Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Goodbye Kentucky. Hello Colorado.

April 20, 1999 was the day I left Kentucky to embark on a new adventure, nay, a new life. I had no idea what I was getting into, what lie before me, and what to expect. I simply surrendered to the journey. I've yet to decide if I was fully conscious to what I was doing or on some intuitive auto-pilot during this time.

Before leaving Kentucky, I worked for Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs as marketing director for the Lexington and Frankfort offices. Upon announcing my resignation and the reason why, many co-workers marveled at what I was about to do. One called me brave. I didn't really see myself as brave at that point, but today I understand why someone may say that. I knew no one in Colorado, my cousins having long since moved on to other states. I'd later meet a couple of people while out for an interview before I actually make the move. Even “braver” I'm told going without having secured a job first. Brave or crazy, I'm not sure, but the good news was I landed a job offer two days before I left Kentucky. Life was falling into place.

I headed out early that April morning, giving my worried mom reassurance with one last hug that I would be fine. By the time I landed for the night in Kansas, I'd learn in a phone call home letting mom and dad know I was okay that tragedy struck in Littleton, the very community where I shopped for my apartment. Columbine. It wouldn't be until I arrive the next day that I would fully grasp the severity of what actually happened. Honestly, I don't think anyone at the time understood what had happened. I've shared in previous blog posts about this experience and how Columbine would instantly hook me into the Littleton community.

After arriving to Denver, I lived in a La Quinta Inn for almost two weeks while I sorted out the final arrangements on my apartment which was across the street and park from Columbine High School. I had only that which I could carry in my Toyota Tercel when I headed West, and given it was a small car, that wasn't much. I moved into my new place with nothing but the clothes I brought with me. The first night in my apartment I slept on the floor; two hours into a sleepless night, I decided to go to Walmart to get an air mattress. They were closed! The Walmart in Kentucky stayed open 24 hours! How can it be closed!?!  No, Toto, I don't think we're in Kentucky anymore.

It would be another two weeks before I'd start my new job with Grant Thornton LLP as marketing director for both the Denver and Colorado Springs offices. I spent time getting affairs often associated with a move in order: Colorado driver's license, license plates, banking accounts, change of address cards completed, etc. I also visited the Columbine memorial that developed across the street in Clement Park. The amount of people that came through there was overwhelming.  So many in fact that the once lush sodded grass was reduced to grass-less mud thanks to April snow showers. I had to show my ID in order to get into my apartment complex. Media trucks were everywhere. This madness would last at least a month.

I hung out with a gal I met only the week before at a legal marketing conference – Aleisha. She was a godsend of an angel who reached out to me with empathy having herself transplanted there from Texas knowing no one. Our friendship developed as we got to know each other and she showed me around the area.

I learned a lot in the first few weeks in Colorado. You can't drink as much in the higher altitude as you would at sea level; you get plastered faster if you do. The higher altitude will take your breath away, literally, even from climbing a simple flight of stairs. It took several months before my lungs adjusted to the thinner air. Colorado has no humidity, which means the air is drier, which means drier skin. I had to drink more water and lather with lotion more then I've ever in my life. They have these lanes called HOV lanes; high occupancy vehicles meaning no cars unless there are more than one person in it could expressly travel through traffic.

In the time before starting my job, the reality of this major change in my life hit me and homesickness set in. I didn't know but a couple of people. I missed my dogs which were in my parents' safekeeping until they brought my furniture out the next month. I missed my family. I missed familiarity.

Yet, here I was.  Despite the tears and the fears that crept up, I dealt with the realization that life as I had known it in Kentucky was no more. A new life in Colorado, unknown, uncertain, and for reasons still unclear to me, had begun.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Dulcimer & Me

As I shared in “The Dulcimer and a Wild Hair,” my Mother's Day gift to mom was to learn to play the dulcimer. And that I did!

I left early yesterday morning for Land Between the Lakes; unfortunately, the sky was overcast and threatened of rain. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my drive, always one of the best parts for me in the travel, especially when I'm traveling alone. The time covering the distance I spend with my thoughts and reflections about my life, and life in general. Meditative in nature, my inner wisdom and guidance comes through as I'm focused only on the task of driving without other distractions. This time I also enjoy spending being a “rock star;” its the safest place for me sing at the top of my lungs along with music favorites like the soundtrack for “Rent” or “Evita”, Melissa Etheridge, John Cougar Mellencamp, Pat Benatar, and other songs from my day.

After overcoming mild confusion thanks to my being directionally-challenged, I finally arrive at The Homeplace an hour and a half before class. GPS offered a different “scenic” route with which I made better time than I expected. As I waited, I perused the many cases of exhibits and explanations of living life on a farm in the 1850's. A mild melancholy came over me at how simple life was then, though I realize those of that century had their own unique challenges just as we do in this century. I learned how various plants, what many today consider to be weeds, were used to make dye for wool, how to preserve food without the benefit of a refrigerator or freezer, and how to work the land for a healthy garden and crop. I decided I need to return when I have time and attention to pay to this museum's preservation of our Kentucky living history.

Three other people arrive to learn the dulcimer with me: an older man and woman, and a young gal between ten and twelve. The four of us settled in for our class as we became acquainted with our husband and wife teachers, Kelly and Susan Amsden, who traveled three hours from Tennessee to teach us the art of the dulcimer. We learned the history of the dulcimer which literally is an indigenous American instrument created in Appalachia. We learned the anatomy of the dulcimer, how to tune it, the different scales in which you can tune the dulcimer, the different types of dulcimers there are, and ways of playing it, etc. For being an instrument that's “simple to learn,” it seems complicated in its many possibilities.

Once we had the basics of understanding where the notes were on our dulcimer fretboard and which finger positions we used to achieve them, we began to practice a simple scale, then moved to a simple song! I filled with excitement after we finished, even playing at a turtle's pace! I crossed that line of my ignorance of the instrument to playing and appreciating it. We played another simple song that introduced skips – where you move from one note in the scale to another two or more notes up or down the scale. Technique comes into play here and my technique was awkward. I realize as we move further into this class I will need more beginning classes and lots of practice.

I learn there's a dulcimer group here in Owensboro, so I will begin researching into how I may participate with them for further practice and learning. I need to find a dulcimer maker to fix a small issue with the “nut” bridge in which the strings are cut too low and close to the fretboard, thus making it sound twangy. (In fact, they suggested I play one of their dulcimers but I really wanted to work with Mom's. Kelly rigged it so two of the four strings would sound better at least for the day.) The Homeplace is hosting “The Picking Party” Memorial Day weekend and I plan to return and listen to the sounds of all the beautiful strings of fiddles, banjos, and dulcimers, as well as reconnect with my wonderful dulcimer teachers.

During my drive home, I was rather pleased with myself and this adventure. I felt excitement, then discouragement, then encouraged again about my ability to play the dulcimer. I didn't learn to play the piano overnight, and realized the “perfectionist” in me harassing me for not being a perfect player after one class. I played it again last night and realize practice will be the key to my feeling more comfortable with the instrument, to fine-tune (pun intended!) my technique, and learn even more than I what I did in this one day workshop.

I thought about my mom several times and felt her sitting beside me grinning ear to ear. During her final months, she told me how much she loved I stepped out and tried things, went after what I wanted, and how fearless I was about stepping out of the comfort zone of “normal.” I felt mom's pride once again as I took a huge step to try something new this weekend; and I'm feeling pretty proud of myself for doing it and breaking out of a rut. I owe gratitude for that to my mom and her dulcimer. And I can hear her saying to me:

"Welcome back, Sweet Caroline, welcome back!"

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Dulcimer and A Wild Hair

As Mother's Day approaches, I'm feeling less burdened with sadness, and much more at peace around mom's absence. Previously, my heart ached as I saw Mom's Day cards in the store, ads for gifts, and all the possibilities of how to celebrate mom. A recent estate sale of my mom's stuff and that entire process helped “wring” a good chunk of the grief out of me, ahem, at least for a while. No doubt it will rear its head again down the road. I've come to be okay with that because it keeps me connected with her, with her memory.

So for now, I enjoy the grief-free journey when it comes to my mom. This Mother's Day, inspiration to honor her rather than mourn and miss her struck me. I find the irony amusing, and that I'm actually following through with it joyously nuts!

Many years ago, my mom fell in love with the sound of the dulcimer and decided she'd wanted to learn out to play one. So dad had a co-worker make a dulcimer as a birthday gift for my mom.  Included were playing instructions, as well as an audio tape to help the student learn how to play it. I believe my mom actually “fiddled” (yes, pun fully intended here!) with the dulcimer a handful of times, but according to dad, she never learned how to play it. Over the last several years, the dulcimer has sat up in a closet of my brother's old room collecting dust.

Upon clearing out the clutter of my mom's things, my dad and I discussed what to do with the dulcimer. I called local musician and string instrument teacher, Randy Lanham, to ask if he was interested in buying it for teaching, or if he knew anyone who was interested in owning one. Unfortunately, he didn't, suggesting a music shop. Dad decided we'd hang onto it and sell it in the estate auction when it's time for him to move out of the house. So once again, it sat in the closet on the shelf collecting a new layer of dust.

Then last weekend, I stumbled across a newspaper magazine insert in Sunday's newspaper featuring the summer schedule of activities at Kentucky's Land Between the Lakes (LBL). While casually perusing it, I noticed a class being offered: Beginning Mountain Dulcimer, Saturday, May 12 at The Homeplace at LBL.  The class caught my attention. I've never been interested in the dulcimer, and I've never played a string instrument in my life, unless you count a piano because well, it has strings attached to the keys.  I suddenly felt mom's encouragement to take the class. Why not? the familiar voice reasoned. I felt as if she wanted to live vicariously through me.  So, I decided then and there, why not? I'll do it.  I took the magazine insert to work with me the next day so I could make the call for more information.

Monday came and I started to think, this is crazy! Maybe they expect people with a little experience in this class; can someone really learn that easily? So I called. No, previous experience is not required. Yes, all the basics, including explaining the strings on it will be covered. Yes, you will be able to play several tunes on your dulcimer before the end of the 5-6 hour class. Well, hmm, okay then, sign me up! And so they did.

I giggle at myself for grabbing this wild hair to learn the dulcimer; but I'm excited about it. First of all, it's been a long time since I've grabbed a wild hair; I'm notorious among for doing so, and I like feeling some of the “fearlessly adventurous Carolyn” coming back after a three year withdrawal. Second, this adventure takes me out of town, if only for the day and into a beautiful part of Kentucky's scenery. Third, I'm doing it for mom; call it a Mother's Day gift if you will. I know she'd get a huge kick out of my taking the class.  I sense it was her spiritual kick that got me into it!

Tomorrow, early Saturday morning, off I shall go to LBL to learn how to play a dulcimer. A couple of people inform it it is suppose to be easy to learn, which is optimistic news for me! I have no expectations around the outcome of my ability to play, much less play well. I see this opportunity to spend the day with my mom via the dulcimer, an instrument which she loved. I have no doubt she will be around watching and enjoying the sweet music it and all the other beginners make.

Stay tuned (again, pun so totally intended) to hear the rest of the story! Um, and maybe a song!