Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Josie May

Here's. . . . . . . Josie! Named after my Dad's nickname for me: Josie May.

She's my mom's new miniature Australian Shepherd. She is a doll baby. And so smart. Gifted really. It's just hard to tell because she's constantly chewing on your hand. Katie, the big Australian is actually quite the teacher. She is very tolerant. Katie gives Josie a toy when she wants it--she is a good sharer. And Josie hangs from Katie's neck and Katie doesn't give her heck back. She is somehow bred to know that she is supposed to take care of other animals. And Josie already knows the pecking order--swiping at the clawless cats. . .

My mom is a good new mother. It is after all a little bit, well, a lot like having a new baby in the house.  On the phone before we came Janel was all about keeping Josie on a routine, not waking her up when we got there. Not playing with her in the middle of the night. Not giving her too many treats. Keeping her in the play pen, I mean kennel, to rest.  Let her go to the bathroom right away when she wakes up. Don't give her too many toys at once. . .

Okay. I just have to get it all out. . . . this is the same women who feeds my kids chocolate chip cookies at midnight when we get there. Who gives them have chocolate chip scones for breakfast. Who gets them the extra large hot chocolate at Starbucks. I could go on. Yeah.

We had a great weekend and if we spoiled the puppy just a little bit. . . well. . . turnabout is fair play.
We love you Grandmommy and Josie and Katie too.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Alec Goes to Cyclone Country

My senior Alec has made his college decision. He's going to Iowa State University in the Fall.

I have some history with ISU. Both of my parents graduated there in Ames, Iowa. My dad in agricultural finance and my mom in home-ec and phys-ed. As a child I was dragged across the state to every home football game. Donning our cardinal and gold we stopped for breakfast in the Amana Colonies. You didn't know this about me, but at one point in my life I knew the strategies and rankings of college football, as good little girls were not allowed to run around under the stands. We had to sit and watch the game, timing bathroom breaks so as not to miss the highlight of the day, the marching band at the half-time show. My dad had season tickets on the 50 yard line and Saturday after Saturday we huddled under blankets on the concrete bleachers, my dad listening to the game on the radio while we watched the real thing. . . Dinner after the game at the Broiler. On the four hour drive home we slept in a cosy bed across the back of the station wagon.

Once I got some pom-poms and once I got an ISU jacket which I proudly wore all through high-school much to the dismay of my Hawkeye friends.  

Alec started lessons with me at MacPhail when he was three. I remember one group class where the boys were acting up. There were a lot of little boys in that group. . .   Alec's dad came and scooped him up and I heard him crying all the way down the hall. After a very long time they returned and Alec was red-faced from the tears. I never saw Alec join in the ruckus again.

I learned a lot from Alec's lessons. Even when he was very little he always looked me in the eyes and spoke loud and clear. Every week they came through the big oak door. We played through the Book One repertoire. I asked his mom how practice was going. Well, she said--we play through every song right hand, left hand, and hands together everyday. Then we add a new phrase. Oh. That's it, she said. No drama. No trauma. So that is what I did at the lesson. We played each song and I would add one small idea or detail and apply it to all the songs. Exactly as Dr. Suzuki imagined. The review as a tool to build skills.  No drama. No trauma. Alec never had to go back and relearn French Children's Song or Minuet Two. They just had a routine. In Book Two we started a reading method and he did those assignments faithfully every week. In fifteen years, I don't think he has ever interrupted me or noodled at the piano while I was talking.

Disciplined. Respectful. Polite. These are words I would use to describe Alec.

Every kid is different, but please don't confuse this extreme politeness and respectfulness with a lack of creativity or musical energy. Alec always has a twinkle in his eye and a lot to say as soon as you ask him. He just also has that fruit of the spirit called self control. This is what I try to instill with partial success in my own kids. It's not that it's 100% necessary all the time, but it sure makes the child easy and fun to teach. It also made Alec really pleasant to be around.  For many years he had the last lesson of the day, but I always looked forward to it and felt reenergized when we sat down to do the work.

I'm really going to miss his quiet presence in the studio.

Alec recently went down to Ames to visit ISU one final time and it turns out they stopped in and saw the piano professor there and Alec played for her. Suzuki students always have something to play, especially those like Alec. Upon his return he announced to me that in addition to studying engineering there he plans to pursue a piano minor.  Wow! Okay.

I asked Alec why all the sudden this last minute addition to his academic agenda?  He replied, "I've been playing piano for so long, I just couldn't imagine not playing."  I can't even write that without getting tears in my eyes.  Isn't that what we wanted?  To raise kids who love music? Who can't imagine life without music in it?

I'm going to miss that kid. I can't wait to see how the next chapter unfolds.  I love it that he will be one of those engineering majors who sits down and Rachmaninoff pours out of him. I love it that he gets to work with collegiate faculty in the Fall. I hope I can help him pick out a little repertoire for this summer.  One last gesture of any control or influence I get to have. . . before I pass the torch.

Thanks Nicole and Mohan, for making the drive all these years. For sticking with me down here in Eagan. Thanks for all the lessons you didn't know you taught me. I'll miss you both too!  Congratulations, Alec!!!

Saturday, April 20, 2013


I've been thinking about senior-itis. That condition in which you know you still have some work to do, but you are also ready to move on the next thing. It takes a serious work ethic to stay the course.

These four seniors I have are working hard. But, they also took on big goals. Really big goals. Big senior recitals. All of them. I keep telling them, this is not about some moment in time when we expect you to be absolutely perfect and have every piece at it's peak. But. . . you have worked really hard these last fifteen or so years and it would be nice to show you off and celebrate and be pleased with the result.

I'm trying to help them break down the work. Decide which pieces you need to play everyday, presumably because they are the most physically and technically demanding. Then decide which pieces you can get away with playing every other day or every third day. Break down your practice time into sections and set small goals. We have big green charts. Slow, slow, slow wins the race. One super slow repetition is worth 100 fast run-throughs. I keep telling them, if I, as an adult, was playing that program, I'd be practicing four to five hours a day. I always figure about an hour per day of ten minutes of music, or if it's at the top of my technical ability, an hour for five minutes of music. But that's just little old me. I'm a practicer. These kids are smarter and learn faster than I do. . . and occasionally they have that magical ability to pull off something in performance that they hacked through in practice. The thing is, you never know when you will reach the ceiling of that ability. There will come a day when you can no longer wing it. It might be your pride, it might be your physical ability or it might be some performance anxiety creeping in. It might be playing the recital the day after prom. You have to be prepared for that day. I know they aren't gonna practice four to five hours a day this last month of their senior years. I understand. They each have a plan. I'm not loosing sleep. I'm just saying. If it was me. . .

Me? I'm having spring-itis. My flower mart is covered in snow. This week I think we all here in Minnesota hit rock bottom. Everything was wrong. Nobody could please me. There was a pea under my mattress for sure. The gymnastics coach bugging me. The guitar teacher bugging me. The school called to tell me Mary was going to have government cheese sandwich lunch because I forgot to send the lunch money. Big tears. The irony of this, of course is that I send a cheese sandwich with Calvin every single day of his life.

Finally Thursday afternoon after the tenth inch of snow over two inches of ice. . . everything shut down. All activities cancelled. Full stop. The reset button. A snow day in April. No lessons. No. gymnastics. Family dinner. Everyone home with a fire in the fireplace. Not the smell of potting soil and warm earth. But still a moment. It's hard to want what you have sometimes. Spring-itis. Senior-itis.  We all just need to stay the course. Buckle down and do the task in front of us. Don't wish it away. We will have earned our Spring, and those kids will earn their Summer.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Easter Serves, Easter Sings. . .

Our church, Easter Lutheran, is kicking off a capital fund drive, with the goal to make an education and administrative addition to the lake site, a new commercial kitchen at the Lake, and an update to the Hill kitchen, among other improvements. The primary goal is to expand our community outreach by using the kitchen in cooperation with the Eagan Resource Center and other partnerships. The Sunday school at the Lake has long since outgrown it's space and updating the worship areas will add to the aesthetics of the worship experience. We have a great message and great music--but there is something to be said for inspirational spaces as well, especially in this context where the space is very flexible and will add to our direct involvement with the folks in need right here in Eagan.

Our church has two campuses. The Hill has more traditional liturgical services, with organ and a classical adult choir, children's choirs and handbell choirs. The Lake site has the more contemporary praise band led worship. My kids insisted that we go to both locations on Easter Sunday, even though I was already booked at the Hill for four services with the choir that morning. We call that double dipping. . .  There are a lot of us who enjoy both styles of worship. Both locations share the same leadership and clergy who alternate preaching between locations. In the summer the Lake services are outdoors--which, having the lovely view of the lake and trees--is not in need of an update. . . nature can rarely be improved upon.

All this info is really just an excuse for me to post a couple links to some the music my family has been involved with at Easter.  If you are not a blood relative you might be terribly disinterested, I realize this. In any case. . . here is Calvin accompanying the Cherub Choir, under the direction of Ginny Blood, and our senior choir at the 11:00 a.m. Easter morning (the fourth service that morning. . . we may have peaked at the third. . ) singing the Beethoven Hallelujah Chorus from the Mount of Olives, under the direction of Kris Henry, our organist and music director.

Mary sings with the Choristers, under the direction of Shirley Erickson

Link to Calvin and the Cherubs: Peace Like a River

Link to Easter's Senior Choir: Beethoven Hallelujah from the Mount of Olives

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Greetings from the Land of Eternal Winter

I feel like we went through the wardrobe with Peter, Edmond, Susan and Lucy and now we are under the spell of eternal winter--Narnians unite--to fight the evil queen and return to springtime.

Spring is a state of mind anyway. I have learned whatever state I'm in to be content, but sometimes I'm more content in a warmer state like--say Texas or California.

Here in Eagan we got about a total ten inches off and on all week. Enough to slush things up, because really, all the plow guys are home drinking beer by now, as they should be. Our shovel is broken and I ain't gonna buy a new one this year.

I don't think the goldfinches look very pretty against the white backdrop. They were in the photo above, you may see a speck of yellow. They got a little shy and asked me not to post their photos on the blog. They got duped--flying north just a little too early.

Papa and Mama Mallard have been on the snowy back hill this week, daily quacking out their profanity and searching for the open water on the frozen pond.

Someone on Blackhawk Road turned on all their outdoor Christmas tree lights on Wednesday night.  Those big old-fashioned colored C7 bulbs.  (I know this because I live with the world's expert Christmas light repair child). I guess I was not in good enough humor to think that was very funny.  Christmas in April. . . ha ha ha. Forced laugh.

It's snowing lightly now. Again. The thermometer is stuck at 32 degrees. The kids can wear their snowsuits over their swim suits for swimming lessons this morning.

My mom bought me a six pack of pansies, they are waiting on my window sill. Their little faces are hopeful and sweet. She also bought me a bunch of daffodils and they are still in a vase on the worktable, trumpeting out the message that it is warm and sunny somewhere.  The flowers Bill's folks and his sister gave us for Easter are there too. It's all good. We can make one last fire in the fireplace today. Cosy down in our flannel one more weekend. I am content. Even in the land of eternal winter--the state of Minnesota.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Free to Be You and Me

Bill and I went to Austin, Texas for the weekend. We went to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary, which was March 14.

It seems we used to do this more often. The first trip we took after Calvin stopped nursing was memorable. For over a year we had not had much of a moment to ourselves. Was the trip so romantic?  I don't remember the romance, I only remember sleeping through the night and way into the next day with room darkening shades and I also recall that we spent about four train-of-thought hours wondering around Barnes and Noble--comatose in our freedom. No one had to stand next to the Thomas Track while the other perused the magazine rack. Another early highlight was sitting in a restaurant and not scarfing down food before the kid woke up hungry.

I really don't miss early childhood days.

This trip, we started our rounds at the Central Market. This is a grocery store to end all. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods can just take a number and get in line. Byerly's--I don't know what to say? You are lovely and overpriced and carpeted but something is still missing. I'm not being sacrilegious when I say that walking in the door to Central Market, after winter in Minnesota was a religious experience. Every herb growing in six inch pots, no, not growing--thriving--cascading out of their glorious little plots of black dirt. Hundreds of them in racks. If I was a cat I would have rolled in it. Then, the produce. It was glowing. Twenty varieties of brussel sprouts. I've never made them, but there they were in pyramids and I was fantasizing about sautéing them in butter. Maybe I'll become a brussel sprout expect and be able to discern all these different varieties. The energy level in that football field of organic glory was amazing. It's no wonder there are so many vegetarians in Austin. Look what they have? Then, you round the corner to the meat palace and you let those thoughts go. If I lived here I could just grill every night. Never did beef look like that in a case.

Then, the fresh squeezed o.j. sample. I don't know what they add or don't add or if it's legal--and I don't care. When you pour it in the glass it vibrates. You feel like God created the sun and then the sun went into the Earth and it grew an orange and now you are drinking the sun. Maybe you are drinking God. In any case, we got a half gallon.

Lastly, the thing about Central Market is that it's an HEB. Minnesota folks, that's like Cub. So all the normal stuff like milk and eggs is normal price. Alas. It does no good to keep thinking about it. I took a vow.

Getting away for a weekend with one's husband, especially when you are fond of him, is completely underrated. Going back to a place you spent your twenties is also underrated. Simply being there sheds the years. That's different than shedding cats. . .

It's not a glorification of the past. I was much too lonely then to notice the orange juice vibrating.  I didn't have anyone I was free to be myself with. I didn't have two growing up Minnesota kids to buy "Keep Austin Weird" t-shirts for.

It's just a reminder of how where we have been shapes who we are. And spending time alone together gets you back to remembering just who you and me are.

I wish it wasn't 43 degrees and raining today. I was wondering why we live here as I put on my wool sweater this morning. I guess this too is part of who we are. Spring will come. I'll spend too much on flowers. By mid May I'll sit and make my lists with my coffee on my screen porch. We will go to the lake and see the loons and breath the fresh crisp Minnesota morning air even in July. We will grill our own Kowalski's meats and try to grow some tomatoes before the deer eat them.

Years from now, if we ever move, we'll come back home and visit and dream about how we raised our kids here and their schools and church and my garden and the house we built and our restaurants and we will visit all the sanctuaries of Minnesota and they will be sacred too. We might feel a little tender, but mostly thankful--for where we are right now and all the places we have been.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Tax Season

Just a little public note of thanks to my husband, Bill, for the countless hours he has spent sequestered in the cold dark basement sorting through the wadded receipts from the piano account, in some mad spectacle of attempted organization to give our documents to the tax preparer.  He gets bonus points because much of the time he was down there Calvin was practicing drum set next to him.

I'm sure we are not alone in asking the question, why?  Why disability insurance for our part time nanny?  Why figuring the percent of toilet paper (and other supplies) used by the piano kids for the business use of home form?  Why depreciation on an instrument as old as my first born child?  I'm just a little old piano teacher.

Really, I should have just let Bill work, and then I should have gotten an accounting degree followed by medical school. Were I a CPA, then I could just do our taxes.  Had I gone to medical school, then Bill wouldn't have to spend so many hours sorting out the insurance forms.  I could just be our family practitioner.  I'm sure the time commitment would have come out about even. He's starting to call it his Aetna hour at work--the weekly time it takes to sort it all out. And we are a healthy family! Okay, I'm not counting Mary's propensity for an upset stomach. Seriously, we have a combined four degrees and we can barely keep things straight.  How do the little old ladies of the world figure it out? What a waste of time.  

Lastly, thank you Bill for the kickin' spreadsheet you created for the Deerwood Elementary Gerten's plant sale fundraiser!  No other school, and I mean it. . . has such a functioning tool for analysis of it's geranium sales!  He can give you the year over year daily report and create a story to justify it on call.  Petunia sales are down 60% so far this year?  Must be the price of crude oil.  Stock sales are down on potting soil out west?  Or maybe nobody in Minnesota thinks there is any hope that the temperature will ever get above 32 degrees.  Why would we spend money on flowers just to watch them freeze.

I digress. Thank you Bill!  I don't have a picture of you to post, because again, you take all the pictures.  I appreciate you, and I'm looking forward to a weekend in Austin alone with you soon!