Monday, December 21, 2009

At Last

Things are changing. Despite the running around I have to do in the next few days for Christmas and the preparations I have to do in the next few weeks for Baby, I feel free!

I just taught my last four piano lessons of the year. I will not resume lessons until March. This past weekend, I played organ for the last time in church and directed the bell choir for the last time. I will not resume either of these activities until March. My time is now my own until Baby arrives.

And, even more exciting, Erich finally finished the semester from H-E-double-hockey-sticks last week. Not only that, but he has maintained his 4.0 GPA. I'm so proud of him, yet I'm even more delighted at the fact that I finally have him back! He's already been able to put much more energy toward household projects than he has in months. His office is closed between Christmas Eve and New Years Day, so he effectively gets to enjoy a bit of a staycation to finally (maybe?) finish the shower he started rebuilding several months ago. He can help me put together baby furniture--finally! We can relax and enjoy our final holiday season together as a family of two. I'm so very excited.

On Wednesday, I will be 37 weeks pregnant. Though this is technically considered "full term," my brain knows better than to expect a birth before the official due date on January 13. But the more ungainly and uncomfortable I become, the more I'm hoping for that tax break 2009 baby. I don't have fear, I'm not nervous, I'm just ready. Emotionally ready, anyway. My patience is greatly helped by the freedom of the next few weeks. I need this time to really ready the nest, but I still need to work on that ever-so-important virtue: PATIENCE!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Piano Saga

One of the first big purchases I made after getting married was my very first piano of my own. As a piano teacher, I knew I'd need an instrument to teach on, and I really needed an instrument to practice on as well!

I did a lot of research and went out shopping a few times, and I eventually settled on a new Nordiska from an out-of-the way shop in a tiny south suburb. This shop was owned by Steve, a piano technician, and his wife. I had gotten a very strong endorsement from a trusted mentor-type, and I was pleased with my purchase. It included two free tunings and delivery. Nice!

I got this piano in the late Fall of 2007. Over the following Winter, I noticed a few problems. Actually, Erich was playing around a little bit, working his way through an adult beginning piano method book for fun. When he pressed one of the keys, I noticed it would trill a little bit. (I later learned this is called a "double blow.") I thought it was his untrained touch. But when it started double blowing when I played, and on more and more keys, I got concerned. It also happened all the time with my students. Fed up, I called Steve. He told me he would come look at it but that it was probably a problem with how it was being played. This excuse raised a red flag for me, since pianos are meant to be played softly as well as loud, and though I'm not a professional concert pianist, I think I have enough decent technique that it can't have been my fault. Moreover, this problem never happened in the shop when I played it for over half an hour!

So Steve came, adjusted a few keys but expressed reticence to tamper with the action too much since there would be sacrifices in sound or something. It was better for a little while, then got bad again. My desire to practice at home was squelched, and I had to apologize continually to my students when the piano would not behave for them.

Around April, the weather warmed up, the humidity increased, and the piano seemed to cure itself. Aha! We had a humidity problem! The following Fall, when it started happening again, I called Steve and asked about a Dampp-Chaser. He told me he'd love to sell me one and that it would definitely be good to have, but it's really expensive and I would be just as well off with a big humidifier from a hardware store. He was right! As long as we kept the humidity level above 45% or so, the piano would behave (for the most part). There were added benefits as well--no more shooting lightning bolts across the room or sinus discomfort from dryness. I really appreciated Steve's honesty about the humidifier!

As you know, we moved this past Summer. I had the piano moved by professionals and waited a few weeks for the piano to get used to its new environment. And then, I am embarrassed to say, I kept putting off getting it tuned. I couldn't decide who to call as I had already used my two free tunings, and I didn't want to continue using Steve since he was based so far away. So finally last week, unable to ignore the tuning problem any longer, I finally called the local tuner I had been recommended years ago and whose name I would give my students' parents. Art was able to come this morning.

He got going with the tuning, but after a while, he started muttering under his breath and called me over. There was a piece, a wooden strip called a "let-off something-or-other" (okay, not his exact words, but I'm not a piano technician) that was cracked. He discovered it because he couldn't understand why some of the keys were bouncing weirdly. He told me in his 30 years of working on pianos, he's never encountered this before. Well, I'm so glad my piano can be the first! He tried gluing it, but about 20 minutes later, I heard some frustrated muttering again. It was broken clean in half and he would have to fix it at his studio.

Turns out, he knows Steve (I can't imagine the Chicagoland piano technician crowd is that extensive) and understood the piano would still be under warranty. But he is taking it upon himself to fix the problem, figuring it would take weeks if I went through Steve. He removed the entire action (pretty much everything the between the keys and the strings) and will fix it up there, and bring it back here. Name that quote!

I explained to him a little bit of my history with this piano. He seemed very frustrated on my behalf. He said Steve should have been able to adjust it, and there is nothing wrong with the way I played it! He said no change of weather should alter the instrument that much. He's found the problem and is confident he'll be able to fix it but apologized that it might not be ready till Monday or Tuesday. No problem with me; I'm glad it's finally getting fixed!

Before I got a chance to ask, he told me on his way out that I will not have to pay for this--he's sending the bill to Steve!

Friday Five: 12/18

Morning Routine!

1. What time do you usually wake up on weekdays?

Anytime from 7:30-9:30, depending on what I have to do that day.

2. What about weekends?

Saturdays, usually between 8 and 10, again, depending on what I plan to accomplish. On Sundays, if I'm the organist that weekend, I get up between 6:30 and 6:45. Otherwise, it depends on which church service I have to be at!

3. What do you eat for breakfast?

Lately, usually cereal, sometimes a bagel. I really love egg and cheese on a bagel or toast, but I haven't done that in a while.

4. Do you take a shower at night or in the morning?

"Morning." But if the first thing I have to be out of the house for is afternoon piano lessons, sometimes it's in the afternoon.

5. How long does it take you to get ready?

Drawn-out morning with shower, then breakfast and reading blogs, and eventual make-up and hair-drying: up to a few hours. Usual morning with no time in between bathroomly tasks: about an hour. Early morning with shower: as short as 30 minutes, especially if I don't blow-dry. Early morning without shower: 15-20 minutes.

It takes sooooo much longer to get dressed with this giant bump. It's so awesome when my aim is good on the first try with undies and pants.


And now you are all extremely edified. You're welcome!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It Worked!

Get back up off the floor. Yes, I know I'm blogging for the second time this month after two months off. It's okay!

Anyway, my problem from last week seems to have been resolved. For a few days, I really fretted because I hadn't heard back from the mom. Then, sometime over the weekend, I decided to stop expending emotional energy on the whole deal. By today, I figured she either didn't get the email or read it and didn't have a major problem with it. We've never had awkward situations like this before, and even though I would do many things differently than she does, I think we're both interested in keeping the peace. Despite the respect issue, she is pretty supportive in general.

Without any hard proof, it seems like the latter was the case: email read, no problem. Today, she had the complete stack of books. We had pleasant interactions, and things just felt like they were back on track with me in charge of what gets taught. It's hard to describe, but the feeling was palpable. Everything's going to be okay, and I don't think I have to worry about losing these students. There was even a rare appearance from the dad, who thanked me for everything I do. Well! Thank you!

So, I'm in a good mood now, and rather proud of myself for standing my ground. If I had stewed a few more days, I probably would have just dropped it and tried to move on in my inferior position. But this way is much better. :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I am not your cleaning lady

No matter what I do, it seems there will always be people out there who see their piano teacher as someone who simply performs a service. Most of my students' parents are pretty good and understanding: they know that in the absence of me, they themselves could not teach their kids how to play piano. But some just see me as the cleaning lady, someone who will do their dirty work for them and to whom they can issue instructions and expect things to be done their own way. I had an encounter this week, similar to one I've had in the past, which made me feel so disrespected that I just couldn't stand for it.

Unfortunately, this puts me on dangerous ground. As of last April, I had 18 students. I started this school year with 15. Two dropped out for volleyball season and haven't returned. Two more just dropped last week because of distance and schedule restraints. One dropped a few weeks ago inexplicably, though I suspect that she is overwhelmed by middle school, as many of my students seem to be. One stopped early in the school year because I wouldn't come to their house any more and the mom just couldn't handle driving ten minutes to my house. I picked up one new student. And I have another who is taking this month off because she made the cheerleading squad. Her mom, the best and most understanding of them all (and a school teacher to boot), promises she'll be back, and I believe her.

If you're keeping track, that leaves nine students at the moment, exactly half of the number from last Spring. So from a monetary perspective, I don't want to be in a tiff with the mom of two more students, one of whom is now in sixth grade and losing interest fast. My maternity leave could very well sound the death knell, and then I'll be down even more students.

But I have my integrity! And this mom, while very friendly, has consistently treated me like the hired help. Her daughter originally took piano lessons with my former roommate, who taught at a commercial music school during college. When this friend decided to stop teaching, I took on this girl as well as her younger brother as a beginner. A lot of time has passed, and I am clearly not a college student, but I think this mom still sees me as a student-type or brand new teacher. I question why she finds it worthwhile to pay me so much to have her kids in piano lessons when it doesn't seem valued at all. To this mom, things aren't worth doing if they're not SUPER FUN! or at least not too hard for the kids. I think "healthy challenge" isn't in her vocabulary. She's the type who seems to be to her kids a friend first and a life coach/mom second. Basically, she's a good example of who I don't want to be as a mom.

Each week with these kids is like a black hole of chaos in my teaching schedule. Even though the kids are 11 and 9, they never bring their own books to their lesson or make any effort to know what they have to practice. They are both so energetic and unfocused, it takes me forever just to get them to sit down and play their songs. And mom just goes ahead and does everything for them. And if they have a day off school, it's an automatic break from lessons. Because it's a day off! It's a time to go have FUN!

Enough background. Yesterday, these kids came for their first lessons back after two weeks off (because there's sooo much going on and it's just soooo hard to reschedule!), and the mom brought only a collection of Christmas books for them to work on. They each have a lesson book and a theory book as well as a third book from the same curriculum, which gives their lessons structure. At this time of year, Christmas songs are extra. But this mom unilaterally decided that what's fun about piano is playing Christmas songs and "with everything going on," she just wanted me to teach them how to play the Christmas songs they like. No discussion, just railroading, all while acting sickly sweet and friendly. She talked down to me and never let me finish a sentence. I was a bit surprised and highly insulted. She may have been able to tell, but I don't think she believed it mattered.

I could tell that no matter what I tried to say, she was going to refuse to even bring their lesson books to their next lesson. I fumed over this for the rest of the evening, and when I got home, I wrote this email:

Hi [Rude Lady],

I felt like we weren't communicating very well this evening, so I hope you don't mind if I clarify a few things over email. I'd like your thoughts as well, as I'm not sure if we're seeing eye-to-eye just yet.

I did feel a bit railroaded by your announcement that you would like [girl] and [boy] to work on Christmas songs only. With you leaving their other books at home, I felt I had no say in the matter, which makes me feel disregarded and disrespected as their teacher. I am all for them playing songs they enjoy, but I always prefer to start from a foundational approach. Their lesson books serve the purpose of teaching them to read music and play with more skill, which in turn makes the "fun" songs easier and more enjoyable.

One great thing about piano lessons is how flexible they can be compared to classes in school because of the one-on-one nature. I think you'll agree I've always been very flexible! But I really would have preferred discussing this matter ahead of time rather than having it thrust upon me at their first lesson in three weeks.

[Paragraph with details of each kid, conceding the girl's waning interest and my willingness to focus on one song at a time with her, and respectfully asking her to send the boy's books with him since he practices a lot and has a lot of interest.]

Bottom line: the structure of their lesson book curriculum make the fun songs more rewarding. I appreciate your efforts in working with me to make sure [girl] and [boy] get everything they can out of piano lessons. Let me know what you think or if there's something missing here that I hadn't considered.

Thanks,

Susan

Unfortunately, I've never actually exchanged emails with this woman, so I'm not sure if she'll get it. But talking on the phone just wasn't an option. The more I think about this, the more I realize that I don't care whether they quit or not. If not, I keep getting their money. If they do quit, my weekly headache is gone. I've never advertised, so if it comes to that, I can do it. I've bent as far backwards as I'm willing to go, so I'll just see where it goes from here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Picture Unclear


You know these puzzles, where everything's scrambled but you can only move one piece at a time until you get everything in order?

Yeah, that's what my life feels like right now. Most of the time it's a fun challenge, but other times I start to wonder whether I'm just doing the same five moves over and over again and whether I'll ever finish.

In many ways, Erich and I complement each other extremely well, but, as I know I've said before, one thing that doesn't work out so perfectly is both of our tendencies toward procrastination. We're currently finding ourselves in a situation where we have to get a huge list of things done in a relatively short amount of time, so we have to kick our organization up into high gear. If getting ready for a baby didn't involve the physical rigors of pregnancy, this might be a bit easier, but never let it be said that I won't take the bad with the good!

We moved in early June, when I was about eight weeks pregnant. Now, I know I would have been slow to unpack even at my most vivacious, because I really hate moving and packing up and moving was exhausting, and living in a new house is overwhelming. But the stress of the first trimester meant I was even more exhausted than usual, needing at least a nap every day and feeling like a zombie regardless. As the exhaustion of the move wore off, we started to get discouraged about how much there was to do with the house, and how our priorities had to change. For example, the A/C stopped working and we had to decide when to get that fixed. (Luckily, it looks like we can put that off till next year.) Then Erich went to do a "simple" (haha) re-grout job on our downstairs shower and discovered mold. That shower is now demolished and we're thinking we could/should just redo the whole bathroom since we also hate the wallpaper. Luckily the toilet, sink/vanity and lighting are all new and fine.

Meanwhile, outside of the bathroom drama, which has extended to our upstairs bathroom as well with re-caulking, leaks, and an ornery toilet, we absolutely have to get our baby's room ready. It's currently set up as a guest/junk room. Even though Lily will probably sleep in our room for a few weeks or months, we need to get her room ready before she's born. But I can't do her room before I have places for the stuff that's in there! And here enters the puzzle. This is what I've been doing and plan to continue doing:

  1. Organize all basement clutter into laundry room (in progress, going well)
  2. Empty second bedroom of all non-baby-related items and throw away, give away, or integrate into organized laundry/storage room (in progress)
  3. Uninstall shelves from second bedroom closet, move or store elsewhere
  4. Patch holes from shelves and paint closet interior
  5. Purchase and install new closet organization system

While this is happening, Erich will be doing the following:

  1. Select and purchase tile, shower pan, and fixtures for shower
  2. Remove wallpaper, patch drywall where necessary
  3. While we're at it, remove horrible wallpaper from upstairs entryway, prime and paint everything
  4. Install durock, cement, etc. to studs for shower
  5. Install tile and fixtures, replace floor and ancient light switch
  6. DONE. Easy, right? (Riiiight.)
Back to the baby's room:

  1. Paint
  2. Move queen bed to basement as temporary guest quarters for live-in help with newborn
  3. Magically come up with baby furniture, assemble and arrange
  4. Purchase and install closet doors
  5. Supply baby
Meanwhile, we also hope to replace the carpet in the living room/dining room, master and second bedrooms with a hardwood laminate. It seems to make the most sense to do this before baby's arrival.

Baby's due in three and a half months. Erich is remodeling a bathroom while balancing a full-time job and two grad school classes. I plug along as much as I can, but I'm already feeling encumbered by my rapidly increasing size. We may be crazy to try to get so much done, but our motivation level is very high. We can do it!

(And if anyone wants to help, you know, we'll gladly accept. We're not too proud for help, oh no indeed!)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wedding Memories: The Aisle



Seating of the grandmothers...



The mothers...



And the nearly 2-year-old unofficial flower girl, accompanied by daddy.

She did not relish this role and sought refuge with Mamalaine. Her momentary howls were heard in the back.



I still blame the scratchy dress and the confusion of the day.

Mom seated, the boys are ready!

Bring on the ladies!

Holding up well to the pressure of going first and solo.

Listening to the voice in her head telling her not to hold her flowers too high.

Walking down the aisle? Been there, done that.

Classy.


If there's ever a time in a wedding when I well up a little, it's when it's the bride's turn to walk down the aisle. My own wedding started out as no exception.



No really, I'll be okay. Spare the make-up!

Aw shucks, how can I be anything but thrilled? When I saw all the faces of 200 people I love smiling back at me, I was too happy to ruin my make-up. Besides, I had the best view:



Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wedding Memories: Here Comes the Groom

It has now been exactly two years since our wedding day. Between how long it feels and how short it feels, I suppose two years is just about right! We certainly have come a long way and been through a lot in two years. In just the last one, we had a Halloween party at our home, got pregnant again and had a miscarriage again, saved up money like crazy only to shed it all in the purchase of our first house, got pregnant a third time and now eagerly expect the arrival of our daughter in January, and went on many trips to visit family and see the world ourselves. All-in-all a bit easier year together than our first, and I can only expect each year will be better than the last!

It's also been over six months since my last "Wedding Memories" post, but I don't intend to give them up forever. So I'll just pick up right where I left off!

After I and my maids were done having our pictures taken in the church, it was time for us to disappear and make way for the men.

First and foremost, this handsome devil!

Brothers Andrew, Michael, Handsome Hubby, Paul and friend Lance. All the brothers look so different now!



Megan manned the guest book, while Donna and Phyllis (friends from the church office) prepared the informal reception for people coming to only the ceremony.

Before long, people started showing up for this:




My grandparents... and his.

As the top-notch brass quintet started to play...


It was time for me to emerge from my hidey-hole!





Sunday, September 20, 2009

Land of Port: Columbia River Gorge, Part 3

Welcome to my travel blog.

It's not really a travel blog, but that seems to be most of what I blog about these days! OH WELL. :)

What I thought might be one of the less exciting stops along the Historic Columbia River Highway ended up being one of the best and coolest. After waterfall country, we got to the Bonneville Dam.

Pretty impressive looking...

And Erich, the electrical engineer, was mildly interested in how it works.

But the dam itself really wasn't that exciting. However, the fish ladder, a system to aid the fish in their regular migratory patterns, was extremely cool. Sadly, I did not get a picture of the exterior. I know, what was I thinking?

I don't want to leave you hanging, so here's a picture I've taken from Wikipedia.org:


And HERE'S what's going on inside:

video

We stared at the fish for a while inside and outside, learned about the different types of salmon that come through, had a little snack, then continued on to the fish hatchery. I had never been to a fish hatchery before, and I was shocked and amazed at how fun and interesting it was! First we saw a video of how the actual process works, but there was nothing actually going on this time of year, so we continued to the different fish ponds.

This is Herman the Sturgeon. I think. I suspect there was also a back-up Herman in this pond who was almost as huge. Herman is about ten feet long! Big fish amaze me in a way that makes me feel like a small child.


Next we came upon the rainbow trout pond, which the signs made pretty clear were there just for fun since they don't actually hatch them there. We found 25¢ for a handful of fish food to be well worth it!

video

(This is so cliché, but I hate hearing my own voice. I wish I knew how to take out the sound.)

I'm glad we didn't see any egg fertilization or sorting or anything because this stuff was WAY cooler to see: the salmon are trying to return to their birth place to spawn! I really wish I could have taken a video, but my camera batteries were dying.


Some of them would leap over a foot out of the water right into those wooden planks! That was sometimes startling but always mesmerizing.



This was a bit further back. Though some fish would take the flying leap to get up to this level, many of them were forced back because there was such a backlog of fish trying to get past the final barriers. Hilariously splashtastic!

From the dam, we went to the town of Hood River. We stocked up on some provisions at Safeway and decided we had waited long enough for dinner. Our Central Daylight Time tummies were hungry for dinner early! Hood River has a lot of wineries and breweries, and the National Geographic guide suggested Full Sail, so we went in search of it. Unfortunately, our GPS failed us here: it seemed unaware of any Full Sail brewery in Hood River. Weird. We went looking blindly and nearly gave up when there it appeared in all its glory! The pub portion of the brewery had a stunning view of the Columbia River, which nearly rivaled the gastronomic experience upon which we were about to embark!

I haven't missed beer too much during my pregnancy, for which I am very thankful. But in this instance, I really wanted to be allowed to order a pint. Though I don't get uptight about taking tastes, I won't actually have an entire drink, so I begrudgingly ordered a Diet Coke (a little caffeine, a little aspartame--well, no one's perfect). Erich ordered the pale ale, described as a "godlike nectar" on the menu, and I chuckled at this. Then I tasted this pale ale and found the description to be quite accurate. YUM.

When our food finally came, we had our second amazingly delicious and fully satisfying meal of the day. I ordered the fish and chips: Alaskan halibut, session lager-battered. The word "amazing" gets overused far too often these days, but it's so appropriate for this meal. I might also throw out the word "foodgasm." I even really liked the cole slaw, and I'm not a big cole slaw eater. Erich enjoyed his burger and his second beer, and I gladly took the keys and booked it out of Hood River to make it to Mt. Hood. We knew it would be nearly dark by the time we got there, but we couldn't get that close to the mountain and not actually see it. It was indeed nearly dark, so we didn't get out of the car or take pictures. But we've now seen Mt. Hood!

We completed the rest of the loop in the dark and got to our hotel nice and late, completely wiped out from our long and adventurous day. Yay, Portland!

P.S.: I loved the flowers at the hatchery:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Land of Port: Columbia River Gorge, Part 2

Have I iterated enough just how much we loved our trip to Portland? It made a wonderful early second anniversary celebration/babymoon, and it would not have been possible were it not for free Southwest flights from Erich, free Mariott points from my dad, and childlessness. Or my cousin Dennis, without whose wedding we would not have had the impetus to go at all!

After our stop at Crown Point on Friday, we continued along the Historic Columbia River Highway through twists and turns past giant trees, dramatic rock walls, and gorgeous (get it?) vistas of the river. Eventually, we came upon a waterfall, so we stopped and got out of the car. I should have taken a picture of the sign because I can't remember this waterfall's name. [ETA: Erich figured it out! It's Wahkeena Falls.]


It's a tree stump!

This plant was all over the Portland area. Any amateur botanists know what it is?

Tree had precedence.

The next place to stop on the road was the granddaddy of the Columbia waterfalls, Multnomah Falls:


All fresh and airplane-y!


View from the bridge.

Lower falls, from above.



Lost shoes!