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!)