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It has been so long since I posted. Life is returning to “normal”. In our community we are calling it the “new normal”. There are so many changes that we have to learn to accept as the norm. With the beautiful spring weather, the robins have returned, and so have many village residents. The singing of the birds combines with the hum of power tools as homeowners and volunteers continue to rebuild. I’ve learned to appreciate walks through the neighborhood again so I can view the progress.

Our downstairs is almost finished now! Duane and Brad installed all the wood trim, and some wonderful personal touches such as the door for Sandy’s under-the-stairs den. The kitchen, breakfast nook, dining room, and music room all have Tiffany-style light fixtures. The kitchen has back-splash that is reminiscent of an old metal ceiling. Both the living room and the dining room have area rugs. The new dining room furniture has arrived, (although it is not in place yet), and the donated living room couches look elegant and are very comfortable.

I am recovering, too.  I have always been rather “scatter-brained”, but now it’s worse than ever. We call it “flood brain”. I realized the other day that my memory is improving because when I needed to put a new set of checks in my checkbook, I was able to remember that after the flood I ordered new ones and had stored them in my desk upstairs. When I went to fetch them, they were there! This may sound rather simple, but I have had so many moments of not remembering where I put something, or not remembering if I still have it, or remembering something that didn’t really happen, that this event was a real victory.

There is still much work to do. The downstairs little half bath still needs a sink. I am soon going to be making a decision about a new piano and finish up the music room. Then we will have to deal with foundation work, roof work, the stairs, and the upstairs hallway. But none of this is pressing, and we will have time to enjoy our new digs downstairs. This summer I will be going through the upstairs rooms where all the flood-surviving possessions were stashed in the days after the flood to clean and organize them. We want to make room for family members to visit this summer!

The following link is about one setback in an otherwise monumental amount of work, planning, creativity, and compassion on behalf of so, so many local organizers and volunteers from near and far.

Before I end, I want to share this link to a story in the Albany Times Union. The church in the article is the one where our son JJ and his wife Kate were married in November 2010. When they celebrated their one-year anniversary and looked through their wedding album, every place in it had been hit by Irene: the church, her Mom’s house, his parents’ house, and the cute little covered bridge where some of their outdoor shots were taken. The resiliency and faith of my friends, family, and neighbors,  still moves me to tears.

1 I will sing of the lovingkindness of the LORD forever ; To all generations I will make known Your faithfulness with my mouth. 2 For I have said, “Lovingkindness will be built up forever ; In the heavens You will establish Your faithfulness.” Psalm 89


Let Me Tell You!

We continue to see progress. Today I have no school because of President’s Day, but Duane and Brad are here working on the wood trim around the windows. They started coming back last week, so most of the windows are trimmed and I can begin painting. They have made the two windowsills that face the flower garden and bird feeder very wide so I can put plants there. There is a small shelf under each of the window sills, so it will be fun to put little knickknacks there. Our local superhero,  Josh, stopped by. It is always so good to see him. He spends all his time helping our town and surrounding area recover from the flood. He told me that union workers and their journeymen are now working on the house across the street from us, and his is the fifth house they have done. There are different teams whose expertise is sheet-rocking, or taping, or painting. He is amazed at how quickly each can get the work done. He also said that there will be 15 VISTA volunteers in the area for the summer. There is another group coming in who will be canvassing the area and checking with all homeowners to see how they are in the recovery process to make sure no one is overlooked and is getting the help they need. There are so many people who are working on behalf of all of the flood victims to help us in so many ways.

Two Saturday ago, on February 3rd, my two cousins who live in the Capital District came to the house. (Their grandmother and my grandmother were sisters, which means their mom and my mom were cousins. We’re not sure if that makes us third cousins, or twice-removed, so we just call each other cousins.) They have come several times to help clean after the flood. This time they brought a very generous check from donations from members of that side of my family. It will be used to get a new piano. They also brought a beautiful set of china dishes that their childhood friend and neighbor donated. It looks as though it has never been used. I am sharing a photo of one of the plates here so you can see how beautiful and cheery the pattern is.

Last Saturday, February 10th, our first pieces of new (to us) furniture were brought in to the house. A customer of Frank’s gave us a couch and we had been storing it in our garage. When two men from the volunteer center came to help bring it in the house, they realized that it was not only really heavy, but that it was too big to fit in the front door and then turn to get into the living room. By taking off the legs, it just barely got in. If the wood trim had been on the doorways, it would not have fit. So we need to keep this couch for a very long time 🙂 Its younger, smaller cousin was brought later that day by the customer and his son, and they had no problem getting that in. And, to give an idea of what it’s like to live in small town, one of the volunteers was the pharmacist who has filled our prescriptions since our boys were little. The other helper was his cousin who had come from Michigan to volunteer for a while. His wife, Sara, runs the volunteer center at the Reformed Church in Schoharie.  There are few photos of our new couches.

Frank installed the new Tiffany-style lamp (photo included) in the breakfast nook and there is a folding table there, so we had dinner together in our breakfast nook this past week. We can’t use the range yet–a cabinet has to be moved to make room for it, and part broke when Frank was working on it (not his fault–it just broke). The dishwasher has to be plumbed in, so those two appliance make a bit of an obstacle course in the middle of the kitchen. But we can use the beautiful counter tops, the fridge, the microwave, and our sink in the utility room to prepare food. The propane company came, and all the baseboard heaters that Frank installed now are giving us heat, so we are spending more time in the downstairs. I am so thankful for every step in the rebuilding and recovery process.

Our family is continuing to build in another way, too. This past Tuesday, the evening before Valentine’s Day, our youngest son Nathan proposed to very vivacious and talented Chelsea, presented her with a ring, and she accepted! She is an actress, so there will be some time and planning before a wedding date can be set. We are so happy to welcome her into the family and to get to know her parents and brothers as well.

I just have to keep thanking God for His provision and care for us and for so many people with tender hearts who want to help in so many ways.

Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. Psalm 66:16

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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.