Friday, June 1, 2018

Praying for Computers

Native Flowers to Plant--from my senior Solomon

Closest Thing to Texas

Weeds. . be gone with thee

A Fancy Peony from My Neighbor Down the Street in the House without a roof

These remind me of Beaver Creek

After threat of removal she did bloom this year

And. . . these are from some birds or something as I never had this kind before on the property

Busy Bee

Bonica? Maybe. . . or Hansa? I have no idea. 

The other kind. Bonica or Hansa.  This one from my grandma's farm 
I'm jamming to Barry Manilow's "Look's Like We Made It. . . . "
We made it through May.

I've been sneaking out to the garden and showing up for recitals with dirt under my fingernails and I can't wear sandals because my feet are dirty and I have no pedicure.

There are highlights I could talk about.
This was a biggy. . . Calvin with the Eastview High School Wind Ensemble.  . . Click for Link
This was a biggy. . . Mary's Recital. . . . Click for Link

I may not have been my very best self a few times in the last eight weeks. Shhhh. Sleep deprivation.

Highs and lows. . . note that I'm barely speaking in complete sentences.

Having Caroline Fraser visit my studio for master classes, teacher training, group classes and a parent lecture was an absolute dream come true. It's been on my list for years. The planets aligned between Peru and Minneapolis. We went straight from there to the conference. Six days of conference. About enough to kill a large horse.

Our session was on the last day. Adrianna, Conor and I presented "From Twinkles to Concertos, Developing a Chamber Music Program in Your Suzuki Piano Studio."

I've been to every conference since the dawn of conferences. I've seen a lot of presentations. I've seen a lot of failed AV. So when I started compiling videos and photos for our power point this was foremost on my mind. Will it work? Will I have the right cables?

Bill assured me that I had all the right adapters.
Grey stripe shirt AV man assured me that I had all the right adapters. Five days ahead.
Can you see this coming from a mile away?

There is a purpose to the story of my almost failed power point presentation to a conference room of piano teachers whom I idolize from around the country. Also my local friends were there.

The purpose of the story is to proclaim that I witnessed a miracle from God on Monday morning at 8:26 a.m.

Here's the timeline. . . in case the Catholic church needs it to grant sainthood to grey stripe shirt AV man.

Sunday Night
10:00 p.m. Test power point and hook it up to every TV in the house just to check different scenarios.
Yeah! It's perfect.  All the little children are playing chamber music on all the videos. . . from, well, as the title suggests, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star right up to Bach concerti.

Monday Morning
7:30 a.m. I arrive at the conference room and fire up computer
7:35 Power point will not play the slide show--option to play the slide show is greyed out. . . gremlins came in the night. Computer gremlins.
7:40 Eat a banana to reduce heart rate and try not to panic
7:45 O'Briens show up and begin to set up and warm up for their performance
7:55 Power point has crashed 35 times and still will not play the slide show
8:00 Grey stripe shirt man and also the AV expert from the Hilton, forever labeled as AV gal, take over my computer
8:01 I wake up Bill at the cabin, he tries to guess what could be wrong from 200 miles away
8:03 The projector is randomly showing a picture of my family at Christmas time in front of the cabin, presumably from the bowels of my computer.
8:10 A black box is on my screen where power point should be.
8:15 Grey stripe shirt man is sweating. I lay hands on him, on his shoulders, and say a silent prayer. I ask God, in all three forms, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to please let him press the right buttons on my computer and make the power point, which I spent upwards of 50 hours putting together. . . appear on the big screen in front of the people who are starting to gather. Amen. Let it be so.
8:20 Grey shirt man ping pongs back and forth between system preferences and power point hoopla. He does things to my computer that I will never understand. AV gal works from the projector side. My computer is increasingly goofed up, though I imagine more specific language at the moment. . . it looks like a computer from 1970. Everything is all big.
8:22 I start to wonder what we will talk about for an hour since I have no notes, and no outline and Conor and Adrianna also gave me all their notes and well, all the notes are in the power point. It's a high wire with no net.
8:26 Grey shirt man presses something and the power point COMES UP ON THE SCREEN in front my esteemed colleagues who have gathered in the room. We do not touch anything. Or breathe.
8:30 The host introduces us and we give our sessions to the lovely people. The sessions goes pretty well I think, we run out of time and there are many questions and people stay after to look at our collection of music and hopefully some of the teachers will go home and have some fresh ideas for their own chamber music programs.
11:00 We load up the car and head to Hell's Kitchen for a glass of champagne and lunch. Can you eat at Hell's Kitchen after experiencing divine intervention? Well. Heart rate returns to safe level.

Tuesday Night
9:00 p.m. I haven't been able to look at my computer all day. I hate it. I want to throw it in the dumpster. I have no love left for the machine who betrayed me. Bill, however is curious about what went wrong. He wants to load up power point and SEE. . .
9:10 It won't load. Completely mixed up. Note my nice language. My restraint. It's completely KAPUT.

So, I'm calling it a miracle. Grey striped shirt man resurrected "From Twinkles to Concertos" from the dead. Power point rallied for one last slide show and then my 2009 version crashed into an abyss of resolution errors coupled with mirroring failures and an inability to ever repair.

At that moment, four minutes before our presentation, I hugged grey striped shirt man. He wiped his brow and went on to fix someone else's AV problem and I never saw him again. God bless him, his family and their future generations. Also bless AV gal, though I'm not sure of her role, she may have just been a supportive angel.

Are there miracles I would rather have? Of course. But, I'm taking this one for today.
Things are still tough between my computer and me--this blog is the first step--it's gonna take some time.
Thanks for reading.

Happy June to you.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Excitement is the New Stress

Be Gone With Thee Winter Hair

Bill Taking A Picture of His New Vintage Camera

The First of the End of Year Graduation Recitals

Congrats to Calvin! Mama, get out the calendar. . . 

For better or for worse, she got her mother's eyes. Time for new glasses, again!

Calvin's Opening Night of Bravo Handiwork 
A few days ago I posted a meme on Facebook, "I have a lot of excitement in my life. I used to call it stress but I feel much better now that I call it excitement."

I've been thinking about that and laughing a little, but it's really true. Might get a tattoo that says that.

In my younger days there were occasional episodes of risky behavior. Maybe I drove too fast, or dated a bad boy or stayed out too late doing who knows what. What a thrill.

Those days are long, long gone. For over 20 years I've been married to a good boy and for the last almost 17, we've had these two not so little people anymore, to take care of.

This week in Minnesota has been surreal. Tulips are coming up next to banks of snow. Ducks and geese are swimming on partially thawed ponds. The sun is shining and everybody is skipping out of work and getting outside. It's like the entire state is high. A natural and wonderful high. We earned it man.

Blogging is great because you can see the patterns in your life. My cousin Robin sent me a funny video. "It's gonna be May." I'm not sure if non-Facebook folks can see it, but just in case. . . . check it out

I guess the truth is I'm not going to change. May is always going to be May. Christmas will always be Christmas. I'm not some crazy person who habitually overbooks us, I'm a highly productive person. Having every weekend booked from here to June is not stressful. . . it's exciting. The high I get from this is different than those college days that's for sure. . . but the challenge of keeping everyone fed and having black concert clothes clean everyday and making it through May is. . .my grown up risky behavior.  Might I say, it's a much better thrill.  Playing for the choral service and helping Calvin and Mary meet their potential, pushing the piano kids just a little bit harder. . . and squeezing in 20 minutes a day in the garden--I might be at my very best self in May. I can do all things, when there is no snow in the yard. Especially since I got my hair cut and highlighted.

I think the kicker is backing off those things that don't bring you joy. So, I'm lucky I guess--I'm getting better at that. This May the calendar looks full of joy to me.

So to all the moms and dads and teachers and kids! Excitement is the new stress!
Sending love to everyone. Happy May.


Monday, April 16, 2018

The Year of Endless Winter

It is the year of endless winter. All the Facebook memes are true. It's January 115th. Someone left the wardrobe open and the winter witch is loose in Minnesota. I hope that summer falls on a weekend this year. . . we could go on and on.

Those with a propensity for seasonal affective disorder are catatonic.

It's not all bad. It's crossed the line to epically humorous.

Calvin's junior recital was Saturday. He's been practicing the repertoire for at least nine months. There's just not too much you can do about that. Only the bravest locals made it, but we were able to live stream it for everyone else. Let me rephrase that, Calvin was able to live stream it. Before and after the recital it snowed around 20 inches at our house.

It turned into the great recital slumber party. We made it out to dinner Saturday night in the Yukon. There was one restaurant open in the whole south metro. It was lovely. Table for 11.

Church was cancelled. Everything was cancelled. We stayed in our pajamas, company and all, until dinnertime on Sunday. There was plenty of food in the house and games to play. We really haven't had a time like this ever. Not since childhood. Usually Minnesota muscles through. A two hour late start today helped us ease back into consciousness. I had to cancel my teacher training class. Again. It will be the longest long term training ever.

Calvin's recital was really great. Huge repertoire and tremendous expression. I'm exponentially biased but I also know the journey, which is more important than the arrival.

During the Beethoven, the music seemed to run parallel to my life, everyone's life. You are going along pretty well and then the storm hits and the devastation is real and deep. I lost a friend last week. Tom lost a wife. Four children lost a mother. Cliff and Wilma lost a daughter. The list goes on and on.

There's just no recovering from that. Time is a healer but it's gonna be a while. The deeper the love the deeper the loss. Sandi Waldron was deeply loved. By all.

At least in the sonata things recover more quickly and sudden joy escapes before the next turmoil.

And at least in sonatas there is some humor--Mozart is better for that.
And some anger. The Brahms handled that--that sneaky fine line between grief and anger.

On the way to Sandi's funeral I heard Rachmaninoff's Vocalise. Oh my God. Really? It's like the saddest piece ever written. Not necessary.

Well. Maybe it was necessary. Grief is a path from here to there and it takes the route it takes.

Music is a gift from God that helps us in some way to express the inexpressible. The sorrow of loss and the joy of living.

Thank you to my mother and her friend Donna, for cutting up a lot of fruit and accidentally buying too many bagels which have all been eaten. Thank you to everyone who listened to me this week-Texas has particularly big ears. Thank you for good friends who help us talk through this journey of being a working mom and parenting. Thank you to Dr. Wirth for being the very best teacher for Calvin. Thank you to Maggie for being Maggie and the weird fruits of her presence. (Blogging is harder these days with teens. . . you will have to ask me in person about that.)

I always pray that God puts the right people in the right place at the right time.
I'd say he's doing a pretty good job across the board. I'm terribly grateful for everyone I know.
Angels really. God's thoughts in action.

Dear Lord, 
Thank you for music, music that brings us together as a community and music that expresses the inexpressible. Thank you for all the people in my life, those who are living and those whom we have lost. Be with us all. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I Can Only Give You Country Walks in Springtime

Wednesdays are busy but may I just give a happy 20th anniversary wish to my husband Bill. Saying yes to you was the single best decision of my life. What would I do without you? You looked for and found the best in me. I knew it was right from the start when I was my very best self when I was with you. It doesn't seem like it could possibly be twenty years, two babies, two houses and one cabin later. You are still the giggly college kid from Northern Illinois.

Here's to the next twenty and beyond.

That's All. . . click to hear

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Spring Forward

Spices of Life

Mary Graduates Book 5 and 6 

Anyone for a Coffee on the Porch? 

Concerts to Celebrate

Calvin's Percussion Ensemble Piece Second to Last
Things are cooking along here at the Kotrba residence. Spring is on the way in theory. Calvin and Mary have both had a lot going on academically and musically. Calvin checked off his ACT tests and Mary is doing some extra summer math to put herself a year ahead.

Last weekend was our Suzuki Association of Minnesota Graduation day. As graduation chairperson I'm happy to report that everything went off without a hitch thanks to our most awesome committee.
I had 22 students perform and Mary graduated from Books 5 and 6. I was proud of everyone, of course, but Mary deserved some big credit. She has been working her tail off. She played beautifully and flawlessly. I'll be celebrating my whole studio on my studio news blog ASAP.

We've had some snow around here. A lot of snow. School was cancelled on Monday. In a new trend, administrators are predicting snow storms now and calling off snow before the first flurry. This is totally wimpy and not in the spirit of Minnesota, but, now that I have a teen age driver I'm all over that. The thought of a whole parking lot of teens descending upon a snow and ice covered city all at once with no ice scrapers in their cars and no plows running. Yep. It reminds me of the parking lot of a Texas dance hall at 2:00 a.m. when the bar closes. You wanted to be the first one out, that's for sure.
Growing up, my mom was a teacher and when you heard the phone ring at 5:00 a.m. you shut off your alarm and went back to sleep if you weren't too excited. Now we all get texts and emails website updates.

On the snow day, I cleaned my oven and the freezer. That was a bad one.

I'm grateful for a school district that promotes student achievement in the arts. The Eastview Wind Ensemble Percussion performed Calvin's 2018 percussion ensemble piece, "City of Seasons" at the percussion ensemble concert and also last night at the band concert. Mr. P introduced the piece and said some very flattering remarks about Calvin's composition skills and how composition shows the depth of understanding of music. Bill and I each took video. Side note. . . earlier on the program was Funeral March of a Marionette. Bill and I had just been talking about our NIU convocation experiences and there shows up Stephen Squires on the Eastview Program. He was our freshman theory teacher, wind ensemble director and he accompanied Bill on his senior recital. Small world news.

So--it's just a journal update here--nothing profound to share--but it's my blog and now and then I get to just brag about my kids. To be fair. . . I work very hard to support everyone else's kids too. There's just a lot of great kids in the world to celebrate.

Click here for a link to Mary's Invention
Click here for a link to Calvin's Percussion Ensemble Piece
Click here to see all my YouTube videos

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My Dad Was an Instrument of Peace

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where this is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light; and
Where there is sadness, joy.
Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be 
Consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

This prayer is attributed to St. Francis, but upon further research, scholars believe that Francis would not have used "me" and "I" in any prayer. Oh well, I still love the prayer and I still love St. Francis.

Today is my dad's birthday. He would have been 78. It doesn't seem like nine years since we got the pancreatic cancer diagnosis, which lasted only five months.

My dad was. . . . an instrument of peace. He worked in an era of small town banking, when bankers actually used their instinct and experience to determine the character of a customer. People were more than financial numbers, they had work ethics and reputations and he was a pretty darn good judge of their ability to pay back a loan. And, sometimes when they couldn't, he had to be the bad guy, in a way that preserved the dignity of all.

He was not a man that you could present drama to. Pragmatic. Perhaps he knew the difference between real a crisis and a fabricated crisis. He was stable and predictable. Pretty much not open to any type of bull-shit. I say "bull-shit" in the western context--which Daddy would appreciate. The alternative is "hog-wash" which works but is not quite as effective. 

That's the way I want to be. Pragmatic. But, like just about everybody right now, I too get caught up in the crises, the real ones and the fabricated ones. Last week I went all Texan (as my Texas friend says) on the high school principal regarding the verbiage in his letter after the Florida shooting. We all have our tipping points. "Thoughts and cares" was mine. . . but that's another blog.

Most of the time we just need someone to listen to what we have to say. I read somewhere lately that being listened to is dangerously close to being loved.

Daddy saw people as individuals. Not religious. Not political. Not racial. Just people and their individual character. He treated everyone, including the coffee shop waitress, as a known friend and assumed their good intentions until he knew otherwise.

If you are lucky enough to have a good dad, you never stop missing him. When he died, the first words my husband said to me were--you still have a heavenly father. True, and somewhat comforting.

We could all use a stable, loving, non bull-shit accepting influence in our lives. An instrument of peace. A good listener. A calming influence.

Thank you for good dads. And thank you that when they are gone, we still have you as a heavenly father. Help us look for tangible witness of your love, patience and stability in the world--for what we look for is usually what we find. Put us back on track when we start to present bull-shit. Help us be calm and loving to each and every person in our circles. 

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.