Thursday, June 25, 2020

Hope's Birthday Blessing

Looking in the Window of Hope's Kitchen

Hope's 90th Birthday Party

Hope with Mary Ray
Good morning.
Today would be my grandma Hope's 101st birthday.
I know I've written before about my childhood and my grandparents and the sacred place that was their farm. And I still have some boxes of memories from their house, in our basement, waiting to be sorted.

Hope introduced me to C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Thomas Merton. She gave me my black leather Bible with my name engraved. She shared my love of Madeleine L'Engle.

She stood by the stove and stirred custard. The same custard I made last weekend for the homemade ice cream. She introduced me to almond extract and vanilla.

Her plants are in my garden. Now it's a fern nation, but the first ten came from the north side of her garden. I have peonies from the long sunlit lane she road her bike up and down. And heritage roses from the perennial garden by the fence.

She loved jewelry and gave me silver charms for my charm bracelet. She studied Indian concerns way before they were Native Americans.

I stayed on their farm for two weeks each summer, taming the barn cats and making forts in a million places. Sewing doll clothes. Putting on shows, which she and grandpa patiently watched when they were probably wanting to turn on Johny Carson.

 She could assess my mental health by the state of my fingernails and my hair color. She knew me. And yet, she only saw the best.

Most of all she listened. She listened to the ramblings of a four year old and heartbreaks of the twenty year old.

And then she listened to my kids.  She fed baby Mary scrambled eggs. Really GOOD scrambled eggs. She let Calvin wind the GOOD Czech toys. And she thought they hung the moon.

I thought I could never live without her, but I'm still living eleven years later.
I'm so thankful. I'm just so thankful.

Thank you for my grandparents, and especially today, I'm remembering Hope. Thank you for her presence in my life. Thank you for the gift of faith which she shared. Thank you for the wealth of memories she gave to me. It's all So GOOD. Help me to be that listener to the young people in my life. Help me share her ferns. . .  and help me to see the God moments she looked for everyday and in everyone. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Listening Last Night

Last night I went to bed at peace for the first time since in several weeks. At least I was a little bit more at peace.

Like everyone, the death of George Floyd and the reactive protests and riots have affected my peace of mind. The images on the news have been deeply, deeply disturbing. Lives have been unjustly taken taken and destroyed, property has been damaged, livelihoods have been stripped. I awoke daily to the smell of our city burning. Loved ones were in actual danger. It was really too much.

I understand here, that my own peace of mind is not the central issue. Yet, it's mine, and I do believe that we have to secure our own oxygen mask before helping others. I've always said that. Yet, these last two weeks I've been unable to read, talk or pray my way to any sort of calm.

I've been silent here and online because, well, anything you say can and will be held against you in the court of Facebook. I sent money to Minneapolis and tried to keep it together for my students and family.

I've been trying to just listen, but I really couldn't digest what I was hearing. White friends preaching to me about racism is mostly what I was getting online. A friend of a friend of a friend who said such and such. Toxic memes. News from too far left and too far right.

I only have a few friends of color and they actually have been very quiet.

Last night was different for me. Last night the Suzuki Association of the Americas held a Zoom Listening Forum on Racial Inequities in the Suzuki community. Only teachers of color were invited to speak. The rest of us just listened. It was over two hours of teachers and parents sharing their stories. The speakers were emotional. They were hurt. They had righteous anger over the treatment of black children at institutes. They had frustration with language barriers. They had the courage to speak live in front of a primarily white organization and share their grief as well as give us ideas for a hopeful future.

I guess that's what I really needed to hear all along. Real people, real stories. Real ideas. Real hope.
Face to face. Well. . . Zoom box faces. Listening to the pain in my community, my own Suzuki community, was a great place to start.

I'm okay with not being completely at peace. We shouldn't be okay with racial inequity and injustice in our community, yet listening to Suzuki people of color gave me an oxygen mask last night. I feel a little better prepared to do my part, whatever God shows me that will be. Step one, keep listening.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Time, Talent, Treasures, Trees ~ the 7th Aspiration ~ Resources

May 8. . . it's been eight weeks of the COVID19 stay at home order.

Our social distancing scorecard? Probably about a B+.  We've done pretty good. I don't know. Maybe not so good? What is good? Maybe we are at a B-.

In eight weeks I've been to Kowalskis about three times, Costco twice, Target twice. One socially distant picnic. The kids went on a walk with Maggie. One student came for his Zoom recital because he didn't have a piano. A couple porch visits. One trip up north. This weekend we are going south. Gosh, maybe we are failing at this.

That is a man 70 feet up in our tree.
People are getting restless. Political. Dark hair roots. Dark Facebook posts. Spring break pedicures have long since grown out. Lucky for me I have a garden. I'm spending every spare minute there. The garden knows no vanity.

My seventh aspiration is the aspiration of resources. Wise use of resources. I'm giving myself a C+ on this one. Maybe that's too rough.

In Austin I was a minimalist. By choice and not by choice. My apartment was 400 square feet. I was a single piano teacher playing in a band and also working at a bank in the mornings. I didn't have much space or disposable income. There wasn't room or money for an extra set of towels. But that was 22 years ago. Now it takes a greater intentionality to be mindful of resources. Now we have to read books about Sparking Joy and cutting back. Now we have more choices.


Our church added trees to the stewardship list a few years ago and I keep it there, well, because I love trees and my grandpa planted forests of trees and its just seems like part of our family story. We took down a huge tree in our ravine last weekend. It was threatening the house. I say we. . . we is the man who scaled the tree and cut it down limb by limb, trunk segment by trunk segment with spikes on his shoes, ropes, and a chain saw in one hand. When he was back on the ground he smoked a cigarette. I have planted a lot of trees. Sometimes they talk to me, sometimes I talk to them. The oldest ones have a lot to say. I give myself an A on trees.

Time. All we have is now. This week I took the Facebook application off my phone. I'm reading Cal Newport's book Digital Minimalism. It's not just that computers and phones are BAD thing. . . like I've always said about screens, it's just what you might not be doing while you are doing the screen. And for those of us with addictive personalities, it's something to be careful about. Cal asks us to quantify the value? How does Facebook make me feel? What is its value? I like keeping in touch with the community. But. . . a lot of time I get sucked in and actually come out with a lessor opinion of my "friends." I joined Facebook to say happy birthday, not to see the dark side of humanity. I could write whole more blogs about the resource of time. Calendar blocking, is one thing that helps me be happier. It helps me not think I can do more than I can do in one day. I'll write about that another time. Still during the COVID19 time. .. I give myself a B. Like the popular meme, we are all floating at sea in a storm with sharks trying to finish our novels in life boats and wondering why we can't get it done.

Talent. Suzuki teachers don't believe in talent. We have a growth mindset. Still. . . how we use the gifts we have is a big deal. Probably I get an A+ in this one. I have done my time volunteering for SAM, SPTG and the SAA. Not to mention ADMTA and HOT in Austin. I've pushed my student load to the limit more than a few times. Fifteen years off and on of church choir. Twelve years each of teaching my kids piano. Yep. A+.

Treasures? Our money. Our homes. Our finances. Something very personal that every person or couple must go through and set their values. Sometimes we are lucky enough to have choices. Other times not so much. Bill and I try to be generous but I'm sure there is room for growth there. To whom much is given much will be expected. When we have enough, it is incumbent upon us to give back in as many ways as possible. Charitable giving is just one part of that. Opening up our home again and again and again is another. This home is for sharing. Our cabin is for sharing. The garden is for sharing, even though this year only the UPS gal and passers by will see it. I think all in all I give myself a B-. I have been known to buy some clothes and plants that were not exactly on my necessities list. I'm not chasing a minimalist garden or closet. I don't take that for granted.

The resources all blur together in the final analysis. Time is money, talent is time. Trees are treasures. Like everything else in life it all requires mindfulness, and periodic assessment. Sometimes when we have time we have no money. When we are using our talents to their fullest we might have financial resources but no time. It all weaves together. Regardless, gratitude is huge, in times of want and in times of plenty. I feel a strong sense of accountability for everything that I have been given. . . read. . . Lutheran guilt. . . still... to whom much is given much will be expected.

I do have a heart that wants to share it all, and I hope that goes a long way in my final resources grade, even after the Gertens Greenhouse trips.

Thank you for all the gifts you give us. Our time, our talents, our treasures, our trees. Help us to be mindful and generous, open our doors to serve others with all our resources. Give us eyes to see where there is need. Amen

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Lessons of Stillness ~ COVID19 ~ And Now

A Different Kind of Easter

Right now, it's 8:10 a.m. Calvin is upstairs practicing K.576. Mary is reading at the kitchen table. I'm staring at a bunch of yellow tulips from Kowalski's. The sunlight is streaming in the window, though there are still many patches of snow on the hill. I'm drinking a cup of Door County Amaretto coffee with half and half and an extra splash of Penzey's almond extract.

I guess it's week four of the stay at home order. Or something like that. Does anybody really know what time or day it is?

I'm reading two books ~ Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now, and Ryan Holiday's Stillness is the Key. Timely. All we have is now and there is a heck of a lot of stillness.

We listened to Easter services in our pajamas on the bedroom sofa. With the cats. One sermon moved me most. We will be different when this is over. We will all be different. None of us will be exactly the same. How do I want to be different?

There will likely NEVER be another time when Bill, Calvin, Mary and I will be alone in this house for this long. I really want to be here. Don't wish it away.

I remember the moment when the Stephens family, my mom, my dad, Susan and I were alone in the house last. It was 1997 after my grandpa Gene died. Susan and I flew home from Texas. After the funeral we were just all four there in my folk's log house, we walked on the frozen pond and ate rice pudding and just were together alone.

I'm spending close to seven hours a day on Zoom between lessons and meetings. How is that changing me, or how could I allow it to help me grow? The biggest thing is the gap. The gap between when one person talks and the other talks. Between when one person can play the piano and when the other person can play the piano. Interrupting on Zoom is impossible, the sound just cuts out when you try. We must simply wait for the gap. I'd like to use that gap to really think about what needs to be said next. Not that I have achieved this. Try to just let simple words sink in. Don't talk too much.

I'd like to give the gift of my attention.
To experience another person fully in the moment is a rare thing. To feel them engage with you, to be giving all their energy to you, as though there is nothing else that matters in the world, is rarer still.
R. Holiday pg. 24

Who is so talented that they can afford to bring only part of themselves to bear on a problem or opportunity? Whose relationships are so strong that they can get away with not showing up? Who is so certain that they'll get another moment that they can confidently skip over this one?
R. Holiday pg. 27

An artist is present. And from this stillness comes brilliance. This moment we are experiencing right now is a gift (what's why we call it the present). Even if it is a stressful, trying experience--it could be our last. So let's develop the ability to be in it, to put everything we have into appreciation the plentitude of the now.
R. Holiday pg. 28

So. . . that is what I'm trying to do.
The sun is a little higher than a little bit ago. Bill is now awake and unloading the dishwasher. Mary has gone up to start Zoom school. Calvin has moved on to the development of the first movement of K. 576. My coffee is a little lower. The tulips are still here.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

It's A Good Day for Music ~ It's a Sad Day for Music ~ Doris Harrel

It's a sad day for music. This morning our dear Doris passed away.
When I got the email from Vickie,  Calvin was upstairs practicing a Chopin etude on her piano.
Then, a half hour later two of my students performed their Zoom Book One graduation recitals with an audience from Israel, Germany and all over the United States.

It's a good day for music. I have another Book Three recital this afternoon.

There are blogs and blogs and more blogs to write about Doris. We can all share our stories. Write me your stories. . .

To me she was the mother of Suzuki Piano.
The message in the music was everything to her.
The day I met her my life took a different direction.
We met in the lobby of the UT music building and I knew in one conversation that this was it.

Well. . . there is much more where this came from, but I need to get ready for the next recital. When Ralph passed away the music came first and she taught at the workshop. She found healing in music and we will too.

It's a sad day for music.
It's a good day for music.


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Giant Exhale ~ Social Distancing Week Three ~ COVID19

Moving Out of the Dorms

Mary Making Masks

The January Calendar

A Few of the Masks

Someone's Sidewalk Art

A Day of Social Distancing

Yep, Taking Care of Our Peeps

Ready for Online Classes

The Friends We Can Hug

My Grandpa's Barn Coat--Starting the Spring Gardening

Painting and Supporting Local Business

Distance Learning

Facetime Lessons

Turtles Have a Visit 

Get Down. . . 

Watering Plants

I Liked This
An Example of My Distance Learning Day

Hello. . . hello out there. . .

How is everybody doing?

Calvin's recital at the U of Iowa would have been tonight. I think the first wave of everyone's disappointment of the canceling of their events has passed. I didn't say it was gone, just the first wave seems to have passed. The trips and special events have been grieved and the gravitas of the pandemic seems to have sunk in.

I'm peaceful about this week. The distance learning and my Factime teaching gives us a routine. We are using the calendar blocking system, at dinner we block out who needs which room at which times. The four of us are here. I'm teaching video lessons, Mary is doing online high school, Calvin is doing online college, and Bill, well. . . Bill is just here. He's got stuff to do, like fixing the busted off knob to the baking cabinet for me. And other more important things as well.

It's surreal, the news is so bad and so many people are suffering. Yet here I am, almost more peaceful than I have ever been.  I feel a giant exhale.

The four of us are here. This is what I grieved for all fall. It's like a giant emotional tease, I finally came to a peace about the kid having flown and now he is back and we are all eating every meal together again with no parting in sight.

The calendar is just wiped. Completely wiped. No Holy Week accompanying stress. No school plays and concerts. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. A giant exhale.

It's the biggest exhale I have felt since I moved to Minnesota in 1998. A new town. Nothing to do and no-one to do it with. Well. . . I guess Bill and I  were newlyweds so we had that. . .

I've tried to cut back and fight the busyness for years. I've blogged about it and tried to come up with systems and new plans and ways to add margin and observe Sabbath and protect family time ad nauseam. I'm a helpless calendar addict. If there was blank space I filled it. Over and over and over. Now family time is almost all we have.

I guess it took a global pandemic for me to go cold turkey.

In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.  (David Hollis through becomingminimalist)

If you are like me, and think the world needs you to be active every minute or some pressing thing won't be accomplished, maybe this is a good time to reflect on how how life might be without all of it. And then add things back very carefully. Check your ego. We don't have to do it all. I'm going to be right here, right now and embrace this giant exhale. Teach. Garden. Make meals. Call people. Exhale. Take the rest that has been forced upon us with grace and gratitude. The giant exhale. 

Keep our world under your wings, especially the doctors and nurses and all those at risk. Be with us. For those of us safe at home, help us continue to be at peace and help us continue to reflect on what is the most important. Use us as you will through this time. Amen.