Thursday, November 30, 2017

Hanging on to Christmas Past

I set the table for four. At 9:00 a.m. I guess I'm excited about the four of us actually sitting down to eat Costco chicken Alfredo together at 7:00 p.m. tonight.

Yesterday I took a moment to look up a blog entry from 2011. In December of 2011 I wrote nineteen blog entries. This Fall I've only been able to write about one a month. What's weird? Back when I was writing all those blogs I thought I was really busy. Really busy. . .

It's all good. Right now I've got just enough time to do what I need to do. I'm not frantic like I used to be. But, back then I didn't have SAM responsibilities and emails to field. Calvin didn't go from one intense musical endeavor to another at Eastview. Mary wasn't practicing K.330 for an hour a day. I'm right where I need to be.  Just not WRITE where I used to be.

I'll return to writing. But I've also been practicing a lot. And that's good. I'm taking lessons from Kathie Faricy when I can fit them in and I always come away inspired. Observing Paul and Calvin every week is also such a blessing--I'm high on the personal teaching/playing growth chart.

This is the time. Mary is thirteen. She teetering on the edge of childhood. We are holding on to little girl-hood pretty well. Calvin is a junior and driving. I'm hit with grief bursts almost daily. Oh my God. . . we are closer to the end than the beginning. Turning fifty in January is NOT helping.

And so many of the things I have in my heart about my family and friends are not fit for prime time. The challenges of many around me are simply private. They are not my stories to write.

What can I say? Pushing 50 has a lot to do with letting go the drama. Time is not elastic. The young become the old and mysteries do unfold. In the words of Oleta Adams. . . everything must change.

What can I do? I bought the kids advent calendars with little chocolates in them. Santa Claus is going to come down the chimney and make a big mess on the hearth.

My mom will come and we will go out to lunch at the Galleria. She and I will sit at the kitchen table and drink coffee and make lists in our jammies. We will get Maggie to the Christmas Eve service to hear us play, it's just that Calvin will probably drive over and pick her up. It's not hard to remember when she picked him up. We will get Bill's folks down from Nisswa for Christmas Day. Sam will come home from college. If there is snow the kids will go sledding. No Katie dog this year to keep them off thin ice. Too many changes.

I've always been ready for the next stage. Nursing-ready. Toddlers-ready. Preschool-ready. Etc. Now I'm not ready. I don't want the young to become the old.

Even when the changes are normal and natural, it's not easy. I'm hanging on to everything I can. And I'm setting the table for four tonight. Tomorrow is December first and we will listen to December first music and do the December first activities. December second? I'm not really ready for Christmas future.

I'm hanging on to Christmas past. Today.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Seeing Clearly

I'm just home from the eye doctor--my annual visit--actually about two and a half years went by--because I really hate going for about a million reasons.

It takes sooooo long, like three hours, and they dilate my eyes and do all manor of poking and prying and testing. When I asked if they could take a fancy computer picture of my eyes instead of dilating, my new doctor said, "oh, yes, let's do that too, you can drive to our office in St. Paul right after this and they have that machine there and it will only take up an hour or two more of your day." I paraphrase. He still dilated my eyes.

Here is the laundry list. .  . preglaucoma, pretty much a given that I will have this, my right eye at -15.5 and left eye at -14.75, suspicious looking optic nerves, eye pressure on the high end, my grandpa lost his vision to it and my sister is already on the drops. Cataracts--I'm getting them, but good news, if they get bad enough I can have surgery and it will actually completely correct my vision. Bring it on. . . .

The contact lens gal is my hero. She keeps me out of coke bottle shaped glasses. I'm also at the limit of commercially available contacts and custom lenses break the bank so we are talking about glasses to read and different glasses to drive at night, all to wear over my contacts. I'll take it. Insurance might not.

When I told her the biggest priority is reading music, she casually remarked that looking back and forth from music to a conductor is the most difficult thing for eyes to do. Yikes. Good thing I don't have to do that--oh wait, I do have to do that.

A know half a dozen people with debilitating vision, so everyday when I pop an inexpensive disposable piece of plastic into my eyes and go about my day I'm actually filled with gratitude. If things are a little fuzzy around the edges I'm happy with the big picture.

How we see things. It's really important. Last week I was thinking about something similar, it was how we see people. What do we see in them? Who sees the best in us?

I'm reading a book by Richard Rohr called Things Hidden. He says, when someone else loves you, they give you not just themselves, but for some reason they give you back your own self, but now a truer and better self.

A truer and better self.

That's enough right there to make me cry. I think about the people I know who overlooked a lot to see the best in me. Teachers. Parents. Grandparents. My spouse. My children.

What we see in people can be what they become. It's not that we fool ourselves and then go vent about them behind their back, though I'm guilty of that. It's that we honestly do see the best in them.

It's easy to see the best in little five year old Cassy Erickson, my sweet alumni. Other people are harder. We might have to put on God's glasses to see the best in them.

My grandma Hope thought I hung the moon. I could do no wrong. Betty Mallard took a recovering French horn major into her piano studio at UT. Doris Harrel helped me afford teacher training when I didn't have a dime. My mom and dad always told me I could succeed at whatever I choose to do. And, I knew I met my match when I felt like my very best self on my first date with Bill.

So, how to see the best in people? How to carry this forth? My sister says to sort the grain from the chaff. She's a very compassionate person. Compassion also requires boundaries.

What if we treated every student like a little Cassy? Innocent. Pure. Intelligent. Musical. What if we accepted nothing less from everyone from our children to strangers.

We'd have to stop putting negative labels on people like--weird, rude, irritating, stupid. . . We'd have to meet them with a clean slate every day. With boundaries, yes.

That's what I want. To bring out the best in people. To see them through God's glasses. Close up or far away, in the light and in the dark. I've said this before. It just takes reminding.

Lord, help me to see through your eyes. Guide my thoughts, words, and deeds to reflect your love and in that love bring out a truer and better self in myself and others. Amen. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thirty Days Has September

Snares on the House on Summit Avenue

Calvin in the Center

Not Yet 50. . . 


One is Silver and the Other Gold

Birthday Boy with his Banana Boat

A Pretty Good Time. . .  wink
Back to School Pose


Another Party? How many parites does this guy get? 

Along with Andras Schiff in October, it's going to be a great concert year! 

Super mom helped Mary make this entire outfit. Sewing Day '17
September is coming to a close. Today is Bill's 50th birthday. He's taking it okay. I'm wondering if I should have married an older man.

I'll let you work that one out.

The USS Kotrba is sailing across the wide blue sea but I'm feeling mysteriously in control. I've got more students than ever this Fall, but I'm getting more help too. It all works out.

I'm starting the day at 5:30 a.m. I'm downstairs by 5:45 and start the I.V. drip of coffee. Also some really good vitamins. I'm writing in my journal, doing my devotion and when I can take it, a short meditation. Once a week or so I head on up and listen to Calvin practice. He's pretty independant but I still take notes at the lesson and keep him company. I feel extremely blessed. Every Monday afternoon I get to pick him up from school, spend an hour in the car, listen to an hour of his lesson, and drive the hour back down to Eastview High. I pack a snack, a dinner and another snack, all the drum line stuff, his piano scores, my piano scores, and a gallon thermos of water for marching band practice. I get to witness the next step at the piano with a kid I know pretty well. Wink. Paul is amazing and cheerful and very kind to let me observe. I work hard to keep as quiet as possible. I'm not perfect.

At 6:30 a.m. Bill and I start the breakfasts and lunches. We can't always eat dinner all together, so we try to all be in the kitchen in the morning. No devices. For that matter, I've been strict with myself--no lists, no notebook and no email until after Mary is dropped at school. Bill and Calvin leave at 7:00 and Mary and I head up for piano. She's doing a half an hour with me and half an hour independently after school. Also, a few nights a week I sneak in an extra twenty minutes or so with her after dinner. After piano I drop her at Blackhawk Middle School. She has her lists down--clarinet, lunch, book, backpack. . . she's a 7th grader extraordinaire. She's looking up her grades online every few hours. . . they are pretty good. Wink.

The SAM workshop is looming. Michiko Yurko is coming to work with students and teachers on Music Mind Games, her program. I'm super looking forward to getting to know her and getting NEW IDEAS for group class. After the workshop, my SAM Presidency is on the downhill. I'm ready to do my own thing. I need to focus on my own teacher training and take care of my own studio. Conor and Adrianna and I have a conference proposal cooking and I'm hopeful that Caroline Fraser is coming to work with me and the piano kids and some local teachers in May before the conference.

After I drop Mary at 7:45, two days a week I go exercise in a class. It's the only way my body will do an hour of work. There has to be a teacher telling me what to do. There has to be peer pressure to stay the whole class. Videos at home get shut off when the phone rings. The three other days are filled with meetings and lesson plans and teaching. Triaging the email. After the workshop, I'm hoping to do more pedagogy blogging. Here is a link to where you can sign up to get my pedagogy blog entries: https://www.kotrbapianostudio.com/subscribe-to-saras-notes-blog/

My studio is awesome. I've got 100% awesome families. So many highlights already this Fall--not the least of which was Preston coming in and reading aloud to me. From his Braille book. There is a story for every student. Awesome kids.

Choir is great. We have a new music director Ben. Everyone is excited about choir.

Calvin is taking his driver's test in two weeks. We are visiting Northwestern in Chicago over MEA break. Those are proably each their own blog. Heaven help us. I'll have to up the meditation effort.

Thirty days has September. They have been extremely full, but not frantic. It's been Bill's birth month. . . many, many parties. It's all good. 50 is 50 afterall. He's only four months older than me for the record.

Feeling blessed with family, friends, faith, music, health, and meaning.






Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Grand Canyon

Look Don't Touch

Sunrise at Look Out Point, South Kaibab Trail

Early Morning on the South Kaibab

Casey is getting the hang of the selfie. . . 

Saturday Morning

Looking Down on the footbridge over the Colorado River

Sunday Morning on the Bright Angel Trail

Look How Far We've Come

You Can't Take a Bad Picture Here 

Friday at the Bright Angel Lodge

Scripture at the Bright Angel Studio

Starting in the Dark on Saturday Morning

Sunrise on the South Kaibab Trail

The Glory of the Lord Shines

The Long and Winding Road. . . well. . . trail

Still Feeling Pretty Fresh. . . on Saturday

Tunnel to the Footbridge

On the Footbridge--temperature 108 degrees

We Made it Down--in the Phantom Ranch Mess Hall--electrolytes, then beer. 

Soaking our feet in the Phantom Creek

It Looks Cooler than it Was--Close to the Phantom Ranch Campground

Actual Temp Was 108--but feels like. . . . and looks good in a picture

Starting up the Bright Angel Trail at 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning, 85 degrees

A Moment on Sunday

Back at the Top---feeling pretty high
At the bottom, we toasted to Dave Stephens and Chuck Canady--fathers of all hiking expeditions. It was a mountaintop high at the base of a canyon.

We flew into Phoenix on Friday August 25. We met up and got the rental car and drove up to Grand Canyon National Park. We headed on in to the Bright Angel Lodge, checked in and went to check out the gift store and the historic building, designed by female architect Mary Colter. My mom had turned me on to her significance and I was able to read her biography on the plane. In the late 1800's she amazingly went from art teacher to interior designer to architect of countless buildings around the Grand Canyon and the Southwest.

We were picking out postcards and t-shirts for the kids and thinking about getting a beer and dinner. There was a terrace out the back door and folks were eating some ice cream out there.

Turns out the terrace was the precipice of the Grand Canyon. Folks were sitting on the shallow stone wall at the edge eating their cones. Yikes. I guess Mary Colter picked the best location for her hotel and shops. That was our first view of the canyon. The canyon takes up both sides of a giant map I bought and this south rim is only a two-inch by four-inch inset in the map. Crazy, crazy, crazy.

After our mutual internal embarrassment of choosing post-cards and alcohol over the view, we took a walk down to the other Mary Colter buildings along the edge of the canyon. Thank you Lord, that we never came here with little children. It would have been like the north shore of Hawaii surf, where it actually take two parents holding on to one child for any sense of comfort and safety.

I've been to the ocean and I've been to the mountains, but the canyon was a brand-new high for me. Casey invited me because she got spots in the women's dorm at the base of the canyon. They book them 18 months in advance. There was a little voice in my head all summer saying--are you good enough to do this? Are you in shape enough? Will your ankle be healed enough? Why the heck are my knees hurting?  All the little voices.

After dinner we packed our backpacks, filled the camelbacks, and distributed the weight. At the last minute Casey added one more of my giant water bottles. We each had our small packs, the camelback pack underneath. We had our trekking sticks. Phones for cameras. Lunch and trail food. Sunscreen. First aid. Maps. Long sleeve shirts (what was I thinking. . . . ). Sunglasses. One big extra water bottle each beyond the camelbacks. Flip-flops to wear at the bottom. The best flashlights Dennis and Bill could come up with. We turned out the lights and tried to sleep.

We took the 5:00 a.m. shuttle to the South Kaibab Trail head. The gal from Germany next to me had on a down sweater. It was cool, but. . . not that cool. We started down in gentle light. Down would be the key word. It was all down. Knees and toes taking a beating on every step.

The South Kaibab is pretty rustic. No water stops. No little benches. Nothing. Down. Two ancient signs along the way, Lookout Point--where we hit the sunrise, and Skeleton Point--I guess I don't know what that meant--either you can see the skeleton of the trail going down or that's where people's skeletons remain. We kept our skeletons with us and moved on.

We met about ten people all day. And ten mules taking the supplies down to the Phantom Ranch. I stopped and took care of my feet with moleskin. Good choice.

There was a steep learning curve. Climbing up mountains, it gets cooler and cooler. Climbing down canyons it gets hotter and hotter. We were fighting the clock in the form of the sun. I think we finally saw the river at about 10:00. That false sense of almost there. We crossed the suspension footbridge over the Colorado River about 10:30. Now we are really almost there! It was hot and we were down to the last two inches of water in the extra bottle. But we are almost there. Really.

Casey is in great shape. She's always been athletic. She runs in Houston where it's casually 105 degrees. She's biked the MS 150. She's run half marathons.

Sara does yoga, barre class, and walks in Minnesota. I did take a hot yoga class once where it was 105 degrees.

The time between the river and the Phantom Ranch will hitherto be referred to as the "hot time." Casey forbade me to call it anything else, but it felt like a lot of things that might include profanity. In my suburban hot yoga class the little teacher gal in her yoga garb said to release heat with open mouth exhales. So on that last leg of the journey down, that's what I did. And chewed gum behind Casey's back. And rested every ninety seconds. We didn't know that it was 108 degrees.

We reached the Phantom Ranch camp at 11:15 a.m.
Five and three-quarters hours of down.

There were ten woman booked in the cool dark cabin/dorm. Five sets of bunk beds. Casey and I were the first there and picked our bunks. One toilet, one shower stall, one sink. More than enough. The unwritten code seemed to be lights off and quiet voices. All the gals instinctually obeyed as if the quiet voices would keep it cooler. The AC was working it down to about 85. Bless. We showered and drifted away for an hour on our bunks. Then we went back over to the mess hall, sent a couple postcards, which will be delivered by mule and had a Bright Angel Lodge IPA beer. Back to the cabin and another nap.

But Sara, you say, you don't nap. You can't nap. You've never been able to nap. Well folks--I napped. It might have been the heat or the hike or wait for it. . . . NO COFFEE. Yes, there was no coffee at the  South Kaibab Trail Head. People in hell want ice water, that's true--but God Bless the Bright Angel Lodge cook lady who had a big old pot Sunday morning at 4:00 a.m. I only suffered one day. . .

After the second nap a gal told us about a bench out in the middle of the Phantom Creek and we went out there and soaked our feet in the rushing creek for a very long time. The afternoon passed as this. I guess that's all you do when it's 108 degrees. By our dinnertime at 6:30 it was down to 102 in the shade. The cook lady called 48 of us into the mess hall and we had our $22 family style beef stew, salad, cornbread, and chocolate cake. When you're at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, you'll be eat'n what's put on your plate, because a mule brought it down.

We sweat through an outdoor ranger program about the California condor bird. The hiker men asked the cute ranger gal several hundred questions about the reproductive habits of the bird, which she was flattered to answer.

Back at the dorm we packed our packs in the dark and went to sleep. I wouldn't have needed my earplugs as the ladies were silent. We were from all countries and of all ages but we were all quiet and exhausted.

At 3:30 a.m. I woke up and put in contacts and silently brushed teeth at the little sink. Sunscreen. A postpartum dose of ibuprofen. We picked up our $22 sack lunches at the mess hall and I slammed a cup of that precious Joe with no half and half and we hit the trail by 4:30. We started up the Bright Angel Trail.

South Kaibab was 7.5 miles down. Bright Angel is 9.5 miles up. And I do mean up. Now the key word is up. I muttered it with an exhale on every 18 inch step.

The first hour was completely dark and we hiked as fast as we could, to beat the sun and the heat. At sunrise a family of deer crossed our trail. They were going straight down the canyon, as opposed to our switchbacks. Amazing. Little baby deer getting their canyon feet.

Casey had a beautiful butterfly land on her boot.

When you are hiking up and up and up, you stop to take a lot of pictures. Yep. Had to stop and really be in the moment and get that shot. I didn't really need 90 seconds to get my heart rate down. . . why bother anyway it was just going right back up with every step.

We saw the sunrise again. The Bright Angel Trail was very different than the South Kaibab. The Bright Angel had a creek and we hiked along that for quite awhile in between up and up. We were delighted to hit the half way point around 9:00. That was good news. From the half way point up the trail was pretty populated with day hikers and there were rest points with water every mile and a half. The trail was full of every nationality. We met folks from the UK, Germany, India, Japan and heard French and Italian. It was a true United Nations. The only "us and them" was between those who were hiking from the bottom and about to die versus those day hike people coming down from the top with their little day hike packs and little day hike water bottles.

At 7.5 hours we were up. Back at the Bright Angel Lodge. Folks eating ice cream again. More us and them. The folks we knew from the bottom up collapsed on benches pouring water on themselves. The tourists (now that you have been to the bottom you are NOT, I repeat, NOT a tourist) taking pictures in their tourist clothes with their postcards and t-shirts. They were clean.

We were slaphappy and high. Standing at the little rock wall looking down again. The difference in the view from Friday afternoon to Sunday was exponential. It was like the difference between flying across the country and actually taking a road trip in your car. Seeing the canyon again after hiking all the way down and all the way back up was a very emotional experience. I can't believe I did it. The scary little voice was an inner shout for joy.

We ditched our gear in the trunk of the hot car and we got a cone, just like the tourists. Almond praline. Then we got in the car and drove back to Phoenix. The temp was 109.

Bill's sister Ann hosted us. She let us bathe our filthy bodies in her clean shower. We threw all the clothes in her clean washing machine. We returned to being tourists and she took us out to a fancy dinner. We were tourists who couldn't walk quite right.

Casey is returning to Houston, where Harvey has decimated her children's school, her courthouse, her friend's homes. Probably her car parked at the airport. Everything. Her own home is still safe and her people, but she couldn't get back to Houston as both airports were under water. She flew to Austin and will drive back to Houston as soon as the roads are passable.

I spent the better part of the next two days getting home and trying not to throw up. Not sure what made me sick--gee I wonder--the temperature, the fatigue, dehydration, or lactic acid in my muscles. I don't really care. It was worth it. I'll be able to walk normally again soon.

Thank you Casey, for inviting me. I love you so dearly. I will never forget this trip. It was amazing in a million ways. We met in first grade and when you moved away in sixth grade we used to listen to the song Babe, by Styx. Babe,  I'm leaving. . .I'll be missing you. I'm still missing you after all these years. 

Thank you Lord, for your creation. Only an artist, scientist, geographer could have made such a place as the Grand Canyon. Thank you for knees and ankles and padded band-aids, for Gatorade and ibuprofen. Thank you for families that taught us how to hike and the value and beauty of nature. Thank you for it all.  Amen. 


Thursday, July 20, 2017

July. . . She Will Fly

Parade Selfie

Calvin with the Eastview Drum Line on the 4th of July
Cabin is for Family and Friends and Often the Lines Blur

Piano Room Set Up for My First Teacher Training Session

We Said Goodbye to Our Friend Garfield--he went to his new home in New Ulm

A Lovey Lily

My Piano Kids in Colorado

"Baby Sitting" Your Young Friend 
Sam's Graduation

Bill at Home Behind the Grill

Susan and Sam

Janel and Sam

Cousins 

My Fairy Garden

Mary's Fairy Garden

Suzuki Associaion of Minnesota 2017-2918 Board Retreat
Sweet 16 Boy's Birthday

July, she will fly. The words to some old Simon and Garfunkle tune.
The pictures don't lie, it's been a busy time.
I might add--high highs and low lows.

In that age old quest for balance, which I'm sure I've written about every summer, we ping-pong back and forth between having our lives in perfect tidy control, and doing things for other people and making an impact on the world arround us and. . . having a little fun.

Busy May turned to busy June turned to busy July.
We may have lofted the paddle and crushed the ping-pong ball.
We are home this weekend for the first time since Memorial Day.

Lows? Some lows are private--don't we all have that? But I'm happy to try to gain some sympathy for twisting my ankle in late May and having a piece of glass stuck in my foot for the last ten days. This also warranted a tetanus shot which punched me in the arm and knocked me out for an evening. Yesterday the glass was removed and that is a good thing. Saying goodbye to Garfield the cat was much harder than I thought it would be. I thought I would be relieved that we would not return home from a weekend away to find fresh cat pee in fresh places. Instead I felt all kinds of other emotions that weren't so pretty.

Highs? Red Pines Chamber Music Festival (I'll write about that on the studio blog at some point). Other highs? Being at the cabin with friends and family. The cabin is like the other woman. When you are with her, you love her and want to stay with her. When you go home to the house that is your wife you kinda want to fix things up with her too.

More highs, Calvin is having a great time at the Young Artist's World Piano Festival and we got to hear a two hour concert from Ann Schein Monday night. That's two hours that I will never forget. Sam's graduation party in Iowa was super fun. And, tomorrow Mary leaves for Italy with my mom.  Oh, and I did my first teacher training Every Child Can class.

I told you the ball was off the table. Next week is our MacPhail institute.

As I look at the photos and finally have an hour to reflect, I see that it is all good. I wouldn't change a thing. I'm looking forward to the next three weeks of teaching and cabin life. I'm profoundly happy. I'm just also profoundly exhausted. This weekend we are home and only have Calvin's camp recital. A pause between rounds. An evening with my husband.

I follow a devotion called "Action and Contemplation."
I guess I have to stick with the ping-pong metaphor--since we now have ping-pong at the cabin.
August may need a slower volley and not so many slam dunks. A little less action and a little more contemplation. A little instant replay in slow motion.

Blessings to you as you balance your own summer life.
Sara