Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Getting in Tune, Part 2

A small coda to my previous  post:

 Music was the primary thing that Daddy and I had in common.  While there is a bit of musical ability on my maternal side, the real musical genes came down through my Grandmother Ivy.  She was the eldest in the William Henry Frankum family, which collectively was double, maybe triple, dipped in musical talent.  They could all play something - fiddle, guitar, piano - and most of them and their descendants did and continue to sing and make music at every opportunity.

The older I got, the less that Daddy and I had to talk about, but there was always music.  (And, to a lesser extent, Westerns.  We both liked reading Louis L'Amour westerns and watching John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies.)  We just did not have a lot of common interest and he was frankly baffled at the fact that both his children ended up working with computers, something that had him completely buffaloed.

So while other folks may fondly remember playing a game of catch in the side yard with their fathers or going to ball games or rebuilding engines or what-not, the thing I remember fondly are the Sunday nights we would go over to the church early and spend an hour playing hymns together before services.  We would switch around, one of us on the piano and the other on the Hammond organ.  He could play by ear and I could only play by note, so I would start something and he would join in and we would make our way through whatever hymnal I had at hand.  I learned a lot of old songs that way, some of them wonderful songs that have sadly faded into obscurity.

I inherited other things from my father - primarily half of my ability to write and a sad inability to understand math - but the love of music and the ability to make music definitely came from him.

Buddy Wilcoxen, tickling the ivories in the 1950s
At Aunt O's house, with me already getting ideas of collaboration,
Mother holding David in the background

Aunt O (Ora Lamb), my grandmother's sister,
playing their father's fiddle, 2003
Little brother on the guitar, left, and cousin Dean Frankum on fiddle

LSW

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Getting Back in Tune

One of the hobbies/activities that took a real hit during the period of time I was involved in caregiving for my mother was the piano.  When I was growing up in Smiley, from the 4th grade through 12th grade, I took piano lessons from Mrs. Bell and I spent a good portion of my free time sitting at the piano in the First Baptist Church sanctuary next door, playing and practicing, hours at a time.  I probably wore a rut in the sidewalk between the parsonage and the side entrance to the church, I made that trip so often.  

I had wanted to play piano for as long as I could remember.  Before we moved to Smiley, I can remember sitting and picking out tunes on the piano at the church annex where we lived in Victoria.  It was inevitable that I would take up lessons as soon as the opportunity (and the funds) permitted.  In 1964, the musical portion of my education commenced.

A 1971 musical program
Dress by Mother and orchid corsage by Daddy
Senior Recital, 1972
Dress again by Mother and I believe there is another orchid peeking out
courtesy of my father
I seldom went a day without spending some time at the piano.  In addition, I was drafted by the church, first as a backup and then as a regular, to play piano or organ at Sunday services and I regularly provided piano accompaniments at the annual school Christmas programs and piano marches at the 8th and 12th grade graduations.  Under protest, I also played for quite a few weddings and funerals.  

When I graduated High School and we moved to Bastrop, I continued to provide piano for church services, weddings and funerals on weekends and during holiday breaks from college.  Practicing was limited to time I could grab on those weekends and holidays and the odd occasion when I would borrow a piano practice room at the college.  We still had no piano at home and we no longer lived next door to the church, so it took more effort to get time at the keyboard, especially with so much of my time having to now be devoted to my academic studies.

When I graduated from college and began full-time employment, I resigned from my duties with the church.  There was just no energy or time available to devote to a second job, and so I lost my ready access to a piano.  It should be no surprise that the first big investment I made (after a car) was to buy myself a piano.  The first one was an antique upright that was gorgeous as a piece of furniture and lousy as a musical instrument.  Still, I had a piano with a full set of 88 keys that were not quite in tune but satisfied my need to sit down and touch base with my musical side.  A few years later, I gave up the antique in favor of a brand-new upright, which is still with me.

Unfortunately my job kept me busy and tired out and there was little time for the piano.  Then when Mother's health failed and we moved in together so that I could take care of her, it was hard to find any time to play and what time I did have available usually coincided with her sleep time, which I did not want to disturb.  For a good ten years, I barely touched the piano at all.  

It took a year or so after we lost Mother for me to regain the energy or the desire to sit down at the piano again.  I was appalled at how rusty I had become.  I could barely make it through the simplest pieces, my fingers could not seem to find the right notes any longer and my back would begin protesting in a very short period of time.  I was disgusted and frustrated.

But, I decided the only cure was to start spending some regular time every day at the piano like I did in the beginning.  I started with the old Baptist and Broadman hymnals.  I figured I had spent more time playing those old gospel songs than I had playing anything else and those would come back the easiest.  I was right.  The sense memory in my fingers would take over from time to time, adding in all those little chords and furbelows that we church pianists would tuck in to fill out the spaces between the sung notes (that "Baptist roll" as one of my uncles used to call it).  Whenever I got upset at my lack of ability to play that Beethoven sonata that featured in my Senior recital, I would spend a half hour pounding out gospel music.  Gospel music is always good for the soul.

It has taken almost a year of sitting 15-30 minutes a day at the piano, but I suddenly realized a couple of weeks ago that I was having less trouble grabbing those notes in the deep left end of the keyboard without looking.  I was having less trouble reading the notes in the upper and lower registers when the music would take off above and below the normal staff.  I was having fewer instances of suddenly forgetting what key I was playing in half-way through a song.  I was beginning to make my way through that Beethoven sonata (well, at least the first movement) slowly, without having a sudden temper fit in the middle and crashing my hands to the keyboard in frustration at the sheer volume of wrong notes coming out of my hands.

A few days ago I was watching an old Remington Steele program that ended with a lovely and simple piece of classical music.  I don't know how I knew that it was by Chopin (except I've always had a penchant for Chopin and Beethoven), but I was certain it was and I pulled out some of my classical collections to see if I could find it.  Oddly enough, I flipped right to a Chopin Prelude that turned out to be the piece in question.  I slowly made my way through it and almost made it through without messing up.  It has become my most recent practice piece that gets played over and over.

Maybe I knew what it was subliminally, but I don't think so because I had never learned to play that piece and did not have a recording of it.  I think I just recognized that it had to be by Chopin and maybe some friendly spirit or intuition led me to turn to that book and that page and find that piece like I was following a homing signal.  I took it as a sign that I was headed in the right direction as I try to rejuvenate my old love affair with the piano.

I'll never again rip off a Chopin Etude or a Beethoven sonata the way I did when I was 18, but maybe I can polish a few of the less involved favorites with this steady practice program I've taken on and maybe one of these days I can be relaxed and easy with the piano again.  It's one of my oldest friends and I am having a really good time getting reacquainted.

A quick reunion with the piano at the Christian Church in
Bastrop.  The Calvary Baptist congregation met in this building
when it first organized.  I spent many a Sunday playing in this beautiful
 Victorian era auditorium.



LSW

Monday, February 18, 2013

I'm Not a Poet and I Know It

My father wrote poetry.  He wrote a lot of poetry.  He wrote it for fun.  Just about everybody he knew would get an original poem for their birthday, their anniversary or any other date of importance.  I found it bizarre that anybody could do that.

I can't write poetry.

My mother occasionally wrote poetry.  She usually opted to write prose, but every so often she would dash off a bit of poetry.

I can write prose.  I can't write poetry.

Every time some teacher would get it in his or her head to throw out an assignment to write a poem, I would panic.  I would try to bribe one of my parents to fulfill my assignment and save me from the disgrace of having to admit that I can't write poetry.

I stink at writing poetry.

Today I was poking through a book where I keep odds and ends such as obituaries, comics clipped from the newspaper or a magazine, and the odd quotation.  I was surprised to come across a poem that I wrote while I was in college.  I think it may be the only example of poetry that I know that I wrote all by myself and that didn't make me want to apologize for doing so.

I can remember writing the poem in desperation.  I was taking a literature course and someone who had taken the course warned me that the professor was going to have us write a poem, using a particular rhyming convention.  I think I had a case of the vapors when I heard that I was going to have to write a poem, let alone a poem with a specific number of lines and a particular rhyming pattern.  I dreaded the day I would walk into the class and get that assignment.

So I decided for once in my life to try and get the task out of the way ahead of time instead of sweating it out under pressure.  I knew I would not be able to come up with a rhyme for "cat" under pressure.  I surprised myself and actually got a half-way acceptable stanza written and I breathed a sigh of relief and stopped worrying about the assignment that was going to hit me.

I can't remember now what this kind of verse is called.  What I do remember is that the professor never did give us the assignment to write a poem in this style.  All my worry was for naught.

But, I have one poem that I wrote.  And this is it.  Be kind.  I can't write poetry to save my life.  Those genes passed me by.

Fate
The weary man walked down the narrow road,
The pain was in his eyes for all to see;
Upon his back he bore the heavy load
Of all the things he once planned he would be,
In other days when youthful dreams were free.
The ways of life he doesn't understand,
The reason for his trials he cannot see.
He lives with his mistakes the best he can,
And now he finds himself an old and bitter man.

LSW
(Poem written in 1975, while attending Mary Hardin-Baylor College)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Knitting Up the Raveled Sleeve of Care

Obviously I'm not blogging much these days.  I never intended to stop blogging, since the whole thing started as a way for me to have a way to look back at the end of the year and remember the highs and lows and mundanes of the year.  For several years, I was pretty good about logging the various events in my life.  And then....

Facebook happened, for one.  It became easier to just dash off a quick note here and there about what my mood of the moment happened to be.  At first I still blogged regularly.  Then the blogging began to wane and the slapdash thoughts on my Facebook page gradually took over.

And then life got hectic.  The fire.  The remodel.  The various society (i.e., DAR, DRT, UDC) demands on my time.  I got tired, both mentally and physically.  When I get tired, I have a hard time writing.  

And when I get really, really tired, I have a hard time focusing enough to do anything.  Reading was the next thing to go by the wayside. The very idea of working on my dollhouses made the fatigue go into overdrive.  I fell into wasting my time on Facebook games and watching endless TV.  I felt guilty for wasting time, but so lacking in interest that I could not seem to fight my way out.

I desperately cast about for some more productive way of spending my time and the answer turned out to be a hobby that had been sitting in the background for years, just waiting for the right time to catch my attention.

Knitting.  

Knitting is a great soother of ragged nerves.  I first learned to knit in 8th grade when a Home Economics teacher taught us the basic knit and purl stitches.  From there I was self taught, just as I've self taught myself other activities over the years - sitting with a manual and bull-dozing my way through the material until I understand it.  I got fairly proficient at basic knitting and made numerous afghans and a few sweaters (none of which ever really saw the light of day, but they did get made).  

My love affair with knitting ebbed and flowed over the decades.  My love affair with fine yarn never faded.  I amassed a large stash of good yarn (and a larger stash of bad yarn) and had the idea that someday I will use up this yarn.  Yeah, right.  I would get out the stash once a year, coo and admire the good stuff, and wrinkle my nose at the bad stuff and wonder why on earth I had acquired it.  Not much got made with any of it for a very long period of time, but I did enjoy my periodic visits with that good stuff.  I love the feel and smell and look of a quality yarn.

When the fire hit Bastrop County in September 2011, a local yarn store ran a campaign to ask area knitters to donate unwanted yarn to be distributed to knitters who had lost their yarn supplies.  I decided to go through my stash and donate all the yarn that I no longer wanted to the local thrift store.  I devised a way to keep track of the yarn I really loved so I would not forget I had it and could, in fact, see it daily and think about the lovely things that could be made with that yarn.

And at Christmas 2011, inspiration hit.  It started with a kit that was available at Hill Country Weavers in Austin.  I asked for that kit for a Christmas present and made myself a promise that if I received that kit for a present, I would make it immediately.  And, furthermore, I would set myself the goal to make at least one thing every month of 2012 and use up some of that lovely yarn I had on hand.  I had stumbled upon the thing I had been looking for to pull myself out of the dumps.

By the end of January, I had the Paintbrush Cowl kit completed and was on my way.

January's Paintbrush Cowl

The year's projects were heavy on the scarf angle.  I was rusty and needed to brush up on my knitting skills, and I figured that I should keep my monthly goals reasonable.  In the background I started the first shawl, hoping that I could finish a scarf quickly and get my month's goal out of the way and use the remainder of the month to work on the shawl.  As the weeks passed, I increased speed and sharpened my knitting skills and began to make more than one thing some months while some projects drifted along in the background for two or more months.

I actually lost track of what got completed in what month, but at the end of the year I had 12 completed knitting projects.

February's Flounce Scarf
March's Big Cowl

April's Long Beach Scarf
May's Kid Silk Ruffle Scarf
June's Fiesta Scarf
I even took a brief detour about mid-year to re-teach myself some crocheting techniques.

July's Queen Mochi Scarf (Crochet)

August's Shibui Shawl
September's Suede Oakley Shawl

October's Marble Capelet
November's Color Affection Shawl
December's Angora Citron Shawlette
By the end of the year, I was back up to knitting speed and was able to start and finish a shawl within the one month goal time frame.  I fell back into love with knitting.  I learned several new techniques that are of recent invention by truly gifted knitters.  I found a lovely online knitting community called Ravelry which has been a wonderful source of inspiration.  I used up some of my yarn stash that had been sitting there waiting for years for me to get my act together.  I bought more yarn - which wasn't the idea, but who can resist all the lovely yarns that are available now?  In addition to all those completed projects for 2012, I started 2013 with a half-dozen projects in various stages of progress and continue to knit happily in my leisure time.

Knitting pulled me through a rough year.  It helped me begin to re-focus my energy, although there is a long way to go yet.  Writing is still difficult and the genealogy research is still on the back burner, but I feel the embers beginning to glow brighter.

And I don't know if I would have made it through the massive remodel without the knitting to keep my hands busy with something other than strangling the odd painter or tile man.  There is great peace to be had in the rhythm of knit and purl and knit and purl and knit and purl....

LSW

Friday, October 05, 2012

What Happens in the Bathroom

I actually made it into the office a couple of days ago.  I had been confined to the home front for about 2 and 1/2 weeks running while I waited for various gangs of construction folks to do their thing.  All that time I have been monitoring the bathroom phase of the remodel.  On a day to day basis there was the total demolition of the master bath, the moving of drains (involving a jackhammer), the ungodly stink from the installation of the fiberglass shower pan, the partial demolition of the powder room, the addition of frames for pocket doors in both bathrooms (no doors just yet, only holes in the wall), the installation of sheet rock and copious amounts of plastic sheeting draped around during the spraying of texture on the walls, and massive amounts of dust filling the air.  My job was herding cats and dogs in the background and dosing myself with the odd amaretto and milk to keep my nerves settled.

Last week began the new tile work in the master bath.  I've enjoyed working with the boss of the tile crew.  He really knows his business.  Unfortunately, the day the setting of the tile began, he was leaving that afternoon for an extended trip out of the country, but we discussed the design before he left and I was confident that his crew knew what I wanted.  I wasn't able to check on the progress as they worked, because of the tiny space and poor lighting, but they had done such a spectacular job in the kitchen that I stayed out of their way and felt sure all would be well.

So, when they told me last Friday evening that the shower was completed and they would be back to grout on Monday, I bounced into the bathroom eager to see the reality of my mind's eye.  It took about 15 seconds for me to realize that we had a problem.


I had decided to add a stripe of art tiles in the shower.  Thanks to that little 4-inch blip in the line of the tiles, when they added the borders, they ended up staggering the grout lines at different points from the interior tile.  While I could understand why they did what they did, I also knew that my obsessive compulsion for order was not going to be able to live with the result.  I like clean, straight, geometric lines.  I knew that if I allowed this to stand, I was going to be angry every time I stepped into the shower.  

I hate confrontation, but I pointed out what I wasn't liking to the crew before they left that night.  They didn't really get the problem.  I gave up, sent them on their way, and called my builder.  I figured if he didn't understand the issue, then maybe I was being too persnickety.  Fortunately, he saw it the same way I did, got in touch with the boss in South America (aren't cell phones great?) and on Monday the crew arrived with extra tile and set about to make the client happy.



At the end of the day, I had straight lines, my stomach settled down, and I could really step back and enjoy the progress on my future shower.


I love the tile I chose.  We used the larger version to tile the floor of the bathroom and the dressing area just outside. 


I continue to be pleasantly surprised at how much I love the choices I made in such a whirlwind of a morning studying the options.  Everyone who comes in admires the backsplash in the kitchen and the few folks who have ventured upstairs and seen the new tile in the guest bath have been very complimentary.  I've had no regrets, but rather I stand around admiring the effect.

When I was in the office Wednesday, I got a startled look from someone when I mentioned that my builder had used the "F" word.  I laughed and said I had been tempted to use a particular "F" word myself at frequent intervals during this process, but that I preferred his "F" word:  FINISH.

It looks like we are really approaching the end of this remodeling tunnel.  The pocket doors and trim are to be addressed on Sunday, the painters are coming back on Monday or Tuesday, then it will be a parade of  plumbers to install the new bathroom fixtures, counter folks to install the vanity tops in both bathrooms and electricians to install the pile of fixtures I've acquired since they were last here.  (And I got a call this week that my new blinds are in and ready to be installed as soon as the painters get the remaining windows painted.)  All that will remain is the fine work of installing mirrors, towel rods, and door knobs/hinges.  (I am on a mission to de-brass this house, switching to the oil-rubbed bronze look.)

I may survive this remodel after all.  Of course, in the back of my mind is the fact that I will need to do something soon about the hideous carpet.  Being a homeowner is a never-ending series of upgrades.  There's always something else that needs to be done.  But, I'm close to having an entirely new environment and I can't wait to get there - maybe by Christmas.  This has to be the biggest Christmas gift I've ever given myself.

LSW

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Regrouping

Something odd has been taking place over the course of the last few days.  I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

I find myself suddenly laughing out loud as I read, or listen to a song, or stumble across a bit of humor on a website, or watch television or while playing the piano.  Sometimes I'm not even sure why I'm laughing.  Apparently I just feel like it.

Odd indeed.

On the surface of things, I should be feeling stressed.

I have huge portions of my house in complete turmoil.  I'm dealing with strangers wandering all over the place and I don't like strangers in my house.  If and when the work crews actually show up when they say they will, which they never do.

My back is giving me fits.  I've messed something up with all the packing and unpacking and furniture shoving around and my schedule is so up in the air I've not been able to indulge in my usual semi-monthly massage.

I'm trying to get a handle on the financial records of an organization I belong to and for which in a moment of insanity I agreed to take the office of treasurer.  (Today involved a trip to the bank to get that ironed out.)  I'm also treasurer for another organization and currently using my debt collection skills to pull in dues and then mailing out materials to the long distance members who have already paid.  I am secretary for yet another organization that doesn't call for quite so much work, but still creates pockets of activity when I least need it.  (Word to the wise:  Never, ever agree to hold an office in more than one organization at a time.)

I'm feeling a bit home bound these days (see above where the workers never show up when they say they will).  But, that isn't so bad, actually.  The animals are all thrilled that I'm spending so much time with them and I'm thrilled that I'm not having to spend so much time on the road commuting while the remodel drags on.

So why all the sudden fits of giggles?  I have no idea.  Sometimes I even stop and ask myself "what's so funny?"

I've been trying to figure out where it's coming from.

Maybe it's because I'm operating on a different time schedule these days, staying up a little later, sleeping a little later, eating on a different schedule.

Maybe it's because I spent the last couple of weeks re-breaking my sugar addiction and getting back on a lower carb diet.  I don't think I'm losing any weight - yet - but I can sense my body is recalibrating and I have energy again.

Outside work hours, I'm reading when I want to read, knitting when I want to knit, playing the piano when I want to play piano.  Trying to let myself go in whatever direction my mood takes me and not forcing myself to get anything in particular accomplished.

Today I watched a hummingbird flitting around the yard and took a break to fill the hummingbird feeder and put it outside the window where I'm working.  It's given me great delight to watch him come and go all afternoon.  I spent most of the day in silence - no TV, no radio - and have worked on the laptop at the dining table so I can watch my hummingbird, with the pine trees swaying in the breeze behind him.

Peace.

There was a time not so long ago when I tried to remember the last time I was truly happy.  It's not that I've been unhappy, but it's been a long spell that there's been too much on my plate and no time to stop and just enjoy the moment.

Odd.  I dreaded getting started on the remodel, but I think it has had a lot of good effect.  I'm tired from the noise and dust and constant in and out of the workers, but I'm not frazzled from fighting traffic 2 hours a day.  I'm frustrated at times, but staying out of the way of the work crews gives me an excuse to sit on the couch, have a cup of tea and knit a few rows instead of arguing with myself about doing housework.  In the morning, instead of running around getting trash out to the curb, ironing work outfits, getting my briefcase packed, etc., I get to spend 30 minutes playing the piano before I sit down at the computer to work.

All this spontaneous laughter must mean that whatever I'm doing has been good for me.  I think I needed some "me time".

Or maybe I'm just going crazy.

Whatever.  I'm having a good time.

LSW

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Living in a Jumbled World


Looking back at my calendar, it looks like the big remodel began on July 10th with the delivery of the new doors.  Today, September 18th, we stand about 75% complete by my best guess.

So far completed:
Exterior doors installed (front door, back door, two patio doors)
Gutters replaced all around
Decks repaired and stained
New porch lights and garage security light installed
New granite counter tops installed in the kitchen and utility room
New tile surround installed in the upstairs bath
New vanity top, sink, shower head and tub faucets installed in the upstairs bath
New light and exhaust fan installed in the upstairs bath
New ceiling fans installed in the guest room and hobby room
New upstairs hall light and stairwell sconce installed
New chandelier installed in formal dining room
Utility room, kitchen, office, formal dining room, living room, hall, stairwell, guest room, hobby room and upstairs bath repainted
Doors and trim painted

In progress:
Powder room wallpaper removed, vanity top and sink removed, door removed and pocket door framing completed
Master bath completely gutted, plumbing moved to new locations, pocket door framing completed, fiberglass shower base installed
Kitchen backsplash tile installed (waiting on grout to be complete)
Order placed for new window blinds

Still to come:
Master bath to be rebuilt, installation of shower, new toilet and sink, new tile floor and shower surround to be installed, new lighting, new exhaust fan, new counter top for vanity in dressing area
New ceiling fans in bedroom, office and living area
New hall lights, utility room light, kitchen dining area light
Removal of wallpaper and painting of master bedroom suite
Installation of new bathroom mirrors and hardware  (still desperately seeking one mirror)
Restaining of kitchen counters, stair railings, mantle and bathroom vanities

And, one of these days when my nerves and checkbook are somewhat recovered, I'll tackle new flooring in the master bedroom and living room.

Is it any wonder that I say I am hanging by a raw nerve at this point?  Boxes are still piled behind the couch and in the office (someday to be unpacked), all the furniture in the master bedroom is pulled to the center of the room to facilitate the materials to be carted in and out, the clothes I find necessary to have at hand are piled around the guest bedroom (because the closet is full of stuff that had to be moved out of the way for the painters), new lights and mirrors and bathroom hardware still to be installed are piled here and there and there is an inch thick layer of dust on everything.  I've tried a bit of cleaning here and there, but the dust is back before I can turn around good, so what's the point?

Then there are the animals.  I've moved the cat litter boxes almost daily, depending on where I can secure the cats out of the way for the day's work.  The dogs are happy as long as they can be with me (although the morning of jack-hammering had them thinking about packing their Milk Bones and heading for Uncle David's & Aunt Karen's house).  The cats are being extraordinarily good about the disruption.  I think they may even be enjoying the whole thing.  Every evening when I let them out of their daily incarceration, they roam the house sniffing and checking for what may have changed.  It took about a week before they all gave up and accepted the temporary move to the guest room, but now they all head upstairs about 9 o'clock, miaowing and barking for me to "come on".

The good news:
Everything that has been accomplished looks great and I can begin to see a teeny, tiny light at the end of the tunnel.
I should be on Lowe's Christmas card list this year.
I've learned how to make quick decisions and live with them (discard all the choices you absolutely hate and then choose from the 2 or 3 left).

The bad news:
There really isn't any, except I'm really, really tired.  But in a good way.

Really strange that I've lived in the house for 10 years and it's only now that it is beginning to feel like MY house.

LSW