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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: Guitar is like knitting

Heather Curlee Novak

I thought crocheting was for old ladies…because my Grandma was an old lady when she tried to teach me

how to do it. I failed miserably as a little kid crocheter. As an adult, I worked with a cute little twentysomething

who often had a lapful of yarn. Eventually I asked her to teach me…if she did it, maybe it wasn’t an old lady

thing? She said my first project would be a “cat blanket”…a scrappy, junky bit of yarn fit only to line a cat bed.

After that I made all kinds from rectangles and squares; wraps and scarves and blankets and hats. I knew

three stitches but never used an actual pattern. I was pregnant with my first child and wanted to make a

sweet newborn hat for my baby. I finally followed a real pattern and made a baby hat! After that, patterns were

awesome. I made sweaters, hats, dog coats….none were perfect (some went straight into the garbage after

completion) but I was having fun.

After 20 years of crocheting, a friend offered me her unused knitting class at a beautiful yarn shop

downtown Valparaiso and I took her up on it. I learned so many things and handled beautiful golden

yarn. I had the needles and I had the markers and all the things. But it never felt comfortable, even after

weeks of class, the way crocheting did. And to be honest, for those of you, who don't know and don't

care…the best thing about crochet is when you make a mistake, you just pull the thread and then start

that part over! With knitting you have to unknit the mistake, unweave, talk nicely to it and have some

skill. No thanks man. Not fun.

Another hobby for me is ukulele. I learned to play from a kit I bought at Barnes & Noble. I played it so

much and it wouldn't hold a tune. I went to the local store Front Porch Music and bought a better

ukulele that would hold a tune and it wasn't made of plastic. I played and played and played until I had

three chords down. The main point of playing the ukulele is so that I can sing. I'm not a great singer but

I'm alright. Ukulele gives me a way to do that without looking like a weirdo sitting in a chair just singing.

Now that I work in senior living, on Saturdays I bring my ukulele. I play by the dining room fireplace as

the residents eat lunch. The sweetest moment for me is when I hear them all softly singing along to

‘You Are My Sunshine’ or ‘Fools Rush In’ or any of the other songs we all know by heart. Because of

memory issues that come with age, they don't notice if I play a song badly or over and over again. We

all have fun.

Recently I decided that because I'm playing so often, it would be nice to learn how to play guitar. It

would be a more melodious accompaniment, and would sound nicer on its own. I bought a $10 purple

guitar off the internet from someone's storage unit and took it to Guitar Center to get re-strung. I also

bought a beginner guitar book. If you play, you know that new strings don't hold a tune. It was a very

challenging few weeks for me to figure out how to tune it, which string was which, etc. Six strings is

very different from four.

My precious husband bought me lessons for my birthday! I took two lessons from Mike and he was

amazing. There was no boring strumming or anything. He started teaching me chords right away

because of my ukulele experience.

Since I'm over 50 and my brain is now in early retirement, it was unwilling to memorize any of those

chords. Because I've been playing ukulele for 5 or 6 years, my brain suggested those instead. We had

a bit of a battle. I learned really important things from Mike about fingering from the top to the bottom

instead of positioning completely before strumming, which saves some time and awkward pauses. I

learned that the highest string is always the lowest even though that doesn't make sense to my brain. I

often got to hear him play the guitar well, which was a pleasure.

Recently I went back to work with my ukulele, because the guitar is still nothing I would play in front of

anyone. When I played my uke again after struggling with the guitar, it felt like home. I realized that

maybe the ukulele was it for me. After the two lessons I realized that perhaps a larger ukulele would

give me more of a sound I was going for without having to relearn a new and more complicated

instrument! Christmas was coming….

Guitar feels like knitting to me: An exciting intellectual challenge, but too difficult for my interest and

ability. It wasn’t fun. I am now taking lessons to improve my ukulele skills instead. My crochet

languishes underneath our coffee table, laying in wait for those cozy, quiet moments when I’m ready to

make more mistakes in my pursuit of the good life.

Heather Novak's professional history includes sales and customer service training and troubleshooting for businesses, but she loves motivational speaking best. Heather leads church events for youth, singles and women, has spoken for Chicago Apartment Association and many organizations throughout Indiana. Nowadays Heather is just another stay at home wild mama trying to loose some weight, keep some sanity and enjoy her life. She is being raised by two little girls named Portia and Libby and is indulged by a guy named John who was gracious enough to marry her. Heather blogs about F Words: Feisty Faith, Fumbling Family, Fairly Healthy Food, Failed Fashion and Fabulous Friendships. You can find her at