Archive for April 2010

Plain Piano

April 30, 2010

Why is it that some people look at the piano with awe and others with dread?  I’ve met some people who think they could never learn to play, even people who play another instrument.  I’ve met other people (including one of my relations) who hate the piano.  Each likes to hear someone else play it well, but would never go play themselves.

I’ve had a conversation or two lately about how hard it is for parents to know when to encourage a child to pursue an instrument (or a lot of other things for that matter) and when to step back and let them alone.  I only know that my mother did a good job with me.  I may not be a concert pianist, I may not be much good at chording, and I may be shaky on expression, but I truly enjoy sitting down at the piano and pulling out some music to play.

I started with piano in third grade.  Mom had played the trumpet when she was in middle school, not piano, but she bought a couple of books and we worked through the lessons.  I would practice for a week on a piece, and then she would listen to me play.  If I hadn’t gotten the piece down in a week, I worked on it for two.  Mom even kept up with me for a few months, learning the lessons herself.  That didn’t last because she just didn’t have the time, with three kids on her hands, but it was an encouragement to me that she thought it was worth the time to try.

From the beginning I had trouble with keeping a steady beat, but we didn’t have a metronome, so I just did the best I could with my foot.  Mom had me practice three times a week, making sure to warm up with some exercises and a few old lessons before I started work on the week’s assigned piece.  Even with the simple stuff I was doing I got frustrated because I couldn’t play it like I thought it should sound.

So Mom had me take a year off.  In fourth grade I did a variety of different instruments and other types of music.  When it came time for fifth grade, I was ready to go back and give piano another try.

This time I remained patient and worked hard to improve.  I liked to play songs and sing along, but we didn’t have a lot of songs that were easy enough for me to play.  The music in my lesson book tended to be silly little songs, not the hymns and children’s songs that I knew.  So I worked toward a day when I could sit down with those songs and sing along.

I still had to practice at least three times a week, but Mom mentioned that if I wanted to get better, I’d need to practice more often, so I started playing more.  Even if I didn’t run through a lesson, I would sit down and try to plunk out a tune that I knew; sometimes with better success than others.  I’ll always be grateful that Mom didn’t make me do scales.  I think she has wondered sometimes whether she ought to have, and I’ll admit that I would be much better with chording and a few other things if I had drilled over my scales.  However, I am sure that if I had felt forced to do my scales every time I practiced, I would have come to dislike piano very quickly.

Don’t get me wrong, I know my scales, or at least most of them, I’m just rather slow at playing them.  The reason I’m sure that I would have balked at too much scales is that I balked at the metronome.  When I was eleven, we got a digital piano to replace our old keyboard.  The new piano not only could sound like several different instruments and record your playing, it had a built-in metronome. 

I hated the metronome.  My rhythm had not gotten much better over the years, and I was forever falling behind or going too fast.  Usually falling behind.  Mom had me practice with it for a few weeks, but I got so annoyed at that metronome that she quickly decided not to force the issue.

Thanks to Mom’s hands off approach, I stuck with the piano.  I wasn’t into a classical music much, but I taught myself the “Fur Elise” for fun, when it was actually a level or two beyond my skill.  I even memorized it at one time!  Now, I don’t memorize anything very well, except the words and tunes of songs that I sing, but I memorized the “Fur Elise.”

Eventually, I began playing at church.  Some of the other young girls often played something for Offertory, and the church pianist asked me to help out.  After a few years, I took over scheduling the Offertories and playing whenever I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to play for a particular week.  By then, I was also playing for morning services every so often.  I even played a few pieces with my sister.  Four-hand piano music (played by two people at one piano) can be tough to coordinate, but I had improved my skills enough to use the metronome sometimes in order to help me stay with her.  We only did that a few times due to limited music choices, but it was fun.

I don’t play fancy piano.  While I have had fellow church members compliment me by saying that it sounds like I have three hands playing, I do only have two, and they really aren’t playing difficult music.  I’ve seen a few concert pianists play, and I come nowhere close.  I don’t even keep up with my brother 3G, who taught himself to play the piano after he had already taken the clarinet to a great height.  He has more musicality than I’ll ever have, so even if he is not as quick at sight-reading the whole staff (clarinetists usually only have to read one line of notes, while piano music often has four or more notes to play at once), he has much more expression than I have.

At the same time, I like the way that I play.  I don’t have to play fancy piano.  I just like to be able to sit down and play the songs that I like to sing: hymns, choruses, and some contemporary stuff.  I can play quite well enough to do that.  I began taking singing lessons this spring, and my mother says that has actually improved my piano playing, as has teaching TJ and BP to sing.  I’ve got more expression than I had before, so maybe I have a chance to play as well as 3G someday.


Right now, I’m just happy to play plain piano.


Memories of My Childhood Church

April 28, 2010

Lately I’ve thought quite a bit about the church I was at as a child.  I remember the first day we attended there, back when I was four, and how panicked I felt at going into a strange Sunday School classroom full of strange people.  I can’t recall how fast that feeling wore off, but I know that the teacher for that class, a college student at the time, quickly became a favorite with me and with my younger siblings.  I have fond memories of the times she babysat us.

I remember that I thought the coat racks were weird.  They were built into one wall of the entryway, and there was a second tier which seemed too high for anyone to reach.  Now, I was pretty small then myself, so I’m not sure just how much of that was perspective, but I don’t recall seeing coats on that bar very often.

Directly opposite as you walked in the front door was the pastor’s office.  I went in there sometimes when my mother used to be in charge of doing the church directory.  Otherwise it wasn’t a place I was encouraged to play.  I remember when they build the sound booth off one corner of the office, with a window cut into the back wall of the sanctuary so that the sound guy could see the worship leader.  I always thought that was so cool.

I remember helping Mom do some of the gardening work out front.  She wasn’t the only one at church with a green thumb, and someone else eventually took over, but for a year or two my mother was the one who had the time.  Being a homeschooling mom, she had a flexible schedule!  I learned quite a bit about how to plan out a flower bed to the best advantage, something I’ve turned to good advantage in other arenas as well.

I went back to that church a couple of years ago for a wedding.  They’ve added a new wing onto the building, creating a new sanctuary and fellowship hall.  The old sanctuary has mostly been broken up into smaller rooms for offices and things, but I took a peek inside what was left.  The baptismal was still there, right where it was in ‘96 when I got baptized.

Two years ago I wrote a piece about the memory I have of that day.  It doesn’t include anything about the nerve wracking experience of telling the pastor that I wanted to be baptized, or the Sunday when I, shy seven-year-old that I was, stood up front with the pastor at the end of the service while he announced the baptismal to our large congregation, but it does give a pretty good account of the day itself.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost

The month was in November,
just before I was eight.
I remember the baptismal,
I was dressed in white.

It felt surreal to slip out of service,
before the closing prayer.
I didn’t do it often,
but my mother was along.

I changed out of Sunday best,
so I wouldn’t get it soaked,
but I forgot to take off my necklace,
so I wore it through the wet.

We actually used the back stair
of rough planks, lined with storage.
I’d always stood in awe of it,
because Mom didn’t want us there.

The waiting seems quite short to me,
in retrospect at least,
but I think it took much longer
when I stood upon the stairs.

Finally Pastor W.,
with fishing waders on,
finished talking to the watching eyes,
and called me to come down.

Scared of water I was still,
but gently on I came.
Wet was okay on my feet,
my stomach, then my hands.

He helped me stand upon the box
before he spoke the words
I closed my eyes and grabbed my nose –
and came up spluttering.

My feet hadn’t found the box again,
but they somehow found the stair.
Pastor W. smoothed it over;
I was like my father, he said.

Dad, it seems, had done the same,
only a few years before,
and when I think that he was grown,
I smile a little now.

Dad had been a Christian
since he was in his teens
but he didn’t travel through the wet
till I was small but ‘ware.

I have a vague remembrance
of watching Daddy slip.
I like to think that Dad and I
share a baptismal tale.

A dripping girl, but smiling,
I went with Mom to change.
‘Twas then I found my necklace
had gotten baptized too.

A card, I think, and gift I got
from a friend so dear to me.
I don’t remember more because
I was smiling in a dream.

And ever after, that simple chain,
with cross and flower upon it,
has special been, and special is,
and special always will be.

Homeschooling: The Good, The Bad, and The Next Generation

April 24, 2010

My mother asked my siblings and me some questions recently about our homeschooling experience.  She wanted to know whether we had enjoyed homeschooling, and what were our favorite and least favorite parts of it.  And she wanted to know whether we would homeschool our own children.

I loved my homeschooling experience, as you can guess if you’ve been following the blog or have read the archives.  I had lots of freedom within the system.  For instance, my mother would give us a sheet each week listing all the assignments we had to do for the week in each subject.  From there, I could pretty much choose which assignments I wanted to do each day, so long as I got it all done in the week’s time.

What did I enjoy most about homeschooling?  Well, that might be a tough call between having lots of free time after schoolwork was done and spending so much time with my mother and siblings.  In my free time, I’ve pursued many hobbies, such as sketching, crochet, guitar, writing stories, and painting.  Some of these and my other hobbies I first learned as part of school, whether for art, practical arts, or music, but I took them further even after I’d finished the assignments.

I also got to spend a lot of time with my family.  As you may have guessed (or did I already tell you), we’re a tightly knit bunch.  My sister and I loved to play together, acting out stories with our dolls and stuffed animal.  I played many different games with 3G, some indoors, some outdoors.  I like to spend time with the twins, especially now that I’m giving them singing lessons.  I spent many a happy hour talking with my mother as we prepared meals, worked in the garden, or shopped for craft supplies (or many other things).  In the evenings, my father would read aloud to us, usually a history or literature book Mom chose that complemented our studies in those areas.  Later, Dad taught me to play guitar, and we currently do some volunteering together once a month.

What was my least favorite part of homeschooling?  That’s a tougher one that the favorite part.  I don’t think I came up with anything when she asked the question, and I still cannot think of anything now.  There were parts of homeschooling that I didn’t enjoy, but they were parts that would have been the same in public or private school too.

The last question was about whether or not we would homeschool our children someday.  I cannot say with 100% certainty that I will, but it will take some convincing from the Lord to show me that he wants me to send my children to school.  I cannot fathom putting my children on a bus and letting a school educate them.  I believe that I’ll be better qualified to teach my own children than any teacher, merely because I’ll know my children better than any set of teachers could ever know them.  For this reason if for no other, I would homeschool my children.

The fact is, though, that I have plenty of reasons to want to homeschool.  Chief among them is the desire to train up my children in the way they should go.  The public school system no longer acknowledges God.  Trying to counter the teachings of public school in what little time I would have my children with me would be tough.

Private schools may not undermine the foundation which I am trying to build for my children, but they still have other issues, such as too much peer influence, too many authority figures, and too little time spent with family and mature adults.  In addition, private schools tend to be fairly expensive; I know homeschooling can be done for considerably less.

Will I homeschool in precisely the same way that my mother did?  Probably not.  For one thing, I’m not the same kind of person nor the same kind of teacher that my mother is.  My strong subjects are quite different, and my methodology is different.  I would be able to use different types of curriculum sometimes than what she used.  For another thing, I will not have the same kids she taught.  Homeschooling is best when tailored to the child, so I will choose methods and materials for each subject that are best suited for each child.

The children of the homeschooling pioneers are just reaching an age where their children are old enough to start homeschooling.  I think it will be interesting to note the way homeschooling changes as more and more second generation homeschools begin to influence the way homeschooling is carried out and the way it is viewed.

I can’t wait to be a part of that!

What’s New?

April 22, 2010

If you hadn’t already noticed, I’ve been adding things (besides posts) to my blog lately.  I just added a new page today, I’ve been adding a bunch of blogs to my blogroll recently, and I made a new Animoto video and put it under My Projects (I’m still having way too much fun playing around with Animoto when I should be working on papers!).  I’ve got a few more additions in mind, but you’ll probably have to wait for those until the semester ends.  Don’t worry, that’s next week, so I should get to them soon!

The Devil’s Beatitudes — Are You “Blessed”?

April 19, 2010

Some days I like to go blog hopping, following links from one blog to another.  I found Nathan’s Two Cents that way, and the first post I read there was titled “The Devil’s Beatitudes.”  Go read them for yourself, then come back and I’ll tell you what I think.

*   *   *   *   *

So, was it scary?  Did you come to the end and recognize yourself in the last line?  I couldn’t imagine what Nathan was talking about in his introductory words until I got there and saw what he was talking about.  I had indeed been seeing other people in those “blessed”s, and I’m none too sure that I hadn’t fallen into the trap of thinking that I’ve never been caught by the same mistakes.

I have been safeguarded against some of these errors by parents who have taught me to love Christ and to love my brethren in the Lord.  Nevertheless, it was good to be reminded of these dangers because no matter how good our training is, we can and do still fall short of acheiving perfection.  I’m sure we can all take these warnings to heart.  The question then becomes, what is our best defense against falling into these traps of the Devil?  My answer is simply to seek after Christ, desiring more and more of him, and to love the brethren.

Loving Christ is relatively easy.  He is so much worth loving!  Seeking after him is tougher because we tend to get caught up in the affairs of this world.  How do you seek Jesus?  That’s a relatively easy one to answer, but not always an easy one to carry out, as I can testify: read your Bible, of course.  The whole Bible is written about Jesus Christ, so you can really start anywhere, though I would advocate starting wherever you’ve been reading already.  The main thing is to be looking for Jesus in every line, searching out the things of God.

Seeking after Christ has some interesting results.  I mentioned that it can be hard to do because we get caught up in everyday affairs.  Well, when we seek Christ daily, eventually we see him in those everyday affairs.  At the same time, those everyday affairs become less important.  I used to think my choices of favorite hymns was odd, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Sweet By and By,” but now I understand that choosing those hymns is merely a sign that I have been living the message of another of my favorites: “This World is Not my Home.”  In seeking Christ, I have learned to desire his presence.  Desiring to be with Christ in heaven should not be odd; I think it should be the theme of every Christian.

Now to the second part of our defense, loving our brethren in the Lord.  Loving other believers does not mean that I always agree with them, nor that I cannot think that they are doing something wrong.  Loving others really means caring about them despite the differences we may have and the annoyance they may cause.  When we care about other believers, we will want to spend time with them, share good things with them, encourage them in their Christian walk, and above all, help them find Jesus in a new way.

I think that when we take care to do these two things, we will be safeguarded from these beatitudes of the devil.  Even the last one can be avoided when we focus on the good in our fellow believers and try to cultivate it.  We might avoid a world of pain and harm if we would only keep that focus rather than trying to save our fellows from their errors.  I’m not saying we should be naive about people or that we should pretend their mistakes are no big deal, but really, it’s much easier to get along with people when you are thinking well of them than when you are always noting their faults.

Maybe I should call it separation of sin and the sinner.  We can love the sinner without condoning his sin, and we can love our brethren in the Lord even if their habits are not always Christ-like.

That’s what I think, now how about you?

Article on Beauty vs. Love

April 16, 2010

I found an article on Cross-Eyed Blog & Webzine today that intrigued me.  I’ll ask you the question which faced me as I read — which do you value more, beauty or brotherly love?  I found it a strange question, and my thoughts were mixed as I read Grace Einkauf’s article (you may notice I’ve also added her blog Glimpses to my blogroll).  In the end, my feelings on the question were reversed, reverted to the original, and then settled down to a new position, different than the one at which I started. 

The article has done it’s work for me, for that’s what good writing does; it makes you think about the subject in a new way and think about it enough to come to your own conclusion on the matter.  Someday, I too will write like that.  In the meantime, go read the article and see if your own ideas are challenged as mine have been.

Who Needs Socialization?

April 13, 2010

Socialization is one of the big bugbears of homeschooling.  Why does everyone worry about socializing homeschoolers?  Does no one realize the dangers lurking in those waters?

What most people mean when they say socialization is peer time.  While I have had many a happy hour with friends, I recognize that spending time with peers did not help me grow up.  At least not after a certain point.  I did learn some things from interacting with friends, but I was learning the same lessons from myparents and my siblings.  My friends could only teach me how to act like a child because that’s what we all were, children.  Since growing up is the main business of childhood, peer time does not seem all that important to have during childhood.

Now move to middle and highschool.  Here, I learned even less from my peers.  And think – the peers I am talking about were all either kids I knew at church or from the homeschooling community, and in most cases, both.  In my opinion these are the peers from whom I was most likely to have learned something.  And I only learned that I am not interested in typical teen conversations.  Some reflection on homeschooling if homeschoooled teens are hard to tell apart from any other teens!

I was pretty well off in regard to my friends.  I did not learn much good, but I also did not learn much bad.  The stories I hear from other people indicate to me that other teens learn some rather bad habits among their peers, including cliquishness, flirting, and the running down of both siblings and parents.  Why on earth do parents seek this for their children?

Socialization is not inherently bad.  The trouble is that most people assume it should be done among those close to your age.  Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture.  Childhood is actually a very small portion of the normal life span.  Now, when we reach the adult world, who are we going to socialize with at work, at church, and in the community?

The answer is people of all ages, and mainly adults.  While we may find friends who are very close to our own ages, the fact is that many of us will also have very close friends who are some years older and can give us advice.  We may also eventually be the older friend giving advice.  Does socializing with our peers prepare us for this?  I think not.

Why should we worry about socializing with peers when we have siblings?  One of the main benefits of homeschooling is that brothers and sisters can interact with each other, develop good relationships, help each other learn.  I know some siblings can’t stand each other, but I don’t think we are born fighting with our siblings.  I think it’s often learned from our peers.

Why should we worry about socialization with peers when we have parents?  We learn most from those who are modeling adulthood.  Our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and their friends can all show us much more about how to be an adult than any teenager knows.  Of course, parents have the most influence, being on the spot all the time, but others in our families and at church are also good candidates for socialization.

Growing up, I always socialized with adults.  I liked to tag along with my mother after church, listening to her talk.  I did not understand half of it when I started, but in time I could follow pretty well.  Later, I started my own friendships with those same friends of my mother’s.  They were interested in my life, and they were always happy to talk about themselves too.  I learned how to converse with adults much better than I understood how to interact with my peers.  Maybe that is part of why I never fit in with my own age group all that well.

In any case, I loved to talk to those who knew more than me.  Picking up bits of wisdom was much easier when I did not have to do the thinking all by myself.  I learned much from interacting with people of all ages and from all manner of backgrounds.

Granted, associating with other Godly young people can be a good thing.  We can benefit from having someone near our age who is pursuing the same path we are.  Not everyone who is young is as immature as the rest.  A few among us have benefitted from our seeming isolation to become stronger individuals with less inclination to follow the herd and more inclination to think on the things of life and Godliness.  When you find a friend like that, cultivate that friendship!

Still, since generalizations are fun to make, I have indulged in one of my own. 

Associating with youth makes you younger, only those with years to spare should engage in it regularly.”

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