Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In My Little Town. . .

201 West LeClaire Road, Eldridge, Iowa--my house
Lori, Stacey, Casey and me

My backyard without the garden, gazebo and iron swing-set

. . . I grew up belieiving
God keeps his eye. . . on us all.

If you know me at all you probably know that I think that places are sacred.  Our stories are sacred.  This weekend the gals from Edward White Elementary revisited our stories and our places.  The four of us met at my mom's for the weekend and journeyed back in time to our home town. We had the absolute best time. A sacred time.

Let's talk about the places. If it was brick it survived. If it was wood it didn't fair so well the last twenty-five years. Our houses were rotting. Casey's house foreclosed upon and left with garbage in the the yard and as we peeked in the window--the house was trashed. Her fancy house.

Nary a garage door was left hanging properly on it's hinge. It didn't help that Iowa is having the worst drought. Ever. The grass was all dead. No one wants to fix up a house on a street. They build in the new developments on the edge of town.

It made me a little sad. But we didn't come there to instigate urban renewal projects. We came to relive and update our stories. Here is a short list of the events in the lives of four small town Iowa girls over the last twenty-five years:

one of us ran for Miss Iowa
one of us prosecuted capital murder cases
three of us have two children between 6 and 12
two of us teach piano and play music in our church
one of us made a living in a country band for five years
one of us raises chickens and goats (well. . . used to raise goats)
two of us survived domestic violence
two of our dads died too young from cancer
one of us home schools her children
two of us shared a boyfriend  (bless his heart. . . )
two of our dads suffered from mental illness
one of us got up early Saturday morning and ran the seven mile BIX race in Davenport
three of us slept in. . .
four of us are married and staying married

You can imagine there was a lot of laughing and crying.  I thought about how I would have done things differently. Mostly in high school. Relationships I should have chosen differently. But of all the infinite number of paths we all could have taken the choices that we made led us right to this moment and to this weekend. You can't unweave the tapestry. None of us would change where we are right now. God blessed the broken road. . . that led me straight to you.

There's just something about someone who knows your story. Thanks gals! This weekend was a total blessing to me. You are amazing women and I love you all dearly.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Balm in Gilead

Our church invites musicians to play special music during the summer services.  Today it was Calvin's turn.  He played Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Burgmuller and Debussy.  It was really beautiful.  He smiled and he was really listening and playing from his heart.  Congratulations, Calvin, I really liked it.

Barb sang the anthem "There is a Balm in Gilead," arranged by Mark Hayes with Terolle on the piano.  It was so lovely.

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
There is balm in Gilead to heal the sinsick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work's in vain;
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again. . . . 

The sermon was on Jesus and the fig tree and producing fruit and prayer.  I sat through it twice.  Sometimes God knows exactly what you need.  I was pretty blue yesterday.  This morning was a balm.   I saw that Calvin's heart, and his music were a fruit of my labor.   That's enough sometimes, to revive our soul again.

Pastor Kevin finished with a focus on Romans 8, which is my confirmation verse--"for I'm sure that neither heights nor depths. . . . nor angels or principalities nor death . . . can separate us from the love of God. . . "  

I'm assuming that includes weeds and a sticky floor and all the other trivial junk I worry about.  

Thanks, Easter.  It was a lovely morning of music and message and prayer.  A balm in Gilead.  I'm feeling much better now.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

There's No Place Like Home

This is my new coffee mug.  I painted it myself with Mary at the Color Me Mine studio in Eagan.  It is making me happy.  It's full.

I haven't had much chance to blog.  I think that is just the way this summer is going.  It's not specifically that I haven't had time.  It's that I'm not the owner of my brain.  Or my computer.

Yesterday I read a blog at http://www.blogher.com/being-needed.  It's called "they think they need me but I need them more."  It is very sweet, about how someday our kids will be gone and life will be quiet  etc. etc.  I don't know. Right now I think I need some space.

Usually I think about things during the day, then when I sit down to write them it goes pretty fast.  Not so right now. Four people in the house 24/7. Three meals. . .  Alice couldn't keep up keeping house after this gang.  Like I said, I'm not the owner of my brain.  My brain is loaned out to the history of airlines and subways and proof reading cover letter applications for new companies and looking for tiny little lost items.

We had awesome masterclasses yesterday afternoon with Reiko Imrie.  The concerto kids each got 30 minutes to work on their movement with her.  As always, she had great ideas and I took copious notes. I can't wait to help the kids work through these ideas.  The concerto thing is bran new to me, and I'm thankful for the insight of so many wonderful colleagues.  Four hours of focused music and learning.

Then she left and like always, reality set back in. Weeds. Dry plants. Dinner. Laundry. Bunny poop.  Groceries. Cat litter. The fountain is clogged. Myriad tasks under a backdrop of conversation that always circles back to Calvin's obsession with airline mergers and their safety ratings. . . and the history of Microsoft versus Apple operating systems. MENTAL FRAGMENTATION!!!!!

My mom sent me a link to yesterday's Lutheran God Pause devotion. They stole my line, about securing your own oxygen mask before helping others. . . not cool. (Joke) Where is my oxygen mask right now?  The kids are home for summer.  Bill is here in the house doing his job search everyday.  They need me. It's more than just the three meals.

I think the oxygen mask has to be--me letting go of any expectation of perfection, control or routine. Company is coming to celebrate Calvin's birthday tomorrow and there's going to be weeds. The fountain will still be clogged. There might be cat throw-up in the hall. The illusion that I am the man behind the curtain keeping it all together will be broken. To be honest, it's only ME that wants it all to be perfect, not anyone else.  Relinquish. It can't all be done.

Can we be of any value with spokes going in so many directions?

Next week is the MacPhail Suzuki Institute.  I'm teaching and Calvin and Mary are both going.   I can't wait, but I'm going to need help. Cassy is going to shadow Mary, and Bill will go with Calvin. Mary Lynn will have to pick up the slack with plants, bunny, cats and laundry.  It is a valuable spoke.

Sometimes when I'm feeling overwhelmed, Bill and I sit on the sofa and ask, what would you let go?  Nothing.  I wouldn't let go of anything. The kids. The house. Family. Teaching. The garden. So, the only thing I can let go of is the notion that it can all be perfect at one time. The spokes will never be completely even. The wheel will limp along sometimes. My hope is that we will still reach our destination.

Bill will get a job. The kids will go back to school.  I'll get my brain back.  That new mug will hold enough coffee to get me to September. Until then, I'll try to breath it all in and let it all go.  Let go the illusion.  Draw back the curtain and shake hands with Dorothy. And the Tin Man. And the scarecrow. Clean up after Toto.  The air is a little thinner, the wheel is a little bumpy, but there's no place like home.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Empty House

Calvin and my mom get home from Switzerland tonight.  The house has been quiet this week with just Mary here.  My brain has been quiet.

Calvin's birthday is Wednesday, he will be 11-years-old.  For the past eleven years he has been knocking on the door to my brain pretty much from 6:00 a.m. (5:00 a.m. when he was a baby) until bedtime.  He has a lot going on in his own brain that he needs to share.  That can wear down even the strongest of introverts.  I know my mom will need a break when that plane touches down.

That's okay.  We all need a break sometimes.  My mom was always the happiest to see me after summer camp or a stay at my grandparents.

Yesterday Mary spent the day with Maggie.  There are two things parents can do when children are not in the house.  One of them, is to go through the bags of junk they brought home from school the last day and throw most of it out.   Doesn't it feel good, to have the pantry countertop finally cleaned off!!!

Mary got better.  Strep comes and goes.  Colds linger.  I'm fighting a summer cold--hopefully it will pass quickly.

Without Calvin?  Mary did a painting camp.  Also, Friday I took her to "Color Me Mine," a ceramic painting studio owned by a gal from our church. We had a great time!  Two bunnies, two little birds and one giant coffee mug later we were covered from head to toe with paint.  I loved it.  Someday I will learn to paint for real.  Until then I'm content to paint simple trees and flowers and cats.

Also without Calvin the fairies came back.  All the little German fairy dolls came out to play.  They had elaborate picnics on the floor and traveled in their seldom used car to mysterious destinations.  Why do fairies need a car?  I don't know.  But, it came with a camper and it was very cute.

And she read.  Hours on the sofa reading.  Not one hour on the computer.  For 11 days no one sat at my computer surfing youtube for info about the subways systems of Paris.  And engineering videos of the Hong Kong airport runway project.

We practiced piano everyday and did a lot of listening.  It's easier to be a good Suzuki parent to one child.  I honestly don't know how some of my parents do it with three or more kids.  Kudos.

Calvin is going to have to hit the ground running with piano.  He plays four pieces in church next Sunday, goes to the MacPhail Suzuki Institute next week and also has a masterclass with Reiko this Friday on his concerto.  All seven of the concerto kids will play for her.  That means I have to hit the piano starting today as well--to polish those seven accompaniments.   He will probably be jet lagged.  I can't wait to see the 1179 photos he took.

This is my last morning drinking coffee alone on my porch while Bill and Mary sleep in.  Tomorrow I will have the boy back here with me in my brain and at the piano.  That's what parents do.  Every kid is different, the burdens and joys of every parent are different.  I can't wait to hear that little motor mouth!  I missed him. I can't wait to hear about the minutia of how elevators and escalators and subways and trains work in Switzerland.  But, still, I'm happy for the time alone with one child.  Happy to inhabit that corner of my own brain, if only for eleven days.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Simple Shell

Not my house. . . somebody's Vail cabin visible from the ski lift.  The real estate guide seemed to average these properties out at about $1,000,000 per 1000 square feet.  With fires looming so close, that owner must really have concern.

I'm sitting in my cabin.  That is, my screen porch.  It's early and it's 65 degrees and the air is crisp.  Minnesota morning.  Birds are singing. We spent the weekend at Bill's folk's cabin, nick named Eagle's Wings, for the Biblical reference.  I slept and perused a book by Dale Mulfinger call Cabinology.  Beautiful photos of Minnesota dream cabins, most of them small but very thoughtfully created.  The glorification of a simple shell to live in, a cabin, seems almost bred in our bones.

When we were 20, Casey's dad came to visit us in our skanky roach infested apartment in Austin, TX.  He had left his job, left his wife and family, and taken up with the world at large.  He had some small nap sack in which he carried his things. We were poor college students and wanted everything--a descent place to live, clothes, a car--the world seemed like nothing but a place to somehow get the things we needed. He told us (he was larger than life) that once you have all that stuff you might find you don't need it anymore.  He was off the rails, but he put his money where his mouth was.  Stuff was never again important to him.  I never forgot that.

Later in Austin I had my own garage apartment. It was cute. Mine. Alone. Most of time there were no roaches. I shopped flee markets for furniture and decorations.  The wicker sofa still here on my porch was my first purchase.  The city-wide garage sale was my haunt.  Friday was my work day. I would put laundry in the outdoor machine my landlord provided, clean my three rooms from top to bottom, run my car through a neighborhood car wash with vacuuming, come home and finish the laundry.  I was done by 3:00.  Everything in my life tidy. A simple shell.

Not so anymore.  I seem to have gotten all the stuff I wanted.  My stuff smothers me.  My kids' stuff smothers me. I fantasize of a simpler day.  Now I have a three bedroom house and studio, three quarters of an acre of yard to maintain, and I can't remember that last time I vacuumed my suburban SUV.  The basement is a mystery zone.  Calvin and Mary have more toys than they have time to play with, and we have more CDs on the shelf than we have time to listen to.

A high-class problem. The suburban American curse of abundance. I don't think we Kotrbas are alone, I look around and even friends who complain that they can't pay their bills seem to have too much stuff.  It isn't really even about money.

In some ways Bill losing his job is a blessing. An excuse to go on spending moratorium. Calvin's birthday is next week and short of his gifts, we're done buying things for awhile. Time to take a breath and take care of the things we have.

I don't mean to sound ungrateful. We are so blessed. There isn't some quick fix.  I love my home.  I love my yard. Gardening is my only hobby. I love small furry animals. I just want the things around me to be beautiful and functional.  It is a process.  Keep what is special and pass on the rest.  For those of us with mild OCD it isn't easy to sit on the porch on a summer morning and listen to the birds while there is a heap of stuff to process just 15 feet away in the pantry.

Right now there is no cabinology, there is no simple shell, no Austin garage apartment where the piano takes up the whole living room.  There are two kids, three cats, a bunny, a fish and a heck of a lot of weeds.  And one clear morning on the porch.

Thank you Lord,  for these blessings.  Help me to be grateful and discerning.  Help me be a good steward of your gifts. Show me ways to share what we have with others in a way that blesses them.  Bless this house and this yard and these children and pets--let them be a blessing to others as well.  Amen. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mary Misses Calvin

Mary misses Calvin.  She's been out of sorts since he left for Switzerland with my mom on Friday.  They will be gone ten days, the longest time ever.  She's lonely. Saturday night she cried, I miss Calvin, I miss giving him a hug goodnight, I just miss him.

Bill's mom agreed.  We know how you feel Mary.  An only child misses the sibling they never had.  The rest of us understand it too. I personally spent half my childhood dreading the day my sister would leave for college. She was my best friend.  I wanted our family unit to be frozen in time never to change.  But, it did change. We grew up and got married. We had our own kids. For better or for worse families change.

Mary is sick. I took her to the doctor tonight and yes, she has strep throat.  The bacterial illness of choice for the Kotrba immune system.  Please Lord, and I mean this as my deepest prayer, let it pass over Calvin in Switzerland.

Calvin called.  He's all into the nuts and bolts of Switzerland.  The elevators and escalators and hotels with real keys and all the cheeses.  Trains and buses.  I hope he has the time of his life.  I never flew on an airplane until I was 20 years old.  I've only been to Europe twice.  Every generation has it's own world. Calvin's dad worked for the airline for 13 years and Calvin has flown a lot of places.  His world is a little bigger than mine was. It's part of the fabric of who he is.

Calvin and Mary talked on the phone today too.  He was so excited, he saw her German dolls in a store front.  He told her all about the elevator where you could see the floor moving.  How they served broccoli soup for dinner. Yuck!  I'm so thankful they have each other.  Each is a part of the other.  The tapestry of their lives is woven together.

Get well soon, Mary. Calvin, I hope you are having a wonderful experience!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Proud Parents

The aunts and uncles and grandparents have been clamoring for video of the kids' honors recitals out in Colorado.  Here it is! It's not pro-audio, just our family recorder.  I'm really happy for Calvin and Mary, they worked very hard played with happy hearts!  Enjoy!

Mary's Melody
Calvin's Chopin Waltz in A Minor

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Transparency of the Mountain Air

We are home from the Colorado Suzuki Institute.  No one threw up.  The Denver airport is the site of the CVI.  That is, the "cheetos vomit incident."  Enough said.  I've said it before, but I'm a three times member of the mile high club--that is--moms with kids that throw up on airplanes.

We had a great week.  I'm going to be completely honest here, there is a lot of transparency in taking your kids to an institute where you taught last year--and seeing families you taught at other institutes.  All the advice that I gave all the wonderful Suzuki parents--all the corrections I made on the kids' little fingers--all the superior knowledge that I imparted on those poor folks.  Then they get to see my parenting in action.  They get to catch me grabbing the pen from my daughter during the recital because she's clicking it during the quiet guitar solo.  They see my own kids' flat fingers on their scales.  Oh yeah, we're supposed to be doing scales.  Their low wrists.  My kids interrupt incessantly while grown-ups are trying to talk.

I am probably too hard on myself.  I expect my kids to show up at institute and be perfect.  The perfect example of a Suzuki family.  I want the other teachers to know what an exceptional teacher and parent I am.

Instead. . . 
Mary knows no REVIEW pieces except the two recitals pieces she prepared for the week.
Excuse? We spent so much time working on Melody and the duets for the duet class that the rest of her pieces went to hell in a hand-basket.  Sorry, we won't make the perfect Suzuki family list.  And we certainly won't cut it for Japan's standards--reviewing every Book Two and Book One piece everyday.  Blah.  Calgon take me away. But--all you parents out there--do your review!!!!

LISTENING.  Mary told Jane Kutcher Reed that we didn't do the listening.  Instead we went ice-skating.  Tsk tsk. We do okay with listening to the recordings at home, but I need to be better.  I did have Calvin listen to the Richard Goode recording of his Beethoven on the iphone speaker.  Great tone that was.  I recommit to listening.  Especially for Mary.  I know the review will be easier the more she is listening.

TECHNIQUE.  Blah.  This is the worst.  Do as I say, not as I do.  I find myself wanting to scream--the kids in my home studio have much better fingers that this!  I don't scream.  I pretend to look away when Joan Krzywicki gently suggests that Mary put her fingers closer to the black keys to prepare for a sharp.
I don't always hold Calvin and Mary to the same technical standard that I do my students.  I can't.  Day after day, they have to put up with me.  There is a different level of intensity teaching your own kids and you have to choose your battles.  I hope that in the end I will have chosen them wisely.

The one thing I can say with conviction that we do right?  We show up.  We go to institute every year.  We practice at home, almost every day.  PRACTICE.  Yes, for better or for worse we are good practicers.  I even caught Calvin asking to practice extra.  He was asking me to go back to the hotel after a big dinner and glass of wine, and run through his concerto.  Blah. . . I was ready for bed.

There is a second battle I have won.  My kids love coming to these institutes.  They beg to come.  They love to play. They love music. That is one thing I'm most proud of. They love music. Sometimes it means letting them click the pen during the recital.  It might mean they aren't always playing with perfect alignment.  It might mean ice-skating instead of listening to the recording. But my kids love music.

It's funny--when I look at other families, I only see the good. We are all on the same team.  I hope they feel the same way. I'm holding on tight to the hope that it is somehow healthy for other parents to see the children of Suzuki teachers in action.  We are all on the same road.  We have the same ups and downs.  The same highs and lows.  I can be just as psycho as any other mom.  Come to think of it those other parents probably felt a little weird having their last year's teacher seeing their parenting in action too.

The atmosphere is still transparent, I have to put aside some pride and any hope of perfection, but hopefully that transparency shows a clarity and a reality.  We are all human, and we are all trying to learn with love.