Monday, September 27th Update

Instead of an entry on one topic, I am going to give a few shorter updates in this one.

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=hurricane+irene+cabaret+concert+meredithmusic&nfpr=1&suggested_categories=10%2C24

This is a link to a performance from the Cabaret Concert this past Saturday night. It was a wonderful concert  given by very talented theater musicians, most of whom are friends with our family because we have all been involved with many shows, either as pit musicians, directors, or on-stage performers. There were many light, humorous songs and moments, but this one was very touching. JJ thought he was singing about the many people who have come to the aid of his family and other flood victims, but he doesn’t realize what a source of comfort and strength he has been to his dad and me since the flood. When I see the loving and sensitive man he has become despite the imperfections of his parents, I know God has answered our prayers for him. He also answered prayer by giving him Kate to be his wife. Any day now, we will be meeting their son–her due date is October 8th! He sang and played his own improvised version–I hope it blesses you, too.

Nathan played piano for most of the other performers. There was so much music to learn in such a short amount of time, and most of it was extremely difficult to play. I have mentioned before that I am both envious and humbled by his ability to play so well. He, too, has been such a blessing to us at this time, taking time from work to come help at the house, and meeting us for dinner in the city.

I am sharing some photos of the side of our house where my garden is/was. I took the first photo a day or two after the flood because it so clearly shows the high water mark. I took the second photo after the tan vinyl siding was removed, the chimney was taken down and shrubs pulled out of the front.  The third is a photo of the house at present, almost ready for the new blue siding.

I have to pull up some of the plants that are left in my flower garden to make way for the new gas tanks. This is like the outdoor version of the demolition of my house.

In the summer, I love to spend time “playing in the dirt”. It began many years ago with a few plants. I realized that growing flowers was very satisfying for me. Over the years, I have killed portions of the lawn to make room for more flower beds. I know my garden would never win any awards, and that I probably don’t do things “correctly” according to experts, but I love to putter around planting, weeding, transplanting, adding compost, pruning, and just hanging out with the flowers. I ponder the lessons we can learn about life by observing the flowers, and the realize that is why Jesus gave us so many parables about seeds and plants. Even though I have mostly perennials, each year is different depending on the weather. The soil around my house is not great, and due to the placement of the house in relation to the sun and a few large trees, most of the flower beds don’t get much sun. But I have learned to use containers and move them to where the plants are happiest. I also have a few houseplants that I put outside in the summer.

As you can imagine, after Irene, there is not much left of my garden. The force of the water and the mud it left behind have trampled the plants in my garden and almost all of the farmers’ crops in the Schoharie Valley. I know that some will grow back. The gladiolus that I planted in the spring are blooming, but they are all disheveled and look pitiful scattered among the mud-covered plants; the colorful blooms seem a feeble attempt to cheer the gloomy landscape. So much heavy muck and mud had to be shoveled out of the basement and garage, and it had to be dumped in the flower beds. Gravel, too. Most of the big planters that had flowers are entirely washed away, although the pot with my new blueberry plant landed closer to the house in the opposite direction of the flow of water, and my new strawberry planter was unmoved. A big empty half barrel landed in my yard where another planter had been, so it looks like it belongs there. The biggest loss was the palm tree that we have had since it was about eight inches high in a terrarium we received as a wedding gift from a college friend. In 32 years it had grown to be as tall as me.

I had some bird feeders in the garden right in front of the dining room window so I could see them in the morning. For years, I wished for cardinals to come to my yard. I thought it would be so wonderful to see the brilliant red against the white snow, like a warm fireplace against the cold. This past year, for the first time, I finally had the right feeder and seed to attract a pair of cardinals. It was ridiculous how happy I was to see them. This spring, a cute chipmunk figured out how to get up to that feeder, and he would fill his fat cheeks with the seed. He was so cute that I didn’t mind his pilfering, and our lab Sandy loved to track him and sometimes even found him.

In the middle of August, I took some photos of the flowers, figuring I would enjoy looking at them in January and February, when winter is really tough. The pictures would remind me that spring would come again. I will share a few of them here, in memory of my flower garden, and in hope that beauty will return to my yard and to the valley.

Something new!

I am able to report that something new is being built in my house! There has been so much destruction and demolition, first by Irene,and then by people who knew it had to be done in order to rebuild. Usually when the breaking down of walls and ceilings is being done, I go to the garage and try to keep busy. It is heart-breaking to see my house being destroyed, even when it is parts  like ceilings and lathe that I have never seen before. But for the past few days, when I come home from school, I have seen the beginning of the rebuilding process.

The first room being built is the new utility room. From now on, our furnace and hot water heater will be on the first floor instead of in the basement. And we are switching from oil heat to gas, so we don’t have to worry about the oil tank in the basement. Also, our washer and dryer will be in the utility room, so we can use the space that was our laundry room to add on to the kitchen.

Lots of prep work is going on, too. New appliances have been ordered so that we can take advantage of a rebate program in NY State for recent flood victims. Our friends Chris and Matt brought scaffolding over today to get ready for the big day when a group of Amish brothers will come and install new vinyl siding. The Lord is providing so much help in the form of gifts of food, funds, and building help and advice. We are so thankful.

New floor

Goodbye, Old Friend

I don’t exactly know when we first got our piano. I remember my mom asking me if I thought I might like to take piano lessons someday. She said her parents were offering to buy one for us if we were interested. My grandmother Loretta came from a very musical family, and my grandfather, Alfred Hanser,  would have given us anything in the world we wanted. My sister began lessons soon after the piano arrived, and I started a few years later. I was in second grade.

My teacher was Mrs. Ullman, who had been a friend of my mom’s in college. I had trouble practicing, and Mom would pull up a chair next to the the piano and help me. She’d taken lessons and could read music. If something I played didn’t “sound right”, she’d  to help me figure out what I was doing wrong and correct it. Parents take note: Mom sitting there,  listening to me practice, spoke volumes about the importance of what I was doing.

After a few years, I switched piano teachers to someone on my street, so I could walk to lessons. She introduced me to the John Thompson Method. It is still around today. Billy Joel talks about having to take lessons with that book, and he found it so boring that he began making up his own music! So I suppose in some perverse way one could call it inspiring.

My next teacher was Mrs. Sharfe. She lived near my elementary school. I would walk to her house after school for lessons. We continued with John Thompson, but she also assigned me pieces that were more fun and let me choose some that were popular at the time.  She also began teaching me to play scales, some music theory, and helped me earn my music badge for Girl Scouts.

Throughout elementary school, many of the other students were unkind to me because I was so horrible at athletics. I was always the last to be picked for a team, and the kids would call me “fat”, and some not-nice names that rhymed with Hurd. But I was told that everyone has gifts and they are different for each person,  so I figured my gift was music. I began the clarinet at the end of 6th grade. In 7th grade, I started making friends that were also involved in music. It was a wonderful change for me.

Mrs. Sharfe moved, and I was in need of a teacher. Our new priest at the Episcopal Church had a beautiful wife who taught piano lessons. I had to AUDITION to see if she would be willing to teach me. That was a scary thought, but she was so nice, and she wanted to teach me. Nancy Winterrowd was a wonderful teacher, and now that I was in high school, we had the kind of great relationship that a music teacher and student can develop over time.  She had studied at Eastman, and in Italy, and she played so beautifully. She gave me challenging repertoire to study written by real composers, told me interesting things about their lives, and insisted that I learn how to play all the major and minor scales. She also taught me a few tricks about sight-reading and accompanying that I would later need to know as a choral teacher and director of musicals.

Our piano was still in the same house in the same place in our living room. However, I was beginning to favor the clarinet. I was attending a high school with a fabulous music program; there were so many rehearsals and activities related to band, and I had a great group of friends as a result, so sitting at the piano by myself was not high on my list of priorities. Mom would bribe me: if I practiced piano after dinner, I didn’t have to do the dishes. Even so, I was woefully unprepared for lessons, and they were not much fun for either Mrs. Winterrowd or myself. But Mom said I should continue lessons because I would probably be sorry someday if I quit. Kids, take note: parents usually give good advice.

When Frank and I were married, the reception was in my parents’ home. We asked Frank’s brother Dan to sing and play piano during the reception. It was a beautiful day, and his music meant a lot to us.

Somewhere along the way, I had decided to be a music teacher. My major instrument would be clarinet, and I would train to be an instrumental teacher. My piano knowledge helped me throughout music school, of course, and in my first teaching job after college, at Cobleskill Central School, a few people began asking if I taught private piano lessons. So I traveled to their homes to teach lessons, or we met in a church where there was a piano.

When I expecting for the first time, we realized it would be so much easier for me to give lessons if we had a piano in my home. My parents and sister agreed that we could have the piano. Christopher was born a few days before Christmas, so when my parents drove up to see us after his birth, they brought the piano. But I was in the hospital and did not know they had brought it. So when I brought my newborn son home, there was my piano to greet us! I later heard (many times over the years) of the harrowing trip with the piano in a U-Haul, the car that broke down on the way, and the mechanic with the Christmas spirit.

When the boys were little, sometimes Frank and I would play music for them at bedtime. We would play Disney songs together, he on euphonium or trombone, and I on the piano. I had taught countless lessons on that piano, but Christopher had no interest in taking lessons. Ditto for Jonathan. Nathan wanted to take lessons, but he wanted to learn HIS way, not the way I wanted to teach. (I’ve learned so much about music teaching since then…) But, they began experimenting on that piano, asked a couple of questions, and used what they learned from their lessons at school on their band instruments. The Lord saw fit to gift them with amazing talent. Today, they can all do so much more that I ever did on the piano. I will refrain from bragging about my kids; suffice it so say that I am both humbled by and proud of their musical abilities and accomplishments.

I loved hearing them each of them play piano. I would be in the kitchen, and one of my sons would be playing and singing a Broadway song, or a praise song, or experimenting with chord progressions. If  my work in the kitchen was finished, I would pretend to be working to make the serenade last longer. I knew if I sat down to listen, he would stop.

I played the piano to prepare to play for worship services, or to prepare for choir rehearsals. When I was alone in the house, I would play and sing praise songs and hymns to God.

I didn’t think about it much, but I now realize that piano was my connection to all that is precious to me: my heritage, my parents, my childhood home, my husband, my kids, my vocation, and my God.

After the flood, Jonathan went to the house while we were still in Mississippi. He found the piano laying on its back, covered with mud. He and his friends set it upright before I would walk through the house, but there was no way to remove the mud or repair the damage. It was heartbreaking to see it in that condition, and a few days later, to see a big, ugly, impersonal crane that would just scoop it up with so many other muddied possessions and dump into the back of a truck. As I write this, twenty days after Irene, I can’t stop the tears when I think of the loss of my piano. Jonathan removed all the keys, and he and Kate have cleaned them, in the hopes that someone somewhere can help us make the keys into some sort of wall hanging or memento for each one who learned to play on that piano. My dear friend was murdered and then tossed aside without a proper burial, but I hope we will be able to at least have a suitable memorial for such an important part of all of our lives. Rest in peace, Old Friend.

My plan or Thy plan?

We had a plan. It sounded really great to us. This past spring, my prayers sounded something like this:
Dear God,
Please give Christopher a great job offer in June or July. He now has a job, but it is only for a year, and he started last September. So, if he gets a new job lined up, then he can give notice at his present job, and he, his wonderful wife Rashell, and their two little boys Robert and Alex can all come up to the Northeast and visit family at the end of August. Thanks and Amen.
Well, God did not make it happen. All summer, Christopher was job-hunting. Several companies were interested in him, but no offers were forthcoming. He even got to the point where he began making plans to start his own business. I worried about his finances, and his emotions, and whether we were going to have the family together this summer. I kept asking God to make this plan happen. Why wouldn’t He want our family to be together?! Why wouldn’t He want Christopher to get a job?! And yet, every time I asked God these things, I knew He was saying, “Betsy, I can see what’s ahead and you can’t. You will see why I am saying ‘no’.”
Finally, around the middle of August, Frank and I made plans to fly to see the Mississippi branch of the Meredith family. JJ and his wife Kate decided not fly as she was in her third trimester of pregnancy; Nathan could not take time away from work at their busiest time of year. But at least we would get to see our grandsons and their parents.
We traveled on Wednesday, August 24th. Christopher picked us up at the airport and told us that he had a job interview for the next day. During the next few days, it became apparent that Irene was going to cause quite a bit of trouble in the Northeast. My parents have a house at the Jersey shore, as well as one closer to Philadelphia. My brother and his family live on the other side of Philadelphia; my sister’s family lives in Maryland. All seemed to be in jeopardy based on the meteorologists’ predictions. Ironically, Frank and I were safe in Mississippi from the threat of hurricane.
We anxiously watched weather reports, consulted the internet, and touched base with loved ones. Sunday morning, as church service was ending, I began receiving text messages that flood warnings were being issued in the Schoharie Valley. As JJ and Kate were heading to higher ground, a friend texted me suggesting that JJ go to my house to put valuables upstairs. I told her that their safety was more important. Of course, she agreed. Kate asked me to have the people at church pray, and I asked several to do just that.
All afternoon, we used smart phones and computers to keep in touch with those in the Schoharie Valley. It was sounding very serious, like the historic flood of 1996. In that flood, we were evacuated, but our home was not damaged.
Sometime during that afternoon, I realized why God had not agreed to our plan. I know He was keeping Christopher’s family safe, as well as Frank and me. He was sheltering us from fear and danger.
In the days following the flood, when someone expresses surprise that we are not depressed, we can tell them that it was only things that we lost. We are so grateful that our kids and grandkids were unharmed, and we know that this flood did not take God by surprise. He is still on His throne, and He is also the Shepherd that will lead us through this time of loss and confusion.
Oh, and by the way, Christopher got TWO job offers in the two days following Irene, and has happily begun his new job.
Yes, He is still on the throne, and I hope I have learned to stop trying to push Him off of it to make room for me.

All because two people fell in love

To begin this blog, a bit of background information is in order. Frank Meredith and Betsy Hurd met in a Concert Band rehearsal at Ithaca College in September of 1977. The music school was buzzing about the new euphonium player of amazing talent and skill, but no one had told me how handsome he was! He noticed that I was staring at him, our eyes met, and the rest, as they say, is history. We were married on June 30, 1979, and Christopher was born in December of 1981. I longed for a house, so we did some shopping and one fit our budget: 124 Grand Street in Schoharie. (The number is now 146 but it’s the same house.) It was very close to Schoharie Central School, where Frank was a music teacher at the time. It needed lots of updating, but the plan was to do that room by room in the upstairs. In August of 1983, Jonathan was born, and in 1987, Nathan made our family complete. The house was not fancy, and I am not the best of housekeepers, but over the years, we have eaten dinners together, hosted gatherings of friends, played piano and various band instruments, sang, celebrated birthdays, loved our dog Honey and cat Hot Dog, did our homework, prayed, played whiffle ball in yard, and in general, raised our family in that house.
Sending each of them off to college was wrenching, and adjusting to the empty nest was tough, but Frank and I had settled into a pleasant routine. In October of 2008, we became grandparents, and a brand new chapter of our lives began. I once again longed for a house. This time, it was MY house, but neater, less cluttered, and better suited for grandkids and their parents to stay and play.
So, be careful what you wish for. On August 28, Hurricane Irene caused the flood waters to rise so high that the Schoharie Creek sent rushing muddy water through the basement, garage, and first floor of our home. In the days that followed, I experienced heartache, but also real joy and thankfulness to God for preparing me for this event, and providing for us in the aftermath.
Needless to say, we now have a major remodeling project on our hands. This blog will be good therapy for me, a way to tell others about His goodness to us, and a format for others to share in the rebuilding process with us.