Monday, February 28, 2011

Magical Moment 389, "The First Time She Called Me 'Daddy'"

"It was just her and her mom for a long time when we met, and naturally she was a little protective of her mom when we began dating. I tried to plan activities that the 3 of us could do together and over time, we became good friends. Three years went by and I asked her one day after I picked her up from school, 'How would you feel about me and your mom getting married? Would that be okay with you?' She looked down shyly, but I could see that she was smiling. I knew it would be okay.

Our relationship shifted after the wedding as I took on a more paternal role. I was involved in her school decisions, her daily life, and her discipline. I always loved her, but now I loved her like my very own daughter. She still called me by my first name and I didn’t blame her. I knew I could never fathom the feelings and emotions of a preteen girl and I just wanted her to be comfortable with our family situation, though I secretly longed to hear her call me Dad.

One day she got home from school before her mom or I were home from work. This happened occasionally and she proved herself responsible enough to begin her homework and household chores without supervision. But on this certain day, the weather was horrible. Ear splitting thunder and flashes of lightning made it an eerie day to be alone. All at once, the power went out in the city and I got an urgent phone call from her pleading with me to come home. I dropped everything I was doing and raced to the house.  

I parked in the driveway and ran soaking went up the porch. I unlocked the front door and opened it, entering a pitch black room. “Hello?” I called out. Then I heard footsteps running down the hall and into the entry way. She wrapped her arms around me and cried, 'Daddy!'
I hugged her close and kissed her hair. 'Shhh. I’m here.'"

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Magical Moment 388, "The Unobvious Beauty"

Do you ever get frustrated with where you are? Do you ever feel jealous of the people who live near mountains, or ocean, or lush, vibrant pastures? A few days ago, I spent some time in Thomas Edison's Greenhouse, taking pictures of the stunning flowers. I went back today and I found even more beauty to inspire me. This time, it had very little to do with the blooms of the prize winning orchids. 

I discovered that a single drop of water, contains as much beauty as an entire ocean.

I noticed that this tiny, little orange had fallen from its tree branch into this watering can. I couldn't imagine an orchard being much lovelier.

One petal fell. And it rested lightly above the earth, casting its gentle shadow. 

I wouldn't have thought a New Jersey Sunset could look so stunning behind the smoky, steamy window panes of an old greenhouse.

It takes slightly more effort to notice this kind of unobvious beauty, but it makes me thankful for where I am and what I see. And it makes me want to notice and appreciate the unobvious beauty in other things: music, my family, food, and the sounds and smells of every day life. Thank you Lord, for surrounding me with beauty.

Some more about Thomas Edison:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Magical Moment 387, "One-Legged Pigeon in the Making"

After I forced Eddie to join a gym with me so I could get some running in during the winter months, my plan backfired. Eddie has a bad lower back and insists that yoga does wonders for his back muscles (he also makes me play raquet ball with him once a week and I wake up with nightmares of that stupid rubber ball shooting straight at my head). I have no doubt of yoga's benefits for the human body, I just prefer a work out that lets me use my iPod.

At the beginning of the class, the instructor directed us to hang forward at the waist, allowing our fingertips to reach as low as possible towards the ground. Mine went to about mid-shin. I spent the next hour breathing, stretching, contorting, and bending into every unnatural shape imaginable. At one point, I looked like a sad little, messed up pretzel that wouldn't make it through quality control. Everything was painful and I couldn't even form the full poses like the rest of the class. At the very end of the session however, she again had us bend forward and hang down. This time I was shocked to see my fingertips actually make it to the ground.

Almost the exact same thing happened the other day when I had my very first professional vocal lesson. I had been growing frustrated with myself in the last few weeks, trying to record my songs. I so desire to sing with an energetic, full voice, but feel constricted with my untrained vocals. The coach had me make the most absurd, goofy sounds. I was terribly embarrassed, scrunching my nose to get the nasal, Fran Drescher sound that he wanted. I couldn't imagine how this would make my singing voice sound better. After 2 hours of what sounded and looked like utter nonsense, he finally had me sing the chorus of my song. And what I heard was a clear, cutting, power in my voice. 

Those exercises opened up a part of my muscles that I never even knew existed. It was like they were awakened from a winter hibernation, fresh and brand new. I'm still a looong way from doing a one-legged king pigeon pose in yoga....or touching the ground with my palms for that matter. And I still couldn't belt a high C if my life depended on it. But now I see that it's possible for me, with exercises, work, and practice. It is possible...anything is, for you, for anyone.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Magical Moment 386, "Emily's Cozy Spot"

On rainy days like today, I like to cozy up on the couch. I guess Emily the cat has her own place to cozy up. Having a dog and cat, I find animal hair in my carpet, on my clothes, and all over my furniture. The bathroom sink was the one place I thought was safe, until today...

(Although, she might think it's raining inside, when I turn the water on...)

The best kind of rain, of course, is a cozy rain. This is the kind the anonymous medieval poet makes me remember, the rain that falls on a day when you'd just as soon stay in bed a little longer, write letters or read a good book by the fire, take early tea with hot scones and jam and look out the streaked window with complacency.  
- Susan Allen Toth, England For All Seasons

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Magical Moment 385, "The Best Time I Ever Got Pulled Over"

I rushed out the door one Saturday morning, worried sick that I would be late for work. If there is one thing I hate to be, it's late! I zoomed down the Garden State Parkway, forgoing my morning Dunkin Doughnuts coffee, and switching into "New Jersey Driver Mode" (it's not pretty, and I only do it when I have to).

After I got off the Parkway and onto the residential streets that would take me to the ballet school, I noticed a police car hiding on a side street waiting to catch someone. I immediately slowed down, as I was going about 5 over the speed limit. Whew! He didn't get me. Once he was completely out of my rear-view mirror, I again sped up. I was almost to work and if I could just maintain this speed, I would get there exactly on time. I was in the clear! In fact, I could see my final destination, when all of the sudden...lights. My old buddy was right behind me. Sneaky little guy. Defeated, I pulled over. My clean driving record that I had worked so hard for could be ruined. I prepared everything necessary to hand to him as soon as he came to the window. But I still had one ace up my sleeve.

Inevitably, he would ask me why I had a New Jersey address but Texas plates. I explained, "We're military." I handed him my ID. That usually does the trick and I could tell by his reaction that it probably would work it's charm again today. But then I got a bonus. 

He took the ID (which is a dependent ID because I'm no longer on active duty). Then he looked at me and asked, "So are both of your parents military?" I was totally confused for a second when I realized, he thought I was way, WAY younger than I am. He mistook me for a minor with military parents. 
I stuttered, "Uh, no, my husband."
That's when he took a closer look at the information on my ID and I watched the understanding come over his face, "Oh!" he said. 

In that moment, he could have given me 50 tickets and I wouldn't have cared!!! I would have strolled into work an hour late whistling Dixie. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! He thought I was nearly a decade younger than I actually am. 

As it turns out, he gave me a verbal warning only, and when I arrived at work, the instructor was also about 10 minutes late so it wouldn't have mattered if I was on time anyway! Who would have thought such a stressful morning could turn out so well!

A few other laughs:
DOH! A Deer
Smile and Nod
Welcome Gabby
Murphy's Law Applies to Mustangs

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Magical Moment 384, "Considering"

I have a lot to consider lately. I've been reflecting a great deal and looking for signs since I've been accepted into a law school on Long Island. To go, or not to go? How will this affect my music goals? Is this the path I want to go down? What kind of future do I want for my family? These are the things I'm considering. In the decision making process, I thought perhaps the first step would be to spend the day in the area where we would most likely move to. If only the ultimate decision was based solely on today. It would be an easy choice as the day was absolutely perfect. 

Islip, NY has everything I could ever want:
The deer are so numerous, they're considered pests 
near Fire Island National Park.
This little red fox actually came to me when I called him.
I'm not even zooming in on my camera.
I've always been a sucker for geese. Love 'em.

A historic, beautiful lighthouse
I couldn't get enough of these giant reeds. Beautiful.

And ocean
Joy would be one happy camper if we lived here. That's for sure.
Oh why can't I be more like Joy, and only care about this?!

I suppose there is more to real life than these things however. I've been learning that life changing decisions come hand in hand with patience and faith. Lessons that will surely last long after this choice has been made. 

A man's heart plans his way, 
but the Lord directs his step. -Proverbs 16:9

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Magical Moment 383, "Giggles"

One of the greatest bonding rituals among female kind, is the sacred act of uncontrollable giggling. It's not just a chuckle, or shared laugh, or even a knee-slapping, gut busting howl. No, a true giggle is much more complex. If you've been lucky enough to have one with a fellow sister, then you'll be familiar with these key elements that makes up a real giggle.

First, you have to share the same sense of odd, quirky humor that no one else in the universe understands. Like when my best friend Deb and I find it absolutely hilarious to make goat noises within ear shot of total strangers. It's very tricky to make the sound in a way that people can't tell where it's coming from. When we're out together with our husbands and the goat noises come out, our husbands suddenly don't know us. They hide their faces in shame and deny their own wives. But they just don't get how funny people's faces are when they think they hear a goat noise just walkin' down the sidewalk!

Second, sometimes it requires an "us verses them" mentality. This is mostly common when siblings (especially sisters) find themselves mutually entertained by a random, unintentionally funny act that one of their parents did. Like in church services growing up, when my older sister and I got too loud playing around instead of listening to the sermon. Our mom would lean over, and in her firmest, meanest, most intimidating, loud whisper, she would say with glaring eyes, "Stop it. Now!" I can't explain why (thus the mystery of the giggle), but that would set  my sister and I into a fit of absolutely uncontrollable giggles. To this day, all these years later, when we remember our mom's face and voice saying those words to us, we again burst into teary-eyed, cramp-inducing bouts of laughter. This has even happened since we've been adults sitting in church, and our mother had to separate her two twenty-something-year-old daughters and sit in between us. At least she finally learned that "Stop it. Now!" in a whisper through gritted teeth, doesn't work.

Third, you have to be completely comfortable with each other enough to really let yourself go. After all, a good giggle is usually the result of someone making a fool out of themselves. Like the time both of my sisters and I thought it would be hilarious to go around with our hoodies tied tight over our heads, making us look like little cone head aliens. And ya know what? It WAS hilarious!

You may have had a good giggle if you've experienced one or more of the following scenarios with either a sister or best friend:
-Calling your dad a "doofus" because he didn't know what "Lol" meant.
-Singing (or more like rapping) "Right Thurr" by Chingy at Karaoke Night.
-Saying "BEWARE!" in a satan-like devil voice and accidentally teaching it your 3-year old niece.
-Referring to your mom as "Slim" over and over until she gets so mad, she sends you to the car while she finishes the museum tour by herself. 
-Sticking the scrabble tiles to your forehead that spell out the word "Loser." And doing it backwards on accident.
-Kicking your foot through a soda vending machine to impress a boy with your karate skills.
-Doing ANY impression of ANYONE. It doesn't have to resemble them at all!
-Walking through New York City in a brightly colored, soaking wet wig.
-Seeing a bug that looked funny.
-Saying the word "pancake" funny.
-Putting on your lipgloss funny.

You may have had a true giggle if you've experienced any of the following symptoms:
-mascara running down the cheeks
-difficulty breathing
-laughing at a particular incident, then hearing yourself laugh, and laughing at yourself laughing. Then calming down, re-living the incident in your mind, and beginning the cycle all over again.

Now this may sound similar to being "tipsy," but the real magic of the giggle is that it is done completely sober. Here's hoping you've had a true giggle with someone you love!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Magical Moment 382, "Color"

I woke up this morning to a loud, familiar sound just outside my bedroom window. The low rumbling terrified me to my very core and in dreaded anticipation, I walked to the window silently pleading, Please don't let it be... The snow plow. A fresh layer of white had fallen on the the newly emerging patches of green on the ground. Now everything was again white. I love the snow, don't get me wrong. And it's beautiful too, it's just been... too white for too long. 

I stopped by my husband's work where he was pulling a double shift on this President's Day. He told me that he wanted to show me something and took me to Thomas Edison's green house. I entered into a warm oasis of vibrant color amidst the never ending white. I couldn't stop taking pictures. I was especially struck by the shape the blooms made against the steamy, glass greenhouse wall. (Click on photos to enlarge) 

One tiny orange, growing out of season.

This flower has a face. Can you see it?

These flowers were truly a bright spot in my white day!

"Look at us, said the violets blooming at her feet, all last winter we slept in the seeming death but at the right time God awakened us, and here we are to comfort you."  ~Edward Payson Rod

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Magical Moment 381, "Crazy"

When I tell people that my greatest musical influences are Dolly Parton, Bing Crosby, Patsy Cline, Randy Travis, Ray Charles, and Floyd Cramer, I usually get some puzzled responses, followed by, "How old are you?" What can I say? I grew up loving these artists and find myself inspired by their genius when creating my own music. I fell in love with Patsy Cline when I first heard the song "Crazy." And what I actually loved about that song at first, was not Patsy's amazing pipes, but the light, tinkling piano style of Floyd Cramer. After that, I was hooked on both of them.

My repertoire quickly filled with their songs and became favorites among the crowd at Lee's Chicken in Lincoln, NE, where I played the piano all through college. Patsy's music became even more special to me because it was a shared interest for myself and both of my grandmothers. One of my Grandma Valencia's all time favorite songs is "Crazy" and whenever she came to Lee's to eat fried onion rings and hear me play, I always performed this one special for her. When I taught my Grandma Daugherty to play the piano, she insisted that several Patsy songs were on the schedule to learn. To this day, she still plays "Sweet Dreams," "I Fall to Pieces," and of course, "Crazy."

It's fascinating to ponder all those things in life that shape your taste, interest, passion, and style. Enjoy this video of "Crazy" taken at Riverside State Park in Manhattan.

My Dolly Parton tribute, "She Loves Me"
My Randy Travis tribute, "Randy Forever and Ever Amen"
My Ray Charles (and blues) tribute, "The Cure for the Blues, the Blues!"


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Magical Moment 380, "Reflection"

"Reflection" by Elizabeth Grimes

A million eyes, all looking at me.
I’m terrified of what they might see.

It matters not how I hide, or where.
I can’t escape their watchful stare.

I try to move, but feel paralyzed.
And I’m pulled apart as I’m scrutinized.

Soon it changes, after a breath.
Now there’s only one spectator left.

I reach my hand to touch the cruel eyes
And suddenly realize I’d been seeing lies.

It was water I felt. People, none!
The ripples made thousands out of one.

Another truth! I see it clearer.
A crowd created by a broken mirror.

It’s only me, and was all along.
I’m the only one who needs to like my song.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Magical Moment 379, "Nothing"

Eddie and I like to make a big deal out of each other's birthday's. For example, on my birthday I get to pick what I want to eat, where I want to go, and what I want to do. The other person has to make that wish come true, no questions asked and no complaining. Eddie has sat through karaoke night, eaten sushi, and spent the day at the mall for me. Well, today, we celebrated Eddie's birthday (his real birthday is on Sunday, but he has to work).

I asked Eddie, "What do you want to do on your birthday?" The answer was simple. Nothing. I thought maybe he just needed some suggestions: Play a game of racket ball? Go to the park? Go out to eat? Go see a movie? Nothing. He wanted to do nothing. He didn't want to leave the house, or the couch for that matter. And so, in keeping with our birthday tradition, I respected his wish.

We spent most of the day watching movies and eating junk food in between naps. At the end of the day I asked Eddie, "Did you have a good birthday?" 
He exclaimed, "It was amazing. The best birthday I ever had."

His response reminded me of that movie, Office Space. The main character skips work, and when his friend asked him what he did instead, he replied, "I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be."

So happy birthday, Eddie. I'm glad your dream of doing nothing came true for a day. As for me, polish up your cowboy boots for a night of 2-stepping and karaoke come April!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Magical Moment 378, "Bull's Eye"

There are times when I wonder if I'm living in a parallel universe. It's that intense feeling of deja vu when it seems like I'm living a past moment and present one all at once. Like that time on the subway when all five  senses took me back to the moments right before I jumped out of a C-130 in the Army - the way I stood, the jerk of the train, the smell, the cramped discomfort. Or the time I walked through my hallway in the middle of the night and heard Latin music blaring from what seemed like my bathroom. I swore I was dreaming, I even tried to wake myself up until Eddie reassured me I was already awake. Today I had another one of those odd sensations.

I sat perfectly still and quiet. I adjusted the muscles of my body, my shoulders, my arms, my abs. I looked straight ahead. I took a deep and deliberate breath. I did this over and over. Each breath drew the same amount of air into my diaphragm. Each exhale relaxed my shoulders to same height. I found myself reciting these words over and over: body position, breathing, trigger squeeze, sight picture. This is how you hit the target. Only, I wasn't at a firing range, I was in a recording booth. 

Just like in a dug out, concrete hole, I was surrounded by the enclosed, gray space of the sound booth. Just like on a live firing range, I was nervous and cautious. Just like the ear protection that silences the outside noise, I could hear every sound my breath made through the sensitive ear phones. I was alert, aware, focused. I'm gonna hit it today. Ready, aim, fire.

Here are posts as I chronicle my album recording with Modern Vintage Recordings:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Magical Moment 377, "Hope Sandwich, Extra Lettuce"

“Everyone, please take some food home with you! We have too much!”  The director announced after a luncheon and music rehearsal. I grabbed my coat and purse and headed out the door when she stopped me again, “Won’t you please take some of these sandwiches home with you? I hate for them to go to waste.” I wrinkled my nose, not wanting to bring anything back to New Jersey with me, but she seemed so desperate, I humored her.
“I guess I can take something to my husband,” I offered, knowing full well that my picky eater would never touch anything with tomato or lettuce on it. Nevertheless, I grabbed a six-inch sub from the neatly laid out platter and wrapped it in tinfoil. I shoved the entire wad into my purse and started home.

I traveled uptown through the subway and then switched to the bus terminal, where I would continue to New Jersey. It’s a very familiar route to me by now, long, frustrating, and tiring, but then I remember how lucky I am to be able to commute in and out of New York City.

The wave of people who exit the subway and enter the bus terminal at rush hour is comparable to an enormous school of fish, all flopping and wriggling through a very narrow passage way. There are 6 glass doors in a row that are constantly swinging back and forth as people crowd through them. I noticed that up ahead, one glass door was not being used at all. I immediately got angry because it was holding up the line that much more. As I got closer I saw the reason why.

A man was holding that door open. A homeless man. He kept the door wide open for passersby with one hand. His other hand was held out, palm facing up, in hopes that someone would drop in some change, in appreciation for his service. Not one person took him up on that.

I knew I didn’t have so much as a quarter on me. In fact, I used all my laundry money for my bus ticket that very day. And so I drifted to the left, away from his door. I kept walking and was almost to the escalator when I turned over my shoulder to look at him one last time. I decided to dig into the bottom of my purse and see if perhaps a dime or some pennies had been forgotten from long ago. But something blocked my hand…that sandwich.

I turned around, against the flow of pedestrian traffic, and made my way back to the man. I stood in front of him for a second, and then put the giant wad of tinfoil in his outstretched hand. I opened my mouth to explain…it’s a sandwich, it’s fresh, it’s food. But nothing came out. Instead he made eye contact with me, and with his head up and shoulders back, he said in a deep, confident voice, “Thank you.” 
I said, “You’re welcome.”

I wondered for the entire bus ride home about that man, his life, how the rest of his night went. I hoped he ate that sandwich and had enough change to buy a soda to go with it.  I hoped someone else showed him compassion that night, and will again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Magical Moment 376, "My 'Texas' Ranger"

I’m used to a man in a uniform. Eddie and I met in the Army and he’s remained a soldier either full or part time ever since. I suppose the tan and green Army Combat Uniforms have become sort of hum drum for me, probably because I also had to wear them 5 days a week for 4 years. Nothing makes you feel less feminine than putting on a clunky pair of combat boots, men’s size 8, every morning. I guess when I’m wearing the same outfit as a guy, I don’t see it in the dreamy-fantasy like way that other people view a man in a military uniform.

Now Eddie has a new uniform and I’m doing a double take when he goes to work every day. Button up, collared shirt with a necktie, and bulky because of the bulletproof vest he wears underneath. A leather holster around his waist with a nightstick, handcuffs, and 9-millimeter pistol. A brown, wide brimmed hat that sits straight as a ruler across his forehead. He is…a National Park Ranger.

I went to visit him at work on the night shift, where he protects the old, historical grounds of Thomas Edison’s home and laboratory. I don’t mind saying, I may not have made it out alive if not for my brave, heroic Ranger Eddie. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, allow me to lead you through the private tour I received. The setting: pitch dark, howling wind, shivering cold…

It began in the car on our way up the long driveway when Eddie said, "Look out the window, a deer!" I turned in delight, expecting to see a wide eyed, sweet but skittish creature bounding away from me. Instead, not more than a few feet from my face, this very bold animal stood looking straight into my eyes. It was as if he was saying, "All ye who enter here, be warned..."

His eyes pierced my soul with terror.

Relieved, we entered the house where I was sure I would feel more secure. That is until I turned the first corner and practically jumped out of my skin when I saw this view.

After collecting myself, I rationally thought I better have a second look to calm my imagination down. That DID NOT help...

By now, I was clinging like a traumatized child to Eddie's arm. Between the antique busts, statues, and photographs, with their glass and painted eyes watching my every move, and the howling wind rattling the old windows, I was bordering on incoherent. Soldiering on, I continued the tour. I experienced several more starts and jumps, like the ones in a horror film when you're anticipating the really big scare coming up! 
Is that a child in there?!?!
Okay, WHOSE FACE IS THAT? Come on! Really, Thomas Edison?

Well, surprisingly, I made it through the old house in one piece. Eddie asked if I was ready to go, I whimpered a "yes," and we walked out the back door to the car. As we were leaving Eddie, who is now an expert on the life of Thomas Edison, says to me in his creepiest tone, "Do you know what Edison was working on when he died?" I was afraid to ask, but he went on. "He was inventing a machine that would allow him to communicate with the dead." 

I looked at Eddie, horrified. And when I glanced at the old mansion one final time, I had to wonder, did Edison succeed in his invention? Because call me crazy, but is that his shadow I see against the left side of the house, waiving us goodbye?
Goodbye Thomas...if that's you...

I wondered how I would ever fall asleep that night. At least Edison invented one thing that would give me comfort, the light bulb! And you better believe every single one in my house was on that night until Eddie got home from the night shift. And then I remembered. Ah yes, I have the bravest, toughest, strongest Ranger with me every night to protect me. Phew. Take that, Edison's creepy tiger rug!