Saturday, June 30, 2012


Today was the last day of the Colorado Suzuki Institute. The kids said goodbye to their teachers and friends.  We had the final recital.  Beethoven and Bartok. For the first time, saying goodbye, Mary didn't have a total breakdown and make herself sick crying.  She's getting bigger.

Some friends we will see next year, some friends I'll see in Texas next Spring.  Again, I'm so thankful for the Suzuki community of teachers, parents and students.  There was nothing but love, support and warm fuzzies in the air tonight.  One by one the skaters left the rink and drifted off to their hotel rooms. Mary and Bill closed the place down with the Zamboni and the rink lights turned off.

Then there are other more serious goodbyes.  This morning I learned that my friend Michele's dad died yesterday.  Suddenly at the age of 82.  He fell and there were complications.  Michele is my cropping friend, even though we aren't really scrap booking anymore. Her email address has the words "Mother of Prayer" in it. The whole time my dad was sick she wrote encouraging words to me and I knew I was always close to the top of her prayer list. Today, she was at the top of mine. You are never ready to lose your daddy.

Some goodbyes are the warm fuzzy kind and some just suck.
I know Michele will say that he is in a better place and I know she knows that she still has her Abba, her heavenly father.  She will have a stronger faith than me and if she's angry she won't let it show,  but as she said in her tender email this morning, it's still really sad.  I'm sorry my friend, I'm so sorry. I know you're going to miss him.

So, Mother of Prayer, tonight my prayer is for you, that your heavenly father will shower you, Emily and the rest of your family with peace and comfort.  May those angels surround and protect you as you celebrate the life of your father.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Colorado Suzuki Institute Day 4, 2012

It has been a very good week.  I'm so thankful for all the teachers, at this institute, out in D.C. and Connecticut and back home at MacPhail who work so patiently with my children.

Teaching your own kids can be a little two dimensional. Working with all these wonderful teachers turns the Suzuki Triangle into a beautiful snowflake.

This week I have also had the chance to get to know some of my families from Texas a little better.  Teaching four kids in an hour doesn't give you much chance to chit chat.  Standing around watching the children ice skating here, I learn their stories a little deeper. And, they all have a story. Every family has a story. Nobody has it easy. No family is perfect.

I had more than a few moments of wondering why on God's green earth I had Mary audition for the honors recital. She is a great musician, but completely inconsistent. One day she has it and the next it's gone. Wednesday morning started out with five perfect repetitions. As the day went on it got worse and worse by the hour. I felt like I was pressuring her and frustrated. She was misbehaving. I finally asked her, "am I pushing you too much on this?" Yes, mama. Okay. No more repetitions. No more comments. Trust. Take a bath. Put on the dress. Trust. No last minute instructions. Trust.

Why do we do this? The kids wanted to come back here this year. Institutes are expensive. It's a big deal. Bill and I said we could, but they both had to audition for this recital.  It just so happened they both got selected.

We do this because the children grow. These landmark occasions help us grow. They don't make us better than anyone else---just our very best selves. This week, Calvin and Mary had some moments of being their very best selves.

Back to the recital--she did it.  Mary did everything she planned.  Phrases, dynamics, poise.  No child is perfect. No family is perfect. There are only perfect moments. For me, this was one.

Monday, June 25, 2012

I Think I'd Rather Be in Colorado

We are here.  It took planes trains and automobiles.  I love the mountains.  There is nothing like it.  Except maybe the ocean.  But if I had to choose, I think I'd rather be in Colorado.

Tomorrow the institute starts.  We snuck in some good practice today, as well as some play, as you can see.

I'm seeing a lot of folks from last year, and Calvin remembers quite a bit from five years ago.  Back then he played The Happy Farmer on the honors recital and Mary got her picture taken with Dick Cheney.  She was the only girl the secret service men let have a picture, because Cheney was there with his grandchildren.  (Liberals, chill out, we also have a picture of Bill Clinton playing Bill Kotrba's saxophone framed on the wall. . . the signed Selmer Mark VI is in the lock box.)

Spirits are high, the kids are very excited for the week.

Bill is excited too.  He's got some time on his hands. Friday was his last day with the company he's been with for the last three years.  It came as a surprise to us.  He was on the phone all morning in meetings, then got the call around noon.  He was shopping for a new cell phone and sending out resumes by 5:00.  Easy come easy go?  We are not governed by Corporate America.  So he begins the next chapter, and my prayer is that it will be one with people that he respects and in a job that will utilize all his talents.  He's a unique and gifted man, and there is a job out there that will be right for the company, for Bill, and for our family.

This week?  Mountains and music and family.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bunny Loves Bach

We made it through the week with Flopsy.  I think we hit the bunny jackpot.  As far as bunnies go, he seems to be one.  He's peeing in the box, for the most part.  He tolerates being held.  He runs up to greet you in the kennel.  He's making a lot of fertilizer for the garden.  It is a simple system, hay in, compost out.  The cats have met him through the kennel gate, they nuzzle noses.  Bunny doesn't run so they don't chase.  The thing that he does the best?  Being cute.  Lucky for us he is so darn cute.

Where to put him?  It rains on the porch.  Mary's room is too small.   I don't really want him in the basement, sometimes we don't go down there all day, if we are going to have a pet, I want him to be part of the household.  So for the moment, he's in the piano room.  I moved him into the corner with his little "yard."

He likes Bach.  He's not so crazy about the cheesy little duets Mary is learning for duet class in Colorado.

I don't know how this is going work, to be honest.  Will he be a distraction, or will the piano kids just get used to him?  What about allergies?  If he is in the kennel will that trigger folk's allergies?

Both my husband and my sister have accused me of speaking with forked tongue.  I want a simple life and then we got a bunny.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for small fuzzy animals.  And I didn't want to look back and say Mary never got the one thing that she ever wanted.  My mom put up with a giant aquarium in my room for ten years.  With newts and eels.

Bill was a little disappointed that there wasn't more of a family meeting to discuss the procurement of Flopsy.  I get it.  But my mom was quick to remind Bill that my sophomore year in high school I spent $50 that was supposed to go toward a new winter coat on a sweet calico kitten in the pet shop.  The kitten brought home fleas.  My mom took care of "Molly" for eighteen years, long after I left for college and beyond.

Once in a while you have to love first and figure things out later.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Card Catalogs and Strawberries

Here is the boy.

What's he up to?  He loves to make movies on his camera with his friends and edit them and put it all together.  The desire to get a project completed and to follow through--these are great characteristics for an adult--but friend to friend the intensity level can get a little high.  Really high.  Imagine a ten year old Spielberg.

I remember certain games we played at 10 and 11 that got a little too involved.  Casey and I and some girls used to play court.  Nobody went home until the jury gave a verdict, and just between you and me they better well have sided with Casey. Fast forward 20 years and she's prosecuting felony criminals in the Houston DA's office.  No wonder we were a little high strung.

Casey and I are still friends, and hopefully Calvin's friends will sort the grain from the chaff as well.

When he is alone?  He's typing out cards by hand for a card catalog of all the books in his room.  He bought two catalog drawers with the cards hole-punched in the bottom at the Tipton church garage sale for a buck.  He's flipping the cards over and typing the info with my Grandma Hope's old typewriter.  After 53 years we had to buy a new ribbon.  I sprang for it, since he bought the catalog drawers.

I know there is nature and nurture and all this research and Dr. Suzuki's ideals.  But I swear, both Bill and I made card catalogs of our overstocked childhood bookshelves and we never mentioned it to Calvin.  It has to be in the genes.  Bill and I stare at each other and wonder how our kids could be so much like us.  It's weird.

Strawberry season is almost over.  Calvin's patch did better this year.  Hopefully next year will be even better.  Gardening requires a lot of patience.  The desire to grow things might be nature and it might be nurture, but I don't think we will ever be able to sort that one out.  The dirt is under his fingernails one way or another.

Calvin I know you read this--I'm proud of you--stick to the strawberries and the card catalog--noble summer endeavors.  You are a great kid.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Making it to the Podium

Saturday was Mary's second in-house gymnastics competition.  She made it to the podium--as third.  There were five girls in her category, that puts her right in the middle, which is fine with me. Bill and I looked around with that deer in the headlights look--at all the heavyweight gymnastics families in the gym and he whispered to me, "this is how beginning parents in your studio feel."  It's true.  I know almost nothing about competitive gymnastics.  I don't know why she got scored the way she did, I don't know why she lost or gained points.  I just clapped when she was done and tried to take some good video.  It seemed pretty fair to me--the two girls ahead of her seemed more experienced and poised and the two girls behind her like-wise seemed a little fresher.  The winner had really straight legs and pointed her toes and her arabesque was a little higher.

It's all the same.

The beauty and skill is all in the details.  It doesn't matter much what the genre is.  It's about the focus and the ability to refine a skill.

That is not always her strong suit. She's only seven.

This week we are finishing up preparations for the honors recital out in Colorado.  Calvin and Mary are both sick of the pieces they recorded last September for the audition.  I'm sick of the pieces. But they hang in there and go through the details and try to play it from their heart for the twenty millionth time.  I try to think up fresh ways to help them remember the details. They make some catastrophic error every third or fourth run through, just to keep me from feeling too relaxed or confident.

Being there.  That is the challenge for them.  Being in the moment.  Focus for just 2-4 minutes.  That's all it takes. They know the pieces inside and out. But you have to be there.

Being there takes practice.  That is what we are practicing now.  Not the notes, not the dynamics, not the rubato.  I raised my voice,  you know it, you feel it, JUST DO IT!  Unfortunately it worked.  But, I won't be able to stand up in the balcony of the Vilar Center and yell down at them.  They will have to find their own focus.  Like the coach with her fingers just inches aways from Mary's fingers in the balance beam photo above, we must eventually let go.

We push them out of the nest and pray to God that they fly.

It's only a recital, but someday it will be the bigger elements of life.  I'm just practicing now.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Wide Open Spaces

Iowa is full of wide open spaces.  Anymore, visiting my mother is the only time I manage to get nine hours of sleep.  At home there is always something to get up for.  In Iowa, my mom gets up with the kids and they have their time alone.  They bake scones or bread or cookies.  It all depends on the season.

I always leave with a burst of creativity.  Maybe it's because of the sleep, or maybe because my mom infuses creativity into everything she touches--house, garden, food.

The drive home is full of wide open spaces.  Miles and miles of corn and bean fields punctuated with farm houses and red barns with quilts painted on them.   The four square houses have the mandatory orange tiger lilies planted on the west foundation, ferns on the north, hostas and lily of the valley on the east and peonies and lilacs on the south.  There is no neighborhood association to regulate this--it's just how stuff grows best.  Occasionally the overgrown yew that started out as a cute shrub by the front door ends up completely blocking the view out the living room window.  It doesn't matter anyway, because the old upright piano goes there and comes up higher than the window anyway.  It all works out.  Two dogs pant in the yard.

I come back home to Minnesota ready to hit the ground running.  I'm ready to clear spaces.  I'm ready to clear my house and my mind of clutter.  I fantasize that I am a Shaker.  I only have what is beautiful and necessary and take very good care of what God has given to me.  I eat seasonal foods and grow them in my weedless organic garden.  My kids are disciplined and helpful.  They eat the vegetables they grow.

Then I go around the pantry corner and see the mountain of crap the kids have brought home from school on Friday and the week's mail and I get into a heavy discourse with the kids about how much computer time they are going to be allowed this summer.  I get sucked into the new Pottery Barn catalog. Then there is the box of junk we bought at the Tipton church garage sale.  I throw away the MacDonald's trash from the car.  I shove the empty suitcase in the bulging closet and shut the door quickly enough that everything doesn't fall out.

Here in suburban Minnesota I'm never gonna be a Quaker.  I'd have to give up my Dansko shoes.  But I can still work toward my own version of simple.

One drawer at a time, sweet Jesus. . . 

I'm not really joking.  I know the Iowa Amish women find spirituality in the rhythm of taking care of the household and the children.  It's just so difficult when my kids are always interrupting me when I'm on the computer. . .

We all have to find our own way.  Tomorrow is the first day of summer break.  I'm going to try to find some rhythm and some wide open space.  Keep what is good and meaningful and let the rest go.  Wide open space is a slow and steady process. . . at it's worst--chaos--at it's best--a living prayer.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Prelude to a Weekend

Tomorrow is the last day of school.  I don't think much learning got done this week.

I'm tired.  I thought we would carry some momentum forward to not take a break before summer session but I was wrong.  Sometimes we need that break, the kids need that break to keep from being totally fed up with us.  Sometimes momentum teeters on burnout. . . I don't think I did such a great job this week of imagining that Dr. Suzuki was sitting on the sofa.  He would have seen me spill my coffee all over my shirt and even in my eyes and ears.  He would have seen me completely forget that two advanced students are playing the same piece on the next recital.  He would have seen my sarcasm with my own son at 6:20 a.m.  It was not a zen week.

I've been listening to music I bought after the conference, Ann Schein's recordings of the Chopin Preludes.  I'm going to play a few of the short easy ones for the faculty recital at the MacPhail camp.  I think kids need to hear early advanced music played beautifully, and plus I don't have time to practice anything more difficult in the next month.  Ms. Schein reminded us that we need to give our kids access to the very best music at a very young age.  That is one of the things I love about the Suzuki Method--kids are playing Bach almost right away.

Speaking of Bach, I have secured all 12 musicians and a conductor for the concerto event August 18, and they all have the parts to seven movements, collated and bound in a nifty little notebook that should ensure that it is easy for them to practice.

I have to get new tires on my car.  My cell phone is busted and I need a new one and possibly a new carrier. Does this kinda stuff ever end?  I just want to sit in my garden and drink my coffee without spilling it all over the place.

Tomorrow I'm taking the kids to Iowa for the weekend to see my mom and my sister and Savannah.  We will have some time to sit in her garden.  The kids will want to swim.  We will have a hot dog roast.  I hope she has some chips and dip.

We will not play piano all weekend.  For my sake, and for theirs.

Have a good weekend!

P.S. great photo Bill!  I'm glad you love taking pictures.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Nurtured By Love

What you may not be able to see from the photos is that mama wren is flying back and forth collecting pine seeds to feed to her babies.  Her mother tongue is a beautiful chatty sing song.  She starts it a little too early in the morning but that is okay.  I wonder when the babies start to sing, or if they are already singing her songs.

The photos are moving to me for layers of reasons.  One day we are beak to beak feeding our kids and the next day they are flying away.

My dad and Calvin made this wren house.  You can tell my mother painted it because she paints flowers on everything she makes.   The branch it hangs on is dead.  It's only purpose is to hang the bird house high enough to be safe from the cat and low enough that we can see the birds.

I'm glad mama wren liked the faux log cabin pattern enough to move in.  I'm glad for the tin roof to protect them.  I'm glad Bill was home to take these pictures.  I'm glad for the time my Dad and Calvin spent to make the bird houses.  Life is fragile.  Time is fragile.

Friday, June 1, 2012

What Would Suzuki Do?

If I can't have my OWN bunny, don't ask me to pose with the petting zoo substitute. . . 

Trash talk?  Sometimes she is a little scary. Beach volleyball olympics 2020?  
Last night about half way through Aidan and Lena's lesson I started to get a little giddy.  It hit me after they left.  Spring semester is done.  I haven't had a day off as long as I can remember.

Today: train of thought.  Make a pie?  Photo copy concerto parts.  WEED.

All week I have been ruminating on the conference.  My thoughts turn to all those folks who shared stories of being in Japan with Dr. Suzuki. All the stories are so awesome.  The phrases that are haunting me are "respect for the child," "greet the living soul of every child," and character formation is everything.  Especially, " tone has a living soul."  Stories of Suzuki's patience and his expectation of the greatness in every child and adult.  Music will save the world.

Yesterday at the drum shop, I was being treated like a suburban mom shopping for a drum set.  Yes, I'm sure every ten-year-old boy wants a drum set.  Yes, I'm sure two years later every mother of a twelve-year-old is putting a drum set on ebay. You don't want to spend too much money, the salesman kept telling me.  Resale value is key!  I kept saying, well, it really needs to sound good.   He said really they just want to beat on the drums and I kept saying yes, but they need to hold their pitch and have a good sound.  Obviously he wasn't that interested in taking my money.   I came very close to saying "tone has a living soul."  Even the tone of a drum. I probably would have been escorted out. At last I broke through the stereotype, trying not to pull the "his Dad was on the road with the Glenn Miller Orchestra--it needs to sound decent" card.  We need a simple high quality starter set that will make it through high school, because we finish what we start and EVERY CHILD can set out to do what they want to do.  WE WON'T BE SELLING IT ON EBAY UNTIL HE GOES ON THE ROAD WITH TAYLOR SWIFT AND THE BASS DRUM JUST WON'T CUT IT FOR ARENA PLAYING. . . Also tried not to pull the "I dated a rock drummer for four years and I know there are idiosyncrasies to snare drums and that a college kid will miss a rent payment just to buy a fancy china cymbal for his collection."

Tra la la.  It's hard to be a scholar of Suzuki in the real world.

Christian Sunday school kids can get little rubber bracelets that say WWJD.  What would Jesus do?  This can help remind them to make good choices.  If Jesus were in the room how would my attitudes change?

In a sticky teaching situation I've occasionally muttered to myself--what would Doris do?

One of the presenters, I believe it was Michiko Yurko, suggested that when we are teaching, we imagine that Dr. Suzuki is sitting on the sofa in the studio.  How would we teach differently.  How would we be ourselves, but be our very best selves.

I start the summer session on Tuesday.  That's going to be my goal.  To imagine that Dr. Suzuki is sitting on the sofa in the back of the studio, quietly observing.  I'm also going to make a fresh start at treating my own kids with the utmost respect.

That's why the bow is so important.  It reminds us to greet the living soul of the child.

I'm ready to be a patient and loving teacher.
I'm ready to learn.