Thursday, December 31, 2015

Of Joy and Grief and Art

This holiday season has been wonderful.  I got everything finished on time (including a gift for Mona that I will share pictures of soon), our health is all relatively good, I got to perform some music with friends on Christmas Eve which is always nice, and despite the unseasonable nature of the balmy weather at least it's made all the driving easy.

Even work went unusually well.  I get people every year who want to buy a violin for someone to put under the tree as a surprise, and every year I talk people out of it saying that the player really needs to be able to choose a violin for him or herself.  (There are exceptions, but most of the time I can convince people that a smaller gift or card announcing that the player can go violin shopping is a better idea.)

A man came in last year whose young son was just starting violin and I pointed him in the direction of renting from the school to begin with to make sure his child actually liked playing and they weren't potentially stuck with a violin they didn't need (and I suspect couldn't easily afford).  This year he returned saying his son was working hard and loved playing and now they were ready to buy.  I suggested he bring the boy in on Christmas Eve where I let him try several student outfits.  It was lovely to watch him try different instruments and then light up when he came across the one that was a match.  The mom was beaming as her son didn't want to stop playing Christmas tunes on his new violin.  I assured them based on his age and situation that they wouldn't have to worry about an upgrade for several years, but explained what sort of maintenance they could expect when owning a violin, and told them to please pop in for checkups anytime.  I thanked the dad for his patience in trusting my advice, because I really do think it worked out for the best all around.  He agreed, and it was really satisfying.  It was not a big sale, but it was easily my favorite one this season.

We enjoyed a quiet Christmas morning at home.  I love watching my kids open gifts.  They never ask for anything, but they always like everything.  The big present this year was a new laptop for Aden, which is really a necessity for school and we found something good on sale that should last her for the next few years.  Before I left for my Christmas Eve gig I watched Aden struggling with her old laptop in the living room.  It has random issues and overheats and the kids have developed quirky habits for using it so that it doesn't lose all their homework at an inconvenient moment.  Aden smiled at me and said something along the lines of, "I think if I just remember to put it on its side when I get to this point it should be fine!"  She was completely willing work with the wonky laptop without complaint.  Made my night knowing that a new computer was waiting for her under the tree, and that she would truly appreciate it.

We made it to Detroit in time for Christmas dinner with my mom.  My kids are excellent travelers and were perfectly happy spending most of Christmas in the car.  My mom made us a beautiful meal and I loved having us gathered happily around the dining room table of my childhood.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Box of Violin Making

My latest project!  Behold my new toy!
closed cello box with neck for handle

box open for display
I have a lot of broken things at the violin store that I save for projects.  I've made a bow-quet, a cello lamp, a crayon box, a toy box, various sparkle instruments, ....  I have lots of other ideas that will be fun and interesting if I ever find the time to tackle them, but ever since I opened my store I have wanted to make a display inside a cello about how violins are made.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Sports Thing

Aden joined the eighth grade girls' volleyball team at school this year.  She was interested in getting more exercise (which can be harder to do when the weather is cold) and I suggested she might like a more social outlet for that, so why not give volleyball a try?  She was hesitant, but she signed up, and she's really been enjoying it.

It's been interesting for us.  Earlier this month we went to our first sports thing as a family when we watched Aden's team play.  We've never been to see any kind of organized sporting event together.  I know Aden has been to baseball games with other people.  Mona was briefly on a swim team at the Y, but that was as low key as you could get, and we never all went to a meet.  I think the closest Quinn has been to sports is the Gaga Pit at school.  Sports has not been part of their education, so they know "of" sports.

Sports holds little to no interest for me.  I am glad to be married to a man with equal non-interest in sports, but it's definitely an area where my kids have not had a lot of exposure due to our lack of involvement.  However, Aden is among the very top of the list of things that do interest us, so we are all happy to go watch her play volleyball.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Busy Time (and one more birthday cake)

Whew.  We just finished birthday season, we hosted Thanksgiving, and we just started focusing in on the Christmas stuff.  I'm always amazed with how little room there is in our regular weekly schedule of rehearsals and lessons and appointments that we can cram in any more at this time of year, but somehow we do.  Here's a whirlwind recap mostly for my own record:

My mom, brother Arno, and niece were at our house for Thanksgiving this year.  The next day my brother Barrett joined us while his wife and baby continued their visit down in Illinois with her family.  It was a great Thanksgiving, despite it being the first one without my dad.  Thanksgiving is also my parents' wedding anniversary, so a certain amount of sadness was unavoidable, but overall we mostly had fun.  My mom did most of the cooking and everything was delicious, we played telephone-pictionary which is always hilarious, and we mostly just enjoyed being together.  I love having everyone in my house.

Mona made beautiful turkeys out of duct tape and paper for every person at the table.  Each one was different and I loved them all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


I finally found doctors willing to help me.  Today is the first day in a long time that I feel more like a normal person.  It's wonderful.

I have given up on Columbia St Mary's hospital system here in Milwaukee, and am switching our whole family's medical care to Froedtert.  I have always liked our primary doctor at CSM, and we've gone to her since before we had children, but she's moving her practice to suburbs farther north in the new year anyway.  Keeping a relationship with her might have been our only incentive to stay, but with that ending I had no reservations about starting over somewhere else.

The pain in my breast that began back in July started getting so bad over Thanksgiving weekend that it was destroying my ability to function.  I tried swimming without using my right arm for a couple of days, but finally had to admit swimming was out.  I had to set aside a bushing job at work because I couldn't brace the instrument against my body in order to get at it properly with my tools.  (Thankfully that job is on a long timeline, so it will still get done.)  I couldn't walk at a normal speed.  I couldn't lift many things.  I was constantly elbowing away my children when they'd try to hug me.  Sleeping was hard because I'd have to find one position and not deviate from it all night or suffer excruciating pain.

I spent all of last Monday trying to get any doctor at CSM to listen to me.  The nurse at the breast center that did the biopsies and the ultrasounds and the mammograms were sympathetic, but said that since I did not have cancer there was nothing more they could do for me.  They couldn't even prescribe anything for the pain.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Turtle Cake!

I only really had one evening to plan and create Mona's surprise cake, so I settled on a turtle because turtles are cute, Mona loves them, and turtles are sort of flat and round like a cake already anyway.  Turtle cake!

Mona's only request was that it be chocolate.  Easy enough.  Ian was kind enough to bake me a couple of round chocolate layers while I was at work so they'd be cool enough to assemble when I got home.  I built myself a turtle shape, put on a crumb coat, and let it all sit in the freezer while I mixed up a batch of fondant.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Accepting the Fat Pants

It's not been an easy go since summer.  There are many good things to be grateful for, but a combination of grief and chronic pain has undermined my world in a way that some things have had to give.  The main thing is I don't have the mental energy to be disciplined about what I'm eating.  It makes me sad, but I don't know what else to do.

It seems wrong that you can undo a lot of work so quickly.  It took a year to get my weight down to where it should be, and a matter of weeks to go back.  Not that I'm all the way back, but enough that I can't fit into what I was using as my regular clothes for a while.  I saved out one pair of bigger pants when I lost weight and now they are they only pants that fit.  I will try to get myself under control enough that I don't outgrow those.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

If a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words...

Then I just ordered five-million of them.  I'm not kidding.  I have not cleared off my camera card in almost a year, and after receiving a 50% off online coupon from Walgreens I decided now was my moment.

But there was a time limit on the coupon, so I spent many hours yesterday uploading images and then going through and selecting sizes and quantities, etc.  Then there was a long stretch of trying to place my humongous order which the internet was understandably confused by.

I know I'm rare in actually wanting to print physical photos anymore.  Most people when they show you photos pull out a phone and start swiping at a little screen.  That's fine, and there are certainly advantages to it, but I still like having a physical photo in my hands.  I just do.  I like having an image that doesn't rely on batteries, that I can slip into the pages of a book I'm reading, or keep on my desk.  A printed photo has time-defying properties, and is portable in a way you can hold close and feel connected to.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fish Cake!

Well, chocolate cake, anyway, shaped to look like a fish.
I'm not sure why this year Quinn settled on "fish" as a dessert theme for his birthday (even took cupcakes to school with Swedish Fish on them), especially since his party was at a roller skating rink, but the fish cake was easier than the peacock cake, so I didn't mind.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Lessons from the Food Pantry

We don't have as many opportunities to volunteer as we'd like (coordinating the schedules of five people in one house with lots of activities is mind-boggling sometimes) but we try when we can to help at a food pantry on the north end of town.  I'm pleased that my kids jump at the chance to go when I can find someone to cover me at work and can arrange to volunteer.  There are lots of important lessons to be learned there.

In this season of food drives and increased interest in charity, I thought I'd take a moment to share what we've learned at the food pantry in the hopes it may help guide people in their giving.  Maybe these are things that only surprised me as I saw what items people in need selected, but maybe it's information others can use as well.

The most popular items on the shelves of the section of the food pantry I've helped with were: cooking oil, cooking spray, flour, sugar, and spices such as cinnamon and garlic powder.

These are things I have never thought to donate, and yet they are the kinds of things I make sure are stocked in my own kitchen all the time.  Why would I think someone else's kitchen would be that different?  I think it comes down to looking around more at what you can spare when you make donations, rather than for what other people actually need.  People coming to the food pantry need the same things we need.  Now I buy extra of those things so I can spare them.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Tragedy Limits

I didn't know anything about the terrorist attacks in Paris until late last evening.  I was at work until almost 7:00 and not in touch with the news at all.  I caught something vague about the attacks on Facebook when I opened my laptop to plug it in to the TV so we could watch something on Netflix for movie night.  When I went to bed around 10:00 and checked my computer once more, that was when I realized the extent of what had happened.

I experienced that sad ache that occurs when seeing tragedy in the news.  I can't tell if we're feeling that with greater frequency anymore, or if I've simply been alive long enough that such stories are having a cumulative effect.  My first thought was for the people who are now dealing with unexpected loss, and next for people who needlessly died in fear.

I hate the senselessness of events like this one.  I am sad for victims of natural disasters who suffer great loss as well, but pointless stunts like this where people are the instigators of the suffering of others is also infuriating.  I'm sad, but I'm also angry.  I wish those feelings mixed together weren't so familiar.  I don't want to form opinions and make decisions based on fear or anger.  I remember after 9/11 wanting someone to hurt for what they did.  I don't want to feel that way again.  Revenge is never good policy.

As I was reading news reports coming into the BBC site, it suddenly hit me that my brother was supposed to be in Paris this weekend.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Do Something Real

This post may come off as a bit snarky.  It's not intended to be.  It's hard to explain some levels of annoyance without it sounding churlish, and I don't ever mean to mock someone who is being sincere in their expressions.  But you can't do better until you know better, and this is my space for sharing what I know, so here goes.

I am irritated with empty gestures on Veteran's Day.  The latest one is a "green light campaign" where people are supposed to screw in a green light bulb to let veterans know... I'm not sure what.  That they are thought of?  In what way?  Don't flags already do that?  Are we done spending money on yellow ribbon magnets and we need to spend money pointlessly on something else?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Beautiful Day for a Biopsy

Well, it was a beautiful day, anyway.  We've had a gorgeous week here, all in the upper-sixties/low-seventies.  I would have loved to have gone biking along the lake, or even spent a nice hour sitting outside, but I've had to be content with simply having my front door to the store open while I admire the sunshine from my workbench.  Quinn and I took a walk the other evening to pick up things at Target and marveled the whole way that we didn't need jackets.  I love a warm day in fall.
Anyway, I decided I really didn't have much choice other than to just do the next biopsy.  It makes sense to rule out cancer, and the whole thing has been going on too long not to try to find an explanation.  But I dreaded it.

It hurt.  I cried during the procedure because of the pain.  I cried at the mammogram afterward because... I'm not sure why.  I was feeling emotional I suppose.  I hate crying in public, but once you start it's hard to stop.

Monday, November 2, 2015

That Hopeless Feeling and Knowing Better

I'm in that awful limbo of feeling tired and frustrated and stuck, and still knowing I should appreciate how much I have.  Nothing is terrible.  But nothing feels quite right, either.

I'm stressed about my breast issue, which never completely went away.  It's improved since July, and I'm not in pain, but after three ultrasounds, two aspirations, and a mammogram they want to do another biopsy and I just don't want to.  I get wanting to rule out cancer, but I don't think it is cancer, and I don't want to go through all that discomfort again just to be back at square one.  But it's hard to know what to do and all of it is upsetting.  I don't feel like there are people I can talk to about it without upsetting them, too.

We have been struggling with the high school application process for Aden.  In Milwaukee you apply to go anywhere, and a few schools (like the High School of the Arts) require additional hoops to jump through, and that has been stressful.  The school issues with Aden in general have been frustrating.  Only other parents going through something similar seem to understand how little control over any of that we have.  Everyone else just seems judgy, which never helps.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween 2015!

 Halloween was on Halloween here in Milwaukee!  It's a Christmas miracle!
Unfortunately for the city-wide trick-or-treaters it rained here all day, but for our neighborhood's nighttime trick-or-treat it was merely cold and a bit damp.  I was surprised at just how many people came to our door this year considering how unpleasant it was out, but we went through many hundreds of pieces of candy like we usually do.  Lots of Ninja Turtles this year, along with many Batmen, Supermen, and Star Wars characters (the best of which was a dad dressed as Luke Skywalker with a baby in a Yoda hat strapped to his back).  My favorites were a dad dressed as a cockroach, a little boy in a homemade tiger shark outfit, and a small child in a beautiful macaw costume.  Oh, and a little girl in a homemade robot costume who said "Beep Boop!" for thank you

I got pictures of the kids in their costumes before they went to the Halloween dance at their school the day before while the weather was nice.  I love how much they love to dress up!  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mona the Griffin

Mona's costume this year was an interesting challenge in a couple of ways.  She wanted to be a griffin, and she wanted to make as much of it as possible by herself.

The first step was to make sure we were on the same page, since we were talking about an imaginary animal and I needed to get a sense of what she had in mind.  I asked Mona to draw me a griffin, and she quickly sketched out this:
Makes that iguana costume look easy, doesn't it?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Babble Posts

I finished copying over all of my Babble posts into this blog.  (Well, everything except the slideshows--those you'll have to read over there if you want to track them down.)  I was tired of all that writing being buried and not searchable, and it's frustrating that most of the pictures were lost or that some of the posts were jumbled into other people's work.  The dates are gone, and the comments have been wiped out, which is a shame because there were some really interesting and entertaining discussions there.  It's disconcerting to have a heartfelt record of a stretch of your life mishandled in that way.  I feel better having copies of it all here.

I did a lot of writing at Babble!  More than I realized.  As of this date I am still about half a dozen posts shy on this blog of the total amount of posts I did for Holding Down the Fort, so I've doubled my archive.

It's been a tedious process doing that much cutting and pasting, and finding old photos again (any posts where the photos were merely nice but not necessary I just left photo-less), but it feels good to finally have all of it where people can read it.  There are many times I haven't bothered to write about certain topics here because I felt I'd already said what I wanted to say in an earlier post on Babble, but if nobody can find it it's the blogging equivalent of "If a tree falls in the forest..."

It's put my head in a strange place, reliving all that time during deployment again.  The same way you eventually forget the true toll of sleepless nights with a new baby, the deployment stress has faded to something I recall but don't usually feel.  It's good to remember and then appreciate where we are now.  It's amazing to go back to the earliest posts and see just how young my kids were, and see in what ways they've changed and in what ways they never do.

So here are some links to Babble posts (as transferred to this archive) I particularly like that maybe you haven't seen, or that may still be of interest.  I have yet to address any of links in them (I suspect most will take you to a picture of Micky Mouse saying "oops") and if there are any weird mistakes I missed while up late doing my copy and paste thing please feel free to let me know.  (Think of this as a rainy day list for the times I am lax about posting often enough!  Just come here and pick an old post or two.)

My original two Babble essays before I started my blog were about Ian being gone, and about adjusting to Ian coming home again.

I think my funniest post remains The Ultimate Game.  But Styrofoam, how I hate thee, let me count the ways....  still makes me laugh, too.  The world's most hilarious/awful Christmas card was made in Mommy's Sweatshop.

Posts that people contacted me about years later still wanting to reference them were:

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Recycled Kangaroo

Aden wanted to be a kangaroo for Halloween again this year.  She loves being a kangaroo.  She likes being soft, she likes having a big tail, and she likes having a pouch (which conveniently holds either candy or the dog).

Aden has been a kangaroo many, many times.  It was the first costume idea she picked for herself when she wasn't quite three.  (I made several suggestions, but when she realized she could use the pouch of a kangaroo costume for Trick-or-Treating, that was it.)

The main thing I learned from that first kangaroo costume was that in subsequent costumes not to include feet.  I didn't expect my kids to wear their costumes over multiple years (and for any and every occasion), but they do, and room for added leg growth has proven necessary.

So as much as Aden liked being a snowy owl last year, and a zebra the year before, she really liked her kangaroo costume from the year before that and decided to wear it again.  It just needed a few alterations.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Quinn the Iguana

I've got it relatively easy this year for Halloween costumes.  Partially because I've got the process down by now, and mostly because of my daughters' choices.  Aden wants to recycle an older costume, and Mona wants to make most of hers herself.  The only costume I was making myself from scratch was Quinn's.  Quinn asked to be an iguana.

Last year everyone wanted wings.  This year it's all about tails.  Iguanas have nice, long tails.

Quinn picked out some green fleece, I made my standard jumpsuit, got some lighter fleece for the front and the frill, and spent an evening watching Netflix while stitching on the grey spiky bits along the spine.  Quinn helped me stuff the tail and then I took it to work to paint.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Oh, and also these things happened...

So, the part of this blog that is a record for myself of things my family does kind of got understandably sideswiped this summer (and into the start of fall).  The death of my father and what that means going forward is still something I am processing, but regardless, our lives have continued on in busy and interesting fashion, and I need to jot some of it down before I forget it ever happened.

This is essentially "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" without the sad parts and with many photos.  Here we go:

I did post about our trip to the cottage already.  Ian and the kids (including my niece) got to return there for a week in August as well.  I love that the cottage is a summer tradition for our family.

Early in the summer I finally got the appropriate archery equipment for the girls to share.  There are several public ranges in the park system in Milwaukee, and sometimes we'll picnic there when we go out to shoot.

Quinn's still too small to handle the bow yet, so he acts as a human quiver and also retrieves arrows.  The girls are improving quickly and we've been having a lot of fun.  Next summer I plan to get a third bow so they don't have to take turns.

Summer means trips to Leon's Frozen Custard.  (Or, at least, more seasonally appropriate trips to Leon's.)  Aden has discovered the joy of the banana split.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Good and the Bad

Aden invited me to go with her class on a field trip to a movie downtown.  As part of the Milwaukee Film Festival there was a showing of Landfillharmonic, a documentary about children in Paraguay who live in a dump and play music on orchestral instruments assembled from garbage.  Aden knew I'd be interested, and when her teacher said there were a couple of tickets left for any adults who wanted to come along she was excited to ask me.  It was short notice (she told me the night before), but I was caught up on my work and figured it would be fine for Ian to cover for me in the morning.  I told Aden I could go.  She was delighted.

Aden is 13.  13 is hard.  We are struggling a bit with her lately, because the parenting road is not particularly clear anymore.  When children are younger there are relatively fewer choices about many things.  I'm not saying it's easy, by any means, because it's not, but the variables are different.

With toddlers, for instance, you know all of their friends.  You usually share most of your child's environment.  You know where they are, what they are eating, and what they are watching.  The scope of their potential worries tends to be narrow.

By eighth grade, for many, that all goes away.  Most days my daughter spends more waking hours outside of our house than in it.  I do not know all of her friends.  I have only a vague idea of what her days look like, I no longer have control over what she eats or watches, and her concerns are complicated.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Revisiting the Fort

I recently came across a link to my old archive, which I thought was completely lost.  I'm feeling quite nostalgic for my kids when they were little after reading those old posts.  I do not miss the stress that came with my husband's deployments, but that has been interesting to remember as well.

For those who don't know, I started blogging at back in 2009 with a personal blog called Holding Down the Fort.  Babble was a new kind of parenting site when it started a few years earlier, and my dad had sent me an article about it.  After reading that article I contacted them about writing an essay based on my experience as a parent whose husband was deployed.  My piece, called The Home Front, was rated their most inspiring in their first year online.  I did a followup piece when my husband came back from Iraq called Return to the Home Front, which got picked up in various places.

It was a good experience getting paid for my writing and interesting getting feedback from people in so many places.  Babble was quirky and surprising at the time, and the editors I was in contact with originally were great.

When my husband was called up for a second tour in Iraq I approached Babble about blogging my experience during that deployment.  The first deployment was incredibly isolating, and I thought blogging the second time around might help.  It did.  I enjoy the discipline of regular writing, and the personal nature of blogging and direct contact with readers is satisfying.  I loved my blog at Babble, and I'm still grateful for many of the contacts I've made through that site.

Although it started out fine, working with Babble was frustrating.  I was one of about a half a dozen personal bloggers at first.  The bigger names (such as Rebecca Wolf with her spinoff blog called Straight from the Bottle, and Katie Granju) didn't really involve themselves with our little community on the site, but others I felt close to, the way you do when you regularly follow a parenting blog and reach out through email.  Jane Roper I still actively follow on her new blog, and others like Dawn Meehan and Oz Spies are still at Babble in some capacity.  One of the best blogs I've ever read was Divorced with Kids, which was a spinoff of Irretrievably Broken, whose anonymous author is now one of my most cherished friends.  Our little corner of personal bloggers at Babble was a special place for a while.

Then the Voices started.  In preparation for the Disney buyout, Babble decided to create a wall of big name bloggers who were supposed to attract big numbers coming over from their already popular blogs.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Back to Work

I haven't done a lutherie update in a while.  Mostly because I have been distracted from my work of late.  Not so much from my work at the store, but my own building.  I was warned many years ago by another builder that once you open the door to doing repairs it becomes almost impossible to find time to build, and he was right.  As much as I appreciate the work when it comes to paying the bills, most of the time I wish people would simply take better care of their equipment and leave me more time to myself.

For instance, I worked on straightening this cello bridge this weekend:
For those who don't know what they should be seeing, the square I set on that cello top shows where the back of that bridge should be lining up.  When the top of a bridge starts to pull forward (usually from tightening the strings) and it's allowed to lean for an extended period of time, the pressure of the strings warps the wood.  Most of the time it can be steamed out and pressed flat again, but the bridge is left weaker and more vulnerable to warping in the future, so better not to let it get warped to begin with.  In any case, I'm amazed this particular bridge didn't snap.

I'm glad I can do repair work for people and keep their instruments running well, but after not getting much done this summer on the violin I'm supposed to be building (not to mention the one I'm supposed to be helping Aden build) I've decided this week to buckle down and get back to work.  So here's a run down for those who are interested in how my current violin is progressing.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

On the Mend (Booby Trap Edition)

Just a quick update on medical things because I've had several concerned people contact me, so it seems simpler at this point to post about it here.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Good Movies, but Can't Recommend Them

This Labor Day Weekend we've been taking it easy.  We had my niece, Ellora, with us for all of August, which was great fun, but she's back in New York now with her own family and we're getting back into a rhythm of it just being us around here again.  That all gets flipped around soon when Ian leaves for Army stuff out of town and my mom comes to help out, but for a few days we are in our normal state.  It' nice.  We've been experimenting with a new chocolate chip cookie recipe, slowly tackling chores and homework and practicing... and watching movies.

I love to curl up with my family and watch movies.   I love introducing films to my kids that maybe their peers haven't seen but that give them a greater understanding of other references.  At 13, 11, and 8 my kids are old enough that we've been able to expand the range of movies into ones with more mature themes, but Quinn is just young enough that there are still a few things I'd like them to see that we aren't ready to do for movie night yet.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thanks and Dreams

Thank you to everyone who has offered condolences on the death of my father.  There have been so many comments and emails and cards and I appreciate them all.  It means a great deal to me that I can express myself safely in this space the way I need to, and feel supported as I do it.  Thank you.

We've had my niece staying with us, and the days have been filled with summertime fun: trampoline, kites, archery, biking, concerts in the park, ice cream, books, crafts, movies, games....  In the morning my kids start school and a whole new (intensely packed) routine gets underway.  The daytime brings many distractions.

But at night I've been dreaming about my dad.  In the dreams he's as he was several years ago, before the need for a cane.  There was one where my mom and my brothers and I were with him in the library at home, talking and laughing.  We were having such a nice time, and I kept thinking, "Oh, I hope no one remembers he's supposed to be dead so this doesn't have to end."  In another, my dad came along with me to a place where I was having a rehearsal, and I decided before we started to play to go out in the hall where he was waiting with my husband to see if he'd like to come in and listen to us practice.  He was sitting happily with Ian and laughing when I found him, and again I thought, "As long as no one reminds us he's supposed to be dead this will be okay."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Death of My Dad

I'm home again.  I've been back a week now.  I was away for almost three.  It feels much, much longer.  Despite everything I can't quite grasp that my dad is really gone.  That realization comes and goes at odd times.

I need to sort out the death of my dad in writing.  I'm already forgetting so much.  I don't want to forget anything, but I also need to get some distance in order to function.  To preserve these memories I have to revisit them, but I can't live in that place right now.  I believe by writing them down I can safely set them aside for another time when I'm ready.

I don't know if this post will be of interest to anyone but myself.  All I know is it is long. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Eulogy for Dad

My father, Arnold Klein, died on Friday morning, Aug 7th, a week after going into hospice at home.  He was surrounded by his family and got to say goodbye to many people.  He was 86 years old.  He was a year and few months shy of his 50th wedding anniversary.  He was dignified and gentle.  He was deeply loved.  The world is much lesser without him.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Parallels: Rivyn and Dad

I have a moment while the nurse is here.  I am tired.  The horror of watching my dad starve to death weighs everything down and makes any laughter we can't suppress at odd moments feel disrespectful.  But sometimes you have to laugh and sometimes you have to cry and it is what it is.

And sometimes you have to write.  I need this chance to organize my thoughts into words to settle me a little.  Or I might go crazy.  My dad informed my mom this morning that it takes great effort to go truly crazy.  I believe it may take just as much effort not to.

So what I would like to write about today are the parallels between my dad at this stage, and my nephew, Rivyn.  The obvious themes of life and death seem to scream at us at every turn.  I can't imagine struggling through this time with my parents without all the kids here to reaffirm what life is really about.  But in particular to have this precious, remarkable little baby in the house---there are no words.  You can't not smile when you look at that baby.  We are all so sad, but then here is this adorable, sweet new person interjected into all of it.  He is a lifeline.  He reminds us simultaneously of what we have and what we will lose.  We're all glad my dad got to meet him.  We are all devastated that they will never know each other.

Friday, July 31, 2015


My father started home hospice today.  This has been the strangest day of my life.  Good, bad, a bittersweet limbo.  I don't know quite what to do.

This is a placeholder post, really.  I can't write they way I'd like to because I need to be living these moments rather than reflecting on them.  There is much to say and much to sort out, but not tonight.

Tell the people you love that you love them.  Be there with them if you can, because we don't get to keep them.  No matter how much we want to.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Learning to Fail

People often assume since I'm a violin teacher that I instruct my own kids, and are then surprised when I tell them I'm smart enough not to.  I already tell my kids how to do everything else, and violin is hard, and sometimes having mom criticize one more thing is too much.  There are meta-messages to overcome.  When I point out a mistake, that has a weight and a history that anyone else trying to say the same thing wouldn't be burdened with.  Criticism from mom can hurt no matter how well-meaning it is or how gently it's offered.  Because no one wants to let down mom.

But for various reasons my kids' violin instruction has fallen to me this summer.  It has been trying.  At first I was kind of excited, because I love to teach violin and have lots of ideas and materials I want to share, and I've kept my distance for many years so as to not step on another teacher's toes.  This would be a chance to be involved in a way I haven't been.  I even found pieces the three of them could learn to play together.  I couldn't wait.  Unfortunately, however, most of the lessons end in tears.

I'm a fairly patient teacher, and have often been told I'm a good one, but my kids are terrified of disappointing me, so it gets complicated quickly.  I can instruct them in other things, like cooking or archery, or almost anything else, frankly.  But violin is different.  It's at the center of most of what I do, and playing in front of me makes them nervous.  It doesn't matter how often I reassure them, or praise their efforts, or tell them hearing them play always brings me joy.  When I attempt to correct an error or push them to try something harder, they fall to pieces.  It breaks my heart.

This week's lesson with Quinn, though, we had a talk about it, and it was interesting.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Escape to the Cottage

Mona at the cottage
We got a little time up at our cottage in Michigan right after 4th of July.  Ian, the kids, and the dog all headed out first, and I followed a few days later on the ferry because I had a concert to play, but it worked out well.  With everyone gone I was able to clean areas of the house and enjoy that they actually stayed clean when I walked away from them.  (Proof I am old that that made me so happy.)

It was wonderful to be at the cottage.  It's the one place where I don't feel obligated to really do anything most of the time, and I need that periodically.  It's a place to just kind of be. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Lots of Noise, Lots of Bouncing, Lots of Quiet

I hope everyone had a good 4th of July!  We certainly did.  And we took note of what things have changed and what things have stayed the same.

We went, as we do every year, to the parade in our nearby park.  Some things about it are always the same: Politicians throwing candy, antique cars blowing funny horns, the lazy band on the flatbed truck, Polish dancers, accordion players, baton twirlers, Elvis....  Missing this year were the racing sausages, and there seemed to be fewer dogs.

Elvis always brings it to the very end!

Aden and her dad

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Inside Out: The Parents' Heads

The kids and I saw the new Pixar movie Inside Out last night.  It's as good as everyone has been saying, and I agree with a lot that has been written about what an important movie this is for kids.  To have a representation of what it means for memories to be lost or viewed differently as you grow up is complicated fare for children, but it rings true, and may give many a better perspective on those ideas as they grapple with them in their own lives.  Plus, just being a good Pixar movie, it's clever and visually rich and has many jokes aimed squarely at adults that kids will grow to understand later which keeps it entertaining for everyone.  This movie will also provide you with a good cry.  (Only Mona didn't cry, but she almost never cries during movies.  She also roots for the raptors and the snakes over the bunnies, etc., during the nature shows we watch because "they have to eat too," so she's got a realistic streak that keeps her on an even keel when it comes to entertainment.  I cry at everything.)

In any case, without risking any real spoilers, I wanted to share my thoughts on one small segment of the film that I've been pondering since we left the theater: The scenes from inside the parents' heads.

Monday, June 22, 2015

What Day Is It?

I was checking Facebook this morning before heading out to swim and was reminded it's the birthday of my cousin's daughter.  She's five today, which is exciting, but then I remembered that her birthday is the same day as our wedding anniversary

I kind of forgot we even have an anniversary.  I looked at Ian and said, "Hey!  Happy Anniversary!" and he looked surprised and then smiled and said, "Oh yeah!" 

Then we took a moment to do the math and realized it's been 18 years.  We are a whole-legal-to-vote-person-amount of married.  Kind of cool! 

I remember years ago in college my family threw me a surprise birthday party one year, but since I obviously didn't know about it I started the day feeling disappointed that nothing special was happening.  I was just going with Ian to my grandma's house for dinner the way we did every Sunday.  But then I realized that what was an ordinary kind of day for me was better than what many people get for a special occasion, and I had a lot to be happy about on my birthday.  And then, of course, I got to be super extra happy anyway when we pulled up to grandma's and realized everyone had gathered there. 

But I never forgot that genuine sense of contentment and joy that I came to just thinking about how good I have it in my day to day life.  Today's anniversary is like that.  I love my marriage.  I like it just the way it is day to day.  I don't need the super extra happy to enjoy it.  Big gestures and special things can be fun and exciting from time to time, but I wouldn't trade that for how nice my life is in general at its most ordinary. 

My husband spent the day doing all manner of things to keep our household running smoothly and to make our lives better.  I hope I was as helpful to him.  I think we're a good team.  (Even if we're not good at remembering to, you know, check the calendar sometimes.)

Monday, June 15, 2015

On Not Drinking

I don't drink.  I've never had a drink.  I have no interest in drinking.

This is just a regular fact of my life, so I don't give it much thought, but a little while back on a long drive with a cousin she asked me "Why not?" and I had to provide an answer.  It's interesting to try to explain something about yourself that you don't usually articulate, and it's easy to forget that something that is normal for you is different for other people.  I forget that drinking for many people is a common experience, so in case anyone is curious about a slightly different perspective, here's mine.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Latin Lessons

After almost four years we are finally getting around to Latin lessons for Quinn.

Quinn, age 4, excited about his new book
I'm not sure why he's always wanted to learn Latin, but back in 2011 to distract him from his impending tonsillectomy, I ordered him a copy of Latin is Fun online and he was really excited.

The problem was I didn't know Latin, and I wasn't qualified to teach him.  We got him other materials (he even has a copy of The Cat in the Hat in Latin), but without someone to guide us with accepted pronunciation we were kind of lost.  Latin wound up on the back burner, and there is always so much else to do it was easy to keep it there.

But I recently had a conversation with a friend who has a son the same age as Quinn who is learning ancient Greek, and he recommended we contact the Classics Department at the local university in order to find a tutor.  Turns out the same man teaches both Greek and Latin and was happy to fit in Quinn for lessons.  We've had two lessons so far and it's been a lot of fun.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Book of Mormon

We went to see The Book of Mormon here in Milwaukee this weekend!  The original plan (when we bought the tickets half a year ago) was to go with my brother and his wife, but that was before their baby made different plans for them.  So we decided to take our daughters instead.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Welcome to the World!

I have a new nephew!  The adorable Rivyn, son of my brother Barrett and his wife Dosha, arrived into the world a bit earlier than expected, but he's home now and doing well.  I got to meet him in the NICU on my way to Vermillion, South Dakota recently.  I'm looking forward to holding him next time.
I'm looking forward to lots of things!  So are my kids.  They are excited by the idea of a baby cousin to love and eventually include in all their fun.  I'm glad that my kids have each other, and that my niece has them, too, and now this little boy will be part of that cousin group and the recipient of all they want to share.  They want to pass down their favorite sand toys at the cottage and show him how to paddle an inner tube across the lake there.  They want him to bounce with them on the trampoline and bike around the neighborhood.  They want him to join in their cookie baking experiments and to help decorate our sidewalks with chalk while waiting for an ice cream truck to come by.

In good time, though.  They understand for a few years there's just a lot of aimless cuteness to admire, but of all the cliches about raising kids the one about "It goes too fast" is probably the most true.  (Followed closely by "It changes everything.")  As hard as it is to imagine right now with that little boy unable to do much more than wiggle, they will be doing those things and more with their cousin before we know it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Trip to the National Music Museum

This past weekend I was in Vermillion, South Dakota to visit the National Music Museum.  No, you've never heard of it unless you live near there or are a hard core musical instrument nerd.  And even among hard core musical instrument nerds there are few who have actually made the trek to South Dakota to see the museum.  I am now truly in an elite category of instrument geeks.

The Violin Society of America arranged a mini-conference there for the first 240 members who signed up.  I responded within a minute of getting the email and forwarded it right away to my friend and fellow luthier, Robyn, to see if she could come also.  The VSA conventions are huge and can be overwhelming.  This was on a much more personal scale, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with other violin people in that setting.  It was a great trip.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Spring Break 2015!

This post is a month late, because rehearsals-concerts-work-kids-biopsy-RACE!-stuffandthings.  Plus my nephew was born and we had my parents here, etc. etc.  You know...LIFE.  So pardon this overly long update with too many pictures, but I need to get it down before I forget everything.

That's pretty much it for Indiana
Ian had Army obligations over Spring Break this year, so I took the kids on a road trip.  We headed first for Ohio, which was a good drive in that it was uneventful, but boring in that the most interesting part was passing through the windmill farms.  (In the distance in the photo are windmills.  Don't spend too much time looking--it doesn't get more interesting if you find them.)

We stayed with my aunt and uncle in Marysville for Easter which we really enjoyed.  Everyone was generous and welcoming as always.  It's a lucky thing in life if you get to feel at home in more than one place.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Last Amazing Milwaukee Race

This past weekend we ran the Amazing Milwaukee Race #6.  There have also been three of the bike version, so of the nine races I've been involved in, five were as a participant and one as an element of the race.  They've all been, well, amazing, and sadly the remarkable man who runs them is moving this summer, so this was the last of them.  Adam Baus is the kind of person who is able to organize productions and people in ways I can barely fathom.  I'm awed by his ingenuity and his ability to not only inspire but follow through.  He makes great things happen.  It's a real loss to our community that he is leaving and he will be missed.

But what a way to go out!  I loved this race.  I'll be feeling it in my legs for a while but it was worth it. 

Ian and I signed up pretty late (because there was the possibility of his having to do an Army activity, but that wound up not being a conflict) so we were team #80.  Team name: Best Team Name Ever.

The starting point (and finish line) was a restaurant and bar on the Downtown Riverwalk called Ale Asylum Riverhouse.  It would be nice to eat there when it's warm, which late April in Milwaukee is not.  Only in the low 40s and windy, but at least it didn't rain on us this time.  (And I didn't have to do any portion of this race in just my underwear, so that was a plus.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I wouldn't want to keep anyone in suspense about my biopsy results.  Got the call this morning that it was just a benign cyst, so all is well.  Thanks to everyone who reached out to me on this blog and through email.  Your kind thoughts have been much appreciated.

Since my last blog post I've traveled to Ohio and New York, played two concerts, and been featured on local TV, so lots to write about when I finally find a minute.  In the meantime, for those who are curious, I can describe the biopsy a little.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

No Way to Make Some Things Pleasant

I'm going to start off by saying I'm fine.  I'M FINE.  This is not a plea for sympathy.  In fact, sort of the opposite, as odd as that seems, because I'm finding this easier to write about than talk about with anyone.  I don't want to talk about it, but I still have thoughts I need to sort through, and that's really what this blog is for.

This week I went for a followup mammogram.  The one I got just after my birthday was with a new "3-D" machine and it apparently sees more than the old machines, so the new pictures essentially became the new baseline, and they needed to look at some things more closely.  Most of those things turned out to be cysts that they are not worried about.  One small nodule requires a biopsy to be sure it's benign.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In Plain Sight

I swim before I go to work most days.  I use a waterproof lap counter on my finger, which means instead of mentally keeping track of what lap I'm on I can push a button each time I reach the shallow end of the pool and I can let my mind wander.  It's a nifty little gadget and one I'm glad I found several years ago.

The other morning while sitting on the edge of the pool and fastening the lap counter to my finger I noticed for the first time that the little wave logo on it is really made from the letters S and C (for "Sport Count").  Now I can't unsee the letters.

It reminded me of when years ago a friend pointed out the arrow hidden in plain sight on the Fed Ex logo.  He wondered how much money they spent to design that arrow that so many people probably missed.  Once you see the arrow you can't not see the arrow.

I wonder sometimes when I look at my kids what I'm seeing or not seeing.  They are not too different from one day to the next, but when you jump back in photos by months and years the changes are startling.  Quinn is simultaneously in my mind very big and very little.  I think part of the charm of raising a boy is being able to scoop up someone in your arms who one day will likely turn around and be able to do the same to you.  I look at him and see my baby, but also hints of the man he may grow to be.

I watch Mona bent over her work and recognize the look of concentration on her face from when she first put a paintbrush to paper as a toddler.  It's a look I can imagine someone falling in love with her becoming enamored with one day.

Lately we've been having Aden come to the violin store after school to do her homework.  There are fewer distractions for her there than at home.  She makes popcorn in the store machine and snacks away while doing research on her dad's computer across the room from me.

She's so grown up anymore.  Aden's 13, and she's now my height and shoe size.  She can borrow my clothes and walk herself to Target or a friend's house and she's been on two overnight field trips out of state without us.  When she hugs me she tries to make herself shorter than I am because regardless of how much she's grown or how the world sees her she still wants to be my little girl.

When I look across the room at Aden sometimes I see the little girl she used to be, and other times the woman she will become.  I struggle a bit to see who she is now.

It's amazing the things right in front of us that we can see or not see.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mold-A-Rama Update

We're still waiting for warmer weather to want to work on our own Mold-A-Rama machine (which has a leak we need to fix, and there is still the problem of the coin return that shoots money back inside the machine), but in the meantime we got an unexpected addition to our collection!

Last year I was contacted by someone in Tennessee who came across my blog and said she collected Mold-A-Ramas, and would we be willing to trade?  I told her we liked the fun of going to the places and getting them ourselves, but that if she paid us back we'd be happy to pick things up in our area of the country and send them to her.  We ended up getting her figures from our zoo here in Milwaukee, along with things from Toledo, Detroit, and Chicago.  (Someday we will get to the Como Park Zoo and we'll be sure to pick her up some more there.)

She was pleased with the box of Mold-A-Ramas we sent her, and the other day (right around my birthday no less) we got a surprise package from her!  Four retired figures from the Knoxville Zoo that we wouldn't be able to get anyway, even if we visited, including a chimp we've never seen before:

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Baby Things

Aden holding Quinn, 2006
I am so far removed from babies anymore it's weird.  There was such a long stretch of baby things in my life for a while, but now my babiest baby is eight.  As I am typing this he is making a batch of crepes on his own, so no, my life no longer includes the baby things.

But I have a nephew due to arrive in the world in a couple of months, and a friend just adopted a newborn, so I've been thinking about what, if any, advice I have that may still be relevant to those with babies.

Baby things change fast, so there are many things that were important for me that are already out of date.  For instance, in the few years since I was carrying Quinn around in a Baby Bjorn those Moby baby wrap carriers have become the rage and wearing my baby the way I did is decidedly out.  Car seats are forever evolving, and I don't miss dealing with those.  Baby food doesn't even seem to come in jars now that I can see, so I'm glad I collected those when I did because they come in handy in my shop.  Is Tummy Time still a thing?  Aden hated Tummy Time and Mona always fell asleep.  I don't think I was ever in a position to set Quinn down long enough to bother with it by the time he came along.

In any case, my friend with the new baby thanked me for a couple of things I said to her before her baby arrived, and I thought while I still remember anything about living with babies I should jot them down and hope they help someone else.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Puppy Dog Eyes

So much to write, so little time....  This is just a quick post to let people know I"m not dead, just swamped.

In my world there have been rehearsals, concerts, army things, a ton of work (yesterday was 12 straight hours and I still didn't get to everything), snow, cold, one kid broke a wrist.  Blogging time has been hard to come by.

In the meantime, here is the rare non-blurry picture of my dog trying to get me to stop working.
When I'm in my shop at home working on violins Chipper gets anxious.  He does not like it when I do things, so he looks at me pleadingly and occasionally puts his paws in my lap while I'm trying to carve.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Weighty Issues

I'm officially in the range of normal for my weight.  It's a large range (depending on which chart you use) and I am in the heaviest end of it, but technically I'm not overweight, and certainly not obese.  It's taken a lot of effort, but it's good to be 35 pounds lighter than I was back in June.  I still have another ten pounds or so to go, because I want to be squarely in the normal range.  I would like the option of one day eating a cookie again without that tipping the scales into overweight territory.

Self-perception is a strange thing, though.  Other people tell me I look slimmer, but I'm not really seeing it.  I know I am smaller by looking at the clothes I can wear.  I was an 18 and now I'm an 8.  (My preferred swimsuit, however still fits best at a 14, because somewhere, somehow, I am always a size 14.)  But when my pants are tight enough to stay up I still have some muffin-top stuff going on, so I don't feel any different.  I have the same body issues, just different pants.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Returning the Cart

It's hard to be appreciative of everything all the time.  In some ways that would be unhealthy, because being dissatisfied can inspire positive change and progress.  It's also distracting not to be able to take basic things for granted, or else we'd never get anything done.  As with most things it's best to find a balance.

But for the most part I don't think people appreciate what they have enough.  I'm often surprised by the kinds of things many people become openly dissatisfied with.  It's a miracle most days just to breathe, and when I'm healthy I try not to take even that for granted.  When I get outside in the morning I try to remember to take in one good breath and just be happy that I can.  It would be insane to try to appreciate everything we should be grateful for every moment, but I figure one or two representative moments can help put things in a better perspective.

Probably the most unlikely thing I do that I remember to mark in this way is every time I put away a grocery cart.  I know it annoys most people to have to return the cart after unloading groceries in the parking lot, especially when the weather is bad.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Goodbye Y

It's so strange navigating this week without factoring in trips to the Y.

We went to Swim Team as a family last Thursday (although, ironically Mona was the only one who didn't swim--her coaches threw a dance party).  Friday I did my laps as usual before work.  And that was it.  Now it's closed and we're not going back there anymore.

We've been going there for a long time.  Here are my kids in the playroom at the Y when we first signed up:

One of my favorite places to let the kids use up some energy was the racket ball court.  We never actually figured out how to play, we just always got as many balls as we could and let them all fly.  (Yes, occasionally someone got bonked, but life is like that.)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Picking Up the Pieces

I had a really bad day this week.  It was all work related, and left me feeling kind of shattered where I stood.  The details aren't important, but the variety of ways in which people were hurt and reacting to it ran an impressive spectrum.  I failed someone, someone else failed and wanted to blame me, another person is coming apart and forcing me into an uncomfortable position, I goofed up, floundered, and was left staring at a pile of work I had to finish and no longer felt qualified to do.  I spent the day in tears on and off, and confronted with the reality that even when I do my best it isn't always enough and I don't really have much control over my reputation.  I'm at the mercy of my community and my own limitations.

Monday, January 26, 2015


I am making a point to get work done in my home shop every day, and three violins are now rolling!  It's exciting, and I'm so much happier when I get to build.  I feel productive and inspired.  (And also tired since I'm up working until midnight in order to make it happen, but that's just the way that goes.  The time has to come from somewhere.)

The main thing I'm focusing on is an Amati model I'm doing on commission.  It's a new model for me, and it's fun working with new lines and shapes and thinking ahead about what the player might like.

Aden and her maple
Aden and I also started working on her violin together.  She's making a Strad model, and I told her she can do as much or as little of the work as she likes.  I'm fine with just making the whole thing, but I'm glad she wants her own hands in it.  She picked out all her wood and I'm walking her through the process step by baby step.  Currently she's still planing her blocks, which makes your hands sore if you're not used to it, so there are many breaks.

I decided it would be helpful to Aden if I had an instrument going alongside hers that I could use for demonstration, so I'm also making a Lee model that I intend to use as my next competition instrument when the VSA meets in fall of 2016.

Aden's and the competition violin are moving along at a slow pace, but that's fine.  My real energy is going into the Amati model and that's coming together very well.  Want to see?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Freedom Ringing!

Or something.  It being MLK Day that title just kind of naturally popped up, but in terms of the actual day I will just refer back to this particular post.

And my husband did fix our bell, so that's ringing again, but that's not what this post is about, either.

No, this post is about actual rings.  Over a year ago my husband lost his wedding ring at the Y.  He's been borrowing one of mine ever since, and I've been wearing a new one.  Periodically I'll ask at the desk if a wedding band has turned up in Lost and Found, and the answer has always been no.  Seeing as the Y is closing soon, I figured I should check one last time.