Wednesday, December 28, 2011

# 104 - Making Beautiful Music Together

For years, I've wanted an acoustic guitar. Just a regular, old-fashioned guitar that I could learn to play.
As a young child through adulthood, I played the piano and was classically trained. Music Theory and technique while playing had been drilled into me with a bullish attitude. For years I took lessons. Even as an adult with my own children, I continued to take lessons and learned to play Operas.

But, deep down, I just wanted to play some good old country songs. I wanted to play some George Jones and Patsy Cline! I want to sit on the front porch of my future country home and do some guitar pickin.

To top it off...much of my life parallels lyrics of country songs, so I might as well play a few of those songs on the guitar and sing to them at the top of my lungs.

Practicing with Isaac in the Carpentry shop so that we could perform in front
of everyone at Cohen Houston at Rice University for our Christmas party.

I could play the guitar and sing about my husband and I have made it through too many chaotic phases of being married; our selfish years are just about used up, and now we're onto the fun stuff...grown children and retirement. Where are those songs?

No sense ignoring the truth, the far side of youth has passed us by, and nowadays, we're too worn out to get into too much trouble. But, we've made it past 25 years of marriage, and sadly, so many couples never make it to this phase...most marriages crumble under the stress we've endured.

These days, after a lot of hard work, I've learned that any relationship can be found, at one time or another, traveling down the ugly block, but everything will be okay IF you have a willingness to be loving to each other and if you have hard times, that's when you should purposefully focus on the beauty you've created and shared. For us, there's been hardships, but the beauty has far outweighed everything else.

You can't get to the day of celebrating 25 years of marriage and beyond without some pretty stupid moments taking place. For those who have an "uneventful" 25 years of marriage, then we all know you were hiding out in a cave! We can't escape life. But, the reality is...expecting a smooth 25 years is like believing in a Fairy itself is not always smooth. You can do your very best and have a tornado hit your house. Life happens. Life is not always fair; hence, country songs.

Just remember, a marriage made in Heaven is not necessarily Heavenly...a lasting, strong marriage takes hard work, compassion and excessive kindness. I've had moments when I've failed in all three areas...because I was taking a trip around the ugly block. I don't like it there; it's always nice to get back home.

And man, that sounds like the beginnings of a country song. If only I could play more than THREE notes on the guitar!

When expressing your emotions on a piano, you sit at the monster instrument and play. Indeed, it is a beautiful instrument with a lovely, timeless sound, However, one drawback to a piano in contrast to a guitar is that you can't take the piano with you so easily. My piano weighs about 500 pounds, it's not exactly a mobile instrument for practical purposes. It takes several men to move it. Still, I move that antique, upright grand piano from home to home throughout the years. It is my instrument to take care of throughout my life.
Over the years, my siblings got to pick their own instruments of brother played the trombone and my sister played the clarinet...both of those instruments cost much more than my old piano, but my chosen instrument, the old piano, that is the instrument that I still play very frequently, with joy.

But, once I married my husband at 18 years of age, something unplanned came between me and my piano...I followed my husband to Germany for a few years. The Air Force called my husband to duty in Europe and so we began our life together as man and wife, without my piano. And geesh...I had major separation anxiety from my piano.

On this day of our elopement, he knew that he acquired a wife and
an upright grand piano for all stateside residences.
In Germany I'd often lie in bed and play "air" piano because I was starved to play a few chords and to release my emotion through music. I felt stifled and choked without my piano. Many musicians understand...when you feel a different range of emotions, you can go to your musical instrument or use your voice to release the pent up feelings. Music gives us a beautiful form to express our inner-most feelings. If your instrument is taken from you, it's as if a part of your heart shuts down.

Once my husband and I were back in America, we moved the piano to our house. It had been falling into disrepair and my husband lovingly repaired it. Then, we called out an old-timer piano tuner and had the strings worked on and a couple of keys professionally repaired. It was worth every dime.

So, a few days ago, on this latest Christmas Eve, my husband and I were having a nice outing and he pulled into the Guitar Center. This is not unusual because we seem to end up in the Guitar Center every year for some Christmas shopping. We strolled back to the acoustic guitar section and I thought that we were going to simply take a look at some guitars for me to consider for some future date. And after I found one of the nicer beginner guitars and began discussing some guitar basics with the kiddo working there, my husband says, "Ring it up."

I looked up at him, shocked. I had no idea that we were going to be buying me a guitar on this day. Heck, I'd been waiting for years and years, I didn't think that the waiting was coming to an end so suddenly!

Here's my new Yamaha beauty!

My husband strolls out of the acoustic guitar area and he finds a guitar stand, a beginner's book and video, some picks and a strap. I felt overwhelmed.

At 43 years of age, I walked out of that store holding my husband's hand and had my own very first guitar.

Immediately, the music lessons that I'd learned in piano began swirling around in my head. I'd never dared to think about the guitar on a deep level because I didn't own a guitar to test out my theories. I just enjoyed watching people play. But, the moment we stepped out of that store, the questions began forming and an entire new world attached to this stringed instrument began to play with my mind.

After the deliriously fun shopping trip to find a guitar, Deputy Dave took me out to eat at an awesome seafood restaurant that we love and we spent some time that same day getting a bit of Christmas shopping done, then we headed home. Through it all, it was hard to focus on anything else but the guitar in the box, lying hidden in the backseat of our truck.

Blackened Catfish

Shrimp Cocktail Acapulco
The best Christmas gift came later that evening as we sat at home alone watching the beginner's video for guitar playing. I told my husband that I had to sit with my pen and notebook to study the lesson BEFORE I could attempt to play the guitar. So, he picked it up to play along with the video as I studied, as I'd always learned to do with music...first the lessons, then the playing. I still could not break my old music lesson patterns.

Theory first, then application. Man, I'm a stickler for old-fashioned classical learning habits.

However, it worked out beautifully. Deputy Dave shocked the crude out of me, and himself, by picking up all angles of music lessons so completely. Not everyone can do this. In ONE afternoon, he learned to tune the guitar to ITSELF (not with an electronic tuner), he learned to play several notes on the guitar, he learned to read the notes on sheet music and even more, he learned the count for a measure...AND learned whether the note is a quarter note, half note or whole note. He learned FAST. For any music buffs out understand what this means.

Yes, he even took initiative to write the note name above the note, on his own. What? Don't they FORCE us to do this when studying music? This is usually drudgery, but he did it with delight. This is advanced stuff that the newbie normally doesn't just pick up on day ONE unless they are naturally gifted in music.

A bit of jealousy set in, I must admit.

I looked at my husband in awe. He'd been in choir as a child, but that guy should've been put into some kind of music lessons...probably guitar lessons. He is a natural.

It will only get better, I can only imagine how it will sound when we are harmonizing our voices together and reminding ourselves of The Judds --- while playing the guitar. Okay, I got carried away...Deputy Dave DOES have a deeper voice than Wynonna Judd. That means, we'll sound EVEN BETTER than The Judds!

So, my BEST Christmas present has been surprisingly that we are learning to play the guitar together. His technique at playing the guitar is automatically better than mine, but my music background is advantageous to both of that makes us a great team. So far, we have THREE notes down!! Open "E", and E played on 1st fret to make "F" and E played on third fret to make "G." Wahoo!!

It's awesome!

I can already picture us in the country, on our land, playing the guitar for the birds and frogs and chickens to hear. Eventually, I am sure we'll get Deputy Dave a guitar so we can play side by side, but until then, it is beyond beautiful for us to be learning to play the same guitar together.

Here's our first captive audience. They don't mind the three note repetition practice sessions, especially when they are bribed with a few treats.

I always knew we made beautiful music together...only now...I actually get a chance to watch while another person practices and plays, so I am loving every minute of hearing Deputy Dave's home-grown music.

And the musician's curse has taken hold of him...for those of you who play music and write music and so on...Deputy Dave is now captive to all possibilities as the music infects his brain and spirit. As I said, he should've taken guitar lessons, starting at a young age, but here we are, and I can tell he'll go fast in his music training --- And knowing that my solitary instrument playing days are mostly over --- I'm going to have a music, guitar playing buddy, well this part has got to be the best part of my Christmas present!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

# 103 - Gotta Do It

When you are dealing with a chronic illness, you must stay on top of your daily care. You've gotta do it.

In my situation, I have several specialists I see on a regular basis in Houston's Medical Center. Traveling into Houston is no big deal since we live a short distance outside of Houston's city limits. The only problem with the Medical Center is the growing congestion.

Going to the doctor is something that must be done, even if you are passing by several places that you'd rather be visiting. Such as the golf course.

Even more fun, would be to spend a couple of hours walking around the Houston Zoo or going to see an IMAX Movie...maybe a tour of the museum would be awesome...but I can't stop; I'm on a tight schedule and must make my doctor's appointment.

The Medical Center reminds me of an overgrown village. Everything is tightly packed together and one wrong turn can mean a lengthy detour to get back to where you need to be. So, make the congestion work for you and take your sweet time getting to your destination the first time around.

I drove the big Dodge truck into the Medical Center and this is where my "Texan" status is evident. Not only can I drive around in a tight parking garage while driving a large vehicle, I can find a parking space next to a concrete pillar and I can BACK INTO the space on the first try. That is Texas training in action.

Since my doctor's office is located on the 28th floor, I had to take a series of elevators to get to my destination.

Once there, I enjoyed the view. Even though I was born and raised in the Houston area, I still get a kick out of sky-rise views. So, I went to the window in the waiting room and took several shots of the beautiful, even with my camera's reflection.

And while I was at it, I wanted to make sure you know that I am wearing my Medic Alert Bracelet. I've had Addison's for over ten years and not always felt as if this bracelet has done me justice, but I decided to not give up on the chance that it might do its job one day and save my life.

Being patient in the waiting room is something that I have previously written about in my blog. Being a patient often requires great patience.

It can be a dreaded experience to sit in the doctor's office, but I had such a peaceful trip on this day that I relaxed and enjoyed the break. Besides, it seems that not that many people want to see the cardio-thoracic surgeon around Christmas time.

And the drive home made me thankful to live in a greater metropolitan area. Even after we move to the country, we will still be within one hour's drive to Houston's Medical Center. Not too shabby. I'm looking forward to country living with city conveniences still within our grasp.

In the picture below, you'll see the famous DeBakey Heart and Vascular Institute. This is the place where artificial hearts were created. I had heart catherization performed here at the Methodist heart institute. The artery in my groin area would not seal and the surgeons had been manually compressing the artery, taking turns until they were exhausted, so they brought out the clamp. Yes, a clamp. It looked exactly like a wood working clamp that my husband uses when doing projects with wood. They clamped my leg to the gurney and I had to stay that way for a very long time as I spiked a fever and was told that I was going septic.

As I was clamped to the gurney in recovery, a frenzy of activity swirled around me. My blood pressure dropped and part of this journey I don't remember, but they did increase my fluids and beat the deadly septic situation. I had no idea what this word meant on this day, but I soon learned how fortunate I had been to recover.

Not fun, but I'm glad I had been at Methodist. My mother had been by my side through this ordeal and her making me laugh probably didn't help my situation with the artery. But, sometimes, you gotta laugh. You just gotta do it.

Texas Children's Hospital is an incredible place for sick children to receive the utmost in care. They have tiny versions of everything an adult dreads. I always opt for the "Texas Children's" size IV. (Just remember...High gauge # means Smaller tube under the skin). Texas Children's was there for my children while growing up --- my daughters are beautiful adults, and I'm thankful to have had this hospital at our disposal.

And since we are an Aggie family, I can show you the picture below, but I can't say those dirty words. Okay, I'll whisper them..." texas university."

I guess for us Texans, the state is so darn big that we have to enjoy a bit of Southern civil rivalry. Who would've thought that Texas itself would've been divided into "North" and "South?"

So, if you must go to the doctor, get going and stay focused. Pass up all the fun things so that you can enjoy them another day, and if you must park the tank in the squat parking place, do it with bravery. Back it in!

Always remember that taking care of yourself is a priority, you can make time for the zoo in the near future. I'll be sure to say "hello" to the monkeys for you.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

#102 - Finding Lana Somewhere

Years ago, when I got married at only 18 years of age, I had been such a young kiddo, and I had been full of belief that I would live a rough-edged Fairy Tale kind of existence.

Never did I think that life would be interrupted by things that were completely within our control to keep away, and never did I think that things would interrupt our lives, at such young ages, with young children, in ways that could not be prevented due to catastrophic health disasters.

I learned at a young age that some problems you bring on yourself by plain invitation and other problems come without beckoning.

For me, I feel blessed to have been on the intensely suffering end of lessons about illness, pain, loss, and the brevity of life because I've learned that the simple things in life are the most cherished things you miss when you can't live with simplicity any longer.

I learned that the innocent, trusting, faithful side of me was challenged to the point of me finding my claws and my voice and a powerful inner strength that would help me to fight during unjust times. Most of all, I had quiet moments that ran together for so long that a new existence was created for me...I would discover that I would need to find the strength to take care of myself, even during dark moments.

Basically, I learned how to survive. Oh yes, I learned.

It's kind of sad because a part of me that had been so naive and sweet-minded has received an education into things I never wanted to know about...things I never thought would become a part of my world.

Let me give everyone a secret, if you want the ones closest to you to remain sweet, then don't bring bitterness into the house. If you are loving someone who is deeply suffering, be the loving heart that helps guide them through the wilderness of horrific suffering that some medical conditions can bring. For God's sake, don't add to their suffering, especially if you claim to love them. This is the time to really prove that your love is indeed unconditional and able to reach beyond the agonies of this world.

However, life is what it is. I actually have more depth, more layers of contemplation, and an entirely different plane of introspection in my thought processes that might not have been imagined if I had not faced major hurdles at so many times over the past ten years of my life.

The biggest lesson I have learned is that a person can either work hard to get through the muck and the mud and the mess so that they can find themselves on higher ground, able to reach for the sun again or they can wade in ugliness and fall deeper into the pit while never realizing that their own thrashing is causing them to sink faster.

And, I've learned during these past years about who is truly my friend, who is truly concerned about my health and well-being, and who is truly filled with a loving heart when it really counts. You learn that there are people who might drop you like a hot potato because they are too weak to face tragedy; you learn that there are people who don't have the time of day to provide any kind of support during your time of need because they don't want their fun interrupted; you learn that there are people who will strangely go through mechanical, obligatory motions of showing support, however, their heart is not matching the motions; BUT then you will have people, often a stranger, who need only look into your eyes to feel your pain.

During my years of health battles, I often found that the person who could simply look right through me and see my trials and tribulations as clearly as if I were wearing a neon sign had been complete strangers who connected with me. People with heart. People with compassion that went a mile long. People in tuned with others. These kind of people, I believe, are touched by God.

I have been hugely blessed to have come across many people like these in my life...people with a real heart for compassion.

Going through any kind of tragedy will teach you valuable life lessons, but these lessons are the most precious, and I am thankful for them...each and every one of them because my eyes have been opened a little wider and my naive side has been forcefully reduced, my heart is more protected out of necessity and, I like who I am.

Even if other people don't like me and remain in mechanical motion, it's okay because I really like who I am. These days, I'm no longer aching for the approval or for the love or for the desire to be appreciated for the person I have survived to be after all these years. I have a reason for being here and finding out what that reason is or what those reasons might be...that is the fun part of life for me at this time. It's the challenge that keeps me going every day.

And also, it's kind of nice not being that young push-over girl who was teased for being too naive and too trusting because those years were nice, but not what I'd want to live through again. I look back with a smile at how I had no idea that such physical and emotional pain could exist. My body has been through some horrific medical moments that have forced me to become more tough than I imagined I ever could have been.

If someone had told me about all the nightmarish things that I would be forced to endure under the knife, under the bone saw, under too many surgical glares, then I probably would have faced life with great fear and dread. However, it came in bits and pieces, sometimes too fast, but I was given God's mercy so that I could savor the simplistic things in between each horror. And yes, there would be heartache to add to the mix, but I am now stronger than ever.

Each moment that ticks by, I become stronger and stronger. It can't be stopped. I'm at the point of no return, and I am cherishing life in new ways.

I have been Finding Lana in here somewhere and she is one of those people who notices others on the street who seem to be wearing that neon banner of pain and suffering. It's my personal gift that accompanies me everywhere, and I am going to honor that gift and live bravely for those who have love in their hearts and pain in their souls.