Life in Progress: A weblog by Heidi Price

Amazing Grace

When I was in eighth-grade, I played the piano for a church.

For $20 bucks a month, I pounded the keys on an old upright every Sunday at Pine Grove Methodist, an open one-room church, just outside of Hammondsville, Ohio. My best friend's step father had been hired as a preacher and they tapped me to play the piano.

I wasn't so stellar at the start. At first, I played Amazing Grace pretty much every Sunday. A few weeks into it, I started working with my piano teacher to learn new hymns. The best part of it was I got to plant he music.

I learned to love all the old ones, Rock of Ages, In the Garden and Just As I Am. And even though I knew the two-dozen or so regular church goers were sick of Amazing Grace, I tried to work it into the service every Sunday. After a few months, they didn't even need to open their hymnals on that one anymore. It was my favorite.

I didn't much care for the sermons, they were mostly fire and brimstone, nightmare-enducing, you'll-be-left-alone-if-you-don't-get-born-again-type things. But I loved the people.

There were salt-of-the-earth, as my mom would say. Every Sunday, during joys and concerns they would stand up and talk about their neighbors, about their gardens, about who was sick and who wasn't. One woman. who taught Sunday School in one corner of the room, stood and apologized for being so snippy lately but she was going through "change of life" and she just had all these emotions. When the weather turned and we learned the church didn't have heat, we would all huddle together under handmade quilts the women brought.

It lasted for little more than a year, if memory serves. As was his habit, my friend's stepfather quit and moved onto something else. So ended my piano playing duties.

Though I complained about having to get up early every Sunday, I missed my Sunday ritual once it was gone. Sometimes when I am alone in my car, especially on Sundays, I catch myself humming those hymns.

Across the Universe

My friend, Banker Boy, recently sent me a hot music tip that has become, at least for me, the most immediate, effective antidote to work stress. All I need to do is listen to these words and I automatically feel better. I will never be able to describe it as eloquently as he did, so I will just copy and paste his e-mail below:

If you don't own this already, buy The Beatles' "Let It Be" album and go right to #3. Then thank me.

*SIGH* Pure musical bliss...

Words are flowing out like
Endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass
They slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow waves of joy
Are drifting thorough my opened mind
Possessing and caressing me

Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world

Images of broken light which
Dance before me like a million eyes
They call me on and on across the universe
Thoughts meander like a
Restless wind inside a letter box
They tumble blindly as
They make their way across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world

Sounds of laughter shades of life
Are ringing through my opened ears
Exciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which
Shines around me like a million suns
And calls me on and on across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Jai guru deva
Jai guru deva


My friend met this guy on a bus.

The guy, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, invited her to celebrate Diwali with him and his fellow classmates Sunday night at a campus celebration.

My friend needed a prop so I went. (Note to reader: Prop here makes use of one connotation of the word. I came as a support to my friend. To bolster her. To support her yet somehow not dominate the show.)

Diwali is the Hindu celebration of lights. A four-day celebration held in October or November, it commemorates the beginning of winter. There was food from India, dancing and praying.

The most stunning aspect of the evening were the visuals. There was a corner table with lit candles. The women were beautiful in their saris. And the men? Well, more than anything they seemed proud to have these beautiful women on their arms.

Everyone was warm and friendly. I met a young graduate student from Malaysia who explained some of the traditions to me.

I also like the inevitable mesh of cultures that occurs at events like this.

For example, the two graduate students who, during the talent portion of the evening, performed Californication by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The guitar the one student played sounded like a sweet sitar and the other sang softly and melodically. It was a rendition of the song I knew I would never hear again.

Anyway, I'm glad I went.

Secret smoker

The camera pans to the box-like booth of a BP station. It is late at night.

A woman gets out of a black compact car and walks toward the garbage can. She looks around furtively and then takes the lid off. At the clerk's questioning glance, she tells him she thinks she may have dropped her wallet in there. Then she reaches into the garbage can and pulls out the pack of cigarettes, the same one she has thrown away hours earlier.

"Did you find it?" the helpful clerk asks.

"No," the woman says, and gets back in her car. Her hand shakes as she lights the soft white stick. Just a few hours earlier, she swore she would never smoke again.

Another night, the camera pans to a yellow, sunny kitchen where a woman tries to microwave a cigarette that is water-soaked because, an hour earlier, she has run water over the pack. A few hours earlier, she swore it would be her last pack. She soon learns that cigarettes do not microwave very well. Sometimes they just explode, coating the inside of the microwave with little brown tobacco leaves.

The woman has been leading a secret life these past weeks. After almost a year of not smoking, she crashed and she crashed big. She has been lying to the person she swore she would never lie to.

"I didn't smoke," she swears adamantly when he smells it on her breath one night.

Finally, she admits everything. She tells him that she will do good, maybe three or four days without smoking, and then she crashes.

She admits that she definitely needs help, that some nights she wants a cigarette so badly she shakes. They go to the store and buy Nicorette gum. He doesn't make a big deal out of it. He is not judgmental and that is one reason she loves him.

It's the funniest thing. Ever since she confessed, she doesn't want a cigarette so badly. She seems to have lost her shakes too. She knows there are rough times ahead but she vows to take it one minute at a time and try again.

Zen in the Art of Archery

His golf game is off, or so he says.

Though I know nothing about golf and plan never to learn, I am certain I know how to fix his game. It is a book I discovered in college: Zen in the Art of Archery.

I was introduced to this book in my senior year of college. I took an acting class and what I thought would be a blow-off turned out to be one of the most difficult yet enlightening courses in my six years of undergraduate work.

Our professor, whose name I'm sure will come to me on the drive home tonight, introduced me to several works of literature that semester that I keep on my bookshelf today and continue to buy as presents for people I love. One that I have lent out to several people is Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Another is Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery.

Zen in the Art of Archery has a simple premise: Herrigel, a German philosopher, comes to Japan and begins taking archery lessons or kyudo, the art of the Japanese bow. What he learns and later writes about the spiritual approach to archery can be applied to every aspect of his life.

I refer to this book often and credit it for transforming me into the stunning professional and social success that I am today. I am certain it will help his golf game.

Don't throw napkins

Saturday was a good day.

It started with lots of bacon, and proper pig bacon too, not the cardboard turkey or vegetarian.

Then we walked to the second-hand store around the corner from his house. We found a 99 cent Joseph A. Banks Clothier shirt that looked quite nice on him, a $9 LL Bean windbreaker for my mom, two books for him and a knit cap for me.

Then I left to visit my grandma at her farm outside of Carmichaels for the day.

So I had no reason, absolutely none, to snap at the girl behind the KFC counter in Waynesburg when she wouldn't make all 12 pieces of my 12-piece-chicken-order wings. The deal was something like 12 pieces of chicken for $15.99 but the bucket was supposed to be a mix of wings, legs, breasts and thighs, she explained. Because I asked for wings only, she had to ring up each piece separately.

12 wings rung up by the piece comes to nearly $25.

"Can't you please give me 12 wings for $15.99," I persisted. "It's chicken. What does it matter if its 12 wings, 12 breasts or 12 thighs?" I had $30 but I still needed to buy gas.

In a sweaty, tired voice the girl behind the counter tried once more to explain the rules of the 12-piece order; it needed to be a mix not all one kind. She turned and I could see the round hump of her belly underneath her uniform. I'm no expert but she looked to be maybe three or four months pregnant.

If there was a hidden camera, I knew I would never want to see this exchange. Me, wearing a silly knit cap, harassing a young, pregnant KFC team member over the contents of my chicken order.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to be rude. It's just that my grandma really loves wings. Just give me whatever you have to give me."

As she filled my bucket, she told me that I wasn't so rude compared to some customers. Some people who came in there yelled at her and someone actually threw napkins at her.

"Can you imagine?" she asked.

I told her actually no, I couldn't imagine getting so upset over my chicken order that I would want to throw napkins.
She smiled at me and handed me my bag.

"I gave you all wings," she said.

Before I left, I wrote down her name and the corporate customer service number on the door urging patrons to call with complaints or compliments. I've copied down these numbers at various establishments before. I've spent the better portion of my adult life waiting tables on weekends and mean servers really get my goat. By the same token, nice waitresses get a 25 percent tip and my vow to make a phone call on their behalf. I've never followed through with a phone call.

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I called.

Burnt Sienna

I don't know what to write about so I call my friend who works in a bank.

"I don't know what to write about," I tell him. "I just blogged about apples."

"No," he said. "You didn't. Take it down."

"I can't," I said.

We brainstormed. He always pitches the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction a few Super Bowls back but what could I write about it that hasn't already been written?

It's not that I can't find things to write about. It's just narrowing the field down. Take the church in Kansas that travels to funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq - they demonstrated at the funeral of a soldier in West Alexander - and uses them as a forum for their message - that God is killing soldiers because of homosexuality in America. Lately, they have been turning up at any funeral where media might be present.

Earlier this year, Gov. Ed Rendell signed into law a bill that would make their demonstrations at funerals a misdemeanor. While I disagree with absolutely everything this group says and believe that their presence at funerals show a complete disrespect for humanity, I do think they represent the ultimate test of free speech.

The group planned to protest at the funeral of the five Amish girls killed in a school house last week until Mike Gallagher, a nationally-syndicated talk show host intervened and offered them an interview on his show in exchange for calling off the demonstration.

I want to hug Gallagher.

I tell my friend who works in a bank about Sienna Miller (I'm not sure if it's one "n" or two and I don't care) dissing Pittsburgh in an article with Rolling Stone magazine.

"Where is she staying?" he asked.

"Why?" I counter.

"I think we should stand at her hotel and protest and tell her we want her out of town on the next plane," my friend said. He called back to say that he was going to make signs that said "Burnt Sienna" and asked if I would be joining him after work to picket.

I laugh and hang up. Neither one of us is serious. Besides, there are enough demonstrations going on in the world already.

My favorite time of year

It's here.
My favorite time of year.

I love the smells. I love jeans and sweaters. I love the colors. I love Halloween and the way everyone on my street decorates their houses and tries to convert their shrubs into large spider webs. I love the apples.

Last night, I went to the store and bought a bag full of Honeycrisps. Have you tried these? Every year, for only a few weeks, you can buy these apples at their peak in terms of freshness. You can find them other times during the year but it's not the same. Crisp. Juicy. They taste sweet with a touch of tangy but not so sour like a Grannysmith.

Go. Buy them now. While there is still time.

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