Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gerber Makes Baby Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Prayer

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Best Christmas Presence Ever

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed Thanksgiving to Everyone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Glue Sticks for Everyone

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

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

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

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

A bad day for middle school.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Rushing the Repertoire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hope for Resolution

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Litany of Productivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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