Tuesday, June 21, 2011
My trusty saxophone
I played the alto saxophone from the time I was 8 years old until I was 20 years old, when I decided I didn't have time for frivolous activities any more. From watching my mother half-smile, half-wince as I blasted a rendition of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" to seeing her in the audience at a major concert hall performing with a semi-professional level group, playing the saxophone had been my life. I went from squeaking out my best "Jingle Bells" to being first or second chair in my high school ensemble. Although I had talent, I was unable to acknowledge it. I was never good enough, so I gave up.
My saxophone had sat in various closets ever since I put it down. I had written off that I would ever pick it up again: "I probably don't even remember how anymore," "I don't have time," "I'm not any good." I looked at the case, never opening it, and thought about selling it while I was having financial problems. But I couldn't do it. My saxophone sat there, unused, for over 10 years, knowing I would pick it up again someday. I could almost hear the whisper, "Don't worry, I'll wait...you'll need me again someday."
Several months ago, I moved my saxophone from the back of the closet to a prominent location in my living room. I found my music stand. I could not, however, find my old sheet music. I looked in every box I could think of to look, and it was nowhere. I decided I would by some new books when I had more money, and once again wrote off playing.
I went to my mother's Irish singing recital last week at the Center for Irish Music in Saint Paul. I always love hearing her sing and have been a little jealous for years that she has music as an outlet. I realized how much I have missed having music in my life. I decided I would have to go out and by some sheet music so I could start practicing. I couldn't actually imagine that I would remember how to play. Then, 2 days ago, my basement started flooding from all of the rain. I was moving boxes so they wouldn't get soaked, and at the bottom of one of the boxes, I saw the word "Saxophone." There they were, all of my books, and all of my old sheet music.
Yesterday, I opened the saxophone case, and it was if light radiated throughout the room. I put my saxophone together, looked it over, and with some trepidation, put the mouthpiece to my lips. I had picked a relatively easy piece to play to see if I even remember how to play. Breathing into the mouthpiece and hearing notes spreading through the air was like breathing life into myself again. And I remember how to play; I remember almost everything. After all of these years, my brain and my muscles remember. The saxophone is ingrained in my head, and was meant to be picked up again.
I plan of joining a group of some sort and taking lessons again to review how some things, and to improve. I'm not going to regret all these years that I denied myself the pleasure of playing; I will simply pick up where I left off.
Now, the question remains, is my dog's howling while I play a compliment or a critique?
Monday, June 20, 2011
Today is the 27th anniversary of the car accident that killed my older brother Brian. He was 8 years old, and I was 5 years old. I have spent a lot of my life remembering his death and the aftermath of the accident, but today I want to remember his life. I had written a couple of letters to Brian when I was a child, but I have never done it as an adult. Part of me felt that because I don't believe in an afterlife that it was a waste of time. But I know the letter is really for me, and so I am going to free-associate writing a letter to Brian.
I was looking at a picture of you and I together; you were probably 6 and I was 3. You were very gangly in the picture. I try to picture what you would look like now, and I think you would have been a tall and skinny runner. Maybe you, John, and I would have done some running events together; John and I have had a lot of fun doing them. I know you may not have still been climbing trees at the age of 33, but I imagine you would have still enjoyed hikes and being active.
I wonder what you would have done for a living. Would you have been drawn to math and physics, like Dad, or would you have wanted to save people, like Mom? Would you have followed your passion for animals and made a living caring for them? Anything you would have done, I know you would have brought creativity and brightness.
I know you're gone, but you are remembered. Every time I see a rainbow, I think of you. I can't seem to help it because you loved them so much. A few weeks ago, I saw a rainbow outside my office building. It was enormous and bright. And I saw the end of the rainbow--it is apparently at the parking garage across the street from work. Family members still have the numerous pictures you have drawn, mostly of rainbows, and they will be forever treasured.
And of course, you are carried on the back of every turtle I see. I have no doubt you would have still loved turtles today. Your love for animals overall sparked something in me; I care for animals for a living, and I'm sure you would have appreciated that. Every time I worked with a turtle, I felt a little bit like you were there (except maybe when the giant snapping turtles were trying to bite my hands off--but I can't blame them for that!).
I have no doubt that you would have still been a sci-fi nerd, and thanks a lot for turning me into one! I just finished watching Star Trek: The Next Generation from beginning to end. It took months, but I did it. You are one of the few people who would consider that to be a life accomplishment. I love how almost every picture of you has some sort of Star Wars reference in it, whether it's your t-shirt, pajamas, or bedroom. I still have the Star Wars pillow case from your bedroom to this day.
I still miss you, and I still wonder what kind of man you would have been. You were such a sweet kid, I have no doubt you would have been a very kind man. I know you would understand why I have put the sadness from this day behind me; every time I picture you, you are smiling, and I know you would want your family to be happy. I want you to know I am a happy woman, with awesome friends, a good job, and a fulfilled life. The biggest thing I have to do to let go of the day of the accident is to let go of all this weight on my body. Eating has been the way I've punished myself for letting you slip out of my hands, and I'm ready to stop punishing myself now.
I love you, brother.
Love, your little sister,
Sunday, June 19, 2011
I just got off the phone with my dad wishing him a happy Father's Day. We chatted, and both said "I love you" before hanging up. He was not able to get together today, but we are meeting later this week. I meet with my dad for coffee or dinner every couple of weeks at a minimum. One would never know that at one point he did not want anything to do with his children.
Tomorrow is the 27th anniversary of the car accident that killed my older brother. Prior to the accident, my dad had left our family. He had been a very angry person and was overwhelmed by trying to balance work and family. He is a genius, and focused his efforts on his career in electrical engineering instead of his family. He chose work over his children; we seemed to be in the way of his career goals.
I think my dad became very confused when my brother died. I stayed with him after the accident because my mom had broken her pelvis and was in the hospital. He didn't seem to know what to do with me. I mean, he sheltered me, fed me, and took me to the hospital to see my mom, but I don't think he knew what to say to a 5-year-old girl who suddenly had to deal with a very adult situation within the matter of a day. He was my dad, but I didn't know what to say to him either--I had barely seen him in 2 years. What I remembered of him was mostly his anger.
The time after the accident started a time of healing not only from my brother Brian's death, but my relationship with my father as well. It was not until he lost his son that he realized what children mean to a father, and that he could either nurture the relationship with his children, or risk losing them forever.
Even as a child, I knew he was trying to be a better father. He was far from perfect, and no one was harder on him than himself. I think my dad's problems were rooted in perfectionism, and his anger stemmed from expecting too much from himself and becoming frustrated when he did not meet those standards. When he worked on letting go of being perfect, he was able to enjoy those around his more, including his children. He learned to love himself in learning to love and appreciate his children.
When I was a teenager, my dad apologized to my younger brother and me. He said he was sorry for not being there more and that he was working really hard on becoming a better person. I know it took a lot out of him to talk to us about his mistakes. My brother and I had already forgiven him long before he apologized.
Now my dad is my biggest supporter. I can talk to him about any adversity and he can help me work through it logically, and without judging me. He has taught me to never regret pursuing my dreams, even when they don't pan out in the end. He sees success in pursuing the opportunity; trying my best is the achievement, and if I actually complete what I set out to do, that's a bonus. My dad is the only person capable of steering me in the right direction without telling me what to do. I am dazzled by his brilliance, and wish I had inherited his talent for math and physics. And most of all, I'm glad we share a crass and dark sense of humor.
Now, when my dad and I talk, we always say "I love you" before we part. And we both mean it very much.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Many people have been overweight for as long as they remember, and some of us may not know what started this battle with our bodies, while some of us do. I remember the day my battle started. June 20th, 1984, started as a normal summer day. My mother was going to take my two brothers and I on some errands. The day ended with my family in shambles, my mother's soul crushed by the loss of her son, nearly losing another child, and her own physical pain. A drunk driver can change a life in a split second, as I learned from a young age. As I approach the 27th anniversary of that day, I have been reflecting on how that day changed my life. I had worked hard to work through the grief, but working through the lasting changes has been a life-long process. SparkPeople has helped me look deeper into myself than any other source, so I would like to share my experiences with the SparkPeople community.
Rather than spell out the details of that day, I would like to share a short story that I wrote in a creative writing class last year. I am going to blog later about the lasting impact of the day my older brother was killed. Grieving does not necessarily last forever, but the impact from life-changing events forever shapes who we become.
"Brian!" my mother yells. "Stop bothering your sister!" She shoots the picture as I triumphantly yank the yellow balloon away, my golden blond pigtails bouncing as I skip away. Brian has the same blond hair, a short boy's haircut, although the slight curls make his hair unruly. His pants never fit right, always hanging off of his skinny waist to reveal half of his butt, even though he could tighten his brown leather belt to hold them up. He knows that I started it. I always do.
I win only because he lets me and he adores me.
The photograph shows an average moment between siblings, a typical memory: A gangly eight-year-old boy holding a prized possession, a twerpy little sister wanting it only because she knows she can win. Brother and sister thumb through a photo album, come across this picture, shaking their heads and giggling.
"Do you remember how much you used to piss me off?" one says to the other.
"Whatever, you always started it!" the other retorts. They laugh together and are so glad they have outgrown such childish ways.
I ask Brian in my head, "Do you remember how much you used to piss me off?" The only response is the call of a tall waterbird in the lake near his grave. I will never know if we outgrow our childish ways. I don't want the damn yellow balloon anymore. I want more fights with my brother. I want to let him win for once. My hand absently rises to my forehead, the round bumpy scar one of many reminders. I accept the tranquility of my brother's grave, the turtle carved into the flat gray granite headstone posed just like the turtles basking in the sun by the lake.
Our baby brother John is contentedly gazing out the back window of the car. He has never had a hair cut, his straw-blond baby hair in rambunctious curls around his cherub face. I watch him watching the cars going by from the safety of his car seat; he doesn't know how often I watch him watching things. It is a warm and sunny summer day and Brian and I are excited to go to McDonalds for ice cream. I was dragged to Brian's doctor appointment and I know I deserve a treat. Today we are not squabbling. My mother pulls the car into the left turn lane at the stop light and we wait patiently for our turn. She turns and smiles at me, her five-year-old daughter sitting next to her, and eight-year-old
and two-year-old sons in the back.
Brian picks at my hair and tells me it is like spun gold. He takes off his seat belt and leans over the to the front seat, wrapping his arms around me. I don't resist. I pick fights with him, but secretly I covet his ability to catch turtles and to recite most of the lines from Star Wars. He hugs me every chance he gets, when I'm not being such a brat to make it impossible.
I turn to look at him. The truck is the biggest and fastest thing I have ever seen as it barrels toward the intersection where my mother pulled out after our light turned green. My scream comes too late to warn my mother.
The impact makes no sound.
The car is spinning forever. The sky and ground outside the car melt into a whirl of blue and brown. I turn around during the slow-motion moment to look at my brothers.
Brian's arms are not around me anymore. John's eyes are closed, blood trickling from his ear, his mouth slightly open, his head tilted back as though he is napping. My mother is asleep and her head is pointed at the ceiling.
The car stops after an eternity in the grass median. I clamber to open the door, to go where, I don't know. A tall blond-haired man whisks me up and runs with me through the grass, despite my confused protests. He lays me down on my back and I turn on my side to see the sky blue Chevy sitting gracelessly in the grass, crumpled like a used newspaper. The grass is too high for me to see my mother or brothers. Even though I can
walk, I cannot move from where I am. Sirens wail from a distance, a chorus of them gets louder, then stops.
A paramedic comes and gingerly picks me up. I can say nothing, only scream. He puts me in the ambulance. John's tiny body is surrounded by people, counting out loud as they press on him and squeeze a balloon-looking plastic bag over his mouth. They stop and start to busily poke at him and put a plastic mask over his mouth. All of the equipment seems too big for him.
Outside I see police officers talking to the blond man who took me from our car. The doors close and the sirens blast again as the ambulance starts to move. The ride only lasts a second. We are bustled into the hospital and I am taken by a nurse to a bed surrounded by cloth curtains. My bare feet dangle over the bed. I ask where my shoes are and the nurse tells me they were lost in the crash. The nurse has tweezers and a metal bowl on a table next to the bed. She tells me she needs to remove the "windshield" from my skin.
The first chunk of glass plops into the metal bowl with a staccato Plink. The nurse tells me I'm doing a good job. She finds another piece of windshield glass and digs slightly to pull it from my forearm. Plink. I tell the nurse I want to see my mother, and she says I can in a little bit.
"Where's John?" I ask. The nurse pulls back the curtain next to us to reveal my baby brother nestled amongst beeping machines. Plastic tubes are sticking out everywhere. He is napping and does not look uncomfortable.
The nurse turns back to her task. She sees a sliver of glass on my chest and gingerly tugs at it with the tweezers. Plink. I look at the nurse, who is looking closely at my arm.
"I'm sorry, he's dead." Plink.
I don't feel any more glass under my skin, each Plink into the bowl sounding more distant, the beeps from machines rushing away.
My Aunt Theresa is walking towards me, smiling with a trembling lip. Her eyes are puffy and wet. The nurse does not stop picking at me as my aunt approaches. Plink. Aunt Theresa sits down next to me and holds my hand. I say again that I want to see my mother. Aunt Theresa squeezes my hand more tightly. Dozens of Plinks later, the nurse stops, and then washes my skin.
Aunt Theresa takes me down the hall, my bare feet almost squeaking on the white linoleum. My father is sitting next to my mother's bed and is holding her hand. He is sad. I have never seen him sad, only mad. That is why we don't live with him anymore. He turns to look at me. We have nothing to say to each other right now.
I cautiously approach the bed where my mother is laying. A machine with squiggly lines on a screen beeps rhythmically next to her bed. She looks beautiful and flawless, but now her eyes are empty.
My mother is staring straight at me, but is not looking at me. Aunt Theresa tells me my mother broke her back and hurts a lot right now. My mother normally has all the answers, so I don't know what to say to her. I place my hand on hers, and she squeezes her eyes shut, tears leaking from her tightly-closed eyelids. My mother says nothing. I study her gorgeous face, her brunette hair cascading on her pillow. My father and Aunt
Theresa are talking about the "drunk" man and "running the red light." Then something about John being in a "coma." Something about Brian "going through the windshield."
Aunt Theresa puts her hand on my shoulder and tells me that it's time to go and buy new shoes.
The flowers my dad left are fresh in the vase by Brian's grave. Hours ago my dad stood over my brother's grave, a different man than the one who received the call twenty-five years ago that his oldest son was dead, the rest of his family in shambles. He became a real father that day. Today I am my father's daughter, my dark blond hair, gray eyes, large figure, and smart mouth are all from him. The anger is long forgotten.
John's hair is no longer blond, but brunette like my mother's, no longer curly, but coarse and chopped close to his head. He does not remember the day of the accident, but knows very well that it shaped him forever. Standing six feet tall, he is handsome and his lean body shows that he frequently runs marathons. He looks at other graves, at the lake, at the sky, at the car. Anywhere but straight down at the granite slab with the turtle and the engraving "...each seed is each seed's child."
John squirms from one foot to the other as he stands with my mother and me. My mother looks up from Brian's grave and grabs my hand. "What do you remember the most about Brian?" she asks.
I pause awkwardly. "His death," I answer honestly. She gazes with hope for more answers from my face, and nods. The wounds continue for my mother all these years later, although she now knows it was not her fault. The tall blond man who had taken me from the wrecked Chevy, the same man who took my older brother's life, had said he was not sorry. She forgave him anyway.
I can remember Brian if I think hard, in thoughts, and in pictures. But the silver truck grill is always bearing down on us in the one second that changes our lives. My mother gazes at the lake, remembering her eldest son, thankful for John and me. "Have I told you how proud I am of you?" she asks me, beaming.
"Yes, earlier today."
She takes John's hand. "I love you so much," she says, squeezing and shaking his hand. He rolls his eyes with slight indignation. "Yeah, I know. I love you, too," he mutters, even though he means it.
My brothers, my mother, and I are together as a family.
Thanks for reading.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Nom nom nom!
I started making homemade skin care products a few months ago, after years of battling my sensitive/dry/oily, acne-prone skin with conventional products. A lot of my skin care utilizes the nutritional value of pure cocoa powder. Today I did a facial at home; this is the second time I've used this facial. My skin feels renewed, refreshed...and chocolatey! This facial also uses the exfoliating power of fruit acids. This facial gives me the best of both worlds--anti-aging and anti-breakout!
Any of these recipes can be used as stand-alone treatments as well (I do the "Morning Mocha" Mask about once a week). Most of the ingredients can be purchased at the grocery store (especially Whole Foods or other natural food stores), otherwise there are great online sources. I order most of my stuff from Mountain Rose Herbs: www.mountainroseherbs.com/
The "Morning Mocha" Mask is pictured above. Good enough to eat, but made to put on skin!
Here are the steps and a few of the recipes:
1)Exfoliate with baking soda--wet face, mix about 1 Tbsp. baking soda with water to make a paste, and gently massage face for about 1 minute. Rinse well.
2) "Apple Pie" Mask
2 Tbsp. applesauce (made without added sugar)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
scant 1 tsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Mix well and massage onto face. Leave on 5 minutes and rinse well.
3) Massage with cleansing cream (I made my own, but could use a store-bought cleansing cream or lotion suitable to skin type).
4) Steam for 5 minutes.
5) Oil cleanse--no, really!
I was shocked to find how great oil works as a cleanser. I use a 50%-50% min of extra virgin olive oil (good moisturizer) and castor oil (good cleanser, especially for acne). A lot of people just use extra virgin olive oil, and that works well, too. I also add essential oils, including carrot seed, patchouli, geranium, rosemary, orange, and eucalyptus essential oils. Anyone can customize a blend according to skin's needs.
After steaming, massage oil on face for 5-15 minutes. To remove, put very warm water on a washcloth, put on face until washcloth cools, then wipe gently (don't scrub). Repeat rinsing process 4-5 times.
6) Blackhead extractions (yep, have a squeeze fest!), then rinse thoroughly with cool water.
7) Lemon-geranium toner
Lemon and geranium essential oil renew skin and fight acne, and witch hazel extract acts as an astringent. In the future, I plan on making this with witch hazel hydrosol, which is alcohol-free. Any astringent toner would do if you don't feel like mixing this.
4 ounces witch hazel extract or witch hazel hydrosol
12 drops lemon essential oil
8 drops geranium essential oil
Mix ingredients in a brown or blue glass bottle and shake for 2-5 minutes. Store in refrigerator for up to 1 year. Wipe a generous amount onto face with a cotton ball.
8) "Blueberry Brownie" Mask
This mask uses blueberries to provide fruit acids, cocoa powder and cinnamon for antioxidants, and Fullers Earth and Epsom salt to purify and mineralize skin. If you don't have Fullers Earth and/or Epsom salt, then simply eliminate. Fullers Earth is also known as cosmetic clay, and is good for acne-prone skin.
1 Tbsp. blueberries (mashed and strained)
1 Tbsp. Fullers Earth
1 tsp. cocoa powder
dash of cinnamon
1 tsp. raw honey
brewed coffee or water
Mix dry ingredients and blueberries well. Mix in honey. Drizzle in coffee or water to make a thick paste. Massage onto skin, leave on 20-30 minutes. Remove by gently wiping with a washcloth and rinse well.
9) "Morning Mocha" Mask
This mask will moisturize and provide more antioxidants. Caffeine helps brighten the skin.
2 tsp. finely-ground coffee
2 tsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. finely-ground oatmeal
1 tsp. honey
brewed coffee or water
Mix dry ingredients with brewed coffee to form a paste, apply to face. Leave on 20-30 minutes. Remove by gently wiping with a washcloth and rinse well. *NOTE: Make sure the ingredients are ground into powder consistency, otherwise the skin could be damaged; a coffee grinder works well.
10) Spritz skin with plain, but strong, green tea (I use 2 teabags per 1/4 cup water and let steep for several hours. Green tea helps with sun damage and provides antioxidants.
11) Apply face serum--I use aloe vera gel.
12) Pour 4-5 drops of jojoba oil onto palm. Rub hands together, then pat onto face.
13) Moisturize with a rich cream. I made my own ("Chocolate Body Frosting"--I will provide recipe later), but any high-quality anti-aging cream would do.
And there you have it! You get a home spa treatment and an awesome chocolate fix!
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