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!!!!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Skipping the Meltdown

Okay.  It's not that I haven't had a million blog entries in my mind the last ten days. . . it's just that Bill started his new job, the kids are at two schools this year and studio life has been very full, as well as the accompanying at church.

As you have boringly read in the past, I have done it again, I have bit off more than I can chew.

Suzuki Piano Teacher's Guild and Suzuki Association of Minnesota meetings are graffiti on my calendar.

Calvin is going to take a jazz piano lesson with a teacher at MacPhail and Mary wants "chord" guitar lessons there as well (read Taylor Swift. . . )  We start Monday, which means I had to move all the Monday studio lessons so that I can at least go to the first lesson.

Mary is a month away from making the gymnastics level four team, which will up her to eight hours a week of practice at a gym 20 minutes away.

Bill's job is going really great, I'm super happy for him.  But, it's a big responsibility and I respect that he wants to do super job and that takes a lot of time.  So, he's trying, but much of what he generally does around the house is falling upon me.

I feel like I'm at one of those cathartic moments in life where I wonder if I should really be teaching at all.  Heaven knows it would be enough just to take care of my kids, husband and household.  After taxes and childcare and piano tuning my income isn't terribly dramatic.  Am I doing the right thing?

It's cloudy out and 40 degrees.  The leaves are all blowing off the trees.

The kids are not little anymore.  They can actually stay home by themselves for short periods of time. All the baby stuff is put away.  Car chairs are cluttering up the garage.  Mary's youth chair for the kitchen table is on the landing to the basement.  She lost three teeth this week.  She looks like a jack-o-lantern.  Toys and puzzles are gathering dust as Calvin makes time for middle school homework and band practice. He's working on K. 545.  I just can't believe it all.

Christmas is coming.  There are only six lessons left before the Christmas recital.  The train has left the station.

This year, Bill suggested that I skip the pre-Advent meltdown about doing too much for Christmas--baking, decorating, gifts, travel, practicing for church, writing cards and the infamous Christmas tea. He suggested I skip that annual tearful evening when I stew about what to cut back on this year--where we talk about it till the wee hours of the night.

Instead, he suggested, I should just go ahead and jump to the part where I do it all anyway and just enjoy it.

Maybe life is a little like that.  Maybe we should just skip the meltdown and move ahead to doing what we want to do anyway. What we are going to do anyway. Just as an antique is worth exactly what you paid for it--ultimately we do what is important to us.

We stopped in a toy store last weekend.  Eleven-year-old Calvin, Mr. ipad technology wiz, went gaga over a new wooden brio train set.  "Look how cute."  He is not so grown-up. I came down last Sunday morning to find him cuddled under a blanket on the sofa watching Thomas the Tank Engine cartoons. The same ones he watched when he was three and collecting those little engines for learning Lightly Row. Maybe I'm gonna buy him that wooden brio train set with the little logs on the back for learning K. 545.

Time marches on.

I'm gonna keep teaching, and parenting and accompanying and being chief operating officer of the Kotrba household.  I'll try to skip the part where I melt down about it all. Instead I'll try to just jump ahead to the part where I do it all anyway and just enjoy the ride.  In the end, for the most part I will do what is important to me.

I just happen to think a lot of things are important.
Sorry for the lack of blog entries.  I still have a lot of boring and occasionally not so boring things to say.  Thanks for checking back.  And, blessings to you all as you make these same decisions about what is important to you and your family.

I have to go, I have something very important to do, right this minute, which is to tuck in my two kidos.
Then, I have something else VERY important to do, which is to go to bed.
Goodnight.  Sleep tight.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Best Wishes Calvin

Calvin Kotrba

Suzuki Piano Book Five Graduation Recital
October 14, 2012
3:30 p.m. 

Prelude in C Major from The Well-tempered Clavier...................................... J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Invention in F..................................................................................................................... J. S. Bach

Solfeggietto................................................................................................ C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788)

Le Coucou..................................................................................................... C. Daquin (1694-1772)

Sonata in G, Op. 49, No. 2 ............................................................... L. van Beethoven (1770-1827)
     Allegro, ma non troppo
     Tempo di Menuetto

Für Elise................................................................................................................. L. van Beethoven

First Loss, Op. 68, No. 16........................................................................ R. Schumann (1810-1856)

Arabesque................................................................................................ F. Burgmüller (1806-1874)

By the Limpid Stream, Op. 100, No. 7......................................................................... F. Burgmüller

Waltz in A Minor, Op. Posthumous.............................................................. F. Chopin (1810-1849)
Le Petit Négre.............................................................................................. C. Debussy (1862-1918)

We The People Preamble from Schoolhouse Rock...................................... L. Ahrens, arr. Calvin Kotrba

We the People of the United States,
in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, 
provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this 
Constitution for the United States of America. . .

Given in the home of Bill & Sara Kotrba
Calvin is a student of Sara Stephens Kotrba

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday at the Office

Today Bill starts his new job.
It's not with Delta--I just don't have any pictures of his new office.
He's going to work for Regis.  He'll be working at their headquarters in Edina.  He'll be helping them to optimize their revenue.  He's very excited and I'm excited for him too.

It's been over three years since we had anything like a normal routine around here.  Even longer if you take it back four years to him commuting to Atlanta when Delta acquired nwa.

I'm not exactly sure what to expect. His work with his last company turned into him traveling almost every week.  If he had known that, perhaps he thinks he might as well have continued to commute to Altanta with Delta and we still could have had our flight benefits.  Hindsight is 20/20.  BUT, now we know what it is like to have him work from home. . .

My mother in law has a saying--for better or worse but not for lunch. . . to be completely honest there were more than a few moments where having the both of us work from home was tricky.  Yeah.  There's only so much room in my brain, I need what little mental space I have.  Bless his heart.

But, the grass is always greener.  Now that he'll be gone every day I'll miss our morning walk/jogs.  And him dropping the kids at school.  And the other little perks of working at home and being flexible.

I'm thankful that he found a job.  I know there are more than a few folks out there who are struggling.  I don't take that for granted.

There are a few minor issues. . .
I just wonder if the folks who hired him took note of the fact that he has very little hair.  I wonder what will happen when they find out that his wife gives him his hair cut every Sunday night.  With a clippers.  They might find that hypocritical. And. . . how is his airline pricing background going to match with the salon industry?  I'm worried that when I go to get a haircut now, they are going to charge me to keep my purse behind the counter.  I'm worried there will be a $50 fee to change my appointment.  I don't know if I can make an appointment for a haircut 90 days out, even for a reduced rate.  I'm worried it will cost extra to sit in a comfortable barber chair. Will I have to get a first class hair cut if I want that cup of coffee when I get there?  Worst of all--will I have to book a Saturday night stay to get the price I'm used to paying?  I can't give up a whole weekend for a haircut.  And lastly, let's just be completely honest here, discounts on shampoo are not going to be as glamourous at free flight benefits.

I'll take the shampoo discount.  I'm glad to be in a new chapter.  I'm happy for him, I'm happy for me (though I will miss him a little at lunch) and I'm happy for the kids--that most nights they will get to kiss their daddy goodnight.

So Bill--blessings to you as you start a new journey with a new company and a new cast of characters.  I pray that you will bless the people around you.  I pray that you will make a difference there, not just in the bottom line but in the lives of the people of that company.  I pray that this will be a job that supports our family, not just with money for living, but with a routine that aligns with our value system.  I know this is possible.  Calvin has the sign on his bedroom door: through Christ all things are possible. I know this is true. You can make a difference in the world and still be your very best self, husband and father.  I love you, I'm proud of you! Good luck!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dalcroze 2012

Congratulations to all the students who participated in the Dalcroze workshop with Jeremy Dittus!  We had a great time.  The weekend started off with master classes at my house Friday night.  Eight students including Calvin, Mary, Cassy and Alec from my studio worked with Jeremy. He found musical ways to enhance the rhythm of all the pieces and even made Mary's piece into a story about her bunny!  Alec's Chopin had some fancy polyrhythms which opened the door to some great rhythmic work--Jeremy asked us ALL to participate, even the non-musical moms. . .

Saturday was all rhythm all day! We had four student classes plus a teacher class. Jeremy had us all working hard.  I definitely had sore muscles on Sunday from all the exercise.

We got a ton of new ideas for groups and teaching rhythm, but to me, a large part of the inspiration comes from just being around someone like Jeremy who is so energized and enthusiastic about what he does.  He lives and breaths music, emotion and rhythm.  When you are around someone who is so excellent at what he does it lifts everyone up.  He was still penciling out different ways to think about three against four at my kitchen table Saturday night.  I woke up in the night dreaming of rhythm.

I love how great teachers craft a lesson so that time just flies by and at the end you realize there was this very organized yet organic plan that built concepts and left us with a specific skill--yet the whole thing looks completely improvised.  When you see the lesson plan printed out you can't believe it.  I appreciate that level of teaching.

Jeremy tolerated us Kotrbas very well--he had to make his own eggs Saturday morning as I scurried around with last minute details and getting the kids going.  He helped Mary work on her front handspring--he used to be a competitive gymnast.  (Don't you just hate people who are good at so many things. . . )  And he sat at the kitchen table with the scores and listened to the Bach concerto recordings from my studio--really listening--long after my head was drooping.  

Last night I went to bed at 8:00, even before the kids. . . they got to tuck me in for a change.  I was one tired gal, but it was worth it.  So--thanks to all the kids and teachers who participated, and mostly thanks to Jeremy for flying here and working so hard!  I'm so glad we got to have a Dalcroze weekend.