(Jennifer Hart/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

Every morning when I walk downstairs, I face the choice between two keyboards.

The first, of course, is the one on my laptop, stashed out of sight for aesthetic reasons, but ever beckoning. I feed the cats, heat the water for coffee and within 5 minutes I'm online, jumping back into a marathon I have little chance of ever finishing.

It's because of my laptop that I no longer even notice the second keyboard, even though it's the size of a piano.

Actually it is a piano, a baby grand at that, a 1934 Baldwin that I've loved ever since we met at a liquidation sale, even if it is nicked and stained and in sore need of a new sound board (just ask anyone who's ever tuned it). For several years after we bought it, Mr. Baldwin and I had quite a thing going. I played him nearly every day, relearning classical pieces I'd tackled in high school and noodling through my favorite movie soundtracks and cheesy pop hits.

But for the past several years -- ever since we got home access to work email -- Mr. Baldwin does little more than fill the corner of the living room that had cried out for it 16 years ago when we bought our house.

In that corner was stationed another piano, one I'd once loved -- a small, inexpensive spinet I'd bought years earlier with a birthday check from my grandparents. It was an enormous extravagance at the time. It also turned out to be the best investment I ever made for my sanity.

I was in my early 30s, with a house, a husband, young daughters and a newspaper job I'd worked hard to get. Settling into life as a grown-up, I missed playing. It was also starting to really bother me that my 8-year-old was already years older than I was when I'd started lessons. At one point, my dad passed on an electronic keyboard, but it just wasn't the same. A real piano, with lessons for the kids, was something I'd always assumed would be part of our lives.


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I'd been lucky enough to grow up in a house full of music, whether it was my mom playing guitar for our Brownie troop singalongs and listening to Bob Dylan on the "hi-fi," or my dad pounding out a feisty version of "Take Five" on the upright he'd bought for $40 as a college student (a price that jumped to $60 when, in his excitement, he got a speeding ticket on the way home).

My mom turned her energies to art, but my dad's still a talented pianist who has self-recorded several CDs and still gets paid to do gigs. His mother had also been a versatile musician. She, too, played the piano by ear, sang in Stanford's Glee Club in the early 1930s, and was the go-to soloist at any church she ever belonged to. When her longtime opera teacher died, he left her his Steinway.

For several years, I'd been trying to talk my husband at the time into getting a piano, but he had concerns -- completely legitimate concerns -- about where could we possibly squeeze it into our living room, a tiny shoebox that barely held a couch, chair and dining room table. He loved listening to albums, too, but his own experience didn't go beyond playing grade-school clarinet.

In an act of defiance that was the beginning of the end of that marriage, I told him I was going shopping and did so -- at a used piano store in downtown Oakland. I found something serviceable, delivery included, for close to the exact amount of my birthday gift. A bookshelf was emptied and moved. I found a piano teacher for the girls, asked my parents to mail me my old sheet music, and was soon fumbling my way through Bach's "Solfeggietto" for the first time in 15 years.

Which, come to think of it, is what I really should be doing right now, on this cloudy Sunday afternoon, rather than tap, tap, tapping at this keyboard that makes no music. And these days, I have no one to blame but myself.

The problem is, I may love my piano, but it's my laptop I'm wedded to. Maybe that's because I didn't inherit my father and grandmother's music gene. How my father, who reads music well can also play by ear, shifting keys on a dime to suit a singer's voice, for example, is one of the great mysteries of my life. That I will never play by ear, and have no talent for jazz, is one of its disappointments. If I were a better musician, perhaps the lure of my laptop wouldn't be so incredibly seductive these days.

Still, when I make time, Mr. Baldwin and I have a great time together. And on the rare occasions we do, the man I married a few years after that first marriage fell apart couldn't be happier. In fact, he's the one who bought him for me, in part because a piano that size was exactly what our living room needed. He also enjoys a predinner glass of wine, his book and some live music -- even with lots of wrong notes -- in the background.

Besides, he'd by far prefer me to be spending time with Mr. Baldwin -- rather than my laptop, iPad or phone -- any day of the week.

Lisa Wrenn is the Executive Features Editor for the Bay Area News Group. Contact her at lwrenn@bayareanewsgroup or Twitter.com/lwrenn.