Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Freezer Door

This entry is not about music, children, teaching or faith.  So feel free to skip reading it.  It is just me gently expressing my feelings about someone in my family leaving the basement deep freeze door open.  This was discovered after the door had been open for about a week.

I am refraining from posting a photo with this entry.

If I was going to post a photo, it would be of the cats licking up the mysterious gelatinous mystery meat substance on the concrete basement floor.

Several friends and relatives have expressed their sympathy, but not that effectively.

My own sister accused me of trying to "one up" her story about leaving her make-up bag in the car and having her eye liner melt all over.  As if this even compares.  She doesn't have the health department breathing down her back about salmonella, botulism and e coli.  Eye liner isn't going to stink up the garage for a week until the miracle of urban trash collection occurs again next Monday.  Oh wait, Monday is Labor Day.  No trash collection.  Heavy Sigh. . .

My sister-in-law sent an email talking about what food we are bringing to the cabin this weekend--much of which is coming from her "tightly sealed" deep freezer.  That's so funny.  Just for those comments, I am going to let Calvin bring the ukulele to the cabin with us.  I told Calvin she especially likes to be serenaded in the shower.

I am also refraining from posting a list of the wasted food.  Suffice it to say--the whole turkey, bags of chicken, shrink wrapped fish, frozen chili and pork roasts didn't mixed that well with the broken open blue popsicles and tipped over melted ice-cream cartons.  A person doesn't think twice about putting a lidded pyrex of chicken noodle soup on it's side when it's frozen!  Funny things happen when things expand and contract.  Byerly's soups are not that expensive.

Whilst I contemplated renting a has-mat suit, Bill was wining and dining with the folks from Disney Cruise Lines in Florida at a five star hotel.  He's so lucky those roses were still on the counter top.

In some ways, it will be nice to have a fresh start.  The truth is we were never gonna eat the salmon my dad caught in Alaska on his last fishing trip, but I didn't have the heart to throw it out either.  Tender moment.

I've been told this happens to everyone at least once in their life.
I didn't hurt the kids.  I didn't even accuse or yell.  Didn't talk about children starving in Africa. I just recounted the monetary amount of every food item as they hauled it out to the garbage bag by bag.

That's all I have to say about the freezer door.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You Say It Best

You Say it Best, When You Say Nothing At All.  This is Calvin's favorite Alison Krauss song.  How ironic.   When I am being my very best self, the best friend, the best teacher, my very best parent--I talk less and listen more.  Those rare moments when I hold my tongue and guard my words, especially with my children, are truly the best.

In his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ Thich Nhat Hanh compares Christianity to Buddhism, from his Buddhist perspective.  Don't worry friends and relatives, I'm not starting a new church.  But, I do believe that the Holy Spirit can do anything, including using a Buddhist precept, to bring us closer to Jesus Christ.  The fourth precept is:
Unmindful Speech Can Kill
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.  Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure.  I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break.  I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
Wow.  How far I am from that.  I seem to screw up over and over with people I love. I say the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong tone of voice.  But, hope springs eternal.   Ultimately those screw ups are why Christianity wins for me.  I need that grace, that forgiveness, that daily renewal of my baptism.

It is all variations on the same theme--thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor--if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all--and the Kotrba mantra: Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?

Tomorrow is another chance to practice--saying nothing at all.

Monday, August 29, 2011

New Beginnings. . . or. . . Getting into the Routine

Minnesota summer is coming to a close.  The State Fair is selling all manner of deep fried items and it is getting dark earlier.

I'm so excited!  We are about to return to normalcy! School starts next Tuesday!

Calvin is so bummed.  Well, with a summer like his, I can't blame him. We did a lot of really cool things. Normal life is looking pretty drab.  If there was a Harry Potter spell to extend summer, you can bet he would use it.

I believe the reason I love Fall and love being in a routine is because I have a deep rooted fear that if I actually relax for too long I might slip into a gummy bear induced coma and never return to productivity.  Today I put away the five pound bag of gummy bears I have been reaching my hand into all day for the last few weeks.  Both kids had a full and productive piano practice.  I put the listening on the stereo.  Wow.  It felt so good.  I didn't do any web window shopping. I even got together with my TV yoga guru Tara Stiles for a half an hour.  All in one day.  After I write this I am heading up to practice piano for a while.  Double wow.

I seem to have two modes.  Self control.  No self control.  Productivity.  Coma.  Either I'm eating healthy and exercising, practicing and practicing with the kids, taking my vitamins and drinking plenty of water, or. . . everyone is sleeping in and eating gummy bears all day.  In Mary's case this summer it is bubble gum.  I'm not sure if it is a mid-west thing, or a Lutheran thing, or just my own mental fragility, but I don't handle the coma too well.  Guilt.  Guilt.  Guilt.

Today was the first day of the new beginnings.  "Getting into the ROOOUTINE," as Maggie would say. Pre-Fall.  One week to go means starting to go to bed earlier.  I even read "Farmer Boy" with the kids and did their devotion before bed.  It is a tough act to follow for tomorrow.

But, I'm gonna try, because my deepest instinct tells me that I function the best and am the happiest and most productive when I am in a routine.  I also believe that most children operate best that way too.

For the first time this year Calvin was saying he was dreading school.  To be clear, I do not think he is dreading school, I think he is dreading not being able to play wizards and ukulele all day.  So, we drove by the school and saw his teacher list on the door and the kids in his class, and then went to Byerly's and picked out new ice-cream to eat before bed on school nights.  He wrote in his journal that he has a good teacher and all his friends are in his class.  He smiled.  Teacher, friends, ice-cream.  Getting into the routine might just be okay.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

You Never Know

I was at the airport today to pick up Calvin.  When it was my turn at the counter I gave the agent my driver's license.  She looked at it and said, "Oh, I live close to you, I live on Meadowlark."  I said, "Oh, I used to live on Meadowlark Curve."  She said, and I'm not kidding, "Were you the one with the roses?" 

Yes, I was the one who begged the townhouse association for a variance so that I could plant a dozen rose bushes around the windows at our townhouse.  I had never seen this woman in my life.  It was totally random. When you plant a garden where there wasn't one, people remember.  Even ten years later.  

So, my mom and Savannah and Calvin painted sunflowers on a barn.  A woman driving by stopped to say she was happier already just watching them paint the flowers.  She would be a little happier everyday.

You never know what little beautiful things affect people.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

25 Years and Adele

Last night Bill and I went to the Adele concert at the Xcel Center in St. Paul.  It was also the 25th anniversary of the day he and I met.  I hadn't remembered that. Bill did. That is one of the things I love about him.  He bought me 25 red roses to celebrate, and we went to dinner at the St. Paul Grill, and after the concert stayed the night at the Old University Athletic Club Hotel--walking distance from dinner and the show.  You could say we did it up right.  Thanks, love.

Yes, 25 years ago we walked to our first 8:00 a.m. freshman calculus class at NIU.   I studied my butt off and he never cracked open the book. Years later I learned that he had already had calculus in high school.  He never mentioned it at the time.  Later at 2:00 p.m. we had music theory with Professor Steve Squires.  Bill was dating Jody back in high school in Minnesota and I was dating Dean in the Air Force in San Antonio.  Jody was Catholic.  Dean had a motorcycle.  Mismatched long distance relationships. . . Bill and I ate every meal together in the dorm, with Tracey the bassoon player, and Tim the french horn player, for a year and a half until I transferred to UT Austin.  It was a little wacky. The four of us were inseparable.

Fast forward 25 years and we are living in the suburbs with these two weird and wonderful children.  Where did they come from?  How did this happen?  Are you the same Bill?

The other day he was proof reading a blog entry for me and I asked him if the whole blog was just stupid and irrelevant. He said something sweet to me.  When we started getting back in touch after years of sending Christmas Cards and me coming to an occasional Glenn Miller Orchestra concert when they would be in Austin--we started emailing each other.  This was in the day of dial-up and Eudora.  I was checking my email about 30 times a day--just to see if he had written.  So-the other day he told me that reading all those emails from me, was part of what made him fall in love with me.  So, I must not be too bad of a writer.  All those emails are printed out in a Kinkos box somewhere in the basement.  I should drag them out and read a few.

What I wanted to write about tonight was the Adele concert.  I got a little sidetracked.  It is a little weird that when Bill and I met she wasn't born yet.  That made me feel old...

Adele was wonderful.  It renewed my faith in the future of pop music.  She sang to an arena of 10,000.  It was her, her five piece band, and two back-ground singers.  And some lamps on stage and a few rugs.  That's it.  No pyrotechnics.  No screaming guitars.   No light show.  Half of it was just her and the pianist Miles Robertson.  (Who incidentally, did not make any wrong notes all night, to say the least.)  Just a singer in a pretty dress with a pretty hair-do.  No wind machine.  No jumbo-tron. She just sang.  And the audience loved it.  She even sang some songs sitting on a bar stool-Sinatra style.  The girl has pipes, and it was so great to just hear her sing.   At one point she asked for the lights to be turned on the audience and she invited us to sing.  Maybe she didn't know that Minnesotans sing in four part chorale harmony.  It was really pretty with all the cell phone lights sparkling too.

What makes pop music "good"?  The same thing that makes classical music "good".  When it has the ability to touch our hearts and make us feel emotions.  When it cuts to the chase of what it feels like to be loved, or to not be loved, by the one we love the most.

Lucky for me, I feel loved by the one I love most.  Happy 25th, Bill.
La Doo.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles

Monday night my mom brought Calvin home after a week's visit at her farm.  Tuesday morning I found myself searching the bookshelf for my dog-eared copy of Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's book.  Except I'm going to take a sharpie to the cover and add: Kids, Parents, GRANDPARENTS, and Power Struggles--to the title.

As I reminded him not to sniffle, sit at the table while he is eating--and by the way, why is he sitting at my computer at 7:45 in the morning surfing Harry Potter Land--he broke down and let it all hang out.

And I quote, "Why do you have to control me.  You are always telling me what to do.  Everything I do it wrong."  All you do is yell at me.  There's too many rules.  It feels like I'm always in trouble.  Why can't I be at the computer when I want?  Why doesn't Mary ever get in trouble?

Then he took it a step further.  "At Grandmommy's I was FREE.  Free.  We just did whatever I wanted and she never yelled at me and we had such a great time together.  Baking pies, painting hogsheds, playing outside all day. We ate whole pans of fresh baked cinnamon rolls.  Without milk.  She let me drive the truck.  She didn't try to control me.

He probably never brushed his teeth all week.

The irony of this.  I can't even explain.  I can't even put it to words.  How can I articulate this?  My son is looking me in the eyes and telling me that my own mother is more lenient than me.  That she is less controlling than me.  She doesn't have rules.  She is more fun.


Let me just remind you folks out there that my mother is my best friend.  We do everything together.  I have no baggage.  But there was a day. . . . and nobody felt more confined and repressed and under control than yours truly in certain volatile years of my youth.

Payback is a bitch.

He was back to loving me by noon.  I didn't even have to change the rules.  And for the record I don't yell.  At least not very much.  Could it be that he was happy to be back in the tight reigns of the Kotrba compound?

Later he and Mary were watching the new Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  I happened to wander in during the scene where Willy is telling Charlie, "why would you want a Mother?  All they do is tell you what to do and boss you around all day."  Charlie replies, "Because they love you and try to protect you and help you learn. They have to do that."

Calvin winked at me.

Kids, Parents, Grandparents and Power Struggles.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Congratulations Cassy and Aidan

In the studio I have the "wall of fame." This is where framed 8 x 10 glossy photos of the kids who have graduated from Book Seven go, along with a copy of their recital program.  So far there are four faces there, soon there will be more.  Cassy and Aidan are both on the wall.  Today I will add the framed program of their joint sophomore recital to the wall. What a lovely event we had.  The pianists had some very exciting, lovely, and moving moments.  The chamber music was a nice addition, thanks to Christina and Anne-Sophie.  Friends came as well and the studio was very well represented thanks to Grace and Alec, and Solomon and Nehemiah.  Extra points for y'all on the chart!  "Most favored student" status to all!  Wink.

During the recital, I couldn't help but glance up the steps at the portrait of Cassy at three-years-old.  I remember that dress.  I was there.  So, we grow up together, and our kids grow up together.  I happen to think that is pretty special.  All the kids are special.  It is a privilege for me.  I don't take it lightly.

One of the cool things about knowing someone for a long time is that you have the same memories.  When Bill and I started dating--10 years later after we were in school together--one of the coolest things was that we both had the same memories.  It is good to have friends who share the same memories.  Families are like that too.  I guess that is why sometimes I feel like these kids are part of my family.  Cassy and Aidan are probably pretty sick of me by today--after all the extra rehearsals and practices.  They were at my house quite a bit in August.  I hope they will look back and be glad for the milestone. Here is the program.  I'm very proud for them.  (I've taken out the last names for web security)  Bravo!!

Sophomore Recital of Cassandra and Aidan
August 21, 2011 at the home of Steve and Linda 

Prelude & Fugue in B-flat Major, BWV 866................................................. J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Fantasy in D Minor, K. 397.................................................................... W.A. Mozart (1756-1791)

Waltz.............................................................................................................. F. Poulenc (1899-1963)

Intermezzo in E-flat Major, Op. 117, No. 1................................................ J. Brahms (1833-1897)
Romance in F Major, Op. 118, No. 5

Clair de Lune from Suite Bergamasque.................................................... C. Debussy (1862-1918)
Cassandra, piano

Prelude in D-flat Major, Op. 28, No. 15.......................... F. Chopin (1810-1849) arr. McMichael
Cassandra, piano    Anne-Sophie, violin     Christina, cello

Notturno, Op. 54, No. 4....................................................... E. Grieg (1843-1907) arr. McMichael
Misty................................................................................... E. Garner (1921-1977) arr. McMichael
Aidan, piano    Anne-Sophie, violin    Christina, cello

Prelude in C Major, Op. 12, No. 7.......................................................... S. Prokofieff (1891-1953)

Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4................................................................................. F. Chopin
Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 69, No. 1

Sonata in G Major, L. 79............................................................................. D. Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Sonata in D Minor, L. 58
Sonata in C Major, L. 104

Sonata in D Major, Op. 28.............................................................. L. van Beethoven (1770-1827)
     Scherzo, Allegro vivace
     Rondo, Allegro ma non troppo

Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6................................................................... E. Grieg
Aidan, piano

Hungarian Dance No. 5 in F-sharp Minor...................................................................... J. Brahms
Cassandra and Aidan, piano

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Recital at the Lake 2011

Linda and Steve hosted our 11th Recital at the Lake.  This event is looked forward to by the children.  To quote Calvin, who couldn't be there today, "it is the best recital of the whole year."  It might not have been the best piano playing of the whole year. . . but that isn't always what it is about.  There were some awesome moments anyhow.  Cassy's and Aidan's duet was really exciting--hold your breath kind of exciting.  Sami's Mozart was stunning and Lena's Boat song was dark and brooding.  Mary pulled off her Bach Minuet in spite of taking so much time off in August, and the little Twinklers are on their way as well.  Musically, the recital serves the purpose of keeping the kids practicing all summer. Yeah!

One of the cool things I always see on this day, is how the older kids watch over and help out the little kids.  Suzuki kids have good hearts.

Another cool thing I see, is friendships that have been going on for close to 13 years now.  These kids have grown up together.  There are new friendships too.   Some friends were not there and we missed them.  

I thought about when these teenagers were little, and now Cassy is giving the little kids jet ski rides.  They were all still sitting around a bon fire when I left.

Food. Friends. Music. Water. Laughing.  Steve and Linda have the gift of hospitality and that gift has blessed so many kids and fostered so many relationships.  Thank you!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The End of an Era of Fragmentation?

A few years ago I was introduced to a woman from church.  I asked about her children, she said she had two girls in high school and that they played tennis and she was very proud of them.  Then, she added, very transparently, that she had enjoyed each stage of her girls' childhood but had always been "ready" for the next.  I have to confess that I have felt that way too.

I thoroughly enjoyed nursing my babies, but when they were done, I maybe cried for a day, and never looked back.  Preschool.  Same.  Toddler naps. Same.  Kindergarten. Same.

One reason I think I am "ready" for Mary, my youngest, to go to all day school is that for ten years now, roughly a quarter of my life, my days have been fragmented.  That is, broken into little chunks of time.  Time between nursing the baby, time before the two year old wakes from a nap, time between dropping off and picking up at preschool and kindergarten.  I am ready for a little longer clear train of thought. I am ready to own my own brain for awhile.  I am also ready to commit to multitasking less.  When you are self employed and work at home, you try to balance phone calls and checking email and making lunch and reading to your kids and the two become intertwined.  That is a mixed blessing. Sometimes it feels like I don't do either task all that well.  I am not giving my kids my full attention, nor am I planning studio events, repertoire or whatever the task is, very well either.

Of course everyone feels this way occasionally.  My husband has been working at a card table in the basement amidst playmobil town for almost two years now. He is heavily interrupted.  He is also in a business culture that expects executives to check their blackberries 24/7.   I recall a funny story from when Mary was about 18 months old.  Bill was having a stressful time at work and working very hard.  I drew the line at reading email at breakfast--our family meal together.  Later Mary was safely watching a show in the living room and I was venting to my mom on the phone in secret in the pantry.  (I very rarely have to do this, Bill. . . )  I am not overly prone to profanity, especially taking the Lord's name in vain is very offensive to me, but the words slipped out of my mouth. "There has to be some time of the day when you're not checking your God Damn email!"   The phone call ended and I felt much better and went about my day.  Mary finished her program and wanted to color.  I got out the crayons and paper and tidied the kitchen while she drew.  A few minutes later she called me over to show me her creation.  "Look, Mama, I made a God Damn email!!!!"

I said, that's very nice Mary, and vowed to never say those words in front of her again.  Of course she forget them immediately. God's cosmic humor was the best punishment for me.

Still our lives are fragmented with multitasking.  I ride Bill about checking the blackberry last thing before bed and first thing in the morning.  (There should be some time when you are not checking it. . . )  But, I am bad too.  I quick check something and get sucked into an email with a parent about a concern.  Or a friend.  Suddenly the not so important has become the urgent.  Or maybe the not so urgent has become important.  Regardless I am distracted--just a minute, Mary, just a minute, Calvin,  JUST A "bleep bleep" MINUTE.  Okay.  I digress.

Mobility may well be a curse.  Now I can check my iphone while walking around the house and in the car.  While on vacation. More fragmentation.

So my goal this Fall, is to be less fragmented and less multitasking.   To be able to sit at a desk and do work without interruption.  To be able to practice piano when it isn't 11:00 p.m.  More importantly--to be present in my parenting.  I ride Calvin about "slithering" to the computer, but I need to be better too.

I have often felt that the definition of happiness to me, is to be wanting to be doing what you are doing at that moment.  I love teaching, but if my mom is in town and out shopping while I am teaching, I wish I was with her.  I even figured out that I love doing laundry, it is just that most of the time when I am carefully folding things, I feel torn to be doing something else too.  I love being with my kids.  However, if there is something else on my mind, then I am not giving them my full attention.  I am not there.  I am not happy.  They are not happy.

I'll have less time with Mary this Fall.  I do feel tender about that--I bought cans of chicken noodle soup and Kraft macaroni to fix for all her lunches the next two weeks.  I will feel sad about lunch.  But, I have blocked into my teaching schedule time with the kids after school and time to practice piano with Mary.  My goal is to make that time special and valuable and focused.  No computer.  No iphone.  No phone.  No lists.  Just be there.  Be happy there.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Graduation Recitals

Mary has been gone a week.  My mom is bringing her back tomorrow.  I miss her.  In spite of the ukulele life is very quiet here without her and Bill.  Bill comes home tonight, but leaves again tomorrow morning.  Some things have become apparent this week.  Much of the laundry is Mary's.  She is dirty.  Her clothes get dirty.  And the house stays very clean without her little "Schmoo Dumps."  That is--when she just dumps out the whole drawer or cabinet to find whatever she is looking for.  Calvin keeps busy without her. He has the crayons organized by color with little rubber band holding all the tickle-me-pinks together and all the dandelion colors together.  He has written out a dissertation about the history of crayola and the different colors that came in each type package--since 2001 of course.  They are lined up in a grid on his bedroom floor.  It is really time for her to come back--for his sake as well as mine.  She keeps both of our OCD's in check.

When she gets back, we are going to start practicing in earnest for her Suzuki Piano Book 2A Graduation Recital.  Probably we will be ready by the beginning of October I am guessing.

In the next two weeks I have six of these graduation recitals.  From Book 1 to two Sophomore recitals--that is for Cassy and Aidan who have graduated from Book Seven, but still need landmark occasions to celebrate their progress.  Anything worth doing is worth doing right and anything worth doing is worth reflecting upon.  Why do we do this?  Why do I give up my weekend and evening time to celebrate with these kids?  I have talked to countless teachers who have told me that they could never take the time to attend their students graduation recitals.  To me, this is what it is all about.

The gradation recital gives the student a goal to work toward and always, always, the end result is growth.  Not everyone has to do it the same.  There are no Suzuki Police to come and tell us we are doing it wrong. Some kids play all the songs, some play selections, some play 100% from memory and some use the music for a few pieces.  Each student is unique and thus should be treated that way.  But no matter what, the student grows.  And the parent grows.  And the teacher grows.  I will always be learning to tweak how much material and how difficult I can push a student and still keep it positive.  To find that fine line between bringing out the best in them and losing them.

Before the recitals I always say the words, "This recital is a celebrate of the student's progress.  It is not an examination, he has already graduated.  This is the celebration."

I also happen to love seeing the child in his own home.  (I like to at least have one recital in the student's home, even if we have future recitals at my house.)  I love visiting with family members.  Getting to know the parents and grandparents.  I love Grandparents.

One of my families has a very rich legacy of football.  When I am at a graduation recital in their home I imagine a gathering of professional football players chumming around there and then I think about the grand piano now in the living room and the young children sharing their music.  That makes me smile. I think their Grandfather would smile too.

I think about a graduation recital where the young girl was dressed up for the recital and ready to go, but decided to take a barefoot run around the lake to burn off some nervous steam moments before the performance.  That freedom moved me.  Wouldn't we all like to take off running before a performance.  Then bow and away we go.

Sometimes the parent serves shrimp cocktail and sometimes it is a package of Oreos.  Occasionally the mother needs a glass of wine. . . I just bring the programs and the trophy.  And we celebrate.  The child and the music.  In that order.  I wouldn't miss it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Me and the Boy and the Ukulele

Bill is in London.  Mary is still in Iowa with my mom.  It is just me and the boy.  And the ukulele.  Bill gave Calvin his childhood ukulele for his birthday.  It didn't have any strings.  On Saturday, Bill took Calvin and I out to the music store in the Challenger.   At Groth Music, they said ukulele is all the rage.  Great, I always count on being fashionably musical.  The strings cost $5.00.  We were a little concerned that the wee instrument might implode when the guitar tech guy tightened up the strings and tuned it.  No such luck. Decca is the brand name.  Hippie music store clerk says, "yeah, Decca tried their hand at musical instruments years ago, but it was a catastrophe."  Seeing the look on our faces, he adds, "except of course the ukuleles, they were sturdy little instruments. . . "  Yeah.  Thanks, buddy.   I daydream that I am whacking him over the head with the ukulele.

Another $5.95 buys us the beginners method book "Mel Bay's Fun With the Ukulele."  Fun is an understatement.

In previous blog entries I noted that experts claim that 10,000 is the number of hours it takes to become an expert at any given skill.  A mother never dreams that her son might log the time on the ukulele.

On the way home from the store, in Bill's hot rod muscle car, Calvin's sings his heart out in the back seat strumming along to "Home, Home on the Range."  We are one hip family.  I daydream we are pulled over by a state trooper who says, "Son, I need you to step away from the ukulele."

The thing about a ukulele versus the piano--the ukulele is portable.  For better or for worse.

I awaken to the sound of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" in full voice at 5:45 a.m.

I brush my teeth to the accompaniment of "The Blue Tail Fly."

Breakfast to "Buffalo Gals."

Trip to the bathroom?  "The Old Grey Mare."

Fun with the Ukulele.

You can take a ukulele into the closet.  "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain."  Calvin, I need a little space to get dressed. . .

Laundry?  "I've Been Working on the Railroad."

Eight of 10,000 hours already logged.  He's mastered "Fun With the Ukulele."  Of course, he keeps reviewing the songs in the Suzuki spirit.  Again, and again.  And again.

He's playing right now.  "Oh! Susanna."  I'm serious.  He has quite the knack for it.  In my left ear. You can play ukulele pulled up in the chair next to your mother at the computer.

They had more expensive ukuleles at the store.  I think there was one there for $300.  It begs the question--can one really get a better sound on a more expensive instrument?  I'm not going there.  He also just jams on the tiny little ax--his own arrangements of course.
Where's my ax?
Calgon take me away.
Sing yourself to bed, Calvin. . . "Good Night Ladies. . . "

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions. . .

At this point of the summer, I'm a little slap-happy.   I really like the way the asphalt machine, the guys' shirts, and the Asiatic lilies are so beautiful together in this photo.  You might not be able to see it, but the same orange is brought in with the zinnias in the blue enamel pot on the stump.  One of your more lovely photos, Bill.

It turns out Bill is going to be traveling every week in August.  That is okay, I do okay here, but as I have said before, when you love someone, you miss them when they are gone.

Everywhere I turn this summer parents are making decisions with and on behalf of their children.  This is nothing new of course--generations and generations have gone through these same quandaries.

Where should my child go to school?  Public, private, home school?  What college?  What is the value of the money we spend on education?  Thank goodness for the Kotrbas, that is an easy decision, we have an awesome public school system in our neighborhood, with an awesome high school music program that we value.  Rest assured Calvin and Mary will be challenged enough academically and the schools are safe.  Home schooling would be a disaster for me, "okay kids, today the curriculum is that we are going to weed and fertilize the garden, tomorrow we tackle laundry 101 and emotional intelligence."  That is, how not to drive your mother crazy all day.  Handling my kids music education is probably a good limit for me.  As my friend Michele says though--yes my kids are home schooled, they just happen to attend public school during the day.  We are all ultimately in charge of our children's education regardless of the choices we make.

We have to decide what kind of limits we will put on our kid's possessions.  Mary is at my mom's house this week.  I am purging her room.  Unloved items will go into a toy purgatory on a high self.  If they are not missed for 18 months, they go to charity.  Meanwhile, Janel is taking Mary to Tipton, Iowa "Ridiculous Days."  "Mama, they have stuffed animals for fifty cents!!!!!"  I have $10, that means I can buy twenty new animals!!!!  One step forward, two steps back.  Calvin found his ipod.  It was safe at my mom's house, she thought it was a TV remote.  Before it turned up he was already researching how to buy a new one.  Even after it was found, he said, "Mama after this one breaks, I'm going to buy a such and such ipod."  As if electronic obsolescence was inevitable.   How to teach our kids that cameras, TV's and computers are LUXURIES, and that they are not automatically replaced every time something goes wrong or gets outdated.   Fast forward:  I have a group of students who are all turning sixteen this summer.  And so the discussion turns to cars and the decisions we make about this volatile subject.  Can I just give one small piece of advice to these parents?  Don't make the back seat too cosy. . .

We have to help our kids choose their activities.  Mary is a good little gymnast.  Fast forward: if she goes this route it leads to three hours a day six days a week.  She's only six.  How can I possibly set her down that path?  I don't know if she will have the work ethic or the love, but if you don't start now you will never catch up.  At our house we have to play piano, but how much?  Should I make Calvin practice two hours a day?  He obviously loves music, I would hate for him to not meet his potential because I didn't encourage him to step it up a notch at some point.  Then again, if I make him do this maybe he will loose his spark for it.

The list goes on.  Discipline? Church?  Scouts? Family time? Friends? So many decisions.

Before I had kids I used to get so frustrated with parents in my studio.  In Austin, one father's idea of tough love was to leave the kids at my house when they weren't ready to go on time.  Great.  What am I supposed to do with these four children until the Dad teaches them their lesson?  We looked out the window until he came back to pick them up.  I guess they never missed their ride again. . .

Then it dawned on me.  Everyone has to find their own path.  No two parents are going to approach things in the same way.  No two kids are alike even within one family.  Most parents are truly doing the best they can with what they have.  We have not walked a mile in any other family's shoes.

What is the one thing all the parents I know have in common?  It is not be their faith, their values, or their financial situation or their tolerance of behavior.   It is their love for their children.  We do love our children.  And, when it comes to children,  love conquers all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Summertime. . . and the Living is Easy.. .

August 1st.  In some ways today seemed like the first day of summer.  It is the first week we have had at home with nothing extra to do and no where to go.  We were even home this weekend.  I got a good start on unraveling the tangled mess we wove by being gone off and on for six weeks.  Turns out a few things are missing.  Calvin's rain coat.  Calvin's ipod. (Bill's old. . . handed down) and Mary's wallet.  Lost items drive me crazy.  It is the worst.  It makes me want to put a construction dumpster in the driveway and start dumping drawers into it.  It's not my best suit.

Several of you sent condolences regarding my laundry last week.  Thanks.  I am feeling much better now.

Calvin got his glasses today.  He seems happy to be able to see clearly.  I got mine in third grade and they were in the shape of octagons and I was already a little nerdy and slightly plump and I'm not still annoyed with my mother for picking them.  I'm really over it.  And Casey, I'm also over you taking your thumb and making a print on the lens to see if I would see a thumbprint close up.  I'm over it.  Been over it for a long time.  It didn't help that they were like coke bottles and me being on the math bee team and playing french horn and all.  Oh jeepers.  But as you can see, it was all fine--didn't phase me.  In fact I never looked back.

Calvin played in church on Sunday.  He played four pieces with Christina on cello and Sam from church on violin.  They did a lovely job.  Two services. I almost had a cow at rehearsal when he was putting a "Loony Tunes" ending on every song and noodling incessantly in between run-throughs.  But Sunday morning in his shirt and tie he sat there like a choir boy and they all did their very best job.  They had a pretty good train wreck on the Gigue during rehearsal but I looked at Christina and she knows my looks--and she kept going.  I knew if she kept going Calvin WOULD find her and he did.  Sunday morning went without a hitch.  Incidentally--note to self--check your children's footwear on the way to these gigs.  Calvin somehow made it to the church in slacks, shirt, tie, belt, hair combed, teeth brushed, with RED KEEN SANDALS.  Luckily we live a mile away and Bill was able to run the black shoes and socks over for the first service.   A big thank you to Catherine McMichael for the arrangements and Diane Houser for her coaching of the trio along the way.  Thanks also to Kris Henry for trusting me that kids could do chamber music.  I believe the music blessed the service.

I also am going to play for church in a couple weeks.  I'm playing three different middle movements of Beethoven sonatas: Pathetique, Moonlight, and Pastoral.  These are three sonatas my students have been playing and I already worked out the finger numbers and all the musical details, so why shouldn't I get to play them.  Why should the kids have all the fun.

There is a lot to think about.  Calvin was pleased not to play Gigue today for the first time since January or so.  Now I need to get these SOPHOMORES--four of them--ready for recitals.  Not gonna tell them again that if it was me--I'd be practicing four hours a day for their programs. . . they have band camp and soccer and tennis and friends and summertime things.  Not gonna suggest they get off their you-know-whats. . . just not the kinda teacher I am. . . yet. .. I'm giving them one more week.

Then time to get DVD's together for National Convention Auditions.  And Fall masterclasses.  No rest for the wicked. Or is it weary? I never can remember.