Monday, April 30, 2012
I have been printing out these little charts the last couple weeks. Each child gets one chart per day. I tweak the contents daily as needed. I use Microsoft Excel, and set the boxes to half inch squares. The charts are 3 x 5 cheap white notecards. I set the paper size and feed them into the printer and they pop out the other side. I save the file, but I don't save the changes everyday.
In my mind, I know that the chart should take a certain amount of time. That is, if the child is focused and productive. Otherwise, he will need to come back later to finish the chart.
I come to the practice ready to go, knowing what we need to do, but the child gets the choice in the order and how relaxed or efficient she wants to be. When the focus is gone, we are done, but we come back later to finish. Sometimes they finish the chart without me, and that is okay too--I can listen from the laundry or kitchen.
I hope you like the charts, and if you would like one, email me and I'll send you an attachment with a blank chart. You'll have to buy your own stickers. Since my kids get a reduced rate of tuition (wink) I splurge on stickers for them.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
So, he texted me from Las Vegas this afternoon that he was checking into a pretty fancy hotel and I should expect to get out the throw up bowl. Well. Mary is asleep on the couch in the piano room with her blanket and her throw up bowl. She got that funny tummy feeling right at bedtime, when I was headed in to practice. I said she was welcome to feel sick there on the sofa, but I had to practice the anthem for tomorrow morning. She drifted off to sleep without throwing up. Tomorrow morning I was planning a test run, of leaving the two kids home alone for an hour while I go to church and play. Then I'll come home and get them ready for the second service. I'm not sure how that will work if she isn't feeling good. There isn't a plan B. The anthem for tomorrow is called "The Gift to Be Simple." I couldn't agree more, but some days life just doesn't turn out that way. It isn't exactly simple running back and forth to church all morning to play "The Gift to Be Simple." See, I made myself chuckle--things must not be too bad. . .
Thursday night was the Deerwood 5th Grade Band concert, under the direction of Susan Smith. I had the pleasure of attending twice, once in the afternoon and once in the evening.
What a nice show. Fifty-eight kids all started an instrument last Fall and in eight months they sound pretty darn good. I don't know what a fifth grade band usually sounds like, but I'm told that this group is especially musical. It doesn't surprise me--I can't even name all the kids in that grade who are so sharp. It is an awesome group of kids. They play half a dozen songs as a band and then Mrs. Smith pulls each section out for a feature. Of course the percussion ensemble was my favorite. Calvin, Maxim, Ellie, Jack and Eva all seemed to be having a really great time playing a piece I understand Mrs. Smith procured just for them. Cool.
I also loved Louie, Louie. A handful of kids came forward to improvise a solo. Now, I know we weren't doing that at our second band concert. Calvin didn't get to improvise. That's because he got to play the drum set. It was a pretty long song and I could hear him getting a little tired--but I was really proud of him. Those tom tom fills were pretty impressive for a little ten-year-old kid. I fear that like others before him, the decisions that will have to be made down the road will be very tough. Calvin is one heck of an improviser--I heard him play F Blues last night at piano group. But it is very cool to play the drum set too. As much as I would be tempted to sway him, I know that in the end he will have to decide what roads he takes. He might turn up like those kids in college that I always hated because they were drummers and then sat down at the piano and blew your mind. Very annoying. . .
For the final number, they played Lisa Schoen's Deerwood School Song, arr. by Susan Smith. While Mary sang her heart out next to me, Deerwood Alumni and parents were invited to bring an instrument up to join the band. Principal Haugen brought up his trumpet, Mrs. Sipes her saxophone. Andy Moon brought his trumpet too. Last but not least, my hubby brought out his tenor. He stood in the back with the percussion and they all played "Deerwood, you're the one. . . "
I did note, that my husband was the only was the only one who was wetting his reed three songs ahead and it took him forever to adjust the ligature on the mouthpiece that once belonged to Eddie Daniels. . . ahem. . .Bill . . . it's only the Deerwood fight song. . . I guess being meticulous about the details of the horn is how he gets away with NEVER practicing. We all have our type A moments. Calvin was beaming to stand and play next to his Daddy. Someone asked me why I didn't bring my French Horn. "Weren't you a French Horn major. . " I suddenly felt like Peter with the rooster crowing. No.. . .no. . . me? No. I denied it three times. Truth is, in a fit of musical rebellion, I sold my horn for rent money. Several months worth, I might add.
At risk of writing way too much tonight--we could have chosen an arts magnet school, or a private school, but we made the commitment to support our local public school. What a blessing, it turns out we got this awesome little school where the principal gets up and plays on the band concert and two thirds of the kids are in band and music is totally lifted up and celebrated! I sat behind a group of teachers at the afternoon show and after every song one of them said, WOW. And they meant it.
That makes all the kids sitting there believe that music is cool.
Thanks, Mrs. Smith. I don't know how you did this, in one hour long morning rehearsal each week, but you did, and it was lovely.
D E E R W O O D Deerwood! Deerwood! Yay. . .. Deerwood!
Thursday, April 26, 2012
So and so has 537 friends. Wow. I only have a few. There should perhaps be another category, Facebook Acquaintances. Those people we have met, but have little or no true affection for.
The truth is, we only have so much time and relationships take time. I barely have enough time to take care of my family and teach and of course squeeze in some practicing and gardening. Spending quality time with friends often gets put on the back-burner.
In the sixth grade my best friend Casey moved away. This sent me into a clinical melancholy. I'm still not completely recovered. With the wisdom of a child, I knew that things would never be the same again after that. She is still my forever friend and we visit and text from Texas to Minnesota, but it isn't the same when you can't drop by and chit chat or go for a quick coffee. Visits take planning and it costs a lot to get there.
When we lose a friend our lives change and not always for the better. This spring there is another friend I am missing.
Different friends have different functions in our lives--any friend worth having understands something about you that no one else completely gets.
Some words from Mark Nepo's The Book of Awakening:
Honest friends are doorways to our souls, and loving friends are the grasses that soften the world. It is no mistake that the German root of the word friendship means "place of high safety." This safety opens us up to God. As Sant Martin said, "My friends are the beings through whom God loves me." There can be no greater or simpler ambition than to be a friend.We all need a few good friends we can be safe with, knowing, as my precious sister always says, they they will sort the grain from the chaff and turn us back to our very best selves.
Here's to special friends from the past, and the good friends we have now, and the friends who are out there waiting for us.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
These are the new kittens of my friend Yelena in Houston.
When you write a blog you hope maybe in some small way if only occasionally some small good might come of the words on the screen. I fear that I have been a bad influence on Yelena. Notice the blue blanket on her hitherto unblemished leather sofa. In March, when I said, "You ought to get a couple kittens," I didn't really think she would. She tells me the kittens have brought so much joy she isn't worried about her curtains and sofa and carpet. Yelena, I'm so happy for you! Thank you for sharing the pictures. Those kitties are adorable and I hope they mind their manners for you!
The best part of the weekend was getting the news that both Calvin and Mary were selected from kids around the country, on all different instruments, to play on the honors recital out at the Colorado Suzuki Institute in June. Good job kidos! Next step? Find a doctor who will give me a valium prescription. Just kidding. I'm getting much better. Just between you and me, when Calvin played on this recital when he was five, it stressed me out. I mean, just a little. Understatement. I swear I never lost it. . . even when he started skipping the B section on Happy Farmer two days before the recital. Even when day of the recital his masterclass teacher at the camp suggested a different tempo for the little piece. Even when he was more interested in the backstage lighting of the theatre and the brand-name of the practice room pianos than actually playing through the piece during dress rehearsal. But--the little twerp got up there on that big beautiful Vilar Center stage, did his little bow and rest position and hunkered down on that Steinway and nailed it. Schumann rolled over in his grave and I narrowly averted throwing up over the balcony unto the velvet seats below. All's well that ends well.
That's why I had both kids audition this time. No sense setting limitations on my stress level. I think I'll plan some bathroom remodel project for the week before and see just how far we can take it.
That's my Minnesota way of saying I'm proud of my children.
The worst part of the weekend was Mary running to get her "da-da" that is her security blanket and her giant stuffed bunny and crying out in designated meeting spot because the kitchen was on fire. Smoke billowing out the dishwasher and under the sink. The school has done an excellent job with fire safety education. She wouldn't come back inside for an hour. I hate it when this happens--the smoke/fire thing. See blog entry from January 2011 and you will know that this dishwasher doesn't owe us a dime. Bill has fixed it more times than I can count. He looked up the price for a new motor and racks and handle but I have to say once an appliance has been on fire I'm just not that committed to it anymore. I had the fire extinguisher in my hand ready to go, but cutting the power seemed to do the trick until Bill got home. He used my panicky phone call as an excuse to drive his car home really fast. Turns out a melting motor just makes a lot of smoke . . .
You may wonder how this could lead to me buying a new dishwasher, oven and fridge today at the appliance store. It just did. You may think less of me, but I just really love my kitchen and I can't stand the thought of mismatched random appliances. Money can't buy love and it can't buy happiness but it can get a package sale price on three lovely new matching kitchen appliances. Appliances that I use all day everyday. Perhaps that is some form of happiness.
That is my Minnesota way of saying that I feel guilty about the new purchases, but I really love them.
Our old appliances are 11 years old. The fridge and the oven have some issues, but the truth is I was just ready to move on. Friends are taking them. The dishwasher will rest in peace. It ran about 4017 times. Calvin wants to save the handle for sentimental reasons. I can't imagine where he gets that. . .
"That's the Dish W, it's not for CALVIN, not for me! That soap is NOT for Calvin, it's a no no. Not a toy." I can hear the little toddler voice like yesterday. Rest in peace little Jenn Air, you washed sippy cups and little trays that held grapes and cheese and cinnamon bread. Those little dents are from the little ride-upon firetruck crashing into you more times than I could count--with the siren wailing.
Is it too late to order the motor?
Thursday, April 19, 2012
This great little children's prayer says a lot in thirteen words.
Another friend of a friend is dying of cancer. A thirteen-year-old boy from Tipton committed suicide the day before Easter. There is no shortage of human suffering.
I've been reading the book Easter recommended to us for a lenten study. I confess I missed most of the group discussions but I really liked the book. It is called Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. Barton reads like a regular lady talking, but then inserts some very thoughtful theological insights. And she doesn't sugar coat it--one chapter cuts to the chase of how we all have issues we need to address, and how to get right with them and God. Everything in our spirituality is not always warm and fuzzy.
One chapter is called Discernment. My translation is--how to find God in the moment by moment details of the day. I used to be better at this. Then I lost my Dad so suddenly and I think the toddler in me said--if I can't trust God with the life of my loved one, how can I trust God in the minutia of my days?
Barton suggests that we can be more open to God's will in our daily lives if we believe three fundamental ideas:
God is good
Love is our primary calling
God does communicate with us through the Holy Spirit
I do believe these things. I think the first one is the hardest. It is easy to see a good God that makes a beautiful world. Harder to see a good God that lets bad things happen.
I just circle back to the fact that there just must be a bigger picture that we can't see.
Last time I checked even our money still says "In God We Trust."
As I look out the window there is a giant elegant white bird at the pond shore--I'm gonna assume it is the Holy Spirit's way of reminding me--in this moment--that God is great, God is good.
Monday, April 16, 2012
Signs of Spring in Minnesota--at least at the Kotrba's house:
- Trip to SAM's club for world's largest box of band-aids
- Cats lose fur by the hand-fulls
- Mosquitos and ticks
- Little ferns that come up in sidewalk cracks get surgically transplanted to the woods
- Every load of laundry is "extra soil" and "extended wash"
- If you leave garden tools in the yard you can lose them under the snow the next day
We had the all-American family weekend. Family outing Friday night to the Mall of America--anyplace where Mom and Dad can get a decent glass of wine and the kids can go on a roller-coaster is worth visiting a couple times a year. Calvin was beside himself at the Apple store. Swimming lessons and yard-work on Saturday. We grilled hamburgers and Maggie stopped by for a surprise visit just as Bill was taking them off the grill, she must have smelled them.
In a post-Easter rebellion, Sunday morning I went to the church of sleeping late and puttering in the garden. Chocolate chip pancakes for lunch. Bill left for California last night, ensuring that it would be snowing by this morning.
Mary made friends with a butterfly outside this weekend. She named her Sue. Sue kept coming back to visit even after a couple catch and release sessions. Might have something to do with Mary wearing pink? Calvin went on to burst her bubble by suggesting that there might be more than one Sue. . . but watching her sing and play and jump from rock to rock reminded me of when I was seven years old and had butterfly friends too.
I've been thinking about how these next two months are the last days that Calvin and Mary will be at the same school. After this they will always be at different schools. They just grow up.
I heard Paul Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis while I was tackling the laundry this morning. Seems like yesterday I was playing the French horn part in High School. That is an awesome horn part and I had a little tender moment about that but it passed very quickly. A bunch of my students are college shopping and that too seems like a moment ago. Next thing it will be Calvin and Mary.
Rainy days and Mondays. . . . I'm gonna give the kids an extra hug and an extra cookie after school.
Friday, April 13, 2012
That is not the kind of clock watching I am thinking about. I'm thinking about practice routines. If, as an accompanist I need to get ready for a rehearsal and I have ten pieces, I practice them until I am satisfied with how they sound. That might mean just being able to get through some and polishing some that are closer to performance. My pride in not wanting to screw up in public helps guide my time management. Some pieces you love more than others and that is the way it goes. One night it might take me two and a half hours the next night only half an hour. I do what needs to be done.
Kids are not always that savvy. Learning how to practice needs to be taught. I often give kids a guideline of how many minutes to practice each task. An example of this for a middle school kid is:
Scale/warm up: 5 minutes
Theory Book: 5 minutes
New Piece: 20 minutes
Sight reading: 15 minutes
Review pieces: 15 minutes
But, if you have a couple performances of bigger pieces coming up but you still want to make progress on a new piece you can see that this falls apart pretty fast. The default is that the scale, theory and sight reading get dropped in favor of getting ready for the performance. That is pretty normal and not a big crisis. . . .when it is the exception and not the rule.
I had a student at MacPhail who signed up for every single extra recital and concert. This was great, she was getting so much performance experience. Consequently we spent every lesson polishing the piece for the recital that Friday night. We never had time for the core curriculum.
I was chatting with a violin friend (yes, I am friend with some of those people). I asked how her daughter-who is hoping to major-in music practices. She said she is not a clock watcher. The girl needs to practice until her assignment is complete and her extra orchestra work is ready. That might mean more or less than an hour and a half a day. That is like my "professional" practice ethic. You have to get it done.
As a teacher, it reminds me to be thoughtful about my assignments and have a ball park idea of how long it should take to complete the tasks each week vs. how much time that particular student is supposed to give to the piano. And, to make sure I follow through each lesson. Did they do the tasks? If not, why? Was it too much or did they not put the time in?
What about the Calvins of the world? He practices quite cheerfully for an hour a day, but we don't always get the full hour in. When I make him come back later during his time, there is resistance.
So I made a little one day chart for him. These are the tasks for today. In my mind it added up to an hour. He said--so if I get this all done in half an hour I'm done? Well--so then I had to pencil in some times--1o minutes each on these three pieces. He is no dummy. So then I'm not done. . . what is the use of this chart? I told him the timings were on his side--as his teacher I was more likely to accidentally spend a half hour on the first task and then he would be there for three hours.
What I want, is for him to be efficient doing the scales, theory, and sight reading--so--that we can spend more time on the project pieces. I want less shilly-shallying. What we really need is a balanced approach. We balance setting small daily goals with time limits and guidelines.
What about the little kids? Some afternoons Mary pitters out pretty darn quick. The philosophy clearly states that we should not keep the child at the piano longer than her natural attention span. Sometimes that is ten minutes and we didn't get a darn thing done and then what? So, I made her a little daily chart too. A one day thing with CUTE stickers. This is what we need to do today. If you are tired now, that is fine, we will come back later to finish the chart. Then it is my job to follow through and make sure we do come back.
I would love to be a fly on the wall of the household where the parent is forcing his kids to practice two or more hours a day. I would also love to spy in the home of the family whose children are practicing long hours because they love the music and just have to play more--like an itch that they have to scratch.
Ultimately? We need the kids to want to be good and see the value in the practice as working toward being a fine musician. Because they love the music. I told Calvin--this isn't about ten minutes here or there--this is about the responsibility I have as your teacher--to help you meet your potential as a piano player. I take that responsibility very seriously, with my own kids and with my students. It scares the heck out of me. So--like the Barbara Coloroso book I quoted a couple weeks ago--we can neither be a brick wall about practice, nor can we be a jellyfish. We need to be the spine--that supports but bends as needed. The oak tree--which is the strongest thing but flexes incredibly in the wind.
Monday, April 9, 2012
This morning Lorie and I worked on the Deerwood Elementary plant sale fundraiser. My husband made this spreadsheet that could have held data from the air routes of a fleet of 11 jets and their cargo and total revenue optimization for the calendar year of 2012 including dollars per mile of square footage of cargo space minus fuel costs depending on the weather, but instead it just totaled up the orders for all the geraniums and petunias and plant cards. So we type in the family and the plants and it adds up how much they owe. Then you press the total button and a window comes up that says "SARA, you spent too much on plants." Just kidding. You can totally judge a person's character by what kind of plants they order, but don't worry, I won't tell.
Things should calm down a little now. I can't wait to feel better so I can get outside and do my spring clean up. But I'm not going to push it until I stop coughing. I learned my lesson with the whole chi and bon fire thing last weekend. It's just hard not to do stuff when you start to feel better. Then you get sick again. Some live and learn.
Don't worry mother, I'm gonna take better care of myself now.
Here are the links to the videos we made of the kids this weekend to send to Colorado. They have a solo honors recital and some kids are chosen to play each year. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Calvin played the Happy Farmer there when he was five. We'll see. It is a good excuse to get dressed up and practice for the afternoon.
Calvin's Chopin Waltz in A Minor
Mary's Melody by Schumann
Friday, April 6, 2012
Dyeing eggs and digging out the plastic grass from the basement.
Tonight we have the tenabrae service at church. The music travels through the seven last words of Christ. The service ends in darkness.
Calvin has the black scarf on the cross on his bedroom door.
I've said this before, but you must cope with me and read it again, since you are here on my blog--
The seven last words of Christ will forever take me back to Palm Sunday of 2009, with my dad directing the Tipton Community Choir's performance of the Seven Last Words Cantata. I see him in his rented tux, and I here the tone of his voice singing:
God My Father
God My Father
Of course we found out Maundy Thursday that he had pancreatic cancer and we lost him five months later.
The comfort here is only and completely that we have a God who suffered right there with us. When you think of the worst thing that could happen to anybody--pain, humiliation, torture--Jesus took it all. His last words show that he had the same human feelings that we all have at some time in our lives. Abandonment. The need to forgive those closest to us. Physical exhaustion. And finally relinquishment.
I come to that moment of complete clarity where the suffering here on Earth-from my dad to whole ethnic groups--must be such a speck on our histories. A speck on eternity. In the same way that childbirth is a speck on the lives of our children. It seems painful during those moments, hours, or days that you are going through it, but you look back and barely remember how bad it was. The pain is somehow erased with the joy of the new life and raising the child.
The best words from the cross? "Today you will be with me in paradise."
I believe that. It couldn't be more clear. Even as I shed a few tears for my dad this morning, I'm ending up with a smile in my heart--Daddy is in paradise--but so am I here today--the promise is for everyone.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
I woke this morning at 5:30 to the sound of Calvin blowing his nose about 50 times in a row. This is week three for his rhinitis. Triple blah. I rushed in to stop the nasal destruction. Armed with a hot wash cloth, nasal mist, and ibuprofin I made my best effort to calm him down. I also pulled out the big guns--the liquid prednisone. I'm sure his teachers won't appreciate that, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I also said a calming prayer with him and encouraged him to imagine himself breathing freely and peacefully.
We actually stumbled our way through a very productive piano practice after that. Kudos to him for pulling it together. One box of tissues later he had learned the entire Bach Prelude in C major and the A section of Petite Noir by Debussy hands alone. Prayer or prednisone?
Along this piano journey I made the decision to practice even when he was congested. If we hadn't, we would have missed out on several years' progress. Many mornings he has stopped between each phrase to blow his nose.
Everyone has their cross to bear and I guess this is his. It will go on for a while and then one morning he will wake up and he'll be fine. I don't know how to make that happen or heaven knows I would. It's one of those mysteries. I hope when I die I get the print out of the answers to these and many other questions.
In the mean time--prayer, prednisone, antibiotics and time. Here's to more health than sickness!
Sunday, April 1, 2012
|The Sun is Setting on Spring Break|
This morning a u-haul moving van pulled up next door. Apparently our neighbor's girlfriend is moving out. This is our same neighbor who is so sick recovering from strep A and being in a coma for several weeks. It is a life changing illness. It pretty much cuts to the chase of vows versus no vows. The old in sickness and in health thing. Of course we have no idea of the whole story and it is obviously none of our business but she sure doesn't look good on paper.
That really made me sad.
I got to take Mary to gymnastics this week. I was happy to watch her but in between her stunts I re-skimmed Barbara Coloroso's book Kids Are Worth It. Coloroso spoke at our Suzuki Conference several years ago and I forgot how great this book is. A few sample chapters are:
Three Kinds of Families--brick wall, jellyfish, and backboneIf those titles aren't intriguing. . .
Settling Sibling Rivalry without Calling in the Cavalry
The Big C and the Three Rs: chores, relaxation, recreation and rebellion
Sexuality is Not a Four Letter Word
Getting Your Kid Out of Jail and Other Mega-problems
After re-skimming I was inspired to be my very best parent and also to keep my kids out of jail. I guess because I was high on my rekindled zeal for parenting I felt like we had such a great weekend. The kids helped us get ready for company on Saturday, and Sunday (after the 2:00 return of my Chi) Calvin helped Bill and I burn the thrash pile of stuff down by the lake. He stuck with it until the end and never asked for anything in return. Just proud to be a good helper.
We applied for Calvin's passport on Friday. It took both parents and the kid getting to the Dakota county office with a money order and a birth certificate so you can imagine the hoopla. He's going to Switzerland with my mom this summer. He's really growing up.
He winked at me when I asked when the Easter Bunny is coming.
He's had a runny nose again for the last two weeks. We can't seem to break the cycle and I know it wears him down. I hate that I and wish a had a magic wand to fix it. He just blows and blows to try to clear it--I've told him 10,000 times that won't help--I just don't know where he gets the obsessive compulsive thing.
Seriously--it bums me out when he is distractingly congested--when it keeps him from focusing on what he needs to do--like piano. . . .
He asked me to ask him before writing about him in this blog. That's cool. He subscribes. (I write tonight with permission.)
He practices band all on his own. He does the bare minimum and he gets marked down for that, but to Bill and I--for a kid who plays Beethoven Sonatas and Bach concertos to have to go rat tat tat on the snare drum for 20 minutes, without EVER being reminded-- doing the minimum gets an A+ in our book.
To see your kid showing appropriate bursts of responsibility and self sufficiency is heart warming.
One small step toward intrinsic motivation, and I might add--staying out of jail.
Here's to health--mine, Calvin's and our neighbor's. God bless us all, in sickness and in health.