Sunday, December 29, 2013

Concert Rave

Quick post.  I still have enough people staying in my house at the moment that I keep losing count (we set the dinner table for 17 last night, I think...) so I haven't had time for writing.  I still don't, but we're in a down moment where people are just reading, etc. so I will blog!

Before I forget the details I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the kids' school concert.  It was wonderful.  It was everything the girls' last choir concert wasn't.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mommy's Sweatshop Relentlessly Cranks Out the Joy

I believe in holiday cards.  I know we stay better connected online anymore, but there is nothing like getting a real piece of mail from someone you care about to make you smile while sorting through the junk and bills.  There are even some people we only really catch up with at this time of year, and when I'm going through my address book and figuring out how many cards to put together I'm glad to stop and think of them.

Some years when we are pressed for time we just take a family portrait and use that as our card.  But when we can we like to make our cards.  We set up the assembly line and I put the kids to work.

This year we went with a potato print of a Christmas cookie.  We haven't done a potato print in a while.  The last time was three years ago where we made trees and decorated them with stickers.

For the most part that worked out well.  The kids liked stamping the trees one day, and the next when the paint was dry we broke out the giant sticker box and I told them to use whatever struck their fancy.  They used a lot of foil stars and shiny things.

But then Quinn, in his 3-year-old innocence, came up with this bit of horror that I kept for myself because it makes me laugh every time:

(The heart reads "1 month old" in case you can't read it and want to fully appreciate the inappropriateness of this card.)

The kids like helping make the cards, but it always happens on a deadline around birthday season and preparing for concerts and lots of visitors, so I have to keep things somewhat simple, and I have to remind myself it's supposed to be fun and not lose my patience with the production line.

Thankfully the median age in my in-home sweatshop keeps rising and the quality of my slave labor fun crafting projects seems to improve, or at least get more efficient.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Concert Rant

Three hours.  My kids' choir concert Sunday was three hours.  There is no excuse for a children's concert to run for three hours, unless it is an extraordinary three hours that feels like less than half that.  But it was not.  It was an insipid three hours.

I feel terrible writing that, because I don't fault any of the children, or the instructors.  My children have loved their choir and it has provided them with some wonderful experiences.  There is no individual I have a problem with and I could go on and on about any number of positive things.

However.  I think I am done with this group and it's time to find my kids somewhere else to sing.  And I need a moment to rant, because I actually left this concert feeling mad, and that should not happen.  How do you mess up children singing?

Granted, we already went into the concert a bit worn out because Saturday Quinn had a piano recital in the morning and Aden had two choir performances in the Nutcracker, and Sunday was Mona's turn to sing at the ballet before both Aden and Mona were required to be at the 3:30 call time for their concert.  So Mona left for the Nutcracker at 1:00 in one outfit and was asked to bring her choir gear to change into and a snack to eat.  A snack.  What would you pack?  I went with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bottle of water.  Had I any idea she wouldn't get any food again until bedtime I would have chosen differently.  (Not that she even got to eat her sandwich, so that would have been out of my hands regardless.  Anyway....)

The choir is expensive.  But that's okay.  I believe in paying good music teachers well.  I believe in expert instruction and students learning good technique while also having fun.  I just want a place for my kids to sing with others, and I don't mind paying for that.

Then there are the overpriced uniforms.  And the fine if you don't volunteer.  And the fundraisers.  And the constant requests for donations.  And the silent auction baskets (with starting bids higher than anything I can afford to pay) and cookies for the concessions stand and the driving to special events and extra rehearsals.

I also have to buy tickets to the concerts.  I have to pay usually about $15 to hear my kids sing each time, and I never get to sit in the good seats because those are reserved for "Season Ticket Holders."  I was already resenting that after paying for my kids to be in the choir I also had to pay to hear the results of all that tuition money (and that it's too expensive for all of us to go), but the Nutcracker kind of pushed me over the edge.

I am very glad they got to sing in the Nutcracker.  I am.  They LOVED it.  They got to sing in the pit where the orchestra was performing, and they got to see their teacher there who is with the ballet orchestra, and they thought all the behind the scenes stuff of a professional ballet in action was exciting to witness.  However, if they wanted to stay and watch any of the Nutcracker after their part was over they had to buy a ticket.

As a musician this sits with me very badly.  Because at that point those children are just working for free.  The work we do in the arts is already drastically undervalued, but to not even set aside a small row of seats for any choir children who want to stay and watch some of the show they contributed to strikes me as wrong.  Maybe that has nothing to do with the people who run the choir, but you know what?  If I were negotiating whatever deal that was, that seems like a fair request.

Then there was the actual concert.

Call time for the singers was 3:30.  Doors didn't open for parents to sit down anywhere until after 4:00.  The concert itself started at 4:30.  The seats were uncomfortable and the people behind me kept talking (which makes me crazy), but I figured what difference did it make?  I was there to hear children sing.  I love to hear children sing.  Concert-wise, this was like shooting fish in a barrel.  Everyone there was excited to hear their children sing and were willing to pay money to do it.  This kind of event was primed for success.

I'm not going to pretend I know what it's like to run an operation like a children's concert at that scale.  I'm sure it's hard.  But I do know what it's like to program a recital and help put together a concert of children with parents in the audience.  I know what the needs are of people both onstage and in front of it, and this concert did a disservice to both.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Human Sacrifice

It's one thing to volunteer one's life for a cause.  It's another to fail to protect innocent people from the lethal consequences of your cause.

One year from Sandy Hook and I can't look at the news.  I can't be dragged down into the emotional turmoil that felt as if it was tearing at me from inside as more details of that tragic day unfolded.  It's too much.  It's too sad.  And it doesn't end.

Last year I tried to sort through my thoughts in a post that (for me) went a bit viral.  It gave me hope that others felt the same confusion and anger that I did, and that change might happen. 

It won't.  Because among the things I've learned since Sandy Hook, I've come to realize how deeply fearful Americans can be, which combined with our stubbornness and our willingness to cling to what appeals to us even if it's irrational sets us up for bad policy again and again.  Combine that with commerce and power and marketing and pseudo-patriotic machismo and we will remain a danger to ourselves and others for a long time to come.  It boggles my mind.

Because there are lots of rights and concepts that may be good to argue about in theory, but when the reality is the brutal, senseless deaths of children, I don't care about the abstract anymore.  I care about those children.  I care about my children.

But apparently the potential death of my children is not worth any inconvenience to people who like their rights the way they are.  Nothing will change because too many have concluded the cause is worthy of human sacrifice.  I just don't see why simply being an American, though, requires we all be part of that deadly lottery.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Cake Wreck 2013

I'm officially declaring Aden's cake this year a big failure.  (Emphasis on the word "big.")

This is okay for two reasons:  First, for all those people who somehow think I can do anything it's nice to show I can't, and second, disaster tales are way more fun to tell than success stories.  So come see how badly cake making can go!

Aden wanted a Minecraft themed cake, and she decided she wanted it to look like a crafting table from the game.  I didn't know what that was, but found this (unfolded) image online:
Essentially it's just a cube with pixelated images laid out in a 16 X 16 grid on each side.  As far as cake shapes go, a cube didn't sound bad.  But our first mistake was deciding how big to make each side.  Ten inches sounded like a simple number.  (Heh.  Lesson one: Smaller is better.  Smaller may have worked.  In retrospect, eight inches tops would have been the way to go.)

My plan was to make a cube of layer cake, frost it, and stick pages of sugar paper on that I'd paint appropriately with food coloring.  Sounded time-consuming, but doable.  But then the store did not have enough sugar paper.

Friday, December 6, 2013


My Mona is ten!  How can my baby girl be ten?  

Since Thanksgiving fell so late this year, Mona had the chance to have extended family at her birthday party.  I told her we could arrange a friend party if she wanted it, but she liked Quinn's birthday adventure in Chicago and wanted something similar.  We declared it an extended Mona birthday weekend, and spent a day with visiting relatives at the Field Museum, and on their last morning in town we threw a breakfast party with crepes and a chocolate fountain before everyone headed for home.  We spent the rest of that day exploring the Museum of Science and Industry and had a blast.

For Mona's actual birthday this week she took cupcakes to school, got to pick where we went to dinner (who knew she liked Culver's that much?) and I baked her a cake.  I love having the chance to bake interesting cakes for my kids.  Mona didn't decide until the day before her birthday what she wanted this year, though.  She wanted a cake in the shape of a Mold-A-Rama from our collection and thankfully she chose probably the easiest one to turn into a cake: the Space Shuttle figure from the Museum of Science and Industry.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mold-A-Ramas at the Museum of Science and Industry

As part of an extended birthday celebration for Mona over Thanksgiving weekend we took a couple of trips down to Chicago.  The first was with relatives to the Field Museum, and the second was after the guests left and just our little family went to the Museum of Science and Industry.  That was where we sought out the last set of Mold-A-Rama machines we know of in Chicago.  Mona declared it the best birthday destination ever.

The Museum of Science and Industry is a spectacular place.  It was all decked out for Christmas with sparkling trees and lights everywhere, so it was particularly festive.  There was so much to touch and marvel at, and now that we know we can get in free with our reciprocal membership to our own science museum we will go back!  (Although, to get into the submarine or the mine exhibit we'll have to buy tickets next time.)

Plasma balls, baby chicks hatching, an enormous train set, and a little kids' area called The Idea Factory with water guns and plastic balls that none of my children felt too old for.  I even got some Christmas shopping done in the gift shop, so life was good all around.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mold-A-Ramas at the Field Museum

We're getting better at these little jaunts down to Chicago on our quest for Mold-A-Ramas!  We've hit nearly every site that has them in the Windy City.  Yesterday we went to the Field Museum.

Ian stayed behind to help out at home, but I went with the kids, my mom, my brother and his wife.  I'd never been to the Field Museum before, and of my kids only Aden had visited on a school trip a couple of years ago.  My brother will be starting a position as an associate researcher there soon, so we're hoping on return visits to get a behind-the-scenes tour.  For this trip the actual, uh, in-front-of the scenes tour, was plenty.

The Field Museum was packed.  I don't know if the day after Thanksgiving was just a good family outing day or if it's usually that full, but I liked seeing so many people enjoying such a beautiful space and learning things instead of shoving people aside to buy cheap electronics (which is apparently our modern tradition and it depresses me to no end).  The staff at that museum right on down to the guy emptying the garbage cans was exceptionally friendly and nice.  Even the cafe food was delicious.  And our membership to Discovery World here in Milwaukee was reciprocal so we got in free!  All around, a great experience.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Collaborative Thankful List

I had other plans this morning.  Not very interesting plans, mind you, but different ones.  They involved things like swimming and buying eggs.

But Quinn has a cough.  No fever, nothing scary, but we want to give him some extra time to be warm under covers and rest up before all the guests arrive for Thanksgiving.  I'm not entirely sure how many people will be here.  I extended invitations to friends with indeterminate plans because I believe in always making extra space at the table, particularly on a day like Thanksgiving, but we don't know if anyone is taking us up on it or not.

In any case, I have a moment to write snuggled up here with my wheezing boy.  He's agreed to help me make a list of what we are thankful for.   (You can decide for yourselves who suggested what.)

We are thankful for:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mold-A-Ramas at the Willis Tower, and Quinn Turns Seven

Do you know the story of the Taoist Farmer?  I heard it the first time in a martial arts class many years ago.  The version of the story I remember is that the farmer's horse runs away, which seems like bad luck, but then the horse returns with two wild horses, which seems like good luck.  Then one of the wild horses throws the farmer's son breaking the boy's leg which seems like bad luck, until all the able-bodied men in the village are soon conscripted into war.

Quinn's recent birthday felt like that all day.  There were both figurative and literal ups and downs, actual dark clouds along with rainbows and tears.  It was exhausting, and not a birthday we are likely to forget.

When I asked Quinn a few weeks ago what he'd like to do for his seventh birthday he was ambivalent.  Since he could take or leave a friend party, I decided we should just stick with family and do something interesting.  I suggested a trip to the Willis Tower (still the Sears Tower in my heart) for a trip to the Sky Deck and to add the two Mold-A-Ramas they offer there to our collection.  He loved the idea.

My thought was that if we were going to make the visit to the Willis Tower for Mold-A-Ramas at some point anyway, may as well tie the overpriced experience to an important moment.  I figured every time we drive through Chicago in the future we will see that famous skyscraper and remember celebrating Quinn turning seven.  What could go wrong?

Well, the weather, of course.  We woke up to rain, and wondered if driving all the way to Chicago just to look at the inside of a cloud at 1,353 feet up in the air was worth the trouble.  With the Museum of Science and Industry as a backup plan we decided to chance it.

By the time we reached Chicago the clouds had broken up and we decided to the top of the Willis Tower we would go.  We parked several blocks away, enjoyed a windy walk downtown, made our way through several lines to buy tickets (Ian was free with his military I.D.!) and wait for an elevator, and then we were on the Sky Deck.

It really is amazing.  Pricey enough I doubt we'll do it again, but certainly worth doing once.  The views every direction are tremendous, and there are four glass decks that protrude a few feet out from the building so you can look down to the ground underneath you from where you are standing.  The kids all felt very brave.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Work of Art

The amount of work that goes into creating good art is undervalued.  I think the overall problem is the artistic process is misunderstood.  We talk about "talent" and having "a gift" as if people in creative fields just come by what they do magically.

Talent is a starting point, not an end in itself.  The gift is an opportunity, not a finished product.  Even if you start at a more advanced place than others, that simply raises the bar for what you can or should do.

My parents are artists.  They ran a gallery for 40 years.  They often apologized to us when we were growing up that they should have realized you have to be rich first and then open a gallery, and that it doesn't work the other way around.  We never lacked for anything, so whatever depths their financial struggles sunk to we remained largely unaware of them.  We admired them for doing what they found interesting, even though it was often hard, and we learned many valuable things.

We saw, up close, the time and effort and thought that goes into creating art.  There are many drawings abandoned along the way before one finds its way to completion.  There is the challenge of having to work when time allows rather than when inspiration hits.  Most people when they create art do it alone.  You can't usually get help with it and still claim it to be yours.  There is trial and error and frustration, but eventually beauty.  When a piece of art (or music, or writing) is just right it's as if it was always meant to be.  After untold hours of preparation and toil the result can look effortless.

Unfortunately to too many without direct experience in creative fields, they believe it really is.

I've been watching my daughter, Mona, this week with great interest.  Mona is many things, and one of those things happens to be an artist.  All of my kids have a decent degree of talent when it comes to art.  Mona is the one at this time willing to struggle for it.

Paper turtle Mona made at six
She has been building "creations" now for years and they are ever evolving and improving.  She's gone from simple paper cutouts to hand colored tape to duct tape and recently to using wire as a foundation so that she can expand the limits of what her creations can be.  They are detailed and thoughtful.  There are many prototypes and pieces abandoned and begun again until they are right.

At seven she was coloring tape and giving things more structure
Then she discovered duct tape and combined it with paper.
And things began to appear like the Cup O' Snakes.  (Because why not?)
And sometimes she still goes back to paper.
Her latest school project is a presentation on bats that she's doing with a friend.  In class the two of them work on research and writing.  At home, Mona has been working on models.  She's been working hard.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

For Love of a Dog

This is our dog, Chipper.
Fresh from the groomer sometime last fall
Pound photo that made us want to meet him
We met him at the pound on 11/11/11 and adopted him two days later.  They think he was about two years old then, so I guess he's now about four.  He seems to be some kind of poodle/cocker spaniel/something with an under-bite like a Lhasa-apso mix.  We sometimes refer to him as a Lhasa-cock-a-poo.  More often we refer to him as "Chipper-Dog, " "Silly Dog," "Dumb Dog," or "No!" 

I have mixed feelings about our dog.  Right now, as I'm typing, he's snuggled up next to me all warm and adorable and I love him.  Other times not so much.

Aden's first word was "doggie" and she has always wanted a dog.  When all the kids were finally old enough that it didn't seem like such a ridiculous idea to add another set of chores to our home, I told them we could start looking.  The dog would have to be a type that didn't shed because Ian has allergies, and I wanted it to be a rescue.  It was important to me to save a dog that really needed a home.

Chipper is cute.  That much everyone can agree on.  He's thirteen pounds of scruffy fluff and wiggle.  He is the fastest dog I have ever seen.  He likes children, hates men (except for Ian whom he respects/adores), only wants to sit next to my mom when she visits, and loves to play fetch.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Permission to do what now?

Quinn brought me a permission slip to sign this week.  His class is going on a field trip next month to see The Nutcracker.  Sounds lovely.  Wish I could go, too!  At least, I thought I did, until I read the permission slip.

It's a generic sort of catch-all kind of permission slip.  So, for him to watch a ballet, I had to check off if Quinn was allergic to anything, if he needed medication, if he had asthma or kidney disease or other conditions.

But the one that made me laugh was having to circle his level of swimming expertise.  (We chose "cannot swim" because his particular doggy paddle will not get him far in an emergency.)

Sounds like one hell of a production!  If the audience's swimming skills are an issue I'm a little worried for the pit orchestra down below the stage.  But hey!  Have to keep things fresh to appeal to today's kids!  (Just need to remember to pack his water wings along with his lunch before he heads off to the ballet.)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mold-A-Ramas at the Brookfield Zoo

For Mold-A-Rama collectors (which we have decided we are) there are three, big jackpot places to get Mold-A-Ramas: The Milwaukee County and Brookfield Zoos (each with thirteen machines) and the Henry Ford Museum (which has ten).

I don't think if our own local zoo here in Milwaukee had so many I would have paid much attention.  But being able to start our collection with that many Mold-A-Ramas so easily kind of got us hooked.  Getting all ten figures at the Henry Ford Museum when we were visiting Detroit was a great deal of fun.  Getting only two at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago was less exciting, but satisfying in a different way.  This weekend we finally hit the last of the big bonanza locations for Mold-A-Rama collectors: The Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.  (Which my GPS had never heard of, but since we had my husband along it didn't matter because he can find anything.)
We had the rare, free Sunday to do with whatever we liked, and seeing as the weather was cool and beautiful and we even got to turn the clocks back an hour to give us extra time, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to splurge on a trip down to Chicago for a Mold-A-Rama hunt at their zoo.
The Mold-A-Rama machines in the Brookfield Zoo are in beautiful shape.  Most of them are pristine.  (So far the ones we have at the Milwaukee County Zoo appear to be the shabbiest around, probably because so many of them suffer outside in all the Wisconsin weather.)  But the best part about the machines at the Brookfield Zoo is not only are there thirteen of them, but they have additional molds to go with them.  For Halloween they switched out six of their regular figures for "limited edition" Mold-A-Ramas, including a skull, a devil head, a Frakenstein's monster head, and a few dinosaurs.  Someday when they switch those six machines back to their regular molds we may visit again and collect those as well.

In the meantime we made quite a haul!  All the machines were working, and we managed to collect all thirteen over the course of our four hour visit.  (Supposedly our zoo has additional molds as well, but, aside from a few dinosaurs that were used during the traveling Dinosaurs Alive exhibit a few years back, we don't know what they are or on what occasions they get used.  But we're keeping an eye out!)

Most of the Mold-A-Ramas were new for us.  We now have doubles of the alligator and kangaroo, and our we're up to three waving gorillas in our collection, but the eagle is new, as are the grizzly, penguin, dolphin, stegosaurus, T-rex, apatosaurus, and the three Halloween heads.
New additions to the family collection.  (We're up to 38!)
Mona picked up an apatosaurus for her personal collection
Quinn couldn't resist getting an eagle
The zoo itself is quite nice.  It's not as big as we were expecting so it wasn't hard to get around.  It's a bit dated, and there are way too many gift shops to try to navigate with kids in tow.  They have a cassowary but it wasn't out, which deeply disappointed Aden so I promised her we could go back again one day and maybe catch it then.  We did see wombats, though.  And the bat display had you in the same room as the live bats which added an element of "danger" that was interesting (Mona hoped one would somehow land on her finger).

The highlights were the primate exhibit and the dolphins. The primate house was the best I've ever seen.  Very large rooms with tall, artificial trees and no glass or mesh between the visitors or the different groups of animals.  It's all cleverly spaced so it looks as if, for instance, the tamarins and the gibbons are in the same environment, but then you realize the gaps between their areas are too large for them to traverse.  (Though how one keeps a gibbon out of anywhere is beyond me.)  There were three such enormous rooms, the final one with gorillas where you could walk up and around their whole space to observe them.  There was an underwater viewing area for watching the dolphins be dolphins.  Mona was thrilled, saying she'd never seen a live dolphin before.  I keep thinking that can't be right, and yet, it's probably true.

In any case, the Mold-A-Rama hunts will continue, but the thrill will now come in procuring the obscure rather than the windfall.  Once we have exhausted the possibilities in nearby Chicago we will start planning treks a bit farther afield.  Can't wait!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Old Writing, New Writing

I wish I had more time for writing.  I have about a dozen drafts sitting on my blog on a variety of topics, but they all take more thought and care then I have time to give them lately to get them done and out into the world.  I hope I get to them.

I'd also like to get back to editing my second novel.  I'm trying to update it and put it into a presentable form so that I can hand it to an editor at some point and get some much needed help.  I'm excited about getting it finished.  It's not a tearjerker like the first book, so it may be easier to promote.

Speaking of promotion, if you haven't yet gotten a copy of my novel, Almost There in all it's forms can be found here.  Anyone who has read it and liked it and hasn't put a review up on Amazon yet, please take a moment to do that and I will be soooooooo grateful.

I'm in an odd place with my writing at a moment where I am too swamped with work and kids and life to commit to anything new.  Everything I have to offer is from the past.  My piece for This I Believe was recently featured as an essay of the week and I've gotten feedback from people all over the country who heard Amazing Grace on the radio and were touched by it.  I recently went to Michigan to speak at my mom's book club who were all were nice enough to read my novel.  But all of that is writing that comes from a time before I even had my third kid.

I'm lucky enough to have offers to write for online publications and for radio (some of it pays, some of it does not), but I don't have time, and it's frustrating.  I don't lack for ideas or passion, just time.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Can we please do this again?

The kids and I finally got out for some long overdue volunteer work.

Our lives are busy.  It's a lot of work to run our own store.  We have violin, choir, piano, orchestra, rehearsals, concerts, Army weekends, homework, practicing, projects, exercise...  The daily grind alone of meals and laundry and cleaning for five people plus walking the dog is enough to fill an average day, even without an unexpected monkey wrench thrown into the schedule to make things harder.

But I've always felt we should be making time somewhere to help others because we have so much.  We never want for food or clothes.  We have a home, our health, and most importantly we have each other.  I don't know how people alone in this world get by.  Too many among us aren't so lucky.

Last week Ian took over the last few hours at the store for me one day, and the kids and I joined a family down the street to a Catholic church downtown where they hand out meals to people in need.  I'm so glad we did.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Halloween Costumes 2013

The costumes are done!  

Which is good, because tonight my kids wore them to the annual Halloween Pajama Jamboree concert.  Then they have the Halloween dance at school on Friday, Trick-or-Treat in our neighborhood is on Saturday night, and city-wide Trick-or-Treat in Milwaukee is on Sunday afternoon.  By Halloween proper the excitement is long over, but my kids will probably still be in their costumes.  Wearing costumes in our house is only limited to days ending in Y apparently, so we will be looking at these outfits for some time to come which at least makes them worth the effort.  (I've had long days at work followed by rehearsals and concerts most nights so I've been up past midnight sewing.  But for 2013 it's done I tell you!)

Quinn, 2013
I know I already posted pictures of Quinn as a wolf, but he's so cuddly and soft.  We all just keep hugging him.

The next costume I worked on was Mona's.  She wanted to be a bat, but in her mind the only way to be a bat was to be like Aden was when she was a bat.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mold-A-Ramas at the Lincoln Park Zoo

My kids and I just returned from a brief trip to Detroit, and on our way home we stopped at the Lincoln Park Zoo where we got two more Mold-A-Ramas.

We left my parents' home early and made good enough time that when we reached Chicago I asked the kids if they wanted to stop somewhere and add to our collection.  The choices were the Willis Tower (which I still think of as the Sears Tower) and the Lincoln Park Zoo, both of which have two Mold-A-Ramas.  The kids weren't sure which to do, so I got to pick.  The Sky Deck at the Willis Tower is expensive, and the Zoo was free (or would have been if I'd known a better place to park), but the deciding factor for me was the weather.  It was a gorgeous fall day and too perfect to spend inside.

The park is beautiful.  It's the kind of place that makes you wish you were living in Chicago so you can take walks there whenever you like and enjoy all the wonderful things the city has to offer.  (Then you get in the car and decide, no no, plenty fine in Milwaukee where we aren't trapped in perpetual rush hour.)

There are two Mold-A-Rama machines in the Lincoln Park Zoo: One in the primate house, and one in the main barn.  The first one we found quickly.  It's a gorilla just like the one we got from our own zoo, but this one is green.  The second was at the far end of the park and it's an orange piggy-bank, which is sort of odd, but at least it's one we'd never seen before.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Who's afraid of the big, bad Quinn?

Halloween costumes!  One down!  October has a lot going on for us, so I asked the kids to figure out what they wanted to be for Halloween early.  Quinn wanted to be a wolf.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

NO Again the LICE NOooooooooo

Last year around this time we got a call from the school nurse that the girls had lice.

This was OHMYGODNOOOOO the worst thing ever EW EW EW a new challenge for us, but we burned everything calmly and methodically took care of the problem.  There was a lot of laundry and cleaning and combing for nits.  It was a nightmarish schedule crippling disaster time consuming and inconvenient, but we took care of it.  I figured we'd had our encounter with lice and we could cross that off our life list of gross things many families deal with.

But then this year the itching started. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Fit to Be Tied

Quinn learned to tie his shoes on Wednesday.  I tied the right one and he was able to copy that on the left.  Here he is pointing out his freshly tied shoe that he did on his own.
I think many kids come to shoe tying late now that so many sneakers have a Velcro option.  But Quinn's in first grade, and I didn't learn to tie my own shoes until that age, so maybe things haven't really changed all that much in the land of laces.

Another milestone.  Another step away from me, now in neatly tied shoes I didn't help with.  My baby boy is growing up.  But not so much that as he concentrates on his laces he doesn't still need to recite, "Make two bunny ears, loop one around...."

(Just when you think you can't love them more than you already do, they make you want to laugh and cry at the same time.)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tired of This

There's been another mass shooting.  Are you wondering which one I'm talking about?  Does it matter at this point?

Discussions of gun violence in this country are wearing me down.

The disconnection between what I see and feel and how people talk about the issue publicly makes me hopeless most days.  I try to understand, and speak up periodically, but this is one area where I don't believe anymore I can have any impact.  It's beyond depressing.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Echo Chamber

Many kids like reruns.  My Mona, in particular, likes reruns.  If something amuses her she wants to relive it right away.  For as long as she's been able to repeat sounds, we have been listening to instant replays of the funniest lines and sound effects of every cartoon or show or movie as part of our viewing experience.  We try to get her to tone that down when we watch things with "outsiders," but in our house we just accept it.

Quinn also likes to repeat the things he finds funny.  But most of what he finds funny is Mona.  So we have an echo effect going on.

In the car with the kids if I make a funny comment, I know the next thing will be Mona repeating what I said, followed by Quinn repeating what Mona said.  (And they both repeat such things in a way that I can hear them smiling as they do it.)  It's one of those quirky family things that is just part of our particular routine.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Club Invite

Our book club here in Bay View has been doing a series of local authors, and today was my turn!  I got to attend a book club meeting about my first novel, Almost There.  It was fun.  And terrifying.  And I was insanely nervous, but hope I didn't look it.

We now interrupt this blog post for a moment of shameless promotion!  Because those of us who self-publish (and even many who don't) must be brave and force our more introverted selves to jump up and down and wave our arms and beg people to please please please read our work (please please).  So buy my book!  Links for everywhere to buy it in every available form can be found HERE.

Also, those of you who have read it and have not yet put up a review on Amazon (or GoodReads), please take a moment and do so because that would help me more than you realize.  I appreciate so much the kind emails and comments I've received.  Sharing some of those thoughts online in a place like Amazon might actually help get my novel into the hands of people who don't personally know me, and that would be exciting.  Now back to our blog currently in progress:

I really like our book club.  I tried a different one about ten years ago, and at the first meeting I discovered I was the only one who read the book.  I excitedly told everyone all about To the Lighthouse and how interesting I thought it was, from the stream of consciousness technique used to tell the story to the particular relationships in it.  The other women kept drinking their wine and looking down at the copies of the books in their laps with puzzled expressions saying, "Huh, it sounds like it might be interesting!"  The second meeting was not much better, and by then I realized I was sort of ruining everyone's good time by wanting to, you know, talk about books.

This book club grew out of a Facebook discussion that began with, "Does anyone know of a book club I can join?" and several of us chimed in, "No!  But I want to join it when you find one!" and then we just declared ourselves a book club and the Bay View Book Club was born.  It's been a great way to get to know more people in the community.  The first meeting had more than a dozen people.  Since then it's been a mix and match selection of about half that each time, but someone always posts the upcoming books and dates and meeting places and whoever wants to come can come.  It's nice because it's not any more demanding than you want it to be.  And everyone reads the books.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Music Clocks

The most fun thing about running my own business is getting to decide the look of the store space and the things that go in it.  I get to be creative, and I get to try new things just because I feel like it.  I have an excuse to make some of the designs in my head become real.  Few things make me happier.

The first thing I made for my violin store when we opened back in 2008 was a big clock.
Before we even had a space to rent in the fall of 2007, just paperwork declaring Korinthian Violins a real company and a small collection of rental instruments piling up in the guest room, I knew I wanted to make a music clock.  I thought about it at random moments, and sketched it on paper when I had time.  I didn't want the music symbols to be random like I've seen on commercially available clocks.  I wanted it to amuse actual musicians.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Young Enough, Old Enough

From a parenting point of view, I feel as if my kids have hit a perfect point in their ages.  My kids were so funny and adorable when they were little, and it was hard to imagine that anything ahead could be as fun.  But as much as I miss the cuteness, and the baby hugs, I don't miss the amount of work.  At eleven, nine, and six, my children are young enough to still be my sweet little kids, but old enough to really do things.  It's great.

I noticed the shift over the winter when we went sledding.  To be able to take the kids to the park and have them all drag their own sleds back up the hill was amazing.  They can all put on their own boots, find their own mittens, and tell me when they are getting too cold.  It was simply a nice outing where I could enjoy it as a member of the family, not the mom in charge of everything.  I only had to be prepared to be in charge if necessary.  Aden even made the hot chocolate when we got home.

I've thought a lot about this balance of my kids being young enough and old enough over the last few weekends.  For both fun things and important things, it's made a huge difference in how I parent, live my life, and what all of us as a family are able to do.

On the last day of summer vacation I took the kids out to fly kites by the lake, and we had so much fun we did it again the following weekend during a kite festival.  Until Labor Day weekend we owned one kite.  Aden picked it out years ago, but it's been a hard thing to want to break out and play with because she needed help to make it fly, and her siblings were too young to do it with her but of course they wanted to.  Flying a kite sounded fun in theory, but it was complicated back then.

Monday, September 16, 2013

We Just Washed It!

Friday was already complicated before the car accident.

I had to get up early to drive Ian to his Army bus for a weekend at Ft McCoy, then come home to feed the kids and walk the dog.  Mona was still feeling light-headed from being sick so I told her she could stay home one more day (but no screens, just books).

I got in a little exercise, cleaned up the kitchen, checked email, then asked Mona if she'd like to go with me to the car wash.  I had told all the kids we would take the small car through the car wash after school and the library and before I had to go teach, but the minivan was still pretty filthy inside and out after all our summer travels, and Mona was looking more like herself, so I thought that might be a fun thing to do.

We drove to the car wash, got all the garbage and treasures (some indistinguishable from one another without Mona's keen eye) out of the minivan, paid a dollar to vacuum it out for five minutes, then did the four dollar wash which Mona found thrilling from the inside of the car.  The interior sides of the windows were still pretty bad, though, so when we got home we parked next to the house and went at them with spray cleaner.  We stepped back when we were done and were pleased with our work.  That was one clean minivan.

I told Mona to go ahead and start washing the insides of the windows of the small car while I put the minivan away.  I pulled ahead a few feet and started to turn the car around in the intersection so I could put it in the garage when BAM.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sparkly Things at the Violin Store

Meet Sparkle Violin!

I bought new bags of plastic jewels recently because I decided to fix the Sparkle Cello.  It's probably the most photographed thing in our store, and since that one section under the different tite-bond glue went dark I decided during a lull in repair work to go ahead and put the sparkle back in that area.
Chiseling off bad jewels
It looks a little different than before, but at least it glitters again.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Eye Color Followup

Thanks for the input on Quinn's eye color.  I wish I could get a picture up that looks like what I see.
His eye color is weirdly changeable.  They are different up close than farther back, and the color shifts with the type of light and against different outfits.  Mine do as well, but not as drastically.  (Although, how would I know?  How often do I really see my own eyes?)

We actually did sit down with some paint cards and his shirt.  All the ones in the green range were too green, but we did find some things that were close.  (We had a lot of fun looking.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What Color Would You Call It?

I have never been able to put a name to Quinn's eye color.  On forms where I have to commit to something I go with the garbage-pail term "Hazel" for lack of anything better.

Aden's eyes are BLUE.  Incredibly, intensely, unmistakably blue.

Mona's eyes are just like mine: Greenish, with a blue-grey rim around the outside and a brown ring right around the pupil.  (So we also get lumped into "Hazel.")

Quinn?  I can't tell.  I have been staring into those beautiful eyes on that adorable face for his entire life and I just don't know.  Somewhere between green and brown and grey without being any of those things.  Recently his aunt gave him a shirt that is the exact same color, so I asked him to pose in it with his eyes really wide.  I may take the shirt to the paint department next time we're at Home Depot and see what the color sample cards there say.

So I am tossing it to the masses!  What do you think?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Summer with Ellora

We got to have my niece, Ellora, with us for the entire month of August.  It was great.

When she was littler, my brother's in-laws used to visit New York City from India and help care for her over summer vacations, but now that she's older there are more options.  Now she gets to venture a bit farther afield, all the way to the Midwest.

Giggling in the backseat the whole way on a nine hour drive
She and her cousins spent time in Detroit, then had a week to play at the cottage, and finally some time here in Milwaukee.  They were happy together for all of it.  I worried a little that as an only child, Ellora might get overwhelmed by the constant company of other kids, but she never did.  My kids just folded her into the puppy heap of activity and all was well.

But time watching Ellora comes with great responsibility.  Someone must remember to take The Daily Photo.

My brother, Arno, has been working on the Ellora Daily Photo Project since the day she was born over nine years ago.  One photo, every day, all aligned at her eyes to flash by in an epic time lapse:

Pretty amazing.  And when my niece is in our care the Daily Photo responsibility becomes ours, and I do NOT want to be the one who breaks the link in the chain.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Skill Sets

Having my family away for a week recently was weird.  I've been away from my husband and kids before, but it's rare to have a stretch of time that long where they are away from me.  I thought I would be productive having the house to myself.  But I wasn't.  I was uninspired and listless.  I found myself sleeping in while cuddling the dog, eating cereal, and binge watching things like Breaking Bad and Call the Midwife.  Which is essentially what I would do if I were sick.  So what was that about?

It got me thinking about skill sets.  We specialize in activities in our own little worlds, and develop expertise in trivial matters that most will never appreciate.

When I was in college I was a research assistant in a Music Cognition Lab.  Ohio State had one of the best such programs in the world at the time.  I had deep admiration and respect for my boss who I thought ran her lab smoothly and well, and I enjoyed my work.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Mold-A-Ramas at the Henry Ford Museum

The Mold-A-Rama collection is growing.  To the point where we've officially declared ourselves "Mold-A-Rama Collectors."

When I showed my kids the online map of all the Mold-A-Ramas in existence (which all apparently happen to be in this country) Quinn lit up and said, "We could get all the Mold-A-Ramas in the world."  So maybe we will.

After successfully obtaining the dozen Mold-A-Ramas from our zoo, plus the bonus Mold-A-Rama not on the map, we decided to take advantage of the fact that while we were in Detroit there were supposed to be more there.  Specifically at Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Detroit On My Mind

Detroit is very much in the news lately.  So much in the news that when I was recently in Detroit I watched one of the local news affiliates spend several minutes interviewing a national news anchor about how much Detroit is in the news.  Like many things in Detroit it was hard to look away from, but dumbfounding at the same time.

There is much to love about Detroit.  I was born there, but raised in a nearby suburb.  Most of us when we refer to being from Detroit really mean a suburb.  But Pleasant Ridge or Ferndale or Oak Park don't mean anything to the rest of the world.  Detroit does.

It's frustrating to see people speculate about the city I think of as my hometown when it's obvious they've never spent any time there.  Many people think they know Detroit.  They've seen the "ruin porn" and the streets that have been allowed to decay and they hear about crime and poverty and the embarrassing level of racial segregation.  They maybe have some nostalgia for Motown and Mustangs, so they think they know Detroit.

The truth is I barely know Detroit.  It's been a long time since I called Michigan home, and when I go back I'm a visitor now.  A visitor with a great deal of affection for the whole area, and I'm delighted to discover things there both old and new.  Detroit is many things, none of them simple.  The kind of sweeping generalizations many want to make leave too much out, and often the best parts.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Puppies Are Coming Home!

My husband has been on vacation with the kids (our three plus our niece) at the cottage for the past week.  I've been home working since our trip to Detroit.

I have had only this crazy little face to come home to each night:
Chipper (world's worst shop dog) at the violin store
 I'm looking forward to seeing these sweet little faces again:
Quinn, Aden, Ellora, and Mona at Greenrfield Village, Dearborn MI
When we picked out our dog from the pound we told the kids from Chipper's point of view our family was a pack.  The kids are the puppies, and he's protective of them.  (Sometimes too much so, but we're working on that.)  Chipper has stuck close to my heels all week, worried that I may disappear from our mysteriously dwindled-down family, too.  He wanders sadly into the kids' rooms each night looking for them before resigning himself with a sigh to his dog bed in my room.

We'll both be happy when the puppies get home.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Amazing Milwaukee Race On Bikes 2!

This was the second year for The Amazing Milwaukee Race On Bikes.  My husband and I (team name: The Slow Spokes) biked it together both times, and this year was much more fun.  Last year was grueling, and we were proud simply to finish.  This year they worked out some of the bugs, shortened the courses to more manageable lengths, and there were no giant cloudbursts to contend with.

I was not optimistic going in.  Not that we ever train for such events, but normally I swim almost every day and I try to be active where I can, and the two weeks prior to the race were like an anti-training campaign.  If I were trying to hurt my chances of doing well in a 15 mile bike race, I couldn't have come up with a better routine than one of sitting in a nursing home with my dad and subsisting on Twizzlers, bagels, takeout, and pie.  I got little sleep, drove the whole day before to get into town to do the race, and didn't even know where my tire pump was until an hour before we left.  I did not like our chances.

So how did the anti-training campaign work out?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Home, Quiet Home

What a couple of weeks.  Lots of things to say, most of which I'm too tired to do much about tonight, so for now here's what I can tell you:

My dad fell again a few weeks back.  He broke his leg up near his hip and had to have surgery.  It's been a rough few years for my parents with my dad's health issues, but until this latest fall he was doing pretty well.  Now things have been kind of reset to where we were over a couple of years back, with my dad using a wheelchair and practicing with a walker, and my mom having to care for him in one room on the ground floor since the rest of the house is like a crazy obstacle course of stairs.

It's been hard.  It's hard on dad who's been scared and in pain, and hard on mom who feels trapped and overwhelmed, and hard on me and my brothers who struggle with how to help from a distance.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Watching "TV"

(Note: There are probably random spoilers in here.  Not that it should matter, honestly.  I don't often find learning plot points about most things ruins them.  Good stories are made in the way they are told, not usually in what they are about.  But fair warning here just the same because who knows what I might say?)

I watch a lot of "TV."  But what I'm calling "TV" my kids would call "Movies."  They call everything on a screen a Movie.  Except for things they watch on particular YouTube Channels, but even odd things here and there on YouTube they call Movies.  (If you have half an hour the clip in that link is very funny.)  I'm starting to wonder if we need new terms in general.  Maybe "Features" for what I think of as movies, and "Serial Dramas/Comedies" for what I think of as television.

I want to say the main difference between movies and television has to do with telling a single, contained story, versus drawing one out in parts, possibly over years.  But there are still exceptions there, because, you know, Star Wars.  And I remember seeing the movie Shoah over the course of two nights when it came out, because its total running length on screen was over nine hours, and there are entire British television series that can be viewed in less time.  There are movies that are essentially parts of a series, such as the Up documentaries (the first one of those I saw in a theater was 28 Up as a child and I look forward to the next installment every seven years).  Star Trek straddles both worlds but tells its best stories on TV in my opinion.  TV allows characters and ideas to develop in ways movies don't have patience for.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Belated Thoughts on Switch it Up

With rare exceptions, I am not a timely blogger.  There have been occasions where I've reacted quickly to a current event or topic but I've usually regretted it.  I'd rather think something through before committing myself to a "side."  I've been offered jobs to blog for sites that cover hot topics, but I can't.  Writing is a sideline for me at best, and I can't drop the things I'm supposed to be doing to quickly dash off a post during the small window when people want an opinion on the outrage of the moment.  Besides, I'm not interested in fueling any fires.  I'd rather find ways to put them out if possible.

So here are my thoughts on a local story that briefly went national many weeks ago, now that nobody remembers or cares.  Because gender issues interest me, I do have an opinion unlike any of the ones I heard at the time, and I do find myself still thinking about it.

The elementary school a few blocks from our house had something called Switch It Up Day during their version of a spirit week.  Lots of schools have special dress up days.  My kids' school did an 80s day at one point, and I think a backwards day.  The thing I remember most from those kinds of dress up days when I was in high school was that at the end of the week we were supposed to be decked out in the school colors, but Ferndale High's colors were brown and white and that was just boring.

Anyway, the nearby school was getting reactions from all over the country about what was being called "Gender Bender Day" on the news.  The girls could dress as boys and the boys could dress as girls.  Nobody had to do anything, of course, it was supposed to be voluntary and fun, but apparently one parent got bent out of shape over it, and suddenly everyone had an opinion on whether or not this was harmless or something to do with the decay of society and gender norms.

I wouldn't lodge a formal protest if I were a parent of someone at that school, because that's not the hill I want to die on, but I do object to the idea of Switch It Up Day.  And probably not for the reasons others might.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


I love a bonus.  That something extra on top of something good.

Like the other day when Ian brought the kids over to the violin store for a visit after a trip to the zoo.  Mona came in proudly holding up the newly acquired shark that we were missing from our Mold-a-Rama collection, which was good.  But then Quinn followed that up with an alligator from the reptile house!  A thirteenth Mold-a-Rama that hadn't been on the map!  A bonus Mold-a-Rama.

I feel like despite some ups and downs lately, I've been lucky to have a bonus thrown in here and there when I wasn't expecting it.  A little bit of bonus goes a long, long way.

For instance, the dinner in Chicago was fun.  Too short because I was late, but fun.  (I often wonder why we don’t go down and do things in Chicago since it’s not that far away, and then I hit the traffic and try to park and think, “Oh yeah....”  Our kids may finally have enough stamina to attempt day trips there by train, though, so that may make such adventures possible soon.)

I missed most of the food, and I didn’t get to talk directly to the women at the other end of the table, but I did get to meet the remarkable Stacey Conner in person which alone made the whole trip worthwhile.  The bonus was to come away with a sense of how many other truly remarkable women are out there.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

So Close, and Yet....

This year's BlogHer convention is happening down in Chicago.  I've been waiting for it to be held somewhere accessible for years, but now that it's within driving distance I just can't.  I have a ton of work at the violin store, and it's the week of String Camp at the Conservatory.  Not only am I teaching at String Camp again, but it's the first year one of my own kids is playing in it.

I'm not sure specifically what I would get out of a blogging convention since writing on this blog is not a commercial venture for me.  All I know is there are many bloggers I admire who will be there, and the idea of meeting any of them in real life I think would be wonderful, and it seems like a great environment to find inspiration.

Even though I'm not attending the convention, I will get to drive down on Saturday night to meet a blogger whose writing I have enjoyed for years.  She was kind enough to include me in a group dinner invitation and I'm really looking forward to it.  The funny thing is I'm already worried about meeting so many new people.  Will I talk too much or have nothing to say?  Do I have anything to wear for an evening out with grown-ups or that isn't covered with glue and varnish?  What if people who like me in blog form don't like me in person?  Which all makes me wonder why I think I would survive an actual convention in the first place.  I'd probably be a self-conscious wreck the whole time.

This is definitely one area where I would do well to learn from my daughter.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Little Things All Over

When I wrote a while back about doing origami with my kids, a friend of mine offered to come to my house and give us all some lessons.  She's a Suzuki violin/viola teacher who visits Japan when she can, and she wanted to share some of the tricks she's learned over time for folding things like paper cranes.  Schedules being what they are, that meeting didn't finally become possible until this month, but it was fun.

My kids each made a crane, and then we moved on to jumping frogs.  But here's the thing about my kids making things:  They always end up accessorizing with a million extra bits.

So before my friend even left my kids had already laid out pieces of blue paper to make a pond for the frogs and broke out the scissors to make lily pads.  Then little water lilies.

Then after she left, out came the aluminum foil (Aden's go to material for small, sculptural expression) and the frogs got bowls of food and goblets and laptops and phones and money and I'm not sure what all.  But there is a lot of it.  And it's all little stuff but it takes up a lot of room.

There is a game involved with all of this with too many rules and Quinn is looking over my shoulder as I work on this post telling me, "That frog owns the shop!  And my blue frog has this symbol to put on things he makes and he lives on three lily pads."  Etc.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mold-A-Rama Rama

Our family talked at the beginning of the summer about things we want to do before vacation is up.  The top thing on my list?  Get one of every Mold-A-Rama figure at our zoo.  And today was our Mold-A-Rama Rama.

What is a Mold-A-Rama?  Well, if you're not from Milwaukee (or a small handful of other places according to a quick Google search) that's a very reasonable question, since I've only seen the likes of these machines here.  They were built back in the 60s, and maybe they were all over at one time, but I've never personally seen any outside of the Milwaukee County Zoo.
There are twelve of them scattered around the park.  You put in two dollars, and you get out a plastic figure molded on the spot that is shoved into a holding tray while it is still hot.  It's seriously kind of wonderful.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Catching Up: 4th of July, Growing Things, and a Sparkle Cello Conundrum

I am behind.  On just.... everything.

At least here on my blog I can catch up with one messy post of odds and ends.  This won't be very coherent, but hey, you get what you pay for.

Part of the reason I haven't had time to write is I have been reading.  I finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and really enjoyed it.  It didn't feel like it was over 500 pages, but it sucked up time like it was over 500 pages.  From a writer's point of view it looks like it must have been great fun.  Basically the main character starts her life over each time she dies and we get to see lots of variations on her life story.  I found the whole thing very interesting and wish I could have attended our book club discussion on it.  Excellent book if you're looking for something (and you've already read mine!).

4th of July went well.  The parade in the morning was fun, but I miss marching bands.  We have several lazy bands that get driven on the backs of trucks, and among those are a polka band and a live group backing up an Elvis impersonator (which I used to think was weird and now look forward to every summer more than I can say), but no schools marching.  A lot of schools don't even have bands anymore, though, which makes me sad.  The elementary schools all had marching bands when I was a kid and we loved cheering on Roosevelt School in the parades and hearing the group practice around the neighborhood.  This year's parade did not include giant sausages, but did have Milwaukee's mayor, and I got to shake hands with Senator Tammy Baldwin.  My kids got a moderate candy haul, but the whole idea of candy for 4th of July is still odd to me.  (It's another bizarre thing from "back in my day" that I can tell them about.  No candy being thrown at the 4th of July parade, and knobs you had to turn to change the channel on the TV.  Oooooh.)

Mona got honorable mention for her decorated bike in this year's contest.

This worked out fine because the prize was a bunch of sparkly headbands that she loves.  Her bike was not as flashy as the ones that won, but the amount of fine detail work she did was above and beyond.  She even made a special patriotic helmet for her duct tape eagle.  (I told her it reminded me of a Mexican wrestler and she liked that idea.)

Quinn's flag with exactly 50 stars
Quinn had kind of the opposite experience of last year.  Last July he entered his scooter in the boys' coaster division, but was the only entrant, so he received a trophy and a prize when he scootered across the stage as they called his name.  He was really proud and it was adorable.  This year, having recently learned to ride a bike, he wanted to decorate that instead.  But the bike division started at age seven, so they put him in the trike group.  Well, I don't think anyone even pretends the tiny kids in the trike division decorate their own things, but Quinn did, and his bike looked big and messy by comparison.  He was okay about coming in last, but the problem was they somehow lost his name altogether.  They handed out prizes and then never called his name so he could ride across the stage!  I had to flag people down and ask them between other categories of kids coming up to please let Quinn have his chance to ride his bike up there, and they did.  And then the lady offstage with the consolation prizes gave Quinn a hard time since he didn't have an official "place" in the contest, and I had to explain that he didn't win anything so she should please let him have his stupid bag of plastic crap I don't want in my house marvelous prize.