Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year of the Sabbath

We were in Iowa for three days.  Yesterday we had a lovely day with my cousins and aunt and uncle in Cedar Falls.  As always, at my mom's, there is a little bit of sitting around and picking up random books.  I picked up Wayne Muller's Sabbath. I have this book at home on a more buried shelf.  I have read it a couple times.  Nice to read it again.  The main point is that every world religion has a commandment or precept to take a rest. Honor the sabbath. Rest. Without it we just can't go on.

Julie McCarty from our church has a website  In a recent post she suggested we pick a one or two word spiritual mantra for the new year.  I think I'm picking "Sabbath."  "Margin" is a close second.  It's not that anything is so wrong, on the contrary, it's almost that we are too blessed. Too many activities, too many responsibilities, too many obligations, too many hobbies, and too many possessions.

I realize this is an old blog topic for me.  That's the beauty of this blog for me--to see the patterns in my life.  Two weeks ago I said to my husband, "I think I'm reaching an unprecedented level of burn-out."  Bill replied, "Oh, no. I've seen you this burned out many, many times before."   Great.

So maybe it's just the ebb and flow of life.  Breath in and breath out.  Maybe it's not broken.

Maybe I don't need to quit my job, leave my husband, sell the kids, buy a one room cabin in the wilderness and grow all my own organic vegetables.  In his book Helping Parents Practice, Edmond Sprunger suggests that we look for horses, not zebras.   What?  Well, instead of seeing a problem as some exotic thing that needs a complete overhaul, perhaps we should see it as a horse.  It might be just a little something that needs tweaking and maintenance.

Margin?  Everyone needs a little. Time, money, space. . .
It might be as simple as shifting lessons by 15 minutes so that I'm not rushing from picking up the kids to doing Mary's hair for gymnastics to getting a snack in seven minutes before my student shows up at the door.  

Sabbath?  In the music business Sundays are often a work day?  If I'm working on a Sunday, that just means blocking a different day or part of the day to rest.  It might be as simple as remembering to block two weekends a month from scheduling recitals and workshops. Then I can do the work I love, knowing that the next weekend I'll have free with my family.

I'm sure next Christmas, if I'm still blogging, I'll be writing again about the season being too busy bla bla bla.  But, it's okay.  Maybe as my good friend told me, there is no balance, only the ebb and flow of the seasons of life.  Breathing in and breathing out.  The snow and the flowers.  We all need rest. No guilt. No zebras.

I'm still going to make this the year of sabbath and margin.  But I'm not going to beat myself up about it.  It's only a horse.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Santa's Workshop

We are busy, busy, busy. . . . cosy, cosy, cosy!
Doing all the things we love to do!

Baking sugar cookies.
Bill's printing Christmas cards.
Calvin's vacuuming for the arrival of Grandmommy.
Calvin's vacuuming again because the cat hair tumbleweeds blew in from the North Pole.
Reading cards from friends and family, saying of prayer of thanks for each one.
Sending Bill to the post office because I didn't know our square cards take $.20 more to mail and now we have George Washington stamps on the cards with the virgin Mary.
Wrapping presents.
Tying pretty bows.
Thinking of each person as I wrap her gift.
Wiping water and mold off all 50 window in the house because the furnace humidifier malfunctioned and spewed hot water into the house raising us to greenhouse status before we realized.  I knew it was getting progressively more damp in the house, but I thought it was from the October carpet cleaning.  Thursday night when we hit 50% we knew there must be a water source. Bill found the humidifier running stuck full on simultaneously using all the hot water from the hot water heater.  Can't wait to see the bill.  
Dipping pretzels in lovely white chocolate and sprinkling them with nonpareils.
Buying a couple last minute stocking stuffers.  So fun!!!
Lighting a fire in the fireplace.  Bonus: this will help dry the window frames. 
Doing three extra loads of laundry from Mary projectile vomiting last night at tuck-in.  It was one of those chunky ones where it soaks down through the comforter cover and the comforter and the sheet and the mattress pad into the mattress.  You have to scrape it before it can go in the washer. 
Mixing up dough for my favorite Minnesota State Fair wafer cookies with the red and green filling.
Wiping the windows with bleach solution.
Putting together the care package for our babysitter and her husband home from Afghanistan.
Using the same bleach solution to detox the bathroom and laundry where the throw-up scene transpired.
Lighting candles like my mother always did.  Incidentally that helped with the bleach odor.
Calvin vacuuming again as cats walk by.
Listening to Frank Sinatra singing "Baby It's Cold Outside. . . "
Listening to Bill's profanity as the printer jams again and the post office is closing in 12 minutes and he still has three cards left to print.
Practicing for Christmas Eve church services.
My mom is on her way a day late because of the blizzard in Iowa.  She will get here before I can shower.
Saying a prayer of thanks that Mary woke up fine.  When I die I'm gonna get the print out explaining a few things, including why so much vomiting????  I think she gets so excited it just overflows. . .

All in all?  How are things here at Santa's Workshop?
It's all good.
Did I do too much?
Did I spend too much?
Did I try to bend time and space to make it all come together?

I don't care.

More this year than ever all our problems seems trivial.  Even having to refinish or replace all the windows in the house.  Even being sick on Christmas. As Calvin said, "those kids dying in Connecticut really puts our troubles in perspective doesn't it."

Yes it does, Calvin.  It makes me want to shower the people I love with love and celebrate the birth of Jesus with more joy than ever.  I know that doesn't have to mean more cookies and cards and ribbons, but it's one way that we can let our light shine.  Letting the grace that Jesus brings spill over into grace in our lives.  Extravagant traditions for an extravagant event!

Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Behind Locked Doors

I was caught off guard by my emotions when I went to be guest reader for the second grade today. The front door of the school was locked. I knew this. The principal had emailed and sent home a letter but it still caught me off guard.  Reality. One of the male teachers at the school let me in saying under his breath, "you don't look too scary."

As I checked-in in the office, with Marshmallow the Bunny and The Chocolate Cat under my arm,  I heard music. I retrieved my coffee-stained name tag from the 3x5 index card box and headed down to Mary's classroom, greeting Principal Haugen who was loitering in the hallway in his suit and tie. The kids were not in their room. They were gathered on the staircase to the library. The whole school was gathered there listening to the Eagan High choral ensemble.  I found Mary and she hugged me tighter than usual.

Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say, throw cares away. . . . 

This was not a place of fear. Music floated up to the timber frame ceiling.

I put that one in the win column.

God bless you, all the teachers and Principal Haugen.

Remembering Hope

I'm thinking about my grandma Hope today. In a good way. We have been missing her these last two years.  I'm thinking about all the Christmases. All the traditions and nuances. The smell of the lavendar soap in her house.  She and I would walk in the snow to the "Jack & Jill" grocery store on Christmas Eve to get the forgotten items for my mother.  We would look for Santa's sleigh in the dark sky.  I would help her put the tags on the box of gifts Grandpa had wrapped.  The same little box of tags lasted at least the 20 years of my childhood.  You know the kind, they had little strings on them and a little hole punched in the paper.

I'm blessed that my children will have the same vault of memories with their own grandparents.

Thank you Hope, for your legacy of faith and the multiple copies of "My Utmost for His Highest."  You were the world's best listener.  I miss you but am blessed to linger in my memories whilst I multitask through my long Christmas task list.  Multitasking is something you would never have done, and just thinking about that will help me slow down today.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Much Less Random Thoughts Than My Own. . .

My thoughts are scattered and confused.
Here is a link to Pastor Kris' blog titled "Look for the Light". . . I really love these words and appreciate the time she took to write them down at this busy time of year.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Yearning

We all have the elementary school shootings on our mind today.  My kids are oblivious and frankly I'm mostly keeping it that way.  They heard it as a radio news story with their babysitter in the car and that was that.  No questions.  No comments.  Their little schools are as safe as they possibly could be.  Not too much to be done.

But, the four of us did cosy on the couch and watch the entire movie of the Christmas Story together.  No one wanted to go out.  I was a little more attached to their warm little physical bodies and their smiles there on the sofa.

Even though it's raining on our beautiful snow and there is more evil in the world than our stomachs can take I'm choosing light today as best I can.  There are still mountains and oceans and sunrises and dark red poinsettias and music.

This afternoon is the Easter choral service.  A grade school boy is going to sing "All is Well."  Good luck with that.  Pastor Kris if you read this, I recommend those little boxes of tissues you put out at funerals. . . Lucky for me the piano part is easy so I should be able to cope with hearing that.

The other songs are "Great, Great Joy," "How Great Our Joy," and "Good Christian Friends Rejoice."  I think it will be a little tricky to pull that off today.  Maybe it's okay.

My favorite and perhaps superbly appropriate is "The Yearning," by Susan Bentall Boersma with an orchestral arrangement based on music by Craig Courtney.  Bill Henry of Easter Lutheran and Eastview High crafted the arrangement for strings and winds.  You can find a choir singing this on youtube, but I'd rather you come and see ours at 5:00 tonight and 8:30 and 10:00 tomorrow at Easter on the Hill.

There is a yearning
in hearts weighed down by ancient grief
and centuries of sorrow,

There is a yearning
in hearts that in the darkness hide
and in the shades of death abide,
a yearning for tomorrow.

There is a yearning, 
a yearning for the promised One,
the Firstborn of creation
There is a yearning for the Lord who visited His own,
and by His death for sin atoned,
to bring to us salvation.

within our hearts, 
the yearning.

within our hearts, 
the yearning. 

There is a yearning
that fills the hearts of those who wait
the day of His appearing.

There is a yearning
when all our sorrows are erased
and we shall see the one who placed
within our hearts the yearning.  

within our hearts the yearning.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Recital 2012

Congrats to all 21 kids who performed at our 2012 Christmas Recital on Saturday!

There were some ups and downs. . .

It all started a week ago Saturday when Mark came to tune the pianos.  Instead of like every other tuning I've had from Mark for the past 15 years, the pianos were sharp instead of flat. Yikes. The once-in-ten-years carpet cleaning had completely bolloxed (is that a word?) the humidity level in the house.  He gave them a once over and told me to crank the humidity until Saturday and try to keep them happy.

Fast forward past the week of getting seniors ready for college auditions and sending college recommendations.  No pressure there.  No money or future decisions hinging on anything I have to say or teach. . .

Fast forward past the high school students who still needed a little push to finish up their pieces. . .

Go directly to Mary Lynn picking up the kids from school Friday while I was teaching emergency make-ups. Mary Ray got off the bus sick. Sore throat. Crying about missing group lessons and the nursing home. . . she sat on the sofa with Mary Lynn and a 7-up.

Then came the snow. Friday night group lessons were going smoothly, except as always I didn't allow enough time and we were hurrying to eat sandwiches and get the graduation pieces recorded.  It came time to leave for the nursing home gig and Mary was sicker and Bill was not home and it was decided that the high school kids should all go with one parent instead of driving themselves.  I agreed!!!!  Snow and ice. . . Safety first.

As Bill jaunted in the door, home from work at last, Mary threw up.  Precisely timed I might add. The piano kids had all left for the nursing home. I was all set to leave Bill to clean things up, except that one of my high school kids had parked me into my own garage stall.  Sometimes things just go so far astray you can only laugh.  I texted the trusty mother that we would be there as soon as possible.

Through the sleet and snow Bill dropped Calvin and I at the nursing home and took Mary on to urgent care.  We should have bought stock in rapid strep culture swabs. . .

Vomit said the doctor. . . fever said the nurse. . .
Strep said the lady with the alligator purse. . .

What is it with us and strep???

He took her on to Walmart for antibiotics--where she threw up again all over the prescription counter. The kindly lady handed him a paper towel. Note to self. . . never touch ANYTHING at the doctor or pharmacy.

Meanwhile back at the nursing home things were going a little better.  I washed my hands three times. . . things were a little chaotic with me being late and all the piano kids and folks waiting in their wheel chairs and walkers.

Then. . .while Kathryn played her Silent Night a hush came over the agitated and frustrated memory care patients.  They all began to hum along. The Iowa All State Choir never sounded better. At that moment bringing a peace to those 50 residents made it all worth it.

Now I've written too much and I haven't even gotten to Saturday's recital.  No matter how early I wake up, I'm still braiding Mary's hair as the children start to arrive for the 4:00 hour.

It was record attendance.  Sixty people.  Some watched the simulcast from the living room.  I heard a rumor they were having quite a party down there. . . the rest of us sat upstairs and enjoyed all 21 kids playing their songs and duets and trios and last but not least, the four seniors played the O Holy Night quartet.

Eight liters of punch and dozens of cookies later. . . we cleaned up and reflected on the recital.  It truly is my favorite day of the year.

Thank you Linda, for all you do to help with the reception!  Thanks Bill for shoveling snow and parking cars and heaven knows what all else you did.  Thanks Mary Lynn for the sandwiches we ate all weekend. Thanks Mom and Dad Kotrba for staying to help clean up.  Thanks to everyone for playing and listening!

I'm so sorry it was too long.  Again.  But, what can I do?  I want the piano kids to play the pieces they want to play.  The audience was calm and patient.  Next year I'll do better, or maybe I won't.  I personally loved every minute.  I didn't want the Brahms to end.

Through the years we all will be together
if the fates allow
hang a shining star upon the highest bough
and have yourself. . . a merry little Christmas now. . . 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Angels in the Snow

I'm feeling much better now.  I'm back to feeling nostalgic about the season.  This is the second Christmas I'm blogging and it's illuminating to discover the patterns in my life.  I'm feeling exactly the same way I felt last year--a mixture of excitement and exhaustion, peace and panic.  
It's supposed to snow this weekend, just in time for our piano recital which could be very beautiful or a real nuisance.  Yesterday I went to a new doctor about my neck tension.  She asked me what I do to relax.
But today I remembered two things that I like to do to relax: listen to music and write.  This morning I bought another new Christmas CD on iTunes--Kenny Loggins.  So here is a nice song I found on the album and maybe you will spend five minutes just sitting and looking at the pretty pictures (they're not mine) and "relax."  
Angels in the Snow link
When December comesThen we'll take the kids to Mama'sThey can make snow angels in the yardLike a Christmas card

We'll decorate the treePut an angel high above usLike we always do at Christmas

On and on it goesEvery year new memories to shareAnd for all we knowWe will all of us be there

When the autumn leaves have gone to gold
And swallows know, December's callingI'll be flying home a thousand timesIn all my sweetest dreams
I can see the glow in your eyesAs we sit by the fireLike lovers we knew long agoWhile we watch our angels in the snow
When December comesWe'll be trying to rememberWhere we packed our woolen winter clothesOnly heaven knows

When December comesWe'll be hanging pine and hollySinging all the songs we sing at Christmas

Home is ever nearHearts return no matter what we doAnd love will build a bridgeAnd I will always be there with you

When the autumn leaves have gone to goldAnd swallows know, December's callingI'll be flying home a thousand timesIf only in my dreams

And I see the glow in your eyesAs we sit by the fireLike lovers we knew long agoWhile we watch our angels in the snow

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Puppy Love

Some days you just need to hold someone's hand.

This morning my mom thinks Maxy the golden retriever is dying.  He won't get up and she can't lift him so the vet is coming out to the house.  That's what you get for being part of a small town Iowa community--the vet comes to you when you truly need them.  The dog is eleven. That's the same age as Calvin.  I have to say we questioned her judgment in getting a puppy with a new grandbaby. . . it was fine. . . (that's an inside joke. . . )  Whenever my mom is over the top we say, "it'll be fine."  And, it always is.

So-Mommy--I'm sending a hug.  I know you are feeling alone and I know you are wishing Daddy was there too.  I wish I was there.  I know you'll be fine but it's still sad.  And if he perks up, that will be fine too.  I'm glad you taught us to love animals.  Peace to you.

Monday, December 3, 2012

All is Merry & Bright

Tonight is our church tea.  Along with our Life Group gals we invited Mary Lynn, my babysitter/life support system.   The cake has four layers which Kris and I baked on Friday and three batches of butter cream frosting.  Tra la la.

Friday the kids were off school.  They haven't had a solid week of school since Halloween.  How nice for them.  They are probably getting tired of grilled cheese and tomato soup.  They must cope.

I haven't talked to anyone, well, any woman, this week who hasn't confessed to being a little strung out.  I'm suspicious of those who aren't.  Old habits die hard.  I had the meltdown.  Friday night and truly, I have to say, it lingered until about 10: 25 on Saturday morning.  Like every mother, my list is a mile and a half long. The tea, the nursing home studio performance, the recital next Saturday. . . all the normal stuff like meals and laundry. . . my neck and jaw feel like the twisted Christmas pretzels waiting to be dipped in chocolate.

As I hid the tears rolling down my cheeks Saturday morning, Mary said, "Mama this is my favorite day of the year, we get to decorate the Christmas tree!!!!"  Oh, yeah.  I forgot as I was mopping up the water I sloshed all over the floor watering it.  It's special.  Christmas through their eyes. . .

Calvin worked hard on his CD.  He wants to be grown-up and do it all himself, but he's not quite there and we're using new and tricky software.  He's intense. I'm intense. We did a lot of butting heads. Not to mention he wants many copies made by the tea so he can sell them tonight.  He's giving the money to FMSC in Eagan.  That's nice but. . . it's a heck of a lot of work.  I had had it.  Then tucking him in he said, "thanks for your help Mama, I'm really proud of the CD this year, and it's going to feel so good to give even more money for the starving children this year."

A couple more tears.  But then, I slept and slept well and suddenly everything seemed joyful and fun again. We do all these things for the most part because we love doing them.

The sermon and anthem Sunday were about Daniel in the lions' den.  I'm not sure if I projected this or if Pastor Kevin actually implied it. . . but our busy lives are a little bit like the lions' den, especially right now.  God is with us in there.  And angels came and shut the mouths of the lions.  And Daniel kept worshipping.  I know that's what it's all about.  I just need reminder after reminder after reminder.  Day after day a chance for a fresh start.  Ultimately, that's why Christianity is and will always be the path for me.  I need that fresh start. A shot at redemption. My zen only gets me so far before the darkness spills out. So, Bill, Mary, and Calvin, I'm sorry I was so grouchy, cynical and sarcastic.  Maybe while the angels shut the lions' mouths they will shut mine occasionally too.

If you are not feeling merry and bright--there is still hope.  It is all good. And as my sweet, kind husband repeated his annual Christmas mantra this weekend--it will all get done--it will all be okay.

It will be more than okay, the season will be sacred and beautiful and lovely, and remind us of the birth of the one who gives us the fresh start. That, is truly merry and bright.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gerber Makes Baby Food

I had a cute photo picked out for this entry, but whoops, I'm out of google storage space.  Who would have thought little old me would use up all my space.  It looks like $5.00 will buy me 20 GB so I'm not too worried, but I don't feel like messing with it now. I'll have Calvin do it tomorrow.  So, today, you get no picture to look at.

The penultimate lesson before the recital is statistically the highest likely for tears to fall. And so it goes--two so far this week. I don't think I've said anything cruel. I think I probably pushed a little too hard on a specific passage. I'm used to repeating something 50 million times until I get it, but I have to remember that high school students have all kinds of pressures on them and sometimes it's the straw that broke the camel's back.  Finals. . . boy friends or lack of boy friends. .  .guilt over not practicing enough. You never know. I'm sorry.

This caused me to reflect on the countless number of my own lessons, in which I reached for the kleenex. Wayne Barrington comes to mind. He's passed away so I don't really care what he thinks anymore. He was my french horn teacher at the University of Texas. Ultimately he personally helped me to loft my horn into the garbage heap and run for my life. Actually I sold it for rent, which was the only money I ever earned regarding the french horn, with the exception perhaps of the Kishwaukee Community Orchestra in which I think I made $30 one season.  Oh wait, I used that for gas to get there.

I hated him. I ran into him years later in the Kinkos in Austin and told him I had gotten my masters and he said what a shame it was that they were giving degrees to people who couldn't perform. Ouch. You see, he had played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra once upon a time and none of us horn majors were ever quite worthy. It wasn't just me. Later I accompanied a fellow victim in his studio, her own tears falling as he screamed "don't you have an ear?"   

He hated it that I played piano. He hated it even worse that I played jazz piano. Gerber, he said.  They make baby food. They do one thing and they do it well.

As it turns out, I looked on the Gerber website today and they are now making baby formula, baby yogurt, baby frozen dinners, pacifiers, jammies. . . . . tough times call for tough measures.

I wanted to tell him that I coached two high school pianists into the Texas All State Jazz Ensemble.  That my little six year old won the solo contest for the ADMTA.  That I had a heck of a IRS form 1099 from a country band that paid for my piano and rent and car for over five years.

There were a lot of things I wanted to tell him.  My diversity has served me well.

Mostly I wanted to tell him that how we play is not who we are.  That each of us has a unique value that is not contingent upon making it into a major orchestra.  That music should bring us joy.

I'm sure his ghost would tell me that I shouldn't spend so much time parenting and gardening and decorating for Christmas and teaching and playing for the choir.  I should do one thing and do it well.   Well. It's much to late for that. Lucky for me I'm pretty darn happy being a little good at a lot of things.

So girls, I'm sorry I made you cry. Truly. You have no idea. I love the way you play piano, I love you if you wreck your finals, I love you if your boy friend breaks up with you and I love you if you totally botch the recital.  I have nothing but love for you.

It's just that one little passage. . . still needs some work.  Wink. . . 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Prayer

Here is the little angel I made.  It's the first of however many I have the time and patience for. . .and yes, to the dismay of the yarn shop ladies, we totally copied it from an artist in Oregon.  .  . believe me though. . . my mother and I did our part to support her.

It's not the usual lovely high quality photo, because it's 5:00 a.m. and Bill is sleeping.  How many wives are up today at 5:00 while their husbands are still sleeping? When you wake up at 5:00 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving it's pretty much all over for that night's sleep.  I tried a few calming breaths, "breathing in I rest my body. . breathing out I rest my mind."  Yeah, right. Nice idea. Whipping cream. . . pies. . . thaw potatoes. . . coffee. . . sleeping bags. . . computer. . . monopoly game. . . warm clothes. . . finish four loads of laundry. . . Thanksgiving place mats. . . . coffee. . . finish studio t-shirt order. . . practice choir anthem for this evening. . . hide toys from the back of the car and vacuum all the pine needles from the trunk before husband sees how badly you flailed with your new car. . . get up and make coffee. . . 

But what's also on my mind. . . another friend, a beloved teacher of Calvin's shared with me the untimely death of her precious mother this summer.  That reminded me of all the dear ones who have lost their dear ones this year and how this will be their first Thanksgiving without them.

So. . . to Casey and Michele and Kathy and Joanne and all the other folks who will be celebrating a little differently this Thanksgiving, I'm sending out this little felt angel in faith that real angels will surround you and send you multitudes of peace--that peace that passes all understanding--and may there be plenty of those lovely little surprises--those bucks and hawks and sunrises and eagles that remind us that we are not alone and we are held.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Best Christmas Presence Ever

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. . . .
There is your carol for the day.

We have a tradition.  When I was growing up the Friday after Thanksgiving was our shopping day.  I've written about it before probably but it's my blog so you may have to read it again.  My mom and grandma and sister and I would go out for the day to downtown Davenport.  To the fancy Von Maur department store, though it was Peterson-Harned-Von Maur then. I don't think I have that spelled right, but that's part of the tradition.  Also there was a fancy office supply store next door where I would often buy my dad a pen.  Bishops Buffet for lunch.

Times change and now the tradition is down to my mom and I and we go before Thanksgiving. Once a year. The Monday before Thanksgiving. I've been making my list and checking it twice for weeks. Bill was jumping through a million hoops to get home at 2:45 to pick up the kids from school.


Sometimes you wake up with two sick kids. Not just one. Two. Not that sick but sick enough. The basic mystery low grade fever and I don't feel so good. . .

For once in my life, I was really proud of my attitude. There just isn't a dang thing you can do. We already didn't have a baby-sitter let alone someone to leave two sick kids with.

Plan B. We made four batches of caramel corn and finished the outdoor greenery and lights. I made my mashed potatoes and froze them. For lunch, instead of hummus and flat bread at the Good Earth we had grilled cheese and Campbell's chicken noodle soup. But I was there. There with the kids and actually feeling compassionate and not resentful. Really. My heart was happy.

Right up until about 2:00 when they started to get their energy back and the great wrestling match returned.  We left with them for the Galleria at 3:30.  It wasn't the same meandering through Pottery Barn with Mary feeling every pillow, blanket and throw in the store, but we were there. The four of us split a "Surfer" smoothie from the Good Earth and we let them peruse the toy store for a bit. Then off to Five Guys for dinner. Bill met us there and took the kids home and we went back to the Galleria for a night cap. . . we moved and grooved and were able to check a few things off our list in spite of the change of plans. We closed the place down at 9:00.

I enjoyed the day with my sick kids. I was there. My mother kept a happy heart as well.
Not enough to make it a new tradition. ..

Last night I dreamed about my dad. I think that is because Mary's second grade class is doing the grandparents program today. I already had a good cry over that. Last Thursday I couldn't pull it together for love nor money while I pasted the pictures onto the poster she was making about her grandparents. What he would have given to see that program. To hear her sing "Big Oaks from Little Acorns Grow." So I'm gonna be there on his behalf tonight. We all will.

I'm going to remember that the best present we can give this season is our presence. To be there. Life is precious. I'm going to spend just as much time thinking about presence for my kids as I spent thinking about their presents. It's not easy for me to do that because I'm in the habit of keeping myself too busy. So, I'm just taking it one moment at a time. That's all we really have.

Blessed Thanksgiving to Everyone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Glue Sticks for Everyone

"Mama, yesterday Mrs. So & So said that if we're working on the science project and we run out of glue we need to ask our neighbor to share his glue.  Then today, Mrs. Substitute said that it's not our neighbor's job to give us his glue when we run out. Who is right?"  

Well doesn't that just cut to the chase of our political culture? It sounds more like a parable for Jesus.

I've been thinking about it all morning.  How do we simultaneously teach compassion and responsibility?

Monday morning Calvin forgot his own science project.  He's been working on it for six weeks and it was due and there it sat on the flash drive on my desk. Never mind that homework is now on a flashdrive. . . that's not the point.  He remembered at the drop off, Mama I know you're really busy this morning, but could you PLEASE bring it over to school?  Please? I drove home in the snow and found it.  As I pulled back into the school parking lot my cell phone rang and it was him again and could I also bring his band folder?

A bad day for middle school.

I said no, I couldn't get the band folder.  He understood and said thanks for the flash drive.

Later at home I felt compassion, as much for the band teacher as for my son, and went to get the band folder and bring it over. I couldn't find it. My feelings of compassion flip flopped back to teaching the lesson of responsibility. . . maybe not even for the right reasons.

Compassion has to be given freely and not demanded. Responsibility has to be taught in appropriate rations.

Are there kids in Eagan who can't afford new glue sticks? Yes. Do the Kotrba's have a whole plastic sterlite bin of them in the art cabinet? Yes. If the needy kid needs a glue stick it's our job to be compassionate.  If, on the other hand it's Mary who just plain forgets day after day to bring a new glue stick from home. . . perhaps one day she should go without.

If Calvin had demanded that I go home and bring back the flash drive, I probably would have stiffened and refused, that will teach you a lesson. . . but he was contrite and had worked very hard and I had the time to get it.  His attitude freed me to feel compassion and want to help.

Likewise, I noted that Mrs. So & So didn't demand that Mary fork over her glue stick because Sam didn't have one.  She called upon the compassion of the second grade class to share with each other.

Compassion and responsibility are both values I see as being critically important--way beyond the glue stick and the band folder.  I'm just guessing the stakes are only going to get higher as we go.  I don't have all the answers.  I'm trying to go with my instinct on a moment by moment basis.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Rushing the Repertoire

Calvin has been working hard on his Christmas CD.  In addition we have started picking repertoire for his Book Six program.  Although at the moment, with three gals working toward graduation, I'm a little burnt out of K. 330 I, in general Book Six is my favorite book. It should be Calvin's too, as I was practicing for my Book Six teacher training the whole time I was pregnant with him.

The problem is, there is so much awesome lateral repertoire at this level.  One thinks how great the Bach Invention is, but there are 14 more.  One thinks how beautiful the Scarlatti Sonata, but again, no one knows how many hundred Scarlatti sonatas there are.  I could go on and on.  Yes, the Chopin Waltz, but have you played all the Chopin from the Keith Snell collection yet?  There are a dozen little pieces to tackle.  In the blink of an eye we've got a list of 25 pieces.  Calvin, like all the kids in the studio, has heard all these pieces and has been waiting to play them all.  We can't not play THAT. . . .

So.  I'm committed to not moving too fast too soon.  Is there any reason we shouldn't camp out in Book Six for a few years?  Every time I move someone too fast too soon, and I have done it. . . it backfires.  Performance quality suffers. . . among other catastrophes. . .

I've always had a pet peeve about kids playing music that was too difficult for them.  I'm human.  I've done it, and I've let students and parents pressure me to do it.  Sometimes it's just a miscalculation, but sometimes it's born of a competitive spirit.  Same result.

The kids have to understand the music.  They have to be able to get their 50 perfect repetitions.  If it's too hard to play perfectly it's too hard.  The criteria doesn't change for the advanced students.

I can hear a little voice from the past saying, "but they won't grow without a challenge."  Yes, and no.   It has to be the right kind of challenge.  Attainable.

I confess to the occasional inappropriate musical assignment and recommit to making sure kids don't go too fast too soon.  Not my own kid, and not the rest of the studio kids.  There is too much good music out there.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hope for Resolution

Of the Father's love begotten
ere the worlds began to be
He is Alpha and Omega
He the source the ending He

Of the things that are
that have been
and that future will years shall see
evermore and evermore

I woke this morning with an inexplicable aching to hear this hymn.  Maybe it's the political environment, maybe pre-advent longings, or maybe just the mood I'm in this week.  I bought it on itunes from the University of Texas Chamber Singers for a buck, but here is a link to the beautiful arrangement by Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory performed by the kids down in Decorah, IA at Luther College.  (I must be feeling faithful to my home states' choirs today. . . )

Link:  Of the Father's Love Begotten. . Hope for Resolution

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Litany of Productivity

My mom is unarguably the most productive person I know.  My in-laws come in a close second.  We were brought up to wash our windows and screens twice a year and turn the hoses off so they don't freeze and generally try to maintain what God has given us to the best of our ability.

A typical Sunday night phone call with my mom turns to a litany of her productivity.  She hauled another dead deer to the burn pile, she cleaned my dad's shop, she mulched the last three-quarters of an acre of flowers. . .she did all her Fall transplants.  She is woman hear her roar. . . never mind that she is 30 years older than me.

Most of the time as I swim to the surface and gulp for air I have to remind myself that her kids are grown.  She is retired.  Yes, she still has some supernatural source of energy, but I have to remember that she is in a different place in life.

Ha.  This weekend was a little different. We were home.  No recitals. No workshops. No masterclasses. No deadlines. My husband even turned down a gig for Sunday night. Not counting the time we spent at Betty's Cafe, we truly had the whole weekend minus two church services.  Plus an extra hour for daylight savings!!!

We cut down the trees that needed cutting and made firewood and burned the rest. Calvin and Bill brought up firewood for the winter from under the porch. Calvin and I put up 22 strands of Christmas lights outside and it was above 40 degrees and not sleeting. Bill fixed the broken vacuum. Laundry.  Outdoor clean-up. Calvin and I went through his entire room and closet with a fine toothed comb uncovering stacks from 2007. We even had time for home made pizza. And the coup de grace--I slept-in both days.

I don't know why time is elastic sometimes and other times it snaps.  I'll take it as it comes.  Next weekend is the last free weekend before Christmas.  We are fueling up here.

So dear mother. . . I love you, but eat your heart out. . . all that's left around here is the basement and I'll wait till you come to visit to tackle that.  I'm sure with your help we can fit it in between lunch out and the galleria.

Knock yourself out, it's all gone. . . 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Routine or Rut?

Am I the only mom who empties the lunch bag and checks the blue take-home folder on Monday morning at 7:48, five minutes after we should have left for school?

The question arises, what is the difference between a routine and a rut?  We're in a great routine.  I'm in a rut. Both insinuate that we are doing the same thing over and over. One is pleasurable and orderly. The other dull and tired.

We can only be where we are.

Our practice with our children can be in a routine or a rut, as can our personal lives.

It always takes me longer than I'm proud of to realize we are in a practice rut. The attitude and productivity start to slide and then we end up with serious resistance and we wonder why. I know a lot of ways to get out of a practice rut. Charts, money, puppets, trying a shorter practice, role reversal, goals--there are so many options to keep things exciting and productive. The main piece of advice I want to give parents is:  don't let things go to far! If things aren't going well at the piano, get help and ideas from your teacher. Try something different. Turn it upside down. Our brains work better that way.

That's part of why I'm doing the t-shirt contest this Fall. Many of the kids in the studio were in a practice rut. So far? 100% participation. I'm so pleased. Everyone, including me, has practiced everyday since October 20.

Getting out of a lifestyle rut is not as easy as getting out a board game at the piano. I can count more than a hand full of women I know who are overwhelmed with their daily routine, or maybe it's become a rut. I'm not feeling that way right now, but wait long enough and I'll be there again.

Most of this stuff is not easily fixed. Too much driving. Too many commitments. Too little money. A spouse who's not on the same team. Chronic pain. The list goes on. What are we supposed to do when we just can't seem to change what's going on?

It's not selfish to say that we have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of anyone else.  That means sleeping enough, eating mostly healthy foods, getting exercise and taking some time in solitude or devotion to think about what's really going on.  My deal? Sleep.When I don't get enough sleep the world is a darker place. So, I'm tackling that--making the commitment to getting more sleep even if it means stuff I want to do doesn't get done.  Yeah, I know I've said that before, but hope springs eternal.

Hope does spring eternal. We can change. We can change one small thing, just like in piano practice, that makes our day more joyful. Calvin has a printed out paper sign on his bedroom door that says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." His idea. I don't know if he even sees it anymore, but I do. At first I see the scotch tape and worry that it's taking the finish off the woodwork of the door, but after that I remember that the words are true.

Maybe we can't change certain things, or maybe we don't have the courage just yet, but we can do one small thing that we need to do. We can only tackle one moment at a time.  Maybe that one small thing might be the difference between a routine and a rut. Whatever it is, we can do it. We can look beyond the scotch tape and see the message.  We can do one small thing that makes us happy.

My small thing? I'm listening to Christmas music before Halloween. So there. And I'm going to bed early.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Halloween Confessions

Confession:  yesterday I bought a case of white 100 bulb Christmas lights at Target.  Regular incandescent bulbs.  Energy zappers. It set me back $36.  Calvin quickly did the math--that's 1200 lights.  It's just that when the moment comes, next Thursday, in the post Halloween candy hangover, I want to be ready.  No cursing when last year's lights don't work.  I just pull the new box off the shelf and away we go.  They are not just Christmas lights, they are "winter" lights.  Here in Minnesota we are now driving to school in the dark. We need all the light we can get.  L.E.D. just doesn't cut it for me yet.  It's not the same wave form, the light doesn't make me happy.  I need a real filament.  Just like I need real fire in my fireplace.  No judgements.  It's just what works for me.

Other confession: I hate Halloween.  Really.  I hate the decorations, I hate the costumes, I hate the candy.  I just hate it.

I realize this officially puts me into the no fun category, and I probably won't be invited to any Halloween bashes. The most redeeming thing about Halloween is that I get to visit with my friend while our husbands take the kids out trick-or-treating. That was part of the deal when we had kids. I'll carry the child for nine months and go through labor and delivery, you get to go trick-or-treating. It's worked out fine so far.  Remember, the average October 31, 6:00 p.m. temperature here in Minnesota sometimes pushes five below. . . who wouldn't want to stand shivering on the corner and watch their kids knock on the doors of strangers and get whole cans of pepsi thrown into their little orange plastic pumpkins.  Yes, last year folks gave out cans of soda pop.  Tra la la.

I do love Fall. We did carve pumpkins this weekend and that was fun.

My kids have been the same thing for Halloween every year.  Mary has been a bunny since she was three.  There was the angel year, and then the angel bunny year, and THEN the bunny angel year.  This year--it's a white bunny instead of a pink bunny.  She is satisfied and so am I.

There is no good Halloween music.  I don't wait all year to get out those Halloween CDs.

I did volunteer to help with the school's "Fall" party.  Getting costumes on 25 second graders and then playing bingo games with candy corn--watching them sneak the candies that 25 other little sniffly children have touched.  That's why they have conferences after Halloween.  Because the whole class has a cold anyway.

November first starts pre-advent.  I'm holding out.  I will not get out Handel's Messiah before then.  I promise.  Or Amy Grant's Breath of Heaven. . . I'm transitioning with classical recorder music as I write this.  It sounds Christmasy but has no Christmas tunes or themes.

I will enjoy Fall. . . for at least ten more days. . .

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Crazy Little Thing Called Practice

Look out here she comes. . .

Okay, so I've been a little frustrated with the amount of practice in the studio this Fall.  Folks are having a hard time getting into a routine. Sometimes there's a reason and sometimes they just don't get it.  Everybody wants to do the S.A.M. graduation and big Christmas pieces but they don't seem to be able to get it all done.

There is some age when practice becomes the sole responsibility of the kid.  When I was in Jr. High, about eighth grade, I started taking three private lessons a week.  Piano, jazz piano and french horn.  We lived in a small town so all the lessons were a drive into the Quad Cities. Mr. Patterson was in Davenport, but Mr. Holcomb and Mrs. McKenna were in Moline across the river. My mom had it timed perfectly with a stop at Wendy's for a baked potato with cheese. By high school I was practicing three hours a day, an hour on each discipline.

This did not seem oppressive in the least. I managed to get an hour in at school during study hall--I tried to make that the horn practice so I wouldn't have to carry it home. I was dating a wrestler after all and carrying that darn thing down senior hall just sent shivers down my back. Kids don't read this part: I would sometimes skip seventh period and go home to practice. We lived behind the school and I could time it just right to avoid the hall monitor and then I was free. Our piano at home was pretty pathetic in hindsight, but it was still better than the school uprights. Sneaking into the auditorium to practice on the one decent piano did cross some invisible ethics line in my mind. A couple times the student congress and band president with the 4.0 GPA did get caught and served detention, which really didn't phase me at all. I knew I was right and that if they wanted to punish me for being practicing I would gladly burn at the stake.

Back to grade school--my mom was a teacher. I got home at 3:03. (We lived behind the grade school too.) She didn't get home until 4:06. (The Jr. High was all the way down the street.) So that was my time. I watched "I Dream of Jeanie" and ate my snack and then wandered into the living room to practice. I read Mr. Patterson's notebook and checked off the songs and 30 minutes later I was free.

What is the message here? I was in a routine. A pleasant sustainable routine, albeit involving a little danger in high school--which if you know me--you know I thrived a little on that. You have to have a pleasant sustainable routine. It has to be sea worthy.

I practice with Calvin before school. I KNOW how hard it is to get out of bed and start the IV drip of coffee at 6:00.  It's DARK here now! But, nothing ever interrupts up at 6:00. The phone doesn't ring.  I don't schedule a doctor appt. or furnace repair. We just practice. It's harder with Mary. Last year we practiced after school. That was a disaster. She was tired from first grade and I was in a hurry and already had my mind on teaching. This year we're practicing after dinner. That is working much better.  She's much more interested in staying at the piano an extra five minutes if it means delaying B.E.D. It's still not perfect. We miss more days than I wish.

I've been both parents--the perfectly consistent one and the flakey one. Dr. Suzuki says, success leads to success. It's so true. When I'm in a good groove with Mary she loves it and we make progress and resistances quells. When I'm inconsistent she forgets songs, forgets reading elements and WORST OF ALL, she feels like she is struggler at the piano. It becomes hard. That is the last thing I want.

As a side note. My husband never practices. Ever. He just shows up for the gig. He is an outlier. Do not use this data point. I guess his previous 10,000 hours are still sustaining him.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. No one ever practiced more by getting yelled at. At least not for very long. We have to want to practice because we love the music and because we get pleasure from playing and that only happens when we reach a base level of skill, which can ONLY be earned through some level of time at the instrument. Success leads to success.

Suzuki piano is not something you can do half way. You can't show up for the lessons and make progress. Traditional method? Maybe? You could make a little progress sight-reading for 30 minutes a week. In three-hundred fifty-seven years you will reach your 10,000 hours. We don't have that much time.

Training the ear, learning a language, as we do in Suzuki piano requires daily work.

So here's the contest:  fifty day's of consecutive practice earns you a Kotrba Piano Studio t-shirt.  Everyone's names will be on the back (I hope) and the front will be designed by Jackie Rath and her artistic friend Charlie, so you know it will be cool. You don't have to sell your soul people. Just get to the piano every day. If you are on an airplane, do a theory workbook. Otherwise-play through your songs for Dad or grandma or your friends. Get in a routine. Make the question--when will I practice today? Not--will I practice today?  You will be amazed.  It will become easy.  I'm doing it.  My kids are doing it.  Fifty days--from today until the Christmas recital.  Go go go go . . . don't say, we can't do it!  Just try!!!!