Posted in Finding my voice, Introspection

My Voice In The Lost and Found

 

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Photograph by Nancy Malcolm

I lost my voice….literally.  It left me and in its wake, my confidence fell into a pit.

 

All during my years in education, I would occasionally get a raspy, scratchy voice.  Too much talking and strain on my vocal cords.  But, three years ago, that scratchiness returned with a slight tenderness, and I could not clear the gravel sitting in my throat.

 

With one visit to my ENT Doctor, an MRI and a laryngoscopy, it was determined that I had cysts on my vocal cords and they needed to be removed.  “An easy day surgery with one minor detail,” my doctor explained.  “You must have two weeks of complete voice rest.  No talking and no whispering.” (as evidently whispering is worse for your voice.)  “No sound for two weeks.  Nada.”

 

Before the surgery, I envisioned the two weeks as total “me” time.  Reading, writing and silent reflection, yet when my two weeks started I felt differently.  I suddenly felt very vulnerable.  One dear friend brought me a notepad with a little explanation taped on each page.  “I just had throat surgery and am unable to talk.  Please be patient while I write.”  Someone else gave me a dry erase board to use at home so I felt prepared for communicating.  I was NOT prepared for the frustration at getting people to understand what I needed or wanted.  I was not prepared for the silence.

One day at Walgreens, I was checking out and while touching my throat, I mouthed to the clerk I was unable to talk.  I started to write on my notepad, and she nodded that she understood.  She then proceeded to use a rustic form of sign language to ask me if I wanted a bag and to point to cash or credit.  I wanted to (scream) mouth, “I can hear you, I just can’t talk!” But, I thanked her in sign language and went on.

 

Slowly, I felt so withdrawn and yes, overlooked. My family stopped talking to me just so I wouldn’t have to answer, but I felt ignored.   I felt what many others must feel every single day of their lives, yet, I knew mine would be temporary, or so I hoped. What if my voice never returns?   More and more I retreated into my hushed, speechless world.  

 

Finally, the end of my 14 days arrived.  When I first tried to speak, I was unnerved at the sound of my voice.  Complete gravel…..worse than before.  I was told to give it time, be patient and try to relax my throat muscles, but I realized immediately that I did not know how to do that.  Too many years of strain and stress.  

 

I became embarrassed to speak in public, answer the phone or even go out.  No one could understand me and I choked easily because I could not clear my throat.  My doctor suggested a few things:  another week of quiet, try a voice coach and if necessary, go see a specialist in San Antonio. Another week crept by with minimal speaking and it was determined that scar tissue had formed on my vocal cord.  The specialist could give me shots of Botox to improve my voice and so I made the appointment.

 

Even though the specialist explained how the Botox would help and what I could expect afterward, I was ill-prepared for the exact details of how it would happen.  The first thing they did was record me as I repeated chords and words so that there could be a baseline.  Then I was ushered into an examination room that had low lighting,  Feng Shui water fountain,  calming lavender diffuser and a large screen TV.  There was one large exam chair and lots of instruments….fear started to sink in.  

 

The doctor sprayed my nose and throat with a numbing solution.  A camera was put in my nose and down my throat and a light was put in my mouth down to my vocal cords. Then with a long, curved needle, he injected my vocal cord with Botox.  The whole thing was projected onto the big screen TV and recorded.  I would do this procedure three more times.

 

I admit, I was shy and self- conscious the first time I met my voice coach.   It was unsettling and disheartening to hear myself try to repeat the scales and words she gave me.  I could hear the pitch and sounds, but I could not make my voice mimic them.  She recorded me as well.  My confidence was in the toilet as I heard that first playback.

 

Sometimes life does send you angels and unexpected gifts, and Dara (my voice coach) was that for me.  This sweet, beautiful and talented girl helped me find my voice.  She encouraged me.  She laughed with me not at me and she befriended me at a very tender time in my life.

 

Probably one full year after my first diagnosis, I came to believe that my voice might be as good as it was going to get.  And now, three years later, I know it has gotten even stronger.  Patience and time worked after all.

 

What is lost cannot always be found or restored, but sometimes a new thing takes its place.  I gained a lot of strength from following through with the procedures and voice lessons, and with compassion and hard work, I found my voice.  My new, hard-earned voice that sounds more like me than ever before.

Posted in Aging process, Cajuns, Crawfish, Introspection, Worries

Splatter Brain by Ginger Keller Gannaway

                                                                 Splatter Brain 

Splatter paint Evan
Art by Evan Gannaway

My brain feels so unfocused and rudderless…

Clovis Crawfish
from Clovis and his Friends by Mary Alice Fontenot; illustrated by R.A. Keller

Like a crawfish let out of the sack during a Good Friday crawfish boil. 

I slowly travel through the backyard grass, claws held high, trying to escape the boiling pot of doom. However, I’m tottering directly towards the danger zone. Soon the guy wearing the “Suck My Head” t-shirt will pick me up by the mid-point of my back so that my snapping claws can’t reach and he’ll plop me into the roiling pot with the rest of my family and friends.

Also, I’m a crawdad with one claw smaller than the other because a bluejay attacked me Clovis and Bluejayonce and flew away with my left claw.  I’m now navigating the tall grass like a drunk Cajun leaving an LSU football game and looking for his pick-up. However, I need to “roll on  between the ditches” as Emmylou & Rodney advise,(“Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”) so maybe, just maybe, I will make it to a scrub bush away from the joking, yelling crowds, and I will nestle into a soft spot of shade and relax until a white Chihuahua sniffs me out. She lets loose a few yaps before a swift  snap of my right claw catches her black button nose and she hurries off toward the next new smell. I lay low for awhile until I feel like I’m dying of thirst (because I am).

Wait a second! I just let my brain turn me into a crawfish fighting for its life.  See what a splatter of nonsense I have brewing in my head.

Now I’m the mad water inside the crawfish pot! The water teems with Slap Ya Momma spices and Crab Boil and onions, corn, and potatoes. Someone left the lid on too long and I’m about to boil over.  The day’s demands overwhelm me! This girl is on fire, but not with power and focus — with her bald scalp flaming and her head making a Scanners explosion!

If I can just make myself count my breaths and look at the tree branches coming into focus as the sun pinkens the sky, my Splatter Brain will calm down. I  will use prayer and meditation, and all shall be well….until my next Walter Mitty moment.

Posted in Aging process, Changes, Friendship, I love you, Love, Marriage, Support

“Little Murders” by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Little Murders*  by Ginger Keller Gannaway

*A play by Jules Feiffer written in 1967

Marriage ain’t always easy.  Three kids and 35 years together have made Gary and me balance understanding and comfort with annoyance and anger. Once when I yelled at Gary for leaving his used dental pics on the coffee table, he answered, “Sorry. I guess these ‘Little Murders’ really chip away at us, huh?” Then I thought how I let small annoyances turn into large complaints.

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Love circa 1984

One Thanksgiving in an effort to stop me from obsessing about whether my husband would have enough leftover turkey gumbo when he returned from visiting his brother, Momma said to me, “Don’t you worry about Gary.  Gary always takes care of Gary.”   These days I sometimes extend that thought to“Gary only has eyes for Gary.”  He, however,  justifies his self-obsessiveness with, “I’m not a noticer.” ( Noticer –  1. The act of noting or observing; perception or attention:That detail escaped my notice. thefreedictionary.com)

So what if he ignores the whole world when he does his daily Sudoku or he can’t find ANYTHING in the fridge or he did not notice that he ate the last chocolate raspberry Haagen-Dazs bar from a box he “bought for me”?  He also gives my 90 year-old dad countless rides to and from doctor appointments, always has a buck for the down-and-out guy at the stoplight, and cleans a stack of dirty dishes with no complaints.

His tendency to stop up a toilet, watch CNN constantly, dirty 23 dishes for one meal, leave his bike in the back of the car, and grab his mandatory 9 hours of sleep a night could be viewed differently. 

  1. He’s developed expert bathroom plumbing skills.
  2. He stays well-informed on current events.
  3. He cooks with creativity and zeal.
  4. He stays fit and well-rested. 

My mom’s dear friend once told me she used to fuss at her husband for leaving the kitchen cabinets wide open (one of Gary’s favorite hobbies). Then years after he had passed away, she looked at me with watery eyes and said, “What I wouldn’t give to walk in the kitchen and see every single cabinet door open!”

I used to believe all those Little Murders slowly smothered the love I had for Gary.  Now I see they make pin pricks in my heart that make our love tough and real so we have enough strength to deal with the many “slings and arrows” of this life.  Gary makes me smile at life’s idiosyncrasies and laugh at love’s challenges. 

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Love, 2016 (Tesuque, New Mexico)
Posted in Children, Gratitude, Mothers, Parenting, Parents

Love Never Fails

 

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Photograph by Nancy Malcolm

Love Never Fails:    
It’s hard to be a mother.  It’s gut-wrenching and heart-warming all at the same time.  Most of us begin motherhood with rose-colored glasses and sheer determination to be the best parent we can be.  We weave in and out of relationship advice, popularity contests, homework, and allowance.  But, sometimes our idealistic dream is shattered when our child has a life-altering accident, unwanted pregnancy or time in rehab.

In 2001 as the Twin Towers were burning, my heart was aflame with fear and uncertainty.  My youngest child had just gone to rehab for substance abuse.  I was so afraid for her future, and I was overcome with grief.  I never envisioned that the child I loved so much would one day become unrecognizable, foreign even to herself.  I did not wish for this compulsion or plan for it as I would a college fund.  Still, it was our reality….tough and raw.

I’ve always been skeptical of those parents who say their children are perfect. Or that ‘everything’s great! She’s my best friend.’  I felt guilty and ashamed that I had failed my job as a mother.  How could this happen to my child?  At times I cried myself to sleep at night because I loved her so deeply.

While my friends were sending out college graduation announcements for their children, I was celebrating the fact that my daughter had found a job on the bus route. While other kids her age were out partying, she was struggling not to and making a meeting every day. I was proud of her in ways other parents might never understand.

This beautiful child of mine turned 23 years old in rehab.  None of us could have predicted how her life would be today…..16 years clean and sober, teaching school and being a wonderful mother to my grandson. Our lives are full of gratitude.

There are a few of us who have walked the path of booby traps and detours, not wanting to look down, trying always to look up.  We carry our children over the land mines if we can, but if they must face the struggle themselves, we carry them in our hearts.  This too shall pass, we silently repeat, wanting to believe it with all of our beings.  We work hard to remember that ‘love’ will see them through.  Love is determined not to give up on even the hardest case.

Love never fails.

 

Posted in cooking with love, Food, Grandchildren, Husbands, Pot Roast, Soul Food

Love Meat

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Back in the day, I was a high school Home Economics teacher.  (Way back!)  One would assume that I have perfect manners; that I can run and maintain a beautifully appointed home and that I am an excellent cook.

One might assume that, but those closest to me know the truth.  They’re well aware of my shortcomings in an area or two and have graciously decided not to say any more about it.

Let me just get it out there…..it’s my cooking.  I may not make fancy dishes or perfect cream gravy, but I can teach YOU how to do it.  No one will starve at my house, but your taste buds might not dance delightfully on your palate.  That is unless my husband cooks.  He cooks with love, just like his Granny taught him.

Oh sure, I have a few go-to menus and recipes that are tried and true, but I’m just as apt to bake a piece of chicken and open a can of green beans, low sodium at that.

My beautiful friend, Fran, shared a roast recipe with me years ago that is foolproof!  We have guarded the recipe all these years, only sharing with our daughters and trusted friends.  Let it suffice to say, that to this day when my daughter makes this roast, her son calls it “Love Meat!”  Could it get any better than that?

Sometimes Boo and I will say, “Let’s not cook tonight.  We’ll just eat cheese and crackers for dinner.”  For me, that is true.  I’ll get crackers, a wedge of cheese, a cutie and feel happy.   Five minutes later, I hear pans rattling in the kitchen and Boo is toasting a ham and cheese sandwich and baking homemade potato wedges in the oven.  See the difference?  L O V E

Not every night is meant to be “Love Meat” night.  Not every meal can be cooked with complete love, but it does give me pause.  Perhaps, I could strive to cook with a little less apathy.  I could try to channel Granny and see if her spirit will guide my meatloaf.  I could think a little bit more about those I’m preparing for than myself.  It’s a start.

I’ll probably never get rid of my bag o’ chicken tenders from HEB and a Costco 12 pack of canned green beans, but I can try a little more love.

Really I can.  All hail the Love Meat and all those who cook with love.

Love Meat

Roast

1 packet of brown gravy mix

1 bottle Catalina salad dressing (16 oz)

1 cup water to mix w gravy packet

Salt and pepper

Put in potatoes and carrots (Mushrooms optional)

Cook in crockpot on low for 8-10 hours

Posted in Children, Fathers, fathers and daughters, Friendship, Growing up, Memories, Outdoors

Bangberry Ride by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Bangberry* Ride (*Banbury Cross)

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Dad/ Papa with Grandson Ryan on the Bangberry Tree

There was an oak tree with a long, low limb. A 6’4” dad would put a girl on his shoulders and let her scramble into the crook of the tree’s limb where she could hold on to small branches and settle into the oak’s saddle. The tall dad would then grab the limb’s end and pull it down, down to the ground. Anticipation made the girl’s grip tighten. The dad would go down and up, down and up to the tune of an old nursery rhyme:

“Here we go down to Banbury Cross

To see a fine lady ride on a white horse.

With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes

She will have music where ever she goes.”

Then the dad added an “Ole!” as he released the limb to make the girl spring up high as the tree was free to boing, boing, boing back into place.

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Evan in Bangberry Tree, 2005

Head and hair surrounded by branches and leaves, the girl felt equal to the free-flying birds.That 4-second thrill was a perfect balance of joy and fear.  She looked down on her siblings from her queenly perch  as they did the “Me next!” dance and she gave the mere mortals a slight smile before she accepted the dad’s huge hand that helped her dismount her tree throne.

Besides the wooden roller coaster at the beach, the “Bangberry Ride” was the girl’s favorite ride. With a rhyming song, a heavenly seat, a touch of danger, a parent’s attention, her sisters’ envy, and her stomach’s tickle, the ride was a moment of childhood perfection.

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Oak trees around my childhood home
Posted in Aging process, Changes, Gratitude, Retirement

Overscheduled

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Photographed by Nancy Malcolm

Overscheduled:  
I’ve overscheduled myself.   I am irritable and a skosh unreasonable and I didn’t even know it….until now.  This retirement gig is really working out for me except I’m busy from morning until night.  There are so many things I want to do and so little time, that I often set my alarm for 5:30 a.m.  Truthfully, I probably only have 20 more good years left (if I’m lucky) so I’ve literally been cramming my days with things I want to do.

 

There are lots of books I want to read and yet, I hear myself saying that I don’t have time to read them.  Now, that is insanity!!   Going for walks, going to the gym, photography, volunteering, crafting, writing, traveling, Grandchildren, lunch with friends, movies with friends, Words With Friends….Then there are still the household things to do like grocery shopping and laundry;  my days are going by too fast.

 

I’ve even said to my husband that I’m kinda “done” with cooking and cleaning.  It’s highly overrated and I seem to have lost my zing for new recipes and creative organizing. I know in my heart that I could do those things if I wanted to, but there you have it….I’d rather take my grandchildren to the park or snap pictures of butterflies.  I think Joan Rivers said it best, “I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again.”

 

I want to be outside some every day, and spend time with people I love every day, free from the computer or phone.  I want to write and be creative in some way, every day.  I want to exercise every day and do something for someone else every day.  And, I want to LAUGH every day.

 

I thought in retirement I would slow down, but I have amped up in a big way, making up for all those working years when I rarely asked myself, “What do you want to do today?”  Possibly, I could try scheduling a ‘day off’ every week, where I don’t have any plans or pressing engagements, but that seems a little extreme.  I feel so blessed to be retired and to be healthy and to be able to live my life as I truly want.  I want to do as much as I can for as long as I can.

 

It occurs to me that this “overscheduled” feeling is a hangover from the working days when often I felt overwhelmed and overworked. My context for overscheduled needs to be revamped. Being retired just means it is now time for a new adventure and that’s exactly what I’m doing.  I need to replace “overscheduled” with “jam-packed with opportunity!”

 

I hear that still, small voice say, “Remember, Lucky Girl, each day is an opportunity for growth, excitement, and fulfillment.  Spend each day wisely, in gratitude and you will not regret it.”  Amen.