Day 7: Luck of the Irish

“When Irish eyes are smiling, ’tis like the morn in Spring. In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing. When Irish hearts are happy, the world seems bright and gay. And when Irish eyes are smiling, they’ll steal your heart away.”

I’m back state side waiting for my connecting flight to St. Louis and trying to write down my last day’s experiences in Ireland. The trip seems like ages ago even though I left Dublin about 10 hours ago. It’s funny how a long day of travel can turn vivid moments into whispers of memories. I blame it on the uncomfortable airplane seating, annoying seat companions & bad airplane food.

The last day in Ireland was jammed with a bus tour through Limerick (home to the renowned storyteller & writer, Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes), a shopping trip in Galway, a longer drive through the countryside where I finally caved in to listening to my own music and fell asleep, and ending the evening with a gourmet meal prepared by Ireland’s top celebrity chef Catherine Flauvio at her bed & breakfast/cooking school located on her family farm.

My tour mates and I seemed to have had good Irish luck throughout the day. For example, my mom asked me to buy her some Irish wool yarn so she could crochet my sister and me scarves & hats. I searched every day once we got into “wool territory” in Killarney & Donegal area and I had no luck so I gave up my search and bought her pretty jewelry, keychain & magnets instead. Then, I was walking down a street in Galway and saw a local clothing store where they specialized in tweeds. In the window was a bucketful of hand spun wool for sale. Jackpot!

My friend Kristin had luck as well. She wanted to burn some of her Euros while we were in Galway (which was the purpose of that stop). She bought some nice jewelry and thought she was done, but as we were walking by a local music shop, she saw a bhordan (Irish drum) in the window. She had no idea she wanted one until that moment. She walked into the shop and asked the vendor, “Do you sell those?” as she was pointing to a beginner’s drum hanging on the wall. He smiled so brightly and was so proud. He jumped up from his seat and said, Yes, I do.” Kristin paid for her bhordan without having any idea how to play it, but enthusiastically said that she would look it up on YouTube. She was so happy with the purchase and luckily it took up the rest of her Euros for that afternoon.

Another fun thing was the limerick contest a majority of us participated on the bus. Ann, our tour guide, challenged us to write a traditional Irish limerick with 5 lines and a rhyme scheme of: aabba. I composed a fun one a out Ann that goes like this:

Let’s raise a glass to Ann, our tour guide
Who has a beautiful voice and a smile so wide.
But she’ll give you a whack
If you don’t have craic
Then give you a swift kick in the behind.

(Craic -pronounced “crack”- is Gaelic for “joy,” “good fun”or “mischief”.)

Ann collected our limericks and then read them out loud. It was fun to hear everyone’s and we had a good laugh. Ann put our poems in for a drawing and a woman named Bonnie, who had been practicing her limerick writing skills for 5 days, won. When she opened the bag to find a toy leperchaun, she laughed and got so excited that tucked him in to the handle in front of her seat for the rest of the day’s trip.

We pulled into Ashford and went to Ballyknocken sheep farm and bed & breakfast where we were greeted by the owner, Catherine Flauvio (née Byrne), who runs a cooking school at the farm. She is also a TV personality and has her own cooking show in Ireland which is syndicated on the BBC and a few other channels around the world. The farm and its grounds were beautiful, but they couldn’t compete with Catherine’s beauty and charm. She gave us the history of her family’s farm and visited with each one of us (50 of us) individually by the end of the evening. Her meal was delicious. My favorite was her puréed carrot, cumin & spinach soup with creme that was poured into the bowls to look like the Irish flag. I also enjoyed visiting with my table mates who were so sweet, and interesting and genuinely good people. I really lucked out with this entire tour from start to finish. My luck never ran out and I met great people, saw beautiful countryside, drank myself to a happy buzz every night, and was reminded that life is to be enjoyed and soaked up as much as possible because the present turns into the past so quickly.

I end this entire travel blog (Days 1-7) with a Gaelic phrase Kirin from Killarney taught me and which I had said to me by two elderly Irish gentleman today in the airport: Go neire an bohart leat. May the road rise to meet you. I say that to all of you who are reading this. May you go through this life with a light heart and may the road take you on a marvelous journey.

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Day 6: Moher, Please

Craic (pronounced “crack”), is a Gaelic word that means “for the joy” or “for the fun” of something. Today was a day filled with spontaneous craic.

We were surprised with a small detour to a small village where Cutty’s Pub prepared for us free scones, cream, jam and coffee or tea. The scones were delicious. They were like eating sweet, flaky buttermilk biscuits. And the cream and jam were decadent. The local farmers’ market was going on as well and it was fun to see a fish monger vending fresh mackerel wrapped in newspaper from his ice cold styrofoam cooler.

We then had a small detour to St. Bridgid’s shrine. To be honest, I was full from my morning snack that I had fallen asleep and missed the historical and religious importance of this shrine. Instead I stepped off the bus for fresh air and talked, laughed and cursed like an Irishman with Patrick, our local bus driver.

We went 5 minutes down the road to the Cliffs of Moher (pronounced like “more”) and walked up the ramps and looked over the stone walls at the crashing waves and sheer cliffs and circling birds that had taken off from their little nests built on the cliffs’ nooks & crannies. I didn’t mind that it was an overcast, brisk day with an occasional drizzle. I felt like the weather added to all the numerous legends and tales about the Cliffs I read about in the Visitors’ Center.

After that, we stopped at Bunratty Castle. Kristin and I had our day’s fill of castles (which are cool and which we did tour quickly, but there was so much touring going on in the day that it felt like every corner of Ireland was covered with ancient churches, monasteries, castles and pubs). We spent a good portion of our time taking pictures of each other in front of the castle and angling the camera just right so we looked like giants storming the castle. Apparently we amused some of our tour mates who took pictures of us taking giant pictures of ourselves.

We ended the day with dinner and entertainment at a 500 year old castle. We drank mead and watched young men and women dance the really cool Irish jigs that began in medieval times and listened to traditional Irish songs and violin and harp music. It was fantastic and it inspired our tour guide Ann and an Irish man turned Australian, Noel, to start singing “Galway Bay” when we were back on the bus. Noel led all of us in a stirring rendition of “Oh Danny Boy” and by the time we had reached the parking lot we had sung Canada’s & Australia’s national anthems, “God Bless America”, and “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. It was safe to say that we were all on craic.

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Day 5: I Fell In to the Beautiful Ring of Kerry

“Off again, on again, gone again” is the motto for the tour bus business. Today we traveled The Ring of Kerry, a chain of mountains that circle around the bay and glacial lakes. The sights are phenomenal & this is where Ireland’s green shows itself in all its glory. We drove the majority of the day through this national park & we had 3 scenic outlooks where we could take photos. I was excited to get out & look.  My pictures don’t fully do this land and the vivid greens justice, but the romantic in me wanted to stay out all day and sit on the unmortared stone walls and visit with the sheep ranchers, watch their dogs coral the wooly sheep and maybe hold a baby lamb. Instead, we were the sheep herded back on the tour bus within 5 minutes time so as to make room for the next wave of tour buses pulling in.

I’ve seen mountains before in Colorado, North & South Carolinas & New Mexico to name a few places. All are beautiful & every time I come back home I miss them (though I don’t miss the vertigo). The mountains in County Kerry are just as beautiful, but what really lured me to them was how they jutted out of the ocean or reflected off the crystal glacier lakes and quietly towered over the bogs. I also loved seeing the dried bogs with the cut turf drying in the sun as wild cotton flowers swayed in the breeze. (Side note: I learned that turf is the first layer of the dried bog & can easily be broken by hand and looks like mud. Whereas peat is compressed & processed turf that is typically sold in briquettes & looks & feels like coal.)

What amazed me was to see ancient tombstones that were of the Ogahm tribe which had Ireland’s oldest form of vertical writing. We passed famine houses that people had abandoned when they fled for America, Canada and other parts unknown to escape the Great Potato Famine of the early 1800s where 4 million people (half of Ireland’s population) either died of starvation or diseases. If you have older Irish heritage, odds are high that they were some of the lucky few that survived the crossing on famine ships only to encounter 7 weeks of similar conditions they were forced to leave. We also viewed stone ring forts that were built in the Iron Age which led to later stories of little people who lived in there (think leprechauns).

We ended the tour at Ladies’ Viewpoint where Queen Victoria and her ladies in waiting spent the afternoon. There were 3 lakes, gorgeous green mountains & beautiful shade trees to sit under. It is rumored that when Victoria was asked what she thought of the view, she said it was beautiful but not as beautiful as her Albert. Poor Queen Victoria, she must have been so deep in her mourning that she couldn’t even see the majesty surrounding her.

Later that evening, my travel buddy, Kristin, & I took a walk around Killarney Park near our hotel. (Side note: we needed that 3 mile walk because the Irish diet consists of meat, bread, potatoes & beers. For the past 5 days I feel like my stomach has created some type of doughy batter that has fermented and blown up like a yeasty ball of goo.) In the park, there were woods, a small stream, lakes and fields of clover (shamrocks!), wild lillies, fox glove and tall wild grasses. We walked through a meadow and to our left was a mansion & to our right were the Kerry mountains. We tried to imagine what it would be like to wake up to that view every morning. The highlight of our walk was to end up at Ross Castle, the last castle in Ireland to fall to Cromwell in the 1600s.

The night ended with a light dinner (personal pizzas and water, one of the lighter options on the menu) and a 3 hour visit with a local, Kirin from Killarney. He bought us each a round of Bulmer’s cider and talked to us about life in general. These past few days here have sparked my life long love affair with The Emerald Isle. It’s no wonder the Irish are natural born storytellers, poets, singers & songwriters. With views like I saw today and the kindness of your fellow man, it would take all the words you had to try and relate all the love, excitement and beauty you witness almost every day of your life. And still, those words are never enough.

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Day 4: Sometimes It’s Ok to Just Be a Tourist

Sometimes it’s ok to just be a tourist. I’ve literally been traveling now since last Friday the 14th nonstop. I got into Dublin that day at 7a.m. & couldn’t check into my hotel until 12. I had arrived a day earlier than the rest of my tour group, so I was all alone in an unknown city with literally no place to go for 5 hours & I was jetlagged. The hotel staff did allow me to store my luggage in their back room, and I did take about an hour eating breakfast there to waste time, but I had to amuse myself and also make sure that I didn’t fall asleep on the park bench in St. Stephens Green or get run over by traffic coming at me from the opposite direction when I failed to look right instead of left.

So, today I gave myself a day off from being a traveler and experiencing the culture first hand and drinking Guinness, Irish coffee or Bulmer’s cider with the locals as we talk love, music, art, politics & exchange favorite curse words. (I started a very funny & most likely bad habit in this guy Noel by teaching him the phrase “Fuckin’ A, man” in which he started saying it, and then yelling it, the drunker he got.) I also stopped worrying about having an authentic Irish experience & cultural exchanges like most travelers do. I let Trafalgar Tours do the work for me today.

And work they did. Pat, our bus driver, & Ann, our tour guide, took all 50 of us in the big ass coach bus down winding narrow roads in the country. We stopped at a small seaport called Yaughal (pronounced ya’ll) & had 30 minutes to take pictures, secure our line in the bathroom (or as the Irish say “toilet”) & buy souvenirs. I did all those things.

Then, they drove us towards Cork & the Blarney Castle so we could kiss the Blarney Stone. That was fun yet a bit overrated like many tourist destinations can sometimes be. I’m not going to lie though, I’m glad I can now say that I kissed the stone & have the pictures to prove it.

Afterwards, our driver took us along a scenic route where we drove over stone bridges that crossed rushing streams, cruised over & through rolling hills that were covered in a lush & vivid green & scattered with lazy cows & cute wooly sheep. We drew near the mountains & saw the coastline & then followed it into Killarney. It was breath-taking.

I opted not to do the optional tour of an Irish music & dance performance with dinner included. I already felt that I had experienced a beautiful & fun musical performance by a local the night before (read Day 3). Plus, I’m a cheapskate & if I would’ve signed up for all the optional excursions that are additional prices to the already pricey tour, I wouldn’t have enough money for more souvenirs (which I bought quite a few & will worry about how to pack all of them later). Instead, I had a nice dinner at a local pub with a couple I met a few days before. Then, after I asked the owner where he suggested we should go for music, we headed over to the Grand hotel for more Irish music, song & a pint of Guinness (after we did more souvenir shopping, naturally). Turns out, locals go there to listen to beautiful music, and to sing along & enjoy a couple pints of Guinness as well. Guess I got my authentic Irish experience after all & that’s more than Ok with me.

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Day 3: Master Craftsmen & the Art of Storytelling

Creating art, in all its forms, is to possess a combination of creativity, passion & skill mixed with a certain sensitivity, vulnerability & openness to life. A master artisan, craftsman, musician or storyteller must learn how to channel all this and, to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, bring “what is within, out into the world.” By the artist harnessing and fine-tuning all of his or her talent, the viewer, listener or reader will be transformed. This is what I experienced today here in Waterford, Ireland.

As a culture, we Americans put a lot of emphasis and expectations on our celebrities. We also harbor a secret desire to be recognized & some of us crave fame & fortune because to be recognized for something we are good at & then put on a pedestal & have our work admired, means we have “arrived”. The vast majority of us will never, ever be famous, regardless of how talented we are, while those who can sell products, act outrageous or fill stadiums will continue to flounder or flourish in the spotlight. There are great artists, musicians, writers, poets, dancers, singers, actors and craftsmen that will go unnoticed or unrecognized their whole entire lives, yet they are so dedicated to their passion, talent, craft, art or music that they will create art for art’s sake. They are the ones that silently, elegantly, beautifully, unwittingly change lives of those they encounter.

Take the master glass blowers and glass cutters at the Waterford crystal factory I observed today. I don’t know their names or their life stories, but I do know that they carefully etch intricate designs on elegant crystal or work laboriously heating, shaping & blowing the glass to create stemware that will be used by royalty, trophies that will be given to champions &gifts presented to heads of states.  These craftsmen will never receive any award themselves nor will they leave their names somewhere etched on the bottom of the crystal vase, bowl, or statue. Yet, they endured 10 years of training and art school and 3 years of apprenticeship before ever being allowed to handle the intricate & labor intensive work that is required of them. And if they make one tiny mistake, their piece will have to be smashed & thrown back in the kiln & reheated again & the tedious process must be started all over again.

Or take our local guide, Jack, who took us on a walking tour of his beloved city and gave us a history lesson mixed with a lively, witty, well crafted & executed story at every single stopping point, whether it was a Roccocco styled Anglican Church, a fortified ancient Viking tower. Or his history lesson he had us act out to demonstrate Irish-English relations over the centuries. I only now remember this story because of his interesting spin on it and because he knew how to deliver it so wonderfully to make it educational & entertaining at the same time. He conducts these walking tours daily (among being a consulted historian on many archeological digs in the area) and can read a group’s mood, identify strangers who are willing to participate & find a way to also have a personal conversation with each and every person by the end of the tour & then hope that he is thanked or given a nice tip for his art of storytelling.

And lastly, I met a musician/singer tonight who really made me understand that creating & presenting one’s art or craft to an audience is not about your ego and getting praise, but about tapping into emotions (yours & your audience’s) and giving your gift freely and joyfully. His name is Dermot Power. Odds are he will, like most amazingly talented people, never perform at large stadiums, or in front of heads of state or be offered millions of dollars in recording contracts & tour dates. He sang with a clear, beautiful & honest voice. He played his guitar with such ease & skill. He told stories & gave the history of the ballads he was singing. He talked to us and asked us questions. He made us laugh and made me cry on two separate occasions. Those were songs that had a melancholy overtone to them: “Working Man” writtenby Rita McNeil & an a cappella rendition of the famous Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh’s “On Ragland Road.” He also sang funny “ditties” that made the family from Michigan so happy. The teenage girls swayed to his music, the little 3 year old girl sitting on her mom’s lap clapped her hands, the dad & the oldest daughter smiled and talked & elbowed each other every time Dermot repeated the funny chorus line. My travel buddy, Kristin & I had so much fun that we stayed until closing time. And 8 elderly women from Dublin sat in a small corner booth & sang a long to the Irish ballads of their youth.

That is what art, in its purest form does: it brings what is within you, out into the world.

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Day 2: The Dubliners, Part 2

The words “shit” & “fuck” have never sounded better or more natural than when they’re coming out of an Irishman’s mouth. Sheer poetry, if you ask me. And I’m only semi-joking. I met 2 Dubliners, Anthony & Killian, this evening when I went for a pint of Guinness with one of my touring mates, Rose, a school teacher from Canada. And within a few minutes I was hanging on every word Anthony said, partly because he was cute, and mostly because he was just so nice, smart, well-traveled, and interesting. Oh, and he was cute. Did I already mention that?

Anyway, the Irish accent & attitude lends a certain charm to cursing that I haven’t really heard before. As Anthony was talking about the Irish economic system & pensions and asking me, “So, does that seem like shit to you?” and “I fuckin’ (pronounced like fookin’) can’t get to bed earlier than half of 12” I couldn’t help but smile. And add in the sing-song repetition of “yeah, yeah, yeah” after you ask a question or he agrees with you and I was fully entertained.

But, the charm was the man behind the Dublin accent and casual, natural cursing. For over an hour, over a pint of Guinness & later a Bulmer’s Vintage Cider, we talked about literature, culture, writing, poets, economics, politics, travel, friends & family, & careers (he works for city of Dublin & is helping document archeological finds discovered as they put in a new tram line). He gave me some added insight into Dublin’s history & told me how he spent 2 years touring his city so he could help tourists when they asked him questions. (I’m sure this has helped him get the ladies too, and if it hasn’t, then he should definitely use it to his advantage.)

He is a really great guy & I’m sorry he won’t be on the rest of the tour with us, but I’m really grateful that I met him & got to experience the wonderful Irish hospitality & excellent storytelling that is world-renowned. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to my day than spending it with him.

Other highlights of the day:
*Driving tour around Dublin
*Entrance into Trinity College to see The Book of Kells & the old library
*Meet & Greet Dinner on a barge that went up & down Dublin’s canals

Tomorrow we leave for Waterford & the Irish countryside. I’m curious to see what tomorrow will bring.

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Day 1: The Dubliners

Forgive my nerdy reference to James Joyce in my title, but I would be remiss as an English teacher not to allude to one of Ireland’s premiere authors & the title of one of his most famous collections of short stories & his place of origin.

It’s 7p.m. Dublin time and I am done for the day. I arrived in the city at 6:30 a.m. & got to the hotel around 7. I couldn’t check in until noon, so I had to check my bags at the hotel & figure out what the hell I was going to do with myself for 5 hours! The first thing was to locate an ATM because I had spent all of my Euros I had converted in North Carolina on the taxi ride from the airport to hotel. Dublin isn’t cheap, and Euros are deceiving. The prices seem so Americanized but are higher than US dollars. I think I better find an Euro converter app on my phone otherwise I’m going to be guesstimating how much I’m spending daily the I’ll overspend & won’t be able to buy my mom & sister these ridiculously funny black sheep & shamrock key chains & magnets. Nor will my dad get his Fathers’ Day present of Irish whiskey.

Once I got cash, I spent way too many Euros on the hotel’s continental breakfast. Being a self-proclaimed cheapskate, I decided to take them for all they were worth & loaded up on everything offered on the buffet, regardless if I liked it or not. Soggy cornflakes in lowfat milk? Sure. Sour grapefruit with apples, pears, grapes & melon mixed in? Of course. Croissant? Oui Monsieur. Greek yogurt? Scoop that on my plate, please. I would like weak coffee (2 cups please) & yes, I’m going to wash it down with tart orange juice, too.

Satiated & satisfied I ate my 8.50 Euros worth, I headed out to St. Stephens Green Park. The desk clerk recommended it & it was a brisk and beautiful sunny morning. I wound up meeting a nice young woman from Lithuania who is working here in Dublin. She helped me navigate the tricky street crossing (look right first, not left because of the reverse way of driving) and showed me around the park telling me that I will love Dublin because of how friendly the people are. She was right. It was fun to talk to her & throughout my morning I had brief conversations with Dubliners who were happy to point me in the right direction or tell me there are no toilets in the park (in which I had to race back the mile to the hotel due to the coffee, water & orange juice I drank at breakfast). My only regret while in the park was that I didn’t strike up a conversation with an elderly man who had the quintessential Irish look: beautiful, ornery smile, tweed jacket, fedora & hiking boots. Guess I will have to kiss the Blarney Stone & acquire the gift of gab.

To end my first day in Dublin, I walked down to the shopping square near Trinity College. This area is where tourists & Dubliners converge to eat, shop, listen to & watch street performers. I thought maybe I would go to a pub & eat a sandwich & drink a Guinness, but I was feeling too tired & a little overwhelmed & intimidated to mix with locals in that way just yet. Instead, I opted to go into M & S department store & eat at the small cafe that sits on the corner & has big glass windows & seats that look out onto the square. I ate my grilled chicken & cheese on hot Texas toast & drank my chai tea as I read a newspaper, listened in on the locals’ conversations (ah, the lovely Irish brogue), read a local newspaper & sat & people watched. About an hour later, I felt my second round of exhaustion kick in so I trekked the mile or so back to my hotel in need of some rest & relaxation before a full day tomorrow when I meet my touring companions. Today was a great introduction to a beautiful & charming city filled with equally beautiful & charming people.

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Crescendo, Decrescendo: A Lesson in Letting Go. . .

My first guitar
My first guitar

I’ve been practicing the guitar now for about 1 1/2 years.  When I started, I was playing a left-handed guitar (where I strum with my left, and form chords with the right).  I chose this way because I am very dominant in my left-hand and thought that was the way to go.   I resisted listening to my guitar instructor Pat’s advice in trying to play the mainstream way.  He kept telling me that I would be a better player and that it would be easier for me.  But for about 1 year I stuck with my way, and struggled every single week at lessons and on my own when I practiced at home.  I had to reverse the written music in my mind and play the chords and notes differently as well.  I plunked along and finally one session Pat just said, “Here, play my guitar.  Just try it, and if you don’t like it, I will stop hounding you about playing left-handed.”

I caved and picked up his guitar.  We started talking and he just said, “G major chord.”  Without thinking, my left-hand formed the chord effortlessly on the fret.  He just started calling out chords:  “D major,” “C major,” “C add 9,” “D sus 4,” “E minor,” and each time my hand found the chord and went right to it.  I sheepishly looked up at him and said, “Yeah, I know.”  Two weeks later, I had a new Jasmine guitar by Takamine and have progressed quickly in my lessons.  Turns out, I’m not too bad of a guitar player.  My biggest problem?  I think too much while I’m trying to play. IMG_0746

About a month ago, I went to guitar lessons and plopped down on my chair in Pat’s office. It was evident we were both in a funk.  He didn’t have any ideas on what song to start me on, and I was waiting for his guidance.  He asked me, “What do you want to play?”  I replied, “I don’t know, what do you think?”  He shrugged his shoulders and said, “You have to play what you want, what you feel like playing.  It’s that simple.”  I rolled my eyes and said, “I don’t know, dude.  Let me think.”  He rolled his eyes and said, “Naturally.  You’re always thinking.”  I was annoyed by him, and he by me.  We had a stare-down.  He finally blinked, sighed and said, “Well, how are you feeling?  Just be honest.”  I told him I was melancholy.  He understood that one.  After a little bit of deliberation and calling off song titles, I said, “There’s a song by Pearl Jam and it has the word ‘breathe’ in it.  I can’t think of the title right now.”  He pulled up YouTube and started typing.  He found “Just Breathe” and pushed played.  The first chord in I said, “Yes, that’s it!  That’s the one I’ve been hearing in my head.  Let’s do that one.”  Little did I know that I chose a challenging song that required a few chord changes, a slide and finger-style picking on the right hand. Pat listened to it a couple of times and played along and said, “Ok, I got it.”  He wrote down the music and taught me the basics.  It was hard.  I could do it, but it would require a lot of practice to the point where I had to become automatic with the changes so I wouldn’t think about each note.

Every week he changed the song and tweaked my technique.  Every week I had to think out the notes and worried about how I sounded and got frustrated when it didn’t sound like Eddie Vedder’s or Pat’s guitar playing.  I became determined and started practicing every night for about a half hour.  I even worked on older pieces in the hopes of just getting a little better and not making a fool out of myself in front of Pat – the only person I have played in front of.  “Who am I to think I can learn to play guitar?” I constantly think this and worry that maybe it’s a foolish hobby to pursue.  I have no reasons why I chose guitar.  I took piano lessons as a kid and played saxophone in my junior high and high school bands.  I have a decent sense of rhythm, and can sing a little bit (only really can harmonize and sing some country/folk songs where beautiful voices aren’t required).  But, I’ve not kept up with my musical side:  I quite piano in the 3rd grade; I stopped saxophone after I graduated high school; and I even stopped tango and salsa lessons a few years back.  All I can explain about the guitar is that for two years I dreamed about playing it and woke up hearing songs in my head.  One day, I finally decided to just go with my gut and I bought my first guitar and haven’t looked back.

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Mostly I shy away from letting anyone really hear me play because I worry that I will get criticized or worse that I will get asked to play a song for someone and when I’m done they’ll not have recognized a single part of it.  So, I sit up in my room and practice my scales and the songs from the week and dig out older songs and see if I can remember what Pat taught me.  Then, I walk into the lesson and hope to God that he hears some progress.  And during practice I get pissed off because I made so many mistakes and it doesn’t sound like what I had been practicing at home.  This is inevitably when I hear Pat say one of the following phrases: “Quit thinking.”  “Stop worrying.  Just let it go.”  “Who cares if you mess up?  I mess up, you don’t hear me stopping and saying, ‘Wait, let me start over.’ Big f—ing deal.  Just keep playing.”   “You’re thinking.  Stop thinking, damn’t!” (His comments are always followed up with me saying, “Yeah, I know,” or when I’m really frustrated with myself I laugh at him and say, “Screw you,” before I start playing all over again.)

I finally decided to be brave yesterday and after walking in to Pat’s office with my usual greeting of, “What’s up, dude?” I tuned my guitar and said, “Ok, just listen to this.”  I closed my eyes and played the first 8 measures of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe”.  Sure, I made a few mistakes, but I didn’t stop.  When I opened my eyes, Pat lifted up his hands and said, “Finally!”  I shook my head modestly and said, “Yeah, I know,” relieved that it was over and that I actually sounded decent.  He didn’t let me quit there.  He made me start up again and had me play only 1 specific rhythm with the same 4 notes using the C major chord.  After telling me to quit looking at my hands, he started asking me random questions.  I knew better than to quit playing, so I did my best to answer him and only once said, “Shit,” and “Damn’t” when I screwed up.  I kept playing when he told me to say my ABCs.  I know I gave him a weird look, but like a good student, I obeyed.

Then he told me, “Only focus on what you’re playing,” and he picked up his guitar and began improvising a melody line.  Next he told me to focus on what he was playing and to really listen to him while I kept playing.  All of a sudden, something magical happened:  I began to really feel and hear how his melody and my harmonic rhythm line went together.  Without even trying, I held some notes longer, let a few ring out and synced my sound with his.  There were even places when I created a crescendo and then he ended our song with a decrescendo, smoothly bringing everything to an end.  I had a huge smile on my face.  He gave me two thumbs up and simply said, “Awesome,” and turned to look at his phone and said time was up.  Before I left, he smiled and said, “You’re doing a killer job.”  This compliment was hard earned and means a lot  coming from a bad ass who has purposefully pissed me off numerous times by calling me a “wuss” and a “baby” when I want to quit playing or when I start whining about wanting the music to sound perfect.  He knows full well that it will only make me want to get better and to practice and to learn to let go:  his biggest lesson that he has been teaching me for almost 2 years now.

This evening I went out on my deck and sat down in my lawn chair and started playing my guitar just for me.  I wanted to turn my brain off for once in my life and just have that moment of freedom where perfection wasn’t the end goal of my days here on earth.  The wind was rustling through the leaves and it sounded a little bit like the ocean.  The different whistles, twitters and calls of the birds had a natural melody to them.  I simply closed my eyes, listened to the wind and the birds and played my guitar following the notes wherever they wanted to take me.  I created crescendos and decrescendos in sync with the birds.  I felt the warm breeze on my face and I smiled and heard the notes and felt the rhythm instead of trying to be technical and mechanical with my playing.  I think I found the key to letting go and that is just to listen to your heart and let it sing.  IMG_0754

Real Estate Is the New Dating Game: Part 3

This past Wednesday, I closed on my new house.  It was a tedious, overwhelming process that it was a bit numbing.  I had to sign so many papers at the title company (don’t even get me started what a racket that all is) and had to hand over a hefty cashier’s check for my down payment and closing costs that I really didn’t even have time to think, “Oh my God!  I’m buying a house!”  All of those thoughts, and the nerves that came with them, were in full force leading up to this rather anti-climatic moment. But they weren’t there that day as my hand glided over the 50th copy of some tax form.   It wasn’t until I walked into the house an hour or so later that everything hit me all at once:  this space, this far bigger space than I’ve ever lived in my entire adult life, is all mine.

My new home
My new home

Countless thoughts swirled in my brain as I stood there in the new kitchen.  I looked around at the 700 more square feet I’m gaining and thought, “I can have my friends and family over and we can all sit around comfortably.”  I also worried about who I would call if I accidentally locked myself out of my new house. (Don’t laugh, it’s happened twice in the past at the home I currently reside in.)  A random thought (or maybe an urge) of realizing I could walk naked from end to end in this new home raced through my mind.  (Not that I can’t do that now in my current townhome, but the mere idea of walking naked in this big open space made me feel far more alive and vulnerable at the same time.  Is this some sort of “territory marking” ritual new homeowners do or is it just me?  I don’t know.  I think I’ll skip the self-analysis for now.)

Entrance to the great unknown. . .
Entrance to the great unknown. . .

Suffice it to say my life has been a whirlwind of change lately.  Being the control freak that I am, I want to organize all this chaotic change and put it in neat little compartments and tuck it all away so I can get down to the business of being happy and enjoy all this newness in my life and make it normal.  I’ve been wanting so much in my life lately, and I don’t do well when that newness doesn’t show up in a linear fashion like a checklist that is neatly written in chronological order.  In the spring, my personal life got a boost of excitement when I met a really great guy through mutual friends.  We exchanged emails regularly and went on an amazing date that lasted 7 and 1/2 hours.  I was excited at the possibilities that could unfold with him and looked forward to a growing friendship, but distance (long distance as well as his emotional distance) made that all fizzle and go flat faster than a cheap can of soda. I also met someone through the kennel I take my dog to, and we exchanged texts and pleasantries, but he wound up getting back together with his ex-girlfriend and canceling our date.  Online dating is now officially off of my list of ways to find a date.  I’m tired of posting beautiful pictures of myself, writing a nice profile and sending out countless “winks” and emails and searching and reading the profiles.  It’s becoming like a part time job with no benefits:  a few dates with one guy who got mad at me because I reacted awkwardly when he tried to unexpectedly kiss me in the middle of the date while I was in mid conversation walking in to the restaurant, one guy who stood me up, and a smattering of emails with no follow ups for phone calls or dates, and one creepy stalker who I had to report to the website.  A  few weeks ago, a traveling sculptor at the art fair downtown  hit on me while I was simply walking across the street looking for the public restrooms.  I’ve been checked out so many times at the grocery store, the bank, the hardware store and once while I went into the doctor’s office for a regular checkup that I sometimes worry my ego is getting a little out of check.  I have no idea where this part of my life is going, and though it sounds fun as you’re reading this, it has been stressing me out because it’s so messy and confusing, fun and aggravating all at the same time.  My mind races and tries to organize and compartmentalize what is happening and I’ve been holding on to that one amazing date wondering “what if” and sadly worrying about what I did wrong to possibly make it all go away, and make all these other guys ultimately pass on by too.

The stress that came prior to buying a home caused my neck, jaw and back muscles to spasm.  There was the  incompetent insurance agent who sent all of her information in emails and to the wrong email address at that.  The uptight loan underwriters and processors who asked for 50 million different documents and proof of funds to the point that I wondered if they could even poop without having a contract for proper excretion signed and dated first. Then there was the race to get all the forms, applications, loan approval, home inspection and bank appraisal finished one week before the closing date because the angry homeowner was trying to get out of our contract  (he felt I cheated him out of money simply because he accepted my  $4,000 offer under his asking price, and he claimed he had an offer for $11,000 over asking price the day after he signed our contract).  I also worried about my stressed out realtor who had to deal with said homeowner’s constant badgering about the contract while he was also calling her “honey,” “sweetie,” and “darling,” and offering to give her discounted Cardinals’ tickets, rides for her and her friends on his company’s party bus, a discount on a used Corvette if she could just talk me out of wanting to buy his home.  Once I got the cashier’s check processed (one day before closing), I then had to deal with my bank’s incompetence for online money transfers from checking to savings in which someone somewhere screwed up and caused me to overdraft in both my checking and savings accounts.  I had to call every day and get my money back in the right order for home improvement supplies and funds for my upcoming vacation.  Then, today I get a smiley faced email with exclamation points from my insurance agent asking when I’ll be moving into my new house and telling me that I need to get this current house sold before 6 months is up or they will stop their legalized extortion for more insurance money on this townhome.   She ended by writing “Congratulations on your new home!” and put a big smiley face and another exclamation point after that.

All of these stresses have been enough for me to want to walk away from the unknown and settle back down into my old, comfortable life where I’m rarely noticed by guys, I don’t have to put my heart on the line and look foolish and where my money, my house, my routine stays in place and nothing ever changes.  Or, everything can change but at my command and on my terms.

Open Space = Open Heart
Open Space = Open Heart

Add in all of my worries of wondering if I will fit in with my neighbors, if I’ll be broke because of a pricier mortgage and higher taxes, if I will ever find a guy that will not feel threatened that I bought a nice home, unjustified fears of friends and family feeling jealous of my good fortune, questions of if I deserve this good fortune and just worries in general, and I’ve become a neurotic mess.  And an ungrateful one at that.  Luckily, I have friends and family members that ground me and put me in my place.  My mom and dad both told me how proud they are of me, and my mom reminded me that this life is racked with such difficult, real problems that it is important to seize these beautiful moments and soak in the joy.  My friend Mary has been my biggest cheerleader and paint consultant.  I needed her artist’s eye and advice on what colors would best replace the putrid terra cotta ceilings, electric blue room, and glitter-encrusted walls in the spare bedrooms.  Every time we talk on the phone, she always reminds me that life is full of endless possibilities.   My friend Jenn keeps telling me to “let it go, and let it flow.” And my friend Sarah has told me to “have no fear, bitch,” and to keep my heart open to all that is coming my way and I will know more love than I ever thought possible.  My sister texts me and asks me updates on my house and even embroidered beautiful towel sets for my new kitchen.  And my friend Katie, my wingman through this entire process (Read Parts 1 & 2 here: ), came over to my new house yesterday evening with her two little boys.  She smiled and hugged me and said, “This is all yours!  I’m so excited and happy for you!  You did it!”  And we laughed and watched as Charlie and Peter ran, stomped and yelled from one end of the house to the other.  They ended with a grand finale of somersaults on the hideous shag carpeting in the bedrooms.  All is right with my world.

(Maybe I should do somersaults in my new house, too.  Don’t worry, I won’t be doing them naked.  And if I do, you won’t know.)