Thursday, December 29, 2011

# 161 - Going to Our Land!

After a rough year of having to avoid our acreage, we're finally going for a few days and I can't wait to see how things look after being gone for so long.

This past year, We've had an exceptional Texas drought that created wild fires, some of them mighty close to our property. In fact, we've not yet checked out our land since those fires took place and I hope our big trees are still standing tall and healthy.

Then, we had such a long time with gas prices that were nearly high enough to start a revolt. There would not be much extra driving around in our trucks with those gas expenses. We scaled back to embrace "Necessary Driving." If the trip wasn't completely necessary, then you better not be driving.

Other than the forest fires, there were other issues that kept us away from the land...this and that. And now, we're headed out this week for a big camping trip, supposedly the weather is going to be nice. Let's hope that Mother Nature and the Weather Man on TV are working nicely together.

In preparation for our trip, Deputy Dave took his chainsaw to the local garden equipment repairman and they overhauled the carburetor for a good price and he then took the heavy-duty garden tractor's battery to be exchanged, so we've got two good pieces of lawn equipment to keep both of us busy over the next few days.

I'm so excited about going to our acreage that I can barely keep my heart from racing! I'll be sure to take a ton of pictures. We are going to again take a good look at everything and maybe re-mark some fading boundary lines. Trying to figure out where we're going to build our country home is a puzzle that we must figure out very soon.

And I had discussions with my grandmother on Christmas Day about us moving to our acreage. She's been to our acreage, her and my mother enjoyed a picnic on our land a few years ago on a bright, sunny day. My grandmother wanted to move out there herself, right then. She loves it there.

My grandmother is in her mid 80's and has lotsa Native American blood running through her veins. We've been told it's Cherokee. And Cherokee are known for having this ability of know of certain things before they happen, a kind of sixth sense about what is to come. All my life, I've been told and shown this ability. Well, it's just presented as, "...and here's what happened after I warned her not to go..." It's sometimes as if you can sense something about to go wrong --- even if it's 200 miles away.

And the weird thing is, my family does have this ability in very strong ways. Let's just put it this way, when I start to get a vague "bad" feeling, I start saying my prayers.

For this time away, I've been a little apprehensive. My grandmother has not been doing well, but she's been ill for quite a long time. The strange thing is...she seemed to have a little "rally" the other day and the high level of the rally worries me. In my experience with loss of life, I've seen a rally usually end with death. So, I'm concerned. I've put the family on notice of where I will be and I'm hoping that my grandmother is truly having an authentic ongoing rally, not a sudden rally before death.

I cannot be too sad when she goes because she's ready to meet her Maker. She knows her Lord and is eager to be in his presence. She's tired and fully ready to move to her Heavenly address. 

So, as we must do in life, I keep going forward instead of being frozen by the "what-if's" of life. And that means we get to take a trip to our acreage, and I'm beyond thrilled. It's been too long since we've been there, at least since early summertime.

My preparations to leave for our land is to clean, clean, clean and pack our personal belongings. As for the cleaning, I'm not talking surface cleaning...I clean the corners of each room, wax the floors, condition the leather sofas, dust forgotten dusty things and use a damp cloth to make the baseboards shine. Yes, even the toilets get their special attention.

Cleaning now is a gift to myself for later...for our return home. I love coming back to everything being nice and welcoming. Usually, we're exhausted upon our return, so it's great to come home to a clean house so I can focus on all of our dirty camping laundry and we can relax. Often, we're exhausted from the trip, so we don't really want to do anything but what is necessary.

On our trip, I'll be taking a ton of photos. There's no telling what I'll come across. We'll have Howdy and Lyla, the big dogs with us for the trip. They'll love being on the land and able to run without boundaries. The Yorkie is staying behind with her own mommy and some of her friends. We already learned that Belle the Yorkie does not do road trips.

We've had so much rain lately that I hope the ground won't be too mushy. However, all the plant-life is surely thankful for the long drink that was much needed. By Spring, everything will be lush and full of greenery. I know it will be beautiful.

So, I'll be sitting on the lawn tractor for the next few days...this means I'll be able to mentally zone out and be free from the cares of the world. There's something about being on a tractor that neutralizes all worries; you simply pay attention to what is in front of you, look at nature surrounding you and note the incremental progress you're making with each pass of the blades. I feel that it is a job sent straight from Heaven. Put me on a tractor any day.

Hopefully, very soon we'll be able to hand the keys to this house over to the new owners. I believe that next week we will probably get the glass door repaired. I'll be back at my painting tasks and will be doing some serious pre-packing of non-essential nostalgia items that we don't need to have sitting out, but that we will want to have for another day. Every box I pack now will help us later.

But, for today, I will be excited about stepping foot on our land again. I feel blessed. Yes, there's always a sense of anxiety when going to the land after such a long time away, but a piece of Heaven seeps right into my bones again once we're there.

And my bones are parched!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

# 160 - 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!

Monday, December 26, 2011

# 159 - Sunny Prevents Boredom

Our youngest daughter is now 21 years old. How can this have happened? Yes, the years have passed by, one after the other, and suddenly those years have added up to give us an adult daughter. Our baby is a grown woman.

I only have two biological children, two daughters. Stefanie is my second precious child, my last baby. Deputy Dave and I never cared about whether we would have a boy or a girl, we simply wanted healthy babies...and we wanted two children. God gave us what we asked for and so much more. He blessed us.

Stefie became this bubbly little baby with a ready smile and a giggle at anything that moved.

Soon, she earned the name of "Sunny" because I felt that every morning, upon rising...whether it was raining or shining, I knew that my Sunny Baby Girl would be brightening my day. Through the years, she remained true to her nickname. Sunny smiled nonstop and brought great happiness into our home. And that girl loved to dance.

Stefie's highschool days would put hurdles in her path; injuries that she would have to overcome; leadership qualities that she would sharpen; and the juggling of life would be confronted in large ways.

Over the past few weeks, I wanted to write something specific about Stefie, but it's difficult to narrow a part of Sunny's life to focus upon because she constantly lives a rich, full life. But, her highschool years are still a short distance behind us. During Stefie's highschool years, she danced on the highschool's drill team. 

Not only did she dance, she also applied for a rigorous position as Officer on the team, a leadership position with great responsibility...this meant that she would often get to school much earlier than the rest of the students and she'd stay hours later than most other students, most an officer, she was only able to leave after everyone else had cleared out.

Then, she rarely had a weekend to herself; most weekends were dedicated to performing either at football games or traveling for a competition here in Texas or maybe even in Louisiana.

One of the most admirable traits that Stefie displayed during these challenging years was her genuine caring attitude about doing a good job for her school and being a good officer on her team. She worked hard to earn a great GPA to qualify her to be a Texas Honors student, and she also attended classes to give her dual credit...highschool credit and college credit, all in one. Do I feel like bragging on my baby? Well partner, I think the answer to that question would be "YES!"

That girl is focused. Her work ethic always impresses me. (Exception: Her room is horrendous...there had to be a flaw somewhere! I'm hoping this area will tomorrow.)

Most of all, Stefie knew how to say "no" and she did not feel compelled to attend every function or party that beckoned her presence; she stayed on track with her responsibilities.

Even through some pretty bad injuries, Sunny marched onward and did her best in spite of her suffering and weeks of frustrating recoveries. In the below picture, you can see her shoulder in a sling after she had been in dance practice, doing stretches, and suddenly her shoulder completely popped out of place.

It did look rather grotesque. The sports medicine physical therapist for the school and the school nurse were not much help, but Stefie managed to eventually put her severely dislocated shoulder back into place. However, the school sports therapist bandaged her shoulder area with a huge ice pack tucked in place as a temporary stabilization.

As for Stefie's shoulder, the orthopedic doctor warned her that if this shoulder continued to come out of socket, then she'd need surgery to tighten the shoulder socket. None of that sounded good to Stefie. She wore her sling according to doctor's orders for the next several weeks. And yes, it would come out of socket again down the road, but she'd always jam it back into socket, without any help. She's a brave gal. So far, no surgery has been needed, but she's not dancing full-time either.

Next broken bone...the picture below is taken during the precious pre-broken bone moments...

Such a happy, sweet smile --- no pain --- just excitement about performing with her highschool friends and enjoying a good old Texas football game.

On this particular night, while performing a Halloween dance on the football field, Stefie was doing high kicks and other power athletic movements when she came down on her foot, hard. There was a snap. Still on the field, Stefie continued to do her routine, then she walked off the field in perfect organized form, then she collapsed when off the field.

The ankle immediately began to swell, inside her white performance boots.

After the game, her kitty expression became more and more sad, tinged with frustration as we realized that dancing would be out of the question for quite some time so that the broken bone could heal. Sad, but cute Halloween kitty.

Onto the Emergency Room I took her. After an x-ray and some orthopedic consultations, it was revealed that her ankle was indeed broken. I could not believe that she'd been so dedicated to finishing her routine that she'd finished her performance on a broken ankle with a smile. She didn't flinch in front of an entire stadium of onlookers.

However, she did smile once again --- after she was able to get her hot pink cast!

Even though Stefie had several bad injuries to interrupt her dancing, she always recovered faster than seemed possible and went back to doing her best to be the best.

And to any ignorant person who doesn't understand the complexity, the physical demands, and the athleticism of dance, I say, "Try to do those splits. Better yet, jump into the air and land on the ground in the splits or do a high kick that is so powerful that you hit your own nose with your shin bone."

Each sport has its respective difficulties and technical challenges, my hat is off to each of them.
We were all proud of her, including her big sister, Heather, a fellow competitive dancer.

This Momma was often videotaping the dance performance and so overwhelmed with being impressed by Stefie's abilities that I would be speechless. Deputy Dave and I had a favorite past-time and that was to watch Stefie dance.

Scary, Zombie dance. Creepy.

Hip-Hop Dance.

Lyrical style - ballet and jazz.

When there weren't performances, there were fund raisers and car washes to attend...

...and banquets.

...banquets where daddy had to change his daughter's flat tire while wearing his nice clothes. But, it was alright. Where is the fun in getting all dressed up if nothing out-of-the-ordinary happens?

Above all, one of the best perks of having a daughter dance on the team while wearing all of that stage make-up was to get the red-lip kiss on our cheek to prove that we are "The Parent."

For a few years, our lives were extra chaotic and rushed and the expense for dancing was steep, but the payoff was more than we expected. The memories, the lessons, the discipline, the teamwork, the beautiful moments...watching our daughter show a strength that we'd not known she could muster, knowing that she worked to overcome any hurdle that got in her way...all while being an academically strong student...geesh...we were impressed by our daughter and her diligence.

Even today, our Sunny impresses us to no end! She is a tiny thing, but she is jam-packed full of potential in action. As her daddy says, she's a little dynamo.

And I am very grateful to have a daughter who has been such a sweet daughter to me. She treats me even better than a mother could hope to be treated. She is full of love, patience, compassion, and she is one very thoughtful person.

I wonder how we raised this child? Then I remember that we had God's guidance; we had God's help. There's no way we could've done this child-rearing thing on our own. There HAD to be a power greater than ourselves!! God lived in our home with us, even through the ups and downs, we had God to call upon. God forgave my potty mouth moments and our wrong decisions. Thank God for his gift called MERCY!!!

Our family stuck together through thick and thin...and I can honestly tell you that those thick moments are difficult to get through, unless everyone is willing to do their part and sometimes prayer carries you through.

And my Stefie is definitely blessed.

Sassy Moment

I am blessed, my husband is blessed...yes the blessings are thick around here as we continue to watch our baby girl grow fully into womanhood. And may God always be with her. As for us parents, we will continue to do our best to love and support her during her every effort. She'll make plenty right and wrong decisions of her own, but we'll love her through each one of them.

So much of life is now in her capable hands, but we're still around and enjoying life's moments with the one who will always be our baby girl.

The prayer today, just for the moment, is that she will have a lasting passion to feel the music and to dance. May she never be afraid to dance. May she honor the rhythm that God put into her soul, and may she always hear internal drums giving her a reason to walk with a bit more joy in her step.


Friday, December 23, 2011

#158 - Mutant on Wheels

This past week, as I am driving on a Houston-area highway, I notice something strange out of the corner of my eye.

Holding my camera upward, I snap shots without even taking a look. My peripheral vision is actually wanting to catch a straight-forward glance, but I know I'll get to take a closer look once the pictures are uploaded. But, I can't help that a dinosaur spine along the top of that car?

Surely my eyes are playing tricks on me. I speed up so that I can do a double-take.

I think that perhaps all of the petro-chemicals floating in the air had an impact on this vehicle. It's been morphed into a mutant on wheels.

Fair Warning: Folks, this is what happens when you live around chemical plants for too long. I should know, the third arm growing out of my back does help me to look extra friendly during that reverse-sided wave.

Alrighty...I'll just keep driving as I blink a few times really hard to make sure that my eyes are clear and that the monsters on the road disappear.

Man, I really do think I need some glasses. Very soon.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

# 157 - 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.