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.