Sunday, September 21, 2014

Mom's Pestering Pays Off

Mom never asked me if I wanted to take piano lessons. She just told me I was doing it. I grew up with musical sisters, so this was no surprise.

Practicing the piano was a daily event for me--usually after supper. I play it about every day now too as an adult. It brings stability to my psyche.

I started piano lessons in 3rd grade, the year I got eye glasses.

When I first started lessons, Mom would sit in the black swivel chair in the corner of the dining room quizzing me on the musical notes and symbols with flashcards. As I practiced, I would hear her flipping through her favorite reading materials: Good Housekeeping and The National Enquirer. She hid The Enquirer and other Hollywood gossipy magazines in the China closet.

Mom with me in front of the black chair she sat in when I practiced piano.

If I went on to a different piece too soon, I would hear, “That was not five times hands apart. Do it all again.” And I did. Probably with a roll of my eyes.

And if Mom was not in the house due to plowing up some field for Dad, my practice time was pretty short. Then the next week I would be explaining to Mom why I did not pass it at my lesson.

Oh, to be a little girl again with Mom around in her silent pride of watching me develop into something she was never given the chance to become. Mom could play a couple pieces by ear, but she could not read music, so it was important that her daughters knew how. I do not know if she had the same expectations of my brother, 20 years my senior.

Clarinet lessons at school started in 5th grade. I think I am a 6th grader in this picture.

As I grew older, my practice time increased. I had graduated from the Dozen A Day warm-up books to Hanon, a rigorous set of exercises. When I play them today, my young-girl frustration returns. My fourth fingers are still weak--especially the left one.

But Hanon enabled me to play tougher pieces. My teachers, for I only had two throughout the nine years I took lessons, were both meticulous. Maybe that is why people today call me picky.

my first piano teacher, Lillian Horn

Through their prodding, I seemed to become an accomplished pianist who earned superiors. No lower than a superior-minus one year, and on two different occasions, I earned a superior-plus. But I still do not think I am that good. I just practiced a lot.

I cannot sight read. I cannot play hymns. I cannot accompany a singer or a musician. I play only classical.

Yes, I play the scores whose pages are often blackened with more than an octave stretch, pass overs and unders, trills, and change of key. But really, I am not that good. It took me forever to learn a piece--but I did learn it.

I auditioned and earned the privilege of playing in front of my largest crowd ever: 1983 Girls' State in Mitchell, South Dakota on the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University. More about representing my high school there in future posts.

Here is the note telling my Girls' State counselor I got the nod to play.

The type of persistence piano playing teaches is like none other. See, for those who know my rat terrier nature, I blame it all on the piano. One has to be tenacious to learn Holberg Suite by Grieg. It took me two years.

Even with success, Mom would still say, “You sure didn’t practice very long. Go do it some more.” The older I got, the more audible complaining she heard. But Mom never really argued back. She was good at ignoring my whining and griping.

Then my senior year came, and she did argue back. “You’ve only got one more year. Next year, you’ll be at college." I was not even thinking of the senior recital I had earned.

Ruby Matson, my piano teacher ~ Heidi Krutzfeldt & Lisa Brisco with me at our senior recital

So, I kept on a-playing. Kept on a-whinin' too. Only now I also complained about playing the prelude at church, playing the offertory at church, playing the postlude at church, and griped that Arlene Decker and Barbara Gross, our regular pianists, wanted me to do her job.

This self-centered teenager did not understand that those women were actually complimenting me when they allowed me to play instead of them. And Mom just kept on saying, "You're not gonna quit."

I am so glad she did not let me.

And today when I can still sit down and play, rusty--really rusty, I can almost hear Mom holler from another room like she did when I was a teenager, “That sounds just beautiful, honey. Play it again.”

Thank you, Mom. It seems you and Dad gave me a name that suits.

me on my sister Brenda's lap--eyes on the keys of the piano that I first learned on

Did your parents ever make you do something you grew tired of? How do you feel about it now? Share how it has shaped who you are today by commenting below.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Down in the Dip

My front LexiconGirl license plate is a little crooked due to a minor mishap in 2009 at Jerry and Elaine Gerber's in Garden Plain where I get my hair cut.

My step-daughter Brittany was with me, and she got out to take a look at what I had done. Silly me, thinking we were just stuck in a deep a pot hole, told her to lift up that end of the car. She kept telling me there was no way she could do that. I did not understand because the car seemed to be tipped only a little bit. It felt hung-up on something. When I got out, below is a picture of what I saw. 

The Alero Taking a Dip

I had backed up, turned too soon, and ended up with my front passenger side end down by the culvert. It seems I am not the only one to have done this, for Elaine knew who to call right away. Dan Stroud, local tow truck fella, lifted me out.

The Gerbers have since put up a cement guard on both sides of their driveway, but for months afterwards, I parked on the road. And I still have Dan's number in my cell phone--just in case.

Do you have any silly car mishaps? Or places you avoid because you do not trust yourself behind the wheel? Share them in the comment section below. It would reassure me to know I am not the only dumbo-driver out there.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Alero, the sweet lemon

My Alero has been kind of a lemon--but more sweet than sour since she is over 15-years-old, on her third set of tires, and still makes 27 miles per gallon.

I now pay more for the registration paperwork than I do the property taxes on this thing, but hey, she still works, and I'm not too proud to drive a tin can.

The Alero is not fun to sit in though. A towel covers the driver seat’s innards so they do not end up hanging from my rear. Switching from AM to FM or to change to a CD requires pushing the button three times. But oh, one thing works quite well: the cassette tape player.

Many other items; however, are out of commission or close to it. Here's the list.

The trunk lid requires a key and refuses to open with the remote or the inside lever. The plastic liner on the edge of the trunk is gone. Between my golf clubs and Brittany’s getting yanked in and out, it would not stay on anymore, so I duct taped the thin indoor carpet liner to the metal frame.

The cabin is far from sound proof with leaky windows—especially in the back--that is why she is a tin can. The sunroof stopped shutting, so we disconnected it. The back two windows are disconnected too because they did not know how to stay where they belong either.  
The driver’s side window started all these window issues in December 2006, a couple months after I married Chris.

What does love have to do with it? A snow storm, that's what! Fifteen inches in Oklahoma when it was all said and done, and I've got pictures to prove it.

Never a shy one around a camera, a 12-year-old Brittany with Pepper--ready to move to Kansas.

We traveled to Bartlesville from Cheney to sign for the closing on Chris' house. The road conditions turned a regular 3-hour trip into a 6-hour adventure. This time it was mother nature expanding the time frame--unlike my trip this summer in 2014 when I turned a 9-hour trip into 12. Read my blog post entitled, On the Road Again--Alone, for more about that nightmare.

Chris at his house in Bartlesville on the day of the signing.

Luckily for us, Brittany's grandpa and Chris had moved their belongings in a U-Haul to Kansas the day before, a Wednesday. They returned to Oklahoma that night. The plan was for Chris to come up with his pick-up on Thursday with the last of their belongings, and after I was done with school, we would drive back in the Alero for the signing, which was on Friday. Brittany's grandparents would see to it that she would wrap up things at her school.

But on the Thursday morning of the trip, even before a lick of snow hit the ground, Cheney Superintendent Brad Neuenswander made the no-school call. That was how dangerous and plentiful the storm was predicted to be. When I called Chris at 7:30 in the morning to say that he had better leave now--with no snow on the ground--he thought I was crazy.

Not the case when he finally got here late morning and told me he had hit the ditch due to ice near the the Belle Plaine exit on the turnpike. He was able to maneuver his red Dodge pick-up right back up out of it. Good thing no one was traveling too close behind him either. I could have been a widow before my husband even officially moved in.

What does all this have to do with the Alero? Ice and snow, that's what. On our drive back to Oklahoma, Chris had to keep opening the window, grab the blade, and knock the ice off the wipers.

Ready to head back to Kansas in the Alero--to finally live together as a family.

We arrived Thursday night in good shape, but the last 10 miles from Dewey to Bartlesville took an hour. The closing was postponed from Friday to Saturday, and Brittany never had school those last two days.

After we arrived back in Kansas on Saturday afternoon, the driver's side window kept sneaking down. It did not want to stay up. And I had no garage, so we taped a blanket over it.

So on that first Sunday, with my family finally together, we crammed into the pick-up to go to church. Large speakers took up the small back seat area, so Bee and I held the groceries on our laps on the way home from Wichita. Oh, the memories of beginning married life. 

We had to fix that window, of course, or no mailbox stops, fast-food drive-ins, or ATM stops for us. In the years that followed, the back windows began to slip too, so we disconnected them.

But that was the beginning of my car, only 7-years-old, turning into my tin can rat trap. I think she got her feelings hurt when Chris purchased a brand new Honda Accord later that month. Suddenly, the Alero was not driving us around like she used to, the Honda was. And the Honda is a smooth, quiet, luxurious ride. Brittany and I used to accuse her dad of loving the car more than us.

But I understand his affection for his car. I will probably cry when the time comes to retire the Alero. But for now, I'm hoping she makes it to 20-years-old like one of my dad's other Oldsmobiles. 

Chris with his Honda in December of 2010 when she is already 2-years old. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Deed Provides a Need

When I tell people I teach middle school English, they laugh and apologize. When they hear I also teach high school public speaking, they moan. I am not sure which disturbs them the most--the subject matter or the age group.

But I am certain not too many people have ever known a high schooler to do this: hand a teacher the keys to her car and say, "I can walk or catch a ride with friends. You need a car worse than I do."

That is exactly what happened after Brooke Voth, a generous high school girl and daughter of a teaching colleague, learned that I had had a car accident in October 2000. She dropped her car keys into my sweaty hands when I was at middle school basketball practice and said, "You can use my car."


Here is Brooke, as a middle schooler after a big basketball win, her hand touching mine. It would not be the last time.

A few days later Peggy Gregory, another teaching colleague, loaned me a car they had available—that way Brooke could still use her vehicle.


The Gregory car starting acting up right about the time mine was finally fixed. It was only the alternator. Whew--I did not want to get the reputation of being a car-jinx. 

Paula, Brooke's mom, in pink. Peggy in the middle back. Jim Gillett on the left and Jack Goss on the right. Picture taken sometime between fall of 1989 to spring of 1993 because we are in the old jr. high. And yes, that's me--stylin' with those fold-over-the-waist pants.

Around the time this car accident happened, I had recently taken a Crown Financial Ministries course emphasizing a biblical approach to finances. I had been tithing faithfully, earning extra money by keeping the volleyball books at games, and sticking to my budget.

In addition, my car insurance paid a daily allowance towards a rental car for each day I was without my car. I called my insurance agent, Steve Pore, to make sure this was ethical. He said I paid for the policy and this was a benefit of it.

I decided to put the figures on paper for the three months I had been following that budget. To my surprise, I was more than even-Steven. I made money. Maybe only about seventeen bucks, but still--incredible.

For the second accident years later, yet another teacher friend helped me. Kay Wulf loaned me her car, and she drove her pick-up for a couple of weeks. 

Incredible. Students and colleagues alike prove that a friend in deed is a friend to one in need.

How about you? Ever had a high schooler surprise you with their thoughtfulness on a adult level? Or a colleague provide a basic need? I'd enjoy hearing about your experiences in the comment section below.

Kay with me after Wichita Music Theater in summer of 2014.

Writer's Note: My brand new Alero was barely one-year-old when she ended up in the body shop. For more details about the car accidents referred to in this post, read An Out Pore-ing of Appreciation.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

An Out Pore-ing of Appreciation

I have owned only two cars in my life. Both Oldsmobiles. Both spanking new when I bought ’em.

I know, I know. Drive off the lot—depreciation.

But I drive my car until it nickles and dimes me to death, like my ’87 Calais did, or it looks like an old tin can, like my ’99 Alero does now if you get too close to it.

I call it my rat trap. My husband calls it the space shuttle because he has a hard time fitting into it—roof too low. Next week, I'll write more about this faithful car of 15 years and the people who helped me when it was involved in two different accidents.

The poor Alero has a lot of chipped paint now. She got a bad paint job after my neighbor girl, who was not paying attention, hit my driver’s side back door on the way to school one day. The students outside heard the crash. This was long before I was married.

Only a little over a year old, the Alero received more than just a boo-boo in October 2000.

My second accident? My fault. Location: Zoo Boulevard and 21st Street exit ramp. Slow crash. When high schooler Kristen Allen asked me what happened, I told the truth. “I was stupid. Rear-ended some guy's pick-up when I was not paying attention.” No damage to the pick-up. Again, long before I was married. I have no pictures of my stupidity.

My husband is handy-dandy, even with mechanical issues, but all those years I was single, I depended on my dad, who was 600 miles away; Tom Nixon or Jim Kitchen, my car mechanics of choice at the Cheney Coop; or my insurance agent, Steve Pore.

Steve Pore
Next week, Steve is leaving as an agency owner after 37 years. I believe Farmers Insurance will treat me well, but I’ll miss the trusted voice on the other end of the phone.

Steve always put relationship first, never made me feel dumb for asking, patiently explained the differences between coverage plans, and talked me through home owners insurance when I bought my house.

When I wanted to move due dates around so it was not due in June when my car tags were, or in November when I was saving for Christmas presents, or in March when I wanted extra money to travel home for spring break, he worked with me.

Steve's response when I called him in 2000 when my car got hit? First he asked if I was okay, which I was, then he said, “Get off the phone, call your family and let them know what happened, and then call me right back.”

When I got my first speeding ticket (going 50-something in a 35--again, paying attention), Steve talked me through how long it would be before my insurance rate would get down to normal again.

And finally, after many years of Steve patiently encouraging me to do the one lump sum yearly payment and save money in the long run, I was able to. A Crown Financial Ministries study and Dave Ramsey course taught me to manage money better, but Steve never quit reminding me in his fatherly way.

On behalf of this ignorant girl you talked through insurance issues with, thanks Steve, for being a trusted adviser for my automobile and home insurance needs.

I'll miss hearing your voice on the other end of the phone when I finally save up enough money to buy the third new car of my life.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Birds & the Beans

Grandma Katie's old transistor radio, a tube top, and short-shorts: my entertainment and attire for walking the soy bean field when Dad put me to work to pull weeds by hand.

Yes, I walked it.

And there were birds. Our farmland had lots of low places where water would reside and for some reason, birds like to nest there. And everyone knows how birds protect their young.

So this was another place contributing to my fear of the flying beasts--which to me, are flying mice!

Most of the time, I did not even know they were swooping at me since I was bent over yanking at weeds, but then came their screeching.

I could only handle that for about an hour at a time. Besides, I wanted to watch the Iran-Contra Affair hearings with Oliver North on television. Yes, I was a political junky even back then. Receiving decent reception on only two channels with one of them broadcasting it made for a captive audience.

Dad says now that he cannot believe he made me walk the soy bean fields, but I really did not mind. It was better than laying out to get a tan. At the end of the summer, I had a nice stripe on my lower back from that tube top pulling up.

And what about those birds? I was college-aged so the wash house days and hog house painting had toughened me up a bit. I would simply employ my "get out of here you birds" routine and keep working.

And speaking of soy bean fields, I did help with weedy beans at my brother-in-law Rick’s farm one summer. But he had a bean buggy, a tractor rigged with three to four raised seats fitted with a wand and a spray tank.

Now that farmers use more sophisticated ways of combating weeds, the thing is in storage. The tube top was burned, and my short-short sent to Good Will, but that transistor radio--I think it still works!

My sister Priscilla hunted down the bean buggy to snap this picture for me.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Inside Scoop & Swoop on the Farrowing Barn

Should mustard even be allowed as a paint color? It looks like calf poop.

That was the color I painted a red and white Wahoo farrowing pig barn when I was in junior high. Dad picked that color to match the other hog buildings we called the nursery and the finishing house. The building is shown during the painting phase in the picture below. Yep, that's me in front of it.

Childhood friend Debbie Goehring snapped this picture of me by the hogs during my 13th birthday party in 1979.

My dad and brother raised confinement hogs. That means some pigs did not see the light of day until they were loaded up for sale and slaughter.

It also meant I’d see frozen boar semen when I’d get ice cream out of the upright freezer in the entryway of our house.

Artificial insemination meant year-round baby pigs or baby pigs during the times of the year the farmer could handle the work. This process meant more money. And yes, sometimes it is all about the money. But at a cost. Those pigs lived in newer buildings than we did! The farrowing barn housed a full bathroom--newer than the one in our house.

It also contained a little waiting room with an old couch for Dad or my brother Elliott to nap on if they were waiting for a sow to deliver. Sometimes the gilts needed help. For those without an agricultural background, a gilt is a sow who's never given birth before, so sometimes they have trouble delivering.

One time, Dad had me stick my hand in a momma pig's womb because he could not get her to expel the litter. I used an old fish tank strainer without the mesh.

"Get the edges of that thing around the face and pull it out," Dad said. "Feel for the pig's ears. You can do it." It was slippery in there trying to get plastic-covered wire around a snout I could not see.

I tried and tried. "You've gotta get that pig out of her or she will die!"
Now don't get too grossed out. After the initial entrance, it wasn't that bad. Dad had swabbed my arm up to my elbow and in I went. The pig's womb felt clean, safe, and cozy.

Finally, out came part of an ear. Then another ear. Then a head. A body. It was as if I had torn it apart. But Dad assured me they had already been dead, and that I did not dismember a healthy baby pig. Who knows how long those deformed, dead piglets had been inside that critter!

My niece Colleen, ten years younger than I, tells of a time my dad, her grandpa, held her long hair out of her face while she attempted a similar task. See, our girl-hands were small, and that's why us youngsters were often enlisted.

The drama of pig delivery in the farrowing barn was mild compared to the drama on the outside of it--with--the--birds! Yes, I am finally getting to the bird part now.

The eaves of this building housed many nests for the barn swallows. They would swoop out of their nests while I painted the trim. My ladder was not up very high since the building was one story, and boy, did they swoop.

And swoop. And swoop some more.

Usually no screeching--just lots of swooping.


I hated it.

I was still working for that 10-speed bike, so I got through it. Mom would encourage me with common sense. “They are just protecting their nests that you are near,” she said.

Intellectually, I understood it, but these birds diving at my face was another contributor to the fear that other birds had already instilled in me when I was little. Read last week’s post entitled, "The Wash House: Bird Fear Begins" if you missed it.

At the end of the summer, I still had both my eyes and ears. And I don't think I ever fell off that ladder. Never had a bird poop on me either--not ever--I've jinxed myself now, you just watch.

But for my entire life, birds spot me and they just know. They may be just doing a normally fly by, but mostly they dive bomb and swoop.

Always have. Always will.

Now as an adult and in order to enjoy my backyard pavilion, I've learned to not scream every time one darts my way.

Whatever happened to that farrowing barn? See its weathered demise pictured below.

My sister Brenda shot this picture in the summer of 2010.

It's the gray building with the rusty tin roof way in the back of the picture. Not much mustard color left, and it almost burned down one time.

But as of a year or so ago, it no longer stands. My brother, along with his son-in-law, Erik who farms with him now, demolished it. It had seen its better days anyway, but what had lived inside it paid for my college.
Painting wasn't the only farm task Dad employed me to do that caused birds to be upset with me.

Next week I'll blog about birds' nests and weed-pulling and my dad's ever-dreaded holler up to my room, "Melodie, I've got a job for you."