Thursday, September 8, 2016

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

First Day of Tenth Grade. My favorite tall kid. 

First Day of Middle School--Sixth Grade. My favorite girl. 

My favorite man doing one of his favorite things. . . fixing cabin screens

That's me. Baking in my spare time. My favorite cookies. 

Gifts for the Studio. . . from my favorite store, Toy Joy. Thank you students. . . 

One of my favorite things. 
Another one of my favorite things?
Getting into the routine.
Sing to the tune of "I Love a Parade."
I love a routine. . .

Give me a sustainable routine and I can change the world.

Tuesday was the first day of school in Minnesota. That means getting to bed earlier and waking up earlier and a lot of driving. And practicing piano. And packing lunches. Mary came home from school so excited! I don't know how these middle school teachers do it. It's like they connect with the students before they even meet them. God bless them. Mary already loves so and so and so and so and so and so. I heard about it for almost six straight hours. I'm thankful that I'm on good speaking terms with my pre-adolescent girl. Really good speaking terms. Actually, I don't do that much of the actual speaking. Mary, I'm going to bed and shutting out the light. You will have to save the rest for tomorrow.

Calvin came home with the prerequisites for obtaining a driver's license in the state of Minnesota. Let's just start the year off with that thought. In order to stomach the putting of your barely out of diapers six foot child behind the wheel of a car and actually trusting that there is any hope at all that they will not hurt themselves or someone else, you have to be so COMPLETELY fed up with driving back and forth to marching band that you throw your hands up in relinquishment. God's perfect plan. Jesus take the wheel, but not before the 30 classroom hours, 6 hours driving with the instructor, 50 hours driving with a parent--15 of which need to be documented as night hours, and your birth certificate or valid passport. Independence day? July 18, 2017.

Last night we started choir with the new interim music director. It feels good to be in the routine.
Today the SAM board met at my house. Feels good to be in the routine.

Next weekend is Stefanie's wedding--where I get to play Stefanie's favorite piano repertoire for her to walk down the aisle. What a blessing to me. Also featured? Her brother Scott playing Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, and sister Katherine on 1000 Years. What more could I ever, ever have asked for then a family to keep piano music in their lives as part of their best moments. Births and deaths and weddings. Music. This is why we are here. It's my favorite thing.

Next Monday the piano kids come back. I'm busy getting my ducks in a row for that. We are going to have recitals, chamber music, accompanying and duets. I'm also on a scale kick--and the theory books are on order. It's all about the routine. The practice routine.  I love a routine.

Help me light the fire of the love of music in the hearts of these kids and parents. Let my love for music and children be contagious. Bless each and every hour we have together in the studio. Let it all be to your glory and delight. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Saving Big Foot Lodge

Big Foot Lodge
Fortunately, it comes without the contents. . . 
1,2,3,4 Moved Pines









Big Foot's Destination
Labor Day Weekend.
Manual labor day weekend.

Our neighbors have gifted us the little structure named "Big Foot Lodge" by the original owners because of the dad's big feet. The actual footprint is twelve feet by sixteen feet. The only problem with this little sleeping cabin, which is the same vintage as our cabin, with the same windows and window hardware and the same fir flooring and the same fir paneling is. . . . drum roll please. . . it's not on our property. It's about 150 yards south of our property line, right where Dan and Mary, the generous neighbors, wish to build their new house.

The little sleeping cabin is SO cute. It could have electricity someday. It will never have plumbing.

So, Big Foot needs to move. We spent the weekend making a new home for it. We cleared a space between our driveway in front of the cabin, and the road. There were a lot of dreams about where Big Foot could go, but in the end the 25 year old guy from the city with the clip board and the measuring tape determined it's final resting zone.

That resting place had about 400 little white pines on it. That's 192 square feet, close to two pines per square foot. This is why our main cabin is named "Little Pines Lodge." Of course, just like Big Foot is a very small cabin, Little Pines Lodge actually has about 100 hundred year old pines surrounding it. This is our humor. It's bad.

Bill and I and Bill's dad dug and dug and dug trees. And dug and dug and dug holes. Then Dan came by with his bob cat tractor and took thirty more seven foot trees in the time it took me to wipe the dirt off my shovel. He went and put them in the bob cat holes he drilled during my coffee break. Life is not always fair. Dan will not have the satisfaction of quite so much dirt under his nails, and probably his wrists and back and shoulders and knees and hips are not yelling at him this morning either. See what Dan the bob cat driver is missing? Yeah.

It took Bill and Bill's dad and I about 37 hours of standing across the driveway with four stakes, determining EXACTLY where Big Foot should rest. Where was city guy with survey equipment then? This is pressure. Not exactly performance anxiety pressure, but the very strange pressure of knowing that a building is going to be here for a very long time and if your four stakes are a little off it's not just a picture hanging on the wall crooked. We ain't gonna be able to shift this guy over. Or twist it a little clockwise. When you get an engineer and a spreadsheet guy and a piano teacher trying to put four stakes in the ground straight with the world, it's gonna take about 37 hours. And coffee will turn to wine. At some point you just give up and come to peace with the fact that it's not gonna look straight from every angle.

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Well, we are pretty dull around here. Bill did take the kids out tubing and Calvin did make it up on his birthday skis! Yeah! We also had a very lovely dinner at the Italian Garden over at Grandview Lodge. That was timely because I don't think I could have lifted one more finger to put a meal on the table.

I'm taking about ten more trees home, speak now and I'll pass them on to you.  Most are about 12 inches and I've got two bare-root four foot guys I'm putting in my yard. Every tree is sacred. It's just really, really bad karma to let these little trees die. Once, during the measuring of the stakes, after he had reached mental and physical exhaustion, I caught Bill yanking a little six inch pine out by it's roots and tossing it aside. Like a weed. Hitherto we had a pretty successful marriage. Now scarred by the casual discard of this little, little precious baby pine tree. I searched through the brush, to no avail. It rained last night and if I can find the little guy this morning, I think forgiveness will come.

One last marital hoop to jump through? Getting the trees home in the car. If I shrink wrap them, I'll probably be forgiven as well. This is the dance we do. This is how marriage works sometimes.

School starts tomorrow. We will not be here for the arrival of Big Foot Lodge. Fair thee well on your 150 journey. I asked the house moving guy--what are the odds that the whole thing cracks in half when you lift it? He said zero. He's got dirt under his fingernails so we do trust him.

The grandson of the original owner stopped by a couple months ago, he slept in Big Foot as a child. When he stepped into the Little Pines Lodge, he said the sleeping porch, now the piano porch, smelled the same as it did seventy years ago. He was pretty sentimental.

We are preserving a little bit of Nisswa history. Thanks Dan and Mary, it would have been easier to bulldoze Big Foot. Now it will be a little closer to home.

Hope you get a chance to stop by and see it.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Welcome What Is

We had a big summer. Calvin went to Portland with my mom, and St. Olaf Piano Academy and two weeks of marching band camp. Mary had Colorado and MacPhail piano camps and YMCA camp and horse camp. I did Colorado with Mary and taught at MacPhail and did 107,437 hours of observation (actually 43) at my teacher trainer internship out in Connecticut. I taught six weeks of lessons. I drove about 732 miles back and forth to Eastview High School. Bill's just Bill. He's got a lot going on too. 

Two small words have been added to my Suzuki Association of the Americas profile page. 

Just a little clause on my otherwise boring list of accomplishments. 

I'm cautiously and humbly excited. I'm not in a hurry. I have a lot of organizing and planning and learning to do before I'm ready to teach a class of teachers. I do believe wholeheartedly in what I'm doing and I do believe in the future of Dr. Suzuki's legacy. To everything there is a season. Right now my season is my family and my studio and oh yeah. . . the Suzuki Association of Minnesota. . . and oh yeah. . . Easter Lutheran Senior Choir. I do hope we rename it. 

That's all I have to say about the teacher training thing. 

Lazy days of summer? 
A lot of music. A lot of family. A lot of friends. A lot of cabin life. A little gardening. 

It seems like the kids grew up about five years this summer. Not cool. Calvin is about way taller than me. And Bill. No one prepares you for this. I guess it's happened before in history--kids getting taller than their moms. But it's different when it's your kid. 

We're going through some changes. Calvin is officially signed up in the piano studio of Dr. Paul Wirth. This after much prayer and more than a little bit of sentimentality. If you know me you know that means about ten days of tears. The time is right, and I know it. It all came together like a total God incident. The pieces fell together like a beautiful puzzle. I don't know what all this is going to mean. We are just taking life one day at a time. I trust Paul. I like Paul. He's got an unparalleled track record. And I happen to think he is a very, very good person. Calvin's heart will still be moving in the right direction. 

I'm about thirty hours into the Fall SAM Workshop. . . since Monday. That's not counting the work Cindy and I have been doing all summer. It's something else. And choir is looming. 

Welcome what is. 

One of my devotions had that focus last week and I like it very much. Welcome what is. Welcome change, welcome the new school year, welcome busy family life and volunteer stuff. Welcome whatever comes our way. This is it. This is this day and this part of our life. It's busy. It's full. It's easy to leave your checkbook on one of the tables at the middle school Gymboree orientation. This will force your daughter into early independence because she will be forced to find all the new classrooms on her own while you go back and search every table where you wrote a check for gym uniforms and planners and lunch money and yearbooks. It's easy to blink. It's easy to busy the next precious three years away. 

It's time for me to officially put aside the fantasy of Sally. Sally is my personal assistant. She does all my administrative work and some laundry and she changes the oil in the car every three months. She does what needs to be done without even asking. She does everything I'm just not in the mood to do. 

But there is never going to be a Sally. 

Why would I want Sally living my life anyway? I like my life. 

Welcome what is. 

Dear Lord,
Thank you for this summer. Thank you for family and friends. For the piano kids and music. Thank you for our home and the cabin--let them be a blessing to everyone. Thank you for all the opportunities we have to make a difference. Keep our yes sacred, but help us to welcome what is. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Goodbye to Our Furry Friend

It's a tender morning here at the Kotrba house.
We woke to find our Flopsy had died in the night.
He wasn't doing well the last two weeks.

I'm so glad that I was home and Mary was home and we got to say goodbye.
He was a very good bunny.
He liked to do his tricks and toss his ball. He always came running to see you and get his Cheerio.
He was something else.
I always told him so too.

Mary will miss him.
I'm quite certain that any heaven worth looking forward to has a hill for Flopsy.
He had a very good and long life.

God bless you Flopsy--you were a good pet.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

What a Nice Week at MacPhail

We had the MacPhail Suzuki Institute last week. Annette Lee, Fay Adams and I rounded out the piano masterclass faculty. We also got to play together on the recital, selections from Ravel's Mother Goose Suite. Annette got to do all the glissandi at the end--so she did get the glory. And the blisters. Adrianna and I also got to play together for the first time--a Chopin cello and piano sonata movement. I'm not sure why it took me so many years to realize how much fun it is to collaborate with others. I really enjoyed the recital. I was actually there, in my body, seeing the black dots on the page, feeling the smooth keys and hearing the tone coming out of the 9' Steinway in front of my peers and students. That made me happy.

The piano kids were great. There are some great kids who come year after year. I really love it.
We made popcorn, real popcorn, in the group class. It was to demonstrate the idea of different kinds of staccato. I also blew soap bubbles and let them pop on the children's faces.

I got to take a class from Fay, along with some piano friends! That was super fun.

Having your own child at an institute where you are teaching is it's own adventure. Talk about transparency. But Mary loves Fay and Annette and Wynn-Anne and Sue and L.A the drum guy. She just loves the institute. And she loves the piano kids.

Disclosure. It took every single solitary ounce of self-discipline for me to come home at the end of the day and watch the video recording of her lesson with Fay and diligently follow through on the teaching points. But we did it. Every night. I did at one point in the week resort to paying Mary a nickle a phrase for perfect reps with gentle endings on the Chopin waltz which we so responsibly started ten days before the institute. Because I'm just that perfect of a Suzuki mom.

I'm so proud of Nandani, Preston, Úna, Ella, Walt, Britta and Mary for all their hard work. I'm sorry Walt was feeling sick most of the week and missed out.

We do these institutes to get a boost. I hope the Minneapolis kids got what they came for. I sure had a good time. Good kids, good music. Good friends. Good memories.

Tonight, I'm writing from Connecticut. Got in last night at 2:00 a.m. I'm gonna go to bed and sleep. And get up tomorrow and continue my observation of Diana Galindo's Book One Teacher Training class. And meet the Connecticut kids out here.

When I pulled into the the parking lot at the Hartt school today--a wash of flashbacks overtook me. My kids were four and seven again and Calvin was chasing after Alexa with the long red twisted braids and Mary was hugging her friends in the courtyard and crying her eyes out when we left. This is the stuff. Marina Obukovsky was telling Calvin not to wake the baby in Cradle Song. He was singing the right hand to the Beethoven Moderato while he played the left hand of Cradle Song--playing the distraction game with himself. . . and Catherine McMichael was telling me that it was all going to be  okay--Mary was only four after all. There was a long path ahead. Mary Had a Little Lamb was going to be okay.  Calvin was scoping out every piano in every practice room and telling us about them for hours and hours and hours at dinner while we tried to have adult conversation with Chris Liccardo. This is the stuff.

Institutes. Good kids, good music, good friends. Good, good memories.
Good night.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

God Bless Us Everyone

While I remain 100% committed to Dr. Suzuki's mother tongue approach to the study of music, it very well may be that the single most important side effect of this method is community.

We spent a week in Beaver Creek at the Colorado Suzuki Institute with Matthew and Erica. Ella and Úna spent the week at the Chicago Suzuki Institute. Now we are here with Preston, Nandani, Walt, Úna, Ella, Britta and Mary at the MacPhail Suzuki Institute. And I get to work with Vivian and Gabriella and Natalie, Michael, Saanvi, Phillip, Natalia, Ben and Caden.

I get to perform with Annette and Adrianna and Fay.

There is so much good music going on but beyond that. . .

We get to know each other.

This is it folks. As Jen Hatmaker says. . . I can't even.

Kids. Marriage. Music. It's just not always easy. Every kid is unique, every parent is unique, every marriage is unique and when push comes to shove we're just here for each other. That's even more important than the music.

Most people have some big challenge.

OK. . . everybody has some big challenge.

You work with families long enough you pretty much figure out what their challenge is. While you are working on your own.

So tonight. . . God bless the Suzuki families. God be with Walt who is not feeling good. . . and with everybody and their deal.


Monday, July 18, 2016


Happy birthday kid!

Throughout history, apparently children, have done this thing, whereas they grow talller, get smarter and even sometimes more musical than their parents. This is normal. But no one prepares you for this.

Mama and Daddy are so proud of you and everything that makes you who you are. You are a one-of-a-kind sweet, smart, musical and fun son, grandson, great-grandson, brother, cousin and nephew. Child of God. We are all blessed by you everyday!

Especially when you help me at the computer. And with my phone. And vacuuming.
Happy birthday, I love you!