Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

I was going to title the blog "Hating Halloween" because that's how I really feel. But, then I remembered an article I read this week "Be Responsible for the Energy You Bring to the Room."

So. HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Positive energy!

Mama? Why don't you like Halloween?
Conjuring positive energy. . . I think it's all the emphasis on death and blood and scary things, Mary.
There's enough death and blood and scary things in real life that we don't really need a holiday to celebrate them.

I like pretty things. And life. And security. And peace. And whole wheat and fruits and vegetables. I just threw out the Easter candy yesterday. It was past the statute of candy limitations.

Ohmmmm.  Positive energy. . . cream colored ponies. . . 

God bless Mary. She has been a bunny for eight years now. Wash up the white leggings, white shirt, tail and ears. Done. She knows--that pushing me to create a different costume might drive me over the edge and force me to take us all to an orchestra concert instead of trick-or-treating. The thought of little boys in store bought spiderman suits is more than I can cope with. Maybe it's because we have a hard enough time being our authentic selves to begin with. Then we go to the store and buy a fake suit and tell our kids it's fun to be a fake Elsa. Ohmmmm.

Oh crud, I just hurt like 35,437 little kids feelings. Not responsible behavior. . . 

I'm not bringing positive energy to the room. . . .

Fresh start.

POSITIVE energy. Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes. 

Calvin typed a school composition for Mary. It would have taken her the whole conference break and he typed it in just under two minutes and thirty-seven seconds.  Mary, you should think of what favor you could do for Calvin when he needs it. Mama, there isn't anything that I do better than Calvin. He's older and pretty much better at everything.

That's not true. You are very good at meeting people.
Why am I good at meeting people?

Well, Mary, I think it's because you operate under the assumption that people are good and fun. And that you are a likable person. Why wouldn't it be great to meet new friends, if people are basically good and fun, and chances are high that they will like you too?

You see the best in people. They tend to see the best in you.

That's what good friends do. They see the best in us and let the rest blow away like Fall leaves and negative Halloween posts.

That's what good teachers try to do--to see the pure child and the light and the energy that they bring to the lesson. Find the tiniest spark of good and magnify it.

It's easy to teach the sweet little ones who bring you an orange and a pastry.

The teen who hasn't practiced yet this year requires a little more fabricated positive energy. No one ever loved music more after they got yelled at. Make a plan. Give a fresh start. Blow the rest away. Again.

That's what God does for us too. He sees the good in me and brings his positive energy to me everyday. Sunshine. Wild turkeys. An orange and a pastry from a three year old with red hair.

Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings. . . 

And He gives me a fresh start moment after moment after moment. Snickers bar after Snickers bar after Snickers bar.

Pooling every last ounce of positive energy. . . 

Happy Halloween.

And I mean that. I will not spoil anyone else's fun. I'm gonna wear my winter coat and mittens and boots and I'm gonna walk down the streets in the twenty-five degree wind with my precious white bunny and her friend Hermione, while they solicit candy that will probably make them sick from strangers--with my best possible positive energy.

Okay I'm still dark. 
Last chance for positive attitude. . . right here.

After we get home and after the plastic pumpkin gets dumped out on the carpet, after the trades are made--if nobody throws up, pre-Advent begins. I'm gonna light a fire, make homemade caramels with a friend, put up Christmas lights and listen to the Messiah.

See--I can be responsible for the energy I bring to the room.
I know you can already feel the glow and I'm already feeling better just thinking about it.

Happy pre-Advent, Everyone!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Button Up Your Overcoat

 when the wind is free. . .
Take good care of yourself, 
you belong to me!

Here is Mary singing with the Dakota Valley Festival Children's Choir. The children's choir sang two songs including "Button Up Your Overcoat." All four district 196 high school choirs sang and then they combined for Robert Ray's Gospel Mass. The finale was the mass choir with the children's choir singing the Caldwell/Ivory Hope for Resolution. It might be that hearing high school kids and little kids singing Of the Father's love begotten, E'er the worlds began to be. He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending he might have undone me. It didn't help that the Eastview choir opened with"How Can I Keep From Singing?"

Cue the sniffling. Again.

The choral festival was just several hours of the total music this weekend. Mary and Calvin are busy practicing every song every day for their graduation recitals--read Sara is sitting at the piano many hours. . .  

Easter Choir sang a big Reformation Sunday anthem complete with piano, organ and brass sextet. Good news! Because of Martin Luther and the whole saved by grace and not by works, I don't have to worry so much about all the mistakes I made at the 8:30 a.m. service. I'm already forgiven. Add in confirmation service in the afternoon and we had A Mighty Fortress fully stuck in our ears.

In an effort to lessen the stress of the holidays, this year, we are paying to have Calvin's Christmas CD mass duplicated. This is huge--usually I'm frantically precision cutting CD liners at midnight on Christmas Eve while Bill sits at the light scribe machine feeding in blank CDs. Note the exaggeration, but you get my drift. Mass duplication is great--but it means Calvin has to have it all recorded by November 5. The piano room has become a recording studio and Quincy Jones himself was never under this kind of deadline.

I put a sign up on the piano room door--hour by hour who gets to use the space. . .

My kids are stressed. Where did they learn that when there is just a little too much going on we should freak out and either break down or take it out on everyone else around us?  Hmmm.  I don't know?

So we sat down and made a list. And we dropped out of the inventor's fair. And suddenly it's not so bad. If I taught them how to be stressed then it's my job to teach them how to work it out. It's only three more weeks. Then we are home free. . . except the whole Christmas thing.

Which brings me back to the "Button Up Your Overcoat" title. Take good care of yourself. . . you belong to me. Since I dramatically reduced my caffeine and sugar intake the last two months, I'm feeling pretty self righteous. I'm soooooo calm. However, now if I slip and have a coffee at a meeting, I'm up all night. Apparently we have to be good and take care of ourselves every day, not just most of the days.

This is the annual secure your own oxygen mask first blog entry. It's that time of year. The holidays are knocking hard at my door. The next ten weekends are spoken for.

It's all good. I love it all.

I love it more on less caffeine and sugar, eight hours sleep, and a little exercise. Busy will come and busy will go--but our family is here to stay. I'm going to try to be a better example to my kids. I know I'm gonna mess up--and so will they--and that's okay. Maybe starting off the season with reformation is a great idea. We are already forgiven. Grace is right there waiting for us.

Eat an apple every day, 
get to bed by three. . . 
Take good care of yourself. . . you belong to me.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Stacey's Earth Angels

I've never seen an angel.

But. . . there's been enough times in my life, when the right thing happened at just the right time, because the just right person showed up, for me to believe in them.

They don't always look like heavenly cherubim and seraphim. Most of the time they look just like you and me. I like to think they give us just a little nudge-a little poke from God--to take action.

So, Stephens clan--one of us could use a little action. Our cousin and niece Stacey is having a knock down drag out down in Arizona with that old enemy, pancreatic cancer. Stacey is 49 years old. She has one son. Aunt Kathy is taking care of her.

She and my aunt could use a little, maybe a lot, of help with incidental medical expenses that insurance is just not covering. My mom is close with Aunt Kathy and though neither Kathy nor Stacey would ever have asked for it, Janel set up an account for all of us to pitch in and give them some relief. Donations are completely anonymous. You can deposit a little or a lot at any US Bank in the world and ask them to put the deposit into "Stacey Ogles Donation Account." They will look it up. It's nick named "Stacey's Earth Angels." Or mail it to US Bank, 102 E. 5th Street, Tipton, IA 52772.

All of us Stephens cousins came from the same Grandpa Gene and Grandma Ethel in Ainsworth, Iowa. If Gene and Ethel were still here, they would bring out the coffee and the animal cookies and sit down in the living room and listen to Stacey's whole story. And then they would write a check.

They are not here. And I think we all know how utterly crappy this cancer is. I'm not in Arizona. I can't bring over a pot roast or drive Stacey to chemo or give Kathy any extra help. But I can walk into my US bank and transfer a little money into a lot of love.

Stacey--hang in there. Accept this love=money from your family and friends. You are so loved by all of us!

Monday, October 20, 2014

An Invitation. . .

You are cordially invited to the graduation programs of:
Mary Ray Kotrba and 
John Calvin Kotrba

Saturday November 15, at 3:00
In the home of Bill and Sara Kotrba

Mary will graduate from Book 3  & play works of Clementi, Kuhlau, Schumann, Beethoven, Burgmuller, and Kabalevsky

Calvin will perform Beethoven Op. 79, 
Six Chopin pieces, Scarlatti, Grieg, Mozart 
and the Bartok Romanian Folk Dances

A reception will follow

We hope you will join us and please R.S.V.P. to Sara at 
so we can save a seat for you. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sing Me Home

Daddy and Mary

My Grandma and Mary
Yesterday we sang Karen home. In a beautiful service, her grandchildren sang, her daughter sang, the choir sang, the congregation sang, the guest pastor sang and even Karen sang in a precious last video message from her. How can we keep from singing?

Everyday babies are born and everyday somewhere someone buries a parent. But when it's your baby, or your parent, it changes everything. They will miss their Karen.

In the post funeral empty, I wrapped presents for my sister and my niece, packed the suitcases for the birthday weekend in Iowa and called Casey. I cried on the phone to Casey because that's what we do.

Bill got home from work and we loaded up the car and drove south to my mother's farm. We talked about the service and turns out he called his friend Tim on the way back from church to work too. That's what we do.

And as the hour got later and we both were getting tired, I played DJ with the 80's power ballads on my iTunes. I listened to my husband's voice singing quietly along and driving.

I sang along a little, but mostly I let him sing me home.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Ones We Love

As pastor Sam would say, we lost one of our good people this weekend. Karen Capel lost her very short battle with pancreatic cancer. Losing Karen leaves a huge impact crater. My friend lost her mom. My student lost her grandma. Our church choir lost an alto. The list could go on and on. A friend. A golfer. A women of faith.

I overheard Mary and Amelia talking. . . why is it that only the ones we love get cancer?

If those little girls come up with an answer I'll shout it to the world.

Meanwhile, we celebrate Karen's life. We will be busy this week with church and music, as though if we practiced hard enough we could somehow lighten their grief.

We can't do that, but we can sing the song for them.

Sara's guest blog on Easter's website: My Life Goes on In Endless Song.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Friends in Training--Slumber Party!

Ten-years-old is a good time to have a first slumber party.

Mary could only invite five girls. Seemed like 500 anyway. . .

They came home from school wild! Screaming actually. I glanced at the bottle of cabernet on the counter but alas. . . this was Mary's party.

We started with snack. Fruit, salami and cheese on shish kabobs. Yum. A big success. There were no vegetarians here, five girls inhaled two pounds of salami. One sweet friend went to refill her lemonade and upon opening the freezer exclaimed, "You all must be rich! Look at all that ice!" Yes, Bill and I invested in a faucet early in our marriage and it's really paid off. Now we have ice cubes enough to share with everybody. Never a warm drink around here.

On to Color Me Mine. . . the girls all calmed down and settled into painting. Bill's sister helped me play chauffeur and keep everyone's colors from running. Well, almost everyone.

Home for a scavenger hunt--initiated by Calvin. He wrote all the clues in poetic form and hid all the treats. The girls were getting quite a thrill out of teasing him by singing the "Black Socks" song. What else are big brothers for? Tease all you want, Mary, but this is the boy you have to live with for the next five years.

Chicken and cupcakes and ice cream--then on to the sewing project. I glanced at the wine again--but instead commenced to threading six needles. And sewing 12 french knots for eyes. . . and six fluffy tails.

There were some minor frustrations along the way. As one sweet little angel in the form of a nine-year-old girl's needle came loose for the ninth time--while sewing around her little sweet little blue fleece bunny--she exclaimed loudly in her little nine-year-old voice, "This really sucks the big balls."

I do not look up from the tenth french knot. Bill does not look up from washing dishes at the sink. We do not meet eyes under any circumstances. The other girls are unfazed. Well duh. She must have meant playground balls. I say nothing. Please pass the scissors. Mary reached over and threaded the angel's needle.

There was the whole nightlight versus no night light and fan versus no fan shakedown. I set up zones and the girls settled in their sleeping bags according to their sleep needs. . . never mind my sleep needs.

There was talk of who likes who. There was talk about how chocolate makes you fat. I had hoped to postpone the whole fat skinny thing a few more years--maybe for forever, but, if you really want to go there girls. . . let's talk about the salami first. I say nothing. That's another blog. . .

Along with the superficial hoopla there was also some serious talk. My grandma has cancer. My grandpa had that same cancer. My grandpa had cancer too. No drama--just the facts and please pass the yellow paint. . .

Highs, lows, chocolate cupcakes, crushes, fat, skinny, a little profanity, a little help threading each other's needles, sharing sad news, a few little white lies (your horse actually looks good with that black blob of paint), and a little tolerance for the sake of everyone being able to sleep. . .

Friends in training. I'd say they are off to a good start.