Monday, July 28, 2014

It takes a while to learn this,

but there are many ways to give a gift. And so few gifts, it turns out, require what you think they require.

Sometimes—like on a Monday evening following a late-night homecoming from a good but tiring vacation—a gift looks like this, all fresh and sending its aroma everywhere:

and a bowl full of this kind of sweetness:

and celebrating pizza-movie night four days early
while clothes tumble clean in the basement.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Maybe you are a dreamer, but you get tired sometimes. You fight discouragement. And you dream, yes, and you Do, as well, but your hands feel so busy weaving together dream and reality…

And when they come to you, saying, We want to plant a garden! We want to grow vegetables! you remember when you had this dream of working the ground and pulling nourishment from the earth, plucking goodness from green stems. (They were going to help, but they did not. You were the Little Red Hen, out there alone planting, pulling weeds, and in the end watching your work, your beautiful plants, disappear bit by bit, eaten by deer and rabbits. You enjoyed your bounty alone, not that you didn’t try to share: 7 cherry tomatoes, 3 lemon cucumbers, 2 pumpkins. In the end you decided you had more important dreams to attend to.)

So they come to you with this dream and you remind them of yours and how it turned out. You give them your blessing but tell them they’re on their own for this one. You will focus on other dreams.

And they plant their garden, and not the way you would have done it.

And it grows.

Somehow this crazy, barely-planned, not-how-you-would-do-it garden does beautiful wild things, despite the rabbits. The plants bring forth jewels, and regularly you are called outside to admire their progress. Sometimes you go and check all on your own. You start to dream of all the things you can make with what they’ve grown, of all the goodness you can sit and eat together.

One day they bring in the largest zucchini you have ever seen and ask you to make zucchini bread. You would love to. You might even throw in chocolate chips.

They wait almost patiently when the bread is in the oven, even though it is late for breakfast. The kitchen on this cool summer day grows full and heavy with the scent of it, and you pull out heavy hot loaves, nutty brown flecked with green. It is good. You eat slowly.

It turns out you do not have to do all the dreaming.

Even so there is weaving to do, and now your hands feel rested.

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Monday, July 14, 2014


We followed up our girls’ week at the Chicago Suzuki Institute with a week in Minneapolis—all five of us—while Oldest attended Voice Camp at MacPhail Center for Music. Minneapolis, it is safe to say, remains the city closest to my heart: there are lakes with accompanying parkways and paths that will always be mine; parks, a library, a creek, and food that feel like home; family and friends I miss all but a few days out of each year.

All those things were wonderful and welcoming for this trip, plus Oldest got to sing his heart out. We returned home exhausted but full.

Two extra things I particularly loved about this visit: Little Free Libraries popping up everywhere, and the yarn bombs we discovered while walking, running, driving. Both spoke of community, and beauty, and chance encounters/connection. I want to scatter both all over my adopted city.


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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Outdoor Stage, Alone

Cottonwood seeds floating, sun shining. Water rushing in the background.

What do you do with this wide-open space? The twirls feel stiff at first, but they loosen quickly. The stage is all yours, and it does not take long to open your arms to it; it does not take long for the songs to break free from your throat. Anything can happenwhatever you wish. 

Enjoy the sun warming your shoulders, blessing these minutes, these twirls, these songs.

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Monday, July 7, 2014


Some stars disappear when you look at them straight on. Pale glints in your peripheral vision when you look up, they slide into blackness when you turn your eyes toward them. The issue is in our eyes: the cones concentrated in the central part of the cornea—the part we use when we look at something head-on—do not pick up the dim light that the rods around the edges of the cornea do. Regardless of the constancy of what we're looking at, we are stuck with what our eyes can see: stars-like-phantoms. They must be approached sideways, and gently.

It’s not just stars, though.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for months—the sideways-ness of things.

It is ever-present in teaching, especially so for me this past year, working with a small group of children every day. Threaded all through the process of learning violin are other things: how we treat one another, how we handle problems, how we respond to frustration. How we show love and respect and kindness. How we create and respond to beauty. How we learn to discipline our fingers, our ears, our mouths, our minds. How we simply learn one another and build relationships—complicated, real, and gritty.

This is why I find it hard to write about teaching. It is personal, ongoing, complex. It is also universal. The fact that I can focus on one thing—learning to play violin—is very helpful, because I can rule out Everything Else. Except I draw on Everything Else to do it—faith, psychology, physics, storytelling, eating Dorito’s—everything. And then of course it turns out that learning violin touches everything else. Try to nail the whole thing down, narrow it, look at it too directly, and you start to lose sight of certain things. Sometimes you have no choice but to approach sideways, gently.

It’s fair, I think, to start wondering which is the true artthe direct work or the sideways, the music or the people working on the music? It’s both things at once of course, but it’s worth considering what you might see when you shift your focus, and what is most important to you to see in the end. 

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What I'm Doing This Week

I’m not sure why I thought I’d get a lot of writing in this week. I am at the Chicago Suzuki Institute with my daughters, filling up on music and technique and new friends and Everything Violin. And—most importantly—reminding myself why we’re doing this in the first place (We are doing this in order to grow, in order to become better human beings. Music, you see, is the medium as much as it is the final product, the art, itself. And our lives—they are the true art.)

Those are noble words. The actual work they describe is awkward and messy and really stinking hard, but it is interspersed with these wonderful moments. Kind of like practicing violin, itself, which when done right is not at all romantic, but instead involves things like practicing the same two notes over and over until they can be played well, and then over and over many times more, until they will never sound ugly again. You don’t necessarily want to be in the room for this process, but the results are worth it. 

There has been music-making this week, and understanding, and beauty. 

We are enjoying ourselves and also bordering on wiped-out. In my characteristic, extremely relationship-oriented/extremely introverted way, I half want to absorb more/connect more/converse more, half want to hide somewhere with a book. One daughter, apparently, talks in her sleep. (“Mom,” a voice just informed me out of the dark of our dorm room, “there are two butterflies in here.”) And to be honest, our moments of beauty and understanding are balanced with healthy doses of snippiness.

Overall though, I feel like we have been able to relax more this year. I prepared myself ahead of time for the comparison game—not that I’m not tempted to play (I am) but I am also (mostly) able to see it for what it is. I resolved early on that frog catching/rescuing (they are tiny and everywhere, crossing the sidewalks like ants,) as well as extra desserts, would be part of our daily schedule along with practicing and brushing teeth. And—luxury of luxuries—I brought an air mattress with me this year. Sleeping on the floor won’t hurt. This is all very good.

This feeling that there’s so much here, that I can’t possibly process it all, that I also don’t want to stop trying to process it all—that must be a good sign. This too, I think, is why we are here.

More about our Suzuki institute and workshop experiences here.

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