Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mommy's Sweatshop: Music Tree Edition

We got a late start on anything Christmas because Thanksgiving ran long and birthday season ran late this year.  But I think I have all the presents ready, sort of.  (I just bought a sweater that I can't decide whether to give to Ian or  keep for myself and tell him it's from him.  We don't normally get each other anything, but it was a really nice men's sweater marked way way down so I couldn't resist.  Maybe he won't like it and he'll just give it back to me?  Anyway...)

Despite a more packed schedule than usual (I played a performance of the complete Messiah in a town more than half an hour south of here and those three-hour rehearsals plus commute on top of my normally packed schedule about did me in) we did manage to make our holiday cards and get them out on time!  Unfortunately Mona was knocked flat with a fever for several days and Aden's been playing catch up on homework, so Quinn was my lone helper in Mommy's Sweatshop.

We painted cards with watercolors, then glued trees cut from music paper to them.  Mona was delighted when she saw the finished cards and said, "Ooh, it's like the notes are ornaments!"  Which is exactly what I was going for, so that made me happy.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Candyland Cake

I can't really take any credit for Aden's birthday cake this year.  I was hoping to redeem myself after last year's cake wreck, but all I did for this cake was frost it and suggest the general concept.  Aden baked two layers of vegan chocolate cake, I did the crumb coat and the final frosting surface, then Aden did all the decorating herself.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bug Cake

Mona has successfully turned 11.  To celebrate we created a Bug Cake.
For her party this year Mona asked her friends to bring cereal to donate to the food pantry instead of presents, which was an idea introduced to us recently by a friend and my kids were excited by it.  Mona also wanted to do something for her party that was new to her, so we ended up at a place with Laser Tag and Go Kart Racing, and that seems to have been a hit.  The other big hit was her bug cake.  When she requested a bug for a cake design she told me I could choose the bug, but nothing dainty looking like a butterfly.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thankful: Past, Present, and Future

Thanksgiving this year at our house wound up being about a two week event with lots of comings and goings.

[Try to follow along if you like!:  Ian left for New York for a week starting back on Quinn's birthday to watch our niece while my brother, Arno, and his wife had to be in other time zones, and he didn't get back until two days before Thanksgiving.  My parents arrived a week before Thanksgiving, and my brother, Barrett, came out by bus from LaCrosse for a day around then to visit with all of us before heading back to teach a few more classes and returning with his wife, Dosha, (and their dog) the night before the big feast.  Arno and his daughter, Ellora, arrived the day before Thanksgiving.]

All in all we ended up with six guests (plus dog guest) staying in the house and it was great.

I think it was the first time I've been with my parents and both my brothers at a Thanksgiving table in over 20 years.  After we all left for college it just wasn't worth the effort and expense to gather at the end of November when there was a longer break with even more relatives to see a month later.  Having everyone together this year was a rare and wonderful treat.

Dinner itself was delicious and fun.  My mom made some excellent dishes for the vegetarians among us, my husband cooked the turkey, I made pumpkin pie, Mona made the place markers, Barrett got creative with the napkins, and Arno made the potatoes into a nice Devil's Tower.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A New Mold-A-Rama, and Quinn Turns Eight

Quinn is eight.

I've been thinking about the difference between Quinn turning eight compared to when Aden turned eight.

Aden was my first baby.  In some ways she'll always be a baby to me.  But as the oldest she's always ahead, and always the first to arrive at certain milestones.  It was with Aden that we had to learn how to let her form her own life outside of us at school, and to walk to the store alone, and to take on new and more complex responsibilities.  Next to her siblings her most notable feature is always that she is older.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Peacock Cake

Quinn requested a peacock cake for his birthday.  Took a bit of work, but I think it came out nice.
Actually, he originally requested a pigeon birthday cake and a peacock Halloween costume, but remembering back to his grey and black Roomba cake when he was two I told him a peacock cake might be more appetizing and definitely tastier.  He agreed and switched the requests.  (And his pigeon costume came out cute, so I'm glad he did.)

(Here's the Roomba cake if you're curious.  Quinn loved our Roomba and that was his first real word after "Mama.")

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bike Trip to the Fabric Store

It seemed like a good idea.  It really did.

But before I get into that story I feel the need to share some pictures of leaves because this Fall has been particularly beautiful.  (These are from right outside my front door and from the park nearby.  Don't let anyone ever tell you Milwaukee's not beautiful.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Heart of Life

I was recently asked to submit a quote for an article on a site called  They were working on a piece for Veteran's Day about music and military families.  It's a nice article, and there is a cute picture of me and Ian there so you should go look!

They only used a couple of parts of the piece I wrote (at the very beginning and again at the end), so I'm putting the whole original thing here.  (And in case you don't know the song I'm referring to, I'll post a clip at the end.)

Heart of Life, by Korinthia Klein

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Off Switch Eating

I've lost about 30 pounds since the beginning of June.  That's enough weight that people notice, and many ask what it is I'm doing.

I know what people want to hear is that it's something that doesn't involve much sacrifice.  Unfortunately that's not the way it works.  For me, anyway.  Everyone's bodies and goals are different, so I can only say what works for me and people can take from it what they will.

For various reasons my weight has been up and down and all over the map.  I know at this point what my body responds to, how exercise and food affects it, and where most of my limits are.  My 30s were all spent in and out of pregnancies and breast feeding, and dealing with the stress of small children, starting a business, and my husband's deployments.  But now my last baby is about to turn eight, Ian returned from Iraq four years ago, and I've finally arrived at a place where I have no excuses for getting control over my own body and my health and my habits.

I've learned that exercise has almost no impact on my weight.  I swim a mile almost every day.  That was true 30 pounds ago and it's true now.  Exercise is important, and I'm glad it's something I've added to my routine, but I think weight loss has to do with what you eat, not how you move.  Exercise does affect the shape I'm in.  I think if I'd lost 30 pounds rapidly and without exercise I would look very different.  For instance, my arms are not flabby anymore, but only because my muscle tone is good and my skin has had time to adjust to the change.  So I'm not saying exercise isn't helping, but it does not affect the numbers on the scale.

What has brought my weight down is eating less.  I know, shocking.  But I'm not someone who wants to track every bite I put into my mouth.  I don't want to think that hard.

So I've come up with a system for myself that I'm calling "Off Switch Eating."

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Voting Day

I just got back from voting.

When we used to live directly across the street our polling place was the nearby school.  Since we moved to this side of the street we go vote at a DMV near Chuck E Cheese.  Just a short walk on this wet and windy day.

The kids are off from school so Quinn came along.  The girls didn't see the appeal in watching us stand in line, get a sticker, and come home.  But Quinn will still happily go wherever I go.  He holds my hand and hops along in an un-rhythmic manner that would send me off balance if he were much bigger.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Zombie Hill! (And Other Halloween Fun)

Bay View does a lot of Halloween decorations in October, but hands down the best display every year is Zombie Hill on Kinnickinnic near my kids' school.  (And I never get tired of the word "Kinnickinnic.")
How awesome is that?  The first few zombies appear on the hill on the first of the month, then more, and sometimes they get moved around (usually closer and closer to the sidewalk as the month progresses).

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Halloween Costumes 2014!

Trick-or-Treat is tonight in our neighborhood, which at least does nighttime Trick-or-Treat.  There will be Trick-or-Treat in the rest of Milwaukee in the daytime on Sunday.  I have no idea if anything Halloween related is happening anywhere on Halloween.

But I got all the costumes done!  Check out my kids as a pigeon, a snowy owl, and a tapejara:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mona as a Tapejara

No, I didn't know what that was either.  Definitely one of the most interesting parts of having kids is learning about things you wouldn't have been introduced to otherwise.

A tapejara is a specific kind of flying dinosaur.  Mona was clear she didn't want to be any pterosaur, she wanted to be a tapejara.  And she wanted to help!

I was apprehensive about working with Mona on her costume, not because she's not perfectly capable of making something on her own, but because we don't always communicate on an artistic level very well.  She has her own ideas, and I have mine, and sometimes they mesh, and sometimes they don't.  I'm happy to report it all went well and Mona is very happy with her costume!

I started with the basic jumpsuit where I traced around Mona on the fabric.  The biggest challenge to my sewing costumes (aside from finding the time) is probably the dog.  Chipper wants to lie on all the fabric all the time, and he doesn't like when I use the sewing machine.  While I sew he begs to sit in my lap, trembling pathetically until I give in and then can't do anything.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Swim Team

Swimming is one of those basic skills I feel all of my kids should have a handle on before they grow up and leave my care.  We've done basic group lessons at the Y sporadically over the years, and my kids are comfortable in the water, but this last summer I decided I wanted them to have training in more specific strokes rather than just let them keep paddling around however.  We ended up enrolling them in private lessons, and that worked out really well.

The Y was nice about letting us sign up for the regular blocks of time and then splitting that time up amongst our various kids.  They each got at least two private lessons, and they advanced much more quickly than they would have in another group class.

The teacher was particularly impressed with Mona's abilities, and told me that she expected by the last lesson Mona would be ready for the Swim Team if she wanted to join.  The Swim Team met at the same time in the evenings as our private lessons so we could see it in action in the next couple of lanes.  All the kids were about Mona's age, happily doing laps and being coached by some young, energetic Y people.  It looked fun, so I introduced the idea to Mona and let her think about it.  She can be shy, so I knew it would need time to sink in before she'd consider giving it a go.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Snowy Owl

Two down, one to go.  I'm heading into the homestretch of the Halloween costume making.  Quinn's pigeon costume is essentially finished.  And now Aden's snowy owl is done!

I'm glad Aden wanted a costume.  She's worried she's getting too old for it, but I believe you can wear a costume at any age.  People I think get rightly annoyed with teenagers trick-or-treating who just walk around in normal clothes with a bag, but wearing a costume for Halloween is fun at any age, and people appreciate grand displays of imagination.  Why not be a snowy owl for a day?

I started with a basic fleece jumpsuit, but with a wider hood than normal and an extra piece fastened with Velcro across the front of the neck to kind of blend her head into her body more like an owl would be.  I have to say, I am getting fast with the jumpsuits and I make fewer mistakes.  They aren't perfect, but I can trace the kids on the fabric and then pretty much sew the whole thing without them around and just have them try it on again when I finalize the hems, etc.  I used to have to do the whole thing up in safety pins and have them keep putting it on and taking it off and I'd make lots of adjustments.  But after so many years I've got the basics down and can just see it in my head enough to do it on the first try.

Anyway, this was the plain jumpsuit and hood:

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pigeon's Progress

Quinn asked to be a pigeon for Halloween this year.

That may seem mundane to many, but to my kids pigeons are exotic.  In Milwaukee we have seagulls, which apparently eat pigeons, so what few pigeons we have congregate in minor numbers under bridges here and there.  One of the great joys of visiting New York when we go is seeing so many pigeons and my children adore them.  So when Quinn asked to be a pigeon I could see the appeal.  (And yes, he's already been told by several people he will not get to drive the bus.)

I felt up to a pigeon challenge!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Blog Silence

Just a quick note, because I tend to get worried emails when I don't update my blog in a timely fashion....

So many blog posts in my head!  No time to get any of them down!  Because I am in the midst of a costume crunch. 

Milwaukee does trick-or-treat on the Saturday before Halloween.  This year Halloween is on a Friday, so I lose a whole week of time before costumes need to be ready.  Plus I have two concerts coming up which means rehearsals at least two nights a week between now and Halloween.  And, you know, work, husband, dog, kids, life....

I've been up very late the past few nights working on Quinn's costume, and with a little luck I should finish it tomorrow or the next day.  He's going to be a pigeon.

Aden wants to be a snowy owl (which should go fine) and Mona wants to be a pterosaur (which I'm not feeling optimistic about).  So all my kids will have wings this year, and they're all pretty monochromatic.

Anyway, that's where I've been.  More soon.  (Maybe when the snowy owl is done.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Open Doors

This past weekend was the return of Doors Open Milwaukee.  We weren't able to venture outside our own neighborhood for it this year, but it was still fun.  Although the day got off to a rocky start.

Ian has been out of town for a week doing Army things.  I'm surprised how much the stress of that can still get to me.  I think of myself as a fairly calm parent, not prone to fits very often.  But a lot of my ability to be that way has to do with sharing the burden and having someone to laugh with and getting a break.  Remove the other parent from the equation and my mind becomes a constant scramble of responsibilities, always sure I'm forgetting something, and I become far less patient.

The weekdays with Ian gone have been complicated.  Last Thursday in particular was impressively tricky where I had to work, I arranged for the kids to walk themselves to the violin store after school rather than be picked up, I would feed them there, we'd head to the school for the open house right after work, then go straight from there to the Y for Mona's swim team practice.  Sure the dog wasn't getting walked until pretty late in this scenario, but it was the best I could do.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

On the Mold-A-Rama Map! (Well, Almost)

Korinthian Violins is now the proud owner of our very own Mold-A-Rama machine!
Although, technically, that's not quite true because Mold-A-Rama is a trademarked term used by the Mold-A-Rama company which operates machines in the Midwest.  Machines not leased and maintained by that particular company tend to go under the name "Mold-A-Matic" (which is how most of the machines we saw on our Florida trip were labeled), but they are all vintage machines from the early 1960s.  They are hard-working antiques that still delight many.  They certainly delight us!

Our machine was salvaged from the group of neglected and damaged Mold-A-Matics that we encountered at the Knoxville Zoo.  I essentially said in my blog post about our Knoxville visit that this seemed to be where Mold-A-Ramas went to die.  If you'd asked me when I started blogging what I might achieve through this medium, getting the Mold-A-Rama machines replaced at the Knoxville Zoo would not have ever come to mind.  And yet, when people who care about these machines saw my post, wheels were set in motion to remedy the situation, and as a result I was offered the opportunity to buy one of the neglected machines "as is" at a steep discount.

How could I say no?

Well, any reasonable person could say no.  My husband could have easily said no.  But the poor man is married to me and OH MY GOD WE COULD HAVE OUR VERY OWN MOLD-A-RAMA MACHINE AND I WANT IT SO SO SO MUCH!!!! and he loves me and here we are and we have zero advertising budget now for the store from here until forever but I don't care.  We only have to sell about, I don't know, 2000 plastic figures to break even on the thing, but that could happen, right?  Sure.

In the meantime this is so cool.  We get to be on the Mold-A-Rama map!  Or the Mold-A-Matic map.  Or whatever. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Size 14 Forever

I went out last night to buy new pants because nothing fits right now.  It's a good problem to have when your weight is going the direction you want, and not so when it's going a direction you don't.  But sizes are a mess anymore.

I started this summer at a size 18.  When those pants got loose I used a belt for a while, and managed to bypass needing anything in a 16.  When I got to 14 I was happy because my favorite pair of jeans in my closet is a size 14.  It's a pair of Calvin Kleins I got on sale at some point during my weighty journey either up or down several years ago.  They would probably get classified as "mom jeans" by someone because they actually come up over my hips to my waist, where, frankly, they should be.  That whole mid-rise trend is not fair to those of us whose torsos are just a battlefield of stretchmarks.

Anyway, my weight has been up and down enough times that I've had several occasions to break out those size 14 jeans.  Now they are loose again and I had to buy a pair of 12s.  The 10s I have still gathering dust in the closet from the last time I was smaller will have to wait until I've lost another ten to fifteen pounds.

But here's the thing:  Another ten or fifteen pounds from now I will be the weight I was when I got married in 1997.  And back then I was a size 14.  I also remember shopping for pants in high school in the 80s.  And I was a size 14.  There is a forty pound difference between where I am now and where I was in high school.  That is insane.

Which makes me wonder why I'm going to all the trouble of swimming a mile every day and being disciplined about what I eat because apparently if I just wait long enough I will be a size 10 again without even trying.  Or maybe the pendulum will swing the other way and I will be back to being a size 14.  (Either way, nothing short of a sari has ever fit me that my brother has brought me back from India because there sizes are a whole other thing and my 5'10" frame is off all the charts.)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reasons to Look Up

I don't want to think about 9/11/2001 today.  I'm stunned at how little it takes all these years later to be reduced to tears again, the briefest of stories on the radio bringing it all back.  I don't want to think about all that can't be brought back.

So instead I will tell you of the kite festival we were surprised by, yet prepared for.

On Sunday I had the whole day off and my husband was out of town for Army work.  The weather was beautiful, and I chose to leave the house a mess and told the kids we should grab our kites and head to the lake and I would buy them ice cream for lunch.  They agreed this was a good plan, and off we went.

Quinn and his kite
As we drove over the bridge toward the museum the kids started exclaiming about all the kites.  Apparently we weren't the only ones to have this idea.  In fact, there was an entire kite festival happening on the lakefront that we got to join in.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

No Gradual Adjustments Here

Normally as school approaches we get the kids back into some kind of bedtime routine.  Enacting bedtime forces other parts of our routine in line as well and gets us back into a more precise schedule.  That seems reasonable.  Apparently this year we were going for the unreasonable.

During summer vacation we have very few rules.  We don't tell the kids when to go to bed or get up, we get, um, flexible about mealtimes.  When I'm home and feeling ambitious I might remind them to practice violin or piano, but I'm of the belief that real unencumbered free time is valuable.  Left to their own devices my kids never get bored.  They do interesting projects and come up with interesting games, and I know how important freedom is to the creative process.  To have a big swath of unscheduled time to use as a blank canvas is a gift.  (One I wish I got for myself more often.)

So summers around here are loose when they can be.  It's nice to be able to do things for as long as you want and not care about the clock.  At the cottage the kids routinely went to bed well after we did.  Occasionally we'd bug them to be quieter, but we didn't actually want them to stop whatever odd thing it was they had laid out with foam swords and pillows and fake jewels.  There was lots of laughing involved in whatever that was, and I can't ask for more for my kids than a summer filled with laughter.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What I'm Eating

Or, I guess, what I'm not eating, which is sugar, dairy, and wheat.  Although, honestly, I focus on what I'm happy about eating and not things I'm avoiding.

Back at the beginning of the summer when I wrote about how I needed to get serious about my weight but wasn't sure anymore what to do, I made a decision to just do something and stick with it and see what happens.  And so far so good, actually.  I've been losing about a pound a week and I'm feeling better.  Do I miss things?  Sure.  But I figure the choice is between having those things and not feeling healthier, or feeling healthier and not having those things.  I've done it one way for a while, now I'm doing it the other.  I don't get to have it all so I'm not going to worry about what I'm missing.  I'll always be missing something.

So why am I cutting out those things?  Because it's easier for me in general to just cut out certain categories of food so I don't have to think too hard or struggle with anything.  When you flat out make some things off limits you kind of stop seeing them.  I did the paleo thing for a bit a while back, and the concept behind it is bunk, but it did work.  It taught me to read labels and focus on simple foods and avoid processed items, so going back to some form of that seemed like a good idea.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Goodbye to Harold

My Uncle Harold died almost two weeks ago.

It was a loss to our family, but also to the world which was better for having Harold in it.  My uncle was kind and funny and smart.  He loved his family.  He loved good grammar.  He loved to read and play golf and take pictures of people (and pets) he cared about.  I don't know anyone who ever met Harold who didn't like him.

I'm glad my children and I were able to make it down to Florida in time for the funeral.  I'm even gladder we were able to get there six months ago and spend some time with Harold while he was still with us, because visiting the dead is about respect, but visiting the living is about love.

I've encountered differing opinions on whether or not children should attend funerals.  I think as with nearly everything it depends on the circumstances and the people involved.  In our case, I don't want to shield my children from the realities of loss because it's part of learning to appreciate what we have.  When we attended my grandmother's memorial a few years ago the younger kids played together in a separate room, but my oldest (who was nearly 9) chose to sit with me and cry along with the adults.  She remembers it, and knows it was meaningful.

When the news came that my uncle's health was failing rapidly we discussed as a family what we should plan to do.  My father (Harold's younger brother) is not capable of that kind of travel at this time, and my brothers were geographically scattered too far to even have a chance of getting to a funeral on short notice, so we felt we needed to be there to represent our family.  The original thought was that I would fly out with maybe one child, and Ian would stay home with the dog and the remaining kids.  That seemed the most workable thing to do.  Of course in the spirit of, "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, / Gang aft agley," we got the call of Harold's passing when Ian was out of state with the Army, and I scrambled off with all the kids in tow.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Travels and Tribulations

My Uncle Harold died on Wednesday.

I'm not quite ready to write about that, but feel I need to write something, so I'm going to dive back into my neglected blog to describe just the logistics of everything we experienced last week.

My uncle was 90, and he'd chosen to go off dialysis, so we knew the end was near we just didn't know when.  He knew.  He apparently predicted Wednesday, and had time to talk to my dad (his younger brother) and others on the phone who couldn't get to Florida to say goodbye.

We got the call about his passing on Wednesday afternoon, right as I was preparing to take the kids to their violin lessons.  Ian was out of state for Army work.

My dad's side of the family is Jewish, and in Jewish tradition funerals happen within 24 hours of a death.  Wisconsin is a long way from Florida (as we discovered firsthand back in February).  But our household was the only one even remotely available at that moment to go there to represent my dad, so I was determined to make that happen.  There had to be a way to get us down to Florida for a service the next day at 1:00.

Thankfully my brother, Arno, frequent flyer that he is living in New York and working in Seattle, offered to go online and find us tickets and a hotel.  I don't think we could have done this all without his help because we only had a couple of hours to get to the airport, and I had lots of arrangements to make at my end (making sure someone could cover the store, figuring out what to do with the dog, moving appointments and swim lessons...) in addition to packing and helping the kids find any clothes appropriate for a funeral.  (I didn't realize just how many tie-dye shirts my kids owned until we tried to find anything in their closets that looked serious and actually fit.)

I'd made crepes for breakfast in the morning, and had a stack of them set aside for a baked chicken-mushroom-crepe dish for dinner, and I just shoved those into a ziplock bag for snacks.  I'm glad I did, because all plans for eating in airports wound up being dashed, and aside from the paltry treats offered on the planes that was all the kids got to eat until we arrived at our hotel.

This is the point where I am going to say I have the best kids in the world.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Amazing Milwaukee Race on Bikes 3!

This past weekend I was in The Amazing Milwaukee Race on Bikes again!  What a blast.

We are so lucky in Milwaukee to have someone like Adam Baus who wants to go to all the trouble to design interesting races around our city.  I can't imagine how he makes the time for it, but I'm glad he does.

This was the third biking version of the race, and the first with perfect weather.  (The first bike race was plagued by three tremendous cloudbursts, and I was dumb enough to be wearing jeans.  This time around I had on bike shorts because I wasn't risking that kind of struggle again.)  The version on foot is great, too, but I've only managed to do that once with my friend, Linda, and another time our violin store got to be a stop on the race which was really exciting.

Ian had Army commitments, so my friend and fellow luthier, Robyn, agreed to join me.  Team name: The Violin Femmes.
Our official race punch card
We did the "B" or "Short" course.  (I don't know the three extra stops the people on the longer course did.)  The short course was supposed to be around 15 miles, and the long one about 30, but since Robyn and I biked from our homes up to the Start/Finish Line we ended up clocking in about 27 miles total.  I only had to walk my bike up one hill at the very end because I hadn't paced myself to face the last incline on the bridge over the freeway after climbing the hill before it, so that's not bad.  (I suppose next time I might bite the bullet and go for the "A" course since after a nice shower I was fine and couldn't really tell the next day I'd done anything.)

Robyn, pre-race
The race began about four miles north of my home at a place called Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub (at 10th and Juneau near the original Pabst Brewery).  We arrived in plenty of time to check in and for Robyn to grab a little breakfast and check her smartphone.  (I may not be smart enough to have a smartphone, but I'm smart enough to have friends who have smartphones!)

At 11:45 we assembled in Zilber Park behind the building.  I'm including a picture of us posing by the odd statue of the Zilbers in the park because it's the only photographic evidence I have that I was in this race.  (Weird statue.  It included dead weeds sculpted at the figures' feet.  And a large spider was living inside Mr Zilber's bronze sleeve.)
Me, Robyn, and the Zilbers
bronze weeds
After addressing the teams and reviewing basic rules and safety, the race volunteers handed one person from every team an envelope that we were instructed not to open until the end of the countdown.  We were told each envelope had two Scrabble letters, and we had to team up with others around us to spell a six letter word before we could receive our first clue.

Between us and two other teams nearby we had two G's, an I, a U, a T, and a blank.  I'm a good Scrabble player, but that wasn't looking promising.  I laid out the blank as an N so we could create something that ended in ING, and suggested we keep the T, but see if we could trade in two letters.  We got two things about like what we'd just traded in, so we did it again, and eventually were able to spell the word "EATING" and finally get our first clue.

Now, my downfall in these races has always been, and continues to be, not reading carefully enough.  I'm still annoyed with myself that in the second bike race we spent so much extra time in the cemetery when we didn't have to.  We could have won I tell you!  But no, because I didn't realize that we didn't need to solve ALL the clues in the cemetery we lost a lot of time.  In this race we got off to a doubly false start and never quite caught up.

The first thing that threw us was that the last task was included along with the first clue, and it told us to complete two tasks from past races included in a grab bag list before we showed up at the finish line.  Scanning the list of options we noticed one of them was to get a squished penny souvenir from the gift shop at the Pabst Mansion.  I somehow missed the word "Mansion" and thought we were being directed to the Pabst gift shop a block away where we had done the catapult task a couple of years ago, so it seemed smart to dash over there since it was so close and get it out of the way.  But then by the time we realized my mistake the pack of racers was gone and we couldn't follow them.

Our second problem was that we thought of the things included in our clue packet (a map with the grab bag list of final tasks on the back, and two copies of a postcard), that the postcard of a church was the first clue.

Pretty, huh?  And we spotted it just on the other side of the freeway.  We biked over the pedestrian bridge and then all around the church, but there were no race markers or volunteers there.  We were stumped.  Luckily one other team was there and similarly stumped, and they decided to call the race hotline number and ask what to do.

Turns out the first clue was written ON THE MAP.  Duh.  In a big white box labeled "Clue # 1."  It said quite directly to go to Washington Park, which would have been much easier to find if we'd simply followed all the other bikers who read their clue packets carefully.
But at least Robyn and I were finally headed in the right direction, and we got to Washington Park just was we saw many people leaving it.  The task in Washington Park was to score a goal in bike polo on the tennis courts (and then we could get our card punched).  I got to take a mallet and swing at a small ball from my bike and try to get it into what looked like a miniature soccer net.  I narrowly missed the first time, but managed to score a goal on my second attempt.  It was fun!  And over too fast.  I was sorry Robyn didn't get to try because it's surprisingly awkward trying to manage a mallet from atop a bike.

On to the next clue!  Which seemed to be the St Joan of Arc Chapel on the grounds of Marquette University.  I knew that was tucked just beyond the main street somewhere near the dentistry school, but I'd never been there before.  It was built around the 15th century over generations in France, was moved to Long Island, NY in the 1920s, and then to Milwaukee in 1964.  It's weird, because in one sense it's the oldest building in Wisconsin, but in another it's only really been here since the 60s.  Make of that what you will.  Regardless, one of the best things about theses races is the opportunity to go places worth seeing, some of which you may have heard of, and often many you haven't.  I was glad the Chapel was on the route.

However, on the way to Marquette University was the Pabst Mansion!  And its squished penny!
Such a pretty place.  I haven't been inside in years, and it's the sort of landmark that local schoolkids wind up visiting on field trips eventually.  Supposedly at Christmastime the interior is elaborately decorated.  Anyway, people behind the gift shop counter had anticipated the rush of bike racers and were prepared with pre-squished pennies for quick purchase.  I grabbed mine and headed off with Robyn to the chapel.

The St Joan of Arc Chapel is lovely.  My photo here is of the back of it, because I don't know why.  Racing, gotta move, no time for reasonable pictures.  There are several points along the route I wish I had taken a moment to snap a photo or two, but that just didn't happen (because racing).

At the front of the chapel we got our second card punch and our next clue, which sent us to a big red church on the other side of the freeway.  Turns out there is a theater in the lower level of the church I'd never heard of!  An organization called "In Tadem Theatre" so that was interesting to learn about.

The task at In Tandem Theatre was a Roadblock, meaning just one of us had to do it.  It was singing!  Either of us were game to belt out a tune, but we'd read there were typewriters available on site somewhere, and one of the choices for the second grab bag option was to type on a postcard.  We thought maybe we could split up and Robyn could sing and I could type. 

Turns out I had to be in the audience before I would be allowed near any typewriters, which worked out better than fine because I got to enjoy several heartfelt rounds of "Daisy Bell" on a small stage with Adam Baus himself accompanying on keyboard.  Robyn was awesome.

Singers (Robyn in the middle), judges, keyboard

They sang twice, then we got a card punch and found the typewriters, only one of which was working so there was a line.  The instructions were clear that we had to copy a particular bit of text, and if we made a mistake we had to start over.  I described the challenges of using the old Royal typewriters when I had to do this same task in the foot race, so I won't repeat them here, but I was very proud of myself for not making any errors.  Then nobody checked my postcard!  I was so looking forward to showing off my fine work!  So I will display it here for the interwebs to enjoy.

Next stop:  Purple Door Ice Cream in the Walker's Point neighborhood.  Purple Door Ice Cream is someplace we've been meaning to check out since it opened a couple of years ago because it has a reputation as a great place with a great mission.  The task was to buy and finish two scoops of ice cream and show the empty dish(es) to a race volunteer in order to get the next card punch and read the next clue. 

Having cut both sugar and dairy out of my diet at the beginning of the summer, Robyn bravely took one for the team and ate all the ice cream.  She scarfed down scoops of Cookies & Cream and Salted Caramel (which she said was particularly good, and would have been better had she not had to eat it so fast).  She did look a bit brain-freezy at one point, but Robyn's tough I tell ya.

After Purple Door we got back on our bikes and headed for the Old World section of Third Street (which has some attractive but nasty for biking brick roads) where we found the volunteers raising money for repairs to the Kilbourntown Marker which somehow went missing at some point.  I had to read historical information aloud about Mr Kilbourn, then we donated $10 to the cause, got our punch, and sped north to find Reservoir Hill.

This is another great example of why the Amazing Milwaukee Races are so much fun.  We get to learn more about this wonderful place where we live.  I've been wondering for years what's at the top of that hill.  We didn't know if there was still water up there or not, and it's just become one of those things that we drive by but never at a time when we could stop and explore.  I finally got to climb those steps and see! 

Turns out the reservoir was filled in years ago, and the park is a lovely grassy space with a phenomenal view of the city below.  (Excellent spot in this post for a picture you're thinking!  Damn straight.  Wish I'd taken one.  But, you know, racing.) 

And what was our task atop the hill?  Bubbles!  We had to make a really big bubble that lasted at least three full seconds.  I made a bubble a little larger than my head that was deemed too small, but Robyn managed a really great bubble that floated off toward downtown lasting a good ten or fifteen seconds, so we rocked the bubble challenge.

Next clue was written out in sign language.  I'm pretty good at my ASL alphabet (that's one of those basic life skills I've made sure to practice with my kids regularly), but I stumbled briefly on the letter "U" because it looked like an "H" pointing the wrong way.  But a sign language "U" is an "H" pointing the wrong way and I'd just never noticed before.  Anyway, I was glad I could translate the clue quickly and get us moving again.

It says, "Where can you go on a blue ribbon bike ride?"  The blue ribbon bike rides are group rides that meet on Tuesdays that I've never been available for, and I had no idea where they met, although I started to say as Robyn Googled it on her phone that every race includes a bar called The Roman Coin on Brady Street, so when in doubt we should go there.

Turns out Google agreed and off to The Roman Coin we would go!

What awaited us at The Roman Coin was a Detour: We could have our choice of two tasks:  Stripping down to our underwear or counting stairs.

At this point we'd biked up a lot of hills.  We weren't often on the recommended routes and may have biked farther in certain areas than we should have, so the prospect of climbing two different sets of stairs and hauling ourselves all the way over to Pizza Shuttle to verify the number of them sounded exhausting.  So the "Encountering Stares" option instantly appealed to Robyn over the "Count the Stairs" choice, and she was ready to strip down to her underwear and bike to nearby Caesar's Park to get our second to last punch.

What Robyn failed to realize at first was that BOTH of us would have to do this.  Robyn's a tall, beautiful, amateur athlete who does things like half-marathons for fun.  Robyn was willing to strip down even though she wasn't wearing ANY UNDERWEAR.  Just the idea of having a body that doesn't require underwear is amazing to me.

I stood for a while in indecision because my first reaction was absolutely not.  Then I realized how little I wanted to go count stairs, and that I was wearing my super industrial strength bra.  I'd decided in the morning at the last minute to go ahead and wear this special bra I bought for running in case we had to do, you know, some kind of running.  I don't run, but this bra has like a million hooks up the front and pretty well locks my double D's in place in case I have to.  It ain't a pretty bra, but it was about as much coverage as one could ask for with your shirt off. 

The real problem was my underwear.  My husband does the laundry, and he'd been out of town doing Army things, so I was down to that last pair.  You know the pair that you pass over in your drawer until it's the only pair left?  That pair.  This was like the "I told you so" moment for every mother and grandmother who ever said you had to make sure you were in nice underwear before leaving the house because you never knew. 

But I went ahead and did it.  (And, thankfully, no, no pictures of this either.)  It was one of those "Just be brave and get it over with" moments, followed by the reassuring thought that someday the sun will explode and none of this matters.

However, I do have to point out how unfairly this worked out, because Robyn, having not worn any undergarments, got to trade in her biking shorts for a pair of men's boxer-briefs that looked like a baggier version of what she had been wearing, and she just had to roll up the lower part of her biking jersey so it would look a little more like a bra.  Which means Robyn looked about the same.  I was the one in public in the industrial bra and the bad underwear thinking about how I've never even worn something as revealing as a two piece bathing suit outside before.  (Robyn assured me I looked fine, so I simply stripped and tried not to look down or think about it.)

The bike to the park down quiet side streets wasn't bad.  We locked up our bikes at the top of the trail and walked down to the bridge to get our card punched by a woman rocking a cool hat, then had to head back to The Roman Coin to retrieve our clothes.  Unfortunately the route we took the first time was a one way street so we returned down Brady Street, which, on such a beautiful sunny afternoon, was about as packed with people as I've ever seen it.  So, there's that.  I will say, though, that after hours of biking, standing around outside in your underwear is pleasantly breezy.

Once we were dressed we got our last real clue.  And you know where we had to go?  Back to St John's church where we went by mistake in the beginning!  At least we knew how to find it.  This time we were met by volunteers who asked what two grab bag tasks we'd completed (squished penny and typed postcard!), got our final card punch, and headed back to Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub.

The hill back toward the freeway was steep, and as I mentioned earlier I forgot to budget enough energy to also tackle the uphill part of the bridge so that last little way I had to finally just get off and walk my bike, but I'm pretty proud of myself for otherwise biking the whole route.

How did we do?  Twelfth place.  A respectable finish in the top half, so yay!  The winning team for the B course clocked in at 2 hours 29 minutes, and we were at 3 hours 7 minutes.  (Last place came in at 4 hours 12 minutes.)

The real objective was to have fun, and that was certainly met.  Amazing indeed.  I can't wait for next year!

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Good Break

What an amazing thing it is to be able to take a bit of a break from the normal routine.

I actually got a vacation of about two and half weeks!  Unusual and exciting for me, and only really possible because I could leave my store in my assistant Robyn's capable hands.  Ian took the kids and our niece up to the cottage first, and after about a week I was able to join them there for a few days before Ian headed back to Milwaukee on the bus and I took the kids on to Detroit, then Ohio.

The time in Detroit with my parents was really nice, despite the fact that their street is being completely torn up and redone--sewer pipes, sidewalks, and all.  Apparently it takes incredibly loud rumbling equipment to do this, and my little dog was in a shuddering panic about it during working hours.  I got to spend a little bit of time with my brother before he took his daughter home with him (we all miss my niece, but I don't miss the pressure of the daily photo), I got a dinner out with my friends (a rare and wonderful thing), and an afternoon at my friend Gabby's house where our kids got to play together and we got to just talk.  My dad and I got in some Scrabble (he got 50 points for using all his letters during one game, and I learned the word "sportive"), and it's always great to spend time with my mom.

In Ohio we got to stay for a few days with my Uncle John and Aunt Charlotte.  Their home has been surrounded by commercial development in recent years, so their piece of property feels like a stately oasis.  They are so generous and kind.  We felt truly welcome and at home.  And it was refreshing to have an ordinary block of time to spend together instead of a rushed and crowded holiday experience.  We had time to just be and get a small sense of what their regular lives look like.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mold-A-Ramas at the Imagination Station

A couple of days after our trip to the Toledo Zoo, we did another day trip from Detroit back to Toledo to collect Mold-A-Ramas at the Imagination Station.

Parking was confusing, but the science center itself was good.  At first we thought our kids were a little old for it.  We walked through a few simple displays that weren't particularly inspiring, and then decided to have lunch.  The food was good and not too expensive and we got to eat outdoors with a view of the river.  Afterward the kids went exploring on their own and my mom and I were going to be content with sitting outside and reading.

But then I decided to check on the kids and discovered the deeper you went into the Imagination Station the more interesting it got.  I found Quinn by a mesmerizing display that involved a spinning disk and lots of sand that you could manipulate with brushes and sticks to create patterns.  We probably could have done that all day.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mold-A-Ramas at Maker Faire Detroit and the Toledo Zoo

After my week home alone while Ian took our kids and niece off to the cottage, we've switched places and now he's manning home and business while I'm on vacation.  I had a few lovely days up in the woods, and then we headed for Detroit to spend some fun time with my parents.

My brother, Arno, suggested we visit the Maker Faire event going on at the Henry Ford Museum.  It's a wacky sort of happening.  There was a cupcake zipping around that kept getting shot at by an air cannon full of stuffed animals.  There were all kinds of wheels to try.  Aden got a knitting lesson.  All my kids got to carve rubber stamps.  There were tons of 3D printers in action (one using Nutella instead of plastic).  
Following Uncle Arno anywhere....

This guy.
Quinn in a super big wheel

Motorized cupcake on the run!
Aden with 3D printed skull
Even though Mold-A-Ramas were not an official part of Maker Faire, the Henry Ford Museum has ten of them, including a new one we didn't get last year, so we were excited to pick it up.  And the really funny thing was that many people manning the high tech 3D printer booths wanted to ask us about the Mold-A-Ramas we were carrying around and thought they were incredibly cool.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Words

Every summer we do some form of what we call Home School.  What we do is an insult to what people who actually Home School do (because that takes more preparation, dedication, and organization than anything we're attempting), but in our case it's just some manner of trying to make sure the kids' brains don't turn to complete mush while on vacation.  We've done this several different ways.

One summer we had a rule that none of the kids could have screen time until all of them had had an individual lesson at the white board in the morning.  We did math with Aden, spelling with Mona, and whatever Quinn wanted to do.

(We have a white board in front of the fireplace in the living room.  Right now it has some of Mona's dragons on it.) 

One of the things we sometimes do is have a word a day since all my kids could use help with spelling.  Every morning I write a word (or two) on the white board and everyone has to commit it to memory so by the end of the day when I quiz them they all spell it correctly.  I focus on words that are most likely to be included in a "What I did this summer" essay when they get back to school.  The summer word list a few years ago was rather distressing.  It included the words "hospital" and "cancer." 

But while sorting through a pile of things on my dresser this week I came across last year's summer word list.  It brought back some good memories.  I should give the kids a spelling test tomorrow and see how many of these words stuck:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alone With My Thoughts

All my family (including the dog) left yesterday for fun at the cottage.  I needed to stay behind because, well, part of running our own business means we don't often get to leave town together for any extended period of time.  (I remember that from my childhood, when my parents ran their art gallery.  We took very few family vacations, and when we did they were crazy whirlwind events where we crammed in as many Eastern states and museums as possible.)

It's very quiet here.  It's especially strange not to have the dog in the house.  At least last year when I had to stay behind Chipper greeted me at the door in a frenzy of joy every day and gave me a sense of routine.  It occurred to me at work that if I didn't bother to go home at the end of the day it didn't matter and no one would know or care.  That's weird.  And I didn't realize how many habits the dog had shaped in me until he wasn't underfoot.  When I was cleaning out the fridge I could leave an open garbage bag on the floor, and I can run out the door for a moment without worrying the dog may get out if I'm not careful.  It sounds silly, I'm sure, but it's a peculiar level of freedom I'm not used to.

I had high hopes for both writing and violin making during all this uninterrupted free time, but I've fallen into a lot of cleaning instead.  The house has gotten completely away from me lately, and to straighten up a room and have it stay that way is sort of exciting.  (Because I am old and my idea of exciting is very sad.)  Being in my house right now reminds me of a time when I visited a friend who had no kids and I watched her put her keys on a table and it struck me that in her world, those keys would still be there when she went back later.  No little hands were rearranging random items as part of some endless game that threatened her sanity as a byproduct.  I marveled that I ever lived in such a world and never appreciated it.  But now I straighten up a room and when I walk through it the next day it's still clean.  Trippy.

Something I was not expecting to do was relive memories of Ian's deployments.  But while I was cleaning up a couple of rooms downstairs tonight I was listening to the radio and Terry Gross did an interview on Fresh Air with a writer named Angela Ricketts who has a memoir out about her experiences at home with three kids during her husband's deployments.  She lived through eight of them.  Eight.  I only had to get through two and that was plenty.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

When Life Really Is a Picnic

When my kids were smaller I used to wonder a little at how much there really was to look forward to when they got bigger.  I loved the baby hugs, I loved the unexpected things they would say and do, I loved the wide-eyed stumbly cuteness of it all.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Throwbacks and Holdouts

Check out my daughter's "new" phone:

I salvaged it from the cottage when my grandma upgraded to a touch-tone phone many years ago.  My kids used to play with it when they were small, and we actually have pulled it out to use during power outages when the phone lines were fine but our cordless land-line was rendered useless.  Aden has taken to spending more time on the phone with friends lately, and as a result we can never find a receiver, so I told her we could set up the rotary phone in her bedroom to use as her own.

She's very excited about it, and actually likes the fact that it's tied to the wall and she can't lose it.

I'm always amused by those lists and clips that circulate around the internet periodically, showing all the now retro things we grew up with that people are convinced today's children have never seen before.  My kids know all those things.  They play records.  They've messed around with tape recorders.  We still watch VHS tapes for movie night.  Before it went flukey we played Pitfall 2 and Frogger on our Atari and the kids loved it.

It's not that we're opposed to new technology.  I have an iPod shuffle for listening to podcasts, I enjoy Netflix streaming, I don't like to be without my laptop for very long, the kids have an iPad they share that they got for Christmas from their aunt....  But we are holding out of on certain things.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Random Violin Shop Things

I am really wiped out lately.  Lots of house guest stuff, odd weather, kid things, jury duty, Ian off with the Army here and there....  And lots to do at work.

Luckily I like my work, and in the past couple of weeks I've had some fun projects to do.  In case anyone is interested in what typical violin work looks like I thought I'd share a little of what I've been up to on my bench.  (And this is what my bench looks like when there is too much going on and I have to stop and straighten up.)

In repair work I've been getting to learn something new.  My assistant had experience doing soundpost patches before she got to my shop, so when she arrived it made sense (particularly with her schedule) to let her do those jobs when they came in.  But she may be moving on someplace new and I decided before she leaves I should have her walk me through a soundpost patch, because it's very different doing something yourself than trying to learn it through books and occasional observation.  Turns out doing a soundpost patch is really fun.  (In a picky, tedious, luthier kind of way, not in any way normal people think things are fun.)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Jury Duty

So, life has been busy lately with Ian out of state for Army stuff and lots of house guest activity and kids and work, etc.  Which means now is a perfect time to be called up for jury duty!  Why not?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Marbleous Idea

I read this post recently about using marbles to help kids manage screen time over the summer, and my first thought was that it was pretty much just another reward system like a sticker chart (which has never ever ever worked for us never ever).  But seeing as our summer was off to a rocky start in terms of too much Minecraft and TV and not enough doing basic chores without nagging, I figured it couldn't hurt to try.

Holy moly is the marble thing a good system.

Basically the way it works is one marble is worth 15 minutes of screen time.  When the kids do the chores they are supposed to be doing anyway, they earn marbles to put in their jars.  When they are ready to use screens they set a timer and "pay" for it by taking marbles out of their jars.  It's not so much a reward system, but a way of helping them balance out their time better between what they should be doing and stuff they know they need to monitor better.

I talked to them about it first to see if they were interested.  Quinn (who likes collecting things) and Mona (who already does her chores without being reminded) were excited about the idea.  Aden was wary, but agreed to give it a go.