Friday, February 28, 2014

Why I Write

L to R: a gift from my husband, his bear as a child, and "Sally" who was our son's bear
My earliest memories come from a several week hospital stay at age 3 when I almost lost my right eye due to a pernicious virus I've lived with ever since (and had two cornea transplants because of it). I vividly remember when the nurses would remove the pressure patches on my eyes and I could see the yellow walls and the rails on the bed. I still remember feeling indignant that I was in a "crib" because after all I wasn't a baby any more.
Because of this virus I missed a lot of school, and because my Dad was in the Army we moved often. Since I was very shy, it was difficult to make friends under these circumstances, and so books became my best friends.
Within the pages of a story I could lose myself, forget about my own problems, and share an adventure with my new friends. In the third grade Charlotte's Web became my new favorite (my original hardback pictured above--inside the torn book jacket the price is $3.50). I cried when Charlotte died, every time I read it, even though I knew it was coming.
Why, I wondered, did I cry about a fictional spider in a story? What magic was at work here?
That story magic inspired me to write my own stories, to discover why and (most importantly) how an author can make that connection to a reader.
Finally, after many years and at least two million written words I am beginning to understand. The characters must be real to the author before they can ever become real to the reader. Inside my head live many, many characters. Some are fully grown and as real to me (or more real) than flesh-and-blood people I interact with every day. Some are in the pondering process, as I get to know them better. Some are only vague shadows and may or may not reveal themselves.
But the reason why I HAVE to write, a process as vital to my emotional health as breathing, eating, sleeping, is because all these characters press against my psyche every day, imploring me to "tell their stories." I hear their voices and feel compelled to write down what they say. It doesn't matter if anyone else ever reads the stories, I must write them down because they are my stories to tell.
Thankfully I actually love the process of writing. Perhaps those authors we read about who turn to drugs and alcohol don't really love their characters or writing about them and are trying to "drown out" the voices. That's very sad.
I am so grateful for this outlet of expression, since being shy I have always had trouble talking about what's going on inside. It's much, much easier for me to listen to other people's troubles.
Hmm, maybe I'm a good listener because I've had a lifetime of listening to my fictional friends. Now that's a happy thought!
Why do you write?

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Merry Band of Instruments

One of the most difficult and rewarding projects I ever managed was to create and maintain for sixteen years the Hill Country Homeschool Band, which began quite unexpectedly.
We moved from the big city to a small town when our oldest was in fifth grade, so my husband wanted him to go to public school. We went to a high school football game and I discovered the head band director was my old junior high director. He had me work with his flute students, and the following fall I subbed full-time for three months during marching season while his assistant was on maternity leave. This proved to be invaluable experience for what was to come.
During this time our son joined the band, but by the end of sixth grade it was obvious we needed to homeschool him again. Not wanting him to lose out on the important things music (and band in particular) could teach him, I found other homeschoolers who also wanted a band, including one of my former public school flute students.
We began with seven: my son on trumpet, two flutes, an alto saxophone, a trombone, one snare drummer and one xylophone player who already played piano. All had their own instruments except one flute player, and I found an inexpensive one at a local pawn shop. Right away I realized that finding sheet music to fit the needs of such an unusual ensemble was going to be my biggest challenge. Thankfully I had taken two years of music theory, so from the beginning I arranged songs to fit our ever-changing group.
We could never practice more than once a week because the students were all so busy with school and other activities, and through the years several families drove long distances to participate with us (60-80 miles one way). At first the band directors let us use the band hall after school, but later a new principal wanted to charge us $50 a week, so we moved our "band hall" to our garage. Our neighbors would sit on their porch to listen to us rehearse each week.
I quickly learned to adapt because each year was completely different. Students would drop out, move away, or go to private or public school. The band never grew larger than 20-22 so each year I had to start beginners with a few private lessons and then "toss them in" with the others. I'd write easier parts for them, and thankfully the older students enjoyed taking the newbies "under their wings".
Almost all our concerts were performed at area nursing homes which had large enough rooms for us to set up. That was a win/win situation for both the band and the residents, who looked forward to our 4-5 yearly concerts.
Most of the concerts followed a "theme" with music the kids enjoyed practicing together and at home: patriotic, movie themes (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc.), musicals, "remembering your childhood," Texas and western, a history of music, and songs from around the world.
A few of the students wanted more challenging music, so I'd enter them in area solo and ensemble contests, as well as middle school and high school region/area band contests. But the majority just wanted to play with the band and hang out with their friends, so we never became the quality performing group I'd envisioned playing for the public as homeschool "ambassadors." With each of my trumpet-playing sons we did form a quartet of more experienced players, so they had more performance opportunities, at least.
These pictures came from my very large scrapbook. Sixteen years of homeschool band created a lot of memories, most of them wonderful. I hope they are wonderful for the former band members, too.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Leap of Faith

The Jones fam 1990
We'd taken a leap of faith, praying that God would be with us and keep us from fear.  Psalm 37:25 became our motto:  "I have not seen the righteous forsaken nor his descendants begging bread." 

My husband had quit his dead-end job and we'd moved to the big city—just one month after our second child was born.  Because we'd had no health insurance, we were already facing a large hospital bill for a C-section.  But hubby's parents had moved to a different house and made a deal with us:  If we would help fix their old house and get it ready to sell, they'd rent it to us for the exact amount of their mortgage payment, which was much, much lower than the cheapest rent.

Since we'd already used up what little savings we had toward moving expenses and medical bills, our budget had no wiggle room.  At first hubby worked three jobs just to make ends meet.

Then two things happened that I thought were unrelated.  We received our first electric bill during a hot Texas summer and I almost fainted.  It was more than four times what I had budgeted!  We quickly discovered rats had chewed through the air conditioning ducts in the attic, and for an entire month our cool air had been escaping.  Duct tape fixed the holes, but now we had a bill that could not possibly be paid.

The next day an uninsured driver backed into our only car in a parking lot.  Thankfully there was no serious damage, although the plastic light covers on one side were broken and the fender dented.  Our insurance company acted so quickly we received a check just before the electric bill was due—in the exact amount of the bill!  We put reflective tape over the broken light covers and used the insurance money to pay for our electricity, which, with a new baby in the house, was much more essential than a nice-looking vehicle.

Our leap of faith reaped many rewards, including a better job for my husband, his parents were able to sell their house, we found a better place to live in a better neighborhood, and we were finally able to fix our damaged car.  But God's care for us during those lean times remains a testament to His faithfulness when we put our trust in Him.
At a family wedding 1990

Monday, February 10, 2014

RIP Bandi 1999-2014

The two pups
Fifteen years ago a sweet puppy joined our family. Robert, who had just turned nine, had saved the shelter's adoption fee for over a year and we went to see what dogs were available. This little pup was the only one who wasn't barking; she sat in her kennel wearing a bandana and looking cute, so of course Robert chose her. The shelter employees had been calling her "Bandit" but Robert changed it to "Bandi." And so began our adventure.

We didn't know her actual "birth day" but since we adopted her on June 14, 1999 and the shelter guessed she was about four months old, we set her birthday on February 14th. She weighed about ten pounds but quickly grew and stayed about 28-30 pounds for the rest of her life.

Since we didn't know her history, we could only guess at her ancestry. As she grew to maturity she appeared to have some Corgi and some Sheltie, but we never figured out where her TAIL came from--it was as long as her long body and feathered. When she trotted around the yard, she held it up like a sail. She had a very thick undercoat and we had to get it cut each year so she could handle our brutal Texas summers.

For a long time she would bark at my husband's shoes, whether or not they were on his size 13 feet, and we guessed that someone may have kicked her. Fortunately she got over that memory, but until the last year of her life she still barked at most men.

Bandi was an outside dog at first. We provided her with a doghouse, which she of course never slept in. She preferred to sit on top of it, Snoopy-style. If she needed shelter, she climbed into our large canoe, which we kept upside-down against the fence. Otherwise she'd dig a hole for herself. She was a digger, as well as a chewer. And she would eat ANYTHING--including plastic, aluminum cans, plants, dead birds and other small animals, cat droppings, etc.
Bandi loved peanut butter (as well as the plastic jar)
Robert was determined to train her and checked out every video at the public library on training dogs. She learned quickly, and Robert soon taught her to come, sit, lie down, heel, and shake. He even taught her to "shake right" and "shake left." She loved going for walks, but she hated riding in the car. And we soon discovered she absolutely HATED thunderstorms, which is one reason she learned to open the gate and escape, and how she was hit by a car when she was only 18 months old.
Bandi did not like cameras
When the vet put the rod in her back leg, he said her tree climbing days were over, but she did manage to get back the "spring" her in legs and was soon leaping back to the roof of her doghouse. When I bought my Dad's pickup from him, her new favorite activity was to leap from the ground onto the seat of the cab and ride with me on my errands. She was never afraid of the pickup cab like she was riding in the car, but she would NOT stay in the bed of the truck. In fact she cracked a rib when she jumped out of the bed when the truck still belonged to my Dad and he was bringing my husband, both sons, and the dog back from his house.
Robert and Bandi reunited after his first semester away
Once Robert moved six hours away to go to college, Bandi transferred her loyalty to me, since she was a "one person dog." Of course she always knew me as a member of her pack, and was especially sweet to me during chemo, lying beside me while I camped out on the living room couch. (Yes, by this time she was becoming an inside dog.)
"Point that camera somewhere else."
Eventually she lost her hearing and then her eyesight, and dementia consumed her brain to the point where she did not know where she was 99% of the time. She glued herself to me, afraid of getting "lost" and then she didn't know who I was any more. It was so sad to see this animated body with nobody at home, and when her pacing became almost non-stop, it seemed cruel to leave her in that lost state.

So now she's gone to that doghouse in the sky, and I'm sure she's sitting on top of it.

Thanks for being such a good dog, Bandi, even when you were chewing things you shouldn't have. We'll miss you, girl.
Bandi and me 2006

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Resurrection: A poem and a memory

by Katy Huth Jones

Death came, confident of victory.
Winter’s pneumonia
Collapsed lung
Desperate surgery
Ravenous bacteria

But a word fitly spoken
sent determination surging
vanquished hopelessness
pushed back death’s icy fingers
with a warm heart
and stubborn German will.

Now each day, each hour
growing stronger
God’s healing power
raises joy from the ashes
and spring blossoms
with new life.

February 2008
My parents, Donna and Walt Huth
Exactly six years ago, my Dad's lung "blew out" and attempts to let the damage heal were ineffective. A local surgeon was willing to risk a long-shot operation to remove the damaged lobe and repair the remaining lung. Without this risky surgery my Dad had no chance at all, because years of COPD had so weakened his lungs (and this was the "good" one) that he was literally dangling by a thread.

The surgery took much longer than it should have because my Dad almost died twice, and he was in ICU in a medically-induced coma for eight days while fighting two bacterial infections (staph and E. coli). Prior to waking him up, the surgeon did a tracheotomy and moved the ventilator tube from Dad's mouth to his throat, that way it would be "easier" for him to breathe on his own and wean him from the ventilator.

Because he couldn't talk or write (his hands were so shaky from this ordeal), once Dad fully woke up, he saw that he was on a ventilator and heard his primary physician and pulmonary doctor talking "over" him about moving him to a rehab center in San Antonio (sixty miles away). I could tell by looking at him that Dad figured they'd "given up" on him and were sending him to a nursing home to die. Through gestures and mouthing words my Mom and I realized he wanted us to "pull the plug" and let him die. He had given up!

While my Mom went to find someone to talk to, Dad's surgeon just happened to walk into ICU in his scrubs (he was between surgeries) to check on my Dad. He saw the look on my face and pulled me out to the hall.

"What's going on?" he asked.

"Dad doesn't want to be moved to San Antonio; he doesn't want to be on a ventilator; he wants us to pull the plug and let him die."

Dad's surgeon got a determined look on his face and said, "Let me talk to him."

So he marched into the room, leaned over the bed and said, "Walter. What's this I hear that you want to leave us?"

My Dad nodded and mouthed, "please."

The surgeon said, "What are you going to do if I turn off this ventilator and you don't die?"

My Dad frowned.

The surgeon explained that the ventilator was only helping my Dad breathe while his lung healed, and he made a "bargain" with him--since this was Friday, he asked my Dad to give him until Monday morning to get him off the ventilator. He explained what the percentages of oxygen were and what they needed to be to wean him off. Dad's eyes lit up--now this Army Colonel had a goal he could work with, and he made it his mission to do all the breathing exercises and get off the ventilator.

If this wonderful doctor had not been so caring as to check on one of his many patients when he had a small break in between surgeries, I have no doubt that my strong-willed Dad would have willed himself to die. But with the surgeon's "fitly spoken" words, he gave my Dad three more years to love his family and create his beautiful gourd art.
Dad's drum won 3rd place in the 2010 Southwest Gourd Art Show
Side view of the drum.
Detail of one of Dad's gourds with 3-D horned toads.
One of his last gourds, using parts cannibalized from my Mom's ukelele.