Putting myself out there again…violin edition.

An accurate representation of where my violin fits into my life right now…on top of a pile of disorganized other stuff.

I’ve been eaten by anxiety since my summer symphony ended about a month ago. This was approximately my 15th season in summer symphony, which I’ve participated in most years since 1999, and it was a great one. Most summers, I play at “survival level” – which is to say I play as musically as possible while hitting somewhere of upwards of 75% of the notes in the back of the 2nd violin section. I’m also kinda shy, and pretty insecure about my survival level ability, so I don’t really talk to other people in the symphony beyond small talk about the weather and work, and “do you play in another group during the year?” And since *I* don’t play in another group during the year, the number of people I actually know in the symphony is limited to those who I see every year, only in the summer, only for this symphony. But for some reason, this summer’s experience, repertoire, and people made me smile and feel like a musician again.

I stopped singing in a choir during the year about 5 years ago, mostly due to the fact that my son-to-be was sitting on my diaphragm and I really could not breathe, nevermind sing. However since his birth, I haven’t been able to prioritize choir or music in the time-negotiations of daily life with a kid. The only time I get to feel the pull of creating music with others is for the few weeks of summer symphony.

Summer symphony, 2009. We got to play at the Hatch Shell and I was GEEKED.

So for some reason, the high of the summer symphony experience got me hoping that maybe I could actually audition for a group and join them for this upcoming year. Someone actually said, “you’ve been playing in this group, I’m sure it will be fine…” and I said to myself, “yeah! It will be fine! I can do this if I put my mind to it and actually do some practicing!”

Me, New England Music Camp, Summer 1994 – I was actually in the 1st violin section

So…a bit about my audition history. I auditioned for summer symphony in 1999. The last group I played in before summer symphony is my high school orchestra and youth orchestra…in 1995. Summer symphony does not have re-auditions, so by the grace of George (the conductor) I have been allowed to quietly bulk up the back of the 2nd violin section for a large number of years, without lessons, much practice, or general improvement or accountability. Sometime, maybe in the late 2000s, in a rush of misplaced confidence, I tried out for a couple groups. I got super nervous and totally block-fingered one of my auditions after hearing people in the warm-up room (and I imagine the audition committee crossed off my name before I even got out the door). I was conditionally accepted into a different group (they told me to PLEASE practice my music – how embarrassing for me), but Sunday night rehearsals were impossible to swing.

I now have committed myself to 2 auditions this year – one on September 8th and one on September 10th. I’ve actually spent the last month practicing 20-40 minutes a day (more or less) in some broken up sessions to get a piece up to (80%) speed and some excerpts.


I have practice sessions when I feel like all will be well. I’m walking in with a less-challenging concerto movement, but it will be fine because I have really developed better musical expression through my summer symphony experiences. The time that George spends telling us to play as musically as possible, mistakes included, has not been lost on me, and I feel like I see music differently, more deeply than when I last auditioned in 1999. I have been practicing, and the skills are shaping up again.

All these pencil marks used to mean something.

And there are other days, many days, where I just want to crawl into a hole at the sheer sloppiness of my technique. Like I need some miracle or last-minute lessons to remind my fingers and arms to translate what I hear in my head. Like I’m going to be laughed out of the room for bringing some Suzuki Book 3-type piece to the big leagues. Like every out of tune note is a hopeless sign that I am a poseur trying to hang with real musicians.

Choral auditions feel different to me. For the most part, I can deliver SOMETHING that sounds passable, I have a large range, I have some musical sense, and I can sight-read fairly well (for choral music). I know that I can blend well with a group, and I don’t walk in feeling terribly nervous. I have also never had formal training in classical voice, so maybe it’s because ignorance is generally bliss.

With these orchestra auditions, I think the most difficult thing is that I have no perspective and no recent experience with which to form perspective. I don’t know the caliber of the groups I’m auditioning for. I’ve watched videos of the groups, and I’ve thought, OK, I can play that music. We play challenging things in our summer symphony (and I’ve been told that you can’t tell that I’m not playing all the notes, you hear that, mom??) But I’m terrified that I’m just going to walk into the warm-up room and be greeted by real musicians while I plunk out some mediocre-sounding Twinkle Twinkle Little Star equivalent.

I’ve reached out to my high school stand partner – he’s given me some solid “get back into it” advice over Facebook, which I really appreciate. I wish he were closer so I could ask him to listen to this underconfident wreck I’ve become and just tell it to me straight how bad this is about to be. I’ve thought about finding someone to give me a lesson or two in this last month — a lesson in super hard truth — but it’s not enough time to build that kind of relationship with a new teacher. (My last lessons were also in 1995.)

Me and my high school stand partner in 1995: he kept playing violin…I did not…really…keep up…

The family has been somewhat supportive – if this is all successful, we are going to make Monday night rehearsals work for us, probably at the cost of going to the gym more regularly. The husband doesn’t like to be in the same room when I’m practicing, which is understandable, but doesn’t really help me in the confidence department. On the other hand, the practice hasn’t bothered my son…and while I wasn’t looking, I heard him plunk out a C-major scale on the piano this summer, holding the tonic just like the scales I’ve been practicing.

My dad, myself, and my brother, in our prime. Did I say prime? I think I meant PERM. Or maybe I meant “pajamas”.

I wanted to drop a confidence confession into my blog before auditions happened partly because I was hoping for 1) an exorcism of these unproductive doubts, and 2) to capture this rare feeling of putting myself out there again…like having a crush after forgetting what it’s like to actually love something, and now just hoping that these feelings are reciprocated. I’m not sure I’ve achieved either of those things with this post, but wish me luck.

Outrage culture: Purim in China edition

I’m going to start with the end of the story, a quick call to NON-action on the outrage piece of my post. The event originally advertised is tonight, it has been (quietly) re-themed, and it is not in my interest to hunt out and seek consequences for the original intent at this point in time.

But I am still writing this post because there were so many missed opportunities to be an ally and to learn from the responses and to actually create community – so instead *I* am going to take the opportunity to create my own closure.

Building the outrage

Where to start, where to start. I guess we could start with the picture that I came across two weeks ago, on a Sunday morning.

Purim in China
It’s like one of those Highlights Magazine pictures – how many things are wrong with this picture?

Chopstick font. Fortune cookies. With fortunes in Chopstick font. A caricature of a Chinese man in traditional dress. Holding a hamentashen. With a fortune. In Chopstick font. Incredible Chinese Acrobats (not an official performing group, more about them in a little bit.) Chinese Photo-Op. PHOTO OP. Martial arts – which ones? (I’m assuming not Krav Maga.) “Chinese Fun”. For Kids – MORE CHOPSTICK FONT. “Costume” contest. Sumo. Wrestling. Sumo-Effing-Wrestling. I guess the dragon is okay. Did I miss anything?

Ok, it’s just a party. An offensive party. Can’t regular people throw a party anymore?

But it’s not just “regular people” throwing a party, it’s a school. A school that serves toddlers to 8th grade. In the school brochure, they advertise that their students “learn to be respectful of others’ practices while being true to the practices they learn at home.” I guess that’s why a “cultural” party theme was chosen.

The outrage onion has layers…

I came across this image on Twitter because…wait for it…they were advertising for help wanted on Craigslist.

China themed party needs waiters and performers
Blocked out location because, again, this is not a witch hunt, this is a catharsis.

The ask: We are hosting a Chinese theme Party on March 21 and looking to hire Asian looking waiters in traditional Chinese outfits (two male and two female). no servings skills or training is necessary, but preferred. pay $20 per hour. (about 4 hours for this event) Also looking to hire a Chinese acrobat show and martial art presentation. Doesn’t have to be very professional 🙂 Ready to pay reasonable rate.

Asian-looking? Like, any Asian? Chinese outfits? BYO Chinese outfits? Also, a acrobat show – the Incredible Chinese Acrobats hadn’t been arranged yet? And the martial arts presentation was in fact advertised as a workshop, which, as anyone doing a workshop knows are two VERY DIFFERENT things. Also professionalism not necessary, any amateur acrobat would do.

Commence the outraging!

Yeah, I took it to Twitter and Facebook – replying with jokes because that’s my defense mechanism. Jokes about submissive Chinese not fighting back. Jokes about the Chinese custom of sumo wrestling my leggings onto my body in the mornings. Jokes about what possible activities of “Chinese Fun for all” could be. Jokes about seeking trained panda bears for performance.

These post-2016 days, if I can’t laugh at something, I’d just be crying all the time.

But we did not mean to offend!

And the outrage got responses from the source:

  • English is not my first language.
    • Mine either, and?
  • It [is] similar to Disney world style for around the world pavilions, when you come in and you feel like you[‘re] present in a particular country from decorations to food and music. [It] create[s] an atmosphere that you like visiting there.
    • Last I checked, Purim is not Disney World, nor is it a time for teaching about other cultures.
  • We have celebrated Mexico and Italy before.
    • I’m either really glad or really disappointed that I didn’t know that when it happened.
  • We will do better in the future.
    • Like two weeks into the future? Like this year? Because you’d better do better by then.
  • And my PERSONAL FAVORITE: Can you please help me to find an acrobatic and martial art contacts that I can invite them?
    • Let’s be 100% clear. 1) I did not mention in any of these things that I was Chinese. 2) I’m actually NOT Chinese from China. 3) I do not belong to any Chinese cultural organizations, nor am I an acrobat or have any skills in martial arts that would suggest that I would know anyone who would be an acrobat or have skills in martial arts. I CAN’T EVEN TOUCH MY TOES.

My list of outrage demands:

  1. Remove the images and advertisement. To their credit and the credit of all the allies who shared the FB event, Tweeted the ad, left voicemail messages, and reached out on Facebook, this actually happened pretty immediately. This happened even before some of the other responses that came in above. Thank you, thank you, to my friends and other allies who made the call-outs happen.
  2. Publicly apologize for the missteps. Many apologies were sent through Facebook. One came as a reply on an original post, but came along with some variation of bullet points #1 and #2 above. Others came through private message on Facebook, one with bullet point #3 above. At no point has a public apology been made on their own Facebook feed (where the party first appeared) or anywhere else that I have been able to find. And unlike others, I myself have not received any personal apology that conveys understanding of transgressions.
  3. Re-theme (or cancel) the party. After phone call follow-ups and Facebook refreshing of their Facebook page and events, a re-theme was confirmed on Monday morning of this week. Tonight’s party is a themeless Grand Banquet, with the only vestige of the former party remaining as Kosher Chinese food, which, to be honest, is probably delicious. (I myself have enjoyed food long ago at the former Shalom Hunan, which was pretty tasty for shellfish-free Chinese food.)

How to achieve detente

Outrage culture is tough. There is a need to address and combat the injustices we face and not to sweep them under the rug like they never happened. It is not “snowflake” of me to be offended by a party I wasn’t planning to attend – there are children involved who should not be raised to accept this kind of ignorance as normal because it is perpetuated by the elders in their school. AND when people have told you that they are offended, it is not their job to teach you where you were wrong OR help you be less wrong (or MORE wrong – can you imagine if I actually knew any acrobats? Or trained pandas?)

And in case it is not readily apparent: My culture is not a costume. My culture is not a monolith. And in case it is also not readily apparent: protesting against offensive Purim themes is not anti-Semitic. Covering all my bases here.

Things I wanted to do:

  • Write to all the testimonials on their website, asking if they knew that this was happening, and if they wanted to be associated with this happening.
  • Go protest outside the party, with my signs (“my culture is not a costume”) and possibly make a note of all people who were trying to show up in costume and ask if they really REALLY wanted to be that kind of an ignoramus.
  • Call the news, call the people I knew in the news, fire up a big outrageous mob so that I can get in on all that outrage glory.

None of these things achieve detente. None of these things would really make me feel better. I vowed not to do any of these things unless the party actually happened. (Before Monday, I was still planning to go to verify that it had or had not been re-themed in order to evaluate next steps.)

What I did (and do) not want:

I do not want the school to get shut down. I do not want the children exposed to an outrage mob. A school should be a safe space for the children that are there, and this is a learning moment for the adults of the school.

My real demands

I want a lesson to be learned, but I must accept that without a public apology, all I can do is hope and trust that the correct lessons have already been learned, and that the lesson learned was not “those Chinese people are pissy snowflakes”. (Some of us are. Another post for that.)

I want myself to be bold enough to approach future ill-conceived “China-themed” or any other themed parties with the same or more effective determination. This is not to say that themed gatherings are forever banished, but there are ways to promote culture with respect and sensitivity, and those ways involve lots of communication, planning, and typically NOT hiring on Craigslist.

I want to put this post out to the world to make sure that this narrative exists beyond the space in my head, and that this is not something that happened in the shadows that will not come to light. I don’t need to name and shame, but I do need to tell the story.

And the best that I can do for myself and my outrage, is send it off with voice and an arc and a whisper of hope that it will reach someone and make them think twice about their actions.

Hey, May 5th is coming up. I’m looking at you.

UPDATED TO ADD: Apparently I give them too much credit. A picture was added today or yesterday with them in Chinese costume. Guess I’m going after that public apology. [double updated to remove the actual photo because I am the nicer person and I’m going to stay that way. And I’m going to bed knowing that I am the nicer person.]

acknowledging my biases

This morning, after gymnastics class, we drove over to the optical shop to pick up my 4-year old son’s new lavender purple glasses. He chose these glasses after my husband told him that he could have his new glasses in any color he wanted, red, blue, or purple. So of course he chose purple.

The aforementioned glasses, and the cocktail I’m drinking to cope with my realizations about myself.

Apparently I am not as open-minded as I’d like to think I am.

I tried to get him to choose the navy ones. I handed him another pair of black with red accents. I picked out a dark deep purple frame. But these were the ones he wanted through and through. Today when we got them, he said “mommy, this light purple is my favorite!” Sigh. (Then when choosing a case, he was offered red or blue and he chose red because it was his favorite, so…yeah…4-year olds.)

But it stays with me because my reaction to his color choice bothers me. Why should I care what color glasses he wants? His eyesight dictates that he will probably be getting new glasses yearly for a while (and thank god we have the means for that, but that is a story for a different post) so it’s likely that he will like a different color at this time next year.

I mean, what will my mom say? What will my relatives in another country say when we go to visit them over Christmas this upcoming year? What will his friends and teachers say?? I start to prepare responses for people’s reactions. I do that sort of thing, especially since 2016. Like if someone parks too close to me in the parking lot, would I be ready to throw down? Or if I’m walking down the street past Planned Parenthood and those goddamned protestors want to say something to me, what smart retort would I come up with? Or when I am in a predominantly white situation and someone wants to be problematic about it, would I be prepared for the viral epic shutdown?

He chose them himself. It’s my husband’s idea – he suggested it. He likes purple right now. He’s really into trucks and building things and is otherwise really…gender normative. Is THAT the issue? But I live in a progressive neighborhood! I have friends of every orientation! I don’t care who he falls in love with! I don’t care what others think! I’m not bigoted!!

Wow. These glasses have made me realize that while all those things may be true, the root of all this is that we all have bias. And by wanting to protect him from other people’s judgment and bias, it comes to light that I myself have my own biases to work out.

This is really only the first(?) test among many that will come with confronting myself on my ingrained gender-normative (and who knows what other normative) biases that I have within myself. I can say that I am progressive all I want, but these beliefs do exist within me for whatever reason, and it is always going to be a conscious effort to remind myself to face them and actively quell them when they pop up.

I love your glasses because you love your glasses, buddy. Mommy is sorry that she didn’t just immediately say “you look so awesome” when she saw them. Mommy just has issues – and I’m working on them so that this world can be a better place when you start to find your way in it, my love.

“Back in mah day we fought polar bears on our way to school…”

I was going to make a quick note of this on Facebook or Twitter, where I let most of my passing thoughts fly by, but the more I dug into this, the more I worked myself up into a wordy frenzy. So here it goes. It’s COLD outside. And, unpopular opinion for working parents (me) and people who walked uphill to school both ways in blizzards in their childhood, school probably should have been canceled today.

Fancy weather station.

Sources (my weather station) say it’s about 7F out right now with a wind chill somewhere between -10F and -20F, and in order to DRIVE my son to daycare, I dressed us both for semi-apocalypse (the warmest jacket, boots, hat, scarf, mittens combo we had). We were both outside for less than 5 minutes total, with a car ride in between, and still my toes were little frozen sausages by the time I got back home.

Boston Public School students who get buses (generally over 2 miles and/or up to 6th grade) walk up to 0.5 miles to get to a bus stop and wait for buses that may or may not be on time depending on weather starting as early as 6AM. The rest who do not get rides to school have to walk the distance to the train or to school. Just for some reference, 2 miles in the city is the distance from the Boston Common to Fenway Park, and that’s a relatively “easy” walk, flat, without too many stoplights, and mostly clear paths.

“Why couldn’t they just delay 2 hours until it gets warmer?”

As I’m writing this, it’s 9:37AM, a good 3 hours after kids would have to go out to wait for buses or leave for early school starts. It’s now reached a balmy 9F. The wind is still howling. Additionally, BPS doesn’t do one or two-hour delays due to the 600-ish buses that have to mobilize and route kids to multiple schools with varying start times and end times. Besides it would mess up that smart algorithm that those brainy MIT kids designed to “solve” school bus issues in Boston. (Definitely a whole other post for another time.)

“Parents should be providing for their kids to be warm. It’s their responsibility to prepare for this kind of weather.”

Yes. And, for the most part one should assume that they do their best. But kids are invincible, and ballet flats or their Jordans are going to be warm enough out there, hats mess up their hair, layers are too not cute, etc. We all did it. I wore Eastlands without socks in high school in all temperatures until my feet reeked of sweaty leather – but I got a ride to school every day. (Well, I guess now you know how old I am. Then again, if you know, then you are equally as old, or older.)

“I mean, kids in Nunavut and Caribou, ME have to go to school too, it’s not like they can just cancel every day.”

Yes. And kids in Nunavut and Caribou and even some parts of the midwest are more prepared because this is a more regular occurrence. They know where their jackets and warm boots and warm gloves and warm socks are because they have to use them regularly. They have a sense that if they didn’t use all their warm pieces then there might be fewer parts of them left when they got home. And they can invest in these pieces of warmery because they will use them regularly to go outside and go to school and go about their lives because their lives are colder more often. Data from 1981 to 2010 (back when people didn’t as actively deny climate change as much as just ignore it) says that Caribou’s mean temp for January is about 10F, while Boston is about 29F. Those are really different temperatures for clothing yourself on a regular basis.

Invest. It is an investment to keep warm. I may have buried the lede, but I did a (very) little cost analysis to see what it cost me to get out there and freeze my little sausage toes this morning.

The cost of cold weather gear

The outdoor gear I was wearing just for today’s drive to daycare cost me about $515. I picked it all up over a bunch of seasons, upgrading pieces as I went. I could have gone cheaper on jacket or boots, but over the years, I’ve decided I want nice warm feet and body and I used to commute on the T, so I invested in some pieces that would make me happy.

My son wore about $210 in gear. To be fair, he did NOT wear his long underwear today because we were driving to school, so it would be more like $170. Why is long underwear $40?? I don’t know, I just picked it up for him at Dick’s Sporting Goods before we went on a ski trip this winter and I was wondering that myself. In fact, I got 2 sets for him, so he has $80 of long underwear (in size 6-7 so that he can wear it for 3 more years – does that negate the heat trapping properties of the long underwear??). His Columbia jacket and Sorel boots were presents from his generous Auntie, with the jacket picked up on sale in the spring. His mittens were from Costco and his hat is 3 years old. Additionally, we have spares of everything so that he doesn’t go without, so that’s another $20-ish hat and $20-ish mittens or so just in a basket by the door. $250 to equip a 4yo for a drive to daycare. (And some winter outdoor adventure, but he’s actually not too interested in the cold. I’m raising a soft child.)

A well-heeled Bostonian would be rolling around in over $1400 in winter gear today. (The number of Canada Goose jackets are literally uncountable in this city.) A more typical Bostonian who commutes outside would be wearing what I’m wearing.

Our low-income families, who have to choose their expenses, are likely to be unable to prioritize the cold weather gear for their kids for a once-or-twice-a-year occurrence of extremely cold weather. A $30 jacket and $40 boots will get you through most of the winter here, as will a pair of those $1 stretchy magic gloves. But on a day like today, it’s hard for me to imagine going out in magic gloves and being happy for more than 30 seconds. It would probably be less time than that for me to dissolve into tears and rage. I HAVE gone soft.

“What about parents who have to work – it’s not like we get to stay home because of the cold?”

And this is where it’s pretty much a no-win situation for those who are calling the shots for school closings. Because it’s true. We don’t get to stay home because of the cold. (I just happen to be working from home this morning so that I can pen this long-winded, researched rant.) So I’m not surprised by the fact that Boston Public Schools is open today. I mean, there are 125 schools serving about 50,000 students in this city. Kids who need not only instruction, but lunch, and a warm place to stay, and a welcoming environment of friends and staff. They just have to brave the dangerously cold commute in order to get there.

As for me, I have to work whether or not there is school today, and my son is in daycare (which would NOT have been closed for cold), so it doesn’t change my life one way or the other. And I’m fortunate enough to still have my fingers, which has allowed me to consider this little repartée about why school probably should have been cancelled today. Exeunt.

2019: New Year, Same Me

On December 30th, I went snowboarding and fell so hard I cracked my helmet.  I don’t remember falling, and I don’t know how long I was out before I “woke up” while being put into an ambulance, but apparently I had been talking and not making any sense, so I went for the ride, got checked out at the hospital, and I seem to be ok.

Well at least I was wearing a helmet, I guess. I was mostly wearing it because it was cold out, and I was mildly more daring when I was younger anyways.

One would think this would start 2019 with some deep introspection about my “close call” and how I should make some New Years’ resolutions.  I mean, I like resolutions anyways, and part of my life in education is having multiple “new years” in which to make these resolutions.

But this year, I have not really been motivated to make widespread life changes. I had an on-and-off relationship with a Bullet Journal in 2018. That was fun and caused me to buy a lot of pens but didn’t really make any impact on my day-to-day life. I am still working in a space somewhere between digital (Google Calendar and Google Sheets and Trello) and paper (I’m really into discbound stuff), and going to add RocketPad to my life, but I haven’t reached organization and task nirvana. Suckit, 2018 resolution.

This is but a fraction of the pen sets that result from 2018’s resolution. Pens “spark joy”, so unfortunately, Marie Kondo is not going to help me out in this arena.

Working out and eating better? Of course. Annually it’s a “goal”. The head injury (and related back injury) has kept me from moving too much in the last few days, so that’s on hold. Also here’s my breakfast this morning – leftover Dominican mangú (which I ordered with my frituras & tostones lunch yesterday), fried egg, fried cheese, and fried salami. See, the salami is even smiling, so I must be doing the right thing.

Smiling salami – it’s a sign, I tell you.

All these things have combined to make me rather apathetic about New Year’s Resolutions this time around. Things I’ve been considering:

  • Creating something everyday: I love to knit, sew, draw, paint, write, make music, make spreadsheets (haha, no really), and cook and bake. I could spend more time writing in this blog. Maybe a regular amount of time. Maybe a regularly scheduled time. Maybe actually cultivate readers rather than making this an extension of my Facebook musings.
  • Reducing the amount of time I spend consuming social media (shouldn’t we all?) and putting it into reading books. I love to read books, actually, but I am one of those voracious readers that gets sucked in and then loses inordinate amounts of sleep due to reading.
    • Books I read/listened to completion in 2018:
    • Books I didn’t finish in 2018:
      • Morning Star (Book III of the Red Rising series) – Pierce Brown. I LOVED books I and II, but I haven’t been able to get past the first few chapters of Book III. 2018 was my 3rd attempt.
      • Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir – Ben R. Rich & Leo Janos. It was really kinda boring and sounded like a bunch of old white engineers getting chuckles out of things that weren’t really that funny. Maybe I should read it in print instead of trying to audiobook that one.
      • Yes Please – Amy Poehler. It was funny, it was OK. It just wasn’t quite dark enough humor for the times that we are living in.
  • Drinking water everyday. I bought a 24-oz water bottle. I haven’t yet decorated it with inspirational quotes or vinyl stickers made with my Silhouette Cameo to motivate or monitor my progress. In fact, I think I have consumed a coffee with Swiss Miss added and a Diet Coke so far today.
  • Working out every day for at least 7 minutes. I was complaining about how it’s hard to get to the gym more than once a week, and my friend said that I’m just making excuses because 7 minutes a day of Tabata-like workout could get me full results. Hm. Better not knock it before I try it.
  • Other typical thoughts like bringing lunch to work, managing my diabetes better, re-organizing parts of my house, keeping my kitchen clean every night, following a stricter morning routine to get out of the house at a reasonable time, etcetera, etcetera.

I don’t know, 2019. I don’t want to be a new me, I just want to be the same me, which is me trying to be a better me, daily. Or maybe I should just make fewer promises that I will not be able to keep.

Maybe I’ll be here on the blog more. Cheaper than therapy, nicer looking than LiveJournal. 🙂 Happy New Year.

Yes I did: welcome to the family, Bert


This is Bert. Bert is a mother, like me. Gets food when he can, lives in a state of semi-neglect, and lives to feed people

Bert the sourdough starter, or “mother”, came to our family in the usual way – through a generous adoption from our local Buy Nothing group which has been a savior for my “but this is still useful” near-hoarding ways.  He (preferred pronoun) lives in a purple mason jar, because of course he does.  And he is helping me through my midlife crisis, because while I would rather have a puppy, Bert at least helps to feed the family and serve as last minute host gifts for any number of occasions, therefore he pulls his weight around here.  He’s only been here for about 2 weeks but he has already provided 3 loaves of bread, 2 batches of crackers, a breakfast of pancakes, and a pile of crepes.

I feel like a sourdough starter is a rite of passage for so many things.  It’s definitely a rite of passage for my neighborhood of Boston, which can be described using words like hippy-dippy, progressive, quirky, and dangerously rapidly gentrifying, all of which can be the subject of a different post.  I tried to find a Weck jar to give Bert a more wide-mouthed and less…purple…home, and I went to the local small kitchenwares store to see if they had one.  Bantering with the cashier about “my first sourdough starter” was met with a very serious “the air here is so perfect for cultivating the wild yeast!”  so I slunk out of the store careful not to make more inadvertent hippy jokes.  I’m surprised that my starter has not come with papers and a full adoption story, although I’m sure if i reached out to its previous owner, I might get one.  (Kombucha SCOBYs offered on the Buy Nothing group are often accompanied by “only fed organic sugar and love” type caveats.)

I also briefly remember my mother being gifted a sourdough starter in my youth — if I remember it, then she must have been about my age when she acquired this starter.  I vaguely remember eating bread made from it.  I vaguely remember my mom lamenting about keeping the starter fed and having to make all that bread all the time.  I’m pretty sure it did NOT have a name.  And then I have no recollection about how the starter met its end or when or why the bread fount stopped.  So between my sister cultivating her own sourdough starter from scratch recently (no thank you, it’s not LOCAL wild yeast, haha) and the offer on the Buy Nothing group, and these memories, I figured it was time for me to adopt my own.

Welcome, Bert!

For the first week, Bert lived on our counter, and I started tracking his feedings.  Since I can’t be trusted to keep my own bullet journal going for a whole week, the feeding tracking lasted about 2 feedings.

I tried following feeding schedules. That lasted for about 2 days.  Now I am working on a schedule of taking Bert out of the fridge on Wednesday, and feeding him Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday morning and late Friday night in order to bake a loaf for Saturday evening that can be a gift or eaten, and maybe another on Sunday evening to last the week, before putting Bert back in the fridge until the next week.


Bert posing for pictures with BertBread1 on its first rise

Despite the wealth of online advice and timetables, somehow, I can’t figure out how to reverse timeline a loaf of bread through 2 feedings and 3 rises.  And I tried logging the cycle for a loaf of bread, but the logs on the BertBread 1, 2, and 3 are fraught with inaccuracies on timing.  I can’t even be trusted to write down the time that I did something, never mind proofing bread for a specific amount of time.  I still have a learning curve for being able to visually evaluate both starter and dough, learning how to shape bread dough, and determining which factors will lead to a better crumb.  (The crust and flavor of all 3 BertBreads have been pretty great.  It’s that wild LOCAL yeast, man.)


(L to R) BertBread 1, 2, and 3. MOAR CRUMB PLZ! And better folding.

I’m also feeling the typical guilt about discarding starter and have looked up recipes for sourdough pancakes/waffles and crackers and crepes and banana breads (which I haven’t made yet, but there are 4 bananas tempting me from the kitchen counter right now.)


Top: BertCrepes – pretty tasty, if a little stiff. Probably needs to be watered down more. Bottom: BertCrackers 2 – the Bertening.

I guess all I need now is time and practice, and assurance that a sourdough starter can in fact survive in a house of growth by hands-off parenting.  Maybe a good fridge proofing technique.  Oh, and more hours in the day to get to the gym to burn off all this bread that I am happily eating with my cultured butter.  Next step, churning and making my own butter.  Yes, I can do that.

Anyone local want a sourdough starter?



My first reaction to all the Harvey Weinstein hubbub was “well that sucks, and I’m lucky to not have had to deal with that in my career.”

But then I remembered I had. It was put so far away that I had forgotten that in my first year as a teacher, it was required to hug (be hugged by, endure squishy cheek kisses, walk down the hall arm in arm or hand on butt) a particular employee every day in order to have things like an elevator key, or a cart, or students who didn’t threaten you because you were “cool” with him.

Why didn’t I speak up?   I was lowest on the totem pole, and it was my first job. I just wanted to fit in at work. No one else ever said anything, and I didn’t want to make more waves beyond my bad classroom management.  Besides, who knows what would happen to me if I wasn’t cool with him? Sometimes you had the more boorish boys in your class on your side if you were “cool” with him. I was 22.  Cool was still important.

Why haven’t I spoken about it since?  I didn’t know it then, but I had been programmed to think that this was normal and this was not harassment and this was just a “rite of passage” at any new job. Also, I haven’t had anyone to tell it to – anyone who knows him is still there in that insular community, and I have lost touch. And frankly, I forgot. Because there are a lot of things about 22 that are better off forgotten.

Why would I bring it up now? My trauma does not define me, and yes, I have misgivings about this #metoo movement that requires us to bring up things that I would rather keep buried in order to be seen as human and worthy. This is not the only example of harassment I have experienced, just the most prominent one at work that was not in some part my own damn fault.

But I brought this incident up to my husband, over breakfast, and he was so uncomfortable even hearing it. Wouldn’t make eye contact, non-committal single word responses, changing the subject. And it brought me back to that shameful place where I just wanted to bury it deep and never admit I was that stupid again.

I don’t blame him – he doesn’t talk about feelings regularly, and I have accepted that about my reality.  But it really makes me think that there is an issue when the people closest to me can’t accept that this happened to me.  There are also people closest to me who will be surprised if they read this.  If you’re one of those surprised people, I hate to tell you that this is really not the worst thing that’s happened to me.  And it happens to us all.  That’s the power of #metoo, and I guess I’m telling my story.

IT IS NOT OK to have to give up bodily autonomy to do your job.  IT IS NOT OK to have to chip away at your definition of professionalism to do your profession.  IT IS NOT OK to have your humanity subjugated just to be human.

But it is normal.  And it is normalized.  And that is not OK either.

i am not neutral.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” –Desmond Tutu

Friends, I barely have mental wherewithal to keep my own days together, nevermind parse the exhausting reality that our black brothers and sisters face. However, I realize that by being silent and posting only the minutiae of my life, no one is hearing my voice on the fears I harbor for the community that I work in and the world that I live in.

I am decidedly NOT neutral, even though my curated Facebook life may appear to be.  I am not neutral, not since the day many years ago that my friend, coworker, and visionary leader told me that there is no such thing as being apolitical in my line of work.  Those who I have worked with who have made me and changed me over these 15 years, I thank you and I think of you every day.  I hope you never have a moment where someone sees you as someone who you are not, or worse yet, does not see you at all.

If you can’t understand why Kaepernick takes a knee, if you think any of these shootings could be “misunderstandings”, if you don’t see that Black lives can matter without diminishing “Blue lives” or “All Lives”, please do not engage me in dialogue unless you intend to listen, see, and be changed.  The time for dialogue has passed. The time for change is now.

14 years as an educator.

The view from Eastie to Logan was eerily similar to all the images of Boston being broadcast on the TV stations.

This day, September 11, is indelibly tied to my roots as an educator. In 2001, it was my 5th day of my first year teaching 9th grade Algebra at East Boston High School. Without any practice teaching or experience in a full-time classroom, I barely understood what it meant to teach math yet on that day. Yet, I found myself having to be an anchor for students when moments before, I didn’t even realize that was in my job description. The TVs were turned on in all the classrooms.  Students had questions. Questions like, Do we still have football practice?  Can we take the bus home? Are we at war? I mean, teachers are supposed to end their classes with “does anyone have any questions?” and then answer those questions, but I didn’t have any answers.  We all just sat in our classes talking in muted tones trying to make sense of everything as parents picked up their kids throughout the day.

14 years later, I’m teaching 9th grade again for the first time in a long time. Some of our 9th graders weren’t even alive 14 years ago, and the rest were infants and toddlers on that day.  But now I know the answers to questions, and even more importantly, I know the questions that lead to more questions.  I know that empathy should be at the heart of all my interactions.  I know that my job description includes “anchor” between the lines of the day-to-day tasks.

There are a bunch of 28-year-olds out there today who don’t know that I still think of them on this day, every year. Although the memories become less crisp each passing year, today is always a reminder of where I have come from in my chosen profession, and how much work there is still to be done.

Yes I did: “this will only take one hour”

A Dress-up Pillowcase Play Kit for my niece.

Spoiler alert:  it didn’t take one hour.

I have “just one more thing” syndrome.  To others, it mostly looks like chronic lateness mixed with insanity.  However, in the moment that I am having these brilliant ideas, I feel like time is an irrelevant and malleable construct in which I can warp to fit my gnawing desire to complete JUST ONE MORE THING before I leave the house.  One more thing before I go to bed.  One more thing before I start that project or chore that I’ve been putting off.

Being a task-oriented yet capricious person is super frustrating.  I need to get things done.  I only want to do things that I’m inspired to do.  That makes no sense at all.  So I invent things to do when I have a whole task list of other things to do that can’t even be completed in time.  It’s totally maddening — I can’t help myself.

So, the words “Yeah, I have this exciting project, and it will probably only take one hour” really did leave my mouth yesterday.  I had bought the Dear Stella Dress Me at the Playground fabric because I saw it and was thinking I could make a play mat for my niece and nephews for Christmas.  Better get the fabric now because who knows how long it would take me to make it, you know, I’m oh so busy with opening a new school and moving the last of our belongings and renovating our kitchen and a baby and all.

Of course all the beautiful fabric arrived, and along with it came the rationalizations: I’m actually going to see my niece this weekend, she’s driving 9+ hours to get up here, maybe I could make her a play set to take home in the car…it’ll be small and reeeaaaally quick.


I decided to make a pillowcase with French seams (only 15 minutes, it promises!) and it would be great for the car.  Well, let’s wash and dry the fabric and see what happens with my time.  Oh OK, I can iron the fabric too.  Just one more thing.


I tell my friend I have a cool one-hour project. She gives me the knowing side-eye, and says “Sure.”  I got home and I was just going to make some of the clothing pieces.  The instructions for the clothing print are to “cut them out, adhere to fusible fleece or flannel, and they’ll stick to the Dress Me fabric.”  Oh no, that’s too simple. Fusible fleece falls off and the edges will ravel.  So I stitch around EVERY PIECE OF CLOTHING.  Well, I start to, at least.  I get through about one-third of the clothing pieces, and then baby comes home and we do baby things until he goes to bed at 7:30PM.  OK, I’ll do the other two-thirds before I go to bed and won’t cut anything tonight, I’ll just sew.  Hm, it’s only 9:30PM.  I could cut the pillowcase pieces.  Hm.  It’s only 10PM, the pillowcase is only 15 minutes right?  Wow.  It’s 11:15PM.  But I have this extra fabric to make a pouch to hold the clothing pieces, and the sewing machine is out anyways.  HOW IS IT MIDNIGHT ALREADY?

Pro tip: No 15-minute project ever involves pinning things together.  BUT HOW CUTE IS THIS FABRIC??

Pro tip: No 15-minute project ever involves pinning things together. HOW CUTE IS THIS FABRIC??

Pillowcase and matching pouch.  Because matching.

Pillowcase and matching pouch. Because matching.


Morning.  grrghsnrrgh. Ben: do you have to BE anywhere this morning?? Me: ughhh. Baby: <waah>  slog slog slog.  Nursing while sleeping is a thing right?  Brain: YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELF.

In the afternoon, I need a mental break because I’m tired.  Go figure. I decide to cut out some pieces of clothing.  I decide to cut all pieces of clothing.  I decide to organize and take pictures of clothing.  I decide to finish the project. I DECIDE TO BLOG ABOUT THE PROJECT.  WHY?  WHYYY?

All the individual clothing pieces, stitched around and then cut out.  Clipping threads was the worst ever.

All the individual clothing pieces, stitched around and then cut out. Clipping threads was the worst ever.

No outfit is complete without shoes.  And an ice cream.

No outfit is complete without shoes. And an ice cream.

Do they make this dress in adult sizes?  Here's the crazy thing about the Dress Me fabric collection - you COULD make any of these in life sizes.  Diabolical, Dear Stella.

Do they make this dress in adult sizes? Here’s the crazy thing about the Dress Me fabric collection – you COULD make any of these in life sizes. Diabolical, Dear Stella.

Yes, I also made a

Yes, I also made a “closet” where outfits could be laid out. I’m not a monster.

Ok, it was more like 5 or 6 hours.  5 or 6 hours that I should have been 1) working, 2) sleeping, 3) organizing the craft room in order to make room for the move, 4) doing ANYTHING ELSE.  I hope my niece finds it as fun as I do — I just want to sit around and make outfits for the bunny and the cat.  But I “know my limits”.

Funny post and cute project aside, “just one more thing” is a real problem for me, and I hate that I feel literally compelled to do something other than what I need to do.  I just can’t help it when there are so many awesome things to do.  I have always been this way. I need to learn how to stop myself from giving in to the instant gratification of awesome things in order to do other things that lead to greater and more awesome things.