Saturday, January 19, 2019

Order Versus Chaos, Shifting Hearts, and Grace

Melody Exploring the Dishwasher

Helping Repair the Freezer

One Cool Cat

Waiting for the Piano Kids

Life Can Be So Stressful Between Naps

Yeah. I know I'm not supposed to be here. . . what are ya gonna do about it? 

I've been waiting for her all day. 

I don't know why they have to play all that piano music when they come here to pet me. 

Look Oliver! A new jungle gym for us. 
How was your week?

Mine had. . . the freezer break down with a leak, the clothes drier breakdown, my husband had nasal surgery and was home all week recovering, (he's doing well) a SAM board meeting, a Suzuki Piano Teachers's Guild meeting, an eyeglasses appointment, an orthodontist visit for more rubber bands, a middle school band concert, a teen discovering that no one from her best friends group is going to her same high school next year, another teen trying to schedule college auditions, AND we had 30 people at a Schubertiade recital at my house. My birthday was Wednesday.


Bill fixed the freezer by 1:00 a.m the night it broke. In Minnesota you can just put the food outside, but in any case, thank you, Bill, thank you, YouTube repair videos. I attempted to fix the clothes drier and got in over my head after I took several parts off to find one sock, and several hundred plastic B.B.s from the cabin in the cavern under the drum. Bill had to come down from his pain meds and rescue the project while not lifting more than 20 pounds, bending over or breathing in a cloud of lint.

I was grouchy. I'm trying not to be grouchy. Trying to make a U turn.

What is it that I really want? Really need?


Order in the court.
Christmas decorations put away. The pantry counter top spotted. The mountain of laundry summitted.
All things in repair. Happy hearts.

As it turned out, the only "order" I really had all week was the time between bows with the children at the piano. Between the bows that frame each lesson I'm only there. Only with that child. I don't have to tidy up or run an errand in less time than available. I don't have to answer at least a few emails. The phone is on silent and all I have to do is listen and respond. I can be there with one child and listen to one piece at a time. Address one parent.

I decided not to write about children's behavior today.

Every time I start feeling frustrated with someone, and then I find myself frustrated with someone else, and then someone else. . . the little bell starts going off far off in my mind. Pastor Lamont, our interim pastor, gave a sermon on Sunday that started a January thaw of my heart. Repent. It doesn't just mean "I'm sorry." It comes with more than that. A change of heart. A change of mind. A change of behavior. A U turn.

I'm a number one on the enneagram. The spiritual personality test. Number ones are right. They are tempted by perfection. They are tolerant and patient teachers. They are hyper-sensitive. And they are prone to anger. Anger that everybody and everything around them is not perfect.

In other words, desiring all people and things to be at their best all the time is a recipe for frustration and anger. I only turned 51 this week but I've felt a little like the grouchy old cat lady lady piano teacher. Time for a January U turn. A shift of the heart. Maybe instead of trying to fix everybody and everything all the time I could offer up a little grace. Grace. Grace for the calculus notes all over the kitchen counter. Grace for clarinet reeds all over the coffee table. Grace to tired appliances. Maybe the 3-year-olds don't have to have their feet perfectly planted before we play The Honeybee.

Perhaps if I let down my guard all my expectations and the standards that I set for the world around me won't go to hell in a hand basket in just one day. Maybe I don't have to hold on quite so tight.

I tried this. I'm trying this. I'm gonna have to keep trying this.

Really, I don't need everyone around me to be perfect all the time. I just mostly need order. And ironically, when I offered grace in my mind to my family and students this week, their were some shifting hearts. Mine and theirs.

A three year old apologized to me, unprovoked half way through a lesson. "I'm sorry I didn't come to the piano last week at my lesson." The beautiful look in her eyes again. Happy hearts.

When I suggested to a six year old that one of the secrets to practicing was to treat her mom just like she would treat me, Mrs. Kotrba, she opened her heart. I saw it open. I saw her heart shift. We have to treat the loved ones in our family even more respectfully and lovingly than we treat others. Shifting hearts.


Dear Lord,
Help me to offer those around me grace. Moment by moment. Hour by hour. Day by day. Week by week. Renew and shift my heart. Help me to offer myself that same grace. Remind me that these times of chaos don't last long, I will see the pantry counter again. There will be dry clothes again. The 3-year-olds can play beautifully even without their feet still. I know that perfectionism is the antagonist of joy, help shift my heart toward cheerful tranquility and gratitude.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

And Now let Us Believe. . . Reading and Writing in 2019

When you give the book you want to read. . . 

The cats re-gifted themselves. . . 

Oh Yeah. 

Enough with the Sinatra thing. . . 

Was this on my wish list? Girls gotta know modern electronics. 

Another coveted book. 

But these ones have illustrations. . . 

Uncle Rick sent something for the cats too! 

Who is this Sam, that gave us such a fine toy?

"And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of work that has never been done, full of tasks, claims, and demands; and let us see that we learn to take it without letting fall too much of what it has to bestow upon those who demand of it necessary, serious and great things." Rainer Maria Rilke.

That's a lot of pressure.
Last Fall I set a goal to block my time and fit in two hours of piano practice every day. (Remember the "One Thing" book?) I did pretty good. I re-memorized all of book five, even those pieces I usually don't teach (shhhh.) I kept up with student repertoire and was able to prepare a piece to play on the Christmas recital and the Handel for Ben for church. I'm going to try to keep that up.

What else demands our time? Everything of course. So what can go? Facebook? Pinterest? Spam emails?

My kids are pretty good about screen time limits. Like most kids, they are pretty busy doing real things. Calvin tracks his screen time so I asked him to help me put some limits on my phone. Long story short, I couldn't limit Facebook without limiting my email, which I need to check for the studio and as the chief secretary administrative assistant of the Kotrba family. Of course this took him 30 seconds and now I have a 15 daily minute limit on my Facebook app.

Yesterday I had to override it because my Aunt Kathy is missing. My dad's 80 year old sister from Arizona has been missing since Monday. Like all of us, she's quirky--but not irresponsible. My mom talked to her on New Years Eve and everything was good. Then she was gone from her home. In her car. The good news is they put out a silver alert. Friends in AZ saw it on the news. She has been seen and cousin Scott flew in from Hawaii and is chasing her across the map. Texas. Louisiana. Now that enough reports have come in that she is alone and safe--I'm picturing the roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote and I'm singing "Oh, how fast can I go, gotta catch that little red rodeo, she drove off with my heart I gotta let her know. . . need the girl in that little red rodeo, Texas plates. . . candy apple red rodeo."  Maybe you don't know that song. Well, God speed Scott. Get her home. Get her to the doctor.

What is this work for 2019?

How can our baby be graduating? Five more months of Eastview High School. Eight more months of waking up to the Walstein sonata and the G Minor Ballade. I'm hanging on for dear life. And thinking about having the downstairs floor refinished and the walls painted. Cause that's how I cope. Keep the ball moving down the field.

There are two big trips planned. . . Hawaii for sunshine in March and France for Calvin's graduation in June.

My real goals for 2019 however, are to read more and write more. I'm going to carry a book with me. Instead of checking Facebook waiting at the dentist I'm going to read my book. I have about 30 books in the queue. Books about healthy food, books about Madeleine L'Engle, books about Chopin's piano, two books by Seymour Bernstein and Jordan B. Peterson's "12 Rules for Life." Calvin is half way through  it and tells me I must read it. Chapter five? Don't let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

That brings me to writing more. I have so much to say. About kids. About the behavior of kids. It's hard though. I don't want to come across like a know-it-all or that I'm trying to fix other people. I love all the kids in my life.

My own kids are no saints but they are mostly amazing, at least to me. Now that I'm coming out the other side of the early childhood of Calvin and Mary, and I've seen a couple dozen amazing kids come through the studio, I'm feeling a little more confident about my gut instincts. I've been a citizen scientist and I've seen what makes raising children easier, more fun and more successful--success being evaluated as how ready for real life are these grown up toddlers. How have they met their potential? How are they contributing to society?

I'm gonna raise up my courage and start to write about my ideas, knowing that everyone will not agree and that there is more than one way to do things right. And, there are enough topics that are non-controversial to fill a book. And I have a lot of books to recommend as well.

Here are a couple teasers for you. . .

  • Love is given. . . trust and affection are earned
  • Give more attention for the desirable behavior than for the undesirable  
  • Don't be a victim of your child. . . as the great Maggie (our retired nanny) once said to me. . . (I was I tears over Calvin's lack of nap schedule) "You're the mom, buck up." There is a time and a place for that. 
Happy 2019 and please say a little prayer for Aunt Kathy. We want to see her smoking a cigarette out on the screen porch of the cabin again next August. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Maximalist Christmas 2018

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this meaningful project. 

Oliver Loves Christmas

Oliver and Melody Love Their New Cat Cave

Photographer in his natural habitat

Gabriella. . . the newest friend of the doll community 


Christmas in Iowa with New Friends 

This gift sucks. Ha ha. . . it's a shop vac. 

Best photo bomb of the year at Zachary and Anna's wedding

Family Wedding Times 

Reception Selfie

Souhrada Girl Cousins

Dropping Off the Donation

Extending Goodbye for a couple hours.
We Christmas hard.
I fought it for years and years. . . reflecting on how to cut back, how to do less, spend less, eat less.
I finally let that go. Embrace the maximalist Christmas.

We don't do twelve days of Christmas. . . it's more like 40 days and 40 nights.
It's starts the Friday after Thanksgiving with Santa in Nisswa and well. . . we are pretty much still going. My birthday in January will wrap up the season.

I'm a sucker for traditions. And giving gifts is one of my great joys and one of my love languages. It's also fun to receive now and then. I tell you, when I opened a framed poem, a belated 50th birthday gift from Bill's sister and her husband, extolling my contributions to family and society at large, I FELT LOVED. Loved to tears.

Thinking about other people and what would bring them joy is an amazing thing, and it passes from generation to generation. The stockings from Bill's mom over the years, I can't imagine the hours she spent needle pointing them. I know my mom is looking out for pieces to my antique and cooking collections all year. And when Bill gives me pieces of my retired Christmas china, I know he's been watching eBay for a while.

It's not about the stuff or the price tag. It's about thinking about someone besides ourselves.
The time we spend in anticipation--my mom cooking for weeks before we arrive--every meal carefully thought out--another of her love languages.

Short of Texas folks. . . we got to see almost all our people, and every step of the way was filled with joy. We are so blessed with family and friends and studio folks. The house is a wreck, the floor is a wreck. Glitter, punch, pine needles, cookie crumbs. Ribbons.

Happy New Year to All. I hope your season was blessed!

P.S. Sorry I never finished my 25 Christmas Music Entries.  To be continued next year. But since you asked. . . New Year's Day is for Oleta Adams. Specifically the "Circle of One" CD. These sentiments left over from years away in Texas when the end of Christmas meant goodbye for a while. I'm sure next year I'll be hanging on to every day of Christmas more than ever.  I'm not going there too much today. Just a little.

Link to Everything Must Change
Link to Get Here
Link to I've Got to Sing My Song

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Hope's God Moment (Christmas Music #12)

Be careful, she said, the ferns will take over your whole yard. Lucky me. 

If Hope, my grandma were alive, she would be 99. She died eight years ago today. It was the moment I spent my whole childhood dreading. She was the world to me. It was okay. We were okay. I'm so lucky she got to meet Mary and Calvin. We were blessed in a million ways. I called her Mama, because that's what my mom called her. And that's why my kids call me, mama.

This morning I was running on empty, four hours of sleep, from the Christmas-list-wire-you-in-the-night-elf's visit. I went to the shelf looking for some inspiration for the day. I pulled down "The Mystery of Holy Night" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It was skinny and looked manageable for 20 minutes. About that moment my calendar app notified me that it was the anniversary of Mama's death. As I opened the thin advent devotional, there on the inside cover was my handwriting. "To Mama, with blessed memories of special Christmases. I love you, Sara." Dated 1997. Most of the time she was giving me books, but in 1997 I guess it was my turn. She gave it back to me upon her death. I thumbed through it and two book marks fell out. They were just simple paper, cut from the renewal insert cards of "The Lutheran" periodical. It was a sacred moment. A tap on the shoulder from an angel. She would have called it a God moment.

On Christmas Eve I would walk down to the Jack and Jill grocery store with her, and there was always snow. Always. Today, Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" is reminding me of her and those Christmas memories. Of course I have extended writing about this from various special times when I felt the strong need for documentation. Another blog, I'll write them all out. It will be like the single spaced typed two page Christmas letter you get from a distant college friend. You might have to skim. It's mostly for me anyway.

I miss you, Mama. Thanks for the God moments.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Sum is Greater Than the Parts in Our Musical Community (Christmas Music #11)

Daddy's Little Girl

A Picture Tells 1000 Words.  

Easter's Choral Service

You Can't See the Second Clarinet but He's There. . . doubling on Triangle 

The Photos is Distorted but Shows the Full Orchestra and Handbells 

The 3:30 Recital Group

Full Company

Great Kids-Calvin behind the Plexiglass

The 1:30 Recital Group

Jazz Ensemble in the Back with the Smoke

The Finale

Amazing Cookies

Okay, I Did NOT, Cry Through the Whole Second Recital Last Piece, Only the First. . . 

The Last Year of CDs

Friends and Family 
It's been a great season. There has been so much good music. There is so much music in the Twin Cities it's impossible to see it all, but the three events that we were involved in, were filled with good music and good people. Between Kotrba Piano Studio alumni I got to see at Bravo and piano kids at the choral service and all the friends and family who came out to see it all, it was just an amazing show of community and the joy of music. I'm actually sad it's all over.

I'm so proud of the piano kids at our recitals. Thanks to the children and parents who worked so hard and put so much love into it.

The Bravo show at Eastview.  I'm overwhelmed by the talent of the high school kids in our district. The layers of talent are so deep. It's not just one or two kids that are talented, it's hundreds.  How do you get that? It's Mrs. Schoen the elementary music school teacher giving every child a speaking or singing solo on the program every year.  It's the youth choir programs the folks around here foster.

Our choral service was really special. I loved every minute of it. Full orchestra, handbells, piano, organ, choir. It was just so lovely.

Calvin's CD is out. That's number eleven on my list of favorite Christmas Music. This year's CD has a few new tracks and a few greatest hits. And it feeds more than a few children. Email me and we will send you one, suggested donation $10 and 100% of it goes to Feed My Starving Children.

What do all these performances and projects have in common? A studio recital? A school variety show? A church music program? A kid's "homemade" Christmas CD?

The sum is greater than the parts. The friends who sang and played on the CD made it a memory, not just a recording. The Bravo dancers, singers, rappers, jazz ensemble and crew work together for an event that is so much greater than any of them on their own.  All these events pulled together so many different kinds of musicians of different ages and abilities and it all just weaves together into something so amazing. A community. A musical community.

There were tears shed. Calvin's last Christmas piano recital. The whole front row of senior Bravo girls bawled their heads off during the finale of the last show. (You get to see these things from the third row).  I was moved to tears during several of our choir pieces.

I'm just thankful and happy I got to be a part of it all.