Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Grand Piano Debacle

I’ve been trying to teach my niece Devon to play the piano. 

Even though I started taking piano lessons when I was 10 and continued until I left for college, I really don’t know a lot about teaching piano. 

Devon wants to be able to play a song without learning about quarter notes or timing. She gets frustrated and ends up telling me to play the song while she sings along instead. 

I remember that feeling. I have wanted to play the piano for as long as I can remember. 

One Christmas when I was five or six, I asked for a piano. I remember being bitterly disappointed at the toy piano that was sitting under the tree because I had wanted a REAL piano.

My parents finally bought me an honest-to-goodness piano a few years into taking lessons. That piano has made more moves than I have. 

It has traveled from Pittsburgh to New York to Florida. 

It has been pulled up a flight of stairs on a dolley when I moved into a second floor condo. 

It was carried out and back down the condo stairs, babied by a team of movers who took it to my new house. 

It was moved to a storage unit where it sat for several months before being moved to my townhome. 

I have come to realize that I have a strange attachment to that piano.

A few years ago, a cousin of my brother-in-law’s wanted to give my sister a 1930s-era piano. 

She didn’t have room for it so she asked if I wanted it. It looked so pretty in photos that I started dreaming of how it would beautifully adorn the space in my house. 

It was a butterfly baby grand piano, with twin lids that can be opened at angles. These pianos are smaller with just 73 keys instead of 88, to better fit in apartments and tighter spaces. 

I said I would love to have it and my brother-in-law’s cousin was generously paying $1,500 to ship it here from Atlanta.

But when I thought about getting rid of my piano, I felt strangely terrible. I cried as I pulled the music out of the bench to pack it up and I couldn’t sleep thinking of the piano being taken away. 

All the years I had played it in my childhood home kept flashing in my mind. 

So I asked my mother to keep my old piano at her house. 

She flatly refused saying she had no space for it. 

I asked my sister to consider taking my old piano for the kids to play. 

She reluctantly admitted that she has always disliked my piano. She actually said she hated my piano. She said it was ugly. 

I had to agree with her. It's a 1970s-era spinet-type that's not very attractive and not worth much now, but for some reason I couldn't stand the thought of not having it.

The butterfly piano arrived and it took the movers an hour to get the legs on it and set it up in my house. 

It was beautiful and looked lovely in my room. 

I sat down to play it. The keys had a tinny sort of sound. The pedals didn’t work that well. 

Even though I certainly don’t use all 88 keys when I play, it didn’t seem right having a piano with just 73 keys. 

The movers loaded my old piano on a dolley and wheeled it to my door toward the waiting truck. 

My palms were sweaty. I told the movers to stop. 

I took a deep breath. I told my sister I didn’t want it. She and my brother-in-law stared at me and were silent. 

Then my brother-in-law told the movers to put the lovely antique piano back on the truck and take it to their house. 

Without saying a word to me, my sister drove back to her house to clear a space for it.

Devon looked at me and started jumping up and down. 

“Is THAT piano coming to OUR house?” 

Even though she was ecstatic, I felt terrible. 

For being indecisive. 

For not fully considering all options before I agreed to it. 

For causing so much stress to my sister. 

I let the dust settle for a few days. 

Finally I called my sister and she surprisingly was still speaking to me. 

I asked how the piano was. She said it was fine and situated in a corner of her dining room. She said she had to admit that the kids loved playing it. 

These days, I play my piano only occasionally. 

During high school I played for my church, but now I play Christmas songs during the holidays and some sacred music now and again. 

I don’t practice nearly enough and I strike a lot of wrong notes when I play. But I guess I didn’t realize just what that piano means to me. 

It represents a girl's childhood dream come true. 

It illustrates that the hard work of years of practicing results in a pursuit of music I can always embrace, enjoy and find comfort in. 

More than that, my piano has weathered large portions of my life with me. It has always stood strong in every place I've lived. It's a part of me. 

Homely though it may be, my piano is beautiful and special to me. Because I don't want the music to ever stop. 

Especially at my house.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Emotional Storms

It’s the middle of hurricane season. 

It's time to keep an eye on tropical storms and waves until November, when calm returns. 

It was nine years ago in August that Central Florida was battered by three hurricanes, all in a row. 

I had just moved into my sweet new bungalow house a few months prior, but that night of the storm without air conditioning or lights, I listened to the winds of a hurricane roar around my house. The winds were loud and the house creaked and groaned and I wondered when it would stop. 

Then I heard the crack and thud of a tree falling. With a flashlight I braced the porch door open with all my strength and saw that my neighbor’s tree had crashed through my fence but thankfully missed my roof. 

That summer I felt like the storms would never end -- Charley, Frances and Jeanne -- one hurricane after the other.

Sometimes a week goes by and I feel steady, calm, unruffled. 

Work, friends and plans all unfold uneventfully. 

But other times it seems that I’m engulfed by a surge of emotions. All in just one week. 

I find myself consumed with guilt and regret over a disagreement with a friend. Then flooded with relief and gratitude when apologies are exchanged and an even keel restored. 

I'm anxious and worried about how to get rid of a frog on my patio. And then I'm ever-so-grateful for my sister and her dogs, who arrive to my rescue. 

I feel frustrated and helpless over changing a burned out lightbulb. But I find I'm appreciative of a friend’s cheerleading of my repair efforts via text. 

And I realize that it's the little things that tend to disrupt the calm demeanor I strive for. 

Like a frog, a lightbulb, a quarrel. 

As I opened the door to leave for work, I heard the plop on on my courtyard table before I even saw the frog. 

I’m pretty sure he was on my door and made a leap for it when I opened it. I grabbed the broom and he jumped. Far. 

I ran in the other direction and got in my car. I called my sister for help. I left the frog behind and went to work and she brought her dogs and kids to my courtyard. 

My nephew Nathan spotted the frog hiding behind the gutter. The dogs got to work. 

Let’s just say I don’t have to worry about that frog anymore. 

Along with four lizards. 

When I came home my courtyard looked like a hurricane hit it with dirt, leaves and pawprints everywhere. But it was very quiet. 

I was relieved.

Changing a lightbulb shouldn’t be a big deal, but when you need to put a ladder in your bathtub and stand on the top rung just to reach the light fixture, it kind of is. A big nerve-racking deal. 

For my efforts, I got a headful of plaster flakes in my hair as the lightbulb refused to come loose. I was mid-text to a friend when the lightbulb needed changed and he sent words of instruction and cheer. I felt encouraged.

Letting my words carry me away in a surge of irritability hurts the feelings of a friend. Then I feel remorseful. 

Yet too self-important to apologize. Just then. So I wait. Because emotions are temporary. They are just a reflection of my circumstances. And if I wait long enough, they will change. 

So I told her I was wrong and I was sorry and my friend graciously forgave me. I was happy.

I'd like to loosen the grip of the crazy power of emotions. 

I want to intentionally think of a friend's feelings before mine. 

I want to let go of self-absorbed thoughts to remember that my worries are not all-consuming. 

Because the choppy winds will turn into a gentle breeze again. And the crashing waves will roll quietly onto shore, lapping at the beach. 

The tumultuous times will settle down and somehow things will become calm again. 

Because when the skies clear and the sun shines again, I am looking on the horizon of my life for peaceful days ahead. They can be found somehow even in the midst of the storm clouds. 

Even if they're whirlwinds of my own making.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

An Artful Guide

It was last summer about this time that I went to Paris and visited the legendary Louvre. 

Gazing at the world's most famous works of art made me want to learn more about the stories behind each piece and the artists who created them. 

Since then I’ve been diving into books about how the art at the Louvre was acquired, the life and work of some of the artists, what the buildings were originally used for, and how it evolved into the world's largest museum. 

Before my trip, knowing it would be impossible to see everything in the Louvre, I booked a guided tour to see the highlights. 

It's open late on Fridays so I couldn't wait to spend my Friday night in Paris at the Louvre.

My mother and I stood under the Arc du Carrousel in a drizzling rain, waiting for our tour group to assemble. 

I’d heard about the long lines just to get inside so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Our group was led by Sylvie, a woman who looked to be in her 70s. We literally skipped the line as the tour had advertised, as she took us in a side entrance and we quickly went through ticketing and security. 

She instructed us to follow her closely and I wondered how hard it could be to keep up with her. 

I soon found out as she pointed the way down the first corridor and took off at a rapid clip. She walked so briskly up and down staircases and through the Louvre’s wings and hallways that at times I was practically jogging to keep up with her. 

I edged my way toward the front of the group so I could walk beside her and tried to signal to my mother to keep up with me. I told her if she got lost in the Louvre, then she was on her own. 

Sylvie walked and talked nonstop for three and a half hours. She was simply amazing.

The Arc du Carrousel was constructed in 1808.

As we approached what everyone comes to the Louvre to see, the Mona Lisa, Sylvie told us not to be disappointed. “The painting is small, a bit dark due to limited cleanings and may not be what you’re expecting,” she said. 

She was right. As I got close enough to gaze at it, it was less impressive than the massive paintings we just had seen in other rooms. 

Everyone was crowded so close to it, I didn't even try to take a photo. 

It wasn’t the most breathtaking painting I had seen that night, but I had to pinch myself to believe I was standing in front of the Mona Lisa in the world-famous Louvre.

I was surprised that the Louvre allows photography. But my camera battery unexpectedly died just as I got inside. 

I turned it on throughout the tour a couple of times when it rejuvenated for me to shoot one quick picture before expiring again. 

I only have a few photos of my night inside the Louvre. 

But maybe it's better that way since shooting photos distracts me from what I'm looking at and I had a few more minutes to study the art. 

A ceiling panel inside the Louvre.
Sylvie took us to the basement to see remnants of the fortress built in the twelfth century as the Louvre began its life. 

She took us through the various departments, giving an overview of the museum, hitting highlights as we moved along. 

I stood before some of the world’s most famous works and realized I wasn’t dreaming but I was really in Paris standing before a work of art painted centuries before.

Leonardo da Vinci's "The Virgin of the Rocks."
As we walked from one wing to the next, Sylvie stopped us in front of huge windows overlooking the Louvre’s courtyard. 

“I timed it just before dark to bring you here,” she said. “The pyramid lit up as darkness falls is a popular sight.” 

She was right. It was spectacular. I turned on my camera and prayed it would take one last photo. 

It did.

Sylvie’s expansive knowledge of art, history and religion made the tour so enlightening. I could have listened to her for hours. 

After the tour was over, I told her how much I enjoyed her knowledge. She thanked me perfunctorily in the way the French kind of have of brushing you off. 

But her energy and vibrant commentary of the Louvre was one of the highlights of my trip.

One year later, I'm still thinking about Paris and all the dazzling places yet to see there. 

I'm dreaming of a return visit to the Louvre. 

And planning another trip to Paris. With maybe a stop in London on the way. 

Because I'm sure there's a whole world of artful inspiration out there to discover. 

With a dream, a longing, an aspiration (my one word for 2013), as my guide leading the way back to Paris.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Perfect Profile

During a family vacation one summer at Niagara Falls, my mother had a sidewalk artist cut silhouettes of my sister and me. 

I was about seven and my sister was five. I remember watching the artist out of the corner of my eye, impressed with how fast he cut out the shape of my face. 

I’m not sure why my mother chose to have our silhouettes done that day because she fixed our hair exactly alike. We look practically identical. I’m not sure she even knows which silhouette is me and which one is my sister. 

She says since my hair was a little thicker than my sister’s, the bottom of my ponytail hair is thicker on paper. I'll take her word for it, but I’m not so sure. 

Those silhouettes hung on the wall of the house I grew up in, but now they adorn the walls of my house.

Silhouettes are meant to represent an exterior image of a person, but the interior of a silhouette is just a dark shadow. Without any definable features. 

I can illustrate my outside image with pearls and silvery jewelry, high heels and pencil skirts, red lipstick and Chanel bags. 

But I want the inside features of my life to be more than that. I want my life to be a representation of faith, hope and gratitude.

FAITH asks me to believe that God is working in my life even when I can’t see what's around the next corner. 

When I can't understand why what I’m going through is crucial to building my faith. 

It calls me to trust what I can’t make sense of right now, carry on even though I might not be able to unravel the reasons, and rely on God's promises to see me through. 

That strengthens my faith.

HOPE inspires me to expect the unexpected. 

To take a second look at the seemingly insignificant happenings in my day. 

To see God’s fingerprints in the occurrences of my life even when I can’t feel him. 

I can’t see the whole picture of my life with my limited perspective, but God can. And possibilities open right before my very eyes. 

That gives me hope.

GRATITUDE appeals to me to recognize God for who he is and what he is doing in my life despite the not-so-fine particulars of an everyday routine. 

Because when I thank God for what I have instead of looking over at a friend’s life to see what she has, I know it’s not about my circumstances. 

It’s about all that I’ve been blessed with. 

That makes me truly grateful.

I’m a girl who grew up in the church. Surrounded by others who were a lot like me. The path of my life has been pretty straight. But my life’s pathways always manage to intersect with those who are quite different from me. And that is good. 

My first job after college was at a daily newspaper in upstate New York. Not in the newsroom as I’d hoped using my journalism degree, but in the advertising sales department. 

I made a daily round of calls on businesses from greasy spoon diners to ladies’ dress shops to hardware stores. My colleagues were a varied and interesting group. 

On my first day, they all gathered in an empty cubicle for a smoke break. Since I didn’t smoke, I stayed at my desk, not sure if I should join them. 

But they called to me over the cubicles, “Hey! Are you a workaholic? Everybody takes a break.” 

So I rolled my chair over to sit with them while they smoked and talked. 

Every morning and afternoon, I sat primly in my chair at first, not saying much. 

But as I got to know them and learned about their families, I found they were a lot like me after all, hoping for a transfer into the newsroom someday. 

They just came from different paths and directions to get there. 

And we weren't so different after all. 

I want the shape of my life to look outward, not inward. 

Aspiring to be silhouetted in the shadow of God. 

Living a life outlined by the attributes of God. 

Tracing my steps in the contours of his love. 

I think that might be the perfect profile. For the shape of my life.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fare Fit for a Chef

Just thinking about fixing food for a chef is more than a little intimidating. 

Even though the chef is my friend Liz and she wouldn't mind what I served her, I'm an amateur. I really don't do much cooking and Liz is a culinary school grad. 

She has worked in the restaurants of Walt Disney World and filmed episodes of TV shows with cooking personality Katie Brown. 

She is a hostess extraordinaire. 

She attends to the smallest details to create a delectable dining experience for her friends. 

At her gatherings, she toasts her own pita chips, sprinkled with sea salt. She sets out little pots of homemade olive tapenade and sun-dried tomato hummus. She has a never-ending repertoire of sparkling beverages that complement her creative menus. 

Although I'm a kitchen warrior when it comes to baking, I have just one pasta recipe in my cooking arsenal that could pass as a main dish.

When Liz was in town for a visit recently, I offered to organize a get-together that included a third friend of ours. 

I gave them the option of lunch at my house or meeting at a restaurant (which I was secretly pulling for), but they both said they'd love to come to my place. 

Resisting the urge to call for take-out, I flipped through my recipe file for inspiration. 

I decided to serve a quiche filled with spinach, scallions and smoked Gouda, skewers with tortellini and fresh mozzarella, and slices of carrot bread. 

But I soon felt like I’d bitten off more than I could chew when I went shopping for ingredients the day before my lunch and the grocery store was out of scallions for the quiche. 

The produce manager suggested I substitute leeks. I wasn’t sure I even knew what leeks looked like as he pointed me in the direction of enormous-looking green onions. 

I wasn’t feeling very confident about them as I sliced, but the quiche came out of the oven with the circles of leeks nicely browned and crusty on the top. 

I filled glasses with sparkling water and a splash of cranberry-pomegranate juice, garnished with fresh slices of lime. 

I was ready for my guests.

Liz arrived harried and distressed about losing her credit card while trying to pick up a hostess gift for me on the way to my house. 

As I poured her a drink while she made a few phone calls, I suddenly realized that the afternoon wasn't about me at all or the food I planned to serve. 

It was about providing a warm welcome and a place of relaxation for my very good friends, who have often done the same for me. 

When I leave one of Liz's gatherings, I enjoy the delectable edibles, but it's her generous hospitality that I remember long afterwards. 

The afternoon spent at my house was full of girlfriend catch-up chitchat. 

Liz complimented the quiche and told me she likes leeks even better than scallions. I didn't have to serve a culinary delight worthy of a chef. 

My friends weren't expecting five-star cuisine. My expectations were self-imposed. 

I would have regretted letting my lack of culinary skills stop me from hosting my friends. The food and drinks don’t play the starring roles. 

Real-life face-to-face conversations and enjoying the company of friends are what’s worth savoring. 

And I’m discovering that food and friendship shared around the table can be a delicious feast for my soul. 

Regardless of who's cooking in the kitchen.