Sunday, July 11, 2021

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Moving to Another Blog. . .

They have made for you a friend. . . 

My Grandmother Hope 1919-2010

My Dad with Calvin and Sam 1940-2009

 Hi friends!

Thank you for reading here for so many years. I've been on this blogspot space for a very long time, and this blog will remain open, but July 1, 2021, Google is changing things so that the posts will no longer automatically be sent out. It's a good time to update my blog format. I'm setting up a new blog, and I'll post the address here when I create it. I hope to keep sharing ideas about music, faith, family life, cats and gardening. . . thank you Google, for eleven years of lavender stripes and easy photo uploads. It's been a journal of family life, and though every post is not a work of art, it has served it's original purpose, which was a therapeutic refuge from losing my dad too young, saying goodbye to my grandma, and raising little kids while keeping a highly committed studio running among myriad volunteer and side gigs. . . 

I hope to keep writing, and I hope you will keep reading. 

With love,


P.S. Accepting suggestions about what the new blog will be called. . . . 

"Notes from Sara's Overgrown Faithful Musical Feline Garden?" I don't know. . . 

One of my students suggested "Sara's Perfect Blog." 

I'll take it. . . 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

New England with the Boy


The boy and I took a trip to Maine and New Hampshire. Family time is important, but sooner or later we all long to be loved alone. Between Bill, Calvin, Mary and my mom, there have been all kinds of duet travels, but this was my first trip with just Calvin. 

He planned most of the planes, trains, and automobiles for this trip. I didn't have to hold his hand on the escalator, or get his food in the buffet line. I didn't pack his suitcase or remind him to bring his toothbrush. I didn't give him a lecture before going through security. He navigated. 

A fifty-three year old and a nineteen year old traveled as companions. 

I highly recommend it. 


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

An Overbooked May Weekend and the Resuscitation of Live Student Music


The heart is still beating. Our kids are resuscitating live music. There was no pulse for over a year but around here we believe in resurrection. 

For every tear of frustration I cried last week, I cried two tears of joy this last weekend.  

It was more amazing than ever. It was an overbooked weekend in May. Just like old times. 

We kicked it off with Thursday night's jazz ensemble concert in the Eastview PAC. My kids make fun of me because I call it the P-A-C. I guess you're supposed to say "PAC."  Whatever. It's a place where you bring an extra sweater and lots of tissues, so that you can watch high school kids pour out their souls into whatever it is they are currently performing. Mary had a solo, I really liked it! Bill is a good improvisation coach. The band was great. Afterwards, one of the band directors referred to Mary as resilient. I can't think of a higher compliment. I only cried just a little bit. Well, it's all relative, maybe I cried a lot. The last time we heard jazz there it was Calvin behind the drum set. Time did march on while we zoomed along.

Saturday night. . .back to the PAC to watch the Bravo show, that was prerecorded, on the big screen. This is Eastview's big production, it's their vocal, instrumental and dance showcase each year. The full length video was completely 1000% amazing. The directors are creative musical geniuses. Instead of wallowing in everything they couldn't do, they made a show that was over the top, literally, they hired a drone to film some acts. They filmed it all over the school and the stadium and the grounds. Mary's jazz ensemble accompanied the show and they filmed a lot of those kids too. I cried through the first act even before they paid tribute to last year's seniors who lost their show to covid lockdown, and then they paid tribute to this year's seniors. This is not my sentimental first rodeo, but blowing your nose while choking back sobs is a little more challenging with a mask on. These are not even my kids graduating. Pathetic. Happy pathetic. I have never been more grateful for and proud of our school. 

Sunday! My studio recital! The first time we were all together since May of 2019. We got a hall, followed the rules and the kids got to shine on the 9' Steinway under the lights. Every family was there. There were flowers and treat bags and stickers! My heart was so full. These families. These kids. This music. 

The program notes that the students each wrote said over and over, "this piece is fun to play.. . . this piece makes me happy. .  I like this piece because it made me a better piano player."  I learned how to practice preparing this piece. 

This is why we sing. Why we keep showing up. We are all resilient. Each and everyone of us in our own way. 

Music is the great healer, the great unifier, the ultimate voice of peace and love and harmony. Our children are the lifeblood of it. They kept the pulse going and now we got a May weekend filled with music more amazing than ever. 

Congrats to Eastview Performing Arts, and congrats to every student and family in the Kotrba Piano Studio. Happy 20th anniversary. 


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Scaffolding, Resilience, Relinquishment and Boundaries

Springtime recital joy
It's already feeing better

Don't let him fool you. . . he loves Oliver

One of my happy places

The Grand Canyon in March ~ Bill and Mary went

The best prayer. . . 

Please don't slip
It's Sunday afternoon at our cabin, the Little Pines Lodge. If I were a napper I would be napping. Instead, I'm writing. 

I've always, thought, if a person were to read my journals that he or she might think me a troubled person. How often we write our sorrows and how seldom we take the time to write down the joy. I'm writing to say that I'm feeling better. Joy is seeping back. My light is shining again. 

I sprained my ankle on Friday. Not badly. Just enough to set me back. I was tamping down dirt around a new shrub and my foot went down into the hole and twisted. Still, by Saturday night I was having trouble walking. 

Late Saturday afternoon we drove to the cabin after a lovely morning graduation recital and an afternoon of Zoom teacher training. We arrived late and Bill and I settled ourselves in chairs around the new furnace with a little glass of wine. I studied my swollen ankle. We went to bed and with no cats to wake me up, I slept over nine hours. When I woke up the ankle was fine. Healed. In the night the little guys in my body put up the scaffolding and went to work on fixing it. Nine hours with no weight and it was ready to go. 

Ours minds are the same way. Resilient. This weekend the mental health repairmen in my brain went to work and started fixing things too. 

What is the scaffolding? What are the tools of resilience? How do we move from disequilibrium to equilibrium? I'm not talking about clinical depression, but times when events of life reach the tipping point where it's hard to be the light. 

What's in the mental health toolbox? 

  • sleep -- hands down the number one tool
  • friends, sisters, husbands and mothers who listen and respond with compassion and honesty
  • writing in public -- just writing the blog on Friday, admitting I was having a really tough time, went a long way towards relieving the pressure to act like everything is okay
  • writing in private -- making a list of everything around me and in the news that is wrong, and realizing that 99% are things I can do absolutely nothing about
  • making a gratitude list-- I NEVER take for granted my God, my spouse, my kids, my friends, my family, my home, my studio, my garden, and our cabin, but writing it all down distracts the brain from it's negative pattern -- this is proven 
  • relinquishment -- turning it all -- the whole list --over to God, knowing that he loves this world and all the people in it even more than I do -- He does in deed have the whole world in His hands, I can rest knowing that it turns out it not all up to me to fix it all (see humor below) 
  • nature -- God's gift of creation -- the ultimate show of resilience 
  • humor -- Zooming out and trying to laugh a little at yourself, with compassion
  • setting boundaries -- being compassionate ultimately means setting boundaries in myriad ways -- personal and professional, boundaries from the news and social media -- boundaries from overworking -- recommitting to boundaries is an important tool for maintaining the joy of life and relationships 
I'm not some highly read author, I just have a few tried and true friends and family who read this. I certainly don't want to write things that bring people down. I thought about taking Friday's blog post down, but, my mom always told me, if you are feeling a certain way, chances are that someone else is feeling that way too. Maybe it will be of some use to somebody. 

So, if you are like me, a mostly happy cheerful person, who is blessed beyond belief, but who occasionally get pulled down with the events of life, you are not alone. 

Thank you for all the uplifting comments and prayers this weekend. My heart is lighter and I'm ready to shine my light again. 

Thank you for my small but beautiful circle of my friends and family who lift each other up and who helped me reignite my candles. Thank you physical and emotional healing and scaffolding. That you for reminding me that I don't have to fix it all. And thank you for reminding me to set healthy boundaries in my life. May these words lift up someone else along the way. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Optimism is Fragile


A new creature in our yard

Just visiting

Thank you Fay! 

Religious cat

We could all use some. . . 

Live live stream

At last. . . 


King of the cat tree

My favorite turkeys

I've been very busy. Teaching Suzuki Piano Book One for the first time is a total joy, but 28 hours of class is a lot of prep. I have a wonderful group of teachers. Book One has always been my favorite and this course has given me a chance to reflect and solidify my ideas. Watching hour after hour of yourself teaching is also risky business. I am either a complete genius or a complete catastrophe. This is contingent not upon my actual teaching strategies, but determined by the amount of caffeine or sleep I have had when I actually edit the videos. The reality is of course somewhere in the middle. 

Between the Book One class, masterclasses, and my upcoming studio recital, I will have worked 12 straight weekends. The weather here in Minnesota is still cold and rainy. Our news feed is even more dismal. Minnesota has had a tough run. 

Mary's high school allowed a walkout yesterday. What might have been a moment of silence for a lost life, and a prayer for change turned into the F word being chalked all over the school and the "walker-outers" yelling disrespectful chants at the faculty who were supervising them. Oh, and by the way. . . the students  were given an excused absence for their profanity. Not Eastview's finest moment. 

I have found myself trying to preserve my mental health on an hour by hour basis. 

I guess optimism is fragile. 

When I'm high I'm making plans and living in the moment and noticing the miracles of nature everywhere around me. 

When I'm low I worry that I might spill my darkness over everyone around me. 

It's a good reminder to me how fragile we are. How fragile our optimism can be. How much darkness can we light? How can one person's love lift the fear of the masses. How can one person's joy assuage the anger in the street. I'm a little too fragile for that responsibility. 

I got to see the lower faces of many of my students this week. The last of the masks are coming off during private piano lessons. My eyes were wet because their teeth have changed in a year. The teeth of 6-9 years olds change and grow. It seemed to me that their teeth were all very different than the last time I saw them. I'm sure I stared. They smiled big toothy smiles at me. They stared at my mouth too. We were all just smiling. I can't stand what we have done to our children this year. I can't stand it that we have filled them with fear. It goes against everything I have tried to provide for my own kids, and everything I wish for for every child. 

Without diminishing the acknowledgment of the suffering of those who have lost loved ones, and those those health has been compromised from covid, I can unapologetically say that the contagion of fear is exponentially worse to me than covid itself. There. I've said it. 

The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself. 

I'm committed to letting my light shine, but sometimes that candle is just a little flickery. It's fragile. Perhaps acknowledging that fragility makes things a little better. A little brighter. Maybe when we sit with the darkness a little while, it can make us more compassionate. More ready for the light. When the temp gets above 50 and the sun actually shines, we will appreciate it even more. 

Every time I say goodbye to Calvin and Mary or drop them at school, I say --let your light shine.   

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. . . John 1:5.

That light is the alpha and omega. I know it will shine. I want to be its harbinger, but the wick in my candle is a little damp. 

Thanks for listening. And wherever you are on the continuum of fear and love, of joy and anger, darkness and light-- after you sit there for a bit, may your optimism be reignited. Your matches will dry out. If you don't mind, you can say the same prayer for me. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Contagious Optimism


Every couple years I have my blog printed out into a soft-cover book so that just in case google implodes, I have a backup of my writing. There was a sale, so I ordered the 2019-2020 book this week. Glancing through the blog entries, I felt something very weird. I felt like maybe something deep inside me has changed this year. The events of 2020 and this year of covid have shifted my thoughts. I feel closer than ever to God and my family and close friends, yet dramatically more protective of my public expressions.  Simply said, it isn't as easy or fun to write in the present environment. It's actually even a little scary to write anything at all.

Another aspect is that my kids are older now and it's less and less appropriate for me to write about their lives. 

I won't write about Mary's experience getting her driver's license on Tuesday. The emotions of a teen and the manifestations of performance anxiety are very, very interesting to me and you might benefit from hearing about them, but ultimately, those stories don't belong to me anymore. What I can say, is that we can do things, and important things, even under the worst of circumstances. I told her, I have had big performances where my hands were dripping with sweat and my heart was racing and my leg was shaking and guess what? You can actually do the thing you worked so hard for even under these physical symptoms. The moment it is over you feel quite glorious and victorious. 

I shouldn't write about Calvin's frustrations with online college continuing even as the covid numbers zero out. The lessons in tolerance completely outweigh anything anyone could ever learn in academia. Calvin has earned a PhD in tolerance at college during covid. 

"The highest result of education is tolerance. Long ago men fought and died for their faith; but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage, -- the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience. Tolerance is the first principle of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think."

Whose quote? Helen Keller. My new favorite author. Can you believe that? Published in 1903. 

I'm reading her essays on optimism. I've highlighted every single paragraph. 

"If I am happy in spite of my deprivations, if my happiness is so deep that it is a faith, so thoughtful that it becomes a philosophy of life, -- if, in short, I am an optimist, my testimony to the creed of optimism is worth hearing. As sinners stand up in meeting and testify to the goodness of God, so one who is called afflicted may rise up in gladness of conviction and testify to the goodness of life." Page. 87

I feel an internal optimism starting to spill out of my heart. We have almost made it through this pandemic and we have not lost a year of our lives, but on the contrary, we have had a very rich year. 

"I distrust the rash optimism in this country that cries, "Hurrah, we're all right! This is the greatest nation on earth," when there are grievances that call loudly for redress. That is false optimism. Optimism that does not count the cost is like a house builded on sand. A man must understand evil and be acquainted with sorrow before he can write himself an optimist and expect others to believe that he has reason for the faith that is in him." Page 89. 

Again, published in 1903. 

It's been almost 365 days since the first lockdown. Yes, there have been losses of life and health and experiences. But there has been great progress. Family time. The piano kids all kept growing in musicianship. Bill finished one job and started another. I hiked in Colorado. Bill and Mary saw Zion and Bryce. We snuck a weekend to Wisconsin with almost the whole family. We got to have weekends with Sam. Calvin performed an amazing program for his sophomore recital in the Voxman Recital Hall. My garden had the best year ever. We had an over the top Christmas season. I've made new some new friends along the path. It was still, a very good year. 

If Helen Keller can testify, so I am lifted to proclaim a little springtime optimism. Optimism can be contagious too. 

In a world where it seems like it's not okay to be okay, I'm ready to come out a little. We are okay. We never let fear get the best of us. It wasn't that everything was perfect, it's not that we never melted down. It's that after the meltdown our faith still served us and still lifts us to a higher place. We aren't governed by covid. We never were. We can float above the news and the statistics and the graphs. We get to just be happy and try to let our optimism be contagious.  

"I trust, and nothing that happens disturbs my trust. I recognize the beneficence of the power which we all worship as supreme--Order, Fate, the Great Spirit, Nature, God. I recognize this power in the sun that make all things grow and keeps life afoot. I make a friend of this indefinable force, and straightway I feel glad, brave, and ready for any lot Heaven may decree  for me. This is my religion of optimism." Page 91.