Friday, March 5, 2021

Contagious Optimism


Every couple years I have my blog printed out into a soft-cover book so that just in case google implodes, I have a backup of my writing. There was a sale, so I ordered the 2019-2020 book this week. Glancing through the blog entries, I felt something very weird. I felt like maybe something deep inside me has changed this year. The events of 2020 and this year of covid have shifted my thoughts. I feel closer than ever to God and my family and close friends, yet dramatically more protective of my public expressions.  Simply said, it isn't as easy or fun to write in the present environment. It's actually even a little scary to write anything at all.

Another aspect is that my kids are older now and it's less and less appropriate for me to write about their lives. 

I won't write about Mary's experience getting her driver's license on Tuesday. The emotions of a teen and the manifestations of performance anxiety are very, very interesting to me and you might benefit from hearing about them, but ultimately, those stories don't belong to me anymore. What I can say, is that we can do things, and important things, even under the worst of circumstances. I told her, I have had big performances where my hands were dripping with sweat and my heart was racing and my leg was shaking and guess what? You can actually do the thing you worked so hard for even under these physical symptoms. The moment it is over you feel quite glorious and victorious. 

I shouldn't write about Calvin's frustrations with online college continuing even as the covid numbers zero out. The lessons in tolerance completely outweigh anything anyone could ever learn in academia. Calvin has earned a PhD in tolerance at college during covid. 

"The highest result of education is tolerance. Long ago men fought and died for their faith; but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage, -- the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience. Tolerance is the first principle of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think."

Whose quote? Helen Keller. My new favorite author. Can you believe that? Published in 1903. 

I'm reading her essays on optimism. I've highlighted every single paragraph. 

"If I am happy in spite of my deprivations, if my happiness is so deep that it is a faith, so thoughtful that it becomes a philosophy of life, -- if, in short, I am an optimist, my testimony to the creed of optimism is worth hearing. As sinners stand up in meeting and testify to the goodness of God, so one who is called afflicted may rise up in gladness of conviction and testify to the goodness of life." Page. 87

I feel an internal optimism starting to spill out of my heart. We have almost made it through this pandemic and we have not lost a year of our lives, but on the contrary, we have had a very rich year. 

"I distrust the rash optimism in this country that cries, "Hurrah, we're all right! This is the greatest nation on earth," when there are grievances that call loudly for redress. That is false optimism. Optimism that does not count the cost is like a house builded on sand. A man must understand evil and be acquainted with sorrow before he can write himself an optimist and expect others to believe that he has reason for the faith that is in him." Page 89. 

Again, published in 1903. 

It's been almost 365 days since the first lockdown. Yes, there have been losses of life and health and experiences. But there has been great progress. Family time. The piano kids all kept growing in musicianship. Bill finished one job and started another. I hiked in Colorado. Bill and Mary saw Zion and Bryce. We snuck a weekend to Wisconsin with almost the whole family. We got to have weekends with Sam. Calvin performed an amazing program for his sophomore recital in the Voxman Recital Hall. My garden had the best year ever. We had an over the top Christmas season. I've made new some new friends along the path. It was still, a very good year. 

If Helen Keller can testify, so I am lifted to proclaim a little springtime optimism. Optimism can be contagious too. 

In a world where it seems like it's not okay to be okay, I'm ready to come out a little. We are okay. We never let fear get the best of us. It wasn't that everything was perfect, it's not that we never melted down. It's that after the meltdown our faith still served us and still lifts us to a higher place. We aren't governed by covid. We never were. We can float above the news and the statistics and the graphs. We get to just be happy and try to let our optimism be contagious.  

"I trust, and nothing that happens disturbs my trust. I recognize the beneficence of the power which we all worship as supreme--Order, Fate, the Great Spirit, Nature, God. I recognize this power in the sun that make all things grow and keeps life afoot. I make a friend of this indefinable force, and straightway I feel glad, brave, and ready for any lot Heaven may decree  for me. This is my religion of optimism." Page 91. 


Monday, February 22, 2021

Back to School Blessing


The high school and middle school kids go back to school today. It's two days a week for just a few hours. It's been hard to write blogs this season. It's just delicate to write what I really feel while being respectful to the hearts of all the people in my circle. Forgive my transparency, I think the public school kids need to be back full time and get on with their precious lives. 

We have still kept busy. Mary played piano for the musical Charlie Brown which dragged on for months and months in a socially distanced masked fashion. Let's continue our honesty and remind the powers that be that the piano player takes the hit for this. The gal who was sharing the book finally had to quit a few days before the final recordings. Mary picked up the slack. They would have gone broke paying union scale for an accompanist. . . but Mary kept going. Learning and relearning the book. Recording and recording the charts. We can't wait to see the finished video with the cast. 

Now she is on to Bravo rehearsals and recording with the jazz ensemble on tenor. The day we return to the Eastview High School Performing Arts Center for a full company production we will weep tears of joy. Our kids are missing experiences that they just can't get back. 

What they have lost, they will gain in resilience. If we are lucky. If we keep playing our cards right and lifting them up. Those without our stamina have fallen off the grid. 

None of Mary's friends are returning to in person school. I don't really understand. If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all. . . . 

One of my middle school piano kids is having his first day at the actual school today. In the fall he did distance learning. He doesn't know the building. He doesn't know where his classes are. He doesn't know the teachers. And there will be no ticker tape parade of eighth grade volunteers showing these new sixth graders the ropes with signs and directions. 

I'm sending out a blessing to all those kids arriving at all those buildings in district 196 today. 

Bless all the children, but today especially, bless all those who are returning to the school building to learn and grow. Also bless the teachers and give them the tools they need for the difficult tasks before them. Use these trials to your glory, that we may become stronger and more resilient and not lose hope. Keep students and teachers safe and let them be a light to one another, spreading your never ending and boundless love. 

P.S. Calvin has been busy too. He gave a huge recital to a socially distanced audience. That is another blog. Until then, congrats also to Calvin. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Seasons of Love


525, 600 minutes
525, 000 moments so dear
525, 600 minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In 525, 600 minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?
How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love
525, 600 minutes
525, 000 journeys to plan
525, 600 minutes
How do you measure the life of a woman or man?
In truths that she learned, or in times that he criеd
In bridges he burned, or thе way that she died
It's time now to sing out
Though the story never ends
Let's celebrate, remember a year
In the life of friends
Remember the

Mary and I have been listening to the new Pentatonix Christmas album. This song from Rent is new to me. I put it on repeat. As a Suzuki Piano teacher, I'm not subject to song burnout. Hearing the same song or piece over and over again for a couple hours actually sorts out my brain waves. 

Here is the link to listen to the song. "Season's of Love" link.

In cups of coffee. In journey's planned. Calvin and Mary have a game where they pick a random place on the globe and plan a trip there. Hotels, airfare, restaurants and museums. Calvin has a whole itinerary for he and I to take a trip. The year of cancelled plans. 

Bill is getting caught up with putting photos on my computer. Instead of albums called "Piano Festival in Italy" and "Mary and Janel in the Czech Republic" the folders are called "April Lockdown" and "Covid Walks."  

Bill and I have not been on a date since our anniversary March 14. The next week the restaurants closed. 

Still, spring, summer, fall, and now winter, have been seasons of love. 
This too shall pass. And we will be stronger and more resilient. More tough and more tender. 

Mary is in her room on Zoom school eight hours a day. Day after day. One day at a time. Practice. Try to set up a horizon. The next thing to look forward to. And try not to worry that it won't be cancelled. 

Try to say yes to as much as we can. This year 23 out of 27 students are playing Carol of the Bells for the Christmas Recital. Only a slight exaggeration. Every kid gets to play whatever they want. We will make videos to share. I've got some surprises cooking for the studio kids. 

I started this blog ten years ago. I'm not so naive to think that what I have to say is terribly interesting. It's not going viral. It's just therapy for me and a bit of a family journal. 

Seasons of love. That's what we have had this year. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. That's really about all we got. Love. Family time. 

Piano kids. I want them to know that where there's a will there's a way. Or as Amit, one of my piano dads said, "where there's a Bill there's a way." It's true. I have a great husband. We all give 100% everyday. Keep showing up. 

Seasons of love. Let's celebrate a year. Truths we've learned. In laughter. In strife. Keep going, Mary. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

So Close and Yet So Far ~ a different kind of Christmas

So close but yet so far. That is the phrase that keeps going through my head. I've been having unprecedented insomnia. Hmm. Don't you just hate those two words?  

There is nothing to fear but fear itself. The fear of not sleeping will induce insomnia quicker than a second espresso. Motherhood prepares you for this. We can function even on zero hours. But, it's nothing close to our very best self. This too shall pass. I should have gotten the tattoo years ago. I repeat, as every year passes, caregivers, secure your own oxygen mask. I know how to get the low hanging self care fruit. 

As I decorate for Christmas, with no one coming, no parties, no recitals, probably not many friends stopping by, I'm taken back to the ghosts of Christmas past. All the way back. The smell of cranberry candle in my Eldridge, Iowa house. My mom having everything perfect. Rag curlers in our hair. The Harry Simeone Choral Little Drummer Boy on the record player, with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians cued up. Her home sewn decorations everywhere. Little red lights in the cupboard. 

Then, the Christmases I lived alone, completely broke, in Austin. The ornaments my Austin students gave me each year. The gingerbread houses they made for me. The little Christmas plates and mugs my sister gave me for graduation. They came from the fancy Williams Sonoma store and I still cherish them. Eleven years of the long cold drive home across the country. Seventeen hours in good weather. Please, celebrate me home. 

Then marriage and the years of littles. The years of the Christmas train. You can go back to past blogs to read the INSANE amount of activities we had to fit in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Forgive us our Christmases as we forgive. . . 

This year there is no calendar stress. It is a different kind of Christmas. The calendar is virtually, ha, ha, get it. . . "virtually" empty. Yet we have different kinds of stress. To wish for things to be different is a recipe for melancholy. So, let's just wish for what we have, a peaceful holiday time where we focus on keeping people well while preserving as much as we can of traditional Christmas life. Pay attention to what people might be needing, try to lift each other up while acknowledging that it's okay to just be what we are. We really can't fix it. We can just be there. Thank you to my family and friends for listening to the daily sleep report. I'm also happy to listen to your daily report as well, whatever that might be. I'll try to listen. 

This morning I discovered a new Christmas album. It's Enya's 2019 Christmas album. When I was practicing for my graduation recital, I listened to a lot of Enya. I needed music to get the other music out of my head in order to sleep. I needed music, that is, without too much going on. A pure voice and slow predictable harmonic progressions. 

Here is a link if you need something like this: Enya Christmas

So close and yet so far. Sleep. Grandparents. Friends. Christmas. Christmas past. Christmas future. And here we are in Christmas now. A different kind of Christmas. 

I started writing this yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon my mom's dog Josie was hit by a Fed Ex truck. Josie was a good dog. She was loved by all for nine good years. The pain is the price we pay for loving. We are not going to stop loving. Still, things can change very fast, as fast as a truck going by the mailbox. I can think back to every moment when I lost a pet. They are etched. Thank you Josie, for being a good companion to Janel. Janel, we are all thinking of you and wishing you peace. 

Well, I'm almost done with my decorations. And then we bake, and then we wrap presents. That's how it's done around here. And in between we wait for the kid to come home. And wait for school to start again. And wait to see each other in pure joy. 

Peace to you. And little moments of connection and joy. We are not going to stop loving. We aren't going to stop Christmas -- Dr. Fauci said Santa is immune. It's just going to be a little different. There is a lot to be thankful for. 

I apologize for the rambling blog. It's a little bit where I'm at I guess. Not in a huge hurry and letting my  mind wander back and forth from year to year and on to some huge party next year with caroling and appetizers and huge spreads of cookies for the children. On to live Christmas shows. And live church choirs. Mixing generations. 

I'm thinking of the last scene of the Grinch, when Grinch can't stop Christmas from coming. I like that. It will come without all its usual glory. It will be a different kind of Christmas, but I'm still showing up for as many people as I can. 

Merry Christmas and big hugs to all of you who keep reading this, year after year, through the ups and downs, the high highs and the low lows. I love you all very much. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Being a Great-Souled People


Some of us are not stressed. 

Live Streaming Calvin's Service

Calvin Becomes a Member of St. Paul's in Iowa City

Of Course I Sent Flowers 

A Morning to Spark the Kitchen

Standing in Line to Vote

Calvin Training to be a Poll Worker

Masked Chamber Music

Zoom Confirmation Reception 

Beautiful Girl, Beautiful Heart, and a Resistant Cat 

Confirmation Flowers 

Affirmation of Cake

It's not too early in the Winter for Chocolate

Affirmation of Baptism

Surprise Attendance 
Calvin texted us this morning that Anthony Fauci says he estimates most Americans will be able to receive a vaccine by the end of April. Right now about anything will bring me to tears and that does. 

Yesterday I cried at the gym. The poor teacher. . . it's just that we've been holding it together for so long that a couple nights of no sleep and a governor's new set of restrictions is enough to break it all down. Usually I save my meltdowns for the parking lot of the grocery store. She must have felt honored. 

It's been a busy month. Time marches on. Here is a beautiful project that Mary was involved in. She was an alternate and only had 48 hours to get this recording done. This song reminds me of my father. 

Air Force Clarinet Link

Calvin worked a 16 hour voting day at the polls on campus in Iowa City. He's a music and math major but deep down I think he might be a political journalist. He's already contributed to the Wall Street Journal's college op-ed. And other mostly conservative publications. That said, this was not a normal election for some conservatives. 

Mary got confirmed. Confirmation was a rocky road. She was saved by her mentor Jennifer. They have been meeting by Zoom every week, digging way deeper than required. Mary's grandma surprised her by showing up at the church for the socially distanced-do the best they can confirmation of baptism ceremony. I'll take that. We have been at Easter for 20 years and this was a nice bookmark. 

Meanwhile, Calvin joined a church in Iowa City. I couldn't go, because we had an epic SPTG Workshop on the Zoom all weekend with Gail Lange from Canada. But, I sent flowers etc. My mom and Susan showed up. Janel gets an A+ for showing up amid Covid restrictions. May God bless her with health and safety and an endless supply of medical grade masks and hand sanitizer. Congratulation Calvin, may you be blessed by the community, music and message there. And thank you to Pastor Mons, who met with Calvin, again, above and beyond, to dig deep into his faith journey. The things other people have done for my kids-with nothing in return, is amazingly uplifting to me. I'm so thankful. I'm humbled. 

They are great-souled people. 

We long for great-souled people who can hold the chaos together within themselves and give us the courage to do the same. Richard Rohr 10/28/20

That is, the ability to stay present to what is, and meet it with wisdom, compassion, and courage. That is what we are all trying to do. I show up everyday to try to be there for my kids who are missing their high school and college years. Sixteen year olds are not supposed to sit in their rooms sixteen hours a day studying by themselves. They aren't supposed to practice hours and hours for performances that never happen. College kids aren't supposed to Zoom their lives in. 

I try to show up everyday for the studio kids who continue to practice and do all the work with very little of the fun. I try to show up for their parents who are working from home and trying to help their kids with online or homeschool and like me, they have been spending an awful lot of time with the same cast of characters. 

I try to write letters to people in nursing homes who can't have visitors again. Try to show up for retired baby-sitters living alone, who get so excited for an outdoor veterans's marching band program, only to have it cancel at the last minute. 

We get to break down. We get to be a little grouchy. We get to cry at the kitchen table or the Kowalski's parking lot or at the gym. 

But then, we have to wipe the tears and dig in and keep showing up for each other. We each have to be that person trying to hold the chaos together within themselves. We give each other the courage to do the same. 

We are a great-souled people. All of us. Everyone I know. My husband is. My mother is. My father in law is. My kids are. My sister is. My friends are. My studio kids and parents are. 

I commit to bringing as much meaning and connection to this season as I possible can. I'm gonna decorate the house and buy gifts and sneak visits as safely as I can. 

And next year we're gonna have the biggest Christmas party we've ever had. 

May God bless you with patience and courage and perseverance. 

You are a great-souled person.