Sunday, December 18, 2016

All the Birthdays

Birthday season is done!  During the two minutes I have between that and trying to assemble everything for Christmas, here is an overstuffed recap:

The first birthday of the season is Quinn's just before Thanksgiving.  I was in Cleveland that week, but I did get to talk to him for a bit on the phone.  We played twenty questions where he had to guess what I was looking at outside my hotel window.  It was giant plastic birds, so it took a while.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

House on the Rock

On the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend we arranged to meet with my brother and his baby at a crazy halfway mark between Milwaukee and LaCrosse.  We decided to explore House on the Rock, which claims to be the most visited tourist attraction in Wisconsin.  You are forgiven if you live outside of Wisconsin and have never heard of it.  And I say "claims to be" because it's hard to trust anything you see or hear there.  Few things are labeled, much is left up to interpretation, and all of it is bizarre.

It's amazing.  And weird.  And amazingly weird.  It's not often that I end up in a space where I am surprised around every corner, but we literally didn't know what to expect as we walked from room to room.  Except for Santas.  For Christmas they had 6000 Santas set up, tucked in every corner and on every shelf.  It was a stunning amount of Santas.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Finishing Touch

I'm suffering the journal paradox at the moment.  I have a lot to write about, but no time to write.  I still need to say something about the violin convention in Cleveland, our trip to House on the Rock over Thanksgiving, and about the election.  But those things take time.

So instead, here is a post about painting my Kitchen Aid!  (Because that's easy, and right now I need something to be easy.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tired of Mean

This isn't a real post.  This is me just needing a moment to vent.  I'm trying to find time to thoughtfully prepare some ideas and sort out some important issues, but I keep getting stuck and overwhelmed, so thoughtful will have to wait.

Tonight I'm just tired of mean.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

It's Not Just a Rental Instrument

I'm in Cleveland this week for a VSA (Violin Society of America) convention.  It's a competition year, so I brought my latest violin for judging, and it's always nice to spend time with others in the same business.  I've gotten to catch up with people I don't see often, and even made a few new friends and contacts.  I'm enjoying myself a great deal.

This year I also had the opportunity to give a talk!  It went well, although it was on the first day of the convention before some of the people I knew had arrived, and there are talks happening concurrently this year, so some people had to miss mine who wanted to go.

But it was a good talk and I got many good questions afterward.  The best part was to discover other people with shops like my own in different parts of the country; smaller shops where they care more about relationships and music than they do about profit and growth.  I was approached several times in the following days by people who liked what I had to say, and told me they run their businesses with the same philosophy.  They were pleased not to feel alone.

So here, if you are interested, is a slightly edited version of my talk.  The original had more than 60 slides and some graphs and I can't include most of them here, but trust me, they were awesome.  My regular readers may be bored by the more nuts and bolts descriptions of our business, but I wanted to include them for my colleagues who missed the talk.  (There are some things of more general interest if you skim past the contract stuff.)


Korinthia A. Klein
Korinthian Violins, Milwaukee WI
VSA Nov 2016

My name is Korinthia Klein and I run a small violin shop in Milwaukee WI.

I come at this business from many angles: as a player, a teacher, a parent, and a luthier.

I began playing violin in public school in Michigan, switched to viola in high school and majored in that instrument at the Ohio State University, and I still play today with a group called Festival City Symphony.  

I got my diploma in lutherie from the New World School of Violin Making in the year 2000 and then worked for several years doing repair work at Classical Strings in downtown Milwaukee where I learned repair and setup.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Kitchen Accomplished! (Before and After Photos)

The kitchen is DONE!
I cleared it out back in July, demolition began in mid-August, and on November 1st the final bits and pieces were completed.  The new kitchen works so much better it's unbelievable.  Plus it's beautiful and it finally matches the rest of the house.  I love it.  I love it and I am beyond glad we did it.  (We can't really afford food to put in it now, but never mind that...)

Some general design choices that worked out well:

Monday, November 7, 2016

Elelction Time

Like many, this presidential election has left me stunned.  I have apologized to my children for the behavior of the so-called adults involved.  All our children deserve better than what we have seen over the past year, and probably better than what's to come.

I have numerous thoughts about the many troubling aspects of recent politics, but most of them would just be rehashing observations everyone is all too familiar with.  Other people have written at length about the grotesque absurdities we've witnessed, so there's no need to restate them here.  What I would like to talk about are a couple of key points I think could use more consideration going forward, regardless of the results of this election.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween 2016

I do like living in a neighborhood that has fun with Halloween.  Tons of people out for trick-or-treat, the Pumpkin Pavilion event, and I don't think anyplace in the country has anything as cool as Zombie Hill.  They outdid themselves this year:

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Mona the Scorpion!

Mona is amazing.  She made her costume almost completely unassisted this year.  She did all the sewing on the machine including the zipper.  She watched me do parts of Quinn's costume (since there were useful similarities) and then copied what I did where it worked, and came up with her own ideas where it didn't.  The only thing I helped with was occasionally unjamming the sewing machine when it acted up, and I hand stitched on all the extra legs for her torso while she was at school to save her a little time.

Honestly, she did a much better job of creating a scorpion costume than I would have.  Her attention to detail is impressive, and she did many things in a way I wouldn't have tried that worked beautifully.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Quinn the Lobster!

Check out my son the lobster!
I gave myself a head start on Halloween costumes this year because I knew I wouldn't have a lot of time in October, but then it turns out I only needed to make one costume.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Which Part of the Moment?

Recently I've been pondering the idea of "living in the moment."  The phrase sounds virtuous in its simplicity, but I'm not finding it all that simple.

Parts of it I get.  When I look at each of my children and am occasionally overwhelmed with how fast it's all going by, I try very hard to really look at them.  I want to be present and appreciate who they are at that specific time.  When I'm at a concert I try to clear my mind as best I can of the flutter of mental distractions that vie for my attention so I can truly hear the music as it's happening.  When I practice I know I need to focus in order to be productive.  When I snuggle up against my husband at night, I know not to take such basic comforts for granted.

I've even learned to accept living in the moment when it involves pain.  Occasionally I suffer debilitating headaches, and I've found the best thing to do is not to resist.  When I took birthing classes before having Aden I remember the instructor refusing to use the word pain to talk about labor, preferring to tell her pregnant and nervous pupils that it was merely "an interesting sensation."  That, frankly, is disingenuous at best, but there is something to it.  If you don't have a choice about being in pain, fighting it adds to its intensity.  Better to relax and find it "an interesting sensation" if possible.

So I see the value of "living in the moment."  The problem I'm having is that the phrase seems to imply that there is only one thing in that moment.  What if the moment is multi-faceted?  What if living in the moment is about reflecting on the past or planning for the future?  What about all the choices you might have to make about what living in the moment actually means?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Now and Then

Lots of busy days recently, but oddly many moments in which to reflect on the passage of time.  Between remodeling the kitchen where we're trying to put in something new that reflects the past, and my oldest baby starting high school, I find myself thinking a lot about where we are now and how things used to be.

Last weekend I got to participate in a wonderful event organized through the VSA (Violin Society of America).  They have a large convention every year, and I will be returning to Cleveland next month for this year's gathering.  But lately they've also been doing smaller regional events.  This recent one happened to be in Detroit, so I jumped at the opportunity to go since I would also get to spend time with my mom.

The focus was the collection of instruments owned by Henry Ford.  Apparently he was a fiddler, and since he was also rich he decided to fiddle on incredibly valuable instruments, including two Strads.

We were allotted time to examine eight important violins.  There were armed guards and strict rules about not wearing any necklaces or rings while handing the instruments, and for some reason we couldn't take photographs, so I don't have any to share.  I did get a shot of where the violins are usually displayed, so there's that:
The closest we get to studying with the old masters is to look carefully at what they did and try to emulate it when we can.  It's always exciting to hold a Strad.  There was an Amati in the collection that was stunning, and a Guarneri, and a curious violin played by Maud Powell who was the first American woman to be a successful international violin soloist.  My favorite instrument at this viewing was the 1740 Carlo Bergonzi.  That's not a name people outside of luthier circles usually know, be he was kind of a violin maker's violin maker.  His work is beautiful and precise and rare.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Lighting and Cabinets and Walls, Oh My!

Lots of progress in the kitchen in the past couple of weeks!  We're in the odds and ends phase now, where there is still stuff to build but all the major elements are there.  The back splash can't happen until the counters are installed, there are still holes to plug and a bit of painting to do, and the last steps will be finishing the floors and installing appliances, but at least now it''s all starting to look like a kitchen again.

The last pictures I shared were all of the demolition.  Since then walls went in, and floors.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Things We Can't Say

I think the biggest challenge for any blogger with kids is trying to decide how much is too much to share about their lives.

There is nothing more interesting to me than my children.  My life is intimately wrapped up in theirs.  They are my responsibility and their needs and problems shape my days and direct my thoughts and my moods.

But ultimately they are their own people with their own stories to tell, and as much as I feel as if their problems partially belong to me too, I don't really have a right to broadcast their private worlds out onto the web.  They don't mind my sharing certain events and general stories of trips and basic milestones, but then most of the time those stories are really about my own reactions, and not really about them.  Despite that, it means there are many things I can't say.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Kitchen Demolition

Our kitchen renovation began in the middle of August.  It's exciting!  And messy.  And inconvenient.  But it will be beautiful!  Just not at the moment.  Want to see pictures?  Of course you do.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Toys of Yesteryear

There is a lot to write about lately, but very little time.  I want to tell you about the kitchen renovation, the annoyance of living without a kitchen in a house with five people, how we started Halloween costumes early, school, cool things we've seen, thoughts on life and the world....  But in the small window for blogging I have available this morning I'm going with Tinker Toys.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Health Update: Limbo

Enough people have asked me about my medical situation that I feel I should just post another health update.  Anyone who reads this blog for posts about violin making or parenting or cakes and feels this is too much information, please read this, or this, or this instead, and I'll meet you at the kitchen remodel post soon.

To recap, I've been struggling with granulomatous mastitis for over a year.  It may be gone, but it's hard to tell.  I have been on and off steroids since December.  When I went off them the first time a few months ago I thought we were done, but then my breast started to flare up and hurt again, so back on them I went, and at a higher dosage for longer than the first time.  The steroids weren't pleasant but they did the trick.  I'm off them now and hoping this time it's for good.  Generally people with this condition suffer it for about a year to a year and a half before it burns itself out, and it's been a year and two months, so maybe I can start really healing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Custer, Jewel Cave, and the Badlands (and more)

Life is just rolling along and there is much to write about, but I need to get down the last of our trip from the beginning of August before it all fades away.  So this is the overview (with lots of pictures).

After leaving Yellowstone we stopped at the battlefield site of "Custer's Last Stand" in South Dakota.  It's not a place I would have thought to stop on my own, but Ian being a Lt Colonel in the Army is fascinated by such historical sites and his insight always brings them alive.  It's kind of amazing to stand in such a place and try to picture what people on both sides saw in that landscape as things unfolded. 

The area is beautiful but looks like an unforgiving place to live.  The memorial and graveyard are in an official park service space, but the larger drive you can do to follow the historical markers are on someone's private land.  It was a hot day and this was a relatively small stop so I was glad to do most of it in the car, but we did get out and look around periodically as Ian told us the story of the battle from various vantage points.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Our first night in Yellowstone we were mostly just excited to finally be there, and happy to have real toilets and sinks in bathrooms that were a convenient walk from our tent.  We stayed in the Bay Bridge campground toward the middle of the park near the lake.
It was really crowded and busy compared to the National Forest site we'd used in Wyoming--like a camping town.  It was really smokey, too, which surprised us since fire danger was listed as high everywhere we'd been, but the campsites all had lined, sunken fire pits, and I guess it was considered safe there.  Everyone seemed to have a fire going but us that night.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Devil's Tower

After a day in Minnesota we got on the road early and started heading for our campsite in Wyoming, so it was an entire day of crossing all of South Dakota.

This is a good moment to mention again what good travelers my kids are.  They are no problem ever on a long drive.  It's almost spooky how good they are in the car.  They hunker down with their own projects and are happy, and they let me read to them for hours on end.  (This trip we finished reading Birds, Beasts and Relatives, and The Black Stallion.)

This was my kids' first trip west of the Mississippi that they are old enough to remember, and certainly their first time driving across the Great Plains or into the Rockies.  They were amazed at how different the landscape was, how dry and vast.  It was interesting to spend the first part of the day making our way across Minnesota which feels almost tropical by comparison to South Dakota.

South Dakota also means Wall Drug, which I'd seen the billion signs for on other trips but never stopped in.  Now seemed the time, and I'm glad we went!  It's souvenir heaven, and Quinn was able to stock up on state magnets for his collection, I got a fossil and some salt and pepper shakers, Aden got a necklace and some shot glasses, and Mona found the coolest mug ever.  (I'm glad it survived the trip.  We tried to keep it safe in the box with our Mold-A-Ramas.)  We were able to sit down for an early dinner, admire all the weirdness, and refill our water bottles.
Aden on a jackalope

Mona's mug of awesomeness

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mold-A-Ramas at Como Park Zoo

The first stop on our camping vacation was with family in Minnesota, and we were finally able to check the Como Park Zoo in St Paul off our Mold-A-Rama list.  There are not many places left on that list at this point, so our Mold-A-Rama updates are becoming few and far between.  The last big place is San Antonio Zoo, and then there is a car museum north of Chicago, a bar in Chicago, and a record studio in Nashville.  In the meantime the collection on our mantle is up to 146.

Como Park Zoo has four machines.  We got (yet another) waving gorilla, a (blue!) polar bear, a seal, and a tiny lion.  The lion mold is new for us--we've never seen one that small, and we really like it!

Home Base

We just got back from a great trip out West that included Devil's Tower, Yellowstone, Jewel Cave, the Badlands...  Lots to say, too many pictures, but before I try to find time to sort it out and share any of it I just wanted to take a moment to appreciate the glories of returning home.

And being clean!  This was our first camping experience with the kids, and we really enjoyed it, but I'm amazed when on a trip like that how quickly you shift from ideas of what is "clean" to what is "clean enough."  I did manage to wash my hair after a week in a sink at a campground and it was wonderful, but nothing compared to getting into the shower when we arrived home in the middle of the night.

Being home is so nice.  Adventures are great, but I love being in my own bed.  In a perfect world we would have Star Trek transporter technology that would allow you to go anywhere for the day and return to your own bed at night.  (Or at least provide you that option when the air mattress in your tent gets flat.)

I already miss being with everyone all the time, though.  I've been swamped with repairs at work, and am back to seeing my kids just at the beginning and end of the day, and it's not anywhere near as good as being able to share every meal and every walk and every drive.  Aden's even off on another adventure with a friend to help tend a lighthouse on Rock Island for a week, so we're down to just two kids.

It's fun having the dog back.  He's REALLY happy we're home and to be with us again.

It's nice to have all my clothes options again instead of the same three shirts.  (Not that my wardrobe is interesting--it's mostly stuff I can afford to get glue on, but still....)

Mostly it's just good to feel grounded.  I'm fascinated by people who are able to function well while having to move all the time.  I know people who aren't in the same place for more than a couple of years and have to uproot, and I don't think I would handle that well.  I need a home base to return to.  I'm glad to be back.

Monday, August 8, 2016

One Year

Sunday morning, August 7, 2016. 

My dad died one year ago today.  A whole year has gone by.

I’m sitting in Yellowstone park.  My family is all in various stages of rest in the tent.  I got up to use the bathroom and then decided to sit by myself for a bit, here, half in/half out of the van.  It’s chilly at the moment, but should warm soon into a comfortable day.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Summer Update

Summer seems to be racing by faster than usual this year.  We're making the most of it, though!  Compared to the trauma of last summer almost anything would be a welcome break this time around, but even with the vacation bar set low I feel we're helping make some great memories for our kids.

To me the essence of summer vacation is being unscheduled, getting outside, having time to do projects purely for fun, a cookout, reading for hours on end, bare feet, watching movies/TV way too late into the night, and a road trip.  By those measures it's been a quintessential summer break, and there's still some left, so life is good.

After our trip to Washington D.C. we had a few days at home together, and then Ian took the kids off to the cottage.  I had to stay behind in Milwaukee to work, but I loved that my kids got to meet up with their cousin in Michigan and just be at the lake.  My mom and my brother were there, too, and Ian emailed me reports of much swimming and fishing and cookie baking.

It's weird living in our house with just the dog.  I kept Chipper with me because I needed the company, but he was so sad.  He kept wandering into the kids' rooms to look forlornly at their empty beds.  After a couple of days he begged to go out the back door (which is odd--he's the only dog I know who hides when you offer to walk him), then begged to go into the garage, then begged to get into the car (another thing he doesn't like), and then he climbed into the backseat and wouldn't leave.  I think he wanted me to drive him to wherever the kids were.  I left the doors open to everything for over an hour in the hopes he'd come back in the house, but eventually I drove him around the neighborhood a bit and when we returned home he bounded inside.  I think he believed some kind of magic would have happened and everyone would be back again on our return, but when he got in the house everything about him just drooped in disappointment.

The opposite of the depressed dog was when I got him out of the kennel on the ferry.  I managed to get away to join everyone at the cottage for a weekend, and the only convenient way to do that is to take the high speed ferry across Lake Michigan.  I've never taken the dog on the ferry before, but they have a kennel down with the cars and attendants make sure the dogs get water and treats.  I thought the dog was going to wag us both to death when I got him out of there, and his joy at being reunited with the kids again was something to behold.

The cottage remains wonderful.  Mona caught many frogs this year.  Quinn caught many fish.  We played badminton on the beach.  The kids swam at The Point, and crossed the island on the other side to use the rope swing there at the other sandy spot they have dubbed The Pointless.  We ate literally pounds of blueberries from a local farm.  There was Monopoly and Boggle and we stayed up very late to watch both Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle.  I got to help everyone do tie dying, and Aden was finally successful in making a real spiral pattern on a shirt the way she always wanted.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Trip to Washington D.C.

We got to spend 4th of July weekend in Washington D.C. this year.  It's a place we've wanted to take the kids for a long time, but thought we should wait until they were all old enough to remember it later.  (My kids have been to Oregon and Texas and parts of New York that they have no memories of anymore because they were simply too little to retain enough of it.  We'll have to arrange a do over for much of that.)  We were there specifically for a cousin's wedding, but took the opportunity to have fun in a new place together and explore a bit.

Washington D.C. is a marvelous city.  It certainly helps as part of a family vacation that so many of the museums and monuments are free to the public.  We even managed to find free parking for every visit to the Mall.  The weather mostly cooperated; it never got too hot, and what rain we had didn't interfere with any plans.  On top of it all we got to spend time with both family and friends and the whole trip was great.

Friday, July 8, 2016

To Kill a Mockingbird

I have started this post many times.

I started it when Trayvon Martin was murdered, and then again when there was no conviction in his case.

I started it when Dontre Hamilton died right here in Milwaukee, shot 14 times by the ice rink across the street from where my orchestra plays free concerts for kids.

I started it when Eric Garner was choked to death on video, saying he couldn't breathe, and everyone watched, and no one did anything.

I was too numb to start it when John Crawford was killed in a Walmart in Ohio for holding a BB gun for sale in the store. 

But I was moved to start it again when Michael Brown was killed and left in the street for hours and hours, and again when Ferguson erupted in response.

I tried several times to write this post after Tamir Rice was shot while playing alone in a park in Cleveland.  And again when no charges were brought against anyone.

I didn't know what to say about Tony Robinson being killed in Madison.

Or about Walter Scott, who was shot in the back while running away, no immediate threat to anyone, his death caught on a video that played over and over in a way that began to feel frighteningly casual. 

I started this post again for Freddie Gray.  I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that his death was ruled a homicide, but somehow nobody is responsible.

When Sandra Bland died in police custody I didn't even know how to begin explaining that to my kids.  I couldn't find words to explain it to myself, let alone sort the horror of it out into a blog post.

This week the country watched the senseless deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  It's too much.

Then police officers were targeted in apparent retaliation.  From what I understand those attacks were particularly undeserved as the Dallas Police Department has taken a progressive approach to address problems before they arise, and were there to protect a peaceful protest, not antagonize their citizens.  This violence is not only tragic but a setback for the cause that fueled it, because more murder of innocents is not the solution, it just adds to the unnecessary pain and gives people already in denial an excuse to remain unmoved.

I'm afraid to check social media as I write at this moment for fear I am already behind with current events and more tragedy is unfolding that will push the latest chapter in this crisis by the wayside.

It's probably obvious why I kept starting this post.  But why did I never finish it before now?

Monday, June 27, 2016


I finished the violin I've been working on!
There is really nothing quite like stringing up a an instrument for the first time that you've spent so many hours creating and finally getting to hear its voice.

I mean, it started like this:
Spruce, maple, and neck block
And now, all by my own hands, it is this:

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hey Dad

I miss you.

Did I call you last Father's Day?  If I didn't I meant to.  I know I didn't get a hold of you every single one, but I certainly thought of you.  I'm thinking of you today.

I actually think of you every day.

Remember how I used to call you on Mondays?  Mom was usually out drawing in Ann Arbor and I knew you'd be a little lonely, so I'd call?  I miss that.  I still reach for the phone at work when I have a quiet moment on Mondays and want to tell you something, but then I remember.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Middle Ground

Every time there is another mass shooting in America I feel compelled to write.  Most of the time I give up before the post does more than cycle around in my head for a day or two.  I am frustrated.  I am stuck.  And I am on a loop because we never come to an end to these stories.

There is always a new one, always the same useless responses on all sides, and always inaction.  Gun people circle the wagons and deflect to tangential issues, gun control people ramp up rhetoric that further alienates the gun people, random people change their Facebook statuses and post sympathetic preprocessed words to make themselves feel like they've done something, when in fact they are more likely removing themselves further from being productive due to the false sense of involvement.  The discussion goes nowhere.  Nothing changes.  And we wait for the next news story and start all over again.  I've stopped feeling like my words contribute anything to this morbid dance.

This weekend I had to tell my kids about the shootings in Orlando.  I kept it simple: At least 50 dead that we know of and there is no reason "why" that will make any sense.  This is what happens in our country.  This is what we allow to happen in our country, and I'm not sure what the reason "why" is for that either.

However, today I am writing because maybe in this case I do have something to offer.  I'm in a position to write about this dispassionately, because I am not absorbing this tragedy.  I can't do that right now.  Sandy Hook about ruined me.  That story made me physically ill and continues to tear at me if I let it in.  I think as caring human beings we have to exercise our empathy with important stories that aren't our own when we can.  We should feel devastated by accounts of the Holocaust, and slavery, and child abuse, and 9/11, and any number of other horrors that people seem compelled to commit upon one another for reasons I can't fathom.

But we can't live there all the time.  We have to live our own stories and create good to balance the horror or what is the point?  I could choose at any time to wallow in the sadness of past or present.  It's easy to go there.  If feels virtuous at times to go there.  But it is not usually productive to go there, so today I will not.  My knowing details from Orlando will not change it.  My tears will not make it better.

But maybe some clear thinking will.  Media--social and otherwise--is nothing but emotion on all sides from what I can glean today while trying not to absorb much news.  I am setting myself apart from this deliberately for my own sanity.  Here are my thoughts.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Pigs in Space

My first baby just graduated from eighth grade.
How does that happen?  I remember a decade and a half ago the pregnancy test coming up positive, and telling Ian, and then telling my grandma (who cried).  I remember talking to Aden in my belly and enjoying having her with me everywhere I went even though I hadn't seen her yet.  I remember the baby who smiled at me for real at three weeks old, and who had full blown empathy at four months.

I remember a little girl starting at her public Montessori school who refused to walk down to her kindergarten classroom in the basement unaccompanied, which was a problem in the winter for her pregnant mom with the toddler in tow and a husband deployed in Iraq.  That problem was eventually solved by her finding a friend to walk with her.  That same friend was one of the last she walked out of the school with after graduation.

I can't believe time can come crashing all together like this.  Hundreds of trips in and out of that school, no particular one looking like a milestone, and yet she started as a tiny four-year-old I could scoop into my arms, and came out an impressive young woman who performed a violin solo on the stage for the graduating class and left clutching a certificate.  I am overwhelmed.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Rethinking the Kitchen

We've decided to take the plunge and remodel our kitchen.
We've been trying to figure out what to do with it for the past year or so, because it's sort of all or nothing, which is daunting.  The counter tops have reached a crisis level where they are buckling, one of them is burned, and the edges are falling off to the point where if we don't keep screwing in one section with bigger and bigger screws the dishwasher falls out.  Plus they are just not attractive or all that practical since they are textured.

The problem with just replacing the counters is that the layout of the kitchen is bad, and buying new counters to fit that layout sort of seals it in for a long time to come.  We looked into getting all of it rearranged.

After getting some estimates last year it looked like there was no way we could afford it.  Which was a shame, because now is when we use the kitchen.  Now is when we have three kids all living at home, now is when we host meal-heavy holidays like Thanksgiving, now is when we are cranking out cakes for birthdays and cookies for recitals, now is when we actively use the whole kitchen all the time.  We could wait until the kids are grown and gone but by then I may not care much.  A new kitchen for just me and Ian would be a luxury by then, not a necessity, and there are other things I would rather spend money on.

When a new kitchen seemed out of reach I decided I was content to simply get new counters and a new sink and then work with Ian one cabinet and drawer at a time to replace all the crumbling hardware and make them work at least a little better.

But finances work in mysterious ways sometimes!  Business was worse for us last year.  Which ironically means we now can (just barely) afford to do the kitchen because something about not having to do estimated taxes every month something something.  (This seems completely messed up to me that if we had done better last year we would have less money for such a project.  I will just keep working on my violins and try not to think about that too hard.)  When Ian got the final word on our taxes this year he gave me the unexpected green light on the kitchen.

New kitchen!  I can barely believe it's going to happen.

So what is so wrong with our kitchen?

Monday, May 30, 2016

"Happy" Memorial Day

I have a friend for whom wishes of a "Happy Memorial Day" or a "Happy Veterans' Day" really grate on her nerves.  These are not bubbly greeting card holidays.  They are meant to be secular versions of true "holy days" used to contemplate sacrifices made on our behalf.  For many they are simply a chance to enjoy a little time off, but my son finds it amusing that people could overlook their intended meaning and usually takes a moment to try and suppress laughter while saying, "Hey, Mom!  'Happy' Memorial Day!"

I don't usually write posts on Memorial Day.  I felt obligated to do so when I was a blogger for Babble and their only resident military family voice, and this post on the subject still expresses how I feel most accurately.  But I decided I will take a moment today to acknowledge what things have changed, for better or worse, since I wrote that Memorial Day post back in 2010.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Latin Review

Come June, Quinn and I will have been taking Latin for one year.  It's one hour a week after school up at the university, with usually one week off a month for a scheduling conflict.  The teacher is wonderful, and Quinn and I meet him in a study room at the library.

Quinn by our parking meter
It's fun having that bit of time with just Quinn.  We have a routine that involves laughing over whether the parking meter will give us a receipt or not (it rarely does, so Quinn collects the ones we do get), pretending to trip over a mysterious bit of useless curb on the way to the library, and critiquing the selections in the vending machine if we have to wait for our lesson.  (Observation about candy choices:  Most of them are variations anymore.  There are usually a couple of kinds of Starburst, a few different M&Ms, consistently three types of Skittles, a variety of Cheetos, several shapes of pretzels...  The Snickers even come in different versions now.  The only unique selections seem to be the Reese's Cups and the odd Take 5 or Zero bar.  You're welcome.)

Quinn on the tiny curb
We also got a good laugh one day out of a whole bunch of caution signs in the entryway which looked like they presented more of a hazard than they were attempting to prevent.  Quinn and I find amusement everywhere, so even without the actual Latin lessons we enjoy our weekly outing.

I hadn't planned on taking Latin myself, and it's humbling to watch Quinn do so much better with it than I do.  I can't tell if it's because I'm just old, or if he's that much smarter than I am.  (Probably both.)  Regardless, Latin has turned out to be really enjoyable.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"That's good, right?"

I'm reluctant to hit "publish" on this post because it's one of those things where I know someone out there will think I am whining, and I'm not.  I just feel like putting into words part of my experience that I think is misunderstood.

Let me start by saying I love my work.  I am very lucky to get to do what I enjoy, and to run a business with my husband.  That's all good.  I don't take any of those good things for granted.


I am swamped lately.  Swamped isn't fun.  And when people ask anymore how business is going and I say it's really busy they nearly all look pleased for me and say the same thing:  "That's good, right?"

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Clef Pride

I love playing the viola.

I don't love having to constantly explain what a viola is, but I figure with each person I take the time to tell, that's one more potential viola fan, so it's worth the effort.

One of the things that makes playing viola somewhat special is that we use an unusual clef.  Violists use alto clef.  "What's that?" the non-violists out there may be asking?  Well, let's start by just explaining what clefs in general are:
Alto, Treble, Bass, and Tenor Clefs
Most people are familiar with a "treble" or "G" clef.  It gets used often as a symbol for all music, even though it only applies to music in the upper register.  A good many people also recognize the "bass" or "F" clef, which applies to music in the lower register.  (Pianists use both of these at once, with the right hand usually playing in treble clef, and the left usually in bass.)

The job of a clef is to tell you what the lines and spaces on the staff mean.  (The staff is that set of five lines and four spaces that the notes are arranged on.)  Now, clefs are technically moveable, which is why they have more than one name.  A "treble clef" is really only called that when it is set on the staff in the position where we are most accustomed to seeing it.  The important part of that symbol is the tail bit on the inside of the spiral, because it overlaps the second line up from the bottom of the staff which is the note G above middle C.  This is why just on its own away from a staff it's really a "G clef" because its job is to show you where G is, but it rarely if ever moves, so calling it a treble clef is fine.  If you moved that symbol higher or lower on the staff you'd be shifting the designated location of that G, and therefore all of the other notes as well.  (The "bass" or "F" clef shows you where the note F below middle C is--it's the line between the two dots.  It also rarely moves.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Varnishing in Chicago

In April I was lucky enough to attend a week-long violin varnishing workshop.  I really enjoyed the one I attended three years ago in Boston, and decided the time was right to repeat the experience.  Only after I committed to it did I find out that this year they were holding it in Chicago!

On the one hand, that was great because it was incredibly convenient.  For nearly all of it I commuted home at night, which meant I was able to still attend an evening orchestra rehearsal, I could check in with the kids in person, and sleep in my own bed.  On the other hand, driving back and forth to Chicago every day was exhausting, and there is something to packing up and leaving town and not being distracted by your normal everyday life while trying to immerse yourself in another experience.  Overall, though, it was great to have the workshop so comparatively close.

The workshop was held at the Chicago School of Violin Making.  I have several friends who got their training there, and my own teacher taught at CSVM for years before moving to Wisconsin which is where he took me on as a student.   I enjoyed having a chance to work in that space for a week and get a feel for what that environment is like.

The workshop was led again by Joe Robson, who is a varnish maker, and luthiers Marilyn Wallin and Todd Goldenburg.  The dozen or so of us in attendance spanned the range from people oil varnishing for the first time to accomplished builders.  It was a really pleasant and interesting group.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Unique New York

(A bit overdue at this point, and with fewer details than I originally wrote, but at least I got something down while I remember anything.)

We had a great trip to New York for spring break!
We didn't stop in Ohio this time, so it was a long drive in one shot from Wisconsin.  Thankfully my kids all continue to be excellent travelers, making 15 hours in the car together possible--even pleasant.

In any case, here is a summary (with lots of pictures) so I won't forget:

My kids' spring break didn't line up with my niece's this year.  She only had off the Friday before Easter, and we had from then up through the beginning of April.  So we decided in order to get the most time for cousins together that we would pull our kids out of school a day early and drive to New York all that Thursday.

The car ride was (blissfully) uneventful.  We finished reading the book Wildwood (which we enjoyed) and started Birds, Beasts, and Relatives, which is part of the My Family and Other Animals series.  I really like reading to my kids in the car.  (It's amazing how much faster it makes the time seem to go.)

We arrived around midnight in New York City where my sister-in-law had an air mattress already set up for the girls and the trundle bed pulled out for Quinn.  My brother was out of the country for a business trip, so it was "just" the seven of us (plus Pepper the dog) for the first few days.  I am amazed every time we visit that they are able to find space for us in that apartment, but they do, and we're grateful.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Knee Jerk NO

Before I begin, let me say that I started writing my NYC post again, and Blogger randomly lost about two hours of writing.  Not the whole post this time, just back a day's writing, but what is going on?  I am beyond frustrated.  I don't know how many times I can try to recreate that work and not go insane so I may have to scrap it.

Some people don't understand why I don't just write blog posts on my desktop and then copy and paste when I'm ready to post, but there's something irritating about that that is hard to describe to someone who doesn't blog.  It's not like regular writing.  It's more immediate and I want to arrange something as I'm thinking about it in the format where it will live.  I've started copying and pasting from Blogger to email as a backup in addition to hitting the ineffective "save," but I still don't understand why now I have to do that.


The other day when we were all in the car together, Ian was telling a story about how in Iraq there was a point where he and another officer were in charge of a group, and the other guy was the picture of a big tough military guy, and Ian by comparison was not imposing.  But Ian was the one everyone considered the hard ass really in charge because he was the one who would say, "No."

I laughed and said, "Which one of you was the parent?"

There is a lot of knee jerk "No" when you are a parent.  More than there should be, and I make a conscious effort to stop and reassess before I simply say "No."  Many times when my kids make a request and my first instinct is "No" and I take a moment to really think about it, I wind up saying "Yes" instead.  Because many times the request is harmless.

I think the automatic "No" comes from exhaustion.  There is so much responsibility and so much to get done in so little time that deviating from whatever plan is in action feels like one thing too many.  And so much of parenting, particularly of small children, has such a meandering pointless feel about it that it can get frustrating.  Adults usually like to feel they are accomplishing something.

Monday, April 11, 2016


This is just a quick, anguished cry in the middle of the night to say that I worked for DAYS on a blog post about our trip to New York for Easter and right when I finished it tonight my computer blinked out and rebooted for no apparent reason and the whole post is GONE.  Gone gone gone.  I don't understand why Blogger only has the intro I started a week ago and not anything I hit "save" on since.  None of the photos or the links.  Nothing.

I have so little time as it is, and to have all that work disappear making that writing effort a waste....   I don't know if I have the energy to write it all again.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Volleyball's End

Girls in their last huddle after the award ceremony
Aden recently had her last volleyball game of the season.  I'm so pleased she decided to give playing on the team a try and that it worked out well.  Participating in a sport can be good or terrible.  I only experienced the terrible at her age.  I'm glad my daughter got to experience the good.

The Fernwood Pirates 8th Grade Girls' Volleyball team wrapped up the 2015-16 season with 42 wins and 2 losses.  It was really fun to go every week as a family to cheer Aden and her team on.  I enjoyed watching all of the players steadily improve.  It was moving to see how consistently encouraging and kind the coach and the players managed to be.  Aden was not one of the power players, but she got better with every game, and by the last one her energy and commitment made us really proud.

There was a lot to learn by suddenly being a family that did sports, though.  The first was keeping track of the shifting schedule.  We missed the second game of the season because we didn't realize at first that the game times moved so much.  Games could start anywhere from 5:30 to 9:00 (which still seems shockingly late to begin any activity with kids), and if we missed an email about a change it was easy to not show up at the right time.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

At a Loss

Some days you don't get to pick your attitude.  I know there is many a pithy quote to be found on Facebook about choosing a positive thought and about how all you can control is yourself so you have only yourself to blame if you are not happy.

Well, when things are on an even keel, sure.  Some days, though, we need to cut ourselves some slack if we don't have the energy to force some more noble perspective.

My birthday is this week and I'm not feeling good about it.  It's my first birthday without my dad.  His birthday would have been on Easter this year and it's the first one of his since he died.  I don't like these kinds of firsts.  I keep tearing up unexpectedly.  I can go weeks at a time at this point where I don't think of dad in terms of loss, just in terms of pleasant memory, but not this weekend.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Entertainment Evolution

I'm often surprised when talking to my children how little I really know about their lives anymore.  We have such a tight grip on everything about them when they are tiny that it's hard to shake that impression of our role even as it changes.  I used to have responsibility for every detail of their days, and now they select their own entertainment, seek out their own books, enjoy inside jokes with people I've never met, and eat foods I had no hand in. Like most of parenting it's bittersweet.

But every once in a while I make a point of grilling them past the one word answers I'm used to getting and try to find more information so I'll understand them better.  Most recently I did that with Aden and her latest computer obsession and I learned a lot.

Compared to most of the kids we know, mine own a fairly limited amount of technology.  They share a single iPad that they got as a Christmas gift a few years ago from their aunt.  (They have about a dozen apps on it, which their friends with pages and pages of apps to scroll through find amusing.)  Aden has a laptop we got her with schoolwork in mind, and a DS thingy that I don't quite understand, but it wasn't expensive and she mostly uses it as an awkward means of creating her own animation.  A few months ago we hooked up an old Atari to the TV, and Quinn enjoys playing Frogger and Pitfall II.  We have Netflix streaming but no cable.  None of them own phones.

Despite this limited access to modern devices, my kids are well-versed in current video game culture.  Aden is obsessed with the Legend of Zelda and can tell you when the latest version of GTA is out.  My kids are all into Minecraft and make many small items in its image out of perler beads.

I've offered to my kids to get them a modern gaming system if they feel left out among their peers.  Same with phones, actually.  Just because something doesn't interest me doesn't mean I want them to be out of step with what the culture they live in is up to.  But they insist they are fine.  They don't mind sharing the iPad.  They don't need video game options beyond what the box of vintage Atari cartridges offers.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Portioning Out Fairness

My children impress me.  I'm biased, I know, and I love them on a level that has become my reason for being, but still.  There are moments when they surprise me with something new and unexpected where I just stop and wonder how I had a hand in creating such lovely people.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I made the kids breakfast.  I don't often make them breakfast anymore because I stay up very late to work so I sleep in a little while Ian gets the kids off to school.  We're in a habit of making them a hot breakfast every morning, and Ian is out of town for Army work this weekend, so I decided to make crepes for the kids before I went to work.  (That sounds fancier than it is but crepes are easy when you make them regularly.  All my kids can make crepes.)

Mona and Aden were still in pajamas upstairs, but Quinn was available to help me.  He emptied the dishwasher and set the table while I stood at the stove.  When breakfast was ready he rang the bell and settled in to eat.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Violin Body

I've put in a lot of late nights recently because I want very much to work on my own instrument, but there just isn't time available to do it.  So I make time between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.  This means some nights I only get about three or four hours of sleep, but I can do that for a while without a problem.  Eventually I kind of crash and go to bed really early one night which seems to catch me up, but for the most part the late night schedule works out.  I can focus without interruption.  (Or distraction.  When my kids are up I want to be with them, so it's better if I wait until they are all in bed.)

In any case, here is the progress I've made on the violin body I'm working on:

When last I posted about this instrument I'd finished carving the scroll, and had gotten as far as the purfling on the body.

Next up was to rough graduate the top plate, then do the f-holes.
F-holes are the sound holes cut into the top plate on either side of the bridge.  They need to be large enough to help sound escape from the inside of the instrument's body, but not so large that they compromise the structural integrity of the top.  The stems of the f-holes need to be wide enough to easily get a soundpost through.  (As a repair person I know this is essential, since I am someone who has to repeatedly do soundpost work on instruments once they are out in the world.  When I have to work with a violin where the f-holes are too narrow it makes my job more difficult than it should be, so I'm mindful not to inflict the same problem on others in future.)

Carving f-holes is tricky.  They are one of those elements of violin making where there is nowhere to hide.  You can tell a lot about a luthier's skill level by how he or she carves their f-holes.  F-holes by different makers have different characteristics, and this was my first time carving in the Amati style, so that was fun. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Surprise Mold-A-Rama!

When my mom was visiting recently we took her on her first visit to the Milwaukee County Zoo, and what did we stumble across?  A new Mold-A-Rama!  One we've never seen before anywhere:  A cow!
How cool is that?  We knew they had a hippo now (a rare figure--we only have one other that we found in Florida on our big Mold-A-Rama road trip) because Aden picked one up for the family collection when she was at the zoo on a field trip last month.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Health Update

Simply because I find it easier to post here for anyone who is interested than to repeat myself for people who ask.  Anyone understandably not interested, maybe go read this old post about building our garage.  Or, if you want something more deathy there's this.  (Or something random, or something violin-y.)

I'm doing well!  The new doctor put me on steroids back at the beginning of December, and that's doing the trick.  Apparently steroids either work for people with Granulomatous Mastitis immediately or they don't help much at all.  I am in the lucky category of people for whom they seem work.

Saturday, January 16, 2016


This has been the week of sorting photos.  I went through the giant stack of pictures we developed before the holidays and got everything labeled and dated.  It's a habit held over from the days before digital pictures when I would get the mystery envelope of prints from the developer and sit down with my calendar and try to remember when everything happened.  I'm glad I did, because the first four years of Aden's life are a blur to me now without those photos, and the dates and reminders of where we were mean something to me.  It's still nice to have information written out on the back of a photo, though, even if there are now high tech ways to figure some of that out.

We got our first digital camera when Mona was about eighteen months old.  The best part about it to me has always been the ability to see right away if you got the shot you wanted, and to decide if it's even a picture you want to develop, or make multiples of.  Not to mention the seemingly endless number of photos you can take to try and get the right shot.  It's hard to explain the old limitations to my kids.

When I think back to using rolls of film, the main thing I remember is having to keep track of the countdown on the roll and having to be selective about what I could even take photos of.  And seeing what pictures I actually got was always a surprise, but not one I would want to revisit.  The quality of the photos, however, I still think was better with real film.  There's a crispness to digital photos that can be great, but also somehow hard and flat.  I'm sure that's not true of professional grade cameras, but there was a softness to the pictures of my old-fashioned point-and-shoot that's different from what I get with my digital version.  Not enough to matter, but it's something I notice when I look back at Aden's baby pictures from before our jump to digital.

Another hold over from my regular film developing days is the boxes.  Not every picture I got developed was something I wanted to put in an album, but I didn't necessarily want to throw them away, either, so I'd put the spares in a photo box.  Even though I can now select what photos to develop, I don't always know until I really hold them in my hand what I think.  I also like to have choices when I'm sorting and put things in an album that tell the right story.  Sometimes that means some really nice pictures end up in the boxes, but that's okay.  They are there if I ever want them.

I was good for several years about getting photos into albums.  I have categories of albums, such as friends and family and the cottage.  I tend to put big trips together into their own albums, so if I want to remember my visit to India, or Alaska, or my car trip out West with my best friend, I can find them.  I sort pictures by what I think I might want to look for--such as photos from college, or Ian as a child.

For my children I have them sorted by kid and by age, and Quinn pointed out to me recently that he only goes up to age four, and Aden stopped aging apparently at nine.  This bothered his own need for organization (not that that need extends to his bedroom floor, but that's a different post), and I decided if I didn't get them up to date soon it was going to be too hard to ever want to deal with, so Quinn helped me buckle down and get everything sorted.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mini Costume Box

The gift I was most excited to give this year was to Mona.  It's a box of little figures made from the scraps of her old Halloween costumes.
It wasn't exactly a surprise since I did the same for Aden when she turned 12, but Mona was delighted by her box.  Aden's box still makes her weepy.  Mona is not as sentimental, but always appreciative, so it was a different sort of reaction this time around.  It was still worth the effort to hand stitch all those little costume figures, and I like the idea of my kids having mini versions of their Halloween costume memories to hold onto (rather than feel they must forever keep the actual costumes).