Losing My Voice

I am saddened. Today I decided to consult with a piano repairman about my faithful, long-standing instrument and its recent problem.  It will cost more to repair than it is worth, about $300. I would have thought it was worth more than that – it certainly was in its youth.

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Faithful friend

We acquired this Everett piano in 1974 or 75, I’m not certain of the date. The husband and I were newlyweds and in college. We had mentors, both of them teachers at the college, who were going to spend some time abroad and were selling a lot of their possessions that would be hard to store. We bought their piano and their car.

I’ve had access to a piano my whole life, except for a few years living in college dorms. Now I had my own, in my apartment, to play any time I wanted to. We moved from Texas to California and the piano came with us and survived the distance. We moved from California to Wisconsin and again the piano held up well. We moved from Wisconsin to Florida, with the piano in the trailer. Through all this it never had significant tuning problems, just a nick or two on its wooden surface and a stripped screw that held the music stand.

I practiced my lessons on this piano, as well as wedding music, funeral music, fun music for my kids, and special accompaniments for friends who sang. As my children learned to play their instruments, I learned to accompany them. There were years when I taught my own piano students – many small hands had their first introduction to music on the keys of my Everett. There was the year when I once again took lessons from a college professor, doing difficult music and learning intricacies that stretched my ability. Learning hymns and worship music for churches I worked for was always going on in the background. My piano was a workhorse.

But it was more than that. They say that music is a path to the soul, and I have experienced that connection. The instrument making the music became a voice for my soul. My piano taught me that beautiful sound is more than just pushing the right notes, it is putting emotion into those musical phrases, touching them in a particular way, a familiar way.

My piano has calmed me as I cried, has distracted me in distress, has satisfied my need to create. Although made of wood and metals, felt and ivory, it has become almost like a person to me. A treasured friend and encourager.

We are looking forward to one more move, and I have been paring down in anticipation of having to store whatever we decide to take with us. The piano is heavy. It will not store well, and it is broken. I think it is time to let go, but it is hard, and sad. Yes, it’s a sad day, and there are a few tears… just sayin’.

Mission Possible (Done!)

One day earlier, I had gotten a call from my brother, small business owner of an award company. A shipment had gotten lost and an important account needed to be saved. By making an emergency trip and driving the found shipment to its destination on a tight schedule, I had myself a fun adventure. 

On Thursday last week, I took the two hour drive to the economy parking lot of Orlando International Airport. Memorizing my spot under a tree, I took the shuttle to the departure area and found my Frontier flight.

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No frills flight – so inexpensive.

It was only two hours but I got some reading done on the way. We arrived in Memphis earlier than scheduled, around 3 pm, and I walked (fast) to the Alamo car rental desk.  In no time at all I was choosing my mini-van, a Dodge Grand Caravan and putting the address of the shipping company into my phone navigation app.  It’s a little disconcerting when you get no service when in the parking garage. I had to drive out, not knowing where I was going, and find a street to park on while my directions loaded and I got my bearings.

The van was pretty sweet – leather seats and all the latest gadgets. I love driving and especially love a comfortable car, without a lot of road noise. My payload of 1200 pounds was going to make it a little heavy in the back but it would be driveable.

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My new dispatcher friends

The shipping company was only a few miles away, in a very secure, fenced yard with a guard. He directed me in, after I gave him my “story”, and told me to go to the dispatch office.  I was famous before I even arrived. They all knew about the “Orlando shipment” and told me some workers would be out with the pallet of goods immediately, and would even load it for me.

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One box in the passenger seat – the other 18 in back.
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Crystal and marble are heavy
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Everyone was so helpful!

It was only 4:30 and I was loaded and on the way out of Memphis. Fortunately, the airport was on the outskirts of the city and I had very little rush hour traffic to contend with. I drove for several hours after dark, meaning to get to Birmingham before stopping for some food. I really hadn’t had time to be hungry since breakfast. My brother checked on me by phone, my husband checked on me too, and I had a long conversation with a friend. All that, plus running my GPS, was getting me pretty low on phone battery.

Birmingham was the closest thing to a problem that I had the whole trip. It was foggy. I stopped to figure out the navigation program on the van but I didn’t like the way it looked so I kept the phone on too.  For a while I had two different devices telling me directions. which would have been great if they had been on the same route. I also got another phone call and missed an exit I was supposed to take. The good thing was I got some dinner. All this to say that Birmingham is a little confusing and I got on a different road than intended. Since it was an alternate route I decided to take it rather than back track. The new road was going south and that was the right direction.

My travel philosophy is connected to the faith I have in God to handle details – like maybe the route I take? Heading south on I-65 to Montgomery was a lot different than heading east on I-20 to Atlanta but I figured it must be the best route for reasons I didn’t know. Turns out I got to Montgomery at the right time for getting some sleep and was able to find a motel easily. I had six hours to rest up and get ready for the next day.

I was on the road by 6:30 am and although it was still foggy for quite awhile it was the most beautiful drive south I’ve seen in a long time. It was the right route for me. I was across the Alabama/Florida line by 10. The time zone change made it 11 am. I heard from the customer in Orlando and he was really hoping for an earlier ETA than I had told him. I wanted to do a good job. I wanted to hurry, but you can only go so fast and that’s how fast I went.

I-10, I-75, Florida Turnpike. All I can say is that there are too many toll stops on the Turnpike. I used all my cash and there were still more. Sometimes they don’t even tell you how much to pay, there’s no person at the booth, and the only choices are pre-paid tolls (nope, not in a rental car) or exact coins (nope, I’m out). I threw my last 30 cents in one of them and drove through anyway. Ha ha.

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A thumbs up from Diego!

The customer was on the phone with me as I neared Orlando, and was actually waiting on the sidewalk to direct me to the loading dock where my cargo was going. It was in the thick of the city and there was a lot of construction. Orlando is a big city, but being at the end of my trip, I didn’t care how it strange and busy it was. I was relieved to be there and get the apples unloaded. The only person more relieved than me was the customer. Diego was a nice young man and I guess he had a lot of work to do getting all those awards ready for the presentation. He said he was going to start putting the labels on them right away so I left and let him get to work.

I drove to the airport, turned in the rental van, found the shuttle to economy parking and my car, under the tree where I left it.  A few hours, and a couple of rush hour traffic jams leaving the city, and I was home. The “crazy train”, Apple Award rescue mission was over and it was a success.

So, what’s next?

Rescue Adventure!!

20171129_185300.jpgI love adventure! And is there any adventure more exciting than getting to rescue someone or something, with deadlines, secret contacts, airports and in great haste? I can hardly believe I get to do this!!

Okay, the contacts aren’t really secret and I’m not rescuing a person, and I’m doing it in a mini van, but everything else is true and I’m doing it tomorrow and Friday!  I’m on a mission to deliver a shipment to its destination in Orlando. It was lost over three weeks now, including the long Thanksgiving weekend, and due to the delay the shipper cannot get it to Orlando by the Friday deadline.  Panic time for the customer! Fortunately, my brother’s company, Apple Awards, is great on customer service. He was on the phone most of the afternoon arranging alternate delivery by me, Apple Awards business blogger and emergency delivery driver.

I’m putting the “crazy train” details (my brother’s name for the operation, although no train is involved) down here so the husband has something to help him keep it all straight. It’s a little complicated but makes sense when you study it.

Step 1. Drive to airport in Orlando FL and take a flight to Memphis TN (about 6 hours)

Step 2. Pick up rented mini-van and drive to freight warehouse (eh, hopefully 1 hour)

Step 3. Load precious cargo and drive to Orlando to deliver (let’s say 13 hours minimum, and I can add sleep time if I need to)

Step 4. Turn in mini-van at airport in Orlando and drive home. (3 hours at most)

See, it’s only 4 steps and really quite simple. I think it’s the fact that it was all conceived and arranged in a couple of hours that makes it remarkable. Tomorrow I am on my way, and for once all I need is a backpack, because it will all be over in less than two days.

It’s an ideal mission for me since I love to drive, and I actually do like mini-vans for the most part. Stay tuned for my “mission debriefing” post, and if you are one of my praying readers, I’m asking for friendly skies and clear roads please.

The Work of Flying Home

It’s a sad way to end a vacation, but I’ve had a headache for over 24 hours now. Nevertheless, today the husband and I are traveling home by air. I have a new phone with a “learning curve” involved. I am flying on an airline with an unfamiliar app.  I am set up for disaster at worst, awkwardness and embarrassment at the least.

At the bag drop, I tried to pull up the boarding passes. I hate looking like someone who doesn’t know how to operate my devices when other people are waiting and looking (and my head is pounding) but clearly that was me.  The husband and I stepped away to figure it out. Our second pass in front of the same attendant was no better because even though I had found the boarding passes, they didn’t have barcodes on them. “Go print at the kiosk” she ordered.

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In my opinion, this app needs serious tweaking.

The first kiosk I stood at for several minutes had an “Out of Order” sign on it that I didn’t notice at first. The second kiosk refused to scan my passport and trapped me in a vicious circular message of how to do what I was already doing without success. The third kiosk also would not scan my passport. The attendant, who had been watching, came over to see what I was doing (to help the elderly, confused woman who obviously was having trouble and about to pound on the machine). She said to type in my name and forget the passport. Out popped the boarding passes, of course. We checked the bag.

Next, we entered the security check area behind an Asian family, non-English speakers, who were having an  interesting difficult time understanding what to do.  The grandmother left her carry-on bag on the floor in front of me and tried to walk through the metal detector. I called out to her and she grabbed it and tried to pull it through the metal detector with her. Didn’t work. She was sent back to put it on the x-ray belt, along with her coat which the TSA person had to nearly take off her before she understood what to do. On the other side she walked off with her suitcase but I had to chase her down and give her the coat. It was so distracting. I also had to remove my boots with their big zippers before I could go through and retrieve all my stuff.

One of my most important jobs is keeping an eye on the husband as we travel, presumably together, but often yards apart. If he falls too far behind I wait for him so he doesn’t get lost. I am quicker at reading signs and hearing what others are telling me to do, so he naturally lets me do the navigating. Do I always do a good job of this? No.

Next, the husband and I found a seat in the waiting area by the gate. All seemed well until we began to be surrounded by families with babies and toddlers. I counted at least 10. Don’t get me wrong – I love children, but I know how much they don’t like to sit in a plane for three hours. My headache intensified.

Two hours later, somewhere flying south, as the babies began to cry and the parents began to plead I finally decided to take some Migraine Formula Excedrin. I zipped up my down jacket, which had been serving as a pillow, and put it over my head. It was nice in there. Dark, warm, quieter.

After arriving in Tampa, the remaining tasks were getting our checked bag, getting to economy parking, and getting out of economy parking. Nothing went horribly wrong but there were glitches. My whole point is that traveling is an adventure with challenges. From purchasing the right tickets, to finding one’s way through the airport labyrinths, using technology, devices and their apps, keeping track of traveling companions and their needs, managing your own comfort, and ending up in one piece at your final destination – it is a job, on its own right.  Do I get paid for this?

Something mildly crazy happens almost every time I fly.  How about you?

The Birthday Blessing

November is the birth month of  both my mother and my father, who is now deceased. Last week the family was missing him and reminiscing about the birthday rituals in our past… The story of the birthday blessing needed to be refreshed, and here it is. 

 

It was 1961. Sunday mornings were undoubtedly stressful for the mom – how could they not be with four little boys to dress. It would be comparable to the circus act where the man balancing spinning plates on the tops of poles, would have to keep rushing back to give the first plate another spin before he got the last plate up and balanced. A completely dressed child would spill something on his shirt, an uncomfortable shoe would be kicked off and forgotten, a squabble would break out and hair would be mussed up, someone would discover a missing button, or perhaps escape outside and find some dirt. Fortunately the oldest, a girl, had learned to dress herself pretty well and even helped with the boys on occasion. It was somewhat safer when all were in the car, but even then… who would get to sit in the front seat on the way to church?

The small white church on the corner lot was where the family had worshiped for the last two generations. Mom and Dad had met there when they were teens. For decades life had revolved around the weddings, funerals, potlucks in the church basement and “youth group” activities. The wide “foyer” (such a funny word) was up a flight of cement steps and through double doors. The bathrooms and classrooms and kitchen were down the stairs to the left. Coats were hung on rods on the long wall which was bisected by another set of double doors with glass panes. These doors were often shut to guard the sacred quiet of prayer or teaching, but were wide open if service had not yet started.

Inside the sanctuary were two sections of wooden pews (another funny word for long benches with arms at the ends). A wide center aisle and narrower side aisles led up to the front of the church where the organ was on the far left next to another door going to the basement, and the piano on the far right. The raised stage was small, only having room for a podium for the speaker, and a short half wall behind which the choir sat. A door on the right side of the stage opened to a small room, where the pastor supposedly constructed his sermons, but most of the children knew it as the place where they waited nervously for their part to come in the Christmas program.

Most Sundays the children would enter, walk up to one of the first pews on the right and slide into place on the smooth wood. They would sit, not still, but sit, as the Sunday school superintendent (often their grandfather) would open the service with a welcome and some songs from the small chorus book. Their mother was often playing piano or organ. Their friends were usually sitting close by so the whispering and giggling would start. Big sister often got to sit with her best friend, but the boys needed to be monitored a little more closely.

Reading scripture was always a part of the opening. Better yet were the times when the “super” would give the Bible reference and have everyone compete to see who could find it first and get to read the scripture out loud. Announcements were given, an offering was taken (often by their father who was an usher), and then, “Who has had a birthday this week?” The honored ones were invited up to the front where a birthday offering was put in the little wooden church bank – coins to equal the age.  A jar full of new pencils would be brought out, if the birthday child was old enough to choose one for themselves. Then the congregation would be led in the birthday blessing.

“Many happy returns, on this, the day of thy birth

May blessing and sunshine be given,

And may the dear Father prepare you on earth,

For a beautiful birthday in heaven.”

It was memorized. There were no bulletins, no screens with words, no theater lighting or electric instruments. There were only families together with their God, doing Sunday school and church, worshiping, fellow-shipping, having birthdays and feeling blessed. And for those younger people, the words were said with little idea how meaningful they would become as time progressed.

 

Rain-R-Shine PVC Cement

After my last cement post I got requests to write about mortar, and grout but in writing as in life, you don’t always get to choose. Sometimes the subject chooses you.

 This morning, getting ready for the day, I turned on the bathroom faucet and nothing came out. This always is cause for alarm because we have a complicated water system with a deep well and a submersible pump way down there somewhere. A leak anywhere in the house or outside the house causes the system to shut down to save the pump. The leak has to be found and fixed or we have no water, and our renter in the next house has no water because we are on the same system.

For years I have had the rule that the woman of the house does not take care of the water system. The husband is a physicist, which is like a science expert and the water system needs an expert because it is a chemistry nightmare. I stay away from it. But I needed water so I started hunting for the leak.

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The culprit leak, white sand and mud bubbling up from the depths.

I found it out in the yard. There was a big puddle for a clue. Oh funny, it was right where the cement truck had made a big rut while backing up.

I knew this was going to be my next project.  I do kind of understand the pipes, valves and spigots that are all over the place and I am the person in our family most likely to survive digging and bending over a hole without serious back injury. I have never subscribed to the “learn one new thing every day” mantra because I prefer doing things I know how to do already, but an occasional new thing keeps life interesting. Doing this new thing would save me money – that’s what it’s all about.  This girl can fix a broken pipe.

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Oh yes, it works even when the parts are wet.

I found the broken pipe down at the bottom of the hole that I dug. A trip to the hardware store and a couple of conversations with the plumbing guys made the job sound pretty easy.  The plan was to saw out the broken part of the pipe and attach couplings and an adjustable repair thingy. The new parts had to be glued on and the primer and glue were the special ingredients to this recipe.

I’m happy to say it went well when we turned on the water to test it. I feel pretty confident about PVC gluing now and can hardly wait until the next irrigation leak. I’m not an expert plumber yet but I did good on this project (I’m also quite experienced with toilets, but that’s another story or two, or three.).

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My fuzzy photo of finished pipe repair. I got a little messy with the blue glue. Wanted to make sure there was enough of it.

Oh Cement

I don’t think I’ve ever written about cement before. You might not think you have any interest in cement, and believe me, I didn’t either. But I feel smarter about it now, and you can never tell when being smarter about cement will come in handy.  Anyway, it’s part of my life and I have to write to relieve the tension…

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Gravel was my temporary fix for these sections that had to be removed.
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Who would have thought these two smooth, patches would be so much trouble? Who?

 I’ve spent a lot of time this week trying to get cement to replace the gravel patches in the driveway. I drove into a couple yards where I saw cement trucks and big piles of sand coming and going, but evidently regular people like me do not just come into these places and order a few yards of cement. In one there was no office, only huge trucks honking at me to get out of the way. In the other, there was an office but the person there had no idea what prices were or whether my project was something they would stoop to do.

I finally called a contractor, one whose ad said no job was too big OR too small. Most people would have done this first, I know. The initial quote for the work was $1200, just from my description of it, adjustments to come with the final proposal. I don’t think he was talking about adjusting it down. I am so tired of everything costing in thousands of dollars. Whatever happened to hundreds? I keep hoping to save money by doing some of the work myself which is why I don’t call contractors except as a last resort.

My friend who was pressure washing the house (it’s a Florida thing), heard me gasping about the price, and immediately started talking me into hiring his cousin instead. “We do it tomorrow, if you like. Less than that, and we do it tomorrow.” And to be truthful, it was good to hear that it would cost less, but hearing that it would be done tomorrow was the clincher. I cancelled the other contractor and hired Higinio.

When people are trying to help me get jobs done at a good price, I always end up feeling sorry for them when unexpected things come up. I think it took a little longer than they had anticipated for them to remove all the gravel that had been put in the holes. Under the gravel were huge tree roots, the troublemakers that had ruined the previous cement, and they had to be chopped out. I wish I could say they had some handy machines to help them, but no, it was muscles and an ax. They worked nearly a whole day prepping for the cement, which was due to come at 5 pm, only to find it delayed until the next morning. In addition to feeling sorry for them sweating all day in the heat, now I had to feel sorry for them coming back another day.

At 9 am a huge truck was waiting at our drive. I held my breath as it maneuvered down our narrow drive and through our yard, backing up to the holes. It was interesting to watch the truck combine everything on site and slide it into place. Interesting also to watch how the men floated it, troweled it – all those things that they do to make it look good. The holes were filled, the tools were washed off, and the truck was pulling away. It was then, making a tight turn that the wheels ran off the cement drive and cracked it in a brand new place. I heard the pop and saw the edge sink, along with my hopes of not spending too much money on this job.

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The last minute disaster, entailing another couple hours of hard work.

And then I felt sorry, because the men had to saw away the broken edge of the drive, remove the concrete chunks, build a form, place the wire and mix 11 sacks of Sak-crete by hand to do the repair. Oh cement, you are so much work.

It is now done. One more job crossed off the list in getting the oneacrewoods ready for sale.  It ended up costing what the original contractor had bid but was done much sooner. It was good to learn about mixing cement by hand – actually not too hard, kind of like mixing pancake batter. I think I could do small cement projects if I had to…  if I could lift the 80 lb. sacks of Sak-crete.

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Oh cement, you are so much work.

Being in Poverty: An Amazing Night

By God’s design, I am pretty sure, three young homeless men have come to live in our house. I don’t know why, but I am learning. 

It was an amazing happening, there in the dining room around the table. I never would have imagined it.

One of the young men had come in after a day of work very depressed and anxious. He had driven Uber until 3:30 am that morning,  had fallen asleep and nearly missed his wake up alarm for his day job. He was mentally depleted and close to having an asthma attack. I tried to get him to calm down and eat something, go to bed. He kept talking and rehearsing his dilemma.

The two other guys arrived about that time and heard what was going on. They jumped in with their own brand of cheerleading/encouragement. Words, stories, lots of “bro this” and “bro that”, and finally A, who hadn’t really told me much about his feelings about God or faith, said to D, “Bro, do you want to pray about it?”

“Yes, I pray” D said. He wasn’t expecting it to happen right at that moment, but A walked over, sat down and took his hand. J took another side of the table. There was one side left so I sat down and joined them. J started praying, talking to God very sincerely for a good five minutes. Tears were coming down D’s cheeks when the prayer was done.

They talked some more, to the point where there was something to laugh about. I could tell D was feeling better. They were all having something to eat. J was pointing out that all three of them had hard things in their stories, but they were still there in spite of those things and that they were being given another chance. Why not take it? They all had children to live for and people who would be devastated if they gave up.

I felt so included in their story, and so a part of their camaraderie. I said to them, “We are all adults here, and even though I am much older than you, I don’t mind if you call me Shirley instead of Miss Shirley.” There were looks of disbelief on three faces.

“But that’s a sign of respect, and if my Mama knew I called you anything but Miss Shirley I’d be in trouble no matter what my age!” one of them said. The consensus was that they were going to call me what they were used to calling me and it was going to be Miss Shirley.

That got them talking about how they each had not wanted to stay with us in our home – just because it had seemed so uncomfortable at first. But the misery of living in their cars had been great enough to drive them to accept. I realized how uncommon it is to move into a stranger’s house, and especially a stranger from another racial background. This is not something that very many of us ever do.

What a gift I was given, to listen to their unguarded conversation about their life, their culture, and their feelings. I don’t get this kind of experience very often and I’m giving God the credit for it. It was pretty amazing, just sayin’…

Being in Poverty: Post 2

J had cautiously “moved in”. I don’t think he trusted that we were willing to let him have the room because it was just weird. His culture, his background was so different from ours. Why would we do that? That is exactly what he asked me one night when we invited him to share our meal. “How do  you love people so much?”

I hate being caught off guard by questions like that. I kind of know why I do what I do, but I’m never sure if that’s the most helpful answer. It’s not just because I can offer help, but because something stirs my heart and mind to do it. I know I’ve prayed to feel the right kind of love for people I encounter (because, frankly, I don’t have it, yet) so when I’m given an opportunity to act, I take it as an answer to that prayer. I’m being taught. I think what J wanted to hear was that I had a personal interest in him, not that I was in God’s classroom.

He’s been desperately short of cash ever since he came and there have been several instances where he has asked for $10, $15, etc… for food or to put gas in the car. He’s always waiting for the check from work to show up and for some reason it gets lost and has to be reissued. It’s never timely. When it does come, we don’t really know how much it is or where it goes. Because he’s been injured on the job and is on “light duty” with frequent time off for doctor and therapy appointments, it’s probably not much.

We three, me and my cousin and his wife, were in the car ready to back out of the garage. I was taking them to the airport for their flight north and had plans to drive on to North Carolina, alone, to visit my daughter. Goodbyes were said, and to my surprise J asked me to come back in the house for a moment. My cousin said “He’s going to ask you for money”. Very possible, I thought. But when I went in, J simply gave me a hug and said “I love you.” That was it. It was a very good send off and I’ve thought about it a lot since.

The tables have been turned and I’m questioning “How can he love people like me so much?” Class is in session. More to come…