Tweens, Media, and Life in the Real World?!

Twelve years old is a lot different in 2014 than it was back in 1991. When we were twelve, we still had that naive innocence that seems to be slipping further and further away from kids much sooner these days. We still played outside until the street lights called us home and we gathered in the den to watch primetime TV shows (like Growing Pains or SNICK) with the family.

The Future Heartbreaker
The Future Heartbreaker

Today things are so different. Try convincing a “tween” (a term that also didn’t exist back then) that hanging out with the family is not a punishment. That’s no easy feat. Gone are the days where these older kids, the ones on the cusp of the dreadful teenage years, go outside just to play. So when I get the rare opportunity to spend a little low-tech time with Madison, I don’t let it slip away.

The Bossy One
Lexxie The Bossy One

One warm afternoon last week, we took advantage of the sun and extended daylight hours by taking a stroll after school. I grabbed my camera, eager to get a few good shots, and set out with the little ones. Between tripping over dogs and scooters or always being in the back (with butts as my only shot), my photo taking was a bust. Back at the house though, I was able to get some great candid shots of the kids playing. They played Hide ‘n Seek, tag, and rolled around on their scooters in the driveway. I got hundreds of great shots to sort through.

Later, as I sat here looking through the photos on my computer, Madison stopped by my desk to take a look. I told her that I really wanted some photos of her and lo and behold, I convinced her to come outside and let me take a few. I knew that  our time was limited if I wanted to get any great shots in the sunlight, so we didn’t waste a moment.

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My Girls

We had a great time. She scooped up her little sister and carried her to the edge of the yard, where we still had the orange glow of the setting sun. I got candid shots of her teaching Lexxie how to throw a frisbee and some fun shots of Madison jumping around and skateboarding down the street. It was just a lot of fun. We laughed, goofed around, and just enjoyed ourselves.

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Madison

That night, I loaded the photos onto my computer to see how they turned out. I knew we were racing against the sun out there, so I didn’t hold my breath. But as I loaded them, I was just stunned. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. My once-silly little girl was this amazingly gorgeous young woman. Each photo, essentially a moment frozen in time, told a story…an epic tale…of this person she is growing into.

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Love this smile!

 

I sent her a few of the photos via text. She responded and asked if they were Photoshopped. I laughed and said “no, that’s what you look like!” I’m not sure when she grew up, but I am sure she is 12 going on 24.

The following day I decided to show her how she would look if her photo was Photoshopped (or “airbrushed,” is it is often called) like a celebrity on a magazine cover. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sure that she knows that no one actually looks like that…not even celebrities. I like the real version best. Our imperfections are what make us unique. Perfection, or the idea of perfection, is actually quite boring. She has a small scar on her face from when she was a toddler. That scar, although she hates it, has a story to tell. It is her story. It is a part of her, and although I know she doesn’t like it, it is one of the little things that make her who she is today.

Here is what I sent her:

Original on the Right and Photoshopped Version on the Left
Before and After Photoshopping

It is after 1am, so the majority of the photos I’d like to share will have to come later. But I’ve added a few of my favorites for now.

Spring? Is that REALLY you?

This year has gotten off to such a strange start. It felt like Winter would drag on forever. Coastal North Carolina rarely experiences harsh winters. It isn’t as though we never experience cold…Winter is always cold, but it is generally a relative cold. This year, Mother Nature threw that relativity out the window.

We had snow for days. Literally. Days and days. So many days that the news crews rolled into our tiny little town.

Average Temperatures
Average Temperatures

Growing up, we would get a snow day here and there. We would hear the “chance of snow” forecast during the evening news and go to bed with our fingers crossed, hoping to wake up to a blissful white blanket of snow and a “snow day” announcement from local schools and businesses. It is amazing how much quickly a kid can eat breakfast, get dressed, and get out of the door when they are going outside to play in the snow. My friends and I would play for hours and hours, only stopping long enough to eat lunch or warm up with a steaming cup of hot chocolate. We didn’t have all these fancy snow clothes that my kids have. Instead, we layered our clothes. And it worked, mostly.

We were lucky to get one snow day each year, but in reality, it usually worked out to one snow day every two or three years. Our proximity to the ocean, the Gulf Stream, and other factors generally work against our chances for snow days. So we learned to treasure them as children.

And then there was the Winter of 2014…the Winter that, although it has been Spring for a  while now, has really just started moving on. Between January 1st and today, we saw a total accumulation of 10-13 (or so) inches of snow. I should also mention that when it would snow here, it was generally just 2-3 inches of accumulation. We never had enough snow to build snowmen or anything super cool like that.

Weather Facts
Weather Facts

Even when it didn’t snow, we experienced temperatures in the single digits. That was a new experience for me – a new one for the entire family. One morning as we were heading out the door for school, I warned the kids before we opened the door: “We are going to run to the truck. It is colder outside that you have ever felt.” Of course, I preheated the truck so we were only in the cold for a few seconds, but believe me, that was long enough.

Just when we thought it was over and Winter was behind us, the temperatures would plummet, again, and snow would inevitably fall from the sky. It has been up and down for a few weeks now, but I feel like Winter may actually finally be gone. We have some cool days ahead of us this week, but temperatures in the 60s are welcome over 20s and 30s!

We had a nice warm weekend. We celebrated the return of warm, glorious sunshine by firing up the grill, breaking out bikes and scooters and skateboards, playing Ladderball and Bean Bag Toss (or if you are a local, “cornhole”) in the yard, and going for strolls through the neighborhood.

It is nice to watch this place come to life. We moved into this neighborhood this past Autumn, just before the chill set in. But now that the sun has returned, people are taking to the outdoors. Kids are riding bikes, young mothers are pushing jogging strollers while catching up with friends, do-it-yourselfers (like the physician two doors down who dons scrubs and Oakley’s while he knocks out a quick trim on his riding mower) and landscapers are taking to the yards to tackle weeds and overgrowth before the next big rainstorm, and husbands are making their way through Honey-Do lists with bags and supplies from Lowe’s and the local nurseries.

The best sight of all, however, is the artwork that can be spotted on our driveway, walkway, and patio. It is comparable to ancient cave paintings but they were put there by tiny hands and sidewalk chalk. That is the true sign that Spring has arrived. Sidewalk chalk, dirty hands and faces, and total exhaustion by the time bedtime rolls around…I’m loving every moment!

Red.

Sometimes I look back at myself over the years and chuckle about where I’ve been, where I am, and where I am going. The truth is, you never really know where you are going until you get there. Plans are never much more than suggestions. In the end, we do what we do. We can’t go back and change anything, so we just keep moving forward.

Once upon a time, I colored my hair. A lot. I mean, really…a lot. It was fun. One of my good friends once told me I had “more looks than Madonna.” But inevitably a point came where I had found a general look and stuck with it. For me, it was au natural. The last time I colored my hair was 2010.

I remember the day that I bought that bottle of hair dye like it was yesterday. It was a warm summer evening…not too hot…perfect convertible weather. I jumped into my Mustang, put the top down, and I headed out. I knew exactly what I wanted so I was in and out of the store in minutes. I wanted a nice, vibrant red and that’s what I came away with.

Melanie
Rockin’ my RED Hair (Mar 2014)

That wasn’t all though. Just holding the bottle of red hair color made me feel…I dunno…saucy? I’m not sure that is the right word. Whatever the word, I decided to make an additional stop at the local Guitar Center. I walked out of there 10 or 15 minutes later with a brand new Les Paul in hand.

Well, here I am, almost 4 years later. Until two nights ago, I hadn’t colored my hair again since that night. In true form, I went with a nice, vibrant red. Many things have changed in the years that have passed, but underneath it all, I’m still me…and I still strum to the beat of my own imaginary drum.

New recordings

I have been “tinkering” with my site during my town time. I recently discovered that all of my recordings sounded very tinny. I chalked it up to the fact that the recordings were amateur. But last night after re-recording Ho Hey I listened to the recording after bouncing it to SoundCloud and realized what was happening. Compression. And lots of it.

So, I replaced each recording with an uncompressed version and voila, tinniness is gone (mostly at least).

Ho Hey

This was one of my first recordings and my style for playing this song has changed drastically since I recorded it. So I thought it was time to update it. My cover was originally based on another cover – the version recorded by Lennon and Maisy Stella. Those to girls have so much talent and they definitely have an amazing career ahead of them.

But my second recording was slightly different. Their version is played slightly higher to accommodate their voices. In fact, that was the original reason I was drawn to their version. My newest recording though is actually played somewhat higher than theirs. I am so much more comfortable singing higher so I’ve started adjust everything accordingly.

When the Right One Comes Along

This is an all new recording. I heard it for the first time when it was sung by Sam Palladio during the first season of Nashville. I did some digging and discovered that it was a Striking Matches song. But ultimately it was the version recorded by Clare Bowen with Sam Palladio that drew me in. Her voice is so incredible – soft and innocent with just enough edge to draw you in. I missed a couple of notes, but I was pleased enough to do it in one “take.” Unlike many of my other recordings, this one was done all at once, “live-style,” rather than recording separate tracks for the guitar and vocals. I was in a groove and knew better than to stop!

Carry You Home

My latest recording is Carry You Home, a cover of the James Blunt tune available on his All the Lost Souls album. The song is almost haunting as he sings about the loss of someone he cares about to a drug overdose. He puts so much feeling into his music, you can almost feel the pain as he says his last goodbye.

He gave the video a less haunting story, but not less depressing. In the video for this song, you see a man traveling to return the belongings of a fallen soldier to his wife. James Blunt was previously a soldier in the British Army, so he included actual soldiers and one of the camps he had been stationed at in the filming of the video.

I have been captivated with James Blunt’s music since the first time I saw him perform on television. Sitting at a beautiful, black grand piano, he performed Goodbye My Lover on Oprah. I was not a regular viewer, so I was fortunate enough to be channel surfing at that moment. I had never seen so much emotion pouring out of a single person. I immediately fell in love with that song and eventually set out to find the music so I could play it.

One of these days I will record my cover of that song. I would assume that my piano-based covers will be harder to record, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. In the meantime, I should probably get my trusty neighborhood tuner to pay me a visit.

This is an acoustic cover.

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/125487547" params="color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

 

First concert!

Madison had her first concert tonight. The kids did an amazing job. The students in the 6th grade band have only been playing their instruments since September, so I was definitely impressed with how well they all played. In addition, they have only all played together a few times. The woodwinds and the brass are in separate classes, so until earlier this week, they never played together.

All of the kids did great. We saw the 6th Grade Band, the 7th Grade Band, the 8th Grade Jazz Band, and finally, the 8th Grade Band. Surprisingly though, if I had to select a “best” group out of all of them, I’d pick the 7th graders. The music just flowed so beautifully. The kids have definitely found their groove together. Of course, the 8th graders have more experience. They played more challenging music, including one emotionally charged song in honor of a band student who passed away in a car accident in Missouri. I barely choked back the tears as the students (one of which my family knows personally) told the story about the girl.

As these kids progress through middle school and onto high school, they will find themselves under the direction of the man who I owe my entire musical knowledge to. Forgive me if I’ve mentioned this once or twice (or thirty times) before, but I moved to Elizabeth City between the 7th and 8th grades. On my first day of school here, I couldn’t keep up with the rest of the band. I probably only knew three or so notes. The music program at South View just wasn’t what it was here. It was no surprise that I found myself sitting in last chair.

If you know me, you probably know my competitive nature. Last chair just wasn’t going to do. More than that, I really enjoyed playing music (I’ve loved it my entire life), so I was determined to catch up with my classmates. So, Mr. James tutored me after school, on his free time. Within two weeks, I had challenged my way from last chair to second, and eventually first. I spent the rest of that year in first chair. I had to work my way up again once I joined the symphonic band (which, aside from a very small handful of people, was 10th-12th grades). That first year I really had to fight my way up the ranks. I was playing with some girls that had a lot more experience. I used that time to learn from them. Once I did finally make my way up to first chair again, I held onto it until the Spring of 1997. It was the final semester of high school for me. I had graduation on the horizon and one of my closest friends, who was in her junior year, beat me in a challenge. She beat me fair and square. She gave me a real run for my money, so I happily relinquished that seat to her. She earned it. I was still the highest ranked senior so I didn’t lose my senior solo.

So here we go again. Life has come full circle. Watching my baby girl up on that stage was amazing. I remember the feeling of excitement and bliss that came with sitting on that stage. The lights were hot and the audience was hard to focus on. The faces in the crowd were obscured, but you could see the silhouettes of the people who ventured out to watch us perform. There was no place I’d rather be than in front of the audience, sharing my love of music with family, friends, and strangers alike. My mom still talks about the way that we played Sleigh Ride each year during our Christmas concert. The way the song danced from our instruments into the night, complete with the trumpet horse whinny and the block snapping for the whip, was enough to make even The Grinch feel festive.

I really do love that Madison selected the instrument that I played in school. Aside from the pride of watching her blossom as a musician, I’m also able to help her. I have been able to help her improve her sound. When she struggles with something, I know how to help her. When she wants to play something outside of what she knows, I teach her the notes. It is just wonderful. She is an incredibly talented girl. I am proud and beyond ecstatic that I am fortunate enough to watch her grow into an amazing musician.

Make You Feel My Love

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted any music. I couldn’t find enough time between managing a few large projects and life in general. Thanks to the completion of some of those projects, I have the time to put back into my music. I have removed the previously existing recordings from my music page and have decided instead to go with SoundCloud.

Tonight I’m posting an acoustic cover of the popular tune Make You Feel My Love. This song was written by Bob Dylan and has been recorded by a few great artists, including Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, and Adele.

You can stream the song by going to my Music page. You can also download the file directly below.

 Make You Feel My Love

Back to December

Welcome back, December. It seems like you were just here. As a child, it felt like December would never come. The anticipation for Christmas seemed to draw the year out slowly. But as an adult, the years pass in the blink of an eye.

In some ways, this year was full of greatness. But the harsh reality of human mortality cast a dark cloud over 2013. One of my dearest friends committed suicide, a couple of friends from high school tragically lost their four year old son, another friend from high school passed away just days after welcoming her beautiful baby girl into the world, another very dear friend lost his father just days before Thanksgiving. To add insult to injury, an old family friend passed away earlier this week and that event led to the discover that one of his son’s (who was also one of my childhood friends) passed away two years ago.

As if all of that was not enough, Thanksgiving fell on my cousin’s birthday this year. He would have been 30 this year. He lost his battle with leukemia on December 31, 2001.

More than ever, I am reminded to never take a single moment for granted. We never know how much time we have left. In fact, a friend recently said:

Your life is made up of two dates and a dash. It’s what you do with the dash that matters.

So very true.

This Christmastime, spend less time running around from store to store and more time making memories with you friends and family.

Today deserves a blog

Today is a good day. Well, in the less than grand scheme of things, today was a good day. But in the big picture, grand scheme of things, today is one of those epic days that I will never forget. Ever.

Six years ago today I went to see my fantastic perinatologist (Dr. Gupta) in Panorama City, California. I was 34 weeks into a high-risk pregnancy and it was time for a little “look-see” amniocentesis. You see, 20 weeks earlier, I woke up with my foot in my hand. Scratching. Scratching like a crazy woman. Ok, if you know me now, that doesn’t sound so strange, but at that time, this wasn’t a regular occurrence.

I casually mentioned my woes as I chatted with my Babycenter comrades, assuming it was a normal pregnancy by-product. Someone responded with a “I don’t want to alarm you, but you need to call your doctor” message. Thanks darlin, I was alarmed. Alarmed-ish. I did a little research so I had half a clue as I made that call. It sounded suspiciously like Cholestasis of Pregnancy, minus one major point. Everything I read stated that this condition shows its ugly head during the last trimester. I had just squeaked into my second trimester. Barely there. And as I thought about it, the itching had been going on since the first. But I made the call.

As a member of Kaiser Permanente who (at the time) had a normal (not high-risk) pregnancy, I played OB roulette with each visit. It was no big thing. Each OB I had seen up to that point had been pleasant and worthy of revisits. This visit landed me with one that I’d see again a few times over the course of my membership (which spanned for years). I remember it clearly, she folded her arms and shook her head as she told me that she was fairly certain I was not looking at Cholestasis of Pregnancy. Her reasoning was just as I mentioned before. “I have never seen that condition earlier than the third trimester, especially not this early.”

But, she was a good doctor and did her due diligence, so you can imagine her surprise when the results were in.

It is a fairly (actually extremely) uncommon condition. At the time, I believe it was estimated to affect around 1 in 1 million pregnancies. I should have played the lottery with those odds.

I found different coping mechanisms to get me through the weeks that followed. I did my research and used that information to make informed decisions. For example, I ate an almost no-fat diet. I stuck to the minimum fats necessary to remain healthy to take that strain off my liver. But what worked the best was water. I drank water. A..lot…of…water. I had Sparkletts delivered and basically suckled that water cooler teat all day long. I was careful to not drink into excess, but I drank enough to keep my blood flushed at all times. There were a few indulgences that made things difficult. Two of my cousins were married that summer, one in June and the other in September, so the travel, humidity, and the Steak-n-Shake goodness that I could not resist did not make for the easiest time, but I would not have missed those events for the world. (Ask anyone there, by the second wedding, I was practically rolling myself down the halls!)

At 32 weeks though, something had changed. My liver function numbers were off the chart, and not in a good way. Dr. Gupta saw the writing on the wall. He ordered a steroid injection that week and again at 33 weeks. At 34 weeks he wanted to take a look at the amniotic fluid. The fluid can be analyzed to determine lung maturity, so the plan was to take a look to see when we could safely deliver. I knew from the day I was diagnosed that I’d have an early induction, but the original plan was 37 weeks. Not 34. 34 weeks. They say that 1 day in the womb is like 10 days outside of it (or something like that…I may have the 10 wrong, but you get the idea.)

So, I dropped Madison off at her school (half-day Kindergarten) and headed to my appointment. The plan was set. After my procedure, I’d return to Palmdale, pick her up, and go home to 24 hours of post-amnio bed rest. It was not my first time at that rodeo, so we knew what was expected. Or, we thought we did.

It takes several hours to perform the analysis. So no matter what, we knew we had at least a day. Or, we thought we did. Yeah, I keep saying that.

Dr. Gupta looked at the fluid as he was pulling it out and with a very concerned look he says, “you aren’t going anywhere. I’m inducing you today.”

Immediate thoughts? My child. My flesh-and-blood daughter was at half day Kindergarten. I had to leave to pick her up. Of course, a deep breath later, I realized that David could handle that part on his own. I didn’t want him to leave. I didn’t want to be alone. But most importantly, I wanted Madison cared for.

My non-hormonal other-half made those decisions with a clear and level head. He called in the troops (his mom, my dad) to help out in that department, as he headed off to handle the other things that we thought we had time for (like packing the hospital bag or whatever). He ended up staying home that night as I effaced and dilated thanks to Cytotec or Cervadil. My catheter experience with Madison was so miserable that I convinced a nurse to not give me one. When I’d get up for bathroom visits, I’d walk slow and pretend to be completely unaffected by the drug. (It makes you feel completely drunk, which as I’m sure you may know, affects the ability to walk.)

But back to my earlier “flesh-and-blood” comment. I’m not sure how many mothers discuss this one freely in a blog, but I will. When you go from one child to two, there comes a guilt phase. That’s probably the best word to describe it. I found myself wondering how in the world I could spare enough love for another child. You never know a love so powerful until you have had a child. There are no words to describe it. And then to think that you have to break off some of that for another person…it is impossible.

I agonized silently for months. I wanted this pregnancy. I wanted this baby, so badly. (He was years in the making, between not conceiving and miscarriages). But I feared that I (or we as humans) have this specific amount of love and everyone had to share it, like a pie. I wondered how one could decide how much goes where.

But I was wrong. I was way wrong. Love has no depth, or walls, or ceiling. I didn’t know this until the moment I held my son in my arms. I loved him the way that I loved his sister, and I loved her no less. Actually, I loved her more. I love her more every day. I love each of them more every day. Every moment.

34 weeks ago today I had that amniocentesis. 34 weeks ago tomorrow, Maddox made his grand entrance into this world.

I later learned that the fluid showed that he had already passed meconium in utero. Dr. Gupta knew that time was of the essence. At birth, Maddox had already inhaled the meconium. If we hadn’t induced, he wouldn’t have made it to his own birth day. That thought still makes me thank my lucky stars. I put my faith into my doctor and he took care of us.

Maddox had to spend his first week in the NICU. When I was discharged without him, I was devastated. I felt lost and alone. He had been with me every moment for those 34 weeks and suddenly, I was alone. He was not there with me.

He was not sick or critical. There was a mandatory five day NICU stay for any babies born before 35 weeks, but he stayed for a week because he received antibiotics via IV for that week. The meconium in his lungs was a bad combo for a preemie, so they wanted to make sure he would be fine. He wore a CPAP just after birthday and spent a day in an isolette for observation, but by the time I was discharged, his pediatrician said that he was basically working as an overpaid babysitter for me and that Maddox was quite healthy.

This wasn’t the type of NICU where micropreemies or critical cases were handled. They didn’t get a lot of traffic. And since he was not one of those patients, they limited our physical contact. They requested that we only handle him at feeding times and we reluctantly obliged. I do feel that they knew what they were doing, so I followed directions. Each morning I’d drop Madison off at Kindergarten and then I’d drive the 50 miles to deliver freshly pumped milk and to visit with him until I had to leave to pick Madison up from school. I pumped around the clock, as if he were there feeding on demand, to ensure that I wouldn’t lose my milk supply. As per normal, I overproduced in those early weeks, so when he left, I brought home about 8 full bags from the freezer. They came in handy at News Years! Hah!

Proud mama moment

I can’t remember if I mentioned this in an earlier post, so forgive me if I’m repeating myself. Madison, my budding musician, announced during the last school year that she would be joining the band in middle school. As a former bandie, I was elated. I excitedly asked if she was going to play the flute and she basically laughed in my face. I was a little sad and a little disappointed, but I wanted to make it her decision, so I backed off. She showed a lot of interest in percussion, so I fully expected to add some drums to our in-home personal instrument arsenal.

As the school year winded down we received a notice regarding band sign ups. We had to go to the middle school and enroll. This was the day that she would “formally” request her instrument preferences. A few days before that, Madison announced that she was going to sign up for flute. Score!

In my excitement, I immediately started looking around for a Gemeinhardt, like I played during junior high and high school.

At the beginning of this school year, before they started taking their instruments to school, I took a proactive initiative and taught her how to make a sound. This is probably the hardest thing for a beginning flutist. There was a little frustration on both of our parts, but within a few minutes, she was getting it.

As the school year got underway, I watched her frustration ease. Like any sixth grader, she wanted to pick up the flute and immediately know how to play it. Practicing is no fun until you can really play something, but if you want to progress, you have to do it. I pushed, sometimes hard and sometimes gently. I didn’t want her to burn out.

It was a good call. She had her first playing test last week and learned today that she got a perfect score. I told her that this is how “chairs” are assigned and although they don’t have “chairs” right now, they will in the not to distant future. I told her that if she keeps it up, she will be a contender for first chair.

I am so very proud of her.