Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bumming a Lesson

Liesl had a wonderful opportunity to be part of a beginner's violin class held by our teacher through our city's enrichment and community education programs. Instead of being a student, though, she showed up a few times during the session as a teacher's assistant. It was a great experience for everybody--Liesl got to show off her violin skills to a group of students ages 4-12, and she was also able to be in a social/educational environment that was fun and focused on music. She also got to practice and re-focus on basic skills. But I think the best part was the huge boost to her self-confidence--hey, you may be only 3, but just look what you can DO. It was a role she enjoyed tremendously, and I wouldn't be a human mom if I didn't admit that I was extremely proud of her. And when Miss Sharon asked if anyone would like to demonstrate a particular skill, guess whose little 1/16 bow shot up in the air first?

After the 12-session class ended, all of Miss Sharon's beginning students had an opportunity to perform in last Sunday's recital (and enjoy the dessert reception afterwards!) It was a really fun and educational experiance for the kids, and, I hope, their parents as well.

Waiting with another private student while they watch Kayla, left, perform and demonstrate a piece for the class. Kayla took this beginner's class two years ago and has been taking private lessons ever since. She is now a very talented and dedicated violinist--and a very nice young lady to boot.

Participating in the class...and showing how it's done.

Practicing game cards with the other students. She could have sat up with the other T.A.'s, but she chose to sit with the students so she had an opportunity to shout out the names with all of the kids.

Never mind that she's scratching her behind.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Liesl's 7th Violin Recital (and the Cupcakes it Inspired)

"Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" Theme
Variation D of "Twinkle" (16th notes)

I've said before that our violin teacher goes above and beyond the norm in many ways; one of them is that she has recitals every month instead of just once or twice a year. The recital classes are a bit more relaxed than most recitals I have attended, they are a safe place to practice performing in front of a crowd. And there is always a reception afterwards with treats and goodies, so that the kids have a chance to relax, socialize, and catch up with each other. (It's a nice time for us violin moms and dads to catch up and exchange ideas as well.)

Liesl had a bit of a rough patch as far as practicing goes for the last month. She was balking, acting like she didn't know basic musical terms (when in fact she would recite these things to herself when she thought we couldn't hear her), and generally not having the best of practice sessions. I was concerned, and, if I was being honest, worried...I am so used to her being such a good student with very few bumps in the road, even for a 3 year-old. I shouldn't have worried. After about 4 solid weeks of lousy practices, recalcitrant attitudes during lessons, whining, stomping, and that reverberating "Nnnnnnnn..NO!!!!!!" that is so common with preschoolers; Liesl got up on stage today and decided to just wow the pants off of everybody. We had a new pianist at today's recital, whom we really enjoyed meeting and working with--she is the pre-K music teacher at a prestigious private school in our area.

And afterwards? The potluck reception! Violin, schmiolin...the real reason I love these monthly recitals is that it gives me an excuse to bake.

I got the idea for monarch butterfly cupcakes from a book I borrowed from the library, "Hello, Cupcake!" It had some amazingly cute animal ideas in it, but the idea that grabbed me was a swarm of these adorable and beautiful butterflies. I had to try them.
Above is my test cupcake. The body didn't come out as well for this cupcake as the final products did. Other than that, I was not disappointed in the final outcome.

Finished cupcakes on the stand. I had to tote the cupcakes, stand, wings, M&M's, a pastry bag full of chocolate frosting (for piping the butterflies' bodies), and the antennae in separate containers, and assemble everything on the site. The butterflies needed to be assembled with the cakes on the stand so that I could make sure the wings wouldn't bonk into each other when I set them up.

Another closeup. I assembled everything on the stand except the top cupcake, and moved the stand with all of the assembled cupcakes from my work surface over to the serving table. It was frickin' nerve-wracking, I was so afraid I was going to drop the whole thing. Some of the cakes have two small butterflies instead of one large one. The kids fought over these.

On the top cupcake, you can see the peanut M&M's I used to support each wing.

These were a HUGE hit at the reception following the recital. I had so much fun making them, but they were a LOT of work. I will probably not make these again for a long time, until my kids are old enough to either help or at least respect the process.

It's Never Too Early...

...to start practicing your piano scales.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Birthday Party

Today we celebrated my dear friend Colleen's 40th birthday in a new kind of style: She hosted a run/walk/bike 5k at her home. We ran through the streets of Farmington on a pre-designed course that ended at her house.

Tom joined us and biked the route with our girls in tow, so they have technically participated in their first race. (The fact that they were both screaming throughout most of it will be politely ignored.) Afterwards we got to hang out with Colleen and her friends and family, as well as her assertive and fun-loving children, where we had a continental breakfast and, ironically, cake. (Healthy lifestyle or not, what's a birthday party without cake?!?)

Truly one of the neatest birthday parties I have been to! Happy Birthday to Colleen, who is truly "40 and Sporty!"

Liesl was so proud to get her own race bib.

Some of my FAMC peeps showed up as well:
Maria (on the bike), Kristen (in green), and Roxana (in blue)
And that tiny little helmet-clad blue thing on the right...that's Ava.

The girls ready for the starting line. And Tom, who was pretty much along for the ride.
Yuk, yuk, yuk.

The birthday girl (in green) describing the route, which she also marked on the sidewalk in chalk.

I feel pretty. Oh so pretty.

My family enjoying the party and having breakfast. (And cake.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009


My dearest, closest friend of 20 years (yikes!), Amy, who is also Liesl's godmother, accompanied the girls and I to the Detroit Zoo last Monday. I finally bought a family membership this spring, since it is almost as short a drive to the Zoo as it is to most of our favorite parks, and let's face it...seeing the Zoo through the eyes of tiny kids is magical. So Amy and I packed a picnic lunch, slathered the girls and ourselves with sunscreen, and headed out to the Zoo.

In case you haven't hung around us for a while (or at all), it would behoove you to know that Liesl's favorite animal is a hippopotamus. Not ponies, not kitties, not puppies or birdies or butterflies...a hippopotamus. And she has stayed consistent with that opinion for almost a year. So naturally, when we arrived to the Zoo, Amy, Ava and I were treated to a verbal onslaught of one single, incredibly important request: "Can we see the hippo first? Can we see the hippo first? Can we see the hippo first? Can we see the hippo first?" (ad nauseum)

Why, oh why must the hippo be located so far away from the entrance? Can't they move him to that wonderful fountain that runs through the middle of the Zoo...close to the entrance? It’s a very lovely fountain, I’m sure he’d be happy there....

I wish I had gotten a few more pictures of some of the animals we visited, but even with the incredibly helpful Amy on our team, our hands were quite full. The good news is, though, since we live so close to the Zoo and have our family membership, we can go back as many times as we want. We've already been 3 times since purchasing our membership, and we plan to visit again very soon.

Please, oh please let them move the hippo to the front of the Zoo before then.

Amy and Liesl hanging out by the hippo enclosure. This was the first chance I had to get my camera out, because god almighty, we sure as shootin' weren't going to stop to get out the camera, much less take a breath, before Liesl got to the hippo.

Amy wanted a picture of the girls sitting still together.

Yeah. Good luck with that.

I just love giraffes. Maybe not as much as Liesl loves hippos--I don't think that's humanly (or hippoly) possible--but nonetheless, our little group spent quite a lot of time with the giraffes.

After the hippo, of course.

Ava and Amy cuddling at my house after a much-needed afternoon nap.

If You Can't Take the Heat, Get Out of My Garage

I've been part of a co-op buying group that purchases bulk natural and health food items from Country Life Natural Foods for about 3 years now, ever since I have been milling my own wheat and grains for my family's breads. I started also buying beans, cereals, dried fruits, yeast, carob chips, and other goodies, since their prices are so good and the food quality is so high. My old co-op got way too big, and the coordinator--a very patient, giving, and kind woman--started needing to charge us a processing fee for items we bought, since it was taking her and her 5 children an entire day to sort and divide the order. Now my friend Christine and I set up our own very small, very informal co-op, and this month was my turn to place and receive the order.

Only 4 families ordered this month, but I keep forgetting--I have the fewest number of children, so my order was piddly compared to others'. If anyone needs 25 pounds of lentils or 50 pounds of brown rice, lemme know...we do an order every few months. :-)

The delivery truck, and J.D., the driver for our route, who is my new best friend. One of the nicest truck drivers I have ever met. One of the nicest GUYS I have ever met. We had a chat for about half an hour about cooking healthy foods and gardening...he's a fellow gardener so of course we had to go poking and pulling around Tom's and my veggie plots.

A total of 54 items...I'm guessing the total weight of our order was around 700 pounds. I considered this my cross-training activity for the day.

I divided it up and checked it in after J.D. left. He was kind enough to be very early, so I was able to receive and split the order while my girls were napping. It was actually a very peaceful job. I could have been inside playing on the computer or doing laundry, but instead, I was sorting 25-pound bags of organic oatmeal and beans--and loving it. Who knew?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mama Knows Breast

When I was a brand-new mother, nursing a tiny infant and trying to balance the newness of motherhood with my own needs, I often watched Food Network while Liesl nursed. I kept telling people that I was watching episodes of "Iron Chef America" while I nursed Baby Liesl so that the food knowledge would seep out of my brain, into the breastmilk, and into Liesl's system very early in life. But I had an ulterior motive: It was just my excuse to watch the show myself and give myself a break while Liesl nursed, and she nursed constantly as a newborn. I'm fairly certain that nobody actually bought the lie.

Little did I know that my story would actually work:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thinking Dining Out of the Box

Liesl and I had a very nice treat today (in more ways than one!) We joined a few of our fellow violin students and their moms, as well as Miss Sharon and her extremely patient and kind husband, David, for lunch at the Shangri-La in West Bloomfield. And what a lunch it was. It is the first time I have eaten dim sum, and under the advisement of Ann's mom, who is Chinese, we tried bites of little delicacies that I don't think I would have ordered on my own: pan-fried turnip cakes, shrimp rolls, Chinese vegetables, and one really delicious noodle dish with green onions and mung bean sprouts, as well as other ingredients. (I also ate some things that I am not exactly sure what they were...but I don't care!) And Liesl tried bites of many dishes--she even asked for tea, and had a 2nd cup. We MUST go back to that restaurant and take Daddy and Ava in the very near future. It was wonderful.

If the food was great, the company was better: Ann and Kelly are talented violinists, not to mention bright, fun, and witty young ladies. Their moms are wonderful people too. I was a bit nervous about taking Liesl to a "nice" restaurant--read: not Max and Erma's or Red Robin--but she couldn't have been more angelic. (I kept checking her for a pulse.) I am sure the novelty of going out to lunch with the big kids and Miss Sharon had something to do with that, but she really was on her very best behavior. We heard stories of Kelly's recent trip to Washington D.C., and Ann's 4-week class at the Interlochen Arts Camp's advanced violin program. And if you've never seen a 7 year-old and an 11 year-old give a 3 year-old a tutorial on how to use chopsticks...well, you haven't lived. Throughout the entire meal I was bemoaning the fact that I had forgotten my camera.

Ann is headed to China with her mom for several months, and we will miss her very much. (Who will pick on me about practicing my vibrato and make sure I don't eat too many cookies at chamber rehearsals?!?!?) But she is lucky to have this chance to live in another country for a few months, and we will look forward to her return in November.

Thank you all for a wonderful meal and a very pleasant afternoon!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

Perpetuum Jazzile

A friend sent me this clip and I can't get enough of it. It is completely vocal (and manual, for the first part), no instruments used at all except those provided by the human body. I am clueless about vocal music--I couldn't carry a tune with a forklift--but even I can appreciate how intricate and detailed this interpretation is.

It doesn't hurt that it's one of my favorite songs from my childhood. I admit it. I'm hopelessly stuck in the '80's.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Good Food, Great Company

We love to cook, but once in a while we really enjoy takeout. That's an understatement. Lately, however, we've been having to tighten up our belts even more. Tom took a pay cut, our bills are going up, our insurance copays took a huge jump. And I am not complaining, mind. He still has a job, and we have everything we need, as well as a few comforts and luxuries.

Still...we've had to make a few changes. Having a weekly date night without kids is absolutely vital to our marriage. Hiring a sitter and going out every weekend was never financially possible, so we improvised. Our Saturday night in-house date night used to consist of takeout, often pizza from a local deli that now knows us by name. We'd pick up the house, feed the kids dinner and put them to bed early, order takeout, pop in a DVD from the library or get out a board game, and enjoy a peaceful and unrushed meal together. (It's probably a bad thing that Bella Vita answered their phone with, "Hey, Tom! Your Saturday night usual?")

Until the auto industry is more stable, this, too, is a thing of the past. But today, Tom said he had a hankering for the Third Street salad at Max and Erma's. So we did a little research and put together a recipe for dressing that very closely matched Max and Erma's, and even conjured up a great seasoned almond recipe for crispy, spicy almonds just like Max and Erma sprinkle on their Third Street salad.

So here it is: Our dressing creation and soy sauce-toasted almonds, put together with crumbled bleu cheese, bacon (everything is better with bacon), grilled chicken, red onion and dried cranberries:

(Hint: Starbucks Frappuccino bottles are great for storing homemade salad dressings.) The salad went really well with a batch of naan that I made from pre-risen, high-moisture bread dough in our fridge that I have been experimenting with. And the very inexpensive bottle of Pinot Grigio didn't hurt the ambiance one bit.

The nice thing is, once the kids are in bed, cooking and eating a meal is a completely different experience. It's like a blast from our past, when we had so fewer cares and copious amounts of free time. (The free time was something we couldn't fully comprehend until it was taken away. But that's par for the parenting course.) We can talk, slow down, experiment with ingredients. We can have a conversation that doesn't include "Stop beating your sister's head with the pizza peal" or "Who tried to stuff their peas in the salt shaker?" We can, if the mood strikes us, relax in total and utter silence. Not that we don't love our nightly family dinners with our darling (but sometimes loud and cranky) urchins. Every once in a while, though, it is heavenly to leisurely cook and peacefully eat a meal with someone you love.

In the meantime, I should probably ring Bella Vita and let them know we still love them...we just won't be calling every Saturday night anymore.

Three Chicks in the Kitchen: Liesl and Ava helping by very carefully and thoroughly (really!) painting the egg wash onto the challah. It helps that this really is like painting.

Sprinkling poppy seeds on the finished loaf.
I had poppy seeds alllllllll over the house after this one.
Oh well. I didn't become a mother because I wanted to be precious about a perfectly clean house.
Enjoying the fruits of her labor

I tried to get a photo of Ava eating the challah, but the camera is not as fast as her mouth. This is (or was) the 3rd loaf of challah we have made in the last two weeks. Our family loves it, and the loaves don't see the end of the meal.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Little Fishie

Being dry is overrated. Liesl's very first swimming lesson was today and it was, um, a splash. (Sorry. I just had to do it.) There were a few snags in the beginning before we even headed to the pool:

"Liesl, guess what I signed you up for!"
"Swimming lessons!"
(A brief pause, and then she bursts into tears)
"Honey, what's wrong?!?"
"...Why I'm not going to violin lessons anymore???" Sniff. Sniff. Sob.

After clarification that it is possible to take more than one kind of lesson at a time (indeed, many of my generation have extended this possibility to the maximum, a mistake I don't intend to duplicate), she was all ears. And then we showed up at the Costick Center for swimming, which, to add a bit more confusion to the duo-lesson quandary, is the same venue as most of her violin recitals. Liesl, excited and eager, suddenly comes to a dead stop in the hallway, looks at me, and admits sheepishly, "I forgot my violin." Back to the drawing board.

But once the violin/pool skirmish was cleared, we hit the pool deck with gusto, and waited for our swimming teacher. And waited. And waited and waited and waited. "Can I get in now, Mommy?....How about now?....Mommy, can I go in the pool?...Mommy, where is my teacher?...Mommy, can I get in now?...." Mind you, this wasn't her teacher's fault--it was mine. A tip: Do NOT show up 10 minutes early for swimming lessons with a 3 year-old.

So now all confusions were dealt with, and Little Miss Fearless was finally able to get into the water. She delighted in the pool, loved her teacher, and enjoyed chatting up the other preschool students. The whole experience went--dare I say it?--swimmingly.

FINALLY in the pool, and loving it

"Lookit me in my swimming lesson, Mommy!"

Learning to kick with the feet

Miss Lindsay showing how to blow bubbles with your face in the water...

...and Liesl following suit. Good girl!

The swimming lesson grand finale: Jumping in the pool at the end.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Blessing of Friends (and Beer)

We were invited to a last-minute cookout at Christine's house on Sunday afternoon. Since Tom went to help his friend at the racetrack on July 4th, we didn't have any real family celebration for Independence Day, which bummed me out a little (I love holidays and celebrations), so this was a welcome diversion. We enjoyed the company of her and her husband, Mike (and Mike's home-brewed beers!!!!!!), and their 3.5 children, as well as our mutual friends Katy and Tony with their 2 children. The kids always love to get together, and the adults actually get to have discussions about important things like beer, religion, beer, cooking, beer, potty-training, beer, running, beer, gardening, and beer.

(In case you didn't gather this: The beer was pretty darned good. Thanks to Mike's influence, I see a homebrew setup in our basement in the very near future.)

Jakob giving Ava driving lessons

It's always a proud moment for a teacher when you see your student off on his/her own

Amalie and Ava playing together...they always gravitate towards each other.
And Peter, showing those nifty wirly-gig things that they found at Target.
Of course I'm going to have to get the same toy now. Thanks a lot, Katy.
(It's for the kids. Really.)

Baby Crack Swings

The kids' table. One of them, anyway.

Enjoying dessert. We have a few picky eaters in this group (one of them is mine), but NOBODY balks at dessert. (And it's a prime conversation opportunity for adults, because the kids are busying their mouths with something other than talking, and their hands with something other than mischief.)

Little Miss Molly's driving debut (and her proud Mommy actually letting go!)

Look, boys, don't start something if you can't finish it....

Sunday, July 5, 2009

3 Chicks & 4 Wheels

3 years ago, when Liesl was still an infant, I almost bought a bike trailer from a neighbor at their garage sale. The problem was, he was asking way too much for it ($85), and refused to bargain. So I chose not to buy it. Turned out to be a good decision, because that season, Liesl wasn't old enough, and the following season, I was pregnant again. My midwife said bike+pregnant woman=bad idea.

And so, lo and behold, this season we were gifted with a used 2-seat bike trailer in very good condition. Free! Used, so environmentally friendly! Both kids were old/strong enough to ride in it! Score!

I finally got it cleaned up and Tom showed me how to install it onto my bike. And in went the kids, resplendent in their shiny new bike helmets. At first, I was nervous that they would beat on each other while strapped together in very close quarters, but I needn't have worried. The novelty and the fresh air distracted them (mostly) from the fact that they were literally rubbing butt cheeks the entire time.

And the trailer rides so nicely! Liesl and Ava got such a kick out of being able to ride behind me, and to watch Daddy as he zoomed by us several times. (Sandbagger. Showoff.) The seats are suspended from the top of the frame, and the tires are bicycle tires, so the jarring wasn't nearly as rough as I would have suspected. And, truthfully, being little kids--when I hit a bump, they giggled so happily and for so long, that I admit I turned around and ran over the same bump again and again several times in the ride....

It is a much harder to drag 65 pounds of kids (not to mention a few extra pounds on my behind) than it is to cycle alone. There is a slight incline in the .2 miles of our road that leads to 12 Mile Road. I have been crabbing about that *slight* incline when I was pushing Ava in the jogging stroller. Hauling both of my kids on the bike up that wimpy little hill makes pushing the jogging stroller seem like a cake walk. But it was a good workout for my behind--maybe I'll leave a few of those extra pounds on the road. And the trailer has extra space behind the seats for a bag or two of groceries. We may try to ride the bike/trailer to the grocery store sometime this week. (Then again, now that I remember what the incline is like on the way BACK from the grocery store...er, mebbee not.)

We had so much fun with our new toy that I took them for two rides today. I guess that makes me a recycler.