Monday, December 28, 2015

The Perfect Christmas

Santa's Stash

Don't Stop Believing. . . 

Christmas Eve in Eagan

Christmas Day Spaghetti with Bill's Folks and Ann and Dave

Christmas Continues in Iowa
Here I am, sitting at my mother's kitchen table. Outside there is a genuine Iowa ice-storm. We are on the other side of Christmas. Well--around here we extend Christmas pretty far--yesterday we celebrated with my sister and Savannah and there are many meals to come before we head back to Minnesota on Wednesday.

I asked my friend, why do I get so high and so low around Christmas? Is something wrong with me? Maybe something is wrong with me. I felt like Charlie Brown at Lucy's nickel stand. She thought about it for a moment and finally said, "maybe you are just human."

I'm human. And I'm greedy. This season is so full. So full. Every year seams to get fuller than the last. I'm greedy. I want it all. I'm not talking about my own Christmas wishlist, I'm talking about my greed of Christmas traditions. I want Thanksgiving in Nisswa and to decorate my house and make cookies and have the church tea. I want the recitals at our house and I love the choral service and how my family is growing up participating in church music. I love a big Christmas. I love a tree full of presents with unique bows and paper picked for each person. And everybody in the five state area has to get a card or package. That's the kind of greed I'm talking about.

But this year--instead of wrapping my mother-in-law's presents with amaryllis paper and my brother-in-law's gifts with paper with stags and Mary's with angels or bunnies and Calvin's with trains or puppies--I found myself embracing the recycled gift bag.

And I had more than one fight or flight moment. There was more to be done than can ever be done.

I asked a gal at the check out counter, what are you doing for Christmas? Her response? "Oh, I think I will sleep in and play some video games."

What? Are you fricken kidding me?

Sleep in and play video games?

What about the homemade caramels and fudge?

What about the third church service on Christmas Eve, in between Santa and waffles and family gifts and appetizers and Maggie and turning the house around for more company the next day?

The sermon at the candlelight service, given by that same friend, was about the perfect Christmas. Or lack thereof. All those nativity scenes portray Mary looking like she just came from the spa. Probably it was not like that.

To be honest, I quit with the advent devotions about December 9th. The pressure to achieve some spiritual high while clinging to this Christmas roller coaster was too much pressure and too much guilt. I gave in to the self pity of the moment.

Maybe something is wrong with me.
Maybe I'm an ungrateful spoiled brat.
Maybe I'm human.

That same friend gave a sermon ten days ago. I guess I did have a small spiritual moment, because I opted to sit through it twice. The theme? Simultaneous joy and grief. Haven't we all felt that?

I translated it also to the simultaneous loving of each and every Christmas moment and complete Christmas burnout. We can embrace it all. My Christmas greed and my Christmas gratitude. And it's all holy and God is in all of it.

God with us.
Even during those moments when I couldn't fit Christ into Christmas--he was still there.
And it was. . . the perfect Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Calvin's Media Presents: All is Bright

Calvin's Media Presents:  All is Bright

He worked really hard on his CD this year, along with Mary and Annika and Amelia. There are some very beautiful tracks! He's selling CDs for $10 and 100% of the proceeds go to Feed My Starving Children. Last year he donated $700 which fed ten children for a year. Of course they weren't eating Stoneyfield Farm Yogurt and cantaloups. . . but I think his contribution is remarkable. Contact Calvin for your 2015 CD. He has a couple leftovers from the last few years if you missed out before.

The Christmas train has left the station. It actually wizzed by the fall SAM workshop and never really stopped. The coal box is dirty and fuel is low and the steam is building but we've been down this track before. The choices are to try as hard as you can to put on the breaks, which will certainly cause derailment, or stay put in your seat and enjoy the view as we barrel down a frighteningly steep mountain. These tracks are sturdy and well maintained. The train should be able to handle the speed--if and only if the engineers gets more than five hours of sleep on any given night. Yesterday Bill flew to Chicago and we were both up at 4:00 a.m. which put a significant amount of stress on the cargo box car--almost causing a roll over. The little engine that could was ready to take a siding to Montana and never come back.

But today is a new day, which includes making graduation recordings and prepping kids for Saturday's recital, some kind of dinner between 6:15 and 6:30 and Mary's first band concert!

The snowplow car is revved up and pushing all the debris into closets and basement crevices in preparation for Saturday's recitals.

May I just put onto the "things we've learned" list. . . who's really, really, really ignorant idea was it to have all the Suzuki Piano Teacher's Guild Advancing Recital videos and the Suzuki Association of Minnesota graduation recordings due between the day of the studio recitals and the church choral service? Who is running this show? Some live and learn and some just live. There are some very beautiful mountain views in Montana. . . that's all I have to say about that.

In case you are a fan of the Kotrba Piano Studio and family. . . here is a list up upcoming events for you. . .

Tonight: Mary's band concert at Deerwood, 7:00 p.m.

Saturday December 12. . . Kotrba Piano Studio Christmas Recitals at 1:00 and 3:30, thank you to Linda Erickson for helping me host them! Stop by if you can! 

Sunday Choir at church services as usual.

Monday December 14, Easter's Christmas Tea where you can hear Calvin provide the entertainment, with maybe a couple special guests from the CD as well. At the Hill. 

Insert. . . those above deadlines, choir practice, seeing our friend's high school musical, and a sledding slumber party and our first trip to a real professional Nutcracker with Mary's ballet teacher. . . 

December 19 & 20 Easter's Choral Service where you can hear the choir and the handbells and Bill playing clarinet and Calvin playing percussion and synth with the orchestra and a little help from me. 

December 24, kids sing at 3:00 and senior choir does the candlelight service.

December 31, Bill's New Year's Eve Gig with the Jerry O'Hagen Orchestra, at the Shakopee Ballroom, rumor has it that Jerry is retiring and this is the last gig. Bill has been playing with Jerry off and on since 1987 so if you are a fan, you won't want to miss this one. You have to get tickets from the dance hall.

January 2, 7:00 Cassy Erickson's run-through of her junior college recital at our house, come see Cassy play some Beethoven and Chopin. And eat cookies. 

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Season. If your train is running a little out of control like ours. . .may you stay cosy and safe and perhaps make time for a couple gentle detours where you can actually look out the window and enjoy the view. We will try to do the same.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

When Our Own Voice Isn't Big Enough

This angel reminds me of cousin Stacey

Heavenly Angels are Singing

And these are praying

A multitude. . . 

The Greek reads: and when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it. Luke 6:48

And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.
These by Kirsten Malcomb Berry
Henry got good news. Check out the caring bridge link in the last entry. Successful surgery. Pathology report benign.

Yesterday, if I was crying tears of joy, and my mother was crying tears of joy, and my friend from Texas was crying tears of joy, and the three little girls from Henry's class who were playing wizards upstairs when they got the news had tears of joy, I'm sure those closest to Henry must have experienced a flood.

With all the C.R.A.P. crap in the world today, I wanted to shout it from the mountains. How can I keep from singing?

Here is the Deerwood Da Capo choir singing those exact words in November. (Click here to see the kids singing)

There aren't really enough words are there?

At home spending a precious free evening decorating for Christmas, praise and joy were spilling out all over the place. I was putting my angels everywhere and imagining their voices. I wanted to sing too, but my voice was not big enough for my feelings. I needed a bigger voice. A really big voice. Like Josh Groban.

O' Holy Night will do. Cece Winans "All is Well Tonight" was second on the list.

That my friends, is why we need music. And art. When our own voice isn't big enough. When our emotions spill out into the world we crave something to express them.

I looked around my house as I was putting up the Christmas folks, and I remembered how much art I have that I overlook each day. Art I created or purchased when I was really high or really low.

I put on Beethoven's 9th and thought about hearing the Minnesota Orchestra perform it at Orchestra Hall December of 2000, when Bill and I announced to our parents that we were having a baby. It took a full orchestra and hundreds of voices to express it that evening.

And yet, Beethoven created that art when he was deaf. Our joy and our sorrow flow from one to the other almost seamlessly.

Our prayers continue, for all good things for Henry as he heals.

I have to confess that I looked at my own children a little differently this week, and every child that walked into the studio door. Precious. Each one. Each moment.

This music that we are working so hard on, for the recital next week? This is what it's for. To get out what boils up inside us. Joys and sorrows.

Today it's joy. God bless Henry and all the children. How can we keep from singing--even when our own voice is not nearly big enough?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Praying for Henry

Henry is in the black top-hat

Tomorrow Henry is having his big surgery. Early in the morning. He's only a week into this journey, this picture taken right before Thanksgiving at the fifth grade program. Henry is the son of Kate and Matt. Henry is in Mr. Highum's fifth grade class with Mary at Deerwood. Henry sings in the children's choir at Easter Church.

Henry is a child of God, who happens to have just found out he that he has a brain tumor.

Everything looks very good on paper, so the doctor says. Still there is no simple brain tumor. You can read Matt's entries to the caring bridge site.

I don't think much learning will be getting done at Deerwood tomorrow, and I don't think Easter folks will be able to focus on anything much more than the continuous prayer that started less than a week ago.

Never was there a kid more loved, and lifted in prayer than Henry Franken is right now.

Be with Henry tomorrow. Be with Kate and Matt and the grandparents. Be with the children and teachers of Deerwood. Be with my friend Pastor Kris. Be with the doctor who knows the intricacies of the human brain more than we can even imagine. Be with every nurse. Send your angels to surround the entire hospital, to guard everyone there. Lord, we need 100% here. One hundred percent success. We ask for a clean removal of that which does not belong in that precious perfect kid. We know that Henry is your child, but he's also the child of Kate and Matt and the child of Deerwood and the child of Easter. We want our kid to get on with his life. Hear the prayers of us all. We love you Lord.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving People

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, LIGHTS!


Taking pictures and eating a cheeseburger. Happy husband. 

Cold, cold cabin. 
The Thanksgiving holiday always makes me think about the past. All the Thanksgivings.

Growing up--and I've told this story before--Thanksgiving was a Stephens holiday. We would always track a couple hours across Iowa farmland to the Ainsworth area, whether it was to Grandpa Gene and Ethel's foursquare on the edge of town, or to Dale and Maureen's or to Jim and Peg's. The farm houses were always cold compared to our town house. It was I imagine the wind more than the frame or structure of the home. I do remember being pulled behind a tractor on a sled. Most years there was already snow. And the boys going out hunting. And football. And cats. I sought out whatever cats were to be found. There was a toy barn and all the fix'ns in the basement. And dominos. It all depended upon who's house we were at. It was also the turning point to Christmas. On the way home we were finally allowed to sing Christmas carols. There was no sirius radio, nor tape deck, nor Cd player nor all Christmas all the time radio station. We sang. In the cold car with cold feet. My sister and I.

In college it was never so predictable. One Dean year, down to New Orleans and crawfish and the famous cajun "when yo barefoot and pregnant with three young'ns at yo feet you be eat'n whats put on yo plate" quote. Complete with figs. The next year, after we broke up. . . his two air force buddies drove me all the way up 35 to Iowa with a 12 pack of Mountain Dew and four tanks of gas. American heroes. Broken heart. Being home. Grace.

The years with my friend Ginny in her big fancy Austin house, she was married. We sang around the piano and drank too much and talked about Jesus. She died of cancer a couple years after she sang at our wedding.

There were five years of Lost Wolf gigs, mostly around Houston, on Thanksgiving night, complete with saw dust and ropers. Those years I spent with Casey and left in the afternoon for the gig. Lonesome late night drives. Breaking out the Christmas music as tradition allowed. By now, I had a CD player in my car and a handful of Christmas titles.

Since kids, Thanksgiving has become a Kotrba holiday. It started with the trips to Nisswa. Another cold drafty cabin. By now I have invested in wool socks. Cooking dinner on a cabin stove. Fireplaces that kickback a little smoke. Nursing babies and potty training and packing bins and bins of toy trains and blocks because that just the kind a panicked parents we were--with DVD players that hooked on the back of car seats.

We didn't know that fourteen years later we would own the place.

When Bill's folks got their Deerwood cabin, we came there. Ann and Dave, well, all eight of us would find a corner to sleep there, mostly kids on an air mattress in our room. They snore and snort and wake up at ungodly hours of the morning and watch Christmas DVDs a little too loud in the living room under blankets. Always perfect turkey and stuffing. And sweet potatoes. Diane and needlepoint. More years of wooden trains and puzzles and legos, because four days took a lot of toys in those days. Fast forward to a teenager sleeping till nine and asking Siri where James Bond is playing. Packing is easier now--just a phone and headphones. We can still count on Mary to pack a couple bins of dolls and crafts. Always a puzzle to drive you crazy and keep you up too late. Something to put your mind on before the Christmas rush.

Friday night in Nisswa is a special time. A unique small town gathering with a big chamber of commerce that puts on a lively festival, complete with the lights countdown, santa on the firetruck, reindeer, shopping and punctuated with fireworks. Only in Minnesota do we stand out in ten degrees and watch fireworks. This year they were set to music piped throughout the "downtown." It's as old fashioned as it gets in 2015. Live nativity. Carolers. Always a craft in the pioneer village school house. Always something with beads or peanut butter. It's a good home away from home. Hot cocoa and cheeseburgers and kettle corn and fudge. It's a worthy tradition.

As worthy as growing up shopping with my mom, my sister and my grandma in downtown Davenport. It wasn't called black Friday back then. There were storefront displays with movable carolers. Bishops buffet with french silk pie and ham and french fries and balloons with little cardboard feet. As worthy as Petersons departments store, where I set out with a $20 bill to complete my entire Christmas shopping list. We will meet at the aquarium in children's shoes. I'm on my own for the morning. At eight years old. My mother will be late and I will wait alone with the fish because there is no cell phone to text her. After lunch I'll walk a couple stores down to the office supply store and get my dad a fancy pen. We will rush home to see Rudolph on the actual TV once an actual year.

I do miss the Stephens' Thanksgiving. This year there was a trip to the Ainsworth cemetery, to say some goodbyes to cousin Stacey there with Grandpa Gene and Ethel and my dad. I missed that. We can't do it all.

We are Thanksgiving people. Times change. Kids grow. Grownups get older. Traditions morph.
Sometimes you bake the sweet potatoes instead of making the casserole. All the sudden you add creamed spinach. These Thanksgivings and their photos mark time. We take one year at a time and treasure each one. I'm thankful for it.

Well, it's 9:35 and my kids are up and in-laws and even Bill. Real time is interrupting my trip down memory lane and I suppose I should be there for this actual morning. Time to put the fix'ns on the lefse for Mary. Time to make breakfast around the puzzle on the worktable. Time to insist the kids have a tall glass of milk with the chocolate pop tart. Time to plan the trip to Christmas point with Mary and Diane. Time for the boys to get ready for James Bond. Without Ann and Dave, I don't think we are gonna finish the puzzle this year, and I'll have to live with that. There are crafts to do and real new memories to be made.

I'm thankful for it all.  . .
Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Calibrating Our Compass

Book One Graduation Recital Treats!  
Hello friends. I miss writing here.

Compassion. Patience.

Things have been crazy to the point of crazy here.

I got the call from a parent. A parent I love and trust.

I hurt some feelings.

When someone tells you that you hurt her feelings you don't get to say, no I didn't.

God bless those people in our lives who help us return to our better selves. They calibrate our compass.

Every single time you think you are going to play hard ball with a student--get them in line--with your system--it always, always, always backfires.

Every time sarcasm creeps in it always, always, always backfires.

There is always, always, always something going on that we don't know about. Always. Some people just have it harder. Some kids. We don't always get to know why.

Changing the subject, kinda. Another teenager who isn't practicing. Why? If they love the piece and love playing the piano why wouldn't they want to dig in and do the work? I don't know. I actually didn't yell. . . or even get negative. . . because you know. . . we don't know what's under that tip, under that dark water. But I was frustrated.

Stages of learning a piece: I love this piece, I've always wanted to play this. Hmmm, it's kinda hard. Hmmmm, it's really hard. I'm really awful. I'm REALLY awful. Hmmm, it's starting to come together a little. . . . hey. . . I LOVE THIS PIECE.

What are they gonna look back and remember? I guess I want him to look back and remember a teacher who sat there and practiced with him when he didn't have the motivation to do it himself. I want him to remember that we took something hard and made it easy. That someone had the patience to break it down and work it out and not give up.

Someone didn't let him get stuck in the I'm awful stage.

Changing the subject, kinda. Mary and I go round and round about her STUFF and getting out of the door on time. . . to anywhere. . . all the time.

I'm sure she feels like I'm frustrated with her much of the time. I'm am frustrated.

But I had to remind her, I mean ME. These are not matters of the heart. Her heart is as pure as the driven snow. She thinks about other people. She just has a lot of stuff. And. . .she just has a lot to say, when I have a lot on my mind.

These are matters of habit. Putting things away. Getting ready, including shoes and trinkets and books, before we disappear into a corner reading. These are matters of self discipline, which are habits we develop.

I don't love you less in the epicenter of the storm in your room. I want to hear what you have to say. It's just that you can't talk and remember your safety patrol belt and your snack and your homework while you tell me that fabulous story.

We used to tell Calvin, "minimize that, we will click on it again in the car."
What's her equivalent? She does better with love.

Don't we all.

Compassion. Patience.
Calibrating our compass.
Again. And again. And again.

God bless the people know the song in our heart and sing it back to us when we have forgotten the words.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Our Greatest Responsibility

Sometimes when things get stressful you have to draw up some new pre-twinkle flash cards
There is always a lot going on. In the world, in our neighborhoods, and in our families. I now have three kids within one degree of separation from me who have been shot. One lived. I'm a white upperclass suburban piano teacher. I'm a conservative who is just about to go door to door and take away the guns from the idiots. I'm not sure who is an idiot and who isn't. . . but. . . I guess that's part of the deal.

We've been working super hard on the November Suzuki Association of Minnesota Fall workshop.  It's gonna be great but we have to get the news out there and get people to actually sign up!  

Sometimes you just nag, nag, nag because people in your own house leave SO MUCH STUFF everywhere. 

Tra la la. 

I brought St. Francis in from the garden and put him on the staircase. I'm reading a book about him, and here is a great quote:

Fear, constriction, and resentment are seen by spiritual teachers to be an inherent blindness that must be overcome. Those emotions cannot get you anywhere, certainly not anywhere good. Thus all mystics (St. Francis) are positive people--or they are not mystics! Their spiritual warfare is precisely the work of recognizing and then handing over all of their inner negativity and fear to God. The great paradox here is that such a victory is a total gift from God and yet somehow you must want it very much.  Page 9, Eager to Love, The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, by Richard Rohr. 

He goes on to reference Philippians 2, verses 12 through 16 which I'll let you look up if the spirit moves you.  

This is the biggest deal. To turn over negativity at every moment, every day. That is our warfare. At least it's mine. I'm guessing it's also for teachers, parents and everyone else. We have to develop the conscious habit of being positive. And recommit again and again and again. We have to practice being positive. We must want it very much. 

It just always catches me off guard, like when the driver behind me is flailing her arms in anger because I didn't turn fast enough. It takes constant practice to create calm.  

I tell parents, don't let practice be negative for more than a day. Reflect and change things up. It's our responsibility.  

It's not just a stifling or denial of human nature, there is plenty of real bad stuff out there and our kids and students are gonna do plenty of truly annoying things. We have to correct the behavior. We just have a responsibility to our people to do this in a positive way. 

I return to that mantra. Correct the behavior, correct the behavior, correct the behavior.  Don't get swallowed up in negativity and project the end of the world onto your daughters inability to tidy her room or your student's complete lack of practice or the helplessness of whatever is on the news.  

Work out your positivity with fear and trembling. This is our work. This is our responsibility. 

This may be our greatest responsibility. To remain positive again and again and again. Moment by moment, breath by breath. 

No one ever practiced because they got yelled at. Nobody ever gained a spark of joy tidying their things without a hopeful process. No one ever signed up for a workshop because the committee got cross. And I don't have a cute little answer for the gun control.  How do you teach a nation that their lives and the lives of others are sacred, it's not a game to play. One kid at a time, sweet Jesus. 

What the heck, I'm gonna close with that scripture anyway. . . 

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain." Philippians 2:12-16

We must want it very much. I think that is enough for now. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Powers of Observation

On this fall walk the sights and sounds and smells were so delicious. How much we learn from the observations of our senses. A picture is worth 1,000 words. Listening to a passage just one time clarifies confusion. One of the tenants of our Suzuki programs is to learn using our senses.  

At the individual level, this means we try to use fewer words while we work with young children. We try to demonstrate and allow them to learn with their ears and their eyes and with gentle touch.

At the studio level, we can also learn using our senses. This happens best by observing the lessons of other families.

I don't ever ask students if it's okay for families to observe their child's lesson. It's just a given that folks will be coming and going. Observation is a big part of a thriving studio. Children see the lessons of their peers and instantaneously understand the big picture. This is how we bow, this is how the teacher greets me, this is how the lesson goes, this is how she borrows my hand, these are the games we play and the fun we have, while getting down to business.

Parents learn from observation as well. Guess what, my child is not the only one who ever did something flakey during a lesson. Kids are kids and they have great days and not so great days. Your child is not the perfect child and you are not the perfect parent.  But you are the perfect parent for your child.  Parents hear upcoming pieces and get a glance into the details and processes that are yet to come.

I have several families who started lessons this summer and fall. They are doing their required observations.

I'm going to go out on a limb and expand this requirement. I'm going to ask each student and family in my entire studio to observe the lesson of at least one other student each semester. It makes the most sense to observe someone at your age and skill level or a slightly older wiser student. I'll be handing out the updated weekly schedule and parents can shoot me a text when they are coming to observe,  just in case there is a special circumstance that day, or one of the children is ill or absent.

Observing also expands the joy of community in our circle. Parents say good job to other kids or little words like, "hey, you have really added some dynamics to that Sonatina since group lesson." Maybe even just noticing that you lost a tooth.

Kids will earn a Kotr-buck for their effort--and parents will continue to grow and understand--watching someone else's lesson costs you nothing and you gain so much--just using the power of observation.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Almost as Good as a Wild Turkey

Sometimes you get wild turkeys and sometimes you get a silly song.

Yesterday Mary got out of the car singing, which is not unusual. But, the little guys in my brain started perking up because there was familiarity I couldn't put my finger on. One more phrase and I was singing along and I knew all the words. The little guys were simultaneously furiously going through the file cabinets behind my eyebrows looking for the sheet music or something to turn the light on.

And all at once I heard my Dad's voice coming out of that little blond haired girl's mouth.




It was a song from my Dad's barbershop quartet days. Yes, there is a sub-culture of barbershop quartet competitors. And my Dad belonged. And as Dr. Suzuki reminds us--we learn the language we grow up with.

Okay, it was like a DNA thing.

And it was such a damn happy song. . . I had to keep singing along.

Hey Look Me Over

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

For Stacey

Yesterday was my sister's birthday, and we lost our cousin, Stacey.

Indulge me to imagine my Grandpa Gene greeting her with a big hand shake that turns to a hug carrying a huge bag of animal crackers, and Grandma Ethel waiting with scissors to give her a heavenly haircut. They'll put on a pot of coffee and start the eternal catching up at the kitchen table.

My Dad will take a break from singing and turkey hunting to tease her and he'll come up with some off color pun about the volatility of pancreases. They don't make'm like they used to--or something to make you look down and shake your head.

There's no fixing this for those that remain. But I do believe that Stacey's life here is but a speck on her canvas. Knowing her, and her heart, she will make sure that everyone down here that loves her is well taken care of.

I'm gonna be watching for the turkeys today. And I know that everything will be okay.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Routine

Mary's Handiwork

Last Meditation of the Summer 

Mary is a Safety Patrol

I love this. 

They can make it hard to sleep in on Saturday mornings. 

Prayer Tree One Year Older

In this photo they are actually eating weeds.  Good job deers. 

You go near that pine tree and I'm gonna turn the hoses on ya. 
We are two weeks into the routine.
It's working pretty good.  Everyone is getting almost enough sleep.
It might even be better than last year.

I'm getting up at 5:30 a.m. I get my contacts in and brush teeth and stuff (coffee). Then I have 15 minutes to watch the morning star and do any kind of prayer, meditation, or devotion. It can be anything but working the list. The list has to wait. This is just another form of securing my own oxygen mask. So far I'm still breathing.

At 6:00 Calvin and I practice. At 6:30 I get his lunch and he showers and Bill gets breakfasts. 6:45-7:15, Mary and I practice. Bill and Calvin leave at 7:00 for high school, and after Bill drops the boy he's been able to go for a swim at the gym, which is very good for him, then he goes on to work. I get Mary to school at 8:00. I get home and THEN start working the list. The kids finish their practicing with or without me at some point during the evening.

Yes, it might be the best ever.

Mary gets to be patrol for Preston. That's so nice. Preston is my kindergarten student who can't see. Occasionally Mary doesn't hear, so this is a great combination. (That's a joke, Mary.)
Mary's playing clarinet. That's pretty nice too.

Calvin has marching band ahoy. I'm embracing the stadium bench. If you are a classical pianist and you haven't been to a marching band competition you will be amazed. You will be amazed by a stadium of people completely focused upon the delicately choreographed and amazingly produced three-ring-circus you behold. Instead of listening out the soundboard you are listening to 100 yards of woodwinds, brass, and percussion. I thought I would be polite and wait to find a seat with Maggie, to wait till the other school's band was done. Ok. Not even a choice. It was roped off. They don't even rope you out at Orchestra Hall. So we waited and they let us up the bleachers after Farmington High finished. Dare I say, marching band snobs?

It's all good.
Well, it's mostly good.

My cousin is at the end of her battle with pancreatic cancer. She gave a good fight but at least in my family we all knew how this story was gonna end. It feels a little like we already gave to that war. My heart is broken for my Aunt Kathy, Stacey's son Mike, and the whole Stephens' clan. Stacey has always been a firecracker and it's not fair and we can all say without censorship how terribly the whole thing sucks. There is no bright side about what a great example of faith she is and how her positive spirit inspired the rest of us (though those things are true). It's not good enough and sometimes you just have to chalk it up to just really sucking. Stacey as you sleep peacefully and hopefully pain free, we just bask in that place where the veil is so thin and perhaps we catch a glimpse of those angels coming and Gene and Ethel and my dad and all those who will welcome you into that glorious day. Never is there more love, than now. Peace.

In accordance with the routine. It's time for me to keep moving and do some lesson plans for this afternoon. The piano kids are wonderful. I'm overbooked and over blessed. And just a little bit over-meetinged.

Here's to the routine and the hint of Fall in the air. Sending love to Arizona and Texas and Iowa. Peace be with you all.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Sunrise, Sunset

Eastview High School here he comes!

Fifth Grade is a good grade. 
Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset. . . swiftly go the years.

And we're up with the sunrise again. I just started sleeping till 7:00 a.m. last week. Anyway.

Was I the only one sniffling all the way to drop-off? Yes, cartwheels later, but at that moment. . . I love my kids but if you know them you know they are gifted verbally and lets just say, I may have had enough at the moment. As Maggie would say, it's time to get in the routine.

Not dropping Calvin at the neighborhood school this morning was like a swift kick in the tummy. And even Mary, this the last of ten years at our little Deerwood Elementary.

Two words. High School.

Last night Calvin improvised off and on at the piano for a good hour. This is how we process the night before high school starts energy. What more could you ask for, music as a way to process life.

I got up early and settled myself. This is my goal this year--to get up even ten minutes before I need to and pray/meditate/breath before the chaos day starts. These are the years we have. Do I want to go through the precious morning hours like a crabby strung-out mama? Or, saying--this is the hour I have with my kids?

High school starts earlier. That robs us of Calvin's morning practice. So we are trying to split the difference. In the morning Calvin will do a half hour then Mary and they both finish in the evening.

Having big kids is fun. But different. Even last year we didn't have a babysitter while I was teaching. Now she's called a chauffeur. When the kids are home while I'm teaching, they are doing what we labeled "self-sitting." I'm paying them a small hourly rate and in exchange I get to leave them a large list of tasks including setting table and some dinner prep, tidying rooms and bath rooms and folding or putting away their laundry.  This worked super last year and we will continue but I'm gonna try to milk it and add cat and bunny litter this year. Let's see how much I can get away with.

Big kids are different at the piano too. I'm still sitting with both kids for the most part, but that's two hours a day and I need to reclaim a little of that time. I've started giving Calvin specific assignments to do on his own and you know, it makes sense because much of practicing advanced repertoire is just doing the work. So, I'm hoping to fold some laundry in the evenings while I listen and pop in and out for feedback.

Same goes for my advanced students. More than one mom has told me they are ready to cut the rope. It's time. Those adolescent kids need to be accountable to ME this Fall. Moms have enough on their plate with school and life and shall we say. . . attitude? And these are good kids. One of my focuses this Fall will be kicking my high school kids in the butt. With love. Didn't you know that's one of Dr. Suzuki's lesser known quotes? To kick in the butt with love?

The littles? I'm starting six of them. Three to five year olds. They are so cute and everything seems so clear. Not that they don't suck the life out of you too--littles take exponential energy.  As Caroline Fraser tells us, "the children were focused because the teacher was focused." You stop to look for a pencil and it's all over man.

I've made some updates to my studio. A new TV to watch videos. New shelves. New closet stuff. And I'm putting my life on google docs this Fall. Every family is getting a folder and all my lesson notes and invoices and repertoire planning are going there and I'll share with the parent and student and they can access their goal online at any moment. No more miscommunication about assignments. I have wi-fi in the studio and they can follow along there and at home. Parents will still take their own notes, but they will also see my notes as well. I'm excited about that.

Speaking of google, all the SAM stuff is going there too. It's already started but every meeting agenda is archived right there in our SAM site. Everyone on the board has access to all the files all the time. I love it.

I have to keep moving. These days every hour is accounted for. When the Bible said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" I don't think we were supposed to take the "all things" part quite so literally, but the damage is done, so now it's time to do the work set before us intentionally and mindfully with peace and love.

It's the first hour without the kids. . . I'm entitled to a little hope of a utopian year.

God bless you all on this first day of the new school year--and help us to be there through these sunrises and sunsets that so swiftly pass.  Amen. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Coral Castles

Froggy Friend

You are not as hidden as you think you are

Water is flowing again

Okay, I have a thing for purple and yellow

Waiting for the chipmunk 

This is called "Fairy Moss" 

Irish Moss, because Gertens didn't have "Czech Moss" 

It's okay, Mother, I'm gonna deadhead those chives and they won't go noxious
I promise I won't ask you to "dechive" the garden again

Endless Summer--doesn't seem to live out it's name

There is no pleasing this robin

Bunnies who don't steal from the garden

On another note. .. 

Even St. Francis can't protect the little creatures of THIS garden 

Of course you know Calvin made this with my dad

There are a few secrets here and there

Charlie could you stay on the path? 
Oh my goodness, it's fifty degrees this morning. Who pressed the Fall button?

I dreamed we were in a high rise hotel on the beach and we looked out the window and a tsunami was approaching and I starting tying my children to the furniture.

I dreamed I looked out the window and there was a tornado on the horizon and we just sat there and watched it approach.

I dreamed there were two weeks before school started and I was teaching 26 piano kids and accompanying and serving as president of SAM and the kids had marching band and ballet and piano and drums and clarinet and church stuff. . . oh wait.  That was when I woke up.

I'm freezing food. Been to Costco. There's enough meat in the freezer to make it through the great depression. We took an entire carload of stuff to Good Will yesterday. I'm almost done with my spark of joy year. I secured the Christmas clothes. There will be no running to Old Navy at midnight for black pants and a white shirt. All that is left is a big box of coffee filters and I'm set.

I told you my best read this summer was Richard Rohr's Breathing Under Water. "Alcoholics just have their powerlessness visible for all to see. The rest of us disguise it in different ways, and overcompensate for our more hidden and subtle addictions and attachments, especially our addiction to our way of thinking." (Page xviii)

My belief is that everybody's got something:
single parents
married people who are still single parents
people have depression and mental illness
and changes in their health and lifestyle
and some are just plain addicted to wanting it all--read--wife, mother, teacher, house, garden, yoga

Guilty as charged.
Please forgive me comparing my own personal addictions of thought to those with more serious issues--I'm just being honest about my own suburban shortcomings. 

If we are powerless over these situations then instead of drowning, when the tsunami comes we must build our coral castle. (Powerlessness is just a place to start. . . the proven first step. . .)

Here's Rohr's opening poem, each time I read this I love it a little more. It's written by Carol Bieleck:

Breathing Under Water

I built my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you;
not on the shifting sand.
And I built it of rock.
A strong house
by a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbors.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences.
Respectful, keeping our distance,
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always, the fence of sand our barrier,
always, the sand between. 

And then one day,
--and I still don't know how it happened--
the sea came. 
Without warning.

Without welcome, even
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand
  like wine,
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood. 
Slow, but coming.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning
  and I thought of death.
And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it
  reached my door.
And I knew then, there was neither flight, nor death,
  nor drowning.
That when the sea comes calling you stop being
Well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance, neighbors
And you give your house for a coral castle,
And you learn to breathe underwater. 

Here's to everyone in situations they cannot change.

For me? If the calendar is the sea approaching my house--I'm gonna build my coral castle amidst the iCal events and chances are very high that I will also be transplanting some ferns around the seaweed foundation and inviting the starfish in for coffee.