Archive | October, 2012

Oops…

31 Oct

To my email subscribers: My post “Blemishes” that I just sent out was missing a photo, which is the result of some kind of technological blemish that I don’t understand. I have now updated the post, so you can read the corrected one directly at the website, banjogrrldiaries.wordpress.com . It now has the intended two photos. Well, it SHOULD have two photos…

Blemishes

31 Oct

Today, I had the opportunity to take a day off work. Professorgrrl had a meeting about 80 miles away in a town with a major university. We decided to meet my parents for lunch, to celebrate my mother’s birthday, which is tomorrow, and then afterwards, while professorgrrl had her meeting, I would walk around the campus with my camera and take photos if I came upon something interesting.

I debated which camera lens to take with me on my walk…the short one, which is good for architectural shots (which I like to take) or the long zoom lens, good for close-up shots. I took the short lens and began my trek. I was in a city, after all, with lots of buildings and I felt sure I would find some interesting angle of some old building to shoot. When I am in “shooting” mode, my senses, especially visual, are on high alert.

I walked about two blocks and noticed this large, old oak tree. Though gnarly, and very halloweeny-looking at night, I’m sure, it still bore the leaves of the passing season. What really caught my eye, though, was a large knot hole way up in the tree which had another knot hole inside of it. “Wow,” I thought, “I have never seen anything like this.” I think it’s amazing that I have lived 52 years and I can still see something new. Of course, I had my short lens, so I knew it would be a waste of time to photograph it, because the knot hole would be so small in the picture. I continued walking and decided I would go back to the car and get the zoom lens later after I had walked around a block or two.

While walking, I pondered this “blemish” of the oak tree. I wondered how many people had walked by this very tree and had never noticed the blemish inside. There are many of us who walk around with obvious physical blemishes. I think, perhaps, because they’re so obvious, we are forced to reckon with them on some level. I know I have…both as a child and as an adult, whether I wanted to or not. My “abnormal” gait has always been so visibly obvious, that I had to deal with the questions and stares and even negative comments from an early age. My childhood doctors were constantly encouraging me to practice walking like a young lady. My mother had me to balance books on my head and practice walking with them down our hallway.  It was very apparent to me that there was a right way to walk and a wrong way to walk. I am sure the doctors and my parents all had my best interests at heart. However, one time I practiced making myself walk “ladylike” in front of my sister and I asked her to tell me what she thought. She said it looked funny when I tried to do that because it didn’t look like ME. That was the last time I ever tried to fix my gait. It was too hard anyway.

Then I began to think of the folks who walk around with a hidden blemish…like the knot on the inside of the larger knot of that oak tree. Perhaps others don’t know what is happening inside of them, and so no one knows that the person with the “inner blemish” might need help or encouragement. I wondered today, as I walked past people on the street, if someone I passed might suffer from depression or anxiety or learning disabilities, but they keep that part of themselves hidden because it is just easier to hide than to risk being singled out or feeling like an outsider. Sadly, they might also miss out on getting support from others because no one knows their pain. I had no choice but to deal with my blemish…it could not be hidden. In some ways, I feel very fortunate, if for nothing else but to hear my sister imply that I should just be ME, which includes walking the way I naturally walk. You can spot me a mile away…

So, these were my thoughts as I ambled around this afternoon. I did return to the car, exchanged the short lens for the zoom lens and returned to the old oak tree with the “blemish within a blemish.” I sat down on a stone wall, and lifted the camera to take aim at the knot hole and got a big surprise!

I laughed out loud. “Banjogrrl,” I thought, “maybe sometimes you can overthink a thing…”

Copyright S.G. Hunter and Banjogrrldiaries, 2012-2017

Cracker Jack, the Sequel

26 Oct

This is  a continuation of yesterday’s thoughts. You should probably read those first before you read this one, if you can stand it.

So, I did all this research on the parathyroid hormone. Apparently, if your PTH is out of whack, then you can experience a range of symptoms from feeling run down, sleeping poorly, irritability and a decrease in memory. Irritability? Really? Wow. I started thinking back to my teen years, living at home. I could have had a problem that goes WAY BACK. I started composing a letter to my parents in my head:

“Dear Mom and Dad-

You asked me to keep you informed on all the testing, etc. that my doctor is doing regarding my XLH. I just wanted to let you know that I had my blood drawn yesterday to test my Vitamin D and parathyroid hormone levels, which regulates the calcium in your blood. The parathyroid can affect your mood, apparently, and if it’s out of whack, one can feel depressed and even irritable. I just thought you might want to know this so that when you think of those days when I was a grouchy teenager, maybe you can cut me a little slack since it may have been due to a parathyroid problem. I couldn’t help myself and I hope you’ll forgive me for those several years of being in a foul mood (especially around you, Mom, since you were a stay-at-home mother) and the occasional foul mood that I have been in since that time. I’m sorry. Love, Banjogrrl.”

Then, I thought I should probably share this with my brother and sister, too, to keep them in the loop. So, I composed this letter to them in my head.

“Dear Sister and Brother-

As you two may or may not know or even care, I am getting some blood work done occasionally for my XLH. Google it, in case you forgot what it is that I have. Anyway, although there’s the possibility that my parathyroid hormone is out of whack, which can cause problems like irritability and anger management issues, I am not going to be one of those people that uses a medical condition to explain their bad behavior.

I know that I , your older sister and the boss of you, was often irritable with the two of you when we were growing up. It was definitely not due to the XLH or the parathyroid hormone or any other medical or physiological issue. I was irritable because YOU TWO simply got on my last nerve. Sister, I grew so weary of being asked to play Barbies or play house, when you knew good and well that what I really wanted to do was ride bikes and pretend that I was on a killing mission with my plastic machine gun or bow and arrow or cowboy pistol. That is simply not an arena for Barbies! And, Brother, I just got plain sick and tired of you always stealing my bicycle. I regret that I taught you how to ride one. What was wrong with you? It was a girl’s bike with a banana seat and an awesome sissy bar, and yes, tricked out with playing cards attached to the spokes with clothespins, but DUDE! It was my bike and NOT yours for the taking. Y’all don’t get on my nerves now, because, #1, I don’t have to live with you and #2, the pressure of being the boss of you is now gone since I am not stuck living with you. You just don’t know the pressure I felt. It was palpable. But, I love you anyway and I forgive you. Love, Banjogrrl, the boss of you emeritus.”

I felt pretty sure that when I got the results back from my blood work, the PTH levels would confirm my suspicions that I was going to have to work even harder than the regular, normal person to not be irritable or grouchy. So, the nurse called me from my doctor’s office and said that she had the results from my lab work. I braced myself. “Your Vitamin D is now at 31 ng/mL, which is up from 26 ng/mL and your PTH is NORMAL, right in the middle of the acceptable range.”  WHAT??? Okay, I had a little mini-celebration that my Vitamin D had budged from it’s chronically low level to just above the minimum needed, which is 30, but my PTH was NORMAL??? She continued, “Please call to schedule a retest in 6 months because the doctor really wants that Vitamin D level to be even higher.” Yeah, yeah, okay, I’ll call.

But, NORMAL PTH? My grouch theory is completely wrong. Oh dear. I suppose I can attribute my teenage grouchiness to those OTHER hormones, but what about my grouchiness now?

I Googled “middle-aged woman symptoms irritability.”

The top results were all about menopause. I am sure most of you guessed this already. Sigh.

I’m going to go eat that last box of Cracker Jack. My dad can go buy his own.

Copyright S.G. Hunter and Banjogrrldiaries, 2012-2017

Cracker Jack*

25 Oct

On Monday, I had to go to get my blood drawn. My doctor wanted to do another follow-up on my Vitamin D levels, since it still had not reached the minimum necessary for good bone health at the last check. This time, she also wanted to check the parathyroid hormone (PTH) level.

I did a little reading on the parathyroid gland, and although it’s located near the thyroid, it has nothing to do with the thyroid. We have four parathyroid glands, and they’re each the size of a little pea, but apparently they have a big job of regulating the calcium in the blood. If your PTH level is either too high or too low, then your kidneys and/or bones are going to have some problems. Apparently, folks with XLH can have some problems with their parathyroid glands. I don’t completely understand how all this works, but I showed up for the blood test on Monday. They told me it was a non-fasting blood test. So, I ate my bowl of oatmeal and drank my coffee as I do almost every day.

On Tuesday morning, the woman from the lab called and said that I needed to come back in  to have my blood drawn AGAIN. Apparently, the blood-taker lady misread her manual and did not spin out and separate my blood as she was supposed to. So, they needed another sample. I felt sorry for her, really. I think she was aggravated with herself. It wasn’t a huge deal…I went back, and gave her my other arm to bruise, er, I mean, stick. I tried to cheer her up a little. I told her that when I was a little girl, I used to have to have my blood drawn a lot (because of the XLH) and that my daddy always bought me a box of Cracker Jack from the vending machine if I DIDN’T cry. Not a problem…Cracker Jack was way better than tears!

In fact, I came home and posted the following on Facebook, knowing that my dad would see this. (He may be 75, but he’s pretty hip.) I wrote:

“One of my earliest memories is when I sat on my dad’s lap at the doctor’s office to have my blood drawn. My dad promised me a box of Cracker Jack from the vending machine afterwards, if I didn’t cry. And, of course, I did not cry. Today, I had to get my blood redrawn, because the lab screwed up the sample they took from me yesterday. So, I bought myself some Cracker Jack. Since they now come in a set of 3 boxes, I am saving one of them for you, Dad! To my brother and sister: being the runt of the litter had its benefits, ha, ha!”

I was doubtful if he would remember that. But, he posted later:

“I love them; thanks for bringing this up; guess I did a few things right.”

I guess he did remember this! That was pretty cool to learn. I was a little amazed, though, at how unsure he was that he had been a positive influence in my youth. I guess a lot of parents, and adults in general, always wonder if they’ve made a difference in some young person’s life. I remember several instances of adults who said or did things in my childhood or youth that I have found to be memorable and I know helped me along the way.

#1 Age 6: “Banjogrrl, always go the extra mile. See that house right there? When I drove by here yesterday, their car was halfway out in the street, because it had rolled down their driveway, out of gear. I stopped and went to their door and told them, so they would move their car and it wouldn’t get hit by a passing car. You should always go the extra mile, do more than you’re expected to do.” That was another memorable moment from my Dad.

#2 Age 9: “TURN TO PAGE 303!!!” My math teacher always punished the entire class even if only one person was bad. Our punishment was to do the last page of the huge math book, which was the most difficult, and turn it in. I became really good in math that year. But now when I make mistake in my bookkeeping, I hear her high pitched and shrill voice in my head.

#3 Age 12: “I wish I was white. I think life would be easier.” From my friend Janeira, an African-American classmate at school. Okay, so she wasn’t an adult who influenced me, but I believe she was an “old soul” who was wise beyond her years. Before then, I had no clue that my life might be easier than anyone else’s for any reason, especially skin color. She completely changed my world view that day. In a sense, I lost my innocence about racism and poverty, power and privilege.

#4 Age 14: “Banjogrrl, you look so pretty in that dress! Green is your color!” These words came from the mother of one of my best friends. Ever since then, I have tended to favor green blouses and shirts. I always feel like I look good in them. These words came at a time when I needed a little encouragement and affirmation about my looks.

#5 Age 15: “When you sing, don’t just stick a smile on your face. Use your eyes, even your whole face, to express the emotions of the song.” From the youth choir director at my church. That was really good advice to learn at an early age. It encouraged me to really think about the songs that I was singing, rather than just spout out words in a tuneful way.

#6 Age 18: “People need 11 hugs per day to be emotionally healthy. Go hug 11 people.” These words came from my campus minister at college. I didn’t come from a “huggy” family, but I started hugging my parents and siblings more after I started college. My sister will verify that I was the first hugger in our family.

These are just a few of the words and actions that have stuck with me for a minimum of 30 years. We do have influence on children and youth. It’s up to us as to whether or not it’s positive or negative influence. Now, go hug 11 people and find some kids to encourage.

I am going to go eat another box of Cracker Jack. Thanks, Dad.

*I have always called this snack “Cracker Jacks” as in plural, not singular. However, I have now learned that the singular pronunciation is the correct one. Not that it will change what I call it, but anyway,  I thought my readers might like to know this little fact.

Copyright S.G. Hunter and Banjogrrldiaries, 2012-2017

The Designer

18 Oct

Some of my friends are followers on my blog. I just want to let them know that I did not discover that the earth was flat by walking to the edge and falling off. I’m still here!

There are many things in my life that I really enjoy. One of the most important is making music. I enjoy playing several stringed instruments, and one of my favorites is the hammered dulcimer. I own 5 hammered dulcimers. I own one that is my “performance” hammered dulcimer, one that is my teaching dulcimer, one that my friend made from a kit and later gave to me (I think I may have even helped her put it together), one that is called a “laptop” hammered dulcimer because it’s about the size of a laptop computer and is great to take camping and traveling and last, but not least, is my Craigslist dulcimer.

I purchased the Craigslist dulcimer a couple of years ago. This guy from a town about 90 miles away advertised it for $100 and said in his ad that it was a “Masterworks” hammered dulcimer, and came with a padded case. He also said in his ad that it had some broken strings and some damage to the treble bridge. In case you don’t even know what a hammered dulcimer looks like, here’s a photo of the Craigslist dulcimer when I first got it, damaged bridge, missing strings and all. The untrained eye might not be able to see that the treble bridge (which is between the two sound holes) has an area about halfway up that is missing some delrin note markers and strings and a section which is a little wider than it should be. That is the worst of the crushed areas of the bridge.

When I read in his ad that it just had a few missing strings and some damage to the treble bridge, I thought, “I can fix that.” (There were no pictures to deter me from thinking that!) I am a professional piano technician, and have experience with woodworking and restringing, so I thought this would be an easy and fun project. And, since he said it was a Masterworks dulcimer, which is a company that is very well respected in the hammered dulcimer community, I thought I couldn’t go wrong. In fact, I reasoned that I could just order a new bridge from the guy who builds these dulcimers out in the Midwest.

I met the guy at some coffee shop, with my $100 in my pocket. We introduced ourselves and he went back to his car and got out the hammered dulcimer, came over and placed it on a table outside the coffee shop. It was in a nice Masterworks dulcimer padded case, and he unzipped it and voila! There it was. A hammered dulcimer-shaped-object. It was missing 3 pairs of strings, the treble bridge was crushed in two places (a large drum had fallen on it off of a shelf) and not only that, the soundboard was cracked in two places. Additionally, it weighed close to 30 pounds. “Wow,” I was thinking to myself, “how am I going to get out of this?” I said to the guy, who was very nice and knew nothing about hammered dulcimers, “This is definitely NOT a Masterworks hammered dulcimer. Only the padded case is from Masterworks. I know this because I own two Masterworks dulcimers and he does not make dulcimers like this.” His construction style is completely different from this one, and his dulcimers would not weigh anywhere near 30 pounds (maybe 12 pounds…very portable.) I sort of shook my head and said to the guy, “This looks like a lot of work to me, with the cracked soundboard and crushed bridge and missing strings and I just don’t know if I’m up for the challenge.” I could see myself buying this thing and putting it in my shop and never getting around to fixing it. Every woodworking shop needs a dust collector…this would be mine. The guy said, “I know a seller should never do this, but will you please buy it for $60? It’s just taking up space in my apartment and I have no use for it and no woodworking skills and no one wants it.” Oh dear, did he just use the “stray dog” approach? I am such a sucker for rejects, which is how I have ended up with two dogs and a few cats in my life. Not to mention several clothing items that people shrunk in their dryer and couldn’t wear any more. Oh, and let’s not forget the 1979 Volvo station wagon that I used to have. When someone uses the “no one else wants it” tactic, I usually end up with it.

So, I shelled out $60. If nothing else, I would learn something in the process of trying to repair it. He put it in my car (I could hardly maneuver the thing). Within a few weeks of getting it in my shop, I had taken pictures to document everything, measured all the music wire diameters of the remaining strings and drew a diagram so I’d know how to restring it, and covered it up to protect it from dust and left it there to sit and wait for restoration. And, sure enough, it sat in my shop for almost two years, until late this summer. I don’t know what inspires me to all of a sudden decide it’s time to finish a project, but the inspiration hit me. I used to have a dog that would play with a squeaky toy for months and months, even years, until one day he would decide it was time to destroy it to remove the squeaker. I guess I have a little bit of whatever that is in me!

I bought the cherry wood for the bridge and, using the original as my guide, constructed a new one just like it. (Not easy.) My second attempt worked. I consulted with a piano rebuilder about repairing the cracks in the soundboard and, using his advice, repaired the cracks. One of my “unknowns” was what size wire to replace the missing strings with? I could see a pattern in the builder’s original design, but since the missing strings were right in the middle, I really had to guess between two different sized wires to use. The previous owner had not saved the broken strings, so, I basically had a 50/50 chance of getting the wire sizes correct. An incorrect guess would either mean that the sound is too weak (used a size too small) or the strings break while trying to tune it up to pitch (used wire that was too large, and breaking strings are loud, nerve-wracking, and possibly dangerous.)

So, a couple of weeks ago, I put it all back together and tuned it to one full step below pitch. (I was still a little nervous about one pair of strings…I went with the larger size and just wasn’t sure it would go all the way up to pitch.) The sound was a little mellow, a little sweet, with lots of sustain. I was pleased that my new treble bridge was working great! But, sadly, there was a rather loud buzzing or rattling sound on one particular note and one section of the dulcimer sounded a little too banjo-like and “thuddy” to my ears. (Yes, that’s an official musical term.) I knew I was going to have to do two things, which I did today. #1: Release the tension on all the strings and find the source of the rattle (I had the idea that there was a flaw in the design that was causing it, but I won’t bore you with details that only I would find fascinating) and #2: retune the dulcimer all the way up to pitch and find out if it was designed to handle the tension.

 
That’s when this thought occurred to me…I have no idea who the designer or builder of this dulcimer was, and whether or not the design was flawed or not. I actually thought, as I was pulling it up to pitch “Wow, I have put a lot of trust in the person(s) who designed and built this dulcimer, because I have no idea if I can even bring it to pitch without it imploding and whether or not it will sound good, since I have only experienced it in its broken and out of tune state.”  I had looked on the internet for some plans for a dulcimer like this one, or someone trying to sell a similar one, and had not found any like it. When I had taken it apart, there was no signature inside. A lot of dried glue drips and a few screws suggested to me that the person who built it worked in construction because it was built like a fortress, but really, no clues as to whether or not this thing actually ever sounded good or could even hold a tune at standard pitch. Really the only thing I could be sure about was that whoever made it INTENDED for it to produce music. (Why else would you make a musical instrument?) That is probably everything the designer/builder hoped for…to make an instrument that would make beautiful music. And really, that’s all I wanted as the repair person. I wanted to hear some sweet music coming out of this sturdy wooden box.

That’s when I decided to nickname it the XLH dulcimer. Genetically and structurally speaking, my soul inhabits an “instrument” with a flawed design, with X-linked Hypophosphatemia being the genetic “mistake” that I carry within me. I am definitely not the “perfect” example of what every parent hopes their child will be. In fact, probably most humans are walking around with some kind of “flawed” design in their genetic code, some fixable, some not. (You can think of your own flaw…high cholesterol, too fat, too skinny, allergic to dust, prone to anxiety, etc.) We all really want that perfect body, look, brain, everything. But really, was that the Designer’s intent and somehow it got screwed up? Or was the Designer really hoping that the “perfect” human would not be someone who looks good, has a perfect body, perfect health, perfect actions, perfect thoughts, but rather, someone who fulfills the Designer’s desire for that instrument to make beautiful music while on this earth, to leave the world a better place? Doctors, like hammered dulcimer restorers, spend a lot of time trying to fix  imperfections. And I am glad that they are out there doing that. I want to be the best “human-shaped-object” that I can be…all the cracks repaired if they can be and the bridges replaced when necessary (this is starting to remind me of all the dental work I’ve had done!) And sometimes, those doctors and therapists and counselors and pastors and mentors and teachers and medical people have to make educated guesses about how to fix a person back to where they can make music again. (Bless them!) But really, we’ll never be perfect, as my XLH dulcimer reminds me. The perfection that I will achieve with my XLH dulcimer is in making sure beautiful music comes out of it, with all it’s structural imperfections and a couple of design flaws. And the only way we can ever live up to the Designer’s perfect intentions for us is to make beautiful music in our lives (metaphorically, of course, because I know all y’all can’t sing) and to leave the world a better place, a more “perfect” place, though we may make our music with broken and flawed “human-shaped” instruments.

The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.

Copyright (except for the prayer, of course)  S.G. Hunter and Banjogrrldiaries, 2012-2017