Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year of the Sabbath

We were in Iowa for three days.  Yesterday we had a lovely day with my cousins and aunt and uncle in Cedar Falls.  As always, at my mom's, there is a little bit of sitting around and picking up random books.  I picked up Wayne Muller's Sabbath. I have this book at home on a more buried shelf.  I have read it a couple times.  Nice to read it again.  The main point is that every world religion has a commandment or precept to take a rest. Honor the sabbath. Rest. Without it we just can't go on.

Julie McCarty from our church has a website  In a recent post she suggested we pick a one or two word spiritual mantra for the new year.  I think I'm picking "Sabbath."  "Margin" is a close second.  It's not that anything is so wrong, on the contrary, it's almost that we are too blessed. Too many activities, too many responsibilities, too many obligations, too many hobbies, and too many possessions.

I realize this is an old blog topic for me.  That's the beauty of this blog for me--to see the patterns in my life.  Two weeks ago I said to my husband, "I think I'm reaching an unprecedented level of burn-out."  Bill replied, "Oh, no. I've seen you this burned out many, many times before."   Great.

So maybe it's just the ebb and flow of life.  Breath in and breath out.  Maybe it's not broken.

Maybe I don't need to quit my job, leave my husband, sell the kids, buy a one room cabin in the wilderness and grow all my own organic vegetables.  In his book Helping Parents Practice, Edmond Sprunger suggests that we look for horses, not zebras.   What?  Well, instead of seeing a problem as some exotic thing that needs a complete overhaul, perhaps we should see it as a horse.  It might be just a little something that needs tweaking and maintenance.

Margin?  Everyone needs a little. Time, money, space. . .
It might be as simple as shifting lessons by 15 minutes so that I'm not rushing from picking up the kids to doing Mary's hair for gymnastics to getting a snack in seven minutes before my student shows up at the door.  

Sabbath?  In the music business Sundays are often a work day?  If I'm working on a Sunday, that just means blocking a different day or part of the day to rest.  It might be as simple as remembering to block two weekends a month from scheduling recitals and workshops. Then I can do the work I love, knowing that the next weekend I'll have free with my family.

I'm sure next Christmas, if I'm still blogging, I'll be writing again about the season being too busy bla bla bla.  But, it's okay.  Maybe as my good friend told me, there is no balance, only the ebb and flow of the seasons of life.  Breathing in and breathing out.  The snow and the flowers.  We all need rest. No guilt. No zebras.

I'm still going to make this the year of sabbath and margin.  But I'm not going to beat myself up about it.  It's only a horse.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Santa's Workshop

We are busy, busy, busy. . . . cosy, cosy, cosy!
Doing all the things we love to do!

Baking sugar cookies.
Bill's printing Christmas cards.
Calvin's vacuuming for the arrival of Grandmommy.
Calvin's vacuuming again because the cat hair tumbleweeds blew in from the North Pole.
Reading cards from friends and family, saying of prayer of thanks for each one.
Sending Bill to the post office because I didn't know our square cards take $.20 more to mail and now we have George Washington stamps on the cards with the virgin Mary.
Wrapping presents.
Tying pretty bows.
Thinking of each person as I wrap her gift.
Wiping water and mold off all 50 window in the house because the furnace humidifier malfunctioned and spewed hot water into the house raising us to greenhouse status before we realized.  I knew it was getting progressively more damp in the house, but I thought it was from the October carpet cleaning.  Thursday night when we hit 50% we knew there must be a water source. Bill found the humidifier running stuck full on simultaneously using all the hot water from the hot water heater.  Can't wait to see the bill.  
Dipping pretzels in lovely white chocolate and sprinkling them with nonpareils.
Buying a couple last minute stocking stuffers.  So fun!!!
Lighting a fire in the fireplace.  Bonus: this will help dry the window frames. 
Doing three extra loads of laundry from Mary projectile vomiting last night at tuck-in.  It was one of those chunky ones where it soaks down through the comforter cover and the comforter and the sheet and the mattress pad into the mattress.  You have to scrape it before it can go in the washer. 
Mixing up dough for my favorite Minnesota State Fair wafer cookies with the red and green filling.
Wiping the windows with bleach solution.
Putting together the care package for our babysitter and her husband home from Afghanistan.
Using the same bleach solution to detox the bathroom and laundry where the throw-up scene transpired.
Lighting candles like my mother always did.  Incidentally that helped with the bleach odor.
Calvin vacuuming again as cats walk by.
Listening to Frank Sinatra singing "Baby It's Cold Outside. . . "
Listening to Bill's profanity as the printer jams again and the post office is closing in 12 minutes and he still has three cards left to print.
Practicing for Christmas Eve church services.
My mom is on her way a day late because of the blizzard in Iowa.  She will get here before I can shower.
Saying a prayer of thanks that Mary woke up fine.  When I die I'm gonna get the print out explaining a few things, including why so much vomiting????  I think she gets so excited it just overflows. . .

All in all?  How are things here at Santa's Workshop?
It's all good.
Did I do too much?
Did I spend too much?
Did I try to bend time and space to make it all come together?

I don't care.

More this year than ever all our problems seems trivial.  Even having to refinish or replace all the windows in the house.  Even being sick on Christmas. As Calvin said, "those kids dying in Connecticut really puts our troubles in perspective doesn't it."

Yes it does, Calvin.  It makes me want to shower the people I love with love and celebrate the birth of Jesus with more joy than ever.  I know that doesn't have to mean more cookies and cards and ribbons, but it's one way that we can let our light shine.  Letting the grace that Jesus brings spill over into grace in our lives.  Extravagant traditions for an extravagant event!

Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Behind Locked Doors

I was caught off guard by my emotions when I went to be guest reader for the second grade today. The front door of the school was locked. I knew this. The principal had emailed and sent home a letter but it still caught me off guard.  Reality. One of the male teachers at the school let me in saying under his breath, "you don't look too scary."

As I checked-in in the office, with Marshmallow the Bunny and The Chocolate Cat under my arm,  I heard music. I retrieved my coffee-stained name tag from the 3x5 index card box and headed down to Mary's classroom, greeting Principal Haugen who was loitering in the hallway in his suit and tie. The kids were not in their room. They were gathered on the staircase to the library. The whole school was gathered there listening to the Eagan High choral ensemble.  I found Mary and she hugged me tighter than usual.

Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say, throw cares away. . . . 

This was not a place of fear. Music floated up to the timber frame ceiling.

I put that one in the win column.

God bless you, all the teachers and Principal Haugen.

Remembering Hope

I'm thinking about my grandma Hope today. In a good way. We have been missing her these last two years.  I'm thinking about all the Christmases. All the traditions and nuances. The smell of the lavendar soap in her house.  She and I would walk in the snow to the "Jack & Jill" grocery store on Christmas Eve to get the forgotten items for my mother.  We would look for Santa's sleigh in the dark sky.  I would help her put the tags on the box of gifts Grandpa had wrapped.  The same little box of tags lasted at least the 20 years of my childhood.  You know the kind, they had little strings on them and a little hole punched in the paper.

I'm blessed that my children will have the same vault of memories with their own grandparents.

Thank you Hope, for your legacy of faith and the multiple copies of "My Utmost for His Highest."  You were the world's best listener.  I miss you but am blessed to linger in my memories whilst I multitask through my long Christmas task list.  Multitasking is something you would never have done, and just thinking about that will help me slow down today.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Much Less Random Thoughts Than My Own. . .

My thoughts are scattered and confused.
Here is a link to Pastor Kris' blog titled "Look for the Light". . . I really love these words and appreciate the time she took to write them down at this busy time of year.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Yearning

We all have the elementary school shootings on our mind today.  My kids are oblivious and frankly I'm mostly keeping it that way.  They heard it as a radio news story with their babysitter in the car and that was that.  No questions.  No comments.  Their little schools are as safe as they possibly could be.  Not too much to be done.

But, the four of us did cosy on the couch and watch the entire movie of the Christmas Story together.  No one wanted to go out.  I was a little more attached to their warm little physical bodies and their smiles there on the sofa.

Even though it's raining on our beautiful snow and there is more evil in the world than our stomachs can take I'm choosing light today as best I can.  There are still mountains and oceans and sunrises and dark red poinsettias and music.

This afternoon is the Easter choral service.  A grade school boy is going to sing "All is Well."  Good luck with that.  Pastor Kris if you read this, I recommend those little boxes of tissues you put out at funerals. . . Lucky for me the piano part is easy so I should be able to cope with hearing that.

The other songs are "Great, Great Joy," "How Great Our Joy," and "Good Christian Friends Rejoice."  I think it will be a little tricky to pull that off today.  Maybe it's okay.

My favorite and perhaps superbly appropriate is "The Yearning," by Susan Bentall Boersma with an orchestral arrangement based on music by Craig Courtney.  Bill Henry of Easter Lutheran and Eastview High crafted the arrangement for strings and winds.  You can find a choir singing this on youtube, but I'd rather you come and see ours at 5:00 tonight and 8:30 and 10:00 tomorrow at Easter on the Hill.

There is a yearning
in hearts weighed down by ancient grief
and centuries of sorrow,

There is a yearning
in hearts that in the darkness hide
and in the shades of death abide,
a yearning for tomorrow.

There is a yearning, 
a yearning for the promised One,
the Firstborn of creation
There is a yearning for the Lord who visited His own,
and by His death for sin atoned,
to bring to us salvation.

within our hearts, 
the yearning.

within our hearts, 
the yearning. 

There is a yearning
that fills the hearts of those who wait
the day of His appearing.

There is a yearning
when all our sorrows are erased
and we shall see the one who placed
within our hearts the yearning.  

within our hearts the yearning.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Recital 2012

Congrats to all 21 kids who performed at our 2012 Christmas Recital on Saturday!

There were some ups and downs. . .

It all started a week ago Saturday when Mark came to tune the pianos.  Instead of like every other tuning I've had from Mark for the past 15 years, the pianos were sharp instead of flat. Yikes. The once-in-ten-years carpet cleaning had completely bolloxed (is that a word?) the humidity level in the house.  He gave them a once over and told me to crank the humidity until Saturday and try to keep them happy.

Fast forward past the week of getting seniors ready for college auditions and sending college recommendations.  No pressure there.  No money or future decisions hinging on anything I have to say or teach. . .

Fast forward past the high school students who still needed a little push to finish up their pieces. . .

Go directly to Mary Lynn picking up the kids from school Friday while I was teaching emergency make-ups. Mary Ray got off the bus sick. Sore throat. Crying about missing group lessons and the nursing home. . . she sat on the sofa with Mary Lynn and a 7-up.

Then came the snow. Friday night group lessons were going smoothly, except as always I didn't allow enough time and we were hurrying to eat sandwiches and get the graduation pieces recorded.  It came time to leave for the nursing home gig and Mary was sicker and Bill was not home and it was decided that the high school kids should all go with one parent instead of driving themselves.  I agreed!!!!  Snow and ice. . . Safety first.

As Bill jaunted in the door, home from work at last, Mary threw up.  Precisely timed I might add. The piano kids had all left for the nursing home. I was all set to leave Bill to clean things up, except that one of my high school kids had parked me into my own garage stall.  Sometimes things just go so far astray you can only laugh.  I texted the trusty mother that we would be there as soon as possible.

Through the sleet and snow Bill dropped Calvin and I at the nursing home and took Mary on to urgent care.  We should have bought stock in rapid strep culture swabs. . .

Vomit said the doctor. . . fever said the nurse. . .
Strep said the lady with the alligator purse. . .

What is it with us and strep???

He took her on to Walmart for antibiotics--where she threw up again all over the prescription counter. The kindly lady handed him a paper towel. Note to self. . . never touch ANYTHING at the doctor or pharmacy.

Meanwhile back at the nursing home things were going a little better.  I washed my hands three times. . . things were a little chaotic with me being late and all the piano kids and folks waiting in their wheel chairs and walkers.

Then. . .while Kathryn played her Silent Night a hush came over the agitated and frustrated memory care patients.  They all began to hum along. The Iowa All State Choir never sounded better. At that moment bringing a peace to those 50 residents made it all worth it.

Now I've written too much and I haven't even gotten to Saturday's recital.  No matter how early I wake up, I'm still braiding Mary's hair as the children start to arrive for the 4:00 hour.

It was record attendance.  Sixty people.  Some watched the simulcast from the living room.  I heard a rumor they were having quite a party down there. . . the rest of us sat upstairs and enjoyed all 21 kids playing their songs and duets and trios and last but not least, the four seniors played the O Holy Night quartet.

Eight liters of punch and dozens of cookies later. . . we cleaned up and reflected on the recital.  It truly is my favorite day of the year.

Thank you Linda, for all you do to help with the reception!  Thanks Bill for shoveling snow and parking cars and heaven knows what all else you did.  Thanks Mary Lynn for the sandwiches we ate all weekend. Thanks Mom and Dad Kotrba for staying to help clean up.  Thanks to everyone for playing and listening!

I'm so sorry it was too long.  Again.  But, what can I do?  I want the piano kids to play the pieces they want to play.  The audience was calm and patient.  Next year I'll do better, or maybe I won't.  I personally loved every minute.  I didn't want the Brahms to end.

Through the years we all will be together
if the fates allow
hang a shining star upon the highest bough
and have yourself. . . a merry little Christmas now. . . 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Angels in the Snow

I'm feeling much better now.  I'm back to feeling nostalgic about the season.  This is the second Christmas I'm blogging and it's illuminating to discover the patterns in my life.  I'm feeling exactly the same way I felt last year--a mixture of excitement and exhaustion, peace and panic.  
It's supposed to snow this weekend, just in time for our piano recital which could be very beautiful or a real nuisance.  Yesterday I went to a new doctor about my neck tension.  She asked me what I do to relax.
But today I remembered two things that I like to do to relax: listen to music and write.  This morning I bought another new Christmas CD on iTunes--Kenny Loggins.  So here is a nice song I found on the album and maybe you will spend five minutes just sitting and looking at the pretty pictures (they're not mine) and "relax."  
Angels in the Snow link
When December comesThen we'll take the kids to Mama'sThey can make snow angels in the yardLike a Christmas card

We'll decorate the treePut an angel high above usLike we always do at Christmas

On and on it goesEvery year new memories to shareAnd for all we knowWe will all of us be there

When the autumn leaves have gone to gold
And swallows know, December's callingI'll be flying home a thousand timesIn all my sweetest dreams
I can see the glow in your eyesAs we sit by the fireLike lovers we knew long agoWhile we watch our angels in the snow
When December comesWe'll be trying to rememberWhere we packed our woolen winter clothesOnly heaven knows

When December comesWe'll be hanging pine and hollySinging all the songs we sing at Christmas

Home is ever nearHearts return no matter what we doAnd love will build a bridgeAnd I will always be there with you

When the autumn leaves have gone to goldAnd swallows know, December's callingI'll be flying home a thousand timesIf only in my dreams

And I see the glow in your eyesAs we sit by the fireLike lovers we knew long agoWhile we watch our angels in the snow

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Puppy Love

Some days you just need to hold someone's hand.

This morning my mom thinks Maxy the golden retriever is dying.  He won't get up and she can't lift him so the vet is coming out to the house.  That's what you get for being part of a small town Iowa community--the vet comes to you when you truly need them.  The dog is eleven. That's the same age as Calvin.  I have to say we questioned her judgment in getting a puppy with a new grandbaby. . . it was fine. . . (that's an inside joke. . . )  Whenever my mom is over the top we say, "it'll be fine."  And, it always is.

So-Mommy--I'm sending a hug.  I know you are feeling alone and I know you are wishing Daddy was there too.  I wish I was there.  I know you'll be fine but it's still sad.  And if he perks up, that will be fine too.  I'm glad you taught us to love animals.  Peace to you.

Monday, December 3, 2012

All is Merry & Bright

Tonight is our church tea.  Along with our Life Group gals we invited Mary Lynn, my babysitter/life support system.   The cake has four layers which Kris and I baked on Friday and three batches of butter cream frosting.  Tra la la.

Friday the kids were off school.  They haven't had a solid week of school since Halloween.  How nice for them.  They are probably getting tired of grilled cheese and tomato soup.  They must cope.

I haven't talked to anyone, well, any woman, this week who hasn't confessed to being a little strung out.  I'm suspicious of those who aren't.  Old habits die hard.  I had the meltdown.  Friday night and truly, I have to say, it lingered until about 10: 25 on Saturday morning.  Like every mother, my list is a mile and a half long. The tea, the nursing home studio performance, the recital next Saturday. . . all the normal stuff like meals and laundry. . . my neck and jaw feel like the twisted Christmas pretzels waiting to be dipped in chocolate.

As I hid the tears rolling down my cheeks Saturday morning, Mary said, "Mama this is my favorite day of the year, we get to decorate the Christmas tree!!!!"  Oh, yeah.  I forgot as I was mopping up the water I sloshed all over the floor watering it.  It's special.  Christmas through their eyes. . .

Calvin worked hard on his CD.  He wants to be grown-up and do it all himself, but he's not quite there and we're using new and tricky software.  He's intense. I'm intense. We did a lot of butting heads. Not to mention he wants many copies made by the tea so he can sell them tonight.  He's giving the money to FMSC in Eagan.  That's nice but. . . it's a heck of a lot of work.  I had had it.  Then tucking him in he said, "thanks for your help Mama, I'm really proud of the CD this year, and it's going to feel so good to give even more money for the starving children this year."

A couple more tears.  But then, I slept and slept well and suddenly everything seemed joyful and fun again. We do all these things for the most part because we love doing them.

The sermon and anthem Sunday were about Daniel in the lions' den.  I'm not sure if I projected this or if Pastor Kevin actually implied it. . . but our busy lives are a little bit like the lions' den, especially right now.  God is with us in there.  And angels came and shut the mouths of the lions.  And Daniel kept worshipping.  I know that's what it's all about.  I just need reminder after reminder after reminder.  Day after day a chance for a fresh start.  Ultimately, that's why Christianity is and will always be the path for me.  I need that fresh start. A shot at redemption. My zen only gets me so far before the darkness spills out. So, Bill, Mary, and Calvin, I'm sorry I was so grouchy, cynical and sarcastic.  Maybe while the angels shut the lions' mouths they will shut mine occasionally too.

If you are not feeling merry and bright--there is still hope.  It is all good. And as my sweet, kind husband repeated his annual Christmas mantra this weekend--it will all get done--it will all be okay.

It will be more than okay, the season will be sacred and beautiful and lovely, and remind us of the birth of the one who gives us the fresh start. That, is truly merry and bright.