Friday, November 30, 2007

Turkey Thursday

As far back as I can remember Thanksgiving Day was always filled with family. Ours alternated being celebrated either at home or at my Aunt E and Uncle N's house. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, in-laws, greats, cousins. Always a house full making the occasion special for me as an only child. Thanksgiving was celebrated as this one large family until we moved to Florida. There new traditions began. Pulling from the warm memories of Thanksgivings in New England, we alternated our gathering with a different aunt and uncle. No longer a large group, yet still family that grew to include new members over the years.

We have been back to New England for just over five years. A lot has changed since we left. Our extended family has grown to include more in-laws and children and grand children. The traditions have changed and we seem to travel further apart for our celebrations. We have started new traditions.

In five+ years encompassing six Thanksgivings we have shared our meal with two friends twice, had the joy of our traditional family with us, traveled to a restaurant, had a quiet meal with just mom, dad, Amanda, and me, and this year tried dining out once again.

This year was our smallest Thanksgiving as my dad died this past summer. Beyond needing a change, it just didn't seem worth the effort to prepare a large meal for only the three of us. Amanda was disappointed with the idea of eating out. Truth is, so was I.

As we drove to the restaurant our Thanksgiving Day was enclosed in fog. The quick change from cold night time temperatures to a day promising unseasonable warmth had shocked the air. But by the time we reached our destination a half hours drive from home, the sun was out and the sky was bright blue. Things were improving.


The first hint of a memorable day occurred when I pulled in to the parking lot. It was a one way drive that I could not negotiate because of the large sedan coming towards me the wrong way. This forced me to head the wrong way around as well, irritating a small number of drivers I'm sure. As quickly as feasible I found a parking space in the large but overcrowded parking lot and we headed for the door. We had reservations for 1:30 p.m. and had arrived 10 minutes early. The waiting area was crammed with hungry patrons and Amanda and I stood against a wall while my mother gave our name to the reservation desk. Off to one side a lady and her friend were waiting with take out meals. They were in the path of the waitstaff and wouldn't budge. The reservationist turned and very politely asked that they move towards the front of the desk so that they weren't in the way of traffic flow. The "take-out lady" replied that she had change due from her payment and she was NOT going to move until she got it. Those of us lined up and close by rolled our eyes as she finally departed, bags and change in hand and friend in tow. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

Quite remarkably on time, we were seated. We checked the Thanksgiving menu to find that the Traditional Turkey dinner included: choice of one - tomato juice, fruit salad, or turkey soup as an appetizer. The dinner included turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, yams, peas, creamed pearl onions, and gravy. Dessert was a choice of pumpkin pie, mince meat pie, apple pie, or ice cream. Now, this sounds marvelous doesn't it? Except to me. Of the above, I don't especially like fruit salad or turkey soup so I chose the tomato juice. I don't like squash, yams, creamed onions or gravy. Never mince meat either. So for $19.99 I dined on a small glass of tomato juice, two small slices of turkey, a spoonful of stuffing, a blob of mashed potatoes and I'd guess a couple dozen peas (all of which were mixing on the plate with the squash and creamed onions at an alarming rate). Pumpkin pie for dessert. I also ordered a cup of coffee with my pie.

The meal was eaten quickly. The downside of eating a major holiday meal out and about...there's nothing relaxing about it. The waiter was good but was racing around so much we were astounded. Before we knew it our bill had arrived. Talk about sticker shock when I read it! Over $71.00 for three! Hmmmm...$19.99 X 3 = $59.97 doesn't it? Oh, seems beverages were not included in the price so add in 2 coffees, 1 tea, and a soda. Then there's meal tax. And don't forget the tip! We left $84.00 poorer. Forget it for next year. Maybe a buffet?

We exited through swarms of customers. The restaurant had taken reservations up until 7 p.m. Back to the van for the drive home. Since the day had warmed up so beautifully and the sun was shining in the blue sky, I decided to take a longer scenic drive home. We left the highway and headed towards the coast and Rte. 127. There was not much traffic on the road and it made for a pleasant drive. About 5 minutes after leaving the highway, Amanda announced the need for a restroom. Seems the coffee had, well, gotten to her. Even on the best of non-holiday days, it is hard to find public restrooms on the side roads of New England. Fortunately my mother's van totes a chemical port-a-potty! But where to find a bit of privacy? I took a short detour to a church parking lot and found a secluded back corner. We just had to hope that there were no police patrols! Then onward to arrive home just before sunset.

Fast forward one week later....yesterday I had to head off the island on a job. As I rounded Grant Circle, traffic had slowed to a near stop. A large group of twenty or so wild turkeys were trying to cross the two lanes of rotary traffic. I'm convinced that I saw one thumbing his nose (would that be winging his beak?) at me as I passed.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Glimpses of Their Pasts

The newspaper clip began with, "Nine local memoirists will read pieces of their work in an evening titled Pieces of Memory II. The article, of course, went on to name the time and place and continued by listing the authors who would read. Betty, Dorothy, Elizabeth, Joe, Pat, Loretta, Ann, Sue, and another Pat. Poor Joe, the only man with a group of errr interesting ladies.

I attended because I know Betty. And I'll start by saying that Betty's reading was a breath of fresh air. Betty's voice was quiet and a bit hesitant. In telling of how she played in the first Rockport High School band, her story was a precious insight to growing up in Rockport about 70 years ago. With a clever present day ending, Betty finished reading. The shortest memoir of the evening.

There was a younger women among the memoirists. While she told a clever story of first high school love, the lengthy details and her repetitive drone made sitting still for its entirety challenging.

I think Joe read the best of the evening. Joe related the nervousness and fear he experienced as a Jewish boy attending the 9th birthday party of a Christian girl from his school. With the subtle humor that only exists in retrospect, Joe's ability to clearly describe his unease at that party in 1950's Brooklyn excelled. I felt as a fly on the wall, back then, back there, at the party.

Quite honestly I left the memoir reading dismayed with the other six readings. They were overly long, left my back aching, screaming for some relief from the institutional seating. And they were extraordinarily consumed in death, disease, and prejudice. Was it just coincidence that these six people were thrown together in this memoir group? Do those seeking a public display of the miseries of their lives find a small town writing group as an outlet? Each of us can look back to times which we struggled to get through. Why do some feel the need to confide in a group of strangers? Do they think shock factor will somehow make them more memorable than their co-readers? For me, no. As you can see, although remembered for souring an evening, they are only recalled as a group. No pity for them, for as the stories worsened, so did the length of time it took to tell them. Drudgery.

Congratulations to the three with the courage to share their reflections on times, good and bad, with a retrospect that was not mired in self-pity.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble?

Original drawing credit to Don Addis
Coloration credit to deb

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

All Dressed Up and No Place to Go

Mrs. F phoned last Thursday evening. I answered with my best business voice saying, "Debra ____ Piano Service."

"Am I talking to a real person?" she asked.

I had tuned Mrs. F's Yamaha grand for the first time last April. It and she live in a splendidly appointed older home in Magnolia. Three levels, on the rocks, with an unobstructed view to Europe. She wanted to schedule another tuning. "But I'll be leaving on the 29th," she cautioned. "Is it possible to have it done before then?"

I checked my schedule and we agreed upon Tuesday the 20th at 10:30 a.m.

Mrs. F phoned yesterday morning at 8:30. She just wanted to check that her calendar was correct. Was I tuning Monday morning or Tuesday?

"I have you for Tuesday, tomorrow, at 10:30."

"Oh good. I have it right. See you tomorrow then, I'm so looking forward to it."

I turned in to Mrs. F's driveway between 10:20 and 10:25 a.m.* It had just started to slush out. Rain mixed with big snowflakes, that is. I was glad that I had taken the time to put the additional 400 lbs. of tube sand in the bed of the truck before heading out. Just in case. I made the descent down the hill and negotiated the abrupt left turn of the drive avoiding the careen across the steep side yard into the gray ocean below. I'd hate to make this trip in the ice and snow! Passing Mrs. F's Mercedes in front of the garage, I parked along side the front porch, collected my stuff and headed for the front door. I rang the bell and waited.

And waited.

I knocked and waited some more.

I went to the side door and rang the bell. And...waited.

Back to the front door and double rang the bell followed by a reverberating rapping on the wooden door panel. Nothing.

I went back to my truck and sat inside protected from the slushy mess falling more rapidly from the sky. I got two business cards from the holder and wrote the current date and time on each.

Tuesday, 20th, 10:40. Then I got out my cell phone and called Mrs. F's number. Nothing.

I'd been stood up. I put a business card in each door, loaded my tools back in the truck and left.

Mrs. F hasn't called yet.

Some good things did happen from being stood up...a Christmas present that I had ordered for my Mom had been delivered to the door and I got home to take it in and hide it before she noticed it, I was home to take a phone call from a technician sending a set of keys and needing pricing info, and the Rockport Art Association called to schedule a tuning.

*Contrary to the illusion of Mrs. F's drive being visible at the front of her house in this's not. The drive heading to the left that you can see actually belongs to the neighbors house. Look carefully at the small gap between the trees, about in the middle of the photograph. That's where Mrs. F's driveway takes it's dip towards the ocean and then, out of sight in the photo, takes a sharp left to her house. In this photo only the top half of the second (main) floor and the third (top) floor along with the roof are visible. Hidden below the hill are the bottom half of the main floor and, accessible from the ocean side, the first (walk in finished basement) level.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Well, it finally happened.

Cold weather. It's only in the mid 40's today and we have gusty winds. It was below freezing last night. Of course I'm not being truthful with this picture, although this is how I feel it should look!

I absolutely hate it. I feel like I will never be warm again. I don't mind winter if it could be about 80°F while it's wintering. I probably shouldn't complain too much about the temperature. This is the first that it's been seriously cold this season. Temperatures have been very mild for autumn in New England. You can tell by our plants. These begonias were planted in the flower boxes (another on my porch) last May. They just won't give up. Each time the overnight temperature has dipped below freezing we have expected wilted begonias the next day. It's just not happening. The neighbors will begin to think that they are artificial flowers!

There is hope this week. It's supposed to warm up to 55° on Thursday.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Four Pianos

The holiday season is generally a very busy time for piano technicians. With parties galore, it suddenly dawns on people that they want their piano tuned. Whether a regular customer with a well-maintained piano or a new customer who's piano hasn't been serviced in 10 years, this is the time of year they all call.

I am no exception. I decided to get my own piano in shape. Well, playable at least!

But first...

My Tuesday morning customer. This is one that hasn't had the piano tuned in ten years. Oh, and they did mention that the roof had leaked on the piano. Since this customer was nearby, I offered to do a quick inspection at no charge before scheduling a tuning. I love local customers, particularly with the sky-rocketing gasoline prices! The piano was an old studio sized relic. Beat up case, chipped keytops, and the workings hidden under a thick layer of gray dust. Sort of like the house. It had two keys that were easy fix, and a few hammers out of alignment...another easy fix. I played all the notes up and down the keyboard and was relieved that no individual notes were extraordinarily whacky which would have made me wary of loose tuning pins. I took out my tuning fork and thunked it against my knee cap to get it to sound. As I brought it to my ear, I played the corresponding A on the piano. Expecting to find the note drastically below pitch, I was amazed when it rang remarkably true to the fork. Armed with all the information I needed, I scheduled an appointment for fixing what needed fixing, a "the big stuff" vacuuming, and a tuning. The first date that we could coordinate schedules puts this job almost two weeks away. Then the customer asked for another tuning two weeks after the first. "Why?"
"Because I think it will need another one", he said.
I asked his wife if he were a pessimist. Then I agreed to write the second tuning in my schedule, but instructed him to call and cancel it when the piano still sounded fine.



Then it was time to tackle the monster. My piano. I had been working on it off and on for a few weeks. I had done major work on the piano while it and I were still in Florida including restringing the entire instrument. By this week I had managed to get the "guts" functioning mechanically; each of thousands of parts doing what it was supposed to at exactly the correct moment. Now it was time for the dreaded job. The job that causes me the most stress. The job I had managed to avoid doing very often for the last 15 years. Truth be known, I'd get a technician friend to do this job.

But now I was on my own. I had to yank this piano up to pitch. Starting from massively dissonant tones and string tensions that in no way made musical sense, all 230 plus strings had to be brought a bit above where they ultimately would be tuned.

This is when I fear that nasty, surprising sound of string breakage.

BANG!!!! Just that instant before you realize it's going to happen.

Or worse.

BOOM!!!! Something major was wrong and the increased tension has caused the massive cast iron plate to crack. Pretty much the demise of the instrument.

I had lost sleep the night before, just thinking of the possibilities.

I inhaled deeply and began. I kept telling myself "just go for it" and "if something breaks, so be it, this has to be done". As I progressed I found that I was holding my breath each time I increased the tension on each string. On some tuning pins that were extremely tight, I was clenching my teeth. I had to take a lot of breaks. It's a big upright piano and I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach the top tuning pins with my tuning lever. My right shoulder was aching terribly. But I finished. I did it. I was sooooo pleased with myself. The piano would sit for a day or so before I would attack it again. It would be interesting to see how it "settled".


I was sort of nervous about my Wednesday morning customer. It was just one of those funny feelings you get every once in a while that puts you a bit on edge. David had called a week earlier requesting an appointment for a tuning. He had left a message on my machine and was a new customer. I had returned the call that evening and was surprised when I got an answering machine with a message that stated a different last name than the one David had given. The following day David reached me. He said he had recently moved and his Wurlitzer spinet needed tuning. We agreed on a date and he gave me his address. Not a spectacular neighborhood. I decided that I'd take my chances and if things looked bad once I got there, I'd leave. Well, everything was fine. David showed me to the the bedroom. David had just bought the house and was doing major renovations. He was having to store most of his stuff until finished with the work. Just happened that the floors had been finished in this room, thus the odd furniture combo. Whew. I opened up the piano. It looked strangely at odds with itself. A 1960's spinet with a lovely satin black finish. Not a ding. The innards were sparkling clean. Not a bit of dust. The plain wire strings shone and the copper wound bass strings, although dull in color, were bright in tone.

Someone had blued the steel tuning pins recently. The bluing was on the wire coils of the strings.

Then there was the deserted campground...

of a mouse.

He had cleverly raided the gerbil food from a nearby pet and stored it between the ends of the piano keys and the inside of the case.

Then he had pee'd on his stash of food. Eeeeeeeeew.

Fortunately he had left camp.

The tuning went quickly and easily. Just minded the stench when playing those notes at each extreme of the instrument. I was still puzzled by the odd condition of the piano and asked David a few questions as I was packing up my tools. He estimates that the piano was about ten years old when his parents bought it used from a private party. No dealer involved to clean things up and try to disguise the rusty pins with bluing. None of his answers helped. David took a picture of the old mousie home for his kids and then vacuumed out the gerbil food.


Lanesville is a small community that is part of Gloucester. It sits on the northern tip of the island of Cape Ann. This morning I went to tune the choir practice piano for a church in Lanesville. Don't know where they found this piano. By it's condition, it must have been very eagerly donated. The photograph does it far more justice than it deserves. A beat up, drywall screwed together case, worn hammers, brittle dampers that made crunching noises as they returned to the strings, old Story and Clark spinet. Sticking keys, warped hammer shanks. A pile of little problems and fixes while tuning. And to finish, adjust the pedals as they wouldn't move far enough to work before "bottoming out".


And home to yank up the monster some more. Not nearly so far to yank this time!
It's getting good and I'm smiling.


Here's a short piano related tale from a newspaper clipping that I came across while I was cleaning out my desk. It was Police Notes in the Essex news section of the Gloucester Times several years ago.
A Southern Avenue resident reported a possible break-in at 5:33 p.m. Saturday after he saw a suspicious vehicle on his property and found the door to his office open. Police found the driver of the vehicle, who said he was lost and was trying to find a house where he was scheduled to tune a piano.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Puzzles Solved

A couple weeks ago, Amanda and I were browsing around our not-so-local Target store. For some strange reason we ended up in the toy department and decided we just had to have a jigsaw puzzle. Ummm, like I have nothing else to do, right? This is the puzzle we bought. I was a lot more difficult than we anticipated and drove us nuts for over a week of occasional struggling with it. We still haven't done the "I Spy" part of finding the hidden items.

It was even more frustrating when at the end, in a mad frenzy to complete the puzzle at about 10:30 one night, we found out that there was one piece missing. We've looked everywhere. No luck.

No 1000 piece puzzle. We only got 999.


Remember a month or so ago I mentioned that our shower was merely drizzling? I had tried to remove the shower head to see if there was sediment clogging the holes, but our to-remain-nameless idiot plumber for our addition had over-tightened the shower head and I couldn't budge it. Well.....looky here! I ran in to our much loved new plumber while having lunch at Ellen's (before they closed for the season). He stopped by the following day and took the shower head off for me. He did it so easily, I remarked that it must have been because I had already loosened it! K. R. told me to remove the water saver device in the shower head and that we would love our shower!

Here's what the water saver device looked like when I took it out. Sorry for the less than great photo, but this thing is only about 3/8th inch diameter. Not only was it doing it's job of restricting the water flow to a fine spray, but it was half clogged with bits of teflon tape (the white stuff sticking out of it)! No wonder a lousy shower. I'd love to know how plumber 1 accomplished that!

It's been a few weeks since K. R. of Keating and Ramsden Plumbing was out to help me and I have received no bill. Yesterday, I made him a thank you card. It's a tri-fold. Only the top third is visible and then it unfolds to show the rest. I had to photograph it rather than scan it as I used some sugar-like glitter to highlight the water and I didn't want to risk scratching the scanner. We love Keating and Ramsden!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Weeks Fly

I've decided to slow down for a moment and take the time to relate why I have been remiss, not only in writing here, but in reading other's blogs.

The main reason........

Seems I haven't had more than a couple minutes to sit and relax!

So here goes........

Having finished up the installation of the player piano, a week ago last Monday I finished the Dr.'s reed organ. This is the organ that will be going to Thacher Island come next summer. Not much was needed to get the job completed and by noontime it was done. The afternoon was spent on a totally different kind of project...

Reading the volumes of information for my mother's pending health insurance change!

She doesn't understand it, so it has become my job to find a plan that is best for her. Don't get me going on the disgusting state of health coverage in the US. I could write volumes! So far, in requesting information on only 5 options offered by two companies she has received three large cartons, packed with hundreds of pages each, in the mail. While I started this process over a week ago, it is still ongoing.

The next day a set of keys arrived for new keytops. I had been anxiously awaiting their arrival. This was to be a fun job. The keys were from a child's grand piano. Only 26 keys to cover! A mini-set. It was cute to see them lined up. All right, maybe only in a weird piano tech's mind. Here's what they looked like lined up for packing to be shipped back. I had worked on them all day, after their arrival on Tuesday, as on Wednesday I would be out for the day. Before my Tuesday could be called finished, I did some work for WHOA-KTD. I'm in the process of emailing all the New England high schools about booking Jayne for school presentations. I'm about halfway through the state of Maine schools.

Wednesday was my big day off. Haha. The girls headed out to go shopping. First stop was L.L. Bean for some winter clothes. Amanda found a beautiful blue, down parka. She desperately needed a new winter jacket. I bought a fine wale corduroy shirt. Mom was BAD and spent a lot of money. Well, compared to Amanda and me. She bought a couple pairs of corduroy pants and three new tops, I think. After L.L. Bean it was off to a gift shop in Danvers. I was looking for a birthday gift and hadn't been having much luck finding anything. I had never been to this particular shop, and while it was nice and had piles of cool stuff, I found nothing suitable. Our last stop was Lowe's, a home improvement store for some odds and ends we needed. I can't remember exactly what we went for or whether we bought anything there! Then it was a quick dash home as the Trick-or-Treaters would start arriving.

Greeting kids dressed in costume is not my thing. My Mom kept insisting I come to the door to see how cute or scary each kid was. Amanda hid at our house watching scary movies. Smart move!

Thursday was a challenging day and I, of course, did not have my camera! My Mom and I headed down to the church to put heavy duty dollies on the spinet piano. This would make it possible to roll the piano from room to room. To do this job I would have to stand the piano on end. No problem, I thought, I've done this before, I've moved spinets around and even loaded them in my mini-van. I got everything ready and started to lift. Mom was there to dial 911 if needed (grin). This was a heavy spinet. I got it part way up and decided it just might be a bit heavy for me. I let it back down to the floor. While considering my options, a really fortuitous thing happened...Mr. B appeared. With me lifting and Mr. B adding a bit of weight relief, we got the piano on end. Mr. B. left his phone number (it's written on the bottom of the piano!) to call when I was ready to reverse the process. Mom helped hold each dolly in place as I secured them with screws and bolts. Twenty minutes later, I called Mr. B and we lowered the piano back down, dollies in place.

Only four days along and it felt like four weeks.

Friday I did more work on insurance reading, shipped the little key set, and started working on my own piano. I hope to get the piano in good shape before the Christmas holidays. In the afternoon, the Dr. and his Thacher Island groupies (chuckle) showed up to take the reed organ away. They were fascinated with the piano work I was doing so I showed them a few details and also what the lower workings of the player piano portion looked like. It was at that moment that I was asked to be a member of the groupies! Next summer I get to volunteer on Thacher Island each Wednesday. For starters I'll be shingling the new work shed!

The weekend began with a nor'easter. Yucky, windy and rainy weather. I spent most of the day working on insurance reading. Mom and I went to a local store and I finally found that gift I needed. Later in the evening, at high tide, I took Mom for a ride out Bearskin Neck. It was dark and spooky with the wind howling and the waves crashing. My little truck would shake with each blast from the northeast and surf would crash on the rocks unexpectedly and suddenly visible from the dark. As we drove back Mom noticed something in a shop window. The perfect birthday gift that I had been looking for. But I had all ready bought something else.

What a difference a day makes and Sunday certainly fit the bill. Sunny and bright. After church I walked out the Neck to that little shop where Mom had seen the perfect gift. I bought it. Christmas shopping had begun! Sunday afternoon I finalized my decision on the best insurance for Mom and tried to explain it to her. Now all that is left is the paperwork. I think. I asked that I take a couple days off from thinking about it. She has plenty of time before the paperwork is due.

Is it Monday again so soon? Amanda got called in to work extra hours so this gave extra time to go out on errands for Mom and me. We did some Christmas shopping and picked out upholstery fabric for Mom's rocking chair (the one that came from A's house in NH).

Tuesday rolled around and work continued on my piano. With lots of little things to do, I wrapped the birthday gift and wrote the card, baked peanut butter cookies, cleaned the house, and cleaned up the workshop. I also did some more sorting of Dad's stuff. The keeps, the throw aways, and the sell at garage sale things. What on earth would I ever do with 35 augers? 53 drills the smallest of which is half inch and the largest well over two inches? And the large masonry bits? Sigh...

And finally Wednesday. More of Tuesday's sorting and cleaning, shipped the gift, worked on woodwork for my Mom. Amanda, Mom and I went out for pizza for dinner. After dinner I went out for another exciting evening in town. Remember the gala? Wednesday night the library was hosting a memoir reading. Since I know one of the participants, I decided to attend. The content will be saved for a post all it's own!

Sidebar changes this morning with a new recommended read. I actually read A Thousand Splendid Suns last summer. It deserves a spot in my recommendations. I loved Khaled Hosseini's first book The Kite Runner and was hoping I wouldn't be let down with his second book. Not a chance, far better than the excellence of the first. Look here for details.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Three Cheers for Jayne!

I love passing along good news. Check out Jayne's Netcrimes blog to read the details of the great news. Then go to the book's official site to buy a copy if you don't already own one!The holidays are coming soon, so think of your friends who are online and wrap up a copy for them.