Thursday, June 30, 2011

Greater Washington Suzuki Piano Institute Day 4--Goodbye

Those of you who know Mary know that she is not much good at goodbye.  That's okay neither am I.  I am just too old to holler at the top of my lungs and scream and cry for an hour.  I would probably be healthier if I did.

So Mary said her goodbyes. To Emily and Vivian and all the teachers.  She made a card for every one of them.

We had a good year.  I enjoy getting fresh insights from the teachers.

Monday, at her first parent discussion Fay Adams asked the question, "what are your expectations from an institute."  I did take some time to reflect upon this.  Ultimately why do we spend our money and bring our kids all the way across the country for a four day piano camp?  Especially at this age.

Perhaps since I am teaching my own kids, there is a part of me that needs validation from other teachers whom I respect.   That is one honest answer.  I need to hear that I am on the right track.

Maybe I want some cathartic revelation for my child, some moment when he will see the big picture clearly and decide to always use his best hand position. . .

I also know that the teachers will say a lot of what I already say at home.  That is a different kind of validations--kind of a big "I told you so" for my child.  Practice slow, get your hands up and over, listen to the sounds, watch the finger numbers--same story different author.  See--all the teachers are saying the same thing.  We must be right.

We come here for a boost.  Calvin learned two new songs this week.  Mary got back all her songs and started to really polish her Minuet Two.  Just spending all day at music for four days gives them a boost.

The kids get exposed to excellence.  The excellence of the faculty teaching and performing.  The excellence of other students they can aspire to.  That is really important to me.  Surrounding my children with excellence.

But, when all the compliments, motivation, inspiration and constructive criticisms have long since been forgotten, what do we have left?

Our goodbyes.   The friends and teachers that we see year after year.  We will miss you.  See you next time.  We love you.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Greater Washington Suzuki Piano Institute Day 3

We made it on time today.  What joy!  Some times it is the small things in life that make you feel like you have your act together.

The photo is of Mary working on her t-shirt design for the contest.  Tomorrow the kids vote for next year's t-shirt design.  I am also a bad parent because I forgot to order this year's t-shirts.  Somewhere between accepting the teaching gig in CO and packing for MT it slipped my mind.  Big tears.  Sorry Mary.  Of course like most families--we're lacking event participation t-shirts at home.  (Please note sarcasm--we have drawers of t-shirts from myriad activities)  Nonetheless.

Today was a pretty uneventful day.  Bill has been pretty busy this week.  He is here, but it turned out to be an impossible week for him to completely take off from work.  I saw him on a conference call wondering around on the sidewalk next to the church--computer in hand--where he could still get wi/fi from the church office because the do-hicky that gives his net book web service is busted.  Mary was inside doing her Dalcroze class.  Tra la la.  Or fa fa sol as the case may be.

We did the mandatory swim in the hotel pool.  Life at institute would hardly be worth living if it wasn't for the hotel pool.  And fighting over who gets to do the key card.

The quote of the day was from Mary, "Mama--you know--it isn't the LAW that we have to stay in the practice room and practice the whole time."

Casey, you are a lawyer, can you help me out here??
It is true, there are no Suzuki police to come and get us.

Keep wiggling those teeth Mary, they are coming out any day now.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Greater Washington Suzuki Piano Institute Days 1 and 2

So here I am, thrust headfirst from the glamorous world of teaching and solitude and clear trains of thought back into the world of parenting and specifically--traveling with children to piano institute.

This institute is very different from Colorado.  Colorado must be one of the largest and this institute is relatively small.  Colorado has all instruments and this institute is just for pianists.

We come here because we love the teachers.  We have basically been following around the teachers we love for the last four years.  We meet other teachers along the way and get to know and love them too.

This year Calvin has Fay Adams for a masterclass teacher and Mary has Marina Obukovsky.  The kids love their teachers.  Calvin has Catherine McMichael for improvisation and they both have David Brown for Dalcroze.  Mary is fiercely affectionate toward the teachers.  Everyone knows when the Kotrbas are coming down the hall. . . Mary also has Orff class and they both have a 30 minute choir class each day.

So today we were late for the first class and I was gently reprimanded by the teacher.  (Loser mother who can't get a family of four showered and tooth brushed, breakfasted and hair combed, recital clothes ready and out the door of the tiny hotel room we are sharing and loser Dad who fights traffic all the way on the five mile trip that takes us 30 minutes to drive. . . ) I put my make-up on in the car while eating a banana and sloshing coffee. Class starts at 9:00 and Mary didn't wake up until 8:25. . . tomorrow is a new day.  I'm just kidding of course about being the loser parents. . . kinda.  I will set the alarm for earlier tomorrow.  Not the beautiful life.

Mary has some situation going on with her bladder which causes her to need to go every 15 minutes.  Bill took her to the doctor and the doctor gave her a clean bill of health. . . but there's something going on and the reason I mention it is because it is driving us all crazy.  We are walking in the door to each class and she has to go.  We come back late and enter.  I know compassion is the correct response, but there is still a primal scream in me that says "YOU JUST WENT."  

Calvin wanted to be completely independent at the workshop.  It is a small church and he has been here before so I don't see a problem with that.  Of course I will be at his masterclass but the other hours I will go back and forth between him and Mary.  End of day quote, "Mama, where were you? I couldn't find you after my two classes?  I looked everywhere for you.  I thought you would be there."  Oh the freedom we long for and yet fear so deeply.  I assured him that at no time had Bill or I left the church property.

Mary met 100 friends.  Her favorite of course is Emily, cousin of Anna, Christina, and Oliver.  They hold hands whenever possible.

Calvin and Mary both played in the recital after lunch.  Beforehand, Calvin spilled his chocolate milk down his shirt and I had to rinse it out.  Mary was completely sweaty from playing on the playground.  They both played very loose but musically.  Mary pulled the double applause stunt where she waits with her hands in her lap until the audience finishes clapping.  Then she bows and gets another round.  Calvin missed the last note of his Gigue and went back to fix it.  First he looked at me and like the good parents I lectured last week, I gave him a two thumbs up.  He shook his head and I saw the tears well up as he moved his glance to Chris Liccardo and the row of all his favorite teachers in the back of the sanctuary.  These are the lessons we learn.

Mary and Calvin are being good listeners in their lessons.  This is all I really want.  Last year Calvin spent more time studying the map of the church and documenting what kind of piano was in each room.  This year he holds an intelligent and respectful discussion about the phrasing with Mrs. Adams. He has an opinion about the music which he politely shares.  My heart sings.  Mary is out of shape having taken two weeks off of practicing for Montana and while I was gone last week.  Calvin copes better with the break.  To her, it is like starting over and it is never nice and easy.   Still she attacks the teachers with hugs when we meet them at the dinner arranged at Fuddruckers.

They are good enough, and I am a good enough parent.  More than good enough.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Colorado Suzuki Institute Day 5 With Students

Today was the last day of the piano camp.  The pianos divided into five final celebration recitals.  Having one recital would be too long.  So, I didn't get to hear all my kids play.  But I ran into most of them around the plaza and everyone seemed pretty pleased.  The students in my location played very musically.

The message I gave my repertoire class today was actually geared toward the parents.  I told them about when I was in college and I would have a run through for a recital and my teacher would meet me afterwards and very intensely with colored pencils and many marking go about telling me what I needed to work on for next time.  After every performance came a virtual dissertation about the ups and downs of my program.  This was appropriate and necessary for me to prepare properly for a high stakes recital, and to learn and grow.

Then I went to perform a run through of the same program, for my Suzuki teacher trainer and her husband, Doris and Ralph Harrel.  After I finished the 45 minute program at their home I expected some suggestions and critical comments. Instead,  she said, "That was lovely, shall we have our lunch."  I could have cried.  Sometimes we just need to hear that what we did was good enough.  We are good enough.

We can help coach our children and practice with them and remind them of details and tempos and what not, but after the performance we don't get to say anything except variations on a theme of  "good job" and "beautiful."  We don't lie and say it was awesome if it wasn't.  But the critique is over.   "I am glad you played" might be the most honest thing you can say.

Tonight, I can honestly say that everyone worked hard, made progress, and played with their heart. It was beautiful, and it was more than good enough.  Let's go celebrate. . .

Friday, June 24, 2011

Colorado Suzuki Institute Day 4 With Students

I am having such a lovely time here.  I am really enjoying the students and the other teachers.  Seeing the kids for a full week truly allows you to get to know them a little more deeply than when you just work with them for the weekend.

I told the families here that we have had three main points this week:

  • Getting set up at the piano--that is--continuing to improve on using gravity and having a comfortable natural hand position.  Getting to the bottom of the key.  Leaving out pedal when necessary. . . boys, you know who you are.
  • Thinking of clues to interpret the music--sequences, textures, conversational elements, harmonic functions. . 
  • Way to practice effectively--hands alone, super slow, sets of snippets, and metronome work.
Tomorrow is the last day.  There will be recitals for all the pianists.  We have been working on a piece all week.  It is hard to get it all done--just like at home.

I'm starting to miss my family.  Bill is trying to do it all--work and get groceries and practice and still get some sleep.  Thank you Bill.  I'm having a crepe for dinner and walking around the plaza, stopping for a glass of wine.  Usually he is having the steak dinner at an out of town business meeting and I am home eating popcorn for dinner.  Tra la la.  I'll be home soon.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Colorado Suzuki Institute Day 3 With Students

Today was the middle day of the week long institute.  I felt like I had finally made it in the world when the middle school girls in my class started sidelong glancing each other and giggling because my class had gone on too long.  I have become the oblivious rambling teacher. .

I am in my room and the window is open and some cellist is playing a dance from Bach's unaccompanied cello suites.  I don't know which suite--I only know that is what it is, because I listen to them every October.  To me, they are October music.  It sounds very beautiful and sad. Haunting.  If you were here in my room you would have a sudden desire to learn to play cello.  Whoever is playing outside has the loveliest sound that would make anyone want to play cello.  I went for a walk tonight and remembered again how lovely it is here.  Families are doing all sorts of outside activities, eating and ice skating and bungee jumping.

My afternoon repertoire class has eight kids, six boys and two girls.  They are age 8-13.  Each child is so completely different.  One likes to compose, one plays basketball, one is in a rock band, one is a football kid.  One is shy one outspoken.  They are from Alabama and Texas and Colorado.  They are different religions. Some are jocks and some are book readers.  You get my point. . . but they are the coolest kids.  They all have one thing in common, piano.  Each of them plays a piece and the others can give him positive comments.  You should hear some of the honest and genuine comments that came out today: "You should be famous, that was so cool!"  "You should sell that for money!"  That was about a composition one boy wrote and performed.  And, to hear a 13 year old football jock telling an 8 year old girl she had really great dynamics--there is some magic there.

Then we break into two teams, keeping the same teams all week and they work together and individually to answer music trivia questions I make up on the spot.  We made categories and and each students picks her own difficulty level--1, 3 or 5 points.   After day three, one team is 1.5 points ahead.

But I think they are all ahead.  I hope they play piano their whole lives.  I hope the basketball player gets to high school and has a party for his basketball team and then sits down and plays his Bach on the piano for them. . .

Music is a common ground for these kids, who would otherwise never have met.  That is reason enough to come here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Colorado Suzuki Institute Day 2 With Students

Day Two at the Colorado Suzuki Institute was lovely.

I figured out a girl I'm working with, was in Calvin's masterclass four years ago. What a treat!  We both remembered the same class and each other and we had our little reminiscence.

The biggest challenge is having four Book 4-5 kids in a 50 minute class.  In principle they are working on the same repertoire and so they should be gaining experience from observing the other's lessons.  Most of the main points apply to multiple students.  It's still tricky.  Especially as the pieces get longer, you really have to pick snippets to work on.  I see the parents taking notes on each student's lesson and that is the best way to be efficient.  I know what it feels like when my own child is last in a masterclass and they get a shorter amount of time.  I'm trying hard to cycle the kids so that when one gets a shorter lesson on one day, they get to be first the next day.  And I run the class over time. . . consistently. . . but everyone knows their assignment and they are following through!

Tonight the grown ups got to have a Dalcroze class with the very dynamic Eurhythmics teacher Jeremy.
The class was on recognizing harmony.  I loved it.  There is a whole science to this and people get degrees in it, but the main point is for the listener to recognize the chord changes as they are going by, and react to them.  The teacher is improvising at the piano and the students have different tasks they are to perform as they hear the harmonies passing by.  By the end of the class we were able to recognize the chord changes going by on a basic pop tune.  We also laughed a lot at ourselves. . .

I used to do this for a living.   When I played in top forty and country bands we learned a new song off the radio every week.  Obviously, I got to be very comfortable with this--to the point where occasionally I would learn the tune in the car on the hour drive to the gig.  Note for note, chord for chord, exactly like the CD.  That was fun.  When the drummer counted off the tune we ran it live with no rehearsal.

But, like most skills, you use it or lose it. . . so I was listening intently again tonight to hear the I, IV, V, vi and ii chords going by.  Another couple nights of this and I'll be ready to hit the road with the band again.  Just kidding, Bill. . .

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Colorado Suzuki Institute Day 1 With Students

Today was the first day in Colorado with students.  Beaver Creek is a luxury community.  All the places we are staying in and teaching at are very high end.  Wow.  The surroundings are absolutely astounding.   Beautiful mountains in every direction (although the above photo is actually Montana, I haven't had time for taking photos here) and the landscaping around the hotels and condos is gorgeous.

But alas, we are here to work and work we do.  I had six hours of teaching today including four hours of masterclasses, one duet class and one repertoire class.  Then the honors recital.  Then a faculty dinner to honor two of the esteemed faculty. I have 29 kids ages 8-14 in Suzuki Books 2-5.  I have seen many kids from Texas institutes and some from the Twin Cities.  That was cool.

When I talked to Mary on the phone this afternoon, she wanted to know the names and ages of all the kids I am teaching.  "What are they playing, Mama?"  She wishes she were here to make friends with all of them.  That is a great part of these institutes.

The students are all very well prepared and anxious to learn--what a pleasure.  The piano faculty has been so welcoming, there is a very nice vibe here--we are all on the same team and I truly appreciate that.  I am the rookie here and I am fine with that.  My roommate actually walked me to the location of my afternoon classes--no small favor as it was uphill all the way and we were gasping for air in this altitude.  Then she had to walk back down. . . but I didn't get lost and waste any time.

A couple of my focuses today were getting down to the bottom of the key for a beautiful sound, and looking for clues in the pieces--to make decisions about phrasing.  Also many kids worked on sparkly leggiero scales--using the combination of active fingertips and relaxed arm weight.  Pluck and drop.  Try saying that several times in a row.

If you have never been to an institute, you are really missing out.  What an awesome thing to have time with your family and learn music at the same time.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reflections on Traveling with Kids

I'm still here in the Denver airport and reflecting on when I was here last and Mary barfed all over herself and me in the security line. It was a cheetos nightmare from the car ride through the mountains. I was trying to decide how to cope when the tsa guy starts giving Bill a hard time. Yeah. Big security threat when blond two-year-old needs two rolls of paper towels to clean up the carpet. This only happens when you are already late to your flight. I took her to the bathroom and rinsed our shirts and shoes. Meanwhile Bill bought her a tourist t-shirt to wear on the plane.

She threw up twice more on the plane. I am a four times member of the mile high club. Not THAT mile high club--the moms of kids puking on planes club. It's all in the flick of the wrist with the sickness bag...

Today I'm all alone but not yet lonely...I actually get to go in the restroom stall all by myself.

Probably by tomorrow I'll be lonesome in there again.

Colorado Suzuki Institute Day 1

I'm sitting in the Denver airport on the way to teach for the week at the Colorado Suzuki Institute. I'm excited. I have such good memories from this place. I did my books five, six, and seven teacher training here with Doris Harrel. What a blessing that was. If you are out there reading, Doris, I'm assuming it was you who recommended me to the folks here. Thanks. I won't let you down. I'm sorry you are not here. I miss you.

During those years I had many students coming out here--Lauren, Aidan and Lena, Cassy, and Katelyn an Kelsey. Kids get older, move away, things change and I haven't had kids out here for a few years. It was fun to show off those kids-working so hard!

Then came the visits with my own children and Bill. Calvin was so little and over-stimulated by the hotel and the elevators, the pool and all the PIANOS. Preparing him to play The Happy Farmer on the honors recital almost gave me a nervous breakdown. Having your own kid perform in front of your teaching mentors and peers is not for the faint of heart.

The kids loved it. And they grow!  Anytime you focus on something for a whole week you grow. The kids grow, the parents grow, and the teacher grows.

As a parent, I know how high my hopes are for my kids at these camps. It costs a lot to travel and attend them. You want the kids to have a positive musical experience, but you also want some tangible growth and learning to go on.

So that is my promise to the kids out here: we will have fun, but we're also gonna get some work done this week. See you this afternoon at the orientation. I can't wait to meet y'all!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

We are back from Montana.  Glacier National Park to be exact.  The four Kotrbas plus my mom stayed five nights at the Izaak Walton Inn.  We had an awesome time.  It was 45 degrees and raining all week but we went forth anyway.  Wednesday was a hike to Marion Lake, 2.5 miles one way and gaining 2200 feet or so.  This was an aggressive hike for us to take with Mary, as she is still only six.  I think we actually would have made it but for a few small setbacks which I will try to capture with photos.  The first was the fact that we were the first hikers of the season so no one illuminated us to the fact that Montana had 200% snowfall this winter and the heavy snow coupled with high winds brought down an enormous amount of trees.  101 in our path to be exact.  We counted them on the way down.  One hundred and one to climb over or under or around.

The second obstacle was the rain and plummeting temperature. It started at 45 degrees at the car.  I don't know what it was at the top.  I packed each child three sweatshirts.  We layered them all.  Lucky for Calvin he had a good raincoat to put on top, a hand-me-down-from a student.  Note to self:  everyone needs a raincoat.  And wool socks.  And waterproof hiking boots.  And mittens.

The third obstacle was the snow.  After we lost and recovered the trail in the snow several times, there started to be little rushing rivers hidden under snow banks.  That got a little scary.  So we stopped.  Bill and I went on, we gave ourselves 20 minutes forward and 20 minutes to get back to the kids and my mom.  We didn't get to Marion Lake.   I think it was just around the next ski hill. . . . by the time we got back--Calvin, Mary and my mom were pretty cold and wet.

Mary cried.  The whole way through the frozen picnic.  The whole way down the mountain.  This ensured our safety from any bear activity. Through sobs, "Mama, as soon as we get back to Minnesota I'm gonna go to and see that lake we didn't get to see.   Sorry Mary, National Wilderness Area Lakes don't always have their own websites.  It is a hard lesson for this generation to learn.
She wouldn't even eat her cookies in her misery. This is of course the exact treatment that my sister and I received hiking as a family when we were young.  Except we had 40 pound packs.  Okay maybe not at six years old, but we were pretty little. . .  historical photos would show my dad carrying his pack, me, and my pack down the last leg of the trail.  These are the traditions we must uphold.

All is well that ends well.  This was the closest we got to the top.  Next time we will make it. There has to be something to go back for.

We had such a great trip.
It took a lot of courage for us to go back to the sacred place my kids spent our last memories with my dad two years ago, but that is another blog entry.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Congratulations Calvin!

Congratulations upon completion of Suzuki Piano Book Four, Calvin.

You showed up.  With all your music.  All the music inside you.  All thirteen pieces.  You made a couple uncharacteristic oops but that was probably nerves.  You choose good tempos and did the beautiful nuances that you planned.  I wouldn't trade a flawless performance for a flat one.  Not for the world.  Your grandaddy would be proud of you too.

Your teachers from school were there and even your principal made an appearance.   Of course many of the normal cast of characters were there, Grandpa and Grandma, Grandmommy, Auntie Ann, and Maggie.   For the record, Maggie took an oath of silence before the first note.  Two friends from school and a family from the studio balanced out the audience.

Your string players did a beautiful job and seemed to enjoy themselves.  They are good musicians and nice people.  The four trios were really fun and exciting listening.

A highlight was your jazz composition at the end. Calvin's Blues.

At these graduation recitals everyone always oohs and ahhs about memorizing so many pieces.  I know that is not the challenge for you.  With the exception of the repeats on the second movement of the Beethoven Sonatina you don't even think about the memory any more than I would think about speaking the English language.  It is just a language that you speak.  Your mother tongue.  The challenge for you is being there in the moment and listening again, even after you have listened 1000 times before.  To hear it fresh anew.  To show up.  You did it.

I am proud of your music, I am proud of your focus, but mostly I am proud of your heart.  Well done, kid.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Our Very Best Self

Tomorrow is Calvin's Book Four Graduation Recital.  He started working toward this one year ago.  Thirteen pieces. About an hour a day for 365 days.  It feels like a lot is at stake.  If he is nervous I can't tell.  Am I?  A little--but what is it that I want?  I want him to be his very best self.

What is our very best self?  What brings it out?

It isn't that I magically want Calvin to be some polished musician, some ultra focused kid, that he is not.  I don't need him to be better or different.  I want him to play at his ability level. I want him to be his very best self.

We want our children to have positive experiences.  We want them to perform at their ability level.  We want them to want to be good.  To meet their potential. So then comes the dance.  I've been trying to put the responsibility for being good back on his shoulders lately.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes he steps up to the plate and sometimes he is thinking about Harry Potter, or the operating system on his computer, or heaven knows what else is going on in there.

If I have said it once, I have said it a million times.  You can't tell someone to focus.  I know you have to draw kids in, to ask them questions--how was the balance?  How were the dynamics?  Even more specific:  how was the climax on the B section?  Still I tell him: FOCUS! Were you there?

"Mama, it's hard to focus when you have been playing this music everyday for so long."

I can tell when I am bringing out the best in him versus when I am provoking him to frustration.  I am only half proud to say that to this day I have avoided profanity as well as violence.  But still the words come out.  The looks come out.  He knows my looks more than my words.  My heavy sighs speak loud and clear.  It wasn't good enough.  It wasn't his very best job.

I remember preparing for his Book One recital.  There were stuffed animals for every song.  He was so little.  Each animal had a favorite song. There was one animal--that thought Calvin could do no wrong--a puppy I think.  He pretended to slobber on him and kiss him and tell him in a sugary voice how wonderful he was.  When he went to play that puppy's song, the quality was wonderful--his very best job.  A light bulb went  off in my mind.

All the kids really want is our love.  That is the key to being our best self.

When my husband and I started getting back in touch after being friends in college, many years had past.  For ten years we had sent Christmas cards and had he had even visited me a few times as friends.  As we emailed and spent hours on the phone long distance--getting back in touch--I realized that he only saw the best in me.  He made me want to be my very best self.  And so I was.

Now I search for the way to be that light for my children.  To see the best in them.  To see them as their very best selves.  And they will want to be.  And they will be.

Good Luck Calvin, but mostly, I just love you.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hope's Ferns

Yes, I know this is Lily of the Valley, not a fern.  There is a story.

We are going to Lime Springs, Iowa on Friday to bury my grandmother, Hope Souhrada.  She died last December, don't ask any questions.  It was a long winter in Iowa. So once again, six households are coming together to celebrate her life, and place her at last next to my grandfather John.  In the warm sunshine.

Perhaps my grief for her was overshadowed by the grief I am still working through for my father.  Or perhaps her grief was just a bit more spread out.  Sometimes I think there is a net sum of grief equal to the place the person held in our life and you can go through it fast or slow or now or later but sooner or later you go through it.  The grief of losing my grandma, or Mama as I called her started the frozen January 2010 day that we drove her down the lane of the little farm on highway 63 a mile North of Davis Corners to the (holding back on derogatory expletives) nursing home in Cresco.  Numbly we held a little service of blessing over the house which held the memories of 40 years for me and longer for her.  We all shared a story or two.  Four generations had wonderful memories there.  If you can grieve a place we are still working through that as well.  What a blessing that my children shared the playhouse that my grandpa made from the brooder shed--painting, roofing, and putting in new windows--when I was a child.

It took four households six months to work through the stuff in the house and out buildings.  Every time I drove there to help I grieved her, though she was still alive, but not living, in the nursing home.  The short hour long visits there not equal to the late night talks about life and faith and the children.

This spring all the starts I took from her garden were more beautiful than ever.  Hundreds of ferns.  She warned me about the ferns.  She said, "they will take over, you will be rounding them up."  Never.  She made me take the transplants from around the Lily of the Valley. The ferns were noxious there and she worried they would drive out her favorite flowers.  Invasive she said.  Having a fern fetish I was glad for the little fronds.  For the last ten years, since we built our house, I have taken ferns each spring from the North side of her house.  And peonies. And roses.  And volunteer pines trees.  Last spring I worried that I would be taking too much from the prospective new owners of the property.  I made sure that I didn't take too many ferns.  Turns out the new family is adding on to the house and the fern bed was destroyed.  I should have taken them all.

That is not to say that I am not delighted that a family with four small children moved into the farmhouse.  They needed more space and will make it their own and love it.  Their children will play in the brooder house--maybe their dad will put new windows in and paint and shingle it.   They are Mennonite, they will take care of the land.  I met them.  They happened to be visiting Hope in the nursing home once when I was there.  If there is such a thing as God moments, Calvin and Mary meeting the four sweet children that would take over the brooder house was one of them.  For me too. Maybe especially for me.

Back to the Lily of the Valley.  So as we grieve Hope, who died at 91, there is some small cosmic laughter.  This spring little shoots of Lily of the Valley that piggybacked on my fern transplants are taking a hold in my garden.  Everywhere. Invasive Lily of the Valley.  Mama is smiling down at me from heaven.  Her flowers are resurrected in my garden.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Slippery Slope of Screen Time

Over the years I have had two studio families who chose not to have a television in their home.  One from Austin and one from Minnesota.  I am sure you will not be surprised to hear that their grown children are out in the world doing amazing things.  Along the way they were also wonderful musicians, scholars, and the most creative and cool kids I have known.

Here at the Kotrba house, we have tried to dabble in the world of electronic media as well as the world of non-electronic media.  I am proud that Calvin did not know there was network television until he was seven years old.  Until then we just had some VHS tapes that he could watch while I was in the shower or on Saturday mornings.  Along the way certain temptations arose.  Reader Rabbit.  What could be wrong with a three year old learning to read using reader rabbit and the "Leap Pad?"  Not that much I guess.  Except that it is a slippery slope.  Now, even more than ten years ago, our children are growing up in the world of the web.  We don't even buy software anymore.  Mary gets a little computer time every morning: PBSkids or sometimes Webkinz.  A few minutes can turn into a couple hours very easily when mom is on the phone or trying to get some work done.  She is learning to read, right?

Calvin started having some homework that required web research.  His temptations are not video games but our browser history will show links to the subway systems of every major city in the world, and every car dealership and dozens of map quest locations.  Computer tutorials ahoy. He loves to pick a topic and delve into it, future researcher, right?

But, he started slithering to the web more and more.  I would come down in the morning and he would be one my computer.  After school, "I just want to check something. . . "  All good stuff.  All research. . .

Then came netflix.  A couple months ago we got netflix.  Both kids can only watch the boob tube (as we used to call it) on the weekend as it is.  Now they just have more Saturday morning selection.  Bill naively put a couple Disney pre-teen series in the instant view queue.  I swear by Saturday afternoon both kids were acting like Disney teens--arguing and talking in one-liners.  That was only two hours worth.  Now we have to take away a freedom that was given.

Not to mention that Bill and I got sucked into the show Lost.  Good grief, there are seven seasons with 25 episodes a season, we are only to season three.  After this, I am never starting a series again. Take away my netflix freedom, please!  Life is too short--but I kinda need to know if they ever get rescued--I am so ashamed.  If you watched it don't you dare tell me. . .

So I am circling back to non-media.  But I don't want to be the bad guy.  Several times I mention that I am frustrated with the slithering to the dining room computer.  What can we do about this, I ask.  My mom mentions the Today Show suggests one day a week with no media.  I am dreaming about seven days a week but I don't know how to get there without mutiny.   I talk to the kids a little more about all the cool things there are to do in the house and yard.  Ask them if they want to be more creative or more plugged in.  Remind them that the stuff they are doing on the web and what they are watching on the weekends is not bad--it is just what they are NOT doing while they are having screen time.  They are not playing together.  They are not reading.  They are not riding their bikes. They are not playing music.  They are not playing a board game.  They are not making tea parties for their dolls.  They are not continuing the legacy of Playmobil town.

So I ask them the question.  What are the summer media rules going to be.

They said it.  Calvin and Mary made the rule. No computer during the week.  Web and t.v. only on the weekends.  My heart leaped.  I have done some small thing right that they would take pride in less screen time. Calvin can still type the Household Post on his non-web, non-game computer, and send it on my lap-top daily.  Creative writing is okay. And, they can check their email once a day for 15 minutes.  Staring now.  The dirty little secret is that most of the time we are gone or doing something on the weekends anyway.  Tra la la.  I win.  They win.

This morning Mary didn't even ask about   She dressed up as a fairy and made a tea party for everyone in her doll world.  Huge mess.  I am going to pay for this. . . but I think it is a bargain.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Congratulations Kris!

Easter Butterflies Released!
Congratulations Pastor Kris--upon the official call to be Lead Pastor of our Easter Lutheran Church.  I never voted in a formal congregational meeting before tonight, but I wouldn't have missed the chance to cast my vote for you!  It was very moving to me that we had a huge turn out and all feeling the same as me, they didn't want to miss showing their support for you.   There are many reasons for this--one is that YOU show up to support everyone around YOU.  The rest of the reasons are the work of the Holy Spirit--but it is hard to separate those reasons from each other--as I believe the Holy Spirit takes one kind gesture from you and radiates it like the waves of a pebble dropped into a lake.  The circles just keep going.

I was also moved by your words tonight, about God remaining the same, even as leadership changes.  The church is not about the pastor or the building or even the people, it is about God's love.  God's love shines through you so brightly!  May His face continue to shine upon you, and grant you peace, especially tonight, sleep well my friend.