Friday, June 1, 2018

Spring Catch Up Post

Life has been nuts.  I remember how hard running after toddlers was, and how babies suck up all of your day, but I also remember thinking something easier was just over the horizon if I could just get a little more sleep and make it there.

Yeah, no.  Bigger kids just have different issues that suck up just as much time, and complex problems that can tear at your soul.  Older kids can also be wonderful, and having real conversations with these people you made is amazing, especially when I think back to the days where we spent a lot of time just pointing to colors and that was as stimulating as things got.  I prefer playing Settlers of Catan to Candyland, there are just a lot more rules to remember.

Anyway, lately there has been little time to think, let alone write, so this is a giant catch-all post to sort through some of what we've been doing and to keep my memories anchored in time a bit better.

First a health update since some people have wondered:  At the beginning of the year I found a large lump in my other breast.  The first breast that caused me so much suffering and trouble with granulomatous mastitis for about 18 months starting in 2015 is okay, and I thought all that trouble was behind me.  Typically when granulomatous mastitis clears up that's the end of it--it doesn't tend to return or migrate, so a new lump was particularly alarming since it seemed the options left for what it could be were scary.  I went to get it checked out and they did a biopsy on the spot.  Not cancer.  Weirdly it was a minor version of granulomatous mastitis popping up again, but it seems to have resolved itself.  There is still a small lump but it continues to get smaller and I didn't have to go back on any steroids.  No pain.  I'm good.

Insect Dreams books:  Back in February I got to go out to Detroit by myself to meet my mom and my brother for the culmination of the Insect Dreams book project.  Barrett invited about 30 artists to create tiny books for a collection and it was amazing to see what everyone made.  I was honored to have my Luna Moth book included among such fine work.  This deserves a real post, but I will wait to go into detail after the show opening that includes a 3D printed wasp nest cabinet to house the official collection.
It was really great to have a weekend in my hometown with just my mom and my brother (although it made us miss the other brother).  It was the opening weekend of Black Panther, and we managed to reserve tickets but the only ones available were in the front row.  Wakanda looks even bigger when you have to lean back away from the screen to see it, but we enjoyed it.

Barrett and I also had fun helping mom with little projects, one of which was tightening up the screws on the underside of her drawing table.  I don't know how she managed to work on that wobbly table for so long.
Work:  The violin store is doing fine.  I've been doing a lot of volunteer repairs for my daughter's high school orchestra program by fixing up instruments that otherwise would be deemed too far gone to be worth the expense.  There are some nice old German violins that have been neglected for decades that really needed help, and I'm particularly proud of this one that I think the teacher thought was headed for the trash heap, but I saved it.  

I wish I had a before picture, because the violin looked like it had leprosy.  The varnish was not salvageable (sloughing off in big bubbly flakes) so I stripped it (which is normally verboten in violin work, but in this case it was do or die) and got on some nice oil varnish.  It also needed a new bridge, post, tail, pegs, etc.  The top was riddled with cracks but they had all been carefully cleated at some time in the past which I took as an indication that the violin must have sounded good enough to warrant all that effort.  And now it does!  It's a lovely violin.  In any case, the instrument went from unusable to one of the nicest things in the school's collection, and that makes me happy.  I enjoy my work and I'm glad I do what I do, but there are times my job wears me down, and so these moments of doing something that directly helps instruments and kids purely to make the world a little better keeps me sane. 

In terms of customer work, every time I think I've seen everything something new walks in the door.  The winner so far for 2018 is this curiosity:
This is the view inside a viola looking through the endbutton hole at the bottom of the instrument, up toward the neck.  That's how you check the soundpost (that vertical dowel standing off to the right in the photo), which is what I was doing when I saw that giant glass bulb suspended in there.  It's anchored to the upper block and held aloft by two thin wooden sticks.  It was a real "What the hell?" kind of moment, and one where at first my mind rejected it was even there.  This was a handmade viola that was quirky in almost every way so it gave me a lot of doubts, but it actually sounded quite nice.  So there's that.  (I will not be adding such a resonator to my own instruments.  I fear for the day that thing gets damaged and the top has to come off the viola to do something about it.  But in the meantime it has a new bridge and the player is happy and all is well.)

Home projects:  There is never really enough time to do all the projects in a house that need to be done, so every once in a while I just dive in to something and hope it gets finished.  Starting around my birthday in March I decided to tackle the family room.

Our family room has always bugged me because it's an addition to the house that doesn't match anything.  The rest of the house has either dark wood or white painted trim, and this room had that honey-colored oak from the 70s or 80s.  The windows were terrible (one of them, if it wasn't latched properly, would fly open if you slammed the back door too hard), so we finally replaced them.  It was amazing how much warmer that room was the rest of the winter!  We just stood in there with the kids one evening and asked them if they noticed anything and they said, "We're not cold!"  So that's beyond great, and I wish we could afford to replace more windows in other parts of the house, but this was a good start.

The new windows are white, because I did not want to perpetuate this light oak thing anymore.  So I picked up some paint and got to work on finally changing that room.  The front room of our house is a cheerful yellow and white, so we went with the same thing at the back.  The colors in my photos look a bit more shocking than I think it comes across in real life, but it's still a big change and I'm really happy with it.  The room finally looks tied into the rest of the house and you don't walk in and immediately think "Oh, this is an addition."  It looked dingy before.  I like how bright it is now.

This was a slow motion project, though.  I couldn't afford everything involved with emptying the whole room, so I did it a corner at a time.  That worked fine.  I moved the couch away from the wall and did that first.  Then when that was finished the next day I put it back and did the next corner.  That way we could keep using the room, which was handy.  I got about halfway across the room when I had to stop because all that was left was the walls with the books (which are double stacked) and that was going to be a pain.  So we lived with the room half done foe a couple of months, which was like sitting in a before and after photo spread every time we watched a movie.

A couple of weekends ago Quinn helped me move all the books to the dining room so we could move the bookcases and finally do the rest of it.  It was also good to weed through the books.  We cleared out a lot of old textbooks, moved some music, and nothing is in any order but at least fiction has been separated from non-fiction.

I love our house, but there is a strange lack of usable space for bookshelves on the first floor.  I think Quinn will be surprised when he moves out one day how fast his bedroom becomes a library.
We got to spend a weekend in March out in LaCrosse with my brother and his son (who just turned 3!).  Ian was away for army things, and it was a rare Saturday where my assistant was free to take the store, so the kids and I drove out for a night for cousin time.  My nephew is adorable, but I don't know if I have permission to post his photo, so here is their also adorable dog instead:
Violin making:  I got two instruments done in time for the varnish workshop in April, one of which is for Aden!  She's been "helping" a bit with her instrument here and there, mostly so she can see how much there is to the process and to have her hand in it a little.  She never did any finishing work, but I wanted her to hold the actual pieces of wood and see what it felt like to use a block plane and a finger plane and a chisel.  This is Aden taking the first bit of wood off the top of her new bass bar.
She got to select her wood and the model.  After asking her several times if she wanted something special on the scroll she finally decided on a bunny on the back of it.
Bunny in progress:
I'll get pictures of the finished bunny (and violin) for the next post about the varnish workshop.

In less traditional violin making, we have been experimenting with our new 3D printer at work.  There is a niche to be filled by making an inexpensive violin out of durable materials, but we haven't found a design yet that I'm satisfied with.  We may have to come up with our own.  (You know, in my free time.)

Aden is such a lovely person and growing up so fast.  I can't believe she's already halfway through high school and we're thinking ahead about college.  I took this picture one evening because she's wearing a "reverse tie-dye" shirt that my best friend and I made one summer when I was home from college.  We had this idea to start our own business (tentatively called KKGB Enterprises, because it combined both our initials) and we took a bunch of black shirts, bundled them up the way you would to tie-dye them, and then soaked them in bleach.  We never actually sold any (just had fun making them), and recently my mom came across them while cleaning either the basement or the attic and gave them back to me.  Aden loves them, and it startles me every time I see her in one.  They just barely predate when I met Ian, which means they are about 30 years old at this point, and that's kind of blowing my mind.  She's not far from the age I was when I made those shirts.  I'm glad she likes them!  I always thought they were a pretty cool idea.

In April Quinn participated in a model UN event in Chicago for a few days (he was Finland) but in the middle of it he was also scheduled to be in the state geography bee in Madison.  (So those were some fun logistics.)  The National Geographic Geography Bee was really interesting.  Quinn won the bee at his school level, then took a computerized test to qualify for the state level.  The top 100 school winners in the state got to move on to the bee in Madison.  Quinn was only one of two fifth graders to qualify.  Most of the kids were in seventh and eighth grades.
Quinn would tell you he didn’t do well since he got 5 out of 8 questions right in the preliminary round, but that put him in the middle of the group and he was the youngest one there.  I think that’s amazing.  No one in his room of 20 kids got all 8, so no one in that group went on to the finals.  The rules were strict about parents not talking or using any social media, and no one was allowed to leave the room during breaks or afterward until there was an all clear because all the kids in the bee across the country are asked the same questions and they don't want them to get out.

The few questions Quinn got wrong I would have guessed the same as he did.  One of them was about a place with leaf cutter ants and the clue was the Nicoya peninsula which neither of us had heard of and turned out to be in Costa Rica, but he guessed Panama.  The other was about the relative area of Nevada vs Botswana, but that’s hard because the maps we look at normally have everything sized wrong, and if you look at a globe those things aren’t anywhere where you can compare them, so pure guesswork—the answer is Botswana.  The third question was about the second biggest city in Switzerland.  Didn’t really occur to us to study “second biggest cities” so he guessed Bern.  Turned out to be Geneva.  There was a round on birds which was interesting, and a round called “American Road Trip” that included all kinds of destinations we’ve recently been to, like Graceland and Nashville and Little Rock, so that was fun.  

It was a really interesting process to watch and the thing I liked best was Quinn's attitude.  He didn’t really care how he did in the bee, and told me he was just glad that the things he got wrong were things he didn’t know, rather than something he did know and couldn't remember in time.  He didn’t get upset the way some kids did when they missed a question.  And on the drive back to Chicago to return to his model UN trip?  He wanted me to ask him more geography questions.  He’s excited to know how to study for such an event again if he ever gets to return—Mercator maps for scale, more cities, more peninsulas and mountains, etc.  I quizzed him on what languages people speak in different places and he really enjoyed it.  I'm so proud of this boy.

Mona's big project in April was completing her work for the science fair, which involved her making her own video game (based on data she collected from testing other kids' physiological reactions while playing other games).  She made such a cute game!  I was terrible at it, but it involved making a small bird jump and fly around obstacles in a fantastical jungle setting.  It was great and I hope she makes more.

She's also been working on an alien costume for a school play that's pretty impressive.  Mona finished the mask a while ago, and this weekend did work on the body portion, but I haven't seen that all together yet, just in pieces.  She's finding it challenging making things for other people to wear, rather than just tailoring a costume around herself.  If she makes it a regular thing I'd like to find her some sort of adjustable mannequin to work with.  I never cease to be amazed by Mona's creativity.  And I'm really impressed with the amount of maturity she's shown in recent months.  I can't believe my baby girl is starting high school next year.  (Poor thing doesn't get out of middle school until mid-June, but high schoolers go back in mid-August with an orientation on the 2nd, so she's got the shortest summer ever.)
Mona will be going to the same high school my grandfather graduated from back in the 1930s.  One of the things I like about the place is they have free open gym every Saturday night for public school families, and every couple of months that includes roller skating (with free skate rentals and snacks!).  We've gone twice now, and I really like it.  There's a sweet old guy who DJs from his laptop, they have tables set up with games (we did a few rounds of Apples to Apples at one point when Aden and Quinn were tired) and in another room they even have ping-pong and pool.
We're happily adjusting to the summery weather we're having now, but have not forgotten that barely a month ago we still had a ton of snow.  It wasn't just one of those April snowstorms where it comes down heavy for a day and then is all melted the next.  This stuck around and it really felt like we were starting winter over again.  The local stations played Christmas music.
The snow was gone in Chicago at least in time for my varnish workshop.  Again, that will be it's own post, but here are a few photos in the meantime:

And just last week I strung up my latest violin!  I'm so happy with it.  It has an incredibly even and balanced sound.  It's bright and powerful, but no one string jumps out--the transitions between them are very smooth.  I'm really pleased and hope it finds a good home (after the VSA competition this fall).

We picked up our Peeps creations from the Racine Art Museum at the end of April.  They asked to keep our things a little longer because they wanted them for some sort of press junket.  Aden's Jurassic Peep won the Peeple's Choice Award!  She got a lovely little glass bunny peep signed by the artist.  They told me on the phone when they gave me the news that my Peeps Violin came in second.  (Apparently they don't normally tell people that, but since I lost to my daughter they figured correctly that I wouldn't mind knowing.)  Quinn got the mayor's award (which included a nice but somewhat puzzling bag of prizes, including Tiddlywinks and a hefty tape measure).  Quinn and I brought our pieces home, but Aden decided memories were enough and she didn't know where or how she could store a Peeps dinosaur, so she left it at the museum for them to do with it what they will.
On that same trip to the museum we also stopped by the highway near the Illinois border because on my commute back and forth to Chicago every day for a week I'd noticed some nesting birds I wanted to check out.  We still don't know what they are, but it was fun to walk into the high grass and watch them for a bit with binoculars.
There is also the Tale of Two Trees:  The flowering trees in our area have been glorious this year, and the crab apple tree in our yard took its turn as the prettiest thing on the block for a couple of days (before the petals began to fall like one last snow shower).

Then across the sidewalk from it, the electric company butchered one of our city trees.
I mean seriously!  Why did they bother to leave it standing at that point?  It's like it's asking it's own question now, saying "Y?"

Memorial Day Weekend:  We decided to take advantage of the kids' four day weekend and go up to the cottage in Michigan.  Once we got there it was great.  Getting there proved difficult, though.  After safely and reliably transporting us on some very long trips, our 13-year old minivan finally left us stranded for a night.  We got about two hours from our destination when it developed a coolant leak and we had to call a tow truck.  On the downside it was 11 at night, and the truck didn't get to us until almost 4 in the morning.  Plus we had the dog with us, which made any ideas about finding a hotel unfeasible.  And the tow truck only had room for one passenger.  We tried to sleep for a bit in the van before it was towed, but that didn't go well.  Then when Ian went off with the tow truck and then to wait at a rental car place until it opened at 7:30, the kids and the dog and I were all left to hang out at a rest area.

But it was really easy to see the upsides to all of it.  It was not raining, it was not that cold, we had a bathroom to use, and since there were two adults on this trip we could split up to actually get everything worked out.  (If I were alone with the kids on this trip I would have been really stuck.)  I read to the kids (Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet), we got hot chocolate from the vending machine, there were bumbling June bugs to observe, the sunrise was beautiful, and we got a laugh out of Quinn trying to interpret this sign:

(He didn't realize "dog run" was a noun, and it looked like some kind of command.)

Around dawn the kids all fell asleep at my feet on the sidewalk while I kept the dog from barking at everyone who passed (and occasionally checked to see if we were okay).  We were an odd sight with all our belongings piled onto a bench and no vehicle.  About quarter after 8 Ian showed up with a rental car and we were able to resume our drive.  Our first day at the cottage was mostly spent recovering and catching up on sleep.  (After first repairing both toilets which were leaking.)

After that, though?  It was all wonderful.  We made recipes from my grandma's box of index cards all written in her complicated cursive.  We caught frogs and toads.  We saw many deer.  We went clothes shopping simply because we had time to do it.  We watched movies and made s'mores and read books and played games and enjoyed being unplugged and with each other.

My mom even joined us for a night and participated in badminton on the beach, which seemed to be a lot more fun for her now that she has a new knee.  (Last time we played my brother drew a circle around her that she was supposed to stay inside.)  That fancy move she's doing is what we call a Bird-O, where you stack two birdies together for your serve.  It works about as well as you think it does.  (What?  You don't think we are following the official rules?  Well, I'll have you know we aren't sure what they are, so we wouldn't know.  Our version involves a lot more laughing I'm sure.)

Let's see... Ian spent three weeks in Korea, there are raccoons under our house (that our dog kept barking at through the floor of my shop) that are one by one getting trapped and taken away, I had a bad birthday but an excellent Mother's Day, and got to play in a few really good concerts.  I also did a bunch of volunteering at my kids' school as part of a six week violin program I helped put together after strings and piano got cut at the beginning of the school year.  (Plus our big road trip to Texas.)

It's been a busy spring!  That's not all of it, but enough of what I can share to feel caught up in this space.  And there are exciting things ahead!  If I'm lucky I'll be able to write about them in a more timely manner.


  1. You've been busy! I remember those sweatshirts -- did we really not sell any? I thought I remembered selling a couple of them.
    I understand Quinn's sign confusion -- there's a sign at my school that says "We don't have to agree to be kind to each other". It took a second read for me to get it.
    I'm sorry your car left you stranded! Not a fun way to start your weekend.
    And your mom got a new knee! I hope that's working out for her. My aunt has to get a new hip soon.
    And your family room looks great! I hope to see it in person sometime soon!

    1. This is Gabby, by the way! I don't know why it says "unknown." Maybe because I'm so mysterious.

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