Piano Odyssey Part Two: Lucas is Home At Last

It's here!!  Our long-awaited, carefully selected pre-owned piano was loaded onto a truck in Baltimore early Sunday morning to begin its trek to Charlotte.  The piano movers had several deliveries to make en route to our house, so it wasn't until around noon on Monday that they appeared on our doorstep.  We had spent a good bit of the weekend rearranging things in anticipation of the piano's arrival.  The chess table and chairs are now in the keeping room next to the kitchen fireplace, and the entertainment center and unused television it contained were lugged all the way up two flights of stairs to the third floor playroom.  I should point out that the television is not plugged into anything up there, no satellite or cable box, and no one is going to watch it up there, either.  It is amazing the amount of physical exertion and back pain my husband is willing to take on just to prevent me from throwing anything away. 

Anyway, Lars and Anders were so excited about the new piano when they got home from school that they raced through their homework as though their very lives depended on finishing first.  The one who finished first got to practice on the new piano first, and the one who finished just a few seconds later burst into tears.  But both boys got plenty of time to play, and both declared the piano to be a big improvement over the wretched, stinking keyboard.  In fact, they think the bass register on our piano sounds so good, they named the piano Lucas.  Yes, that would be as in Lucas Films, as in Star Wars...  (In case I haven't mentioned this already, EVERYTHING in our house at some level is about Star Wars!)

Lucas the Piano is beautiful.  He's not a grand, but he really fits the space well and although he's 26 years old, he looks brand-new.  Kind of like the digitally remastered Star Wars movies, come to think of it...  Lucas sounds rich, deep, and soulful, everything that we had hoped for in our piano.  Best of all, no rooster button!

Middle C is sticking a little bit, but when I called Rick Jones Piano Center to report it, they said that's a common occurrence right after a piano has been moved and it should resolve on its own within a few days -- if not, they will pay for any necessary repairs to be performed by the piano technician of my choice.  They are also paying for the first in-home tuning.  I couldn't be more pleased with the whole experience, and I feel like we got the very best instrument for our family within our budget. 

If I get any free time, I might just have to start taking piano lessons myself!

Desperately Seeking a Child-Friendly e-Reader!

E-Book manufacturers are not thinking about kids when they design their devices. This is a shame, because it's a huge untapped market.

The price point of the most popular e-reader devices isn't much more than what personal gaming devices like this Nintendo DSi sell for.  This one is selling for $169 at Best Buy right now, but I know I paid closer to $200 for it when it first came out.  The DSi has internet capabilities that I don't want my six-year-old to use, but I was able to lock down everything I needed to with built in parental controls during the initial setup. My sons, their cousins, and most of their friends already own these gaming devices, so it's not as though parents would balk at the price point for e-readers. The Nintendo DSi is a lifesaver for parents when traveling with kids (long flights, unexpected delays in boring airport terminals, long car trips) or when you have to drag them around shopping, for instance, but parents feel guilty about "plugging the kids in" to video games for hours on end.  Look at the success of Baby Einstein videos, Leap Pad/Leapster, and PC games that help kids learn math facts, phonics, etc.  To me, e-readers are a logical next step for kids. 

The e-Books for kids market is an untapped goldmine. My own sons' voracious reading habits may not be the norm (they are six and nine years old, they spend at least three hours reading every single day, and I've found them hiding in their closets reading books in the middle of the night more times than I can count).  But for parents who are struggling to get their kids to read at all, an e-reader device could help make reading more appealing to tech-savvy kids who would rather be playing video games.  There's definitely a "cool" factor.  Electronic books appeal to me because my sons' bedroom walls are lined with bookshelves and still I'm running out of storage for all their paperback and hardcover books.  I also like the "instant gratification" factor of being able to download the next book in the series as soon as they finish the last chapter of the previous book instead of having to run out to the bookstore or order it online and wait for it to be delivered.  I like that the e-Books would take up so much less space when we're traveling instead of cramming 3-4 traditional books per child into the suitcases so they don't run out of things to read while we're away.  And unlike with the Nintendos, I don't feel like I would have to limit the amount of time my sons were using an e-Book device, other than taking it away at bed time. 

So, if I'm so pumped up about e-readers for kids, why don't my sons have them yet?  The problem is that none of the devices currently on the market, at least the ones I'm aware of, are designed with

children in mind, and each one has at least one feature that makes it inappropriate for kids.  For example, I actually purchased one of Amazon's kindle devices for about $250 last summer and played with it for a few days before returning it.  My sons were fascinated by the kindle, and when I downloaded a Magic Treehouse book for them in the airport, their eyes lit up like it was Christmas morning.  We also loved the kindle's built-in dictionary.  Since kids are still building their vocabularies, they often come across unfamiliar words, but it's a drag to interrupt reading a good story to go find a dictionary.  With the kindle, they just highlight the word they don't know in the text and they can instantly get a definition at the bottom of the screen.  I LOVE this feature for kids!  But here's what I didn't love about the kindle:

  • You can't share books between kindle devices.  Right now, as soon as one boy finishes a book his brother starts reading it.  I want each boy to have his own kindle so they can read at the same time, but I don't want to have to pay twice for each book, especially since the e-books don't cost much less than the traditional print versions of the books.  UPDATE November 23, 2010: Someone just posted a comment informing me that you CAN share content between multiple kindle devices, as long as the devices are all registered to the same user account.  This is true; however, Amazon says "Our Whispersync technology synchronizes your Kindle library and last page read across your devices, so you can read a few pages on your phone or computer and pick up right where you left off when you return to your Kindle."  This is a helpful feature if one person is doing all the reading on all of these different devices, but it would make it difficult for two boys to keep track of where they were in the book if they lose their place every time their brother opened the book on his device.  Also, I wouldn't want all the books from MY kindle to show up in the kids' kindle libraries, so I'd need to set up separate accounts for them, anyway.  Amazon's web site states that they are working on introducing a book lending feature sometime this year.

  • Although we liked being able to access Amazon's kindle store to purchase and download books directly from the kindle device, I didn't like that there isn't any kind of parental control feature on the kindle.  Once the kindle was linked to my Amazon account, the kids could engage in a downloading free-for-all, all unbeknownst to me, and all instantly charged to my American Express account via my Amazon account.  Eek!  And it's not just the spectre of terrifying AmEx bills that worries me -- without supervision, kids could easily download inappropriate content by accident, like if they are looking for kids' books about Batman but they accidentally download a really violent graphic novel for adults instead.  All Amazon would have to do to make the kindle child-friendly would be to add a password feature to purchase from the kindle store on the device.  This would be useful to adult users as well, since my understanding is that, right now if a kindle is lost or stolen, a thief could download books to the stolen device and it would all be charged to the owner's account.
So a few months ago I heard that Barnes & Noble was coming out with an e-reader of their own that would allow sharing e-books with friends and family with the LendMe feature, and I raced over to my local bookstore to check it out.  The nook is priced the same as the kindle at $250, and I love the aesthetics of the color touch screen on the B&N nook that lets the user view all the book jackets in full color.   Like the kindle, the nook also has a built-in dictionary, and the nook has fun, bright colored protective jackets available as accessories in my sons' favorite colors (orange for Lars, green for Anders).  Another neat nook feature is built in chess and sudoku games (both are way more educational than the Pokemon and Lego Batman games they like to play on Nintendo DSi) and, like the kindle, the nook has wi-fi capability so you can download books directly to the device.  Unfortunately, just like the kindle, once you enter your credit card information on the nook to download a book, the nook stores your info with no password protection.  Why is it so hard for these e-Reader manufacturers to incorporate this feature?!  So we had to pass on the nook.
 
I don't have any direct experience with Sony's e-readers, although they are apparently a leader in this market, but I have looked at them online.  Sony Digital eBook Readers come in a few different models ranging in price from $200-350, and the one that looked most promising for kids was their Pocket Edition for $200.  The price is nice, and the Sony Reader wouldn't allow my kids to download books directly to the device on their own -- but it won't let ME download books directly to the device, either!  The Pocket Edition Sony Reader doesn't have the cool dictionary feature, either (you have to shell out $300 for the Touch Edition to get the dictionary), but the biggest drawback is that you have to load new books onto it from a PC similar to the way you load music files onto an MP3 player.  There's no downloading a new book on a whim while you're out and about with the Sony Readers.  I have also read in other people's reviews that there are fewer e-books available for the Sony Readers, and as long as there is no standard e-book format that works on all devices, this is an important consideration.  The Sony Readers also get bad reviews for screen glare; one reviewer complained that the glare on her Reader device is so bad that she could "use it to apply makeup."  The Amazon kindle and the B&N nook that I played with myself both seemed like they would be pretty easy on the eyes, even after hours of reading.
 
Last but not least, there's a lot of buzz right now about Apple's foray into the e-reader market with their new iPad, shown at left.  The iPad is a snazzy little device with a beautiful, crisp display, but the $500 the price point is too high to be kid-friendly. The iPad has way too many features for my kids anyway, and with its built-in web browser and email capabilities it's even worse than the kindle or nook from a parental control perspective.  I don't want them browsing the internet, emailing anyone, downloading a bunch of extra apps or watching YouTube videos unsupervised!  Too bad, because I love that beautiful, full-color backlit screen.
 
Meanwhile, although a lot of adult readers dislike e-readers just for being different from what they're used to (I hear a lot of people complain that they prefer the smell of paper books, the feel of them, etc.), kids love anything electronic and don't share the prejudices against e-Books that many adults have.  Kids grasp new technology almost intuitively, and I believe the e-book technology is something they will need to be comfortable using in the future.  Princeton University already conducted a trial of the kindle devices for Amazon, and although most of the students using them complained about them (they didn't like the difficulty of annotating and highlighting on the kindles, and preferred making paper photocopies of physical books that they could highlight and annotate the old-fashioned way), what was most interesting to me was the environmental reasoning behind Princeton's interest in e-readers to begin with.  Princeton found a 50% reduction in the amount of paper used to print course readings during the trial, and paper reduction alone is enough reason to expect e-readers to become more mainstream over the next few decades.  By the time my kids reach college, I'm sure the glitches with annotation and highlighting will have been worked out, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they are able to download all of their textbooks and supplemental reading for an entire semester onto one lightweight e-reader device.  You can read more about the Princeton kindle trial here
 
Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for a child-friendly e-reader device for my sons. 
 
Update: I just came across a great wish-list of 10 Ideas eReader Companies Ought to Consider  on iReader Review blog.  Along with the parental controls I'm looking for, this blogger has great ideas about additional hypothetical features that would track kids' progress toward reading goals, whether time spent reading or word count.  Although iReader Review's raison d’ĂȘtre is to support kindle users, I found his kindle vs. nook review and kindle vs. iPad reviews to be both thorough and fair.

Update, December 2011: We ended up buying Amazon Kindles for our boys about six months ago, and you can read about how they're working out for us here

Update, October 2012: Our Amazon Kindle Keyboards were recently automatically updated wirelessly, and the new update FINALLY give me the parental controls I've been looking for!  I'm now able to restrict access to the experimental web browser AND the kindle store.  Yippee! 

High Point Spring Furniture Market 2010: The Good, the Bad, and the What Were They Thinking?!

I just returned from the High Point Spring Furniture Market a few days ago, and thought I'd share a few highlights here.  If you're looking for a full-blown trend analysis, you should follow my friend Jackie Von Tobel's blog, Jackie Blue Home, because she's great at sifting through the sensory overload we get at these shows and distilling it all down to find the overarching themes and major upcoming trends.  Even after I walk through the same showrooms she did, I enjoy seeing things a second time through her eyes.

Here's one of my favorite new ideas from this Spring's Market:


Now, I'm not rushing out to buy this exact chair for any of my clients; I think the overall effect on this piece is a bit gaudy, but I like the way the chandelier fabric on the outside backs of the chairs has been embellished with actual crystal chandelier prisms for a three-dimensional effect.  It's very tongue-in-cheek.  We've been seeing these printed and woven chandelier patterned fabrics for awhile now, most cleverly used as dining chair upholstery fabric in contemporary or modern dining rooms that eschew traditional chandelier lighting, so the fabric alone is nothing new.  But now I'm envisioning using a bold chandelier patterned fabric on an upholstered cornice, with large chandelier prisms stitched onto the chandeliers like you see on this chair, and maybe some draped crystal chandelier bead trim along the lower edge of the cornice as well...  You can purchase a wide variety of crystal chandelier prisms fairly inexpensively at ChandelierParts.com, by the way.  I've used them in the past dangling at the base of goblet pleats on drapery panels, like these ones that were just installed in a client's dining room recently:


I like the subtle glimmer of the crystal prisms against the silk taffeta panels; don't you? 

So, back to the High Point show.  Here's something that amused me:

At first, when I saw this table, I thought it might be a cool idea to have a favorite family blessing or food-related Bible verse carved into the dining table.  After all, customization is huge in the design world these days, and this company will inscribe any verse or quote you want into their table for you, so it's a one-of-a-kind piece that could be very meaningful to a client.  But then I thought of my own mischievous little sons, who are already guilty of carving their names and initials into their bedroom furniture and the walls of their toy room, and I realized that this table sets a very bad precedent!  All it takes is one little boy who has chewed the eraser off the back of his pencil and, before you know it, this table would look like a desk that's been used in a middle school study hall for 25 years.  I can see it now: "Lars was here, but now he's gone.  He left his name to carry on..."  and "Star Wars ROCKS!"

I really this new collection from Fine Art Lamps, one of my favorite high end lighting companies:


The photo doesn't do this chandelier justice.  As always with Fine Art Lamps, the finishes are excellent and the materials and craftsmanship are unparalleled.  What I like most about this style is how versatile it is.  The bronzey-brown finish will coordinate easily with many of the existing fixtures and door hardware in many of my clients' recently-built custom homes, and there is a wide range of drapery hardware available that would coordinate with this fixture as well.  This fixture would definitely be an upgrade over a builder-grade chandelier, and the styling would lend itself to a variety of different room settings as well.  I especially love the unusual bead-shaped chain on this piece, and the aged, mottled gold finish on the acanthus leaves.  Best of all, my Fine Art Lamps rep offered to open their High Point showroom during the off-season any time I have a client who would like to schedule a private showing of their line.  These light fixtures are breathtaking in person, and you just can't appreciate their dramatic impact when you're looking at pictures in a catalog.

I hope you enjoyed those little gems; I'll try to post some more goodies from High Point in a few days.

Quick & Easy Embroidered Teacher Gifts

It's getting to be that time of year again.  Now that we're back from Spring Break, it's full speed ahead to summer vacation.  If your kids are in preschool or elementary school, it's not too soon to start planning group gifts for those special classroom teachers.  Scrapbooks, photo albums, and group gift certificates are always nice, but I thought I'd share a quick but meaningful machine embroidered project that I came up with a few years ago for my son's preschool teachers.  All of the moms pitched in to buy two simple solid-color aprons.  The class had been working hard all year long on learning to print their names, so I got each child to write his or her name in marker on a white sheet of paper.  I scanned the signatures into my computer, cleaned up stray marks in Corel, and then used the Auto Digitize feature of my Bernina Artista embroidery software to convert each child's signature into a machine embroidery design.  Then I randomly stitched the children's embroidered signatures all over the aprons in different thread colors.  Ta da!

If I had this project to do over, I would have asked the mom who bought the aprons to get ones without pockets since I would have had to remove and reattach the pockets in order to embroider them and still have them be functional.  I was down to the wire, so I just embroidered around the pockets instead.  And if I was a little more comfortable with my digitizing software it would have been nice to angle the satin stitches around the curves of the letters for a more professional end result.  But the teachers loved their aprons and said they would wear them when they did craft projects with the kids, and the children enjoyed finding their signatures on each one and pointing them out. 

Spring Gardening Update

...So, I finally called Wayside Gardens to complain about my "Yellow Bird" Magnolia having pink flowers.  You will recall that I planted the little twigling two years ago and have patiently tended it and waited for it to bloom, and this is the first year that any flowers appeared at all.  Wayside Gardens initially informed me that their plant guarantee required me to notify them within one year "if a plant fails to perform as expected."  How was I supposed to know to complain about the flowers being the wrong color before any flowers had been produced?  Eventually I obtained the concession of a $25 gift certificate, but the whole exchange was so unpleasant that I doubt I'll ever purchase from them again anyway.  They insisted that I didn't buy my lilac from them, but some internet research turned up some interesting possibilities for that plant's failure to bloom.  My darling husband confesses to having fed Holly Tone to my lilac, and several sources indicate that lilacs prefer slightly alkaline (not acidic) soil and that feeding them with a high nitrogen fertilizer will encourage foliage but inhibit blooms -- so no more Holly Tone, and better hopes for lilac blooms next year.

At least my clematis is looking good.  I planted it last year on a whim, from seeds, I think, and it was kind of like Jack and the Beanstalk watching this vine grow up and entwine itself on the trellis.  I'm pretty sure the seed packet said my clematis would have "dark red" blooms, and these look dark purple to me, but seeds are cheap and I'm just happy they are growing at all.

Other happy flowers in the spring garden are the irises that my husband rescued from a building site last year under cover of darkness.  It was one of those tiny old homes sitting on a big piece of land with gardens all around it, and a developer bought the house, razed it to the ground, and bulldozed the entire lot for future townhomes.  This happened right before the housing bubble burst, so once they had flattened everything the property just sat there for months -- and a couple of optimistic irises, in defiance of  bulldozers and townhomes and the economy and everything, had the courage to poke their shoots of green up out of the dirt last spring, trying to be a little bit of beautiful at an ugly abandoned construction site.  Now they live in my flower bed, where they are blooming alongside my son's favorite African Marigolds.
Those will be red lilies coming up behind the irises eventually, along with a motley assortment of camellias and other perennials that begged to come home with me even though I didn't really have a good place to put them.  I honestly don't know what all I've planted here.  This is the Flower Dump.

Now, before you start thinking too highly of my third-grade son's gardening instincts, I have to confess that he only likes the marigolds because they are orange.  He likes EVERYTHING to be orange; orange clothes, orange ink pens and highlighters, orange bookbags...  And he has a love-hate relationship with plants in general, as evidenced by what he did to this poor Autumn Joy Sedum plant a few days ago.  Apparently the plant went over to the Dark Side or something, because my son hacked it nearly to death with a light saber.  It's a good thing this plant is resilient!  My husband was so mad when he saw the plant, and my son looked so sincerely surprised that this was a problem...  Fun times!

Meanwhile, I'm finally getting the custom flower boxes that I've been begging for.  My husband is making them for my birthday present out of some kind of stuff that doesn't rot that we painted to match the window trim, with drainage holes at the bottom covered with some kind of fiberglass mesh screening so the soil doesn't fall out, and he has elaborate schemes for running little tubes up the house along the mortar lines so the flower boxes can get irrigation from the sprinkler system.  I don't like seeing the L-brackets underneath the boxes, and the decorative brackets I ordered are backordered for a couple of weeks, but they look pretty good so far:


Now I just need to decide what to plant in them.  I envision something red and trailing that will bloom all the way through the summer without anyone needed to climb a ladder or open a window to deadhead the spent blooms.  I went to two nurseries today and didn't see anything I liked, but I'm determined to get flowers planted up there tomorrow.

My Piano Odyssey

Briefly, I had a piano in my home.  It was a 4'6" Kimball baby grand that had belonged to my mother.  When my parents moved to Charlotte and downsized to a smaller home, my mother realized with dismay on move-in day that it was physically impossible to fit her formal living room furniture and piano into the small room she had designated for them in her new home, so the piano came to my house and was placed in a small sunroom just off of my family room.
My oldest son was about 4 at that time, and early attempts at piano lessons for him were disastrous for a number of reasons: immaturity, as-yet-undiagnosed and untreated ADHD, and a poor fit with the piano teacher.  So the piano stood in my sunroom mostly unused for a few years.  I went in there and visited it from time to time, playing my repertoire (I can play "Heart and Soul" and the first half of the theme from "Ice Castles," and I can pick out melodies with my right hand.  Woo hoo!  I used to be able to play parts of "Against All Odds," but alas, no more...).  In 2007 we moved less than a mile away from our previous home in order to get more living space, but the new home didn't really have a good place to put a baby grand piano that wasn't getting played, so the piano went back to my mother's house (she sensibly decided to get rid of her living room sofa to make room for it).  Here's my mom's piano, back in her own living room sans sofa:

My mother sewed those draperies and painted the stenciled design on the walls herself, by the way -- didn't she do a great job? 

Okay, so flash forward a couple of years.  Both of my sons started taking piano lessons last fall with a fabulous, amazing teacher who has unbelievable patience, is an incredibly talented musician, and loves my sons to pieces.  Thank you, God, for sending her!  But now I have two little boys who have to be reminded 15 times to brush their teeth and put on clean underwear every day, but who race over to the dinky little plastic keyboard every stinking morning as soon as they finish their breakfast and fight over whose turn it is to practice.  This is not just a fad; it has been a daily occurrence for eight months.  It's partly because they both really like music and have some natural ability, partly because music education is really important to me and my husband and we are supporting and encouraging them, but mostly it's because Saint Glenda of Piano Lessons has been writing them custom arrangements of music from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Indiana Jones.  Here's my little one, playing Star Wars on the nasty plastic keyboard, in full Yoda costume:

The nasty plastic keyboard in this photo is actually the predecessor to the even nastier plastic keyboard currently in my home.  This one cost $40 brand-new on eBay, and I'm lucky that it lasted as long as it did.  When it began randomly switching instrument voices while they were playing (Yoda was in tears), my resourceful husband got a great deal on a nicer Yamaha keyboard at a pawn shop, but unfortunately it reeks like an ash tray and I can't stand to get within three feet of it...  But I digress.

So beginning around Thanksgiving of last year, I began researching and shopping for pianos.  Right off the bat, I decided I liked Steinway art case grand pianos, but after several weeks in a row of not winning Powerball I abandoned that scheme as impractical.  Which is a shame, because this would have looked AMAZING in my living room:

This is a one-of-a-kind Steinway reproduction of the 1889 Alma-Tadema art case piano that sold at auction for a record $1.2 million at Christie's in 1997.  The reproduction, currently available for sale from Steinway, is a steal at only $675,000.  In case your pockets are deeper than mine, you can find more information about this gorgeous piano here.  Who knew pianos could even BE that expensive?!  Even a smaller, garden variety Steinway grand piano is way out of my budget, priced around $50-70K for a new one or $30-50K for a used one in good condition.

I did a lot of research over the past few months and learned an awful lot about piano guts and how they work, the care and feeding of pianos, and what NOT to buy.  For anyone embarking on a piano quest of their own, I strongly recommend Larry Fine's Piano Book: Buying and Owning a New or Used Piano.  From that book, I learned that school piano sales are like furniture "going out of business" sales, primarily a sales gimmick to get buyers in and hoodwink them into thinking that they are getting fantastic deals when they may actually be paying more than the usual dealer price.  I also learned to avoid spinet pianos (poor sound quality on such short strings) and that "antique" upright pianos aren't worth the cost of restoration unless they are Steinways.  A local piano technician has a great buyer-beware article about the hidden costs and heartaches that come with "free" and low-priced used uprights that you can read here.  (Scroll down past the pianos they have for sale; the article is way down at the bottom).  So we didn't go that route, either.  Instead, I scoured eBay and Craig's List for months, looking for a private seller wanting to find a good home for their well-loved, well-maintained Kawai or Yamaha piano.  Okay, I admit it -- I continued to harbor hopes that I would find some fool selling his grandmother's Steinway who had no idea what it was worth.  No dice!  I thought for sure I would be able to capitalize on the misfortunes of someone in foreclosure who couldn't take their piano with them and needed to cash out, but I just didn't find any opportunities like that.  What I did find was a ton of 50-60 year old spinet pianos for sale, lots of "free" or nearly-free 150-year-old upright pianos that I had also been warned to stay away from, and a whole slew of weird-looking Steinway SQUARE grand pianos from the late 19th century that, sadly, were a failed experiment in piano design and, according to Mr. Fine, are not suitable for anyone who wants to actually play the piano.  I just have to show you one, though:
Looks pretty interesting, doesn't it?  This one is currently for sale on eBay, and there are about five others just like it for sale on Charlotte Craig's List right now, too.  Unfortunately, despite sellers' claims to the contrary, they are NOT rare and valuable, they typically require an enormous investment in repairs and rebuilding using a hodgepodge of antique and modern parts that don't quite fit -- assuming you can even find a technician willing to work on one of these beasts -- and even after all of that, this type of piano still will never be able to perform up to modern standards.  Buyer beware!

Somewhere in the midst of all of this research and piano lust, I had the foresight to obtain a grand piano template from a local piano dealer.  This is just a huge piece of heavy paper with the outline of several sizes of grand pianos drawn on it in different colors.  For those of you who sew, it looks just like a commercial multisize garment pattern.  When I laid the grand piano template out on my living room floor, I was confronted with the unpleasant reality that a grand piano STILL is not going to fit in that room, not unless I get rid of the coffee table and the sofa, like my mother did to fit her piano.  The difference is that no one ever sat in my mother's sofa, but my husband's enormous flat screen TV is in my living room and he likes to sprawl on the sofa to watch larger-than-life movies and basketball games.  I reluctantly determined that replacing his sofa with a grand piano would not have been a healthy choice for my marriage.  Uprights may not be as exciting to look at as grand pianos, but Larry Fine's book says that a full-size, 52" upright piano can sound just as good if not better than a grand piano smaller than 6'.  Somewhere along the way, had I forgotten this quest was supposed to be all about music?

Meanwhile, as I desperately tried to locate the magical piano that existed at the intersection of my hopes, dreams, and budget, my sons tormented me with the obnoxious built-in tunes and sound effects on that demonical keyboard.  The song "Jingle Bells" has been ruined for me forever, and why on earth would anyone need crowing rooster sound effects on a keyboard?  If you're getting sick of reading about this piano hunt already, that's how I was feeling about it myself up until a few days ago when I finally made a decision and ended this whole thing (hopefully once and for all).  I purchased a completely rebuilt and refinished 1984 Kawai US-50 from Rick Jones Pianos in Baltimore, sight unseen.  It has new strings, new pins, new keytops, and a brand new finish, and I got it for a fraction of the cost of a new 52" upright Kawai.  The dealer's web site is great -- their inventory is extensive and they give detailed information of every piano they sell with high-resolution photos inside and out, as well as a video clip of each piano actually being played so you can compare the sound, almost like being there in the showroom in person.  There is no sales tax for out of state customers, their professional delivery is reasonably priced, and get this -- I am getting a 10 year warranty on my used piano, which is better than I would get on a brand new one.  You can see pictures of it here, or at least you will be able to see them until the dealer takes them off his web site.  The piano is supposed to be delivered the week of April 25th-29th, so I'll post some photos once it gets here.  Maybe I'll even get adventurous and teach myself to play the second half of "Ice Castles!"

Renegade Easter Bunny Wreaks Havoc with a Sharpie!!

This year, my third-grade son suggested that we dye our Easter eggs black.  Black?!  If you met my boys, you would understand.  How do you even DO that, I wondered?  So I said, "No black eggs -- it's Easter, not Halloween!"  However, through some kind of food coloring mishap, the eggs that were supposed to be blue came out such a dark, midnight blue that they really DO look black.  The rest of the eggs are normal colors, just very vivid.  I think I put way too much food coloring overall.  Anyway, after the kids went to bed, a wicked urge came over me and I went to town on the eggs with a Sharpie marker.  Tomorrow morning, I plan to act really surprised and exclaim, "Boys!  Look what the Easter Bunny did to your eggs!!"


See those weird, creepy charcoal-black eggs at the top ?  I'm sure I couldn't duplicate that if I tried.  My favorites are in the photo below: The Egg Who Lived (top left), the orange dragon (bottom left) and Mr. Yuck (bottom center). 

I got the egg faces idea from one of those endlessly forwarded emails that one of my sisters sent me.  They had faces drawn on uncolored white eggs, like this:
I think my colored eggs are much cuter.  If anyone knows the source for the terrified eggs in the above photo, please let me know so I can give credit where it's due.  Have a Happy Easter!
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