Monday, December 31, 2012

The Fun and Frustrations of Facebook

Facebook is a treacherous place sometimes.

I follow about a dozen blogs, but I don't do anything with my Twitter account (other than occasionally check in on Horse eBooks because it's hilarious), and I put up three lizard related images on Pinterest and I was done with that.  I'm online most of the day with email and Hulu as I work, but it's more in the background.  I can't even imagine how many other social media things there are that I've never even heard of that I'm not doing.  Then there's Facebook.

Initially I joined Facebook simply to see what my brother's page looked like.  He has a vast network of friends and colleagues spread across the globe and it made sense to me why he would use it.  But I didn't think I had any use for such a thing and decided it would be funny to have a Facebook page with just one 'friend' on it.

But anyone who has ever used Facebook knows that's not how it works.  Everyone else who might know you is instantly alerted you are there, and there are friend requests that seem impolite to turn down, and Facebook scours the far reaches of itself even for people with names like yours to offer up as potential 'friends' you should connect with.  Eventually you end up with weird strangers in your news feed who you can't imagine how they got there, and on occasion post in a language you don't even recognize.  It's bizarre.

And beyond that there are moments when Facebook is downright creepy.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sometimes Sparkle Cellos Have to Happen

When we last met our half size (damaged beyond all reasonable repair--trust me) cello, it was being covered with plastic jewels.  Turns out sorting fake jewels by color is strangely enjoyable and a somewhat addictive activity.  Only Mona tired of that task quickly.  Aden and Quinn and I felt as if we could have sorted jewels forever.  (It probably qualifies as one of the chores the Terrible Trivium from The Phantom Tollbooth would have devised, so best we moved on no matter how soothing it seemed.)

I duct taped the sides of the cello to cover holes and got a basic coat of black spray paint on most of the body before using titebond to attach jewels.

I started with the sides, then moved on to the front, back, and finally the scroll.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


So, this is one of those posts where I'm kind of counting on the fact that my children don't see my blog.  Nothing bad, I promise, but this made me laugh and I feel like sharing.

My kids went to bed last night before we had a chance to finish baking the stollen that we usually leave out for Santa.  But no matter, they left something else out for him:

Mona had created a little duct tape snowman on a 'snowy' plate with a pencil and a note.  I will spare you most of her atrocious spelling (ask me how many times I just tried to type 'atrocious' until spell check liked it and you'll know where her problem comes from), but it began, "Dire Santa."

Anyway, I didn't dare look at the note until all the children were asleep and I was filling their stockings.  (At which point I also discovered Mona had put out a stocking for her beloved fish, so I filled a teeny tiny bottle with water and sealed it with a twist tie bow.  Because seriously?  What do you get a fish at midnight?)  The note began with, "Do you see the snowman?"  And then continued on to say that if he liked it he could have it, but if he took it he had to sign the red slip at the bottom.  I suppose like a receipt, but I suspect it had more to do with procuring proof of Santa's existence.

Friday, December 21, 2012


I love this time of year.  Despite the shortened days and the stress and the hassle and the fact that all my kids' birthdays fall into this same avalanche of figuring out gifts and logistics and trying to remember that this is supposed to be fun.

This year for holiday cards Mommy's Sweatshop cranked out dozens of snowflakes cut from origami paper.  The kids did a nice job, although they didn't point out until after we mailed them all that maybe it wasn't good to have made some from yellow paper since what kind of a message is that to get yellow snow?  (Ah, well, too late.  Anyone who got an inadvertent pee card, we still love you I swear.)

It's funny with holiday cards because I read all the time about how social media has killed the need for them and who uses the post office, etc.  But for a dying practice there are a surprising number of cards on our mantle.  I think we're up to at least 20 and it makes opening the mail a really pleasant part of my day.  I don't expect anyone else to bother, but I enjoy going through my whole address book and thinking about everyone I've collected there and sending along a card and sometimes pictures of my kids.  I like to think it's brightening someone else's day when they bring in their mail.

We've made spritz cookies in the shapes of wreathes and trees like my grandma used to do, and this weekend we will make her stollen (which is a bread with a glaze on it and decorated with candied cherries).  When Aden and I make grandma's stollen we don't include the citron that none of us like, but I miss picking those bitter little pieces out of my slice while chatting with my grandma at her kitchen table.  I'm not a good enough writer to express how much I miss my grandma.

With so much tragedy in the news lately I'm appreciating more than usual the comfortable bubble that is our home.  Inside our walls we've been lucky that traumatic events have been few.  There are coughs and runny noses, bills to pay, frustration with homework, repeated reminders about chores or violin practice, endless laundry....  But with the tears over practicing or homework come the breakthroughs, and we often dump the clothes that need sorting onto my bed and make it a folding party while we watch cartoons together.  There are annoyances and irritations in the day to day no matter who we are, but I'm fortunate that my life is filled with more hugs than squabbles, more dog nuzzles than messes, and after two deployments I never take for granted that my husband is home.  Compared to real problems in the outside world the things we tend to fret about currently rank as mere concerns or issues.

One of my concerns in the bubble at the moment is that Aden is conflicted about Santa Claus.  She's eleven, so she's choosing to be conflicted.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Ten Cents on Guns

I am heartbroken following the news about the children and educators shot to death in their school in Connecticut recently.  It's beyond horrible and impossible not to get emotional about.  My son curled up in my lap at the end of that day, exhausted after the happy work of kindergarten and then picking out a Christmas tree and hanging stockings and untangling strings of lights.  He fell asleep almost as soon as he nestled into my lap there in the dining room where I was trying to get some tasks done at the table.  Such a sweet, perfect, innocent face, freckles across his nose, breathing softly, safe and innocent and alive.  I burst into tears thinking of the parents who weren't going to get to hold their children anymore and wondering how someone could look into such a face as my son's and choose to destroy it.  I struggle every day to err on the side of compassion whenever possible, but I have very little to spare for people who harm children.  As the most obvious of baselines I would hope we can all agree that protecting children from brutality and vicious murder is a worthy goal of our society.  Just because there is an emotional component to this position doesn't make it less valid because arguably violence is damaging to many levels of our well being.

I've written before how I believe there is a distinction between rural use of guns versus their role in densely populated areas.  I still think that's true, but today I am thinking about cities.  Because I think we have come to such a dangerous and twisted place that I don't even understand the arguments coming from people about why we should all have such easy access to guns.  We need to stop and reassess without being immediately defensive.  We need to weigh the truth of what is happening now against our preconceived assumptions of what we want or think we deserve.

Because if we have reached a point in our society where the murder of twenty children in their school seems like just the unfortunate price we must pay for a particular interpretation of an amendment of our constitution, then something is very wrong.

Friday, December 14, 2012


The news of the school shootings in Connecticut has me in tears at my desk.  I'm resisting the urge to go the four blocks to my kids' school just to hug them as hard as I can.

What sort of person turns a gun on a room full of kindergarteners?  Who thinks that up and goes to the effort to carry out that plan?  Did that really make him feel powerful?

My thoughts on gun control written after another mass shooting are here, but I'm feeling less generous about it today.  As a culture we must set better priorities.  We have created an environment where an abstract sense that everyone is entitled to own guns in this country trumps a safe reality for our children.

Kindergarteners.  The line in the news feed that did me in was "An entire kindergarten classroom is unaccounted for."

You know what I did last night?  I went to Quinn's holiday concert at his school.  It was just the half dozen kindergarten rooms in performance in an overly packed auditorium.  Hundreds of people crammed shoulder to shoulder just to hear small, adorable children sing sweet songs out of tune.  The first piece was a class carrying electric candles singing, "Light a candle for peace, light a candle for love...."  I didn't even know any of those children and I was in tears the whole time.

It's like someone today literally gunned all those tiny singers down.  Different adorable children I don't know.

I just don't understand.  I really don't.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Last Baby Tooth

My oldest child just turned eleven.

I still remember her as the beautiful baby she was over a decade ago.  Aden was the perfect training baby.  She was patient, seeming to forgive all our bumbling as we taught ourselves what to do as new parents.  She ate well and was sleeping through the night at about four months.  She was bald for a long time and her eyes were (are) incredibly blue.  And I don't care what any expert says about when children develop empathy because in Aden's case she was sensitive to the feelings of others from very early on.  Anytime she saw me cry she would cry too.  She's my tenderhearted girl.

Ready to decorate!
We had a sleepover party for her this past weekend that included the girls making their own pizzas for dinner, a couple of games of Aden's own invention, and our own version of Cupcake Wars.  That was fun.  We baked a gabillion mini cupcakes and set out frosting and marshmallows and fruit and sprinkles and sugar paper and modeling chocolate and then set a timer for different decorating challenges.  (One round was 'the ocean', then 'zombies', then the holiday of their choice....)  They had a five minute time limit on each round and the judges were me, Mona, Quinn, and our dog Chipper (who gave everyone a ten each time which we assumed was correct based on the level of tail wagging he exhibited when we held him up to look at the cupcakes).  Ian got to judge the final round of displays.  The winners got to eat their cupcakes.  The losers had to eat their cupcakes. 

I was impressed at Aden's party how inclusive she was of her siblings.  Mona and Quinn did not get pushed off to the side just because friends were over.  She's a good big sister, and she may not be the best example for getting her chores or homework done without prompting, but she's wonderful about leading her little pack of siblings in a harmonious way.

Earlier this week on Aden's actual birthday she lost her final baby tooth. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sparkle Cello Progress

Sides are done, top is done, and tonight I'll work on the back.  I think I like it better up close than I do when I step away from it, but we'll see.  The kids like it, and I'm sure in the store window in the sunshine it will be quite a sight!

(Oh yeah, and my daughter turned 11 today.  That's almost too much for me to wrap my head around right now, so easier to just post about the sparkle cello.)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Do Graffiti Artists Wear Gloves?

Because I have a HUGE blister on the tip of my right index finger after using spray paint the other night.  (Well, half an inch long, but for a blister that seems huge.)

I decided to convert a defunct half size cello into a sparkly wonder work for the front window, and it seemed like a good idea to get a rough coat of black down on the whole thing before I started gluing on fake jewels.  So I picked up some cheap spray paint on my way home from work, then took all of a minute and a half to spray the cello in the dark in our backyard and now my finger HURTS.  Like, I need to stop typing in a minute because OW.

Seriously, do people who do a lot of spray painting do something different?  How did I do this so wrong?

Anyway, pictures soon of sparkly cello progress.  I've already jeweled up the ribs and it's looking very Vegas.  This cello is Fat Elvis all the way.

(And Ian said to me when I was sorting fake jewels by color at the dining room table that when I start freaking out about how little time there is to get everything done for the holidays he will remind me that I chose to add the sparkly cello to the agenda.  But when inspiration hits sometimes you have to run with it, even when it's inconvenient.  Sometimes sparkly cellos have to happen.)



Sparkle cello progress:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Theme: Lizard

We are over the birthday season hump having successfully turned Quinn into a six year old and advancing Mona to the significant sounding age of nine.  Just Aden's sleepover this coming weekend and I can take a deep breath and then figure out what we're doing for Christmas.

Quinn's birthday event was low key.   But Mona's party invitations went out with large print stating:


One mom called sounding slightly worried since last year's theme was fish and everyone got a fishbowl.  I was not cruel enough to actually send live fish home with everyone, but they did get little wind up fish to put in their bowls.  My friend said, however, that the bowl was kind of crying out for a real fish and she ended up having to go out with her son and get him one.  She does not want anything that cries out for a lizard.

Essentially all Mona really wanted was a cake like her dragon cake from a couple of years ago, but as a simple, green lizard instead of something purple with horns.

(The dragon cake remains my favorite, though.  And the aquarium cake was fun because it was such a collaborative effort.) 

The most amazing part about making the lizard cake was that I only had to assemble it.  I had to be at work all day the day before the party, so I asked Aden if she could help.  She baked me two sheet cakes, made butter cream frosting from scratch, and even made me a batch of fondant.  The girl is good, I tell ya.  We had a lovely evening together in the kitchen when I came home and we watched "It's A Wonderful Life" on TV while I spread frosting and rolled out fondant.

Anyway, step by step lizard cake!

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Thanks to everyone who contacted me about my last post.  It meant more than you know.  I wasn't fishing for the compliments I got--just some reassurance that I wasn't crazy--but they were certainly appreciated.

I was already starting to feel better by the time I finished the post, but felt like I still wanted to get that out there while the mood was in my mind.  We can be so self-selective in social media that it can border on dishonesty.  I don't want to imply by not discussing negative things in my life that there aren't any.  I have good days and bad days just like anybody else.  My house is never quite clean, we opt to just grab a pizza for dinner more often then I'd like to admit to, we don't regulate our kids' screen time, and the dog has started pooping in the house again for reasons unknown.  Some kind of oasis of family perfection we are not.

But I am definitely out of my funk and ready to tackle things in a more productive manner.  You know the old adage about how the surest cure for hypochondria is a real disease?  Well my husband became suddenly ill, and there is nothing like a real problem (and some vomit) to put non-problems in perspective.  (He's doing fine now but it wasn't pretty there for a day.)  The things that were bringing me down aren't real problems, just low points in a larger process.  I was wallowing in the empty half of the glass, I guess.  Because it's not about that I can't find an agent and that my violins could be better, it's that I get to write and that I will improve my violins.  Yes, the weight thing is frustrating but it's also sometimes stupid to turn down pie.  There are people in my own zip code suffering food insecurity and my 'problem' is too much pie?  Yeah, I'm over myself for now.  Life is too short to choose to be sad.

Moods are interesting, though. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Crisis of Confidence

Does it go without saying that this is a hard post to write?  I'm not even sure where I'm going yet as I hesitantly coax words from my keyboard, but I have a suspicion that I am not alone, and it would be reassuring to know for certain if that is true.

It's one thing to understand, intellectually, that nobody is perfect.  That people make mistakes and we're supposed to learn from those errors, and that we are all flawed creatures not living up to our potential.  But it's another to look out from our solitary perspective trapped in our own bodies day after day and see all the ways we are falling short.  Some days I feel like an utter failure.

I feel guilty on one level even writing that because it sounds ungrateful.  My body works, my kids are adorable, my husband is wonderful and we are all together.  I still have my parents, I feel close to my brothers and their families, and we have a weird dog to snuggle.  I enjoy my work, I love my house, I have friends, and hobbies, and we don't lack for anything important.  I even have Rubik's cubes with our store logo on them which is pretty darn cool in my book.  Life is good and I'm not saying it isn't.  I am an exceedingly lucky person and I know that.

However, some days are just inexplicably harder than others.  And the days that feel the worst are the ones where I know I don't measure up.  There are days where reassuring myself that I'm good enough feels akin to being a fraud.  It's painful.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Art of Life

I grew up surrounded by art.

My mother is an accomplished artist whose work is moving in ever more interesting directions.  My father is an artist and a poet.  The two of them ran their own art gallery in Michigan for exactly 40 years.  (If you want to fall in love with my parents just click that last link for a short film my brother made.)  The art gallery spilled over into our home and we were always surrounded by unusual and beautiful things.  When you are young you assume there is nothing unique about your own experience.  So for us that's what life was supposed to be like--bursting at the seams with art.

It was years before I realized other people didn't hang and rehang original work all over their homes like a gallery.  That maybe it was special to have your own childish work framed with acid free mats and mounted on the wall in the same room as a print by Picasso or Whistler.  We even had a press for printing etchings in our basement that my brothers and I mostly found amusing for crushing broken crayons with in the gears.  We had frame samples to play with and professional quality colored pencils to use.  Sure, occasionally a painting we liked that had been hanging over the bed for years might get sold and go away, but there was always something new to enjoy.  Art was just part of life.

Milwaukee Art Museum by moonlight tonight as we were leaving
But that isn't true for everyone, or even many, and I wish that weren't the case.  I know firsthand what it means to expect there to be art around.  Drawing in our house wasn't just something you could do, it was something you simply did.  Surrounding yourself with beauty was a necessity, not an afterthought.  Art was built into everything and was integral to how we viewed the world.

Quinn at the museum
My own children are also surrounded by art.  Not to the explosive degree that I was, but we keep the craft area of our house well stocked with supplies that they indulge in often, and we have some wonderful things on our walls, including pieces by artists we know (such as their grandma).  They recognize a Hundertwasser when they see it, and if you asked them to create something in the style of van Gogh or O'Keefe they would know how to give it a shot.

So even though I don't fear for my own children's art education I'm still distressed that funding for art was cut from their school a couple of years ago.  Fernwood Montessori has a high level of parental involvement, however, so despite budget cuts to the public schools there have been volunteers to keep some kind of art program running for our kids.  But what does it say about our priorities when we provide so few resources for education that they feel they must cut art?

Art is not expendable.  Art is life.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Black Friday Makes Me Blue

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.  I am fortunate enough to come from a loving family where I feel safe and provided for, and am equally fortunate to be able to pass that along to my children.  Food, family, conversation, togetherness, and a chance to relax long enough to appreciate the things that matter in our lives....for me this has always been what Thanksgiving is about.

There is something special about a national holiday that is secular, inclusive to all Americans, and at its core about gratitude.  Taking stock of what we are grateful for in our lives is an important act that not enough of us do regularly.  I am thankful for so very much.

I probably have nothing new to add to the general discussion about Black Friday.  I'm sure it's all been said by now.  I know retailers depend on holiday sales to get themselves 'in the black' and that in this economy in particular getting more people spending helps the larger picture.  I despise the latest push to move that spending spree onto Thanksgiving Day itself.  There is a lack of respect for something I find sacred there that saddens me.  But I can't make other people use their holiday they way I would.  Maybe for someone else it's an improvement to get away from their home and into a crowded store on Thanksgiving.  I'm just glad that's not me.

I suppose the thing that bothers me is how much shopping has become part of the American identity. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A New Direction

I will admit that I did not take advantage of enough of the opportunities presented at this year's VSA convention.  A lot of the best discussions happen during off hours at the bar, and I just don't do that.  Add a pool table and I'm there, but I don't drink and when I'm tired I'm not good at socializing.  I should have put myself out there more, I should have attended more of the things I didn't think applied to me, and I should have asked more questions.  All that said, though, on my long drive back to Milwaukee I came to realize what the impact of this convention has really been.

It has been life changing.

In terms of my work, anyway.  I learned where I am in my instrument making, and where I need to go.  I am at a new and exciting phase.

(The competition room after judging--there were more than 500 entries this year.)

I did not win a prize, nor did I expect to.  I'm still too early in my career as a luthier to have earned that yet.  What I went for was to be able to talk to builders and violin experts at the highest levels to give me a critique.  It's hard working at my craft essentially in isolation and without regular feedback.  I don't have anyone to turn to in my shop at night while my kids sleep in the room above to let me know if I'm going too far with something or not far enough.  I wanted input.

And I got it.  Both from a fellow builder who did win awards again this year, and from an official judge who was kind enough to look at my instrument outside of the designated sign up times for critiques because I needed to leave early.  They were both thoughtful and specific in their criticisms, encouraging in their remarks, and in independent agreement about my strengths and weaknesses.

So what did I learn that was life changing?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Double double....

I just got back from my girls' choir concert.  This is how they look during a concert:
(I suppose there should be a prize for anyone who spots them in there, but I'm not even sure where Mona is now.)

This is how they look right after a concert:
Anyway, the entire reason for this post is just so I can remember that Mona misunderstood the lyrics to one of the songs Aden's group sang.  It was from a Harry Potter movie that used Shakespeare lines and went "Double double toil and trouble...."

But Mona kept singing it as "Double double toilet trouble."  Which is now one of my favorite things ever in the history of music.

Quinn also turned six this weekend.  Six.  Six!  (I don't think you understand how shocking it is that my little barnacle boy is now an entire six years old.)  And he's been non-committal about everything lately so he didn't have an opinion about his birthday cake other than he wanted it to be chocolate.  Seeing as he's a geography genius I went with a basic map of the world.  (The sugar paper cutouts I made didn't fit as planned when I went to put them on the actual cake, so there was a bit of continental drift happening and the UK had to be sacrificed, but considering the ocean was dark chocolate and the earth's core was all chocolate and custard filling no one complained about this particular representation of our planet.)

(I just can't believe we now have a theme song for the next time our toilet backs up...  Double double toilet trouble.  Hahahaha.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Real America

View from my hotel room
Cleveland is a nice city.  I wish I had the opportunity while I'm here to get out and see more of it during this convention, but for the most part I'm in a hotel near the lakefront.  It took me a day and one overpriced bowl of oatmeal in the hotel restaurant to realize the hotel is attached to a mall (and casino, and transit hub).  That's where I've been going for lunch by myself.

My fellow violin makers are very nice, but I'm having a hard time connecting with people on this trip.  There is a lot to absorb, I'm uneasy spending so much money at once (but the opportunity to select nice wood and supplies for the store is rare so it's a justifiable expense), and of course I miss my family.  I don't mind being alone, but I find here that I'm lonely.  I miss the dog being ecstatic to see me.  I miss hugs of all heights.  I guess I like alone time better on different terms.

But the interesting part about going out in public alone is getting a chance to quietly look around.  My mind processes things differently when I'm not engaged in conversation.  Without a specific person or people to focus on I can take in much more.  And I've been seeing things through a post-election lens, and this is what I see:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Different City by a Lake

I'm off to Cleveland!  Which I find somewhat funny because if you do a Google Earth search for my violin store (Korinthian Violins 2900 S. Delaware Ave Milwaukee WI) and zoom in, you will see that the building kitty corner from us--in the flight path of people arriving at the nearby airport--has the words "Welcome to Cleveland" on the roof.  (Just to mess with people who may panic that they are about to land in the wrong industrial Midwestern city by another Great Lake.)

The Violin Society of America holds a convention every fall, and every other year the convention includes an instrument and bow making competition.  This year I'm entering a violin:
(This picture kind of cracks me up because for some reason with this rug as the background my violin looks like it's about two inches long.  It's the same instrument I'm holding in my profile photo, so you can see it's not.  Unless you think I'm only a foot tall, in which case I've got no way to help you for scale.)

The convention itself should be fun.  The last one I attended was four years ago in Portland, Oregon, and I got to bring the whole family along.  This time I'm going alone.  I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Family Boobs

In my house I am very popular.  It's flattering to be so popular but it's a fairly localized phenomenon.  I never experienced popularity until I started having children, and I am currently on a streak as the most popular person in our home.  That could change at any time, so I take each day for what it is.  Sometimes being the preferred person for hugs or help with homework and violin practice is a burden, but most of the time I revel in it.  Even the dog will come flop by me if given a choice.  I am the one everyone at this address wants to be with.

And I'm pretty sure I owe it all to my boobs.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Remember to Goat

In 2008 I had to vote by absentee ballot because I attended a violin making convention in Portland, Oregon on election day.  It was strange watching the returns on the west coast because the way things get reported from the eastern time zone everything happening on the other side of the country looks like an afterthought.  Sort of like the first time I tuned in to watch the ball drop on New Year's Eve from the central time zone and just got live pictures of people sweeping up Time's Square because I forgot the fun was over there by the time I finally reached midnight.

Anyway, looking back four years to the last presidential election, I have to say the most memorable moment for me was taking my kids around as part of a get out the vote effort for the Obama campaign.  Ian was away on Army drill the weekend before the election and I had promised some people that I would volunteer to go door to door in our neighborhood to remind people to vote.  We had flyers to leave at houses where no one was home, and when we did get real people at the door we were supposed to say, "Remember to vote!"

I thought it would be good for my kids to see that a democracy and our government is really just people.  People willing to go door to door for what they believe in, and people willing to vote.  Aden was six, Mona was four, and Quinn was a cold sleepy baby in stroller.

We had a fun time, the four of us, going from one house to the next and meeting people in our neighborhood and handing out flyers.  But it was cold, and it got dark early, and there were only so many times my kids could say, "Remember to vote!" before it started being less fun.  After getting through both sides of two really long streets we decided we had done our civic duty and it was time to go get some dinner.

But not before Mona hit a few more houses with her new and improved slogan, "Remember to goat!"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Candy, Carmen, Cake, and Cancellations

Some days I think I do some pretty thoughtful writing here.   Other times I use this space to dash off something that amuses me.  Today is a messy hodgepodge of things I would like to write about better, but will be lucky if I simply get jotted down in the proper order so I don't forget all of it completely.  Some weeks are like that.

This was the first year since we've lived in Bay View that we were able to make it to the Pumpkin Pavilion in our nearby park.  Dozens and dozens of carved pumpkins lit at once, live bands, a magic show....

Carol Kraco and her photography
It was really fun, but we had to leave early because we wanted to also attend an art show downtown that a friend of ours had work in.

The show was very nice, but my husband and I were mostly taken by just how much activity there is on a Friday night in Milwaukee.  We are more than a decade removed from, well, going anywhere that doesn't involve a bouncy house as a good time, and there were so many people out and about and doing things after dark.  There were nighttime tours of some sort happening, horse-drawn carriages, people in costume (and not because of Halloween), a pedal tavern (a multi-person bike thing that is also a bar that I'm sure will get ticketed for open container violations if the cops can just catch it as it weaves its way through the city), and all manner of things going on.  Ian and I vowed we will go out and be part of some of it one day.

We've had a lot of guests lately.  My parents, brother, and a friend were here to attend a convention at the end of September, my mother-in-law was here for a week in mid-October and we threw a little birthday party for her, and then my parents, both brothers, my (future) sister-in-law, niece, and a dog came for several days.  That last visit revolved around my mom's birthday, and both my brothers and my mom agreed to let my kids dress them up.  Trick-or-Treat happens in our neighborhood for some reason on the Saturday evening before Halloween.  (Don't ask.  I think it's stupid not to have Trick-or-Treat on Halloween, but at least it's at night as it should be, as opposed to the rest of Milwaukee that does it in the daytime on Sunday afternoon.)

When I told my dad that my kids were going to be a kangaroo, a raccoon, and a skunk for Halloween he said those things didn't sound very scary.  I contend that if I ran across any of those things in my living room it would be terrifying.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Covert Support

There was an Obama rally today in Milwaukee that I was hoping to attend, but I needed to be at work.  However, my new Obama t-shirt arrived in the mail!  I could have worn it to the rally.  Any rally.  A Romney rally!  Because who would know?

I swear to you, when I was looking at the customized color options for state tees on the Obama donation site, and I selected the dark blue with the black ink it looked nice!  Subtle, yet attractive.  But it turns out dark blue is almost black.  And black is definitely black.  So my "Wisconsinites for Obama" t-shirt is pretty much black on black.  Which is as subtle as whatever the opposite of a heart attack might be.  A resting heart rate?  Mona and Quinn stared at it really hard up close and said, "Oh!  I think I see words!"  So, yeah.

Maybe next I can put my car magnet in the glove compartment, a bumper sticker under my pillow, and knock on doors using only the power of my mind.  Obama 2012!  (Mumble mumble mumble.)

Friday, November 2, 2012

A (Dwindling) Crisis of Lice

We seem to have gotten the lice situation under control.  Thanks to everyone who contacted me with advice and sympathy.  Somehow the infestation was contained to just Mona and Aden and I never saw a live louse.  Many dead lice went down the drain after we rinsed out the medicated shampoo, and I've done several thorough combings and seem to have gotten all the eggs.  We have washed many things and bagged the rest for storage in the garage until next month.  (I might slap bows on all those bags of stuffed animals and let the kids reopen them on Christmas.)

Now we're in a routine of prevention where every morning the girls use a lice repelling shampoo and I go over their heads carefully with the nit comb.  (We got Quinn's head a buzz cut which he needed anyway and he looks adorable like he's freshly hatched.)  All kids are back in school.  No one is itchy.

I'm actually feeling like we got off fairly easy.  (I should be knocking on wood or something about now, shouldn't I?  Eh.  It's jinxy but I am going to keep typing anyway.) 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

LICE! (Ewwwww!)

I have so much to write about.  I'm suffering a massive case of the Journal Paradox right now.

But the half dozen posts I started all got shoved aside with everything else in my life after a call from the school nurse saying Mona had lice.  Which means Aden had lice.  (Quinn, for reasons unknown, did not have lice.)  Amazing how that kind of brings everything to a halt and makes your world all about laundry and hair washing.

I don't even have enough energy to go into any real detail because I am so tired after a full day of stripping sheets and bagging stuffed animals and going through my kids' heads with a nit comb.

I will say, however, that I felt whatever instinct I posses as a primate assert itself while working on Mona's head this afternoon.  Despite being grossed out over washing lice out of my daughter's hair, something about carefully combing through small sections of her scalp felt natural.  I did not eat what I found like a monkey or a chimp would, but I got the appeal of the activity.  It was strangely enjoyable literally nit picking with Mona.  (Less so with Aden who has much longer and impossibly tangled hair.  The knots were more frustrating than the nits.)

So I am going to sleep and try not to dream of lice or nits or fine toothed combs.  And if I'm crazy lucky tomorrow I may even get to tackle writing about my mom's birthday or taking the kids to see an opera or how my brother and his daughter were stranded here due to the hurricane. 

(Lice!  Ewww Ewwww EW!)

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Post Where I Show You Too Many Photos of Leaves

I love fall.  It's my favorite season.

I'm always excited about being released from my coat in the spring after a long winter, but there is something comforting about putting on long sleeves and a jacket again when summer is over.

I like the quality of the light in the fall, and snuggling up with my kids under a blanket on movie night.  I don't even mind raking.  (Which is good because there's been a lot of raking.)

And wow has this year been amazing for beautiful trees.  The last of them are finally fading here in Milwaukee, and I just feel like sharing way too many pictures of some of the ones around our neighborhood.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Foreign Policy in My Kitchen

I'm not a political blogger.  I have no desire to be a political blogger.  It's not that I'm not interested in political issues, I just worry that people are so polarized anymore that when you voice support for one side or another that people stop listening to you carefully.  I worry about stereotypes that cut both directions--that if you support different positions than I do that you will make assumptions about everything else I believe, and that people who agree with me will do the same.  No one I know is that simple.

So at the risk of alienating anyone or people jumping to all manner of conclusions I feel the need to comment on last night's presidential debate on foreign policy.  Not that there was any debate on foreign policy since it all seemed to be agreement on foreign policy, which I found rather mystifying, honestly, since I don't think the two major parties agree on much in that area.  But that aside, this is what I found myself reflecting on this morning.

There has been a lot of discussion about looking back at the past four years.  They have been a hard four years for many, and I understand.  But compared to the four years before that?  I prefer the path we are on now.

When I think of foreign policy, I think not only of the role of our nation in the world, but of the future of my children and our own family.  I think about standing in my kitchen watching President Bush on television while my husband was deployed in Iraq the first time.  I was washing dishes while my daughter, only four at the time, was drawing at the table.  I didn't usually express political opinions in front of Aden back then because she was too young to understand and her life was complicated enough with her dad away.  But then the president was asked if the responsibility for all those soldiers overseas troubled his sleep at night.  And President Bush replied that he slept just fine.

I almost dropped the dish I was holding. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Finished Kangaroo!

Done!  I'm done!  (And I'm actually ahead of schedule and not stitching up the last bit of someone's costume right before the Halloween dance.)  Here is Aden in her newest kangaroo outfit:

Plus it turns out the dog fits in her pouch, so she is a very happy girl.

Three done and none to go!

So now I should maybe, I don't know.... make violins?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Relearning the Paper Crane

Every few years I relearn how to make an origami crane.  It's not a skill that sticks with me for some reason, like riding a bike or solving a Rubik's cube.

There are lots of bad instructions for how to make a paper crane.  I actually enjoy writing out instructions for things.  I like taking notes, and I like arranging ideas so they are clear, so I get irritated when I come across instructions that are hard to follow, and most step by step directions for paper cranes are terrible.  I must have about half a dozen different versions available at home, and they are all different and they are all unnecessarily confusing.  The first time I really was able to fold an origami crane was when I took an existing one and systematically unfolded it, and once I understood it backwards I was able to do it forwards.  But as I said, that knowledge doesn't seem to stick.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Aden's Affinity (A Kangaroo Tale)

Aden asked to be a kangaroo this year.  Again.  She likes having a tail, and she likes trick-or-treating with a pouch instead of a bucket.  But seriously, I am not sure how many kangaroo outfits I've now made.  Aden and Mona were both kangaroos in 2004:

Then I don't remember if I had to make a new kangaroo costume for Aden the following year or if she just wore the same one again in 2005.  I have a feeling she wore the same one because that costume remained a regular part of her wardrobe all that year.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Masked Mona

I am honestly surprised that Mona didn't want to make her own costume this year.  She likes creative control over her projects and she has such specific vision about things that I was sure I would only play a peripheral role in making her Halloween outfit.  But she decided she likes having me make her costume and even though I didn't come up with a design that matched what she imagined, she seems really pleased with the outcome.

Mona the raccoon:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Costumed Quinn

We started Halloween costumes earlier than usual this year because I have so much going on this month I didn't want to get overly stressed about them.  Luckily the kids were able to narrow down what they wanted to be a couple of weeks ago when we were at the fabric store and I was able to pick up all the material we needed.  This weekend I got started!

And I have to say, after sewing three costumes a year for the past several years, I am getting quicker at it.  Normally I trace the kids onto the fabric and then pin everything together after cutting it all out to test the fit, but this year I traced, cut, and went straight to the sewing machine, and so far so good.

The first costume is done and it only took me two evenings.  Behold, Quinn the skunk:

I honestly have no idea why he decided to be a skunk, but he looks adorable so I'm happy with it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Radiolab Love

This past weekend Ian and I got to go do something fun.  We are seldom able to wrangle any time free from the fixed schedule of work and army and rehearsals and school, etc.  But back in August I found out that the NPR program Radiolab was planning a live version of their show in Milwaukee at the end of September and I decided we were going.

I'm a bit of a Radiolab junkie.  It's a peculiar show with a unique sound and rhythm, and is somewhat of an acquired taste.  It has a heavy science slant, but some shows are purely about music, and others touch on philosophy or history or just good storytelling.  The program airs sporadically because they don't produce many shows and they wind up temporarily in slots replacing reruns of other things, so I only ever find it on the radio by accident.

The way I regularly listen to Radiolab is through their podcasts.  I have as many shows as I can get on my ipod and every time I walk the dog I listen to another snippet.  Radiolab has also kept me from going insane with boredom on very long car trips that include traffic jams in Chicago and has actually made those drives enjoyable.  Even when all I have time to hear is whatever I can catch on one spin around the block with Chipper, I learn something or am surprised or delighted, I often laugh and am occasionally reduced to tears.  I love Radiolab.

I began listening to it entirely because of Robert Krulwich who, along with Jad Abumrad (whose perspective and style I've come to love as well), hosts the show.  I saw a piece he did as a reporter for ABC News back when I was in high school and was so taken with his approach and presentation that I made a point to memorize his name.  He's serious enough to feel trustworthy, but usually sounds ready to be amused.  Robert Krulwich has been my favorite reporter for most of my life, and anytime I catch his voice on the radio or television I stop to listen because I know it will be interesting.  Several years ago I turned on NPR and found an odd program about ethics and how our brains work that I almost turned off because the sound design was distracting and the level to which it seemed to be trying so hard was annoying, but then I caught the voice of Robert Krulwich.  So I stayed with it and got sucked in, and have been a Radiolab fan ever since.

The live show was great.  Dave Foley (from 'Kids in the Hall' and 'News Radio') did standup and helped move things along, Robert and Jad did their familiar banter that somehow doesn't feel scripted even when it is, there was wonderful live music by Thao Nguyen, and the Pilobolus dance troupe not only danced but assisted the program with a kind of informational science prop comedy.  It was entertaining and engrossing from beginning to end.

The theme was In the Dark, and was presented in roughly three segments. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Full House

The first house my husband and I owned together he picked without me.  We'd been house hunting unsuccessfully around Milwaukee for a couple of years, and it was getting too difficult for me emotionally to look at a house and mentally paint the walls new colors just to have someone else get their offer accepted on it first.  I was crushed every time, and we decided that Ian knew enough of what I wanted to look without me and choose wisely.  So when he picked out the blue and grey corner house a couple of blocks from the railroad tracks in Bay View, I didn't see it until the final walk through before the closing.  If I ever need proof I trust my husband, that's it.

I loved that house.  We put a lot of work into it.  A LOT of work.  It's the house all my babies came home to.  It's the last place my grandma got to come visit us here.  It's where I built my first instrument on my own after four years of violin making school.  It's where we buried our first pet bunny after she was killed by a cat.  It was within those walls that I experienced some of my greatest joys and suffered some of my hardest lessons.

But it didn't have closets.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Doors Open Milwaukee

This weekend was Doors Open Milwaukee, where over a hundred different places were open to the public for tours and a peek into places most of us never get to see.  It's an interesting event the city tried last year, and it was such a hit they decided to repeat it.  I'm hoping it becomes a new annual tradition because it's a great idea, and it will take years for us to get to everything we want to see.  Too often we neglect to seek out the interesting sights in our own neighborhoods, and it's easy to forget to be curious about places that form the background to our daily lives.

Now, outings with kids are always a gamble no matter who you are.  My kids are unusually good on car trips and in restaurants, and can be trusted not to touch things when we go into stores or other people's homes, but even they get whiny when they are hungry and tired.  Ian and I explained at the outset that Doors Open Milwaukee was optional.  At any point on our tour we could go home.  This was either a threat or an offer, whichever need it met.

The weather looked beautiful but was cold.  Our first stop was the city hall to try and get tickets for the building's bell tower, which meant waiting in a long line at 9:00 a.m. outside.  (Everything on the Doors Open Milwaukee tour was free, but some spots with limited space required tickets.)  There was much complaining about the cold and the wait, even though I think I kept the kids fairly well entertained in the line.  Then I think Mona's mood was officially broken when we were unable to actually get tickets to go up to the bell tower.  I reminded her that it was still really cool to get to stand inside the city hall, but the whining had begun.

Milwaukee's city hall is modeled after a building in Germany and is quite striking.  (And anyone old enough to have watched Laverne and Shirley might remember it from the opening credits.)  Here is the building we did not get to the top of:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Some Days it's Good Just to Breathe

Some days my little violin store is very busy.  Some days it's quiet.

On one side of the store is my bench, with all the instruments hung overhead lined up for repair work, and my tools and varnish and glue.  On the other side of the store is my husband's desk, with the computer, files, paperwork, and bills.  The two sides are equal, and without either half there is no store.

Because all of our children are now in school full day we can finally both work in the violin store for a few hours at the same time.  Until recently we had a tag team approach, where one of us would be home with the kids and the other would try to make progress in the store at the bench or desk.  It's nice as I do repair work to look over and see my husband just a few steps away.  I like that we run our business and our lives together.

I often tell Ian as he's sifting through the receipts and post-it-notes on his desk that for every bit of paper representing a person who came into the store, there were usually three or four other people who left no evidence of their visit.  I spend a lot of time talking to people who are curious about violin making, or want to tell me about a relative who played music, or who simply like the atmosphere of our little shop and want to hang out for a bit.  Sometimes when I'm drowning in repairs I'm not as willing to chat, but most of the time I'm happy to share what I know and I enjoy hearing people's stories.

Today while my husband and I were both working a man came in who looked familiar.  Turns out he'd stopped in a few years back and tried to sell me insurance.  He said he was in the neighborhood and was glad to see that we were still in business.  He was considering taking up violin.  He was concerned that he might be too old for that.

I assured him (the way I do many people who come into my store saying the same thing) that there is no "too old" for music.  He was too old to be a child prodigy, but that was about it.  My oldest adult beginner was 77 and he did just fine and was one of my all time favorite students.  The man told me about the violin music he'd had at his wedding.  That he'd always loved the sound.  I listened, and then gave him more general information about violin and how to get started.  As I talked I continued to work on the violin at my bench, and the man listened and occasionally paced around while looking at things on display.

But there was something about the way this man lingered in my store that was different from most people.  There was something forced in the smile he gave me, as if he had to remind himself to do it.  He seemed distracted and a little lost, but not ready to leave.

Then, as an aside during one of his questions, he mentioned his wife had died. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I had a much shorter fuse back when Ian was deployed.  The stress of the situation and all the responsibility for our children would drive me to yell too much.  There were times I really needed the kids to step up and do more so that everything wasn't all completely on me every minute.  But they were small.  It seemed like such bright little people should be able to follow certain instructions, but often they just couldn't, and in my heart I knew that. 

Still, there were days when I felt they were letting me down and they would get a loud lecture.  The one I remember best was the lecture about Responsibility.  They had responsibilities as members of our family!  As residents of our house!  They could not make extra work for me by dumping their dirty clothes all over!  If they wanted to have toys they had to pick them up when they were done!  There were rules!  They had to be more responsible!

And my beautiful, sweet children looked up at me, patiently listening to my ranting and raving as I flailed my arms around and talked about responsibility.  They looked sad and concerned and nodded in earnest agreement as I went on.  And when I finished Aden asked carefully, "Mama?  Um....  What does re-spon-si-bi-li-ty mean?" 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Another Pretty Tuesday

It's interesting, all these years later, that when people reflect on Sept 11, 2001, they usually remark on how beautiful the weather was.  And it was a particularly clear, pretty day.  I remember on my way to work thinking it was the perfect temperature, and the sky was spectacularly blue.

I was pregnant with my first child, who would be born almost exactly three months later into a world that operated differently from the one in which she was conceived.

I had listened to the news on my short drive to work, and even though a plane crashing into the World Trade Center sounded terrible I couldn't imagine that it was more than an accident or that the building would fall.  On my walk from the parking lot I remember looking at the tallest building in Wisconsin just blocks from the violin store where I was employed and couldn't help but picture what it might look like being struck by a plane.  I kept thinking that had to be a frightening way to die.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


The first week of school went well here.  Unless you count the second day where Quinn threw up.  Twice.  So he came home early, but had no fever and seemed fine.  We sent him back the next day and things were less messy.  (I have no idea what that was, but I'm chalking it up to 'transition.')

Aden, Mona, Quinn, first day of school
The first day of school Ian biked there with the girls and I followed along a few minutes later with Quinn in the car because we had at least six bags of supplies to deliver.  We get a list every year from each teacher of a dozen things that includes paper towels and pencils and copy paper.  I don't remember as a kid being responsible for any supplies beyond what I was supposed to use myself, but now basic things like crayons and glue are not available in the regular school budget apparently, so all the families pitch in.  That's fine by me, since my kids attend a public school and their education is essentially free to begin with, but it makes me sad that as a society education is such an underfunded priority.  So many of the good things about a community radiate from having a well educated population, so I'm amazed that schools have to fight for the money needed to do what they do.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Art Chopped

I enjoy competitive cooking shows.  I don't know why.  There is something amusing about people yelling over risotto that makes it fun to have on in the background while I work on violins.  For my 40th birthday my neighbor and I teamed up to make beef Wellington and risotto while trying to say mean things to each other in English accents and it was a blast.

At one point on a rainy afternoon this summer Quinn was having some sort of breakdown born of exhaustion and I needed to distract him so I pulled up an episode of Chopped on Hulu.  Next thing I knew the girls were on the bed, too, gathered around my laptop, and I was explaining that the chefs each get a mystery box and they have to use the ingredients in it to make first an appetizer, then an entree, then when down to the final two people, a dessert.  They were hooked.

Now, I have to say, I am impressed with how much more adventurous in spirit this has made my kids when it comes to eating.  There is not much that they serve on Chopped that if set in front of the average kid would even get touched, but my kids get all caught up in the judges' comments and decide everything looks good.  One episode involved star fruit, and they asked when they spotted some in the store if we could please please please get some.  And they liked it.  And we've gotten more since.  Aden watches with bated breath as the contestants open their boxes and immediately starts telling me what she would do with the ingredients, however weird they might be.  Mona says she wishes she could eat all of it, and Quinn echoes everything Mona says.  So, Chopped is a hit.

Last week we needed an activity.  I had the day off, Aden didn't want to change out of her pajamas, and Mona was bouncing off the walls, so I came up with Art Chopped.  I didn't want the kids experimenting with food in any kind of rushed manner, and we have lots of art supplies, so I told them I would pick out some items from the craft area and put them under boxes and they would have to make something.  It wasn't a competition, there was no time limit except done by dinner was preferred, and if they needed help they could ask.  (I know Aden would rather I set something up more authentic to the show, but I wasn't willing to pit the girls against their brother who is only five.)

Mona could not have been more excited. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Best Summer Ever

School starts for my kids the day after Labor Day this year.  They are going into fifth, third, and K5, which means for the first time all of them will be in school until 2:20 each day.  Full day school for all three kids.  Part of me is feeling sort of shocked and sad that all of my babies are now for sure definitely not babies anymore and haven't been for a long time.  But the other part of me is all in a happy dance about how bright and fun and independent they are and that they will all be in FULL DAY SCHOOL!  It's like a having a wish granted by the Time Fairy.

Anyway, I asked the kids what they wanted to do with their last weekend of summer vacation.  Was there anything we hadn't done that they had hoped to do?  They thought about it, and decided they had done it all.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Not Interested in Dying

We got an email from my dad last night.  My dad doesn't email very often.  He used to write us a great deal, most often on post it notes that accompanied packets of articles he'd hand selected for us.  Sometimes there was a lot crammed onto the post it notes, but usually they were brief.  My favorite was one that read: "Dear Kory, This is more than I wrote to your brother, Love Dad."  His emails are brief as well, seldom more than a half dozen lines at best, but always both poignant and funny.

Last night's email was particularly powerful.  He reminded us that we had reached the one year anniversary of a doctor telling my mom in the hospital that my dad may not make it through the night.  But he did.  And he's still around a year later having settled back in at home, vacationed with us at the cottage, and seen his grandchildren all grow that much taller and more interesting.  If his cancer returns there is nothing left to be done about it, and things are still complicated (particularly from my mom's end), but he's home and getting around under his own power, doing what interests him, and mostly just being my dad.  When I think about the nightmarish hospital stays from last year it's hard not to marvel at the difference today.

Dad also mentioned a recent obituary in the Times that said the deceased "had no interest in dying" and he probably didn't either.  I'm glad that's nowhere on my dad's to do list.  Because I need my dad.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Amazing Milwaukee Race on Bikes!

Back in April I 'ran' with my friend Linda in The Amazing Milwaukee Race.  This past weekend my husband and I participated in the biking version of that race, and it wore me out but we had a great time.

There were two courses; the A-course was 40 miles, and the B-course was supposed to be 20 miles but turned out to be 25.  Of the 72 teams that participated only 23 finished, and of the 14 B-course teams we came in tenth.  Not bad for a team called "The Slow Spokes."  The whole thing was a lot more grueling than anticipated, but it was the kind of event where the enjoyment of it comes down to the company.  There were several moments when I was cold and wet and sore that I realized if I were with someone else I would have been miserable, but because I was with Ian it was fun.

Ian ready to ride!
Me briefly enjoying dry clothes

Here's a rundown of the whole adventure (including address locations for locals interested in the path we traveled) and some more photos:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

My legs are tired!!!!

Just finished The Amazing Milwaukee Race On Bikes!

Ian didn't have to do an Army thing this weekend after all, so we were able to sign up at the last minute to join the race.  There were two courses; one was 40 miles, and one was 20 miles.  Ian suggested we stick to the shorter course, and as usual he was right.  I am worn out!

We did finish.  Apparently many people didn't.  We won't find out our scores until tomorrow.   But when we checked in the volunteers seemed surprised that we finished the entire course and had all our clues.  I'm not sure how we could have gone much faster than we did.  We didn't waste time anywhere and we kept moving at a good clip on our bikes despite the rain (so much rain), but we still made it back late.  The race began at noon and was supposed to be wrapped up by 5:00, and we didn't check in at the finish line until about 5:15, so whoever won deserves a lot of praise!  I have no idea how people did the 40 mile course in that amount of time.

It was so much fun!  Despite getting caught in two thunderstorms.  Although it was one of those events where the company is everything.  Just like doing the race on foot back in April was fun because I was with my friend, Linda, I was glad I did this race with my husband.  We're a good team because he knows how to get everywhere, and I'm good at figuring things out.  There were several moments when I was just cold and wet and sore that I realized the only reason it was fun and not torture was because I was with Ian.  He makes life good anywhere.

Anyway, now I'm home and dry and literally covered with kids which is making typing hard, so I will share the details of the race later.

More soon!  With a photo or two!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Midwestern Moments

The Midwest is beautiful.  My home state of Michigan was a wonderful place to grow up, and I'm glad when I get to go back and visit my parents in Detroit or spend time at the cottage we have there on the western side of the state.  People wax poetic about the grandeur of the West and lushness of the South, the colors of the desert and the interweaving of loveliness and history that runs along the East Coast, but I seldom read about the Midwest.  That's too bad, because there is much to love here.

Calder in the Art Museum, evening event
It's like a secret.  No one visits Milwaukee just to see it the way they would places like New York or San Francisco.  People visit Milwaukee because they have a specific reason to go, usually because they know someone here.  And when they come they are stunned by how pretty and vibrant it is.  There is an abundance of talent and activity and things to do and see, and it's for the people who live here rather than for tourists.  People who live elsewhere are surprised that my family seldom gets down to Chicago since it's so close, but the truth is we never run out of things to do in Milwaukee.  Often there is too much to choose from any given weekend.  It's an endlessly interesting place and I feel fortunate to be raising my kids in such a nice city.

Deer outside my window at the cottage
In the area north of Grand Rapids where we spent our vacation this year we had time to really appreciate the beauty Michigan has to offer.  There is something about the woods and the scale of things that feels knowable.  I'm lucky enough to have traveled a little bit in my lifetime, and I have been thrilled by many amazing sights.  There is beauty and wonder everywhere, but for me only the Midwest feels like home.  I find mountains somewhat intimidating, the desert alien, and the tropics overwhelming.  But when I'm in the woods in Michigan I always have the sense that with the right guidebooks or some walks with an informed friend or relative I would be able to name all the trees and the birds and the tracks on the ground.

When we visit the cottage we usually take the kids up the road to a ranch where for $5 they can be led around in circles a few times on a horse.  This year Aden was finally old enough that we had the option to go out on a real trail.  My sister-in-law kindly treated my daughter and me to a two hour trail ride and it was lovely.  My thighs are still a little sore, but it was a wonderful experience.  Aden loved it.  She rode a horse named Comet who was trained as a therapy horse for people with physical disabilities, so she was a nice, calm, starter horse for Aden.
Aden on Comet
View of Aden on the trail from my horse

Being on a horse was interesting.  The last time I was on a horse was over 20 years ago and I got thrown off and passed out.  Before that all of my experience was at day camps or birthday parties, and whatever horse I was on usually took advantage of my lack of confidence and ignored me to eat flowers or leaves.  I always feel awkward trying to order a horse around since it seems only a matter of time before the animal realizes the power imbalance and decides it doesn't want me on its back.  Watching people who know what to do with horses always impresses me.  One of the guides on our trail ride was only eleven!  She had perfect control of her horse, and her horse adored her.

In any case, seeing the woods from horseback was wonderful.  I had no interest in moving any faster than a walk, but the trail guides would split up the group periodically and let me go off ahead with one of them, and then the rest would catch up at a trot.  The look of delight on Aden's face as her horse picked up speed is one I hope to never forget.

Leaves illuminated from behind by sunshine is one of the most beautiful things I know of. 
The woods in that area are mostly quaking aspens and spindly looking oaks that never seem to get beyond a certain size.  Then interspersed here and there are patches of neatly planted pine forests with the trees all in rows and I'm reminded that the area was not always wild.  The landscape of the community where the cottage was built was artificially constructed in I believe the 1960s and 70s, and the look of it has weathered and changed in a good way from when I was a kid.  Nature has had time to fill in the spaces with ferns and sumac and Queen Anne's lace.  I love how it's grown. 

One of the best people to take a nature walk with is my brother, Barrett.  Nothing like being with an entomologist to make everything in a ten foot radius seem like a wild adventure kingdom.  When you remember to include incredibly tiny animals in your searches you see animals everywhere, and Barrett's enthusiasm for the insect world is inspiring (no matter how squeamish about bugs you may think yourself to be initially).  My kids cannot wait until we get to go to the cottage and have him along.  (They asked his identical twin what every insect was as they came across it on our walks, but Arno just kept tossing up his hands and saying, "Ask them yourself!  I don't know!"  As a neuroscientist he could have helped identify brains if there had been any on the trail, but thankfully there were none.)

It's also fun to walk with my mom, because as both a lover of nature and an artist she notices things the rest of us would overlook.  She's spent most of her life in Michigan and incorporates many local elements into her work, and has never thought the Midwest lacked for interesting subject matter.

There are many places in the world I hope to see before I die.  I've never been to South America or Africa or Australia.  I'd like to take my kids to see India and Europe.  If I get to visit even half the landmarks on the flashcards my kids like to flip through when I'm teaching them about the world I would be happy.  But I'm also happy to call the Midwest my home base.  I'm glad it's the place I get to return to, wherever I choose to go. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Living Tribute

We just spent the last two weeks at the cottage.  It's still hard not to write "my grandma's cottage," but I'm getting closer to being able to say "our cottage."  It's finally starting to sink in after owning it for a year that it belongs to us now.

We signed the paperwork last summer on my grandmother's birthday, more than half a year after her death.  I think she probably pictured her summer cottage in the woods being shared by her children for a time rather than moving so soon into the hands of one of her grandchildren, but I think she'd just be pleased that it's stayed in the family.

When we are in Milwaukee living our busy lives and we get the bills from Michigan to maintain another house there, one with taxes and fees and things to fix, I wonder if it's worth the expense.  But when I'm there I know it is.  It's a home of my childhood that doesn't change.  When I'm at the cottage it's like being with my grandma again.  Like being with the family I grew up with while getting to share that with the family I have now.  It's magic.

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Two Cents on Guns

During the recent theater shootings in Aurora I was blissfully unplugged from the news.  I was visiting my parents and we did not have the TV or radio on.  The newspapers delivered to the door kept us about a day behind the current events.  At one point I went online to check email and discovered the horrible story after the president had already addressed the nation and the usual unpleasant squabbling had begun in the wake of such gun related tragedy.  I closed my computer and turned my focus to the puppet show my kids were putting on, and sitting with my dad, and finding the kids' goggles before going to the pool.  The nightmare in Aurora would be there after my vacation and I didn't see the point of letting it in early.

Now the mass shooting of the moment in the news isn't across the country.  It's the next zip code over, and just miles down on the road that runs by our home.  A Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI, just south of Milwaukee, was attacked by at least one gunman, and although at this moment there aren't too many details available, we know six innocent people are dead.  I don't have the luxury of turning away because now the nightmare is in my own community.  It's horrifying.

I've been trying to process some of the rhetoric that's been flying around in the aftermath of so much pointless suffering, and I feel like working through my thoughts on guns.  I have no legislative power and threaten anybody's rights on this issue, so these opinions are just that and nothing more.  If I push someone's buttons try not to take it personally.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Looking for opinions on part of my first novel

I mentioned in the post I wrote about the movie Brave that I might need to amend or rewrite part of my first novel to accommodate it.  I can't decide because I kind of like it the way it is, but it could seem like an obvious omission since the novel has yet to be published.  Or maybe I should leave it as a reflection on when it was written, rather than update it?

I could use some opinions if anyone is willing to take a few minutes and read an excerpt.

The name of my novel is The Real Mom, although I'm considering changing the title to Pink Ponies.  It's about Maddie, an artist who is married and is the stay at home mom of two young girls.  This excerpt is from the middle of chapter four after she's found out she's pregnant again, and she's taking care of her girls while making dinner and waiting for her husband to come home.  (I look forward to the day when anyone who is interested can read the whole thing.  Which could be soon as I am about at my limit with rejections from agents and may just self-publish and be done with it.  If anyone has advice on any of that I'd love to hear it too!)

The Real Mom, by Korinthia Klein, pages 79-84:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Strung Out

Ah, string camp.  The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music has run a week long summer string camp for twelve years now.  I have been there since its inception, and in some ways it's changed, but the stress, challenges, and sweetness remain the same.  There are special classes each day (I usually do a talk about violin making where I lay out a bunch of wood and tools and answer lots of questions), small ensembles that get coached individually, orchestra, and an extra session (for those who are interested) to learn fiddle music.  It's a lot to cram into just a few days.  This weekend we had our concert, so for one more year it is officially done.

The stress is interesting, because it's not so much the actual work involved in teaching at string camp, it's having to put all of your trust and faith into the kids to do what they need to do.  I want them to perform well for their own sakes, but it's my name on the program too, and it's hard to put your own reputation on the line in a situation where, when the big moment arrives, you give up control.  I am far more nervous watching my students perform than I have ever been on stage myself.

"B1 Steak Sauce"--my string camp quartet on stage
But the miracle every year of string camp is that somehow, inexplicably, the kids manage to pull everything together over the course of just a few days and create a lovely concert.  I'm amazed every time.  I start out with a group of kids who are always charming and earnest, but who have obstacles to overcome that always seem to me to be insurmountable in the time allotted, and yet....

And yet, they never worry.  I have to round them up to practice, and they saunter to their seats.  I freak out because they don't seem to have practiced, and they remain unconcerned.  I clap along desperately, explaining the importance of counting for playing in an ensemble, and they smile politely and can't believe I want them to run the piece again.  I do all the worrying for everyone, while they have a nice time.  It wears me out.

I almost didn't do it this year.  I had to leave the rest of my family vacationing in Michigan to come back to Milwaukee to teach, and it was hard doing string camp in the mornings and then rushing off to the violin store to work into the evenings, and finding any spare moments left in there to walk the dog.  I told Ian that I teach so little anymore that maybe this was the year I just resign.  Maybe my connection with the Conservatory had run its course and I should let it go.

But Ian reminded me that I always get stressed about string camp, but I always get something from it and am glad to have participated.  He didn't think I should give up the teaching part of my identity yet.

He was right.  I enjoy teaching and wish there were room in my schedule to do it regularly, but there just isn't.  So instead I do a whirlwind week of teaching at string camp and remind myself how exciting it is to help kids play music.  I have a chance to mingle with the other teachers and get inspired by what they do.  We get to have a concert in a room with plaster roses on the walls and ceiling so it looks like you're performing in a wedding cake.

When I was in high school I belonged to a chamber music organization for kids that was really wonderful, and some of my best musical memories are from its summer string camp.  I understand fully the kinds of memories and associations we are building for these young musicians as we guide them through an intense week of learning more about music. 

But one of the things I remember best from back then was my father suffering through many of the small ensembles at the concert, and then being floored by how good the whole orchestra sounded.  He didn't understand how such flawed individual players could coalesce into something quite beautiful.  He would say to me, "How does such perfection come from such imperfection?"

Now, the whole process of learning to make music interests me and I am much more forgiving of all that supposed imperfection than my dad was, but I understand asking him to sit through other people's kids botching great music that he loves is one of those crosses parents have to bear if you want to hear your own kid play on stage.  However, he's right, that there is a magic in the sound of a group that improves everyone.  The rough edges are less noticeable and the better parts somehow rise to the surface.  That's my favorite part of string camp, hearing the kids come together as a large group and create something bigger than themselves.  It's beautiful.

So my group, despite my usual fears, pulled themselves together and did not fall apart on stage.  Which amazes me since the first day I assessed how they played, the second day I had to painstakingly teach them the beginnings of several pieces so that we could pick one, the third day one player was absent, and the last day was the first time I got to hear them play the piece from the top of the page to the bottom.  Then they had their concert.  (I had to put polish on my nails every night to keep myself from biting them down to nothing.)  I can only imagine how much we would accomplish if I could work with them for two weeks in stead of one, but even one extra day would be nice. 

I will try to remember this for next year, when again I will wonder if it's worth the extra work and time to teach at string camp.  Because it is.  And actually, Aden is old enough that she might be ready to join in, if I can convince her to try it.  Just the thought of having her be part of that kind of experience makes me smile.