ian’s reaction before, but it was hard to know.  The kids and I spent a tense couple of hours while we waited and wondered what would happen.

Then, in the middle of dinner we heard Ian come in the back door.  At first I braced for disappointment because all I heard was Ian (not that Ian’s arrival is ever disappointing, don’t get me wrong), but then there was the little clicking sound of dog nails on the kitchen floor and I realized we now owned a dog.

The kids were beyond thrilled.  Aden immediately abandoned her dinner in order to walk the dog.  She and Ian and Mona all took the dog out.  The sweet thing was when it was time to head home the dog ran to our front door as if he’d done that a million times before.  Within a couple of hours it felt as if we’d always had this dog.  It’s weird.  I know there will be lots of adjustments as we all get used to each other and figure things out, but honestly the dog already looks settled in and this feels very natural.

Aden and I walked to Target to pick up a dog dish and some food and a collar.  It was fun taking the dog out for one last evening walk tonight, and the girls are excited about taking him for a walk in the morning before breakfast.  Quinn still seems slightly uncertain about the whole thing, but I think was won over by an unexpectedly hilarious game of fetch with a rubber ball before bed.  Currently the dog likes me, probably because I gave him a bit of leftover chicken from dinner, and he LOVES Ian, probably because he is the pack leader and the hero who saved him from the shelter.  This is Ian’s first dog, so I’m glad he’s getting so much of that sweet puppy adoration.

We’re still not completely settled on a name, but at the moment we seem to be going with Chipper for a first name and Biscuit for the middle one.

Whatever we call him, the dog is darned cute:

And he’s ours!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Suspense! (Babble)

So, today we may or may not be getting a dog.

We went to visit a stray at the rescue center on Friday night that looked like he might be a good match for our family.  Our next door neighbor takes in foster dogs, and she’s been keeping an eye out for one for us, and sent us a picture of a cute little guy who needs a home.

The tricky part is Ian has allergies.  Mostly to cats, but to a lot of dogs as well.  This particular dog is a poodle mix, and from what I’ve been able learn about different dog breeds, those tend to be a bit more allergy friendly.  So we did a meet and greet with the dog at the shelter, and the dog is adorable and warmed up to us quickly, but afterward when we went out for pizza Ian said his eye felt itchy.  Then his face didn’t feel good where he’d touched it with his hands.

The dog wasn’t officially available for adoption until today, so the plan is for Ian to go back to the shelter, spend an hour alone playing with the dog, and if he feels confident that the dog won’t make him sick he’ll bring it home.  If it does, he’ll have to leave the dog there and bring home ice cream instead.

So we’re all on pins and needles here.  The kids and I really want the dog.  But if it’s not the right one for us we’ll keep looking.  The dog is adorable and I have complete faith that someone else will adopt him quickly if it can’t be us, so that’s something.  Because it was so sad to see how unsettled the dog was at the shelter, and how desperately it needed love.  I hope we’re able to be the ones to provide it.

We’ll find out soon.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Gender Expectations (Babble)

(Quinn art: girls and boys with balloons)

I’ve written something about this before. I will probably write something about it again.  Few topics interest me more than people’s thoughts on gender, both as it relates to their own personal lives and to society at large.  I think it’s something many of us implicitly believe we all agree on to a certain extent, until we actually ask someone and discover how much variability there really is.  Sort of like the notion of ‘common sense,’ which is not always so common because what may seem perfectly reasonable to me could sound like a terrible idea to someone else.  People’s beliefs about gender are all over the map, despite whatever tacit agreement we may believe we share.

Personally, I’m rather torn.  Because there are some basic ways in which I believe men and women, boys and girls, tend to be different.  I just can’t decide how important we should think those differences are.

For instance, I remember very clearly when seeing the movie Gladiator (back before children when Ian and I were able to see movies in an actual theater) having an uncomfortable revelation during the opening scene.  Men on either side of a clearing are preparing for battle, and when the signal is given, they rush at one another killing anyone they come close to.  It’s brutal, and it’s horrible, and even though it’s only a movie, it doesn’t show anything that hasn’t happened in human history countless times over.  It struck me as I sat there in the theater that I would not be capable of running toward that kind of carnage on someone’s order.  But my husband could.  I believe if someone were inflicting harm on my children I would be capable of killing that person if necessary, but I cannot fathom rushing into a battlefield and simply killing whomever.  I think the trait of choosing to run toward a battle rather than away from it is more typical in males.

But just because a behavior is exhibited more often in one sex than the other does not give it exclusive claim to that trait.  There are many soldiers who happen to be women who are prepared to kill and die on someone’s order.  That does not make them lesser women or more like men in my opinion.  Men who wish to avoid violence are not lesser men.  I can’t think of any one trait that should be held up as a standard by which either sex should be specifically judged.  This is probably where the opinions about gender diverge, because most people I talk to seem to draw a line somewhere about what is masculine and and what is feminine, and that line is in different place for everyone I meet.

When I was in high school I had a biology teacher who asked us to make a lists of characteristics that we defined as either masculine or feminine, but we were not allowed to include anything physical.  This was a hard assignment, and one I still ponder from time to time.  Both sexes are capable of strength, compassion, humor, aggression, weakness, caring…. I honestly would not know what to put on those lists today.  But that same teacher once made a stereotypical comment in class about either boys or girls, and when someone spoke up in protest he said, “Quick!  Everyone point north!” and all the boys did, and all the girls looked around at the boys first before following their example.  I found that fascinating, but is it important?

Innocently offered statements about ‘what girls are like’ or ‘what boys are like’ almost always get my hackles up.  Of course there are generalizations you can make about girls and boys.  But generalizations are not laws, nor standards by which individuals should necessarily be judged.  When people start repeating things like, “Girls are nurturing” and “Boys are active” I feel as if it sets up artificial definitions that imply someone is anywhere from different to freakish if they don’t fit within those limits.  I have two girls and a boy.  All three of them are nurturing.  The most active of the bunch happens to be a girl.  I don’t see any of them as stepping over any lines in these ways.  They just are who they are.

When I was pregnant with Quinn after having two girls I was shocked at the number of people who jumped to the conclusion we were ‘trying for that boy.’  I honestly didn’t care which sex my child was, but I started to almost wish for a girl out of a weird sense of spite.  I know nobody meant anything remotely bad by it, but it seemed insulting to my girls somehow, and presumptuous about what a boy would be.  I worry when people express desire for one sex of a child over another, because what if the child doesn’t conform to certain expectations?  I don’t understand people who want a girl because they say they want to dress them in pink, because plenty of girls don’t like pink, and it doesn’t make them failures as girls.  I hoped to be able to play music with any of my children, but I wouldn’t be disappointed in them if their interests lay elsewhere.  We can’t tell our children who they are.  They’re supposed to tell us.

I’m not saying there aren’t differences between boys and girls, I’m just saying that the differences that exist within the group that is girls and the group that is boys are wider than the differences between the two groups.  Why anyone cares about the sex of another person beyond themselves or a potential sexual partner is a mystery to me.

I think on issues of gender (and many other characteristics for that matter) people need to recognize that a need for conformity has more to do with personal insecurity than some greater good.  We feel safer in our own choices when we can relate to the choices and behaviors of others around us, but we need to realize our own comfort is not enough to dictate what others must do or be.  The sex of each of my children is an interesting and important part of who each of them is.  But it’s far from the most important.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Welcome Rejection (Babble)

(Quinn organizing his trick-or-treat haul.)

I think the kids are about at the end of their Halloween candy.  We try to have them just eat it and be done with it as early as possible, but Mona is oddly good at delayed gratification and she still had some candy saved from Fourth of July that she mixed into her bucket, so it’s hard to know for sure.  My kids stash stuff in weird places, like squirrels, so I really don’t know at this point.

But the Halloween decorations came down this weekend, and the pumpkins are gone, which is my cue to start preparing for birthday season.  I can’t believe Quinn is going to be five this month.  When I started this blog he was still two (back in the days when he did map puzzles), and it amazes me how much he can still be my baby and such a big kid at the same time.

I’ve been thinking about all the things that have changed in the past year, what’s different and what isn’t.  I honestly believe that now, more than a year since Ian returned from Iraq, that Quinn doesn’t remember the deployment.  It’s just too long ago in proportion to his relatively short life so far, and there are too many new things each day crowding out old memories.  He’s not sure what we mean when we talk about possibly returning to Incrediroll, I don’t think he’d recognize anything in Chuck E Cheese at this point, and I would bet he has few memories of our old house.  So I really believe that the idea of his dad not being around all the time is foreign now.  Which is great.

Quinn is a stubborn little guy.  Very smart, very dear, but when he had it in his head that he didn’t like his dad when Ian returned from the last tour of duty, he stuck to that with a tenacity that was impressive.  The most disheartening manifestation of that was at the school pickup.  I maybe pick Quinn up after half-day kindergarten once or twice a week.  Usually it’s Ian.  All last year I was greeted with hugs and love and squeals and smiles.  Ian was greeted with silence on a good day and a tantrum on a bad one.  Quinn would slump when he saw his dad, and plod along slowly.

We decided on the days Ian picked up Quinn he should bring him something special, so we let our son pick out Pop Tarts at the store and Ian would have one along for a snack for the ride home after school.  If I picked up Quinn there would be no Pop Tart.  I figured at some point Quinn would associate his dad with Pop Tarts and be happy to see him and it would be a start.  A Pavlovian start, but something in the right direction at least.

But it didn’t seem to work.  All last year Quinn stuck to his guns and would never say it was good to see his dad.  His behavior improved toward the end, but was never particularly positive.

This year has been better.  Since I work outside of the house more often than Ian does, he’s still the main stay at home parent and the kids are accustomed to having their dad around.  It’s so much better than having their dad be like some fictional character we talk about and pretend is a part of our lives I can’t even tell you.  I think back to that and still feel great relief that things now are so different.  But getting here has be gradual.  Which is good, especially when dealing with a smart and stubborn little boy.

Last week when Ian went to help out on a field trip with Aden’s class, I got to pick up Quinn at the half day and take him with me on errands.  We had a lovely time, returning things at the fabric store and picking up groceries and splitting a KitKat bar outside of Target.  But the best part was at the pickup itself.

Quinn bounced in the line when he spotted me on the playground, ran to me when he was finally released, gave me a huge hug with both his arms and legs and he laughed and he smiled and made me feel like the luckiest mom in the world.  Then as we started to walk away from the school Quinn went slumpy.  He still held my hand but he drooped and moved slowly.  I asked what was wrong, and he said sadly, “It’s just, I like it better when dad comes to get me.”

Part of me realized that I should be hurt, because what mom wants be feel rejected like that?  But I had to turn my head so Quinn wouldn’t see me smiling.  I loved hearing those words.  The amount of parental affection has been so lopsided that there is no sense of loss from my end if it shifts at all.  I’ve been waiting for it to even out for so long.
Because I couldn’t help it, I asked Quinn why he preferred his dad at the pickup.  (The girls are very clear that they’d rather have their dad get them at the end of the day because he lets them play outside there as long as they like.  I always have eighteen places to be and must leave so I am not the preferred parent in that scenario, either.)  Without hesitation Quinn said, “Pop Tart.”

So it did work.  It took a long time, and Quinn sees through the game a bit, but when he spots his dad after school it makes him happy.  I know at some point that will be true even without the promise of a Pop Tart.  I love my guys.  Life is good, and getting better.
(Although I did finally find the limit of my son’s love for me.  He draws it at Almond Joy bars, which when he was laying out all his Halloween candy he declared to me he would not share.  That rejection I take a little harder!)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Things That Are Better in the Dark (Babble)

I’m working on two new violins right now.  One is an instrument I’m building to enter in a Violin Society of America competition next fall, and the other I’m making on commission for an out of state client.  It’s convenient to build two instruments in tandem because if you’re going to go to the trouble of setting up specialized tools and materials for a particular step you may as well do it twice while the blade is sharp or the clamping setup is in place or the hide glue is fresh.

The only downside to doing two instruments at once is that the unpleasant steps are then doubled.  I just suffered through one of my least favorite parts of violin building which is “edge thicknessing.”  (My spell check doesn’t like it, but that’s what we call it.)  It’s the tedious step of gouging, then finger planing, then filing the edges of the rough top and back plates down to 4.0mm thick for the spruce, and 3.8mm thick for the maple.  It takes FOREVER and is one of the few steps I’ve entertained the idea of figuring out how to do with a machine rather than by hand because I find it a bit maddening.  And it’s sort of awful to get through all of those edges on one violin only to do it on another right away.

But whatever.  That’s the end of my luthier whining for today.  Because the step right after edge thicknessing?  One of the best parts ever!  Arching.  Arching is carving that smoothed, curved shape onto the top and back of the violin.  Many people I talk to who know nothing about woodworking or instrument making assume that rounded shape on those large surfaces of a violin are actually bent into place, but it’s really achieved by taking all that wood down in steps, starting with a large gouge, then moving to very small planes (called ‘finger planes’, the smallest of which that I use has a blade only 8mm wide) and eventually to scrapers. 

I love arching.  It’s sculptural, yet vital to the final sound of the instrument.  And it’s a skill that there is no good way to learn without someone to show you, so I feel the value of my training in that step over any other.  You have to learn how check the surface of the plates by touch, and combine what your fingers tell you with what your eyes are seeing.  The visual part is all a matter of how to control light.  Which really means controlling dark.

Arching requires using shadows to see all the curves properly.  To see what I need to see I have to sit in a very dark room with just one desk lamp set at a raking angle to my work.  Tipping the plate around various ways in the light causes shadows to dip and slide across the wood, revealing bumps or low spots or asymmetry.

The vast majority of the violin making I do, I do at home.  But sometimes if there is a step that’s portable enough to bring with me to the violin store and I suspect it’s going to be a slow day there, I bring my work along.  The only problem with the store, though, is it’s bright.  Because we are a business and we need to look open if we are, in fact, open.  So I can do very rough shaping there, but not much.  I removed a lot of excess wood from my back plates at work yesterday, but did all my finishing steps at home, at night, in the dark.
Some things are just better in the dark.

For instance, this Halloween weekend my kids got to trick-or-treat twice.  The first time on Saturday night in Bay View, which is our little area on the South side of Milwaukee, which does nighttime trick-or-treat.  The second time was Sunday afternoon (which is when the rest of the city of Milwaukee does trick-or-treat) up in a friend’s more affluent neighborhood on the North side of town.  My friend’s neighborhood is beautiful and friendly, and this was the second year in a row she invited us up to join them and of course my kids were thrilled.

Now, our own neighborhood may not be in the wealthy part of the city, but it knows how to do Halloween.  We get about 400 trick-or-treaters at our house every year, and go through several massive bags of candy before we finally have to shut our lights off.  Newcomers to the neighborhood used to only buying a bag or two of little candy bars to hand out wherever they used to live are always stunned by the activity and end up making quick runs down the street to Target to restock.  (Our Target is very busy during trick-or-treat.)  My own kids usually do about two or three blocks and then choose to head home.  Mona in particular would rather hand out candy than collect it, so they enjoy the candy but aren’t obsessed by it.  They primarily like being in costume and seeing what other kids are wearing, and the daytime trick-or-treat is better for that.

So when I asked my kids which trick-or-treat they preferred I wasn’t sure what they’d say.  Turns out they unanimously preferred the one in our own neighborhood.  The reason?  The dark.  Trick-or-treat is simply better in the dark.

Movies are better in the dark.  Part of the reason our Friday Night Movie Night tradition kind of falls by the wayside in the summer isn’t just the schedule, it’s that there is too much light.  The kids want to play outside until dark, and in June it’s so late by the time the sun goes down that there is no way to stay up for a movie at that point.  Trying to gather for a movie when it’s still light out just feels odd.  My favorite moment of movie night is when we are all snuggled up, popcorn ready, and Mona runs to switch off the light.

And finally, Halloween also happens to be the anniversary of when my husband and I met.  My first conversation with Ian was in the dark at a party.  The lack of light probably made it easier for us to talk.  We were figuratively in the dark, too, knowing nothing about each other that night and just starting to get acquainted.

(And not that I discovered this on that particular Halloween, but kissing?  Definitely better in the dark.)