Sunday, October 26, 2014

Treating with Tricks

Popcorn balls, Snickers, Kit Kat bars, and maybe some Sweet Tarts. My typical load for Halloween trick-or-treating in the middle of rural South Dakota.

our scarecrow head in 2009, a year-old jack-o'-lantern
Not much, but I did get to nibble on the leftovers in the bags Mom had assembled for the kiddos: Hershey's Kisses, Tootsie Rolls, hot cinnamon hard candy, and salt water taffy. I knew it would eventually all be mine because not many masked goblins came knocking.

The popcorn balls came from my mom's cousin, Mary G. Wipf, a woman who was like an aunt to me who passed away this summer. Braces kept me from taking a big bite, but they tasted the same after busted up with a knife. Mary G. made the same treats for Christmas time too—only with green and red food coloring.

my dad with Mary G., the popcorn ball lady, summer of 2009

Why was my Halloween haul so small? We only had a few neighbors, and Mom never drove me more than five miles from home. I do not remember going too many places.

One year Aunt Grace and Uncle Johnny were not home, and my childhood mind wondered why. 

They knew I would be coming. They should have stayed home. 

Mom must have sensed my disappointment when I plopped back into the car. She said, "Go move that ladder and block their door."

"Why? What for?"

"They'll have to move it when they come home. What do you think trick-or-treat means anyway?"

Ironically, this summer, my youngest sister Brenda and I went to that same farm and played a trick-or-treat of a different kind on my cousin. No one answered our knock, so we moved a pot of flowers in front of the door with this note: "Your Kansas cousins were here."

Within minutes a cell phone rang. Our cousin Gordie hunted us down via our nephew-in-law Erik who lived nearby. It worked. We headed back for a short visit with Gordie and his wife Charlotte before they headed off to 4th of July festivities. 

Gordie's treat: a kiss from two of his Hofer cousins

My childhood trick-or-treating days ended around fifth or sixth grade, but for that last go-round, Mom let me stay in town at Tami Price's house. She was a friend and classmate whose birthday was near Halloween. And yes, she lived in town.

10-year-old Tami, my friend who lived in Hitchcock

In-town trick-or-treating for a country kid was like a town kid getting to run naked in mud puddles on a farm after a rain storm.

My orange pumpkin bucket was so full that the candy lasted until Christmas time. I have no idea where I kept it at school the next day so the candy would not be stolen.

Good thing Mom had kept me close to home for Halloween all those years because I am not sure I would have any teeth left today. I already had a mouth full of cavities due to pop drinking. For more about that bad habit, read my post entitled Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, and a Slew of Yahoo.

What is your favorite Halloween memory? Ever play an innocent Halloween trick on someone? Or get sick from too much candy?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Computers: I Saw No Value In Them

I know just enough to be dangerous. Our tech guy at school, Brad Buscher, would agree with that—even though I never made my teacher home page the school main page like colleague Peggy Jones did a few years ago. No one still knows how that happened.

Like most Generation-Xers, I have a love-hate relationship with computers and other forms of technology.

It started in the spring of my senior year in 1984 when Hitchcock High School acquired some computers. This was back during the C-prompt days. Maybe pre-MS-Dos if there was such a time. See, I told you, I know just enough to be dangerous.

Poor Mr. Frank Podraza, he had to put up with my attitude. He was our football coach, principal, and my algebra teacher.

Frank Podraza in the HHS study hall room

My first memory of him is as a ref in one of our jr. high basketball games when I was 12-years-old. I tried to take out the ball after we had just made a basket. He said nothing and just gave me that you-dummy look. Guess I never held it against him because Mr. Podraza became one of my favorite high school teachers.

During my senior year, he was teaching us programming. Yes, computer programming. We had never even touched a computer, and we were learning programming. Big disconnect.

After a couple days of it, I told him, “I want to throw this thing out the window.” And our school was an old two-story brick building with no grass nearby, so it would have shattered the beast. I went on and on about how much money the school board wasted buying these things, and that I just might let a couple of them know since they went to my church. I saw no value in what the thing could do for me.

Me shaking the hand of LeRoy Gross, one of the board members who also attended my church.

Fast-forward a few months to the fall of my freshman year in college. I returned home and shocked Coach Podraza with these words, "I love computers."

You see, I never knew I could type a paper on the thing and print it out. And I would not have to retype an entire page because I forgot to leave room for my footnotes at the end of my research paper. Another thing, it wrapped the text. No hard carriage return.

Who taught me these wonderful tasks that a computer could do? Dana Davis, that’s who. He was our freshman orientation leader.

the guy who made me love computers

Dana was an upperclassman in charge of about a dozen or so of us on a weekly basis. We learned how to set margins, double-space, save to a floppy, and add that crazy perforated paper to the dot matrix printer. I was amazed at all it could do.

I must not have completely trusted the machine though because I typed all my philosophy papers that year on the electric typewriter my parents had gotten me while I was still in high school.

I loved to type. In fact, I even went to a business competition for it while in high school. Never placed, but I do remember achieving 90 words a minute with no errors one time in class. I credit piano playing for that speed.

Fast-forward a couple decades. I still love the computer and have learned to love the iPad, but not for the same reasons.

This week, teaching colleague Heather Potter and I present on how we use technology in our classrooms. She is talking about Google Classroom and the ShowMe app, and I am explaining how to differentiate assignments with the iPad app called Notability.

Notability, my favorite iPad app

It's my first professional presentation in 26 years of teaching. And if someone would have told me two years ago, when I did not want to go 1:1 with iPads, that I would be presenting at the Kansas State Department of Education's state-wide conference, I would have called you crazy. Click on the link, scroll to Wednesday at 8:30 on page 23, and you'll see it there in print. So cool. Heather and I are so pumped.

Like my mentor, Mr. Podraza, I had to overcome the learning curve. I am sure he was frustrated trying to make us see the relevance in what he was required to teach us, just as I have had to adjust to iPads and other forms of technology throughout the years.

I have matured, but my love-hate relationship with technology continues—only now instead of wanting to throw something out the window, I throw up my hands and say, “I think I’ll go be Amish." 

What are your earliest memories of the personal computer? How about when you learned to type? Did your teacher put fingernail polish on the keys and provide you with powdery paper to erase your errors on your research papers?

Writer's Note: to read about the purchase of my first personal computer, check out the post entitled, Dollars and Sense: A Lesson in Interest of a Different Kind.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday Morning Child

An antique secretariat sets inside the front door where I hang my coat. I turn the corner. A teeny tiny television resides near the baby grand whose top holds fancy picture frames of loved ones and her students. Immaculate and dustless.

I close my eyes and I am there. Back in that house. My piano teacher's house.

Mrs. Matson. I never called her by her first name, Ruby, a classy lady full of piano playing talent.

Ruby Matson, photo from The Daily Plainsman, Huron South Dakota

When my mom was in the Huron Nursing Home near the end of her days, so was Mrs. Matson—only she seemed to have a bit of dementia. Such a cruel condition for a sophisticated white-haired woman who spent 68 years teaching piano.

I never knew her husband, for she was already a widow when I entered her life. She had no children of her own, but her piano students seemed to be just that—her children. I became one of them when my first piano teacher, Lillian Horn, moved out of town but had arranged for me take lessons with Mrs. Matson.

And how fortunate I was. Years before, Mom said she had tried to get my older sisters in with Mrs. Matson, but even back then, she was booked. Many times I felt out of my league surrounded by her talented students. I never realized at the time, I was slowly becoming one of them.

a recital program from spring 1982 when I was a sophomore

One was Huong Nguyen, a Vietnamese girl whose lesson was before me, and sometimes her equally talented younger sister, Trang, played after me. I loved to hear Huong play the beginning piece in Grieg's Holberg Suite. So if Mom was early or late in dropping me off or picking me up, I soaked up their incredible playing. Sometimes the schedule would change, and I then admired Heidi Krutzfeldt playing Debussy's The Sunken Cathedral. Heidi and I were duet partners for a couple years when Huron hosted a mass piano-duet concert involving more than a dozen pianos playing at once.

judge's comments about my performance at a contest during my senior year

Mrs. Matson was usually all business with little chit-chat. So I was shocked one Saturday morning after the boys' State B basketball tournament when she told me she had cheered for the Crow Creek Indians the weekend before when they were on television. Mrs. Matsonwatch basketball? I was stunned.

I close my eyes, and even today, I have a hard time imagining her sitting in her fancy curved-leg high-back chair, cheering on Chuck World Turner and his feisty teammates. But she spoke enough of the game that I knew she had watched. This was in 1982 when Webster defeated the crowd favorite, Crow Creek.

Mrs. Matson had a way of doing that to me. Stunning me. Nothing shocked me more than when she placed that Grieg piece in front of me.

I earned a I+ on the piece, Praeludium.

The faith Mrs. Matson had in me to master it lead me to write the poem below in 2008 when I took part in the National Writing Project, a program for teachers to not just assign writing but to teach it.

This poem went through multiple revisions. Originally well-over 100 lines, I was forced to cut, cut, cut by the instructor and the e-anthology critiquers. It pained me, but in the end, I agreed with colleague Steve Maack, the lead instructor for our local project, who said, "Now it is a poem."

One of Ruby’s Jewels
by Melodie Harris

I’m up next. I walk to the piano
   with a half dozen books in my arms.
I see the photographs on the baby grand.
   Faces that sit, like me
   One of Mrs. Ruby Matson’s protégés
   A Saturday morning child, waiting to be taught.

I glance around.
The teacher has changed the knickknacks
   on the always dustless end tables.
The best China adorns
   the dining room table expecting company.
A half-written letter awaits completion
   on the open secretariat.
A mostly blackened score is placed before me.

   Grieg's Holberg Suite.

How about you? Ever been challenged to a task so difficult you could not believe you were being asked to take it on? What happened? How has someone's belief in your abilities shaped who you are?

Writer's Note: read more about the role of music in my life in the blog posts entitled Hootin' ~n~ Tootin' and Mom's Pestering Pays Off.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hootin' ~n~ Tootin'

I hid in our stairway because my clarinet teacher, Mr. Robert Wiens, showed up at our house one day after school.

No, I did not do anything to get myself in trouble—except turn in my instrument. I quit.

My parents knew it. My piano teacher knew it. But when Mr. Wiens found out, he did not like it. Not one bit. And he drove twelve miles out to our farm to say so.

It wasn't like I didn't have any musical talent, for I could already read music. So how could I make such a decision to quit? I was only in fifth grade. But someone, who shall remain nameless, lead me to believe it was taking time away from my pursuit of piano.

Mr. Wiens, known for producing outstanding marching bands as well as concert performers, respectfully explained to my parents how one instrument would enhance the other.

After Mr. Wiens left and I emerged from my hideout, my parents and I discussed the situation. I decided the lucky rabbit’s foot would go back on the case, and Mom and Dad agreed to purchase the new clarinet for around $150.

A few days later I was at my weekly clarinet lesson with classmate Adele Peterson where Mr. Wiens would sit between us and smoke his cigarette. Yes, the blessed ’70’s. I did not mind, for I knew he cared about me. 

I never did get to march under him though because Mr. Wiens left our school the next year. In fact, for the next seven years, Hitchcock went through three music teachers. Guess he was a tough act to follow.

I played piano much better than I did clarinet, but I enjoyed marching band, pep band, concert band, and particularly our ensembles.

One year at contest, our clarinet quartet experienced a debacle. One of us—probably me, certainly not Debbie Goehring—pulled off the top of the music stand as we prepared to perform. Our music flew all over the floor. We contained our laughter somehow, and I believe we managed a superior.

Whatever happened to the clarinet since it did not go back to the Music Center in Huron ran by the Pepper family? It stayed in the Hofer family. My oldest niece Evelynn used it.

Whatever happened to Mr. Wiens? Ironically, years later he ended up near a family member, my sister Priscilla. He lived in Bridgewater, but I am not sure what he did there. In fact, she gave me some home decor that he made out of wood. Hitchcock people will remember that he was a carpenter of sorts.

Sure would be nice to see Mr. Wiens again. Maybe this post will find him.

Have you ever experienced a teacher like this? One who went out his way for the benefit of your education? If so, share in the comment section below. 

Writer’s Note: for another story about the role of music in my life, read the blog post entitled, Mom’s Pestering Pays Off.