Monday, May 22, 2017

Cutting Strings to Sell, Donate, or Trash

Clutter is the physical manifestation of unmade decisions fueled by procrastination. -Christina Scalise, Organize Your Life and More

Now that we have decided on having an estate sale through a broker at the Queen Mother's house, I am gathering things together from my own home to take down to Florida to be sold. Most of those things were gifts I did not really want from the Queen Mother that accumulated over the years, and I kept most of them because...well, the Queen Mother takes it personally when a gift she has given is not on permanent display and, yes, she would look.

Her gifts were gifts with strings attached with expectations. Once she gave a seven-year-old girl in the family a special edition Barbie doll and the girl, of course, immediately began taking it out. The Queen Mother was not happy because she gave it as a collectible. I though was cruel to give a doll to a young girl and expect her to enjoy just looking at it in the box, like she did hers. She did not think to try to explain that it was meant to stay in the box, after she unwrapped it.

So, I learned soon after my marriage that if I did not love any gift she gave me, she seemed to take as I was rejecting her. It really was a stretch for her to get to know what I liked and there were a precious few times that she would surprise me, but for the most part I just saw those attached strings of expectations. I always had it in the back of my mind, even when she stopped coming here to visit, that she may live with us or near us and come here again.

I knew that those strings had me all tied up. I felt like I had to keep that stuff to keep the Queen Mother happy, because her love language to everyone else is gifts. I could have packed them away and only brought them out when she was coming, which was rare, but I just did not. And, I think the thing that bothered me the most—actually, weighed me down the most and paralyzed my thoughts to rid myself of them—was that I did not keep them out of respect for her, but more like fear of her being upset with me. Every time my eyes would rest on something the Queen Mother gave me, a thought of how it came from her and how she was insensitive to what I really like would surface, but in her defense, I do have eclectic tastes that only those who really know me or are attentive would get.

In honesty, I used to appreciate some of her collectibles, like the Boyd's Bears, because before the Princess, we had a children's guest room with a teddy bear theme and my husband likes teddy bears, but over the years even those have lost their appeal to both of us. I have switched from accumulative mode to downsizing back into simplicity and practicality for our lifestyle. I am now rather selective about what I want to look at and dust off every two weeks for the rest of my life and the majority of things the Queen Mother has given me are just dust collectors for the most part, not even my taste.

I am not really like most people from previous generations: for instance, I have always thought (even as a child) that having a formal dining room and another informal dining area is a waste of living space. I like one dining area, so I love the now popular open plans where the kitchen is practically part of the living room. However, I do like a quiet library room.

The Queen Mother has a china cabinet filled with her better dishes, which are quite plain, and hordes of her figurines and glass collections, while my china cabinet is not for fancy dishes we use a few times a year—although I have to say that is perhaps not entirely true, which I will explain in the next paragraph. Instead I have my everyday dishes, which are the Pfaltzgraff Tea Rose pattern. I had loved that country fresh pattern for many years and some of their heart shaped bowls and servers, so when a friend was putting together a good-bye party at our church in Florida before we moved to Georgia, she asked me what I wanted if people were to ask her and they were it. She bought us a set and I was thrilled. Later I found some bowls marked down for clearance at a K-Mart. I thought K-mart was discontinuing them but actually Pfaltzgraff had retired them. Once while shopping at an antique store, I found a large set with about 10 settings and a few other pieces that looked brand new and bought it all for $65. So, every day I see the dishes we actually use and we have to get all our dishes from there. Now Pfaltzgraff has again gone into production with them, but not with all the pieces they used to have.

In the bottom half of my china cabinet, I have another set of dishes that was given to my husband before we met. They are ironstone Colonial White by Homer Laughlin, which is the same company that made Fiestaware that has come back into popularity, so they are producing it again. I am not that fond of the Colonial White, but we have used it for holidays. It looks nice with a red table cloth and colorful Christmas trimmings. However, it is not fine china but was probably meant for everyday use, because it is heavy, which I actually prefer, and feels more like it should be in a restaurant. I have wanted to get rid of them several times, but I decided to again keep them because their high gloss and the angular Dover mold style makes it more up scale looking and appealing—and because ridding myself of the other stuff in the bottom of the china cabinet allowed more space.

Back to my point, I am trying to go through my house gathering items for the sale and carrying items to the two bins marked to sell or donate with the trash can handy. I will be going down to Florida on my own with DragonHeart packed full to meet with the estate sales broker, so she can see everything we have to sell. It is just amazing what I have accumulated through the years. However, I cannot tell you how freeing it is to have space and to think what I really would like to place here and there. I knew that I was feeling overwhelmed by the clutter in my home for years, but since yard sales do so poorly here and some things were worth a little something, I just held on them. Now I finally have an opportunity to really let go of quite a lot, which will be sold and what is left over will be donated and done with.

I probably would have worked through this stuff faster if I was not fasting, but I did not go into a full water-only fast. I have been drinking milk and kefir in very small amounts throughout the day to stimulate losing the fat and because I knew I would need more stamina to do this, although I have to say, it still takes it out of me. I think I was about 10 pounds over the what I like to call my comfortable heavy weight when I officially started on Tuesday—frankly I did not step on a scale until I had been fasting two days because I just knew. I have to start coming off of it today or tomorrow so I am strong for the trip. I am and should hold down to around that comfortable heavy weight and will have to try to fast again later to rid myself of the rest of it.

My Lord, thank you for helping cut these strings that have had me tied to fear and keeping things I did not treasure. I am happy to let them go to people who do find pleasure in them and to have my home reflect only what I finding pleasing. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Slowing into Fast

Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God. -Andrew Murray

With all the stress that began before Christmas when the Queen Mother fell on her knee, somewhere along the way I dropped my one-day-a-week fast and I did not get to my January detox fast and that is usually at least one week to three. And I gained some weight, into numbers that usually make me feel sickly and more pain, but I have been heavy on supplements and actually I felt stronger this time, which only confirms how much the stress was zapping my energy and the extra food and nutrition was keeping me going.

There is no good break for fasting within our lives right now, however my husband began his a week ago. My digestive system is a bit more sensitive than his. I usually do better if I work down to fasting over a few days, so I began to eat increasing lighter and mostly raw foods for the last week. I am feeling it. I was mindful that I have a dental cleaning scheduled tomorrow and there is no avoiding the breath issue when fasting regardless of how much mouthwash one uses, so I had it in mind to stop eating completely tomorrow after the appointment for at least a week or a little more.

Usually, my husband and I observe a rule that we made long ago that we do not fast at the same time, but we literally have only short breaks between planned activities. My husband wants to get his mother's house on the market in July. We decided that having an estate sale is the best option, so we are planning for me to go to Florida alone in a couple of weeks and meet with an estate broker. I will be taking some things from my home to be in the sale and bringing some things back that are keepers also. So, this week I am looking through our stuff to pack up and take to Florida to place in the sale—while fasting.

It does not escape me that this activity will take more energy, but there is a correlative aspect of detoxing and clearing out that I find to be appealing on both sides. Most of the dust collectors I have are ones that were given to us by the Queen Mother and we kept because she takes it personally if she did not see them when she used to visit, but we kept them because in the back of our minds, she might have lived closer to us one day. That is over in our minds now.

The Queen Mother had pneumonia and is having serious issues with water retention. We know her immune system is compromised, but now we are pretty sure that she has had damage to her kidneys and possibly her liver and heart due to the septicemia. She is now taking a diuretic, but it is having little effect. She is still border line for going into assisted living, now that the wound on her knee is nearly healed completely, but with the complications that keep showing up, it seems likely that she will remain in the nursing home for longer...perhaps for the rest of her life, which may not be for a year. It seems to us that she is in the early to mid stages of congestive heart failure or multiple organ syndrome, the labels seem interchangeable.

As sad as that makes me, it makes me sadder that she chose to live alone for six years when she could have lived near us, actually attended one of the Princess' recitals, or just went out to dinner with us now and then. Now we are trying to make decisions about whether or not to keep some of her furniture that she would need for assisted living or just sell it all, and if we do not sell it all, do we rent a storage facility? Just things like that. I have been asking my Lord and I feel like He is telling me that we will not need to keep any of the furniture, but a part of me thinks it would be better keep some pieces and not need them, than to sell them all and find out she will...and knowing how it will upset her if they are all gone.

This fast I am hoping that both my husband and I will hear God clearly and we will act on what He is telling us, not what we think is the logical course. 

My Lord, these are hard times with hard decisions to be made. Please guide us heavily.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

4 Nights and 3 Days in Florida

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.
 -C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I was seventeen the first time I flew to Florida from Ohio with a window seat from the flat part of Ohio with patchwork crop and livestock fields to the far more interesting and unpredictable land forms of the Appalachian Mountains with its foothills and then to flat, washed out netting of roads so common in mid Florida. Do not get me wrong, when I was younger I liked it although I never really cozied up to the tropical plants, with the exception of fern trees and oaks. I admit that Florida is a lovely place if you like flat sandy, subtropical places. Been there, done that, and so very done with it! Since moving to the north part of Georgia, every time I visit Florida, I am thankful it is just for a short time. To me, its greens are bleached out and it has so many whole cities of mostly perpendicular north and south roadways crossed by streets spanning east and west that are unimaginative, probably a city planner's dream. I will say that it is senior friendly because everything is easy to find and you can hardly get lost.

We made plans to go to Florida to visit the Queen Mother and to start the process of taking keepsakes and things of worth we wish to keep from her house, in preparation of the ultimate goal to sell the house and everything else of value we would not be keeping. It is no small task to categorize the material residuals of life into piles of keep, sell, donate, or trash. I can only imagine it was harder for my husband, who had lived there from the time he was seven until he left for college at seventeen.

We took both the Dragon Heart, our mini van, and Big Red, our new diesel pick up truck that can haul our trailer completely packed. We were not planning to bring back much, mostly things from the garage and work shed, like a wheelbarrow, the generator, and a rain barrel. We planned to make decisions when we were there about what we would take back with us this time. We left Thursday morning in the rain and rain it did for the entire 550 miles with the exception of the last two hours, turning our 8 to 9 hour drive into nearly 11 hours...and it began raining as we pulled into the driveway! However, Florida has been in a drought with wildfires so it was sorely needed there.

I had purchased a light diffusing box and lights for taking pictures of the Hummel figurines, dolls, and other collectibles. That was the task for the Princess. My husband and I rummaged through taking down pictures from the walls to be boxed up, looking through the hidden places for the silverware, and the jewelry. Memorabilia was high on our list as well and we even found a picture that the Queen Mother had always wanted of her husband that had been in his mother's house but was fought over with his sister...and she had it all along in a very unique desk that we had thought was a sewing machine table.

The morning of the first day, I looked through the Queen Mother's jewelry knowing that she had a serious affection for Black Hills gold jewelry and I honestly had no idea how much of it she had, but I wanted to bring it home to be placed in our safe. Mind you that I cannot wear it. The Queen Mother is a large boned woman, although shorter than I am. I think her rings could quite possibly fit my husband's fingers and her bracelets slip on and off my wrists without bothering with the clasp, as I have rather small hands and wrists. They could be fitted by removing a link or two on some, but I like a daintier bracelet, with the exception of my colorful glass bead bracelets.

My husband and daughter went to visit the Queen Mother that first day in the afternoon. She was in good spirits and handed my husband a list of things she wanted. She could have called and told us so that we were not scrambling to shop for some of them while we were there, but...well, the Queen Mother does not make phone calls unless there is a problem and this did not qualify as a problem for her. While there my husband began to again ease into the conversation of what was of value and should be kept. When the Queen Mother told them where her Black Hills gold jewelry was, the Princess eagerly—maybe too eagerly, given the situation and knowing them both—chimed in that we had found them and how pretty they are. The Queen Mother then looked at her directly and said "You have been into my jewelry!" My daughter realized that she might have made a mistake, but her grandmother then said she was just kidding. I was not there but when they told me, I was thinking she was not kidding that much.

The next day we went to see her, the Queen Mother was upset and weeping because of all the things my husband had talked to her about the day before. We came with almost all the items she wanted including the items I had to buy at the store that morning...which, of course, were not the ones she wanted. She told me she had written down all the information with the numbers (for the style although she did not tell me and assumed I knew what those three numbers mention off to the side meant) and I told her that these were the only ones in the store that were the size she wanted in the brand she wanted, so the style she wanted was not there in her size. Immediately, I began looking online and found it on Amazon to be placed in my cart to finalize the order later.

As I doing that, she said in a very commanding way that she wanted ALL her Black Hills gold jewelry with her "HERE" making a downward motion with her arm while pointing her index finger down. I looked up and asked, "All of it?" (Please understand that she has more rings than fingers and toes AND she is retaining water so she cannot wear any of them and I am not so sure she can wear any of the several bracelets either.) She repeated the words and gesture with a redder face as if how dare I question the Queen Mother. Trying to help her realize that would be putting all her valuable jewelry at risk, I asked her if she thought that was wise because...well, there was no secure place for it there, but she told me that she sees residents with keys on bracelets, so there is way to secure them there, she believed (but did not even really know because she had not asked yet, is what I got from that).

Taking a deep breath in and out, I then began to work on setting up other contacts on her phone that she might like to have. She has had a written list of phones numbers by her wall phone in the kitchen for years so we bought that. Now her phone is not a smart phone but a flip phone so inputting contacts is a bit more work. She was still quite upset, so I was just going to put them all in but the Queen Mother wanted me to give her all the names on the list so she could say who was in and who was not. So I was still trying to figure out how to even get to the contact list to add anyone and she was trying to get me to read down the list. I asked her to have patience with me and gave her a few names, when we got to a "yes" I would put that one in...because to be quite honest, at this point I am pretty rattled with her trying to control everything and everyone to do everything exactly her way. My husband was sitting next to her trying to calm her down and I was slowly getting through the list. She was determined that I would not put any of the grown grandchildren in there. My husband and I both mentioned that just because they are listed does not mean she has to call them or even answer their calls but it was for her benefit so that she would at least know who is calling...nope!

However, she did want one neighbor, who is as controlling as the Queen Mother, on the contact list, which surprised us. This neighbor has helped her, like making sure she went to get checked when she fell on her knee and visiting her and bringing her things from the house, but she is also overkill. The Queen Mother had come to rely on her in some ways, but also complains about how she has been confusing her, telling her what to do and such. There is a strange dependency that concerns us because she complains about the woman yet.... My husband can size people up accurately, his God given gift, and he does not trust her. Since there were two women with the same first name on the list, I did not know which was the one that we would have preferred to mistakenly (on purpose) not put on the phone. However, I have a pretty good idea why the Queen Mother wanted her on it, so she has a neighborhood snitch to tell on us. The woman had come over on the first day, Friday, when my husband was visiting his mother and she began telling me what I should do with this and that in the house as well as asking me what we planned to put in the trailer. I said that depended on the weather, but it did not escape me that she once had keys to the house for a few months and knew what was in it, so she would be watching to see exactly what we were taking and probably tell the Queen Mother.

The third day I did not go with my husband and my desperate-for-Internet child, who is thankful for the free wi-fi at the nursing home. The Queen Mother apologized to my husband for being so rough on me, probably thinking that is why I did not come and that was partially true. Being empathic has its drawbacks. I try to connect with people as my way of understanding and helping them not with just physical healing but emotional, it just happens without conscience imagine, if you can, feeling how helpless and out-of-control now that her things are being prepared to be sold or whatever the Queen Mother feels along with my own feelings of being the brunt of her anger and pain, and just trying to imagine my own feelings if I were in her situation, and trying to deal with my feelings about going through her things to decide if they have worthy sentimental or monetary value. The conflict is completely insolvable and I could not sleep that night.

So, when she finally had all the Black Hills gold jewelry, she reportedly said that she did not know there was so much...but kept it anyway. If it is stolen or "lost,"—well, it is her jewelry, even though legally it is not hers now. She signed everything in and of the house over to her son, which she understood but she still does not completely get. The Queen Mother on that day also asked to see her bank account, which only has her monthly income and it goes to the nursing home. My husband simply said that he did not have it with him. Yeah, I am thinking the snitch neighbor will be happy to tell the Queen Mother everything she can glean from us and the other neighbors.

I am very sad for her though. As I have been looking into the values of all her collectibles, they have lost value. Markets change. I always thought of collectibles as something that only have value because the owner enjoys them and not as an investment. The Queen Mother thought they were both, but she missed selling at the height of the market. Only the very oldest of Hummel figurines are holding their value. (Actually, I am not into all these collectibles but I had to learn about the several different trademarks on Hummel figurines so I could look up their value, even though of the more than eight trademarks, the only ones of real value are TMK 1, 2, and maybe some with 3.) Madame Alexander dolls are now selling for less than half of their purchase price, but there was a spike in the market in the late 1980's when Madam Alexander sold her company. At that time, the Queen Mother's set of First Ladies might have sold for as much as $40,000 and my father-in-law asked her to sell then, but she would not thinking they would continue to go up. There are other collectibles: Capodimonte ceramics, Avon, Shirley Temple, Fenton Glass, pressed glass, carnival glass, and Boyd's Bears.

Why the change in the collectible market? It is not just because we had been in a bad recession, but because of other several factors. One is when things become popular and demand is high, companies tend make more to sell more and it saturates the market so there far too many available; most of the time this is not a big factor because of population growth, items get ruined, and greater demand that drives up the price of the pieces as they become more difficult to obtain. However, another factor is that my generation and younger are not into collectibles; more people see them as cluttering dust collectors than as something precious. Another factor is eBay: instead of throwing away or finding an antique dealer to buy these items, people can easily list them on eBay and sell an item themselves, which has driven the prices down because people are willing to sell them just to get rid of them.

So, I was thinking how sad it is to see everything that the Queen Mother valued in her life become devalued. My husband and I have watched her through the years invest into and place more value on things that do not have true lasting value rather on the things that are worthy, like God and people. Yes, people can let you down and hurt you and even die, but they are eternal. God has invested in people and values people. I think those investments are the ones that really last. I think it is sad that she has only had a couple of visits from two neighbors after being in a nursing home for well over four months and yet I cannot think of a time that she has ever visited anyone in the hospital or in a nursing home other than family.

It is sobering to see what has been sown in life is what we reap.

My Lord, peace is so hard to find right now, so I must rest in You more. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

When a Tree Falls in the Woods

The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people. -G.K. Chesterton

My daughter is in love with photography and she has the eye for it. For her 16th birthday, we gave her a Cannon Powershoot G9X Mark II, which is a solid mid-range point-and-shoot digital camera. Her favorite thing to do is walk around taking pictures of anything that catches her eye. Sunday she was out in the backyard and came to show me the dead tree in the neighboring yard finally came down...on our fence.

The first time we had a dead tree come down on the fence from the same neighboring yard was within in just a few months after we had moved here nearly twenty years ago. The neighbor came over and told us. Honestly, we did not see it from the house because of the overgrowth of the wooded part of our yard. The neighbor asked us to give him a few days to take care of it. He replaced the top bar of the chain link fence and re-attached the chain link part. It looked good when he finished. Those were our first neighbors on our north side and they were nice people.

A few years ago the neighbors on the south side, the daughter of the owner, decided to hire someone to remove a few trees and one heavy branch fell on our fence. They had not warned us that they would be having trees removed like her mother would have done if she still lived there, which would have been nice as it is quite noisy, but I just looked at it as she is a young mother and probably just did not think of it. I had to tell the her about the fence being damaged and asked how to contact the company. They did not tell her about the fence and fortunately it just missed our shed. They removed the branch but the fence was still damaged after they left and apparently they were going to leave it that way, until we insisted it was fixed. The company finally repaired the fence, not professionally, but at least it was functional.

For the last several years, there has been a dead, split-nearly-completely-down-the-middle-of-the-main-trunk tree in the neighbor's yard to north side. That property has had several occupants since our first neighbors as it became a rental after the second owner moved closer to her work and she rented it to her boyfriend at first. When he moved out, the owner contracted with a property management company. The first renters were there for five years and the tree was obviously dead while they lived there. After they moved away, there were two more renters within just over a two-year period—the first one is still a good friend of mine. My friend would not let her children play in the backyard and called the property management company several times about the tree but they, or the owner, would not have it removed.

That tree finally came down on our fence. We did not know when and did not see it because it is on the very back corner which we cannot see from the house but the Princess found it just yesterday. So, my husband goes over to our newest neighbors, who are the new owners and have not said but a handful of words to us since moving in months ago—actually they ignore us and walk away when they can. Strange family.

I walked up hearing my husband being diplomatic and offering to help them with clearing the tree and repairing the fence. The wife then begins to say that she was trying to figure it out who was responsible because...well, now I have to say here that Georgia has some weird laws and one of them is about fallen trees. If the tree falls onto your property, it is your responsibility. However, I knew that there is a bit more to that statute if you look at case law.

She went on to say that it looked as if the fence damage was our responsibility. I told her by law, she is right with the exception of when the tree is obviously diseased or dead and that tree had been dead for years. The whole time her husband is sitting on the porch behind the roll-up blind that was rolled down so we cannot see his face and will not even get up to address us, but my husband again offered to help him with the tree and our fence. He said something about not having a chainsaw and his father only having a 16-inch one so that would probably not work. My husband mentioned he has one and to let him know when he wanted to work on it. That went better than I thought it would because from the conversations we cannot help but overhear from behind the rolled down blinds, the guy talks like he cusses everyone out all the time, especially at his work.

When we walked away, I apologized to my husband for stepping into the conversation with the legalities-responsibility thing, because I probably sounded a bit short with them. Reading the attitudes when I walked up, I already knew they were not going to be cooperative and my husband was already irritated but keeping it well controlled. That is when he told me that they had known about the tree for a week, which they told him before I came out, and he was already put off thinking: who does that? 

So, we are not expecting them to do anything to make this right...but I keep hoping that I will be surprised about how wrong I read into how they will handle it.

Still, if this is how God is giving us the sign that we should move to more open spaces, it is quite motivating.

My Lord, I am not sure if You are trying to motivate us to move or giving us a challenge to love our neighbors/enemies, perhaps a both. Make Your path very obvious to us and help us to be good witnesses of your forgiveness and love.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Springing Back to Early Mornings

Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.
-C.S. Lewis

I love the dark in the morning as the quiet light rolls in misting the earth before the dazzling rain of light storms in. It sets my mood better for the day to have this time to think whispering thoughts before my mind thunders with all the necessities of work for the day and my own reflections are muddied or my intended path is washed away with the flood of the bright new day.

For most of my life, I have been an early riser, which means I also go to bed earlier. However, for about the last two years, I have not been. I felt like I lost a bit of myself and I felt a bit lost with God, as I explained in That Something Broken Between God and Me.

Why the change in rising times? I think it was a culmination of many things. My husband is the one to stay up later for his alone time, but he works away from home most of the time and, at that some points, it is almost all the time for many weeks. It wears on me and I tend to sleep later and shorter periods when he is away. To get my mind off of my loneliness, I began to watch some shows through Netflix online at night, real cliffhangers that make one want to series binge into the wee hours, unfortunately I am susceptible to TV addictions like that. Recently, I made a conscious decision to stop watching shows in bed on my computer and that made a huge difference.

My daughter, particularly two years ago, was having sleeping problems so she often was not ready to start her day until mid morning, which made me feel like half the day was over by the time she was ready to do any lessons. So, part of me was trying to allow her to sleep and not be angry about it, which did not work well. Then when things fell completely apart for her in November of 2015, When the Train is on the Wrong Track, I decided that her emotional health had to take priority. We set rules about no screens an hour before bedtime and gave her supplements to help her regulate her sleeping time, which took months to stabilize completely. During that time, for me, it was why bother to get up early and be angry with her every morning, so I just went along to get along, giving in to her schedule thinking that at some point we would get back to where I liked it better.

Basically, I did or allowed everything I could to make me lose myself so I would not feel depressed or angry or think too much of how I felt out of control, which did not really work because under everything was this anger that nothing in my life was going the way I hoped or planned or wanted. I even stopped reading books because I just could not enjoy them! I was just going along to get along but I was not happy. I felt like I had to be responsible for everything and I felt overwhelmed and I was not getting any help, not from my daughter, my husband, my friends, or even my God. Yeah, we all have had poor-me times like that.

I am not one that has to be in control to feel happy or secure, but I do have to be in control when my husband is away and switch gears immediately when he comes back and those gears get a bit rusty at times. When my daughter rolls out of bed later than usual now that she is on a better schedule, I just take a deep breath as I think of all the things I was required to do at her age, like get up at a particular time to get ready for school and be at a job at a particular time and clean my aunt's entire house every week and hand wash dishes every evening. I felt the only way to be marginally happy was to surrender to their schedules and then there was God, whom I was avoiding for other reasons, and so it has felt like my life was just pouring away down a drain without any lasting purpose.

I apologize for the rant. My point is simply, I really have not been the me I want to be or see myself as. In part it was circumstances and the other part was choices, but now I feel more in control of myself again.

Recently I have been going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. It is refreshing. Maybe I am inspired by the spring mornings. I enjoy hearing the birds' sunrise songs. As soon as it is light enough, I am wanting to go outside to work in the gardens or tackle an area of clutter in my house even before that...and there are plenty of areas to tackle!

I am feeling that spring back into my life and far less anger and improving relationships with all my love ones, especially my Lord.

My Lord, I am so thankful that You are a forgiving and loving God.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Piano Judging, Competition, and Recital

Don't practice until you get it right.
Practice until you can't get it wrong. -Unknown

I pushed the Princess through the early teen stage of wanting to quit piano hoping that her teacher was right in how many students, who start young, want to quit at that stage in their life, but if they continue on, they do begin to love piano again. I began to see my child enjoying it more last year when she was asked to join the youth praise band at our church, however it got off to a very rough start because the leaders were...well, they were all teens, knowing everything with little evidence to prove it. They had been practicing for months and had never played even one song for the teen service until recently. Thankfully, our new praise and worship pastor decided to take on the youth praise band and they have since performed a couple of times. My daughter is a performer, even though she would deny it at this point, but without a deadline for performing, she was not really excited about what they had been doing with the band. Nice to see that is changing.

I am always amazed and ever so thankful when I realize God has this and I really do not have to worry about everything (because I tend to worry about everything as if it is a career choice). I knew that Princess needed a bit more inspiration that she was not receiving it from either one of her parents or her piano teacher and God provided it in a way that we could not have foreseen. Last year at church camp, my daughter met a boy that I will call Guitar Guy here. Although Guitar Guy goes to a different church about 30 minutes east of us, he and the Princess have become good friends ever since, inviting each other to their youth group functions at times, and they have one thing in particular in common: both are amazing musicians. Guitar Guy excels in ear training, in which the Princess is weaker, but he lacks in music theory, which the Princess knows far more than she thinks she does. He has been very encouraging to her and I think she is beginning to view her talent and music as something worthwhile, maybe even valuable. Of course, Guitar Guy has his own band and they play music that is heavy metal Christian that neither the Princess or I like, but at least this guy has a plan for his life. He wants to go to college to get that music theory and play guitar or bass in a band. Through recordings on YouTube, his band has gained more popularity in England than here and he hopes his band will tour there next summer.

First, the Judging
I am very pleased that I have been seeing this little spark that I had not been seeing for some years in the Princess as I watched her prepare her two pieces for the annual judging. She has never been as fond of Mozart as I have been, but when they were choosing music, her teacher played a piece that she liked. I have to say that she just barely makes the octave stretch on Turkish Rondo, as she is petite with small hands, but she does it. However, it is the Tarantella by Albert Pieczonka that she really loves to play. Both songs are fast and she likes to play fast.

On March 25th she was judged and received another superior rating. This makes her seventh year in a row. The judge mentioned how she holds her hands perfectly and how crisp her triplets were on the Tarentella. This is worth noting because of what comes next.

Second, the Competition
Guitar Guy goes to a church of a large denomination: Assemblies of God. They have a competition every year called Fine Arts. He has competed in it and he encouraged the Princess to compete in it this year. It was started on the following Friday evening, March 31st and continued until Saturday early evening, April 1st. She would stay overnight at a hotel with Guitar Guy's older sister who was chaperoning as well as some other girls. My husband needed to go to Florida as that Friday also was the day that the Queen Mother was being moved into the nursing home, but he did not want to miss seeing the Princess' competition, so we decided that I would stay home, he would go and stay at a hotel one night and drive the rest of the way to Florida from there, as it was about two hours south of us and on the his way. The Princess would come back with the other kids on the church bus, which is how she went down there, and I would pick her up at the church when they got back.

The Princess was actually excited about the competition because she wanted to know how good she was compared to others, as judging alone was not competitive in her mind...probably because she had always done so well. For this competition, she could only play one piece and she chose the Tarantella. There were only six pianists in this age group and three played the Beethovan's Für Elise (which Trudy, our piano teacher, hates because she always says it is so overused, but we had not run into that before this).

The Princess did well, but the judges all criticized her triplets. One wrote they were a muddled and another wrote that her pinkie finger was weak, things along those lines that made me suspicious, since I know that the one attribute that shines with her is crispness and how her fingers are well trained to keep the notes even. She was disappointed that she got two points off from each of the three judges on performance.

When the Princess came home and I read the judges remarks myself, I asked her what had happened. Apparently, they had her class in a room with a digital piano instead of in the sanctuary with the grand piano. The digital piano had horrible key action. Some of the keys even stuck. This is the downside of being a pianist when other musicians can bring their own instruments; a pianist usually has to play the piano available and the hosting church was to provide the piano for the competition. My husband noticed that all the kids had problems and after it was over asked a man from the hosting church to play it...and he said it was "awful." One girl, who was very good and might have won, had slowed her playing in one part of her piece to compensate, but timing changes that counts heavily in the scoring. The Princess has benefited from playing at least two recitals a year in different venues on different pianos and she performs well, which might have been what made the real difference for her.

Yes, my Princess won first place in Georgia and has been invited to the national competition in Anaheim, California in August.

Guitar Guy had won first in guitar last year, but there were some technical problems and he came in third, but he did get first for bass, so he is also invited to nationals. They were the only two who won from the church group, although my daughter said that the girl from their group that sang was far better than the one who won.

Feeling bad for all the kids who had to use the sticky-key piano, I have since called the person in charge of the Fine Arts competition in Georgia so that it does not happen again. The piano should have been tested by the judges before the judging so that the problem was known or that they could have judged on a different piano. The lady was surprised and nice about it and asked me to email it so that she would have it in her folder for the next year.

Third, the Recital
April 22nd was the day of the annual spring recital. Last fall I found a formal dress in a thrift store that would be good for a recital dress and was a style that the Princess likes. She looked so good in it, but she told me that I was sending her mixed signals as this lovely black lacy dress with gold highlights had spaghetti straps, which we do not allow her to wear. (Actually, the straps had to be reattached so it looked strapless at first.) However, I knew that the recital would be around her sixteenth birthday and that we talked about appropriate dressing, as in I would not allow her to walk in the neighborhood with a tank top or a bathing suit, but if we are at a beach or pool, then it would be more appropriate (and what we wear is far more modest in comparison to the others there). This would never be a dress I would allow on a date, if she were allowed to date, that is. However, she is just beginning to appreciate that she looks very good dressed like a young lady, even though she still dresses more like a tomboy most of the time, so I wanted to encourage her to see herself that way. I assured her that if her father and I say it would be appropriate for this recital, then it would be fine.

The Princess played the same pieces as she did for the judging and she looked lovely with her long hair—that is long enough to sit on—pulled back from her face on the side of the audience. She played well and the smile she gave afterward was genuine. She never really can convince me that she does not like performing.

Afterward we went out to dinner and had some interesting conversations as we had invited a friend to the recital whom my daughter called her lost twin when they met at the Home Learning Center three years ago. Although we rarely can get together with her family, we have very much in common with them—besides that the names of our teenage daughters' are the same and, oddly, our former dog and their other daughter had the same name. The mother gave birth to that daughter at the same age I was when I had my daughter. Lots and lots of parallels, but differences as well.

When we brought the girl back, we all talked for couple of hours—I really love that family!

So, the spring piano season is done and now the Princess is setting her sights on the nationals for Fine Arts in August. We all have lots to do before we can get there.

My Lord, thank you for this gifted child and for helping her to see herself as we see her through loving eyes.