Thursday, February 1, 2018

How Fragile We Are

Julie Had  A Tough Return to Minnesota
Life is a whole lot about approaching each day with grace and forgiveness and praying that others will offer us the same. We don't always get what we want. Our egos and basically our whole lives are sometimes just plain fragile.

I can't remember who said that, or maybe it was my own quote. It was in my handwriting--probably influenced by a book or a friend. A good book or a good friend.

We can live through a whole lot of positive but sometimes all it takes is one negative to send us reeling.

When someone gives us, or even worse our kids, the message that we aren't good enough, the sirens go off like a missile warning. It's like an impending nuclear meltdown. Global meltdown.

We circle our wagons, shut all the windows and lock the doors, push dirt up against the foundation and anchor ourselves to those who have our back. Those who love us no matter what. Our proverbial family. Our people.

My birthday was last month. My drivers license is expired. My passport is expired. It's easy to feel a little bit concerned about proving who I am to the authorities. Kids don't even have an ID yet.

I imagine that every strong person, young and old (maybe even 13) has had their self esteem held hostage by an other person's decision at some point in their life. We've all heard the message loud and clear. We might not be good enough. A performance, a grade, a date proposal turned down. There are a lot of chances in life for us to feel ashamed. Brené Brown has made a whole career out of studying this.

What rebuttal do we want to give our children--when they are told they missed the mark? What do we tell our selves? We are after all growth minded individuals.

We have decisions to make. The first decision is to wait. Wait until the storm dies down. Wait until we have our emotions under control. The radiation contained. Walk, talk, breath, sleep and eat, but keep your wagons circled. Take care of your feelings. Secure your own oxygen mask before you accidentally rip the mask off someone else. Take care of yourself, with love. Do no harm.

Second? Resolve to learn from every situation. What will we do differently next time? What have we learned? Where do we house our fragile selves? If we are seeking the approval of the world, we will never hit the mark, and even if and when we occasionally do, the mark will INSTANTLY shift. The moving carrot. There's always a next big thing.

Jesus loves me this I know. . .

The third thing? Tether yourself to what's real (From Hand's Free Mama) and remember what you came for.

In the world of Suzuki piano, we came for the love of the child. And then for the love of music. In that order. We didn't come for the love of perfection or competition.

Sometimes we set goals and work hard and shed tears and we still don't win.
How about them Vikings. . .
Those olympic skaters who wipe out on network television.
Our lossses are not so dramatic.

Progress still was made. Growth still happened.
We are reminded that who we are has very little to do with our achievements.
We just are. Children of God. Lovers of music. Learners of life.

Perhaps we are not so fragile after all.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Mother of Expectation

Today is my fiftieth birthday and this was my devotion here in Hawaii, by Henri J.M. Nouwen from the book Mornings with Henri J.M. Nouwen. (Page 14)
     The Mother of expectation is patience. . . Patience comes from the work "patior" which means to suffer.
     Joy and sadness are as close to each other as the splendid colored leaves of a New England fall to the soberness of the barren trees. When you touch the hand of a returning friend, you already know that he will have to leave you again. When you are moved by the quiet vastness of the sun-covered ocean, you miss the friend who cannot see the same. Joy and sadness are born at the same time, both arising from such deep places in our heart that you can't find words to capture your complex emotions.
     But this intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death can point us beyond the limits of our existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us. 
My joy today is almost perfect. . . there are only friends and family I'm missing. And on Saturday we will have to leave. Back in 2009 Mary said, "Daddy why don't we live here?" I don't know dear. Minnesota is character building and somehow I think today's devotion has some connection to returning home after every earthly glimpse of heaven. Joy and sadness. Worth every moment of both.

Monday, January 15, 2018

My Happy Place

We are in Hawaii. We got here Saturday and today is Monday. Yesterday was beach day number one.
My mind is both active and lazy. Nostalgia is thicker than the salt in the air. This is my ninth trip to KoOlina on Oahu. It turns out I've spent more time in this hotel than almost anywhere else except home and the cabin and I guess my mom's house in Iowa. It's one of my places. Happy places. Holy places.

I thought God was mostly in the mountains. I thought Hawaii was for tourists--not lovers of nature and solitude. I didn't know that the ocean and the mountains are just two difference displays of majesty. And here we are on the ninth trip.

Bill and I came alone the first year. And like most parents on a long weekend away from the kids we spent the whole time thinking how we could bring them back and how safe and wonderful it would be to have them swimming in the lagoons and seeing the ocean. Oh--and it turns out Hawaii has mountains too. Who would have thought.

Then we brought the kids and then we brought my mom and then we brought my sister and her family. . . . in the days when we could all fly for free and Marriott points paid for mostly everything.

In 2009 on Calvin and Mary's first trip, during the final decent into Oahu, Calvin turned green and lost an eight hours' flight worth of gummy bears and oreos. My heart sunk. He's got the flu on vacation. But, he looked up from the sickness bag and out the window toward the runway and exclaimed in full voice--I wonder what airline Honolulu is a hub for? All's well that ends well. We got Mary's hair braided and got them suited up and headed for the beach, where Bill took this famous photo:

They swam until dark and we went to get a bite to eat in the restaurant.

Back at the room, we tucked them into bed. They were asleep at hallowed be thy name.

The juxtaposition of years is as remarkable as the juxtaposition of last week to this week. The history books will sit in judgment of the wisdom of the working mom. Each day is a work of art--balancing piano practice, getting lunches made, rides, housework, teaching, practicing, choir and the myriad SAM emails pinging my inbox throughout the day. Try to take care of yourself a little and also be a supportive wife. It takes more hours than are in an average day. Add a couple concerts and extra meetings or heaven forbid an eye doctor appointment and the whole thing implodes upon itself.

My kids are spoiled in many ways. We are here across the ocean. But in many other ways the decisions I have made keep them pretty off center from the middle of the universe. We share our home with the piano kids. Everyday their stuff has to be picked up out of "my office." Everything they want to do has to be planned ahead and in the planner because I can't drop everything and give them a ride during those after school hours. There is no margin for spontaneity. Not everything we do earns money and we do it anyway. Things we do for church and music teacher organizations are just because this is what we do. We give back, sometimes to excess but always something. Mom's main purpose is not to make your life easier. The family is a team all working together to try to make sure everyone gets mostly what they need.

And part of what we need is a break. So here we are across the ocean in my happy place.

When I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about the SAM graduation trophies, this is the pillow I try to imagine my head is resting against. Sometimes it works.

We have routines here. Routines for the day, and routines for the week. I guess I am addicted to routines. Routines make me happy. Routines are holy.

Here's a few more photos and you can see why I'm nostalgic. This place stays the same, but we don't.
Tomorrow is my fiftieth birthday. It just worked out that way. I think we will drive to the north shore and be the Minnesota people on the rugged beach. The lifeguard knows us. He doesn't let us go in the water where the professional surfers are. We will dip our toes safely in the waters edge and hold the hands of the kids even though they are teens now and not likely to be washed away.

It's eighty degrees. It's always eighty degrees. We left Minnesota at fourteen below and I hear a couple feet of snow has fallen.

I wish you were here. Here in my happy place. My holy place.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Extravagant Days of Christmas

Kotrba Piano Studio Ringing in the Season

Santa Loves one more arena show before college. . . 

A new Glenn Miller book. . . are you kidding me? What could be new?

Kotrba brunch. . . . waffles!

Homemade gifts

Plaid is the new black or pink (Wink)

The gift of music


Waiting his turn for the feast

Another jellycat bunny? I thought we had them all. 

Cheerful kid

Josie will never fill Katie's shoes but she tries hard

Cousins forever

Winter walk

Grandaddy's message lives on
The twelve days of Christmas.
They were bookended by meals with treasured friends. Huge meals.
In the middle? More meals. Two whole bottles of champagne. Ham balls. Lasagna. A metric ton of Christmas cookies and caramels. Raclette. Homemade ice cream with homemade hot fudge. Five cows worth of cheese.

Twelve days of feasting.
And giving gifts.
Homemade gifts.
Gifts of music.
Stocking stuffers.
Simple gifts.
Extravagant gifts.

My love of all things Christmas lives on even as I contemplate the millennial trend for less materialism and simplification and minimalism and all things less and less. Virtuous? Yes. I can go there, especially on New Year's Day, with my overwhelming urge to have my socks lined up in their drawer and when everyone gets a spinach smoothie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Less is virtuous. Self control is virtuous.
But I still believe in extravagant grace. Extravagant celebration of God with us.
Extravagant Christmas.

My husband gave me an extravagant gift. For Christmas. For my fiftieth birthday in two weeks. For our 20th wedding anniversary. He said, we have a lot to celebrate.

There have been, and there will be again, seasons of grief. The young become the old. Sam came home from college and soon it will be Calvin. The future will bring it's own set of blessings and losses, challenges and change. I spent half my childhood Christmases worrying about what would happen when my sister left for college--when my grandparents would pass away. Okay, more than half. Yes, I was that kind of child. Those things did happen. And boyfriends came and went with broken hearts. But also. . marriage proposals were made and accepted, babies were born and new friends were made. Years and years of late night arrivals and tearful goodbyes. Snowy roads. Candlelight church services. Rounds of stomach bugs. Traditions are kept and broken, all punctuated by the twelve days of Christmas each year.

Last night Calvin donated over $1000 to Feed My Starving Children, with Mary, Annika and Amelia looking over his shoulder. We drove over to the warehouse but they were closed--so although handing over a huge stack of cash and counting it out next to the FMSC cash register is very satisfying, we typed in a credit card number online, so we could get the matching gift that expired yesterday. We are still accepting donations and still have a couple CDs left! Thank you to O'Briens too, who graciously contributed their time, energy and love into the project.

Extravagant donations. To whom much is given much will be expected.

Twelve extravagant days.
An acceptable level of ecstasy.
I'll not apologize even as I return to semi-normal levels of discipline and self-control.
We have a lot to celebrate, God is with us, friends and family are with us, love is with us.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Why Can't Every Day Be Like Christmas?

This week I'm off. It's just me, Elvis, Karen Carpenter, Andy Williams, Johny Mathis, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole gettin' Christmas wrapped up.

It's dangerous having time off. That's for sure. What if I were a stay at home mom? I could do laundry and cook and drive my kids where they need to go. Vacuum everyday like Alice on the Brady Bunch. Sit around making homemade cookies and candies and wrap presents and light candles. . . eat bon bons and get regular pedicures. Maybe I would go to a gym everyday and have cute workout clothes.

Whatever. Every week is NOT Christmas. Wake up Bud. . . I hear Elvis sayin'. Come down from your butter-sugar high and clean up the cat mess in the hall. Also get the rotten stinking shrimp out of the back of the jeep where they were left after the last Costco trip.

Mary had a jazz concert Tuesday night. At dinner she remarked, "Daddy, there were girls in the Glenn Miller Orchestra, weren't there?" An honest man knows when to shrug and change the subject. She's been playing tenor sax for a couple months now. She's not quite up to 10,000 hours yet. The Blackhawk 7th grade jazz ensemble was very good. So was the Blackhawk 8th grade jazz ensemble, the Dakota Hills 7th graders, the Dakota Hills 8th graders, and Eagan High's Jazz I, II, and III.  We almost got our very own 10,000 hours in one concert. Feliz Navidad. Feliz Navidad. Feliz Navidad.

I went to the grocery store this morning for the LAST time. I swear. I'm not going back. Well, I still have to go to the other grocery store to replace the dark sea salt chocolate drizzled caramel popcorn that I hogged much to the disappointment of the rest of the family. There is also peppermint ice cream at Byerly's that they don't have at Kowalski's. Yes, that's the Christmas zone I'm operating in. Champagne problems. Speaking of that, I am stocked up on our favorite bubbly for Christmas and New Year's Eves. To be fair it's a pretty shallow stockpile. Two bottles.

Last weekend our church choral service was wonderful and memorable and also not stressful. Glory be. Carols with brass quintet, organ and soprano descant? That's all I need to renew my faith in God and mankind. I got to play original music with beautiful piano parts with an amazing group of singers I'm happy to call friends.

The piano recital here Saturday was amazing in a million ways and just short of a million cookies were consumed. Solomon nailed his Chopin Nocturne and yes. . . he was much closer to logging those 10,000 hours. Mary is owning her Mozart. I got a Braille Christmas card. And popcorn from multiple sources. Mostly I received the joy of hearing everyone play music with their hearts and minds. I got close to 23 hugs during the Minnesota goodbyes.

Kids and music--I'm so thankful for this vocation. I'm also thankful for these occasional weeks at home with my family. I'll give up on the daily vacuuming and bon bons dream. At the risk of sounding really dorky--when you love teaching and playing, every day is just about like Christmas.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Same as Every Year

This dough is safely in the veggie drawer. . . waiting. . . patiently

Thursday Morning Visitor

What Self Motivation Looks Like

The Spelling Bee 
One year flows into the next. Almost. New this year? A high school musical with seven performances. Because the words "busy season" can always accept a paradigm shift.

As always, we baked on the weekend. The angels, doves and stars are in the freezer with no frosting (burrrrr), and there is a double batch of sugar cookie dough in the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Some cookies did make it over the finish line--Kris came over Sunday and we spent five hours making chocolate thumbprints and wafer sandwich cookies and fudge. Those are safely tucked into the deep freeze. The girls made almond bark pretzels and most of those are well. . . gone.

Monday night was the tea. After swearing on a stack of ten Bibles that I would never do another tea, something glorious happened. Someone else did the tea. Kate and Jenny from our church small group decorated the table so beautifully and Kris brought the Cafe Latte cake. After years of providing a moment of grace to women I love, someone provided that grace to me. I just showed up. Empty handed. Bev was the speaker and she was so funny I laughed until tears were rolling down my face. Mismatched Nativity scenes are just my kind of humor. What could be funnier than a dollar store Joseph with a porcelain Jesus. Calvin entertained on the piano sold CDs and Mary helped. It was the best tea EVER.

Tuesday was Tuesday and Tuesday night as per tradition, Mary got sick. It's always the Tuesday after cookie baking and the tea. Usually during the 5:00 lesson. By ten it was the full meal deal. That's because we only have thirty events between Wednesday and Sunday night. Thirty events including the Blackhawk Spelling Bee on Wednesday, Mary was one of two 7th graders who made the cut. Big tears.

Wednesday she was home sick and at the risk of sounding like a terrible mother. . . you will stay on the couch with your fizzy water and text me if you absolutely need me. I taught my lessons. And made my programs, and uploaded videos for the advancing recital registration, and practiced for the choral service. In between taking her temp and stuff like that. The show must go on. My hands are raw from washing them so many times. Then you have do this dance with your other kid who absolutely cannot get sick because of the three remaining musical performances. If you know what it means to be the piano player in the pit you will know that he would still be there with a bucket next to him and a cold rag on his forehead. The show must go on.

Mr. Herem sent me an email that the spelling bee was postponed. Hallelujah. Thank you sweet little Jesus boy whom we are celebrating. I had tears rolling down. Sometimes when people do something nice it's like you can't even believe it. Other kids were sick too, I guess.

Calvin didn't get sick. More thanks. . . .

Today was Friday and usually on this Friday our credit card gets hacked. Some traditions are worth breaking. So far nobody in Arkansas got any TVs from Walmart on our dime. I went to the spelling bee. Mary and her friend did not win, but they did great against the 8th graders. Anyway, it's already a miracle because she has my genes and if you know me well. . . you will know that while I love to write, I am not spelling bee material. I'm blessed to have two children to edit me. I was wondering if the male spelling gene is dominant? It must be. Way to go Mary.

Tomorrow is the studio recital here, the choral service at church and the final musical. Sunday two more choral services and the anniversary of our engagement (twenty years) brunch. Then I'm gonna frost those angels and roll, cut and sugar and bake that lonely veggie drawer dough. Of seasonal interest--there are no veggies in the drawer at this time. Just dough.

The Christmas train is an emotional roller coaster even for the experienced engineer. I started out the week a grouchy person and got more and more blessed as it went. One of my parents texted that I was a breath of fresh air. Mary locked herself in the piano room and worked on K. 545 until she got a recording she was proud of. Another book seven student did the same thing and I just looked at the video tonight. Wow! I'm so proud of these kids I can't even believe it. So many kids reached that tipping point of success this week after months of hard work. I can't wait to hear all the pieces tomorrow. All the sibling duets. Seeing siblings playing together is especially moving. I told them all. . . I don't even care (partial truth) how the recital goes, I only care how you two treat each other while you work together. Nothing else matters. Well. . . mostly, dynamics and ensemble would be great too and can you breath together to start and LISTEN to the balance. . . Plays nicely with others. In more ways than one. Parent child duets are precious. If you could see the look in their eyes from where I sit. Sniff, sniff.

Thanks for reading the 2017 pre-recital week journal entry. It's mostly the same as last year. Minus the credit card hack. Barring any surprise snowstorms tonight. . . tomorrow the children will come, it will be a little too hot in the studio and everyone will eat a few too many cookies. We will hastily clean up and run to church. We will eat dollar bun sandwiches in the car on the way to the high school musical. Same as every year. In a good way.

I'm blessed.

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.