strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Tag: Family

Rest in Peace Carolyn

Carolyn Bullock Hightower Laughlin was suddenly called home on Sunday, May 10th, 2015. She was surrounded by family and wrapped in love’s embrace in her final days. 

Carolyn was born March 4th, 1943 in Sayre, Oklahoma, the only child to Buford and Colleen Eastham.

Carolyn grew up in the panhandle town of Borger, Texas and then left home to embark on her life’s journey with high school sweetheart, Loal Hightower, Together they raised five children and were married for 39 Years. Carolyn worked in accounting for many years, a large portion as comptroller for a group of interventional radiologists. Among her many charitable callings was volunteering for children through CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a cause that she held dear. She was a godly woman that walked in faith her entire life and loved her church families just like her own. She later married Richard Laughlin, and they shared their last years happily in Tyler, Texas. 

Carolyn bore the burdens of marriage and motherhood for all of her adult life, raising all of her children with strength, grace and steadfast love. Carolyn never wavered as a Mother, neglecting her own needs over those of her children and grandchildren up until the day she passed. She gave all her love until she had nothing left to give, and then she let go. Her loved ones are her strong and proud legacy and they will live on in her honor, forever carrying her in their hearts.

She is survived by daughters and sons-in-law, Deborah and Larry Cano, Dianna and Scott Hamil, Danielle and Courtney Perkins; son Dennis Hightower, son & daughter-in-law, Darren and Aeyong Hightower; granddaughters Heather, Christina, Amanda and Jaesa; grandsons Chris, David, Adam and Athen.

Oh kids...

Another infrequent update. Spring is here, mostly. The official yard cutting season began last Friday and continues today. Relevant events since last: Queen is touring this summer and they'll be making a stop in Dallas. Other than a few opportunities back in the early 1980s, this will be the first time Queen has come anywhere close to where I live. Obviously the original lineup would be the dream gig, but they'll be touring with Brian May & Roger Taylor and they're two of my all time favorite musicians. Brian has always been a favorite of mine on so many levels: tone, songwriting, and just a general approach to life in his intellectual curiosity. He's an astrophysicist in his spare time, how many musicians (especially such influential musicians) can say that?  Well, one, actually. They have Adam Lambert of american idol fame, and he's done several gigs with them in the past. Based on what I've seen, he's a perfect replacement for Freddy, even if he doesn't sound precisely like him.  This is one of the all time most anticipated shows I'll ever see. Only Zeppelin or Floyd would rival seeing Queen.  

Another "first time" concert next week will be Alter Bridge at the HOB in Dallas. I've seen Myles Kennedy two times with Slash, and he's just as amazing live as he is on record. I'm looking forward to a band I've been listening to for four years now. I got into Creed primarily because I like Mark Tremonti's tone, even if I don't consider him a primary influence. I never liked Scott Stapp, he's the definition of a douchey lead singer, but I can generally ignore the singer if I like the musicians. It's really fortunate they had a falling out, because Alter Bridge is a superior band on so many levels. 

I also got tickets for Yes, who'll be stopping by at the Verizon GP in August. They're going to perform Fragile and CTTE in their entirety along with tracks from their upcoming album "Heaven & Earth" and some other hits. They performed CTTE on the last tour, but as far as I'm concerned they could do that every tour and I wouldn't get tired of it. The most unique aspect of them performing Fragile will be all the solo tunes. I'm pretty sure I've seen them perform all the group tunes on the album, but besides MFAD, I don't think I've heard the other tunes live. I'm looking forward to this new album. Apparently the newest singer (that position in the group has had more turnover in the past 5 years than almost any other spot) Jon Davison contributed to some of the songwriting. Steve Howe also contributed and I'm not sure about the other members yet. The went with a different producer from Trevor Horn this time with Roy Thomas Baker, who they were apparently supposed to collaborate with a long time ago but it fell apart for some reason. I think they wanted to try something where the band were the sole songwriters since on the last album the title track "Fly from Here" was largely an old Trevor Horn song from the Drama days. 

I also picked up the CD for another "new" band, The Winery Dogs. The band is composed of Ritchie Kotzen (of Mr Big, Poison, solo, etc. fame), Billy Sheehan (in my opinion, the equivalent of EVH on Bass, literally), and Mike Portnoy (previously of Dream Theater, Avenged Sevenfold, Flying Colors).  It's a unique blend of over the top musicianship (they are not afraid to engage in the fiddly bits) with a sort of hard rock/pop song structure. Tone wise they're somewhere between 70's hard rock and 80's pop metal. The songs are fairly pop in the construction, but they benefit from how amazing all three players sound individually and combined. Not to mention that Ritchie Kotzen is not only a monster guitarist, but he's an amazing vocalist as well. I knew he was a great player, but I had no idea he was such a powerful vocalist. Billy and Mike are great backing vocalists and there are some really interesting harmonies in these tunes. They're going to play the Granada in May, and I actually bought the concert tickets before I had heard the album, because I knew I wanted to see Billy Sheehan live and that if nothing else they would all impress as musicians. Now that I've heard the album a few times, I'm really looking forward to this one. 

I was set to get tickets for Fleetwood Mac who are touring with the complete Rumors era lineup since Christine McVie has rejoined the group. Unfortunately, they followed the whole corporate greed ticketmaster process and so the first presale was AMEX which means all the online scalpers got the tickets before anyone else. When I last checked individual tickets within the first 20 rows were running $450 plus. It's sad since were able to see them in 2004 with fan club tickets for $200 a ticket and we were 4th row center. We'll probably just look for a video after the tour.  I really prefer the approach that bands like Rush and Iron Maiden have adopted which requires the ticket purchaser to be at the venue when the tickets are scanned in. This essentially eliminates any online scalping. The couple of times I've had the chance to get tickets this way, I've alway gotten great seats. We had 3rd row center for Rush. 

On the musical gear front, I got the Roland V-Drums about a month ago and I'm slowly learning to play them. They're awesome to have and I'm trying to train my four limbs to keep time independently. As with any instrument, you don't become aware of the nuances until you play it. Keeping a basic 4/4 beat that will cover a huge amount of pop/rock music is easy enough, but real mastery is going to take years. Right now I've really got to focus on my right foot in it's role to keep the main pulse of the song going. It really has to have a mind of it's own so I can be free to play fills and move around the drum set without losing the beat. It's hard to quantify but I've been feeling that there has been a collective musical benefit from playing these various instruments. I know for certain that the physicality of playing bass has strengthened my fingers beyond where they were despite playing guitar for over 10 years now. I see it in my guitar and keyboard playing in that certain movements or chord shapes that were previously very difficult, have become easier over time. I also believe my ears have improved, ironically in that I've been just randomly picking tunes to play bass (heavy emphasis on the Police since the physical effort is generally easy enough, although the timekeeping is challenging since they play odd time signatures and really focus on the upbeat) lines with, and I've found that the more often I just randomly pull up tunes and play along, the quicker I'm able to latch on to the chord progressions. 

Aeyong and I celebrated our 24th Anniversary a week ago. She didn't really want anything specific, but we had a small financial windfall since we overestimated (on purpose) our escrow payments and I got a performance bonus at work. I used this to get her a nice 60in LED TV for the master bedroom. We had moved rooms around after I got the drums, because I was trying very had to minimize the sound transmission of the kit. Even though it's digital and relatively quieter than acoustic drums, there are still physical contacts being made and some of the low end sound really cuts through walls and floors. I built (with an assist from Aeyong) a drum platform based on designs seen online. It's two 3/4 in MDF boards with tennis balls in between and wrapped in low indoor/outdoor carpet. The whole platform sits on a 4 or 5 piece thick foam exercise mat system. It doesn't eliminate the sound transmission, but it does reduce it, and that combined with her being able to retreat to the master bedroom and watch TV has helped make my nightly noisemaking a bit more tolerable. 

Gig Report

I'm trying to think of a way that could sound more pretentious, but I think I nailed it right there. For lack of a better term, I played my first gig (ever) as a musician this past Saturday. It was for a sitting room only crowd of 15 family, friends, and general well wishers. I played acoustic guitar while my sister Debbie sang Amazing Grace, followed by my niece Heather on Over the Rainbow and finally with How Great Thou Art (Carrie Underwood version) with Debbie on lead vocals and Heather singing harmony.

I played modified versions of the Tommy Emmanuel arrangements of AG and OTR. It was a memorial service for our grandmother Nonie who passed away last month at the age of 85. It went pretty well, there were no big mistakes and everyone seemed to appreciate the effort. Heather was temporarily overcome with emotion while singing OTR because she said made eye contact with our audience and they were all crying and that set her off. It made the moment more emotional and poignant. I studiously looked at the guitar and didn't look at audience. I don't know if I would have become overly emotional, but I could have easily lost track of where I was in the song.

I know I didn't play it as well as I would want, but it went okay and there were no glaring errors made. Somewhere in there I started to actually disconnect from the mechanics and feel the emotion of the songs. I can say that details are hard to recall, it was mostly a blur. I want to get out and perform again but I'm not sure if I want to pursue the solo acoustic path or electric guitar in a rock band path first. I want to do both, but I'm a little more inclined to rock right now. I need to keep working on my set list of known songs so I have something to offer any potential bands. I'm more inclined to play with a covers band, at least at first.

2012

Before welcoming in the new year (albeit 2 days late), I wanted to give a nod to 2011. 2011 was a good year. Not necessarily a GREAT year, but essentially good on most days, which earns an overall good rating.

The year started with us in Killeen and no immediate or even medium term plans to move or change anything that substantial in our lives. I had just started working for MEB at Ft Hood and by the end of January I knew I couldn't last long term in that position. The highlights of the year were my subsequent decision to seek new employment, and I began looking primarily in the D/FW area with the intent to relocate. Ultimately this culminated in my finding, applying, and getting hired for a Comp & Pen position with the VA at their new FW outpatient clinic.

We put our house on the market and Aeyoung was very fortuitous in finding a home to rent that was not only convenient to work, but very suitable from a layout standpoint and pet friendly. Besides the upheaval of the move and a couple of months of not collecting a regular paycheck in the summer (and the resulting red on the bank ledger), the year otherwise proceeded as normal.

On the family front, Aeyoung and I celebrated our 21st anniversary in April and just continued to happily share each other's lives with our 3 furry children. Our most recent addition continues to attempt to exert her dominance as the favorite. It's funny how smaller dogs seem to have Napoleon complexes.  I incrementally improved at playing guitar and keyboards, continued to run, and near the end of the year I began studying Korean again, although a little more in earnest this time. Hey, better late than never, you know the old saying. 

Onward to 2012. Aeyoung asked me the other day what my new year's resolutions were going to be. I usually have a significant reassessing of my physical fitness at this time of year, so she's used to me swearing off alcohol and fast food and committing myself to exercise. The good news is that I have been a consistent runner for the past two years and this really hasn't changed. The only ironic event is that I did a number on my right calf in mid december when I was out for one of my pre-marathon long runs. This resulted in my not being able to run for the last two weeks of the year, and now I almost feel as if I am starting a new year's resolution by returning to running. I managed to run 1195 miles last year which is okay.

I had 3 significant down periods due to illness and injury, but this last one has been the longest. I'm hoping I can get my weekly average up to a consistent 30 miles or so, although this means I'll have to run 15 miles on the weekend unless I add an extra weekday. My long term goal is still to run a marathon, but this is the second train up in which I've suffered a significant injury setback that essentially has derailed my plan near the end. I think I will need to reassess my general approach to running/fitness and include some muscular strength and flexibility traning to supplement my running/cardio. I also think about 10-20% weight loss may do alot to minimize the injuries. 

Along those lines I'm going to have to commit to less junk food and alcohol (this is really only a weekend phenomena), and start to really manage how I fuel my body for general health and for running. I think my plan for now will be only social drinking (in our case that means concerts), and limit the junk food to only one or two meals a week. Aeyoung will cook this kind of food more often just from a convenience standpoint, so that means I will probably have to step in a help with some of the food preparation. 

Our financial goals for 2012 are fairly simple. Keep doing what we're doing, but do it better. Get the red off the ledger book that was necessitated by the relocation (and is harder to overcome currently because we're paying rent and a mortgage at the same time). The most important objective for the year would be to sell our house in Killeen, although it's hard to gauge how reasonable a goal that is. We will pay a tax penalty of 8K if we sell before August, so right now we're not being aggressive in our pricing.

That will most likely change if we haven't sold by then. Once we can sell that house, our financial goals will be centered on our eventual home purchase in the D/FW area. That's a 2013 and beyond goal. The eventual home purchase will hopefully be our last. We're hoping to get at least a one acre homesite in a planned development that will protect us from urban sprawl in the long term and allow us to stay in that one home indefinitely. We're looking to settle in the Mansfield/Arlington/Grand Prairie area. This will get us a little closer to the middle of D/FW while keeping my work commute to a manageable timeframe. 

My other 2012 goals center on continued learning and development. I want to continue studying Korean, at least every weekday like I have been striving to do. I'll probably start trying to either read some comic books or watch the occasional television program with Aeyoung. I haven't developed my comprehension and vocabulary enough yet for those to be possible. 

In music, I'm going to commit to two initial goals. Learn at least one complete song by ear per month, and compose at least one complete song per month. To learn a complete song by ear, I'm going to start with something a little more simple and approachable like Led Zeppelin or equivalent. I know bits and pieces of many tunes, but I've been dependent on tablature for the bulk of all songs I've ever learned. I've figured out countless riffs and chunks of tunes, but I haven't forced myself to sit down and learn a complete song from start to finish. It's definitely an easier task now than it was when I first learned guitar. The software tools available make it about as easy as possible. I just need to do the work. I'll build up to harder material once I have several complete songs under my belt. 

On the compositional front, my goal is to have a completed song with all instruments, arrangement, orchestration, production, etc. completed every month. I haven't decided yet if I'll make completely new songs from scratch, although that is the way I'm leaning. I have ordered a small two octave keyboard controller to keep at my main desk to help with the songwriting. As a guitarist I find it easy enough to write riffs while I'm playing my guitar, but I think the keyboard will handle the bulk of the overall compositional duties since I can not only write/play melody and chords, but it's also my only interface for drums, bass and synths. 

 

Assessing Deficits

I find it important to occasionally take stock in my life. I do this by asking myself the question, "What's most important to me? What are the things I value the most and get the most long term satisfaction and fulfillment from?"

I feel very fortunate that the overall most important things in my life are well established, stable, loyal and unlikely to change. Those would be my wife Aeyoung and our dogs, Bridget, April and Arya. They are there every day for me and we'll always be there for each other. Hence, I don't have to really sweat the small stuff when it comes to them. I do make it a point to regularly remind them how important they are to me, but that's not the context of this post.

Once you get to the personal fulfillment level of Maslow's hierarchy, you probably need to attempt a look at yourself with a little wider lens and with consideration to the long term. Often we are so caught up in the little details of life that we lose focus on the future. Missing the forest for the trees to coin a phrase. I feel very lucky that I had two years during my Army career to pursue additional education in my field. While the knowledge was a bonus and has reaped rewards, the most important and longest lasting benefit was the amount of free time I suddenly had on my hands.

My only responsibility was to attend school for two years, so I found myself with considerable more free time that I initially filled up with just my typical recreational activities of golf, movies, reading, computer games and the equivalent. After a few months of this I had mentally reached a point where most of the static noise that tends to build up with day to day frustrations and issues that we all experience had essentially melted away.

I started to think more reflectively and internally and the one great epiphany I experienced was that I had given up one of the great loves of my life when I stopped playing guitar regularly nearly fifteen years before. It wasn't a conscious decision. I just gradually quit playing regularly, mostly because my time was more occupied and because I wasn't really making progress.

Truthfully, I had never really learned the importance and value of dedicated practice and study on an instrument. When I was a kid I think I just dreamed of being a rock star (always a guitarist) and didn't really appreciate how much work it would take to become a good if not great musician. I had friends who were very accomplished in their own rights, were members of bands, but I didn't make the connection of how much time they had dedicated to their instruments & art to reach the level of mastery they had achieved.

I took a few lessons here and there as well as buying some song books and once they became popular, tablature magazines. I learned enough guitar to be able to play three chord punk songs and albeit poorly, some basic scale patterns like the blues. I also learned very basic and sloppy versions of a few fingerstyle parts like Blackbird or the opening to Stairway. In one part of my mind I thought I was doing pretty well, and I would even have people tell me I was good. In retrospect, I think these people were just nice, positive people who wanted to say something uplifting.

I did benefit from developing a modicum of muscle memory for chords and basic scales, but I otherwise never really learned to play the guitar. I knew (and people had repeatedly told me) that I would only get better with practice, but I was either not mature enough or just had too many other areas of concern in my life that my rational mind and will never got together and agreed that work needed to be done. So, I put my guitar down.

I had owned an Ibanez strat style electric, an Ovation acoustic and a Peavey Bandit 65 solid state amp. I also had two pedals (Boss Super Overdrive and Stereo Chorus). When Aeyoung and I moved to Kentucky, we were tight on funds and I ended up pawning the Ibanez and the Amp/pedals for a little extra cash. I don't remember what we got for it, but it wasn't much. For some reason, I held on to the Ovation. I think somewhere inside I knew that letting that guitar go would be completely cutting off ties with the musician I had dreamed of becoming. So the Ovation sat in the closet. It followed us around the globe, occasionally (every few years) getting brought out of its case for a few nostalgic attempts at "Tangerine" or "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You". These attempts would add up to probably less than one hour of playing time over a 15 year period.

The ironic thing, is that I never stopped thinking like a guitar player. I would hear a song playing and immediately focus on the guitar part. I would mentally air guitar solos in my head while listening. While I was always a music fan and listened whenever I got the chance, the amount really increased with the advent of digital music players in the 2001 timeframe. It was probably partially a result of getting my first Ipod in 2003 and the subsequent increase in music listening that influenced my renewed desire to play music.

As 2003 drew to a close, I increasingly thought about guitars and music. I started to get back into buying guitar magazines and listening more to guitar oriented music and with the increase in the number and depth of websites, I was able to do more research and reading into the subject as well. I didn't realize what I was going to do overnight. Gradually as I read more (and had so much more information readily available compared to my teenage years) I started to feel the old spark of joy that I remembered from certain sentinel musical events from my childhood.

I still remember the first time I heard live music. They were the opening act for Donny & Marie at the Ohio State Fair and I was probably around 7 or 8 years old. We weren't there to see the band, my parents had just taken us to the fair that day. They were otherwise forgettable, but it was live amplified guitar, and it froze me in my tracks. I had always loved music from a young age. When I was 3 or 4, I used to insist that my parents play "Bye Bye, American Pie" anytime we got in the car. This was back in the days of analog AM/FM radios. I remember loving that song because it told a long story to music, and I just remember wanting it to go own forever. I would have killed to have my own ipod back then.

I remember the first time I heard a neighborhood kid playing an electric guitar (It was the Reidlingers a couple streets over. There were playing a really crappy version of I think, "Rock & Roll All Nite"). I remember the first time I saw Pat Metheny, and Rush, and standing against the stage while Jimmy Page played the solo to Stairway at the British Invasion show in Dallas. I remember the first time I heard/saw Eric Johnson on his 1989 Austin City Limits appearance. These were touchstones in my life. Music has always had a special power in my life in that it reaches me on a deeper and much more direct level than almost anything else I can describe. Music can communicate on many levels, often on higher intellectual, spiritual, political, and other more esoteric contexts. But Music has always had a unique quality in its ability to reach me emotionally.

I'm not an overtly emotional person. I didn't cry at my Father's funeral. I didn't feel like I was holding anything back, I just didn't feel the urge. I didn't feel any strong emotions about his death at all for several months. But one morning I woke up with a song in my head. It was very simple, just a few chord changes and some vague ideas of lyrics, but I knew it was a song about my father, and about his passing. I spent a few hours trying to work out the chord changes and jotted down some lyrics, but I couldn't continue. I was just finding myself overcome with emotion as I would hear the song and attempt to attach lyrics. I'll get back to it someday. As powerful and cathartic as this experience was, it wasn't a unique experience with music for me.

I've heard someone describe how they don't automatically get emotional when watching movies. It doesn't matter if the movie is supposed to be moving or not, they just don't have that empathetic experience while watching the drama unfold. Until the music starts playing. It doesn't matter how cheesy or nostalgic the show is, when they cue the music at the right time, it's like flipping a switch.

I don't know how else to describe it. For me, music has an immediate and powerful pathway for me. In internet parlance, it has an ultra high speed broadband connection to my emotional side. In my life I don't show or express a great deal of emotion, especially to outsiders. Even within my immediate family unit, I don't regularly show or express sadness and anger. I'm a generally stable, happy and fun loving person. I love to laugh and enjoy the simple pleasures in life, but I don't really experience a great deal of sadness. That's partly because I live a very fortunate life, but it's also because I'm just not inclined to feel sadness. It's generally not a healthy emotion in my opinion. If there's something in your life that makes you sad and you can change it, you have no business being sad. If it's something you can't change, then you should focus on something that doesn't make you sad.

But with music it's a different thing. It's truly like a switch. I can be listening to a song and feel an overwhelming wave of sadness or melancholy wash over me as I listen. And when my Iphone shuffles to the next tune which is usually something that's polar opposite to the last song, my mood can immediately reset itself to the current tune. And it doesn't feel unnatural to go from sad melancholy to high energy, angry heavy metal. It feels perfectly normal.

Music is as fundamental to my life as eating and drinking. I'm fortunate in that I'm able to listen to music all day, even at work. Wow, this is really a rambling, circular way to get to my original point.

To whit, taking stock. Music, while being a persistent and powerful force in my entire life, returned to its rightful center when I decided to resume my life as a musician. It feels weird calling myself a musician because I don't perform for others (unless you count Aeyoung and our four legged children), and I don't earn income or otherwise engage in any activity that would identify me as such that others would know. Nevertheless, getting a new electric guitar, amp, and starting to practice again felt like coming home after being gone a long, long time. My love for music had never changed, I still had that same spark of excitement when learning a new passage, finding a new sound, feeling the calluses starting to return to my fingertips. But I had changed.

Although I still had that young teenager with Rush and Zeppelin posters on his walls and dreams of knocking audiences out with my playing prowess inside me, I was a very different person by then. I had spent 17 years in the Army. I had served overseas on long tours and deployments. I had experienced Combat firsthand, done my job well, and come out relatively unscathed. I understood the value of life. I understood the value of work. I knew that the truly valuable things in life are hard won. I knew that becoming a great musician wasn't about the endpoint. These sorts of endeavors are not about the destination, to coin another old phrase. I had faced many challenges that seemed insurmountable in the past and overcome them. I knew that almost nothing is impossible (I would say nothing, but I don't care how hard I work at it, I'm not going to get a roster spot on the Cowboys) if you want it bad enough.

Oh yes, taking stock. I learned a really valuable lesson about my life in general when I got back into playing music. You have to identify what's really important to you. Take away all the superfluous bullshit that clutters up your life and leave only the things you truly can't live without. I don't mean what you would take in case of fire, we can be a little more generous than that. First and foremost it was always be my wife and dogs. After that, the most important things in my life that I can't and/or don't want to live without are essentially the same as they were when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Music, books, movies, and later video games. There's a lot more to my life and experience than that, but those are the things that truly make me happy.

I don't discount the importance or value of medicine. It's my career and it's been very rewarding to me and my family on multiple levels. But if I'm being completely honest, I could leave medicine today and never look back. I actually like my job. I like the work. It's usually interesting, low stress, and it's good compensation. But I don't have to practice medicine. If I found a similarly lucrative and low stress predictable occupation in an area I was better suited to work, I would probably consider a career change.

Not so with music, movies, books and video games. These are what makes me truly happy and will always be a part of my life. Sad to say, if I'm still alive to see my 80s and beyond, I'll still probably be looking forward to the latest version of a fantasy RPG like Warcraft when it comes out. I'll probably still be listening to my hard rock and metal, and I'll probably still be trying to attend concerts if Aeyoung and I are physically capable and have enough hearing remaining to enjoy the show.

So, what has taking stock go to do with this? I try to make a point of taking stock at least once a year or so. I ask myself where I'm at in my life, and where do I want to go? What are my weak areas and will improving them enrich my life? If so, why aren't I working on them right now?

That's the simplest way I can describe taking stock. Where are you at in your life? Where do you want to be? What do you need to do to get there? Why aren't you walking that way right now?

My current "take stock" list has been pretty stable since I got back into music. I've passed a few milestones like retiring from the Army, moving back to my hometown, getting a good stable federal job. My short/long term goals are fairly simple. We need to sell our house in Killeen and then focus on the next house we will buy which will hopefully be our last. We want to get it right this time so that we're completely content with our decision and can happily stay in that home for the rest of our lives. That's the goal anyways.

After that, my list of priorities is fairly predictable. Continue improving in music: (acoustic/electric guitar, piano, theory, ear, songwriting, production, performing) and possibly add drums and bass to my instruments, learn to read/write/speak Korean (finally after nearly 22 years of marriage), train/complete a marathon and continue running as a way of life.

The satisfying thing for me is that none of my great passions are about reaching an endpoint. As my technical ability in music improves, I'll eventually get to the point where I feel less compelled to work on technique and more on songwriting, improvising, performing. Regardless, I'll never run out of things to learn or practice. And I'll never lose my love for the process. I would have lost it by now if it was going to happen.

Also, I'll never run short of new music to listen to, new movies to watch, new books to read, or new video games to play. Life is truly wonderful. By taking stock I can see where I want my life to go and I'm thrilled to be making the journey. And if I die tomorrow, I know I've lived my life to the fullest that I could with the time given to me.

19 years

Aeyoung and I have been married 19 years today. It has gone by so fast. It really seems only yesterday that we drove around Seoul, Korea to get all the required paperwork signed & stamped to make our union official. Another not uncommon aspect of this anniversary is that we are celebrating it apart from each other. Thanks to good ‘ole Uncle Sam, I am currently on an extended vacation to another part of the world. We’ll celebrate appropriately when I do get home and hopefully this will be the last anniversary that we spend apart.

Back from Vegas

We're back home. My thoughts on the trip are to be in a later post. Puppy update: we have decided to name our new puppy April instead of eclipse. We both agreed that we had kind of a regular name theme going with our other dogs (Lucy & Bridget) and we thought eclipse was not only too masculine, but that it sounded more like a name for a sportscar.



A New Addition to the Family

we chose our newest family member a few days ago, a black & white cocker spaniel puppy that is 9 weeks old. We will pick her up after we get back from vacation, and we can't wait. She's adorable (aren't they all?) and she'll be a welcome addition to our family. We're thinking of calling her Eclipse. Aeyong thought of the name and since it's both appropriate for her coloring and the name of a cool Pink Floyd song, I thought it would work well. 

A Milestone on the Horizon

Ae Young, my wife of 16 years, is going to be the first of the two of us to reach the 5th decade of life on this bountiful round orb that is God’s Green Earth (not sure where that came from, but there it is. So you have it). We are typically pretty low key about our birthday and anniversary celebrations. I have never forgotten any or not marked the occasion with some sort of gift and the requisite ancillary celebratory maneuverings (cake, flowers, etc.) because I do find value in acknowledging how important she is to me (lay off you romantics, I let her know every day, sheesh), but we don’t ever make a big production out of anything. That being said, I felt it was important to “emphasize” this birthday in my own subdued manner.

To serve the materialistic needs I had already bought her a new watch via the rural American’s mercantile messiah, oh glorious Amazon. Not sure what I ever did without online shopping. I get really tired of having to go to stores and talk to people who are either incompetent, apathetic or a frustrating conglomeration of both. Anywho, the package came ahead of schedule and I gave her the option for the early reveal. For which she opted. And I will say she was quite happy with the choice (she had been dropping hints).

Crass materialist needs having been served, I also needed to arrange the ancillary (ok, that’s from a man’s point of view, I’m sure a woman would never consider flowers as ancillary) tokens of love. So I ventured to the corner baker and florist to arrange the baking and the, um floristing (40 roses, red) Speaking of which, the baker (or would you call a woman a bakess? bakestress? mistress of the oven?) was left speechless for at least 30 seconds of which was occupied with focused staring at my forehead while she tried to process the request for “Happy 22nd Anniversary of your 18th Birthday” on a cake. (btw, that’s what we’re calling the “you know what” so leave it alone)

While I don’t fancy that she has had the specific request before, certainly it’s not the most outrageous request she ever received and it’s not like I asked her to write the message in sanskrit. I didn’t think about the size constraints considering it’s an eight inch cake (for the two of us and the dogs) until I was driving home. I guess I’ll find out how good she is at small fonts on Thursday. There might be some quick scrambling to the WalMart bakery if my request doesn’t turn out as hoped for.

As I had discussed with a friend at work, turning 40 is a strange thing (I’m still 9 months away) From a numerical standpoint it seems significant, but I’m certain that neither Ae Young nor I feels as if we’re getting much older. The only time I really notice my age is when someone younger makes a joke or points it out otherwise. Or when I’m doing a physical exam on a patient who wasn’t born when I joined the Army. That was a bit of a blow to the ol’ solar plexus when it happened earlier this year.

Another element of confusion is that I still enjoy music, movies, books, video games and other forms of entertainment that might be focused on people in their twenties or even younger. I have long since given up trying to act a certain age or to filter my hobbies or pasttimes based on my social standing, age, position in life, etc. Ae Young and I still like watching movies like Shrek or the Incredibles along with all the independent films and less family friendly (not porn, you perv, I mean mature themes) material we also watch. We don’t draw a distinction based on what the intended audience of the material is. We either like it or we don’t. The result being that we can have fun going to a classical recital, a football game, a theme park, an art museum (I threw the last one in, really we’re more natural science & history museum types), you name it. Age seems more important to how others are interpreting us as opposed to how we perceive ourselves. That being said, I do think it’s important to take a moment to make a reckoning of where we stand in our lives and what this moment in time means.

Ae Young has been a breast cancer survivor for over 9 years now. The initial estimates of her survival (based on the type of cancer she had) were at 80% for 5 years and 50% for 10 years. She had just had an essentially complete body MRI through the Women’s Breast Imaging Center in Lawton, Oklahoma in 2005 and the results were completely negative for any sort of recurrence or new growth. I know she thinks about it more often than I do, but I don’t know exactly how often that is. I don’t ever forget about it, but I have to admit that I’m pretty optimistic since she has made it this far without any apparent recurrence. I think the very aggressive surgery and chemotheraphy might have done its job as intended.

From an external standpoint there’s really nothing to indicate it ever happened. Most people never realize or expect that she could have not only gone through the ordeal, but that it happened almost 10 years ago when she was barely into her 30s. I know it has led to us to appreciate every day that we have, and we both realize how important it is to do something today that will mean something tomorrow (or in the future).

While we both have different belief systems, I know we both appreciate that our lives are a gift that should be used to its utmost potential.