Monthly Archives: December 2014

God Grant Me…

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All that stuff in that prayer, and then some…

A few people recently have asked me about my New Year’s resolutions, if I make them and what, if any, they are.  My answer has been, I’m not resolving to do anything special that I don’t already do anyway.  And that’s sort of the truth.

The fact is that there are so many resolutions I’d like to make, I hardly know where to start, and the sheer number of things I’d like to accomplish makes my head swim.  Of course, as a weight loss patient, I deal with the daily ongoing battle of me versus the scale (one I feel like I am losing right now, by the way), me versus my nutrient levels, me versus the urge to comfort myself with poor food choices.  Me versus me.

A lot of my wish-list-to-do items are small and seemingly random.  Reed gave me a gift certificate so I could go and get some of my rings sized down.  That needs to happen soon…and I’ll get to it.

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My solution of using Band-Aids to snug them up (what I call my Redneck Ring Sizing Kit) is kind of pathetic, and I need to get them properly sized.  Several watches need new batteries as well.  One trip to the jeweler will take care of a number of items.

I did some baking for Christmas, and I’d forgotten how much pleasure I take from making something delicious to share with people.  I’d like to bake more in the coming year.  To SHARE.  I don’t need to be baking a bunch of tasty stuff and eating it all (refer back to paragraph 2).  But sharing is good.  I believe it pleases God when we share.

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Very slowly, I’ve been photographing some local signs and landmarks and adding those pictures to a Facebook album. There are lots more places I want to capture, especially the ones that are not going to  be around much longer, at least, not in the form I’ve grown up with.  So spending some time just out and about with my camera is one of my wish-list-to-do things.  And sooner rather than later.

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All those are concrete, measurable goals.  The real challenge I face is trying to find peace.  Life is complicated sometimes, and relationships aren’t always easy.  I’ve struggled lately with hurt feelings and a broken heart because things change.  Traditions aren’t what they used to be; family is not what it used to be.  Mama and the others who always held our family together are gone, and there’s no “glue” anymore.  As I was told, “It is what it is,”.  And that’s true.

It is my job to balance loving the challenging people in my life with protecting myself from the pain they sometimes bring me.  I need to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. I have a feeling I’m not the only person who struggles with these issues.  So in the coming year, I will pray and work to seek serenity, courage and wisdom.  And peace.

God, grant me.

 

 

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Glass, Brick And Mortar

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How Santa’s helper packed up my memories…

A Knoxville landmark is being demolished brick by brick as the old Baptist Hospital comes down.  It has sat for decades on a little parcel of land just south of the Tennessee River and, after generations of patients were born, cared for and died there, the facility was sold and plans for a lucrative complex of residences and retail spaces were made and revealed to the public.  Progress, I guess.

It breaks my heart.

This little area of town desperately needs a full-service hospital and emergency department.  The extra minutes required to travel to UT Medical Center or Fort Sanders (both of which are fine facilities, just not as close-in as Baptist) can cost lives.  My main heartbreak, though, is personal.  I was born and raised in South Knoxville, and Baptist was the hospital I and my kinfolks always used when we needed a hospital. Reed and I were born there. Both of our Uncle Johns (Flanigan and Bryant) died there, just about 6 months apart.  Mom and Pop Cutshaw were patients there.  I was a patient there more than once, and a caregiver more times than I was a patient.  I spent the last days of Mama’s life with her there, and that’s where she left here for Heaven.  That building, and the land on which it sits…those places are hallowed ground for me.

A number of months ago, I called Reed up and told him I wanted to pull a caper, and hoped he would be a co-conspirator.  I wanted a piece of the hospital from the demolition site, a brick or piece of a tile or fixture…just some little piece of the place that has meant so much to me for so long.  Soon it will be nothing but a memory, and an unsightly but profitable modern complex will stand in its place.  I told him that, yes, it’s strange, but it’s important to me.  He was gracious and non-judgmental about my idea, saying that he has probably done things that could be viewed at least as strange as this.  Sweet Pea thought it was a fool’s errand and said he didn’t want to have to bail me out of jail or the loony bin if I got caught after hours on a demolition site stealing a piece of rubble.  Anyway, we talked about it, but talking was as far as we got.

Flash forward to last month sitting around the Thanksgiving table.  We didn’t talk about the hospital caper, at least not that I remember.  But we did get started talking about other things from our childhood.  One of the most vivid memories I have is drinking out of jelly jars.  When we weren’t eating homemade jelly, we ate Bama brand jellies and preserves, and whenever we used up a jar, Mama saved it.  Those Bama jars were the perfect size and shape for a glass of tea!  Over the years, they all got broken or discarded, and I remarked that I would love to have an old Bama jelly jar glass like we used when we were growing up, and that I had looked online but didn’t find the exact thing.

Reed and I got together and had lunch on Christmas Eve.  We didn’t know what the Massengill-Hickman branch of the family tree was doing or not doing that day (long story) but we got together on our own.  And even though we had not drawn each other’s names for gift giving, we had a little gift exchange.  I gave him a little Baptist Pound Cake and a goofball present, and he gave me a Bama jelly jar glass he had found!  I was tickled to death.  He also gave me a bag with presents for the Christmas night gathering with the bonus family because he wasn’t going to make it there.  And he casually mentioned that there was another little something in there that I could open on Christmas night because it would be entertaining.

The box was from Santa.  And it was heavy.  The card was both cryptic and sweet.

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Inside I found another jelly jar glass…and the heavy part.

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If I had opened it when it was just the two of us, I probably would have cried, which is probably why he had me open it later on.  I texted him and asked how he had pulled it off, and he said he knew a guy who had access to the site and some favors were exchanged, resulting in my Christmas brick.

I did cry privately, tears of happy gratitude for the thoughtfulness of a big brother who understands why something so crazy means so much to me.  The Spirit of Christmas shows up in the strangest ways sometimes.  Santa’s helper rescued my Christmas, packing up memories from my childhood.

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Meditating On These Things

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Appreciating excellence…

It is 2:30 am on Christmas Eve 2014 as I write this.  My day began with me asking a friend with whom I had lunch plans for a raincheck, because I got up with a thundering migraine.  My body was finally rebelling against me for the week I had put it through!

Last week Knoxville Choral Society and The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra once again collaborated with several other ensembles for the annual Clayton Holiday Concerts.  They traditionally take place the last weekend before Christmas, and the week leading up to them has us all rehearsing every night except Wednesday, pulling late hours and, for those of us who work day jobs, rising at our normal times to get to work.  The week is grueling and exhausting, culminating in 4 concerts over 3 days…but for me, and for many others, it gives us much more than it takes from us.  For some people, it is the thing that finally puts us into the Christmas spirit.

This year’s concerts were also the final holiday outings with the KSO’s outgoing conductor, Maestro Lucas Richman, so there were poignant memories of concerts past, appeciation expressed for the collaboration between the KSO and KCS and, as is my tradition, pictures and brief conversations with the maestro.  This year was  doubly sweet for me because my cousin Katherine shared the stage with us as a member of the Webb Madrigal Singers.  I was thrilled to share a stage with Katherine and her talented friends, and even more thrilled to have the chance to introduce her to the maestro before he leaves the KSO.  I had my friend Elizabeth snap their picture together with the hope that it’s a weekend that Katherine will always remember.  (The picture below was made at supper between Saturday shows.)

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In conversations on social media and in person, many of us said that we are going to miss the maestro, and he expressed his gratitude for our words.  I had the chance to tell him that I don’t “sling praise around much, but when I see excellence in my life, I do appreciate it.”  And yes, I said it with just those words.  Maestro knows by now that I am a goofball and “what you see is what you get” with me.  Mama passed along her gift for colorful communication to me (for better or for worse, I’m afraid!).

Thre is so much mediocrity in the world, and I am as guilty as anyone of not always striving to attain my full potential in every area of my life.  I like to believe that I give my best effort to everything I do, but I know better.  And even on days when I give my best, that “best” is often not very good.  In music and in life, I need to meditate on those things that are good, noble, praiseworthy…and to give thanks to, and for, the people who remind me what excellence looks like.

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The DNA Of Place

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You can take the girl out of the music building, but…

Recently I was back on the campus of Carson-Newman University for the senior piano recital of one of my Delta Omicron students.  As the Alpha Gamma Chapter Mother, I do my best to attend these students’ recitals and share a quick moment backstage beforehand for a picture and a prayer.  I remember my own recitals and all the preparation that went into them, and how grateful I was to have support from friends and family in the audience.

This particular evening I seemed especially nostalgic, remembering the hours I spent in the music building (often referred to in my circle simply as “The Building”), its classrooms, the recital hall, my voice teacher’s studio and especially my practice room.

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I describe it as “my” practice room, although other students practiced in there, of course.  I adopted it as my favorite because an older student, Anita,  whom I viewed as a mentor, used it more than any other room, and I hoped that by practicing in there, some of her good mojo would rub off on me!  I’m not sure that happened; however, I did a lot of good work in that tiny space during my student years.

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My practice room was located next door to Dr. Paul Ridgway’s piano studio.  The rooms, while decently insulated, were not soundproof.  I often felt sorry for him and his students as I caterwauled my way through various vocal exercises before the real work of “practice” could begin.  Sometimes the actual practice sounded like caterwauling, too!

Although my major was vocal performance, I was required to pass a basic piano proficiency in order to obtain my degree.  I had taken no piano lessons prior to college, and beginning class piano taught me in short order that I have no talent for the instrument.  My talent for colorful language as I struggled to learn the rudiments of piano, however, grew exponentially!  But I did love the bright sound of the piano in my practice room, even though my mistakes often made it seem to groan under my fingers.

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That same piano is still in my old practice room.  And it still has the bright sound that I loved so much.  That piano helped me find my pitches as I practiced my repertoire, from Schubert lieder to Italian art songs to the lush French jewels by Duparc that I loved so much.  Not to mention the operatic arias!  My accompanists and I worked through the musical periods, spanning centuries and continents from inside my practice room.

I joke that I kicked the walls out of frustration so many times that my footprints are in the drywall, and that I swore and sweated so much as I worked in there that my DNA is still embedded in its walls, never to be removed!  In truth, though, I did leave a great deal of myself inside those walls.  I sang, laughed, cried, stomped, cursed and made a lot of noise in that little room.

And, every once in a while, I made music.

I also prayed, gave and received encouragement, hugged friends and shared secrets in there.  Some of the most beautiful notes I ever sang happened in there, with no one but God to hear them.  I carry that little room inside me like my own DNA, part of the intricate web of elements and experiences that make me the woman I am becoming.

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Tears Of A Clown

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When a helper needs help…

A couple of months ago, I found a little dead bird outside one of the large plate glass windows at work.  The windows are slightly mirrored on the outside, and birds fly into them from time to time, breaking their little necks.  This bird was exquisite and tiny, with greenish-yellow feathers on his back and wings, and a whitish breast.

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Outside he was intact, with no visible injuries.  So beautiful and small. But inside, he was broken.

I’ve been feeling like that lately.  Today was the 17th anniversary of Mama’s death, and the days of the week this year are the same as the year she died.  I remember things like this.  Plus, two days ago was a full moon, which in my experience brings on more vivid dreams.  Mama’s anniversary and the moon waxing toward full have brought on a lot of dead people dreams.  I’ve had dreams of Mama, Aunt Ruby and Aunt Martha and Lola clustered very close together in the last couple of weeks.  Even Ernie The Wonder Beagle showed up in a dream.

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The people I am closest to know that I have a sensitive side; they’ve been subjected to it throughout our lives.  But, while I consider myself to be pretty transparent most of the time, I don’t expose my tender places a lot.  I’m a good listener (so I’ve been told, anyway) and more often than not, I am the person who offers the shoulder to cry on.  Even my Enneagram research bears this out.  I am an Ennea-type 2—The Helper.

And that’s great.  Most of the time.  But it is a mixed blessing.

Most of the time I am a jokester, a clown.  I laugh easily and usually I try to bring others along for a ride on The Goofball Express.  That is the side of myself I am most comfortable with other people seeing, and I think it’s the side they are most used to.

It’s hard for a clown like me to even NEED help, much less to ADMIT that I need it.  It feels naked, exposed.  It feels vulnerable.  I tend to be much more comfortable with the vulnerability of other people than with my own.

But clowns like me cry sometimes.  Our tender places need to be soothed and comforted.  I have struggled the past couple of days with grief and sad memories, feeling weepy and lonesome.  I told Sweet Pea a little while ago that sometimes I just get so tired of missing people.  He listened to me with loving concern and compassion, telling me there was no need to apologize (which I always do when I cry.  Old habits die hard, I guess.  My tears were generally not accepted very well as I was growing up, except by Aunt Ruby.).  He has dealt with many tears of mine over the years, and while it hurts him to see me hurting, he listens without judging.  It’s a priceless gift.

My bouncy, clownish self will return soon enough.  There are gag Christmas presents to give and ugly sweaters to wear.  There is music (and cake) to be made.   But this day…this day has witnessed the tears of a clown.

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The Comfort/Sanity/Happiness Kit

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Because we all need our marbles…

I enjoy giving goofball presents to people who appreciate my sense of humor and understand the spirit behind the gift.  Gag gifts between me and Reed at Christmas happen from time to time, although it is not an annual occurrence.  He started it when we were kids and he bought me a Chia Pet.  Over the ensuing years various crazy presents have passed between us, such as monkey dishes (I gave him a set the year after he presented me with a monkey lamp), bright pink slip-on sandals from him that decorated my office wall back when I had an office, and an extremely ugly “giggle jug” lamp that I gave him which had a goofy smiling face on one side and a frowny, but hilarious, face on the other.  My crowning goofball gift to him happened the Christmas I was able to obtain a beauty school head that a friend’s sister-in-law had worked with as she completed her training to be a hairstylist.  Score!  It was by far the goofiest gift I have ever given to Reed, or to anybody for that matter.  One Christmas, Reed overwhelmed me with 4 additions to my ugly necktie collection!  I actually wear my outrageous ties now and then, so this gift was priceless.

I have been working on an idea for a comfort/sanity/happiness kit to give to friends and family who need one or all of those things, especially in times of sadness or stress.  It would contain things like bubble wrap for stress relief (who doesn’t LOVE to pop bubble wrap?!  Again, when I had an office, I kept bubble wrap in it to work off my frustration);  A Slinky, for the soothing sound it makes as it passes from one hand to the other; and some jingle bells for those moments when a little music is needed.image

And definitely some marbles.  Who among us doesn’t occasionally feel like we have lost our marbles?  The gift of marbles assures the recipient that, no, you haven’t lost your marbles, because right here they are!

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The comfort/sanity/happiness kit might contain other items like bubble bath or a scented candle, a mix CD of music tailored for the recipient (a few people still actually use CDs, I think!), a book the recipient might like, a special snapshot, a recipe, or a jar of bubble-stuff to blow bubbles at the world. It’s a lot better to spread bubbles than profanity (although, I’ve been known to spread both!).  The only limit to the kit is one’s imagination and the desires/tastes/needs of the person who will receive it.

What would be in YOUR comfort/sanity/happiness kit?

The contents of mine would vary day by day…but I would always want, and need…

My marbles.

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Black Lives Matter

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All our lives…

Black lives matter.

Lives of all colors matter.

Male, female and trans lives matter.

Straight and gay lives matter.

Addicted, bereaved, helpless lives…

the lives of victims and,

whether we like it or not,

the lives of perpetrators…

lives at the beginning of life and

lives at their end…

All lives matter, even,

or especially,

the least of these.

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