Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's Never Too Late to be Sassy

For the last 12 hours or so I've developed a new obsession: finding back issues of Sassy magazine (which is proving to be quite futile, unless you want to spend about $20 for an issue on eBay).

It all started with looking up Kirsten Miller, my new favorite YA author (yes there is some jealousy involved...) and finding this blog she's writing based on her Kiki Strike books (which are about a group of urban grrl scouts called the Irregulars who spend their time exploring and defending the Shadow City: a series of mysterious underground rooms and tunnels underneath New York City). Anyway, from this blog, I found a post about Tavi Gevinson, a 14-year-old fashionista from Chicago who keeps this amazing blog, The Style Rookie. There was one particular post (or several, actually) about how she's obsessed with Sassy. That got me thinking about it, and wanting to look at back issues because I wasn't cool enough to read or subscribe to it when I was a teenager.

I'm feeling like I totally missed out! The more I read about it online, the more I find women of my generation who loved this magazine and say that it changed their lives.

I remember I had friends in elementary/jr. high school who subscribed to it, and I must have looked at a few issues and thought, this is way above my head. It's too cool for me. I don't get it. If I had been the person I am now I totally would have subscribed to it (not saying I'm cool now, but I get it). But unfortunately? I was a goody-two-shoes. I was first-chair flute in band. I wore Guess jean skirts with my pink oxford shirt tucked in when other girls wore shorts and tee-shirts to slumber parties. I listened to Debbie Gibson, NKOTB, showtunes, and classical music (meaning pre-20th century "classical" music). I subscribed to YM and Seventeen (but even I thought Teen magazine was too vanilla and twee). I read Nancy Drew. I never picked up Tiger Beat or hung up posters of boys on my walls (my walls were covered with ballerina and music-themed posters and paraphernalia). I loved (and wanted to be) Maria from The Sound of Music.

However, thinking back on things, maybe there was a glimmer of coolness in me. I'd sequester myself in my room (stenciled with mint-green bows across the top; a mauve homemade quilt on my bed; my pink boombox on my night stand--you know the kind I'm talking about--the ones that came in mint green, purple, and pink?) and dream up my own fashion designs, drawing them into my sketchbook (could I have been a Tavi had I grown up in a big city as opposed to a small town?). Also, mom used to let us watch MTV in elementary school, so I was hip on all the current music videos. I used to wear my mom's silk scarves around my ponytails and hoop earrings. I could play Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos on our living room carpet (the Amadeus soundtrack played endlessly in my childhood). My grandma used to let me look at my aunt's Seventeen magazines from the 70s. I wrote tons of poems and short stories. I knew who Toulouse-Lautrec was (thanks to art-teacher mom). I was also the only girl with an asymmetrical haircut in high school.

Since I can't go back in time and listen to Sonic Youth on my record player at the height of their popularity or read copies of Sassy on my bed, I'm determined to discover what I missed out on. For some reason I need to know what my generation is about, from the point of view of Sassy. I want it to change my life. I want to be that hip kid in school wearing green tights, a purple mini skirt and plaid Doc Martens. I want to reacquaint myself with 80's and 90's indie rock (even in the 90's, in college, I wasn't listening to what my friends were listening to--i.e. Radiohead and Cake. I was listening to Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. Luckily my punk friend Margo made me a mixed tape entitled 'No more hippie shit for Chiffon').

If you or anyone you know have any back issues of Sassy, I would love to borrow or buy them from you. My childhood depends on it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Dream House (part 1)

I was browsing through my favorite blogs just now when I came across this. Yes. That's my house.

That is, I wish it were my house, but it was Gabrielle Munter's house in Murnau, Germany, about an hour outside Munich. For a long time I had a picture of this house on my desktop. It made me so happy--the bright blue shutters against the white paint, the barn-style house overlooking a yard overflowing with flowers and trees.

I first saw this house in a book called "Artists' Houses" at a bookstore/art gallery in Spokane. In it, there are pictures of the interior of Gabrielle's house. Simple geometric stencils are stamped across the walls, and paintings of German and Scandinavian folk art and designs are hand-painted by Gabrielle and Kandinsky along the stairs and on furniture. I didn't buy the book but I kept going back to the bookstore to look at those pictures because I wanted my house to look like that.

Do you ever have past-life fantasies? I do. This is mine. It's been especially acute lately since reading Kirsten Miller's YA novel, The Eternal Ones. This is one of the first contemporary YA novels that I've read that I actually liked. The story is so fun, and I love how she's kept a blog where she makes up past-life scenarios for anyone who sends her a picture. But going back to my past life fantasy--for some reason I'm really drawn to Gabrielle Munter (1877-1962) and Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907)--two German Expressionist painters. Maybe it's because they were born about 100 years before I was, or they are both from Germany (Paula grew up in Bremen, where I think my German cousins live. There is some mystery surrounding that part of the family...).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Composer Smorgasbord!

Ug--September's getting away from me and I only have 3 or so blog posts to show for it. I was trying to be a better writer this month! Mostly I've been looking at other people's blogs, like this one.

Oh! But last Friday was amazing. Recently transplanted (from Spokane!) friend, T and I attended an American Composers Forum party at MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. Can I just say, wow? We walk in, us two itty-bitty minor composers-to-be, and immediately we see our friend and mentor Elizabeth Alexander. Then, OMG Libby Larsen walks in. Poor Ms. Larsen--we bombard her right away, saying "hi! do you remember us? you came to our college in spokane?" And she just kind of stared at us and smiled (I'm sure our school was a distant memory to her--she travels extensively), and then someone else bombarded her....

Oh, but how I remember 3 years ago, how I walked around our campus with her (Larsen) and we were having a very cool conversation in the student lobby and she seemed genuinely interested in my projects. Sigh!

Then we walked upstairs to plates of gorgeous food and the most composers I've ever seen in one room. It was fun looking at name tags to see what other famous people were there (at least, famous to me). Stephen Paulus, Ann Millikan, Carol Barnett, Abbie Betinis (whom T had met a few weeks ago and introduced me to her---an amazing and prolific composer who's our age)....

I also had a great conversation with an old flute teacher of mine, Julie Johnson, who remembered me from about 10 years ago.

It never really hit me before how many amazing composers live here. And for the most part they all know each other in addition to knowing many music directors and musicians around town. I can't help but be immersed in this music culture here, with all the collective creative energy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book Scout

I added another link--Book Scout

Lots of good middle-reader and YA book suggestions.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Just paint...(think later).

I made these cinnamon rolls (with cream cheese frosting!) for the in-laws this past weekend. As I was rolling them out on Saturday night, around midnight, the power flicked off and I was left in the blackness. Because I'm a little afraid of the dark (haven't outgrown that one) I had to wake up K to go into the (scary) basement to grab the flashlight and candles.

Once the candles were lit, I finished my rolls and thought about electricity and how lovely it was to roll out cinnamon and mace-scented dough by candlelight instead of lightbulb.

Which reminded me of this from May Sarton's "Journal of a Solitude" (thanks for the recommendation, Jenna!):

"It is troubling how many people expect applause, recognition, when they have not even begun to learn an art or a craft. Instant success is the order of the day; 'I want it now!' I wonder whether this is not part of our corruption by machines. Machines do things very quickly and outside the natural rhythm of life, and we are indignant if a car doesn't start at the first try. So the few things that we still do, such as cooking, knitting, gardening, anything at all that cannot be hurried, have a very particular value."

I like this idea of the natural rhythm of life. On a related note, another quote from M.S.:

"I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. I am still pursued by a neurosis about work inherited from my father. A day where one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room, not try to be or do anything whatever."

I love that---"Live in the changing light of a room." 

Sometimes I get so plagued by not getting enough things done that I freeze to the spot and am not able to do anything at all. Like this standoff in my mind between the urge to make pretty domestic objects vs. making "art" (I can't say for sure that what I do is "art." It's more like--"activities that keep me entertained"). But I love this quote from another art/craft blog I found today:

"Just paint....(think later)."


Monday, August 30, 2010

Tiny Happy Obsessions

Two more new blog obsessions:
Tiny Happy


Design Sponge

I'm trying to get interior decorating ideas, as well as ideas for craft projects, and these two blogs are amazing. This is how I've been spending my time! And I've been trying to spend less time on the computer after reading articles by Matt Richtel such as this one from the NY Times.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Crop Rotation

Over the last 24 hours I've been obsessing over this blog:
Crafty kin

She's a mom from New Zealand and I love her photos and her crafts. Within the blog there are also links to other cute sites from down under.

The more I look at this blog, though, the more I get the itch to make something crafty and make my house all cute and cozy, filled with fabrics, pottery, and other vintage finds. I'm also dying to bake (haven't done it all summer due to the hot/humid/icky weather). Tonight I threw together some granola (came out a little too crisp--I'm out of practice!) and if tomorrow night is cool I want to bake some bread.

Her blog and homelife are so (seemingly) sweet and cute though that I feel like a totally inadaquate housewife/mommy. I haven't been making enough homemade toys or clothes for E., or planning and making enough meals, or sewing enough aprons, or embroidering enough tea towels. Instead my head has been in the clouds, involved in heady artistic pursuits like writing and composing and practicing piano. Why can't I be a normal domestic momma?

The trouble is, I have a limited amount of spare time and I feel I can only devote myself to one or two things, and (unfortunately?) the abstract, heady stuff wins (most of the time). I remember reading something Madeleine L'Engle wrote (from A Circle of Quiet? I can't remember) where she said her children cheered if she did dishes that day (because most of her time was spent, y'know, writing). Not that I'm comparing myself to her ( I looove her....!) but still....

....there is a tiny voice in my head that reminds me to attend to the details in my life. It's totally pathetic that I can't send a birthday card on time, or update photos on Shutterfly more regularly, or weed the garden more than once a month. I'm finally learning that stuff doesn't take long to do. I've actually been keeping a mental log of How Long Things Take (because I have Time-Awareness Disorder or something where I always misjudge how long it takes to accomplish a task). The average time it takes me to write a letter: 20 min. The average time it takes to put dishes away/do dishes: 30 minutes. Weed the garden: 15-30 min. Etc.  In my mind, these tasks take at least an hour to do, and therefore I put them off.

I want to be an artistic genius (ha!) and a crafty momma. Can I do both?

I've decided to take Joni Mitchell's lead and do some crop rotation (she would spend a few weeks writing songs, then a few weeks painting). Sometime soon, maybe even next week (because I can't stand looking at that cute blog any longer without doing something about my own house) I'm going to spend a whole week focusing on crafty/domestic projects. I'm going to set up the sewing machine in the spare room and get to those curtains and pillows I've been dying to make. Also, I want to get a heads up on Christmas gifts. And if it kills me, I will plan a week's worth of meals and actually do some cooking (K's the cook in this house most of the time) and baking. Last of all I'm going to write some letters because I can no longer stand a mailbox full of junk mail everyday :(

After that week I will focus on more heady/abstract projects. I'm hoping that someday I'll have time to do both regularly.

Now here's a totally pointless photo of a cup of tea I had today (actually it was taken weeks ago, but I did have some tea in this cute cup):

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The sea is a long, long way....from me (Low lyrics)

I'm in my ocean mood again.

We got spoiled living out west. Once or twice a year for five or six years in a row we'd drive to Portland Oregon, stay overnight at a hostel or cute hotel, and then drive to the coast the next day. We'd spend a few days there in our favorite B & B, which was a very luxurious place with rooms and porches overlooking the ocean. I loved waking up and falling asleep to the sound of the ocean, and walking along the beach, taking pictures of the patterns in the sand and of interesting wind or water-blown compositions of seaweed and bits of shells. There wasn't much to do in this town other than look out at the ocean from our room or walk around the musty bookstore next door, filled floor-to-ceiling with out-of-print dusty books and cardboard boxes for the 3 or so cats padding around the store. Sometimes we'd drive down to Newport to visit the aquarium or walk along Nye beach or listen to the sea lions bark on the docks in the bay.

On our very first trip to the Pacific coast in 2002 I didn't like the ocean much. Compared with Lake Superior, which I loved, it was loud, wild, rocky, and smelled fishy. It was always draped in fog and very windy. I was also scared of it. There were warning signs all around about possible tsunamis and getting swept away by the tide. There were tide pools full of strange and gelatinous creatures with slimy green arms and spiny backs. You couldn't really hang out on the beach for too long--not only was it too windy to have a sustained conversation but it was chilly and damp.

But after spending a few days and then returning year after year, the ocean got into my blood and now, being so landlocked, I miss it more than ever. We got our fill of an ocean-like lake a couple weeks ago when we escaped the heat and drove to Duluth. It was about 15 degrees cooler there and overcast, and yes--there was fog. We brought a picnic lunch and some of E's toys to the beach and hung out there for the afternoon. The day before, while I was trying to find a vintage bread box at my favorite antique store, I found a neat 1955 edition copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. I had heard about this book but never read it before, so I brought it with me to the beach.

It was the perfect beach read for that gray day. It's a short book so I almost read the whole thing. Mostly it's about solitude, and how solitude is necessary at times: "If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others...Only when one is connected to one's own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude." And this: "I walked far down the beach, soothed by the rhythm of the waves, the sun on my bare back and legs, the wind and mist from the spray on my hair. Into the waves and out like a sandpiper. And then home, drenched, drugged, reeling, full to the brim with my day alone; full like the moon before the night has taken a single nibble of it; full as a cup poured up to the lip..." (A.M.L.)

After that day I wanted to read more books like this. If I couldn't go to the ocean this year, I would read about it instead. There's always my copy of "The Edge of the Sea," by Rachel Carson, found at Powell's bookstore a couple years ago (I love her...). I also recently came across a series of short memoirs by Joan Anderson. I'm currently reading "A Year by the Sea" in which she decides to spend a year at her beach cottage on Cape Cod rather than move with her husband to a new city. The other book, which is a sort of follow-up to this memoir is, "A Walk on the Beach," which is all about her chance meeting on the beach with Joan Erikson, who was the wife and collaboraor of the social scientist/psychologist Erik Erikson. I had never heard of her before, but she was a really interesting person. In the 20s she went to Europe to study modern dance with Isadora Duncan. Then later I think she got a master's degree in sociology and wrote books, including "The Universal Bead," and "The Wisdom of the Senses" (both supposedly at the downtown library, but the Wisdom one was missing!). Anyway, the book is full of conversations between Anderson and Erikson (who was 91 years old at the time and still active).

In the prologue, Anderson distilled the essence of Erikson's philosophy:
"Welcome each day like a good meal."

"The essence of a life well-digested comes from knowing your strengths, overdosing on the senses, and remaining active and playful."

"Keep your hands on the plow--push--don't ever stop pushing."

"Always be willing to give a little more energy--the tension should always be there--then your life will never go limp."

And here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
Joan Erikson:
"Learn any skill that opens up the world and sets you free."

"The important thing is to do something, even if it's as simple as making a pile of pebbles. For it is always the doing that leads to the becoming, and before you know it you're on to the next stage of life."

"Either people pay no attention to their clothing and risk being misunderstood or they pay too much and risk being disingenuous. I'm not suggesting that you need a facade. It's just that a total stranger needs to get it the minute you walk over his or her threshold. Your work, your intentions, your goals all become evident when the total package is just right.... You want your individuality to shine....I adopted my look at Harvard right after attending my first faculty wives meeting. There I was in a roomful of women dressed in tweed suits with bouffant hairdos, and I was in shock. Where was the individuality? Would I be expected to conform as well? I walked away from that experience saying no way, not me, and headed straight for a store which sold exotic and colorful clothes from India, buying several pairs of leotards to wear under unusual jackets and smocks."

I'm so glad I came across these books. My appetite for the sea, however, remains to be satisfied. I'm thinking of painting my dining room wall a sea-glass green to go along with my collection of starfish and shells (found not at the beach but bought in a plastic bag at a thrift store in Spokane).

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Of (music theory) freaks and geeks

I wonder how much time I spend changing the colors and templates....
If I could do the same thing with paint colors in my house, I would.

I love this background. It's so Napoleon Dynamite or Freaks and Geeks (which K and I have been watching through Netflix lately). There's something about school drama-type shows that I love. Maybe it's because there are so many great opportunities for interesting characters and awkward teenager-type situations. Maybe that's why I read so many YA novels too. And write about YA stuff. Maybe I haven't really grown up yet....

On a different note: music. I spent some time today working through a passage of Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau (reflections dance on the water). There are so many reasons why I love this piece and why I love Debussy in general--especially his Preludes and Images for piano. He does these really interesting gestures and patterns involving minor 3rd relations and quartal harmonies. Each measure seems to have a deeper meaning: some secret of the universe embedded in melodic and chordal patterns. I really do think he was literally painting with music (he said that he was more of a painter than a musician, or would rather have been a painter but became a composer instead). Sometimes it helps me to think beyond (impressionist) music theory and look only at the pattern of black and white keys, or at the curve of a melodic line or gesture. It's hard to explain. It makes my head spin (with pleasure) just thinking about it (yeah, I'm a total nerd).

What's difficult about this piece are all the fast runs and arpeggios all over the keyboard. They aren't hard to play at a slow tempo once you know the pattern, but I imagine getting them up to speed will be pretty tough, especially with my intermediate-level technique. But if I ever do get them (which I consider to be more flowing, water-like gestures than precise, tempo-perfect runs) I think my technique will improve greatly. Definitely more fun than working on Czerny exercises.

Here's what I was working on:

Today I looked at the middle system--the notes that are way up in the stratosphere of the treble clef. Not so easy to read, although through playing flute I can tell right away what the notes are.

But in order to practice it, I re-wrote the passage down a few octaves so I could read the pattern easier: 

 Sorry--the picture quality isn't great. I added fingerings and also colored boxes around important notes in the pattern--notes that would help me remember variations in the pattern.

Suddenly, the pattern made more sense and I could actually play it at a slow tempo.

What's so cool about this pattern is that the middle notes stay pretty much the same in a set (in this re-written example, system-to-system) while the first note and the colored-box notes change, going down chromatically from F (F, F-flat, E-flat, D).

I think I could spend the rest of my life studying Debussy and still learn new things about his compositional technique.

Here's some more of my composition sketch from the other day. I added more to it, and was thinking that when/if I finish the piece I could show the process from beginning to end (notated and recorded).

Again, yucky picture quality.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Everyday "Art" (does your grandma put everything in quotes too?)

I love the idea of everyday art. Nothing too fancy or finished, and nothing that takes too long. I'm getting all these great ideas from looking at artist blogs where they post their sketchbook pages or craft projects in the works (like my friend Klay).

But it got me thinking. There are tons of artist blogs out there by women (visual art or crafts) but little to no music or composition blogs by women. If there are some out there, could you send me a link? I know there are women composers out there, but where are their sketchbooks? Where are their improvisation or sound art samples? Then I thought that maybe I could get the ball rolling. I'll post some of my sketches, and hopefully later add actual sound files (maybe on a myspace page?). Bear in mind these are only everyday sketchbook music ideas--not finished compositions. I'm following the lead on these artist blogs by showing what I've been working on, which will hopefully get me creating something everyday (even if it has little or no artistic value). It's everyday, run-of-the-mill, laundry and scuffed-up jeans kind of art. Actually, I don't know if it's even art, but it's something that didn't exist yesterday. And the point is to get me working every day. Also, it's kind of like show and tell for music geeks.

I'm also trying to think of ways to adapt some of Keri Smith's ideas for music and sound (I love her book How to be an Explorer of the World: the Portable Life/Art Museum).

So, tonight I made a music sketch. It only took me 20 minutes or so (a self-imposed rule for everyday art, and because I've got a toddler: each session can only take between 15 and 60 minutes--for naptime and bedtime). I'm not showing the whole sketch because....well, I haven't decided if I want to show whole sketches or not....

It took up about a half page of staff paper, and was numbered 1-3 for different motifs. It's based on a magic scale (a scale based on a typical major or minor scale, where the root and fifth stay unchanged, but any other note in the scale can be altered). The pitches I used were: F, G-flat, A-flat, B-flat, C, D-flat, E/E-flat. So, similar to a D-flat major/B-flat minor scale but starting on F (I guess that makes it F phrygian. I love flat 2's).

The magic scale idea comes from W.A. Mathieu's The Listening Book, which is a book everyone should read, musician or not.

Anti-climactic, isn't it? Hopefully, after I sketch a few more, I'll record and post them. For fun. Also, to inspire other women musicians to do the same?

Monday, July 26, 2010

33 Going on 14

I just spent an amazing weekend at a friend's parents' house for her bachelorette party. They live on a lake and have beautiful, sprawling grounds with a deck, patio tables, huge firepit, and sandy beach. The weather was perfect--warm, dry, breezy, and blue-skied. Surprisingly, there were very few mosquitoes out, and it was a full-moon night.

Not only was it fun because of all the pontoonin', swimmin', and grillin' involved, but I felt like I was 14 again, just hanging out with friends and having a slumber party. We set up tents close to the water and ate a chocolate-raspberry ice-cream pie and gooey store-bought cupcakes by the fire. My bachelorette friend A and other friend C made a late-night cigarette run, and when A's mom asked where she was, we lied and said they ran to the store to buy more tonic water. We're all over 30, for chrissakes--why did we lie to her mom about buying cigarettes?

Then, just as all of us ladies were about to fall asleep, A and S proposed a late-night pontoon ride (2am-ish) and swim. I hadn't jumped in the lake all day because it had been breezy, but the evening was still and warm, with the full moon blazing over the water. We were the only ones out on the water so the lights stayed off. Only 3 out of 7 of us jumped in, and I'm glad I did. It felt like some sort of ancient pagan pre-wedding ritual, with the moonlight blue on our skins.

Earlier in the day, we stopped to "borrow" someone's lake trampoline, which felt very rebellious.

When we got back around 2:30am, A. grabbed a bottle of whiskey and a few of us retreated to a tent to read tarot cards and talk about relationship stuff (a very teenagery-thing to do, but which I never did as a teen because none of my friends did tarot and I didn't drink till I was in college, so I was catching up, in a way).

We fell asleep around 4:30 am.

The next morning and early afternoon we boated and swam some more, and layed out on our beach towels with a few bags of chips. It reminded me of hanging out with my cousin during the summer, where we'd sit on her porch after a day at the pool, and binge on Twix bars. I loved the laziness of it, and the guilt-free indulgence of non-stop junk food. A and S were singing Aerosmith songs, and later, on the ride home with A, I noticed she had a small collection of CDs in sleeves on the sun visors. For some reason it was so refreshing not to listen to music on an iPod, to hear the soft click of the CD being sucked into the stereo.

It's just what my soul needed. But I'm afraid I'm going to need this every weekend for the rest of the summer....

Anyone need a house-sitter for your lake-front home?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fun with Templates!

Changed the look again, just for fun. I'll probably change it again in a few weeks.

Oh, by the way, I'm still here. I haven't posted lately because I feel like I have to post a picture to keep my readers interested, but most of the time I'm too lazy to add a picture, so I don't post at all.

Here's a picture, just for fun:

A butterfly on a license plate. Taken months ago, probably around Easter.

This reminds me of last Monday, when we went over to a friend's apartment for dinner. She's a composer friend of mine from Spokane, who moved here to take advantage of all the wonderful cultural opportunities the cities have to offer. Anyway, there was a period of time after dinner when her three elementary-school-aged kids were showing us all their creative skills and hobbies. Little girl W was showing us her fairy book and stuffed animals and how she can change a baby's diaper (she changed E's diaper and did a very good job).  She also drew a picture of E. using a peach colored pencil. Then, eleven-year-old boy T showed us his miniature skateboards, trucks and cars (mostly for E's benefit), and also his dead insect collection (very impressive: butterflies, wasps, beetles) and his living frog/snail collection. Then he entertained us with some free-improv on the accordion, and then showed us some tricks his robot dog could do, all the while wearing Star-trek-like 80s glasses. While this was going on, 12-yr-old boy C played some Philip Glass etudes on the antique upright piano (and then later from the organ in his bedroom). Then dad W played some Hotel California and misc. Led Zepplin on the classical guitar.

Have you ever heard of a more creative family? I love it. BTW, these kiddos are homeschooled, so I wonder if that has anything to do with their unbridled imaginations. There was no TV or computer in sight (maybe hidden away when the necessity arises?), but an abundance of instruments, books, and toys.

But that's not to say schooled children are any less creative (deep down). I think the lack of creativity/energy in many kids has to do with the amounts of TV watched, video-games played, and sugar consumed. Also, the lack of unstructured (outdoor!) playtime due to excessive homework/busywork and scheduled activities (including piano lessons, sports practice, etc).

I'm thinking about all these things because in a few years E will be ready for preschool/kindergarten. We'll try school, because we might find a good one that he likes, with a fabulous teacher. But he also might do better in a non-school learning atmosphere. We'll see.

Books--amazing old and out-of-print books from the South St. Paul library. See my post at my other blog:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What if I.....

Starting tomorrow (or sometime in the near future), what if I:

--became vegan?
--joined the Unitarian Univeralist church (or became part of something else uplifting/enlightened)?
--moved to the country (or at least spent time in nature everyday)?
--practiced yoga everyday (exercised and meditated too)?
--wrote everyday?
--stopped playing classical music for 2 years (or any other written music--and focused instead on aural folk music)?
--used the internet just once a week (including checking email)?
--cooked more, baked more, gardened more, crafted more?
--got to know more neighbors?
--got out of the house more?
--joined a homeschooling group (I know, E's too young, but it's something I'll have to think about sooner or later.

I'm feeling like I need radical change for the better. If I did all these things, would I feel different? More connected? I think social media only enhances my feelings of loneliness--it's a poor substitute for real contact.

If I ate better, would my body feel lighter/younger/cleaner? Would I lessen my chances of contracting major diseases? It's just a little upsetting to hear of more young people (and old people, for that matter) getting cancer and having strokes.

If I did more things rather than thought about them, would my brain change? I've been reading that if you practice something daily (writing, meditation, music, crafting, gardening, etc.) it literally changes the structure of your brain. I like the idea of a daily practice.

Just wanting to feel different. Just wanting the world to look a little different.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lemon Cake and Tulips, Among Other Things

Happy Spring!

Or anyway, it feels like Spring. Last Sunday, the 14th,  was the first sunny and warm day in what feels like years. And daylight-savings-time made the day feel even more happy and bright.

Mom was in town, and we all went for an afternoon walk. El. wore his little camo shades, which made him look like a Muppet--a cute sleepy Muppet, and I snapped some pictures of the park, trees, and sky (I'll share later). Then mom and I drove to Minneapolis, to Birchbark books to take part in a bookclub meeting/dinner hosted by Louise Erdrich. It was lovely and surreal to be in her presence (she's taller than I expected--very monumental). She was very gracious and friendly, introducing herself to every table and leading a great discussion of William Trevor's Love and Summer.
The cafe served corned beef, cabbage, red potatoes, potato leek soup, savory herb scones, and mint ice-cream atop a brownie. It was a nice way to end the day.

This is a picture of a cake I made for mom's birthday last Wednesday. It was a Martha Stewart recipe for Lemon cake, with lemon curd filling (Joy of Cooking) and stabilized whipped cream frosting with candied lemons and pineapple flowers on top. It turned out really good and dense--not fluffy like a box mix, but really hardy--almost like a pound cake. Amazingly, the layers turned out even--a first for me. The powdered stabilizer, however, that I found in a packet at Lund's, didn't fully dissolve into the frosting, so there were little bits suspended in it. I smoothed it out through a strainer, which solved the problem. This same thing happened when I tried to use gelatin to stabilize the whipped cream. Has anyone had success with this method?

Brother H. sent the flowers--an arrangement of pink and white tulips and some long, magenta orchid-looking flowers. For once I had fresh flowers in the house, which looked so colorful next to the shamrock plant I had bought the day before.

Last Thursday mom and I went to see My Antonia at the Illusion Theater. Other than driving around forever trying to find the darn place (it was on the 8th floor of a historic-looking building) the evening was...wistful. What is it about this novel that I identify so much with? Maybe because it's such a Nebraska story, or that Antonia could have been my great-great-great grandmother, or that the characters share such small yet beautiful moments that stay in your psyche---whatever it is, I couldn't help but weep towards the end when Jim returns to Nebraska to see Antonia for the first time in 20 years.

I felt like the play was well-written, but I couldn't help but wonder why try to tackle this huge, sweeping novel in a period of an hour-and-a-half? Why not write something original that captures the spirit of the book rather than the book itself? Anyway, it was successful, I think--with a minimal set with projections of the prairie (of course) and movable wooden set pieces. I loved the original music. There was a little trio off to the side, and I absolutely loved the woman who played violin and guitar, and then came on stage to play a minor role in her twirly blonde curls and long denim skirt. I thought she was just dressed like that for the spirit of the play--I had no idea she was a character--and I felt like I wanted to be like her.....some sort of urban cowgirl folk musician with blonde curls.....

This last week was really nice--time spent with mom--and some sunny warm days.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Mmmm....Girl Scout Cookies....

Wow, I was really productive today.

I fixed dinner: bulgur and tomatoes, sauteed kale with garlic, steamed yams. Then I swept and mopped the kitchen floor, swept the living room floor, cleaned the upstairs bathroom, put dishes away, and made vegan oatmeal cranberry cookies (does this make it sound like I'm a health nut? I guess I forgot to mention the half-dozen Girl Scout cookies I had for dessert).

And now I'm writing. The day is complete. Although I don't feel ready for bed yet, with all the sugar flowing through my veins. I was thinking earlier---I don't want to see Girl Scout cookies go away, but don't you think it's about time the G. Scouts made their own damn cookies? Have you ever looked at the ingredients on a box of Samoas, or Do-Si-Dos? All I can say is trans fats. Maybe it's okay since they only come out once a year, but I'd kinda like to see the G.S. doing away with this cookie-selling image they have. I mean, is that all they do other than stay at cabins and ride horses? Do they even go camping and learn how to build a fire, pitch a tent, and make a hobo dinner with tin-foil like the Boy Scouts do? What do the B.S. have to sell? Why can't they sell cookies too? I always wanted to be a G.S. but do they do anything cool anymore? I have a Girl Scout book from the 20s, and it looks like not only did they learn the domestic arts, but they also learned Semaphore, Morse Code, wild food foraging, tying bandages for different parts of the body, mountain climbing, orienteering, map-making, and tying knots. Those are the skills I wish I had. I wonder if there is a club for adults who want to be G.S.?

Oh yeah, going back to why I was so productive this evening---I'm hosting a mommy meetup tomorrow, so the house has got to look decent. And I wanted to impress them with homemade cookies. Tomorrow morning I'll make scones to add to the snack table. What is it about scones that are so welcoming? Sometimes I think it would be neat to run a B&B, but really, the only part of it I would truly enjoy is the baking for my guests. I'd make kolaches, Swedish tea rings, Icelandic coffee wreaths, butterhorn rolls, and of course scones--candied ginger scones, currant cream scones, oatmeal anise scones....with cute little butter pats in the shape of animals alongside them on a china plate.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunny book club meeting turns blue

I spent a lovely afternoon with my book club friends, discussing The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon over coffee, quiche, shortbread (made by me--my first time ever), and delicious gluten-free lemon lavender cookies. We sat around a rectangular table in a sunny yellow dining room that had exposed wood moldings and a built-in buffet with a mirror. I love turn-of-the-century homes---wood floors, built-in-bookcases, and leaded windows. B's baby boy made cute gurgly yummy noises with each bite of sweet potato and rice cereal. Conversation lasted about three hours, and as usual I probably gabbed too much because I was high on caffeine (and also woefully short on adult conversation these days). The day was warm and sunny and felt almost spring-like. By our next book club meeting, it will be spring.

As usual, we talked about the book for maybe 20 minutes and then lapsed into a deep and somewhat depressing conversation about the state of our low-paying, unsatisfying jobs with little-to-no maternity/paternity leave or other health and family benefits. The burden of student loans came up too---loans for educations that didn't get us where we wanted to go, due to poor academic advising, or non-existent preparation for making it as a humanities major (practical skills like how to write a grant or market your work, etc).

It all made me wonder, why does it have to be this way? Why do we put up with incompetent managers, low wages, lack of decent benefits, and 50 hour or more work-weeks? Because I've been mostly self-employed for the last ten years, I'm not sure I could make it in a typical office-type job. I know I can't make it in retail or food service (been there, done that). I'm also realizing that the career I thought I wanted and trained for in college (school teacher--art education) I really don't want. There's lots of reasons for this, but mostly school culture scares me (there is such a dysfunctional relationship between parents, teachers, students, school staff, school board, and physical school environment that I couldn't possibly see how any school reform would work other than closing down all the schools and starting from scratch from a completely new model) and I'm very much an introvert who works better with people one-on-one (why I enjoy teaching private music lessons).

What if more people were self-employed? Started their own businesses? The reason why my friends stay in their jobs is because it offers stability: a constant paycheck. There's a lot to be said for stability and security (I wish I had more of it myself). But to see so many broken people who aren't using their talents to the fullest (myself included) or who have lost a sense of vocation (me too) is truly disheartening.

What's the answer? I don't know, but in my own life I'm trying to live by the wisdom of "Don't buy things you don't need with money you don't have." It's really hard. But I find that when I sleep on it, I don't go back and buy it the next day.

Also, if we could figure out how to live in villages again (I now know what it means when they said it takes a village to raise a child. I'm also beginning to believe that stay-at-home-alone-with-your-fussy-toddler-motherdom is as unnatural as putting your child in daycare for 40 hours a week. But that's another topic for another day...). If we lived in villages (okay let's call it what it is: a commune) and worked, played, cooked, raised children, etc. together on a small acreage somewhere--I think this would solve a lot of social ills. Yeah, there are lots of problems to living on a commune too, but if you lived by people you actually liked, then it would be fun (I think) and would eliminate the crappy-job syndrome/maternity leave problem that is plaguing many of my Gen X friends.

But today's book club meeting was truly lovely. Time spent with friends over coffee is a too-rare occurrence in my life.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Little Domesticities

I'm so excited about this new blog header picture. The fabric is a toaster cover my Grandma B. from Nebraska made who knows how long ago (the 60's?). Notice the scalloped machine edging. Did this brightly-colored fabric come from a fabulous shift dress? I hope so. The white cow is a little creamer I bought in Portland OR, one of my favorite cities. I love it when people come to stay because I have an excuse to use the little creamer. I take immense pleasure in filling it up with half-n-half and watching the white liquid pour out of its mouth into a steaming cup of coffee.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Yeah, I changed my template again. I was hoping for a more spring-like color. Spring can't come soon enough.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Remembering Eugene

Lately I've been thinking about Eugene, Oregon. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's part of some 7-year cycle. Maybe it has something to do with the non-stop snow and cold here, and I'm remembering 40-degree, rainy winters (which aren't much better. At least here it's sunny some days).

I feel like while I was there I didn't fully appreciate the place. We were poor. K was going to grad school, I was working at this coffee shop with horrible young managers who made me feel like I was an incompetent 10-year-old who had no idea how to slice oranges or put together a tuna melt sandwich. I was also a nanny for a family where both parents were doctors. I loved the kids, who were in 2nd and 3rd grade at the time, and the parents were very nice, but I always felt a little out of my element, working for the rich people who lived on the hill. They paid me well and were very kind to me, but I couldn't help but feel like some sort of servant when K and I were hired to rake the leaves from their expansive lawn (when their children were perfectly capable of helping out).

Or maybe being poor wasn't the issue. A lot of it had to do with the fact we had just moved far away from close friends and family, and we didn't know a soul in Oregon, other than my cousin and her husband who lived in Portland. It was hard leaving my two fun jobs in the cities--teaching music at a studio and working at a coffee shop, where I met some friends I still have to this day. We'd spend our shift working the NY Times crossword puzzle or debating educational issues while drinking the unlimited coffee that was allowed us during our shifts. The customers in the morning tended to be middle-aged professionals who tipped well and ordered the same things everyday, making our lives easy. I still remember the triple-shot espresso with whipped cream guy, who always wore a red plaid flannel shirt and had major bags under his eyes, and the nice-looking woman who always ordered a chocolate croissant. I got to see the sunrise on my walk there, and leave with at least $20 in tips for the day. Contrast that with the yucky coffee shop in Eugene, which was very corporate and forced its employees to memorize every single drink on the menu which was more extensive than the typical latte, cappuccino, espresso fare. This company had invented variations upon variations of drinks that involved different types of syrups, milks, temperatures, shots, and garnishes. Come on. I refused to memorize it and jumped at the chance to work in the back preparing sandwiches and salads.

But looking back, it's not the lack of money or crappy jobs we had that stands out. What I remember is seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time---how it was enormous and gray and fishy-smelling and windy and cold and rocky and totally overwhelming and beautiful. We walked along the beach and took photos of the sky reflected in pockets of water that lay in zebra patterns across the sand. The ocean was silver, and the sun a pale yellow among gray-purple clouds. Watching the mist roll in, and seals popping their heads out of the water, their eyes large and doe-like, sniffing the air like dogs and then somersaulting back underneath the waves. We would visit the ocean as much as possible because we knew we'd move away from it someday.

What I also loved about Eugene was the abundance of cheap, organic produce; the huge Saturday market which was an explosion of food, herbs, crafts, dreads, and drum circles; the beautiful big library they built while we were living there (I remember being amazed at the book drop, which was an automated electric belt that ate your books when you fed it); and the people we met while we were there. They were all students at the U and from somewhere else, but they were really good people. We sang karaoke in our friend's parent's basement, and I'll never forget K and our friend D singing Rawhide, or friend J writhing on the floor with the mic and screaching the National Anthem. Or the vegetarian cookouts with the singing and playing of guitars, and my friend's collection of Felix the Cat trinkets. The most amazing cup of espresso I've ever had was at a bakery in Eugene. The place looked old-fashioned with its white subway tiles and schoolhouse lights. I went there only once, and it was with another good friend. We sat there and talked in the sunlight on a Sunday morning and nibbled on danishes and sipped our whole-milk lattes.

We also had the best kitchen we've ever had. We lived on the top floor of a duplex with cute sloping ceilings and a view of a butte (the name escapes me--Spencer's butte or something). Our kitchen was huge and white, with abundant counter and storage space, and a large window looking out into the back yard where we watched high school kids smoke in the alley. We slept in the closet of the bedroom, which was shaped like a tent and was big enough for our queen-sized bed. Someone had painted the walls sapphire blue and mold grew on the ceiling, but we had a little square window above our bed to let the breeze in while we slept.

It was in Eugene that I started writing more, and going to different coffee shops to do it--places next to the U where I could be anonymous among the many students--and also close to the U's bookstore which sold tons of notebooks and pens.

It was in Eugene that I had the best flute teacher I've ever had--a doctoral student who was close to my age and wore colorful, flowy hippie shirts, had ridiculously long blond hair, laughed and snorted a lot, and was the best pool player I've ever seen. I can still see her, flying through the fastest scale I've ever heard, in her living room draped with Indian bedspreads and shelves full of music books.

I guess I could go on and on. As I write, I think about more things I enjoyed about Eugene (the green hills, the bright pink rhododendrons, the train ride we took to Portland for a day, the mossy dank forests, the hot springs we drove to, the amazing church I attended that had a water fountain and a large picture window behind the altar looking out onto a field of trees and hills, the late-night vegan bakery, the amazing bike lanes, etc....).

Maybe I'm thinking about Eugene because I don't want my adventures to be over. Now that we've come full circle and are back in MN again, I'm feeling settled for once in my life. Which is what we've been wanting for awhile--a place to put down roots. But it's scary too. Will we have a new place to look forward to again? A new place to explore? New friends to meet? Do these things get less important as you get older?

Friday, January 01, 2010

2009: A Summary

January 14: Elliot was born.

April: We moved back to Minnesota (driving in our car with a baby and a dog).

June/July: Went to see a dear friend who was dying of cancer--age 32; then went to her funeral.

August: Moved into our new house.

September: Hear news that my father-in-law has TB, and that we all have to get tested.

November 4: K fired from new job he just got in April.

November 30: I came down with H1N1.

December 1: My 33rd b-day.

December 22: Drive home to NE for Christmas with family. Slippery, scary roads. Still coughing.

December 22-27: Lovely holiday with family.

December 28: Drive back to MN: some slippery patches; cars upside-down in ditches from the
days before, during the blizzard.

December 31: A quiet New Year's Eve at home: knitting, Flight of the Conchords, reading, tarot.
I made K stay up with me until midnight. Then we went to bed.

Here's to 2010---a hopefully very uneventful year.