Sunday, May 21, 2017

Chris Cornell, My mom, and Me

I have lots more to say but that's a separate post. This is about my first time to see Chris Cornell live:

His music helped me through a very dark place in my life during late 2015-early 2016. In late February my mom was taken to the ER with what was thought to be another cardiac event. She never recovered.

During those two weeks, Chris announced he'd be playing at Ravinia near Chicago. Mom was teaching me from her hospital bed that life was too short, to go for what I wanted to do. So I told my father that if I had to sleep in my car and eat peanut butter crackers to see him, I was going to.... harrumph!

My mom passed March 5. On March 6 (also my dad's birthday), Chris announced the entire North American tour. There were three places all within a reasonable distance. I decided I would go for one of those.

March 7 (also the anniversary of my mom's mom's passing; freaky, no?) I'm sitting in the mortuary helping finalize mom's arrangements. My Ticketmaster app buzzed and only one of my locations was operating through them. I couldn't stop to call the nearest venue, but I could do this one (next closest). So I got my ticket -- don't laugh, the mortician was running late.

I got home later and looked up the seat on the venue's website -- my mother and grandmother gave me one of the most precious gifts ever. My seat was 5th row, almost exact center stage (#20 on a row of 38). I cried buckets. I could not believe it. It was my first ever Chris Cornell show in any version. It was going to be magical.

And it was.

And mom continued to work her magic -- I got tickets to Temple in NYC; a friend ended up with a spare for Seattle and asked me to join her. I got tickets for Carolina Rebellion and then with days to spare, lucky enough for an opportunity to see them the next night in Tuscaloosa.

This morning in the grey dreary rain, on the way to church, I had a heart-to-heart crying conversation with my mother. I thanked her for all she'd done to help me see my favorite artist so many times in such a short time frame. I also told her to please find him in heaven and to give him a huge hug and thank him for meaning so much to me and countless others. I asked her to keep his sweet family and close friends in her prayers as well.

I don't always subscribe to a traditional understanding of theology. I honestly don't know what the afterlife holds..... my own thought is that we're bathed in light and goodness and that love fills every missing piece, all the gaps. And so I pray and hope with all my being that whatever gaps were there have been filled to overflowing with light and love..... and that the overspill comes down and makes us better people for it.

Loud love my friends.

Monday, May 08, 2017

The Spring 2017 Grand Adventure

So, in all mi vida loca, I had never attended a music festival. I had considered it on a few occasions -- especially something like Bonnaroo or Coachella. Heck, I'd even settle for Floyd Fest (Floyd VA, not all that far from me). But I just never had done it.

Well, when Soundgarden announced they'd be playing at Rock on the Range -- a 3-day harder music festival in Columbus OH -- heck yeah, sign me up. Two weeks later, I learned they'd be playing at Carolina Rebellion on an even EARLIER date -- only two hours east of me. I debated internally and decided ah heck, I'm only middle-aged once. I'm living my mid-life crisis, so sure - why not? I decided to get a one-day-only pass, because I'd be seeing all the acts again in Ohio, right?

Yeah. Then I found out they'd added some non-festival dates -- including Atlanta. Big salty tears, because that show was mid-week. I just couldn't swing it, so I was going to settle for my festival dates. At the last minute last week, an opportunity presented itself to see the non-festival show, to be held in west-central Alabama, the day after my one-day pass in North Carolina. Again, I'm only middle-aged once, why not? I'm still young enough to put in that much driving in a weekend and that much fun.

Well, I did a really stupid thing on Thursday evening: I took a yoga class. This in itself is not a stupid act -- but taking a class you never have done before, stretching and using muscles that haven't really been engaged and activated in a while....... You can imagine how I was feeling Friday morning, waking up early and driving to just east of Charlotte. I got to the festival parking site around 12:00, and began walking toward the edge of the parking lot, where I could hear the band pretty well. I then learned the band was across the road -- and back a few hundred yards. So I kept walking.

Keep in mind, this was a cold morning for early May for us. So I had put on my long sleeve Gamecock tee, and my thin black hoodie. I had packed a short-sleeved tee for later - you know, when it warmed up. And I kept walking in an overcast sky and began to stand in an interminable General Admission entrance line. I'm not sure why it took forever to get through -- the gates had opened at 10:30ish and here we were, well on 1:00 and past. I know this because the band that was screaming its lungs out was one of the bands serving as an opening act on Soundgarden's tour....... I pretty much decided that I wasn't crazy about their style.

I meandered around and found the merchandise tent. Nothing really interested me. There was a Soundgarden shirt that I knew I already wanted but it wasn't one of the ones on sale at the festival. They had all the shirts available on the LiveNation web site -- but having already waited three months on a tee I'd ordered from them (and then asking for a cancellation and refund)..... um, no. So if Alabama didn't have the one I wanted, then I would just have to order from the site, much to my dismay. I couldn't decide if I wanted a festival shirt or not. And there weren't many other knickknacks I wanted -- no keychains or koozies. Hmm.... I was going to have to decide which (if any) I wanted. But I had all day to do so.

I was going to meet up with several fellow Knights of the Sound Table (a FB group) who would be at the event. I found the first one during the Eagles of Death Metal concert -- by the way, EODM is really good! -- and we were waiting on some of the others. We wandered over to another stage and found a little punk trio named Radkey -- WOW! Punk is not dead! These guys were good and definitely worth another listen! Then I had planned to see Pierce The Veil, but I just watched them from afar - mostly waiting for the guys to come back from the portapotty lines. Wandered to another stage where a screamy-metal group was playing. I've listened to enough of that with my brother, so I put my poncho on the ground and took a much needed break off my feet. We then wandered over to see The Cult. That was phenomenal!! Their music was around during my high school and college years, so hearing some of those songs was a sweet trip down memory lane. Afterwards, part of the group (myself included) went to grab some grub. And the weather was brutal.

Remember that short-sleeved tee I packed? Yeah, I put it on -- on top of my long-sleeved tee and under my hoodie for a third layer. I was freezing!!! By 8:00 it was back in the 50s and so, so windy. We went to the mainstage for Soundgarden's show. The temperature only got better when more bodies joined in and whatever body heat we had began to commingle.

The show began and oh my God!!!! the dream came true. It was absolutely un-freakin'-believable. The music was spot-on, the crowd was into it (and heavy into bodysurfing), and to hear "Kyle Petty, Son of Richard" in the heart of NASCAR country....... OMG, unbelievable. (PS: if you are easily offended by language, don't even bother to click the link for the song.)

So festival sets are usually shorter (anywhere from 30 minutes for early acts to about 90 minutes for headliners) -- but even in a shorter set, they did not disappoint in the least. But better stuff was to come........

So I got up pretty early on Saturday and started going west toward Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I began to call this the #RoadWorkRoadTrip ..... because there was SOME slowdown or variation on construction in four different states. North Carolina had a holdup for 3 miles for literally no reason. It seems someone forgot to turn off the flashing sign that said "Left 2 Lanes Closed, Merge Right" -- we all got in the right lane for nothing. The construction crew was not there. I imagine someone in Raleigh sitting in a control room somewhere, laughing their asses off at us. South Carolina -- yeah, we have road construction in 3 or 4 places along a 100 mile stretch of interstate. Georgia -- one word: Atlanta. 'Nuff said. Even Alabama had some in various places.

Oh, did I also mention this weekend was Talladega? Which is on the road I was on? Yeah.

Because of Talladega ..... and 'Bama's graduation in Tuscaloosa .... and graduations at UAB and Samford in Birmingham, there wasn't a hotel room to be found anywhere along the I-20 stretch. Even the Motel 6 in Tuscaloosa was going to be around $100. Sorry, but I'd rather sleep in my car. It's safer and certainly more hygienic! As luck has it, when I got the ticket for Tuscaloosa, I booked a room in Birmingham. It's only an hour away, I can deal with that. The hotel called me right before I crossed the state line to ensure that I was still planning to come and use the room -- YES! I couldn't scream it loudly enough. As it turns out, when I got to the hotel, the clerk explained that a couple of the online booking sites kept taking reservations even though they were at 100% capacity. She'd had to call them to explain that all the rooms really were taken.

Okay, so I got to the room, took a quick nap to alleviate the tiredness, and then headed over to Tuscaloosa. It was being held in the Amphitheater along the river front, and you could not ask for a prettier venue. We ended up as second row along the rail, and the opening band came on...... same screamy-metal band from Friday afternoon and they're not my style. I cheered for them and for their hard work, but I won't be rushing out to buy their album.....

Forgot to note that before the show, we did go by the merchandise booth and YESSSSSSSS they had the shirt I wanted!! While there were plenty of other designs on the web site -- and at the venue -- this is exactly what I wanted all along. And I love that they used a lyric from their 1989 song "Loud Love" -- and so apropos.

So anyway, it was time for the main act -- and I was so psyched. They started with a song from their 1988 LP that was recently remastered and reissued. It was phenomenal to hear again! They also did one of their earliest songs, which I think came from a demo in 1985 and eventually ended up on their first record (an EP from 1987).

Of course, they played a lot of the hits from years of recordings. Thirty years' worth of music trying to be distilled into 2 or 2-1/2 hours is hard, but they did a great job!

I was especially happy to have heard two songs, one on both nights and another just at the Tuscaloosa show. I have what I call the Big Three by them -- "Fell On Black Days," which I've heard live twice by them and once by their lead singer on a solo acoustic tour; "Blow Up the Outside World" (same - live twice now by them, and on the acoustic tour), and "The Day I Tried to Live" -- which he did not do on his solo show, but which I heard both nights here.

Let me state up front for the record -- if anyone ever tells you that any activity or hobby saved their live, they aren't joking. You best believe them. Music has saved me -- constantly throughout my life, and again in very key moments. That song saved my sanity in December 2015 -- so hearing it live and done so well was very nearly a religious experience.

Then one of the other songs from that time frame that made me happy at a time when little else did: "Burden In My Hand" ...... it's hard to explain because the song is dark, the video is slightly odd, but for me, the song is absolute delight and joy. It makes me want to pull my car over, get out and dance and sing along. And to hear that........ I sang right along, heart full to near-bursting.

And then -- the same closing from the night before: An extended version of "Slaves & Bulldozers" from their Badmotorfinger CD from 1991. The original itself is near 7:00 -- this clocks in around 11:30ish. There's an extended jam in the middle, coupled with some lyrics from "In My Time of Dying" that match the rhythms of S&B. I wish I had gotten video of it, but I was just enjoying it way too much. Which is kinda the whole point of the show......

So then Sunday morning, I got up, checked out of the hotel and went to church (thank you, Catholic guilt - HA!). Then I bummed around Birmingham until that afternoon to meet friends for a late lunch/early dinner. I found some of my beloved Diet Buffalo Rock, the spiciest ginger ale that I absolutely adore! Hung out at B&N because I wanted to check out some books on quilting..... but nothing that really screamed "YES" at me. Much like many crafting projects. I need to just start designing stuff for women like me!

Met my friends and we had a grand time laughing about a lot of things. Then it was time to head back -- remember that little race going on east of Birmingham? I was heading that way just as the race wrapped up. God bless the state troopers and other traffic enforcers because they have that exit strategy down to a science and an art form. There was no delay at all on I-20 E at the speedway. Bravo, Alabama - you do this right.

Back through the hell that is Atlanta traffic and then WHAM! 3 or 4 major slowdowns between Lawrenceville and South Carolina. At least there was a relatively smooth drive once I crossed the state line.

So........ 950 miles. 14 hours round trip. Two AMAZING events. Feet that still ache. Hammys that need to be stretched out. My chiropractor is going to have a field day on Wednesday.

Oh, and Ohio? Welllllll......... as much as I want to go, real life kicked in and I am very sadly giving up my opportunity to go. I'm still going to use the time off (partly to recuperate!) and I am going to live vicariously through others -- just as others did through me this weekend. It sucks but I'm choosing to be an adult about it.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dear Craft Companies

To Whom It May Concern:

Allow me to share with you my frustrations at not finding craft products that speak to me.

I am over 40, single and childless. I'm not swimming in dough but I do have some discretionary income. And I'm pretty creative and crafty. But the products just don't address who I am. 

Feminine? Yes. But I'm not into all florals. Glitter? OH PLEASE! That's for 8-year-olds. Fabrics with prints of Parisian cafes and the Eiffel Tower are..... no. I like shabby chic but it just isn't me. My favorite shoes aren't Louboutin and Choo, but more on the lines of New Balance and Dansko or even Docs. I love tee shirts and jeans but I'm not all red-white-and-blue and country chic. Note: denim isn't just for the yee-haw crowd. I love bright colors but I don't want neon, I don't want sparkly, and I don't want polka dotted everything! I do not always want faux paisley. I sure as hell don't want chevron ..... and zebra prints and leopard spots? Oh no, no no, especially when combined with marabou feathers. STOP IT! I'm so over all this! Who decided that this is what women wanted and needed and we are this style?

I want something that speaks to the girl who loves attending both rock concerts and Broadway shows. To the girl who loves flowy Boho scarves and skirts -- and tartans and plaids -- alongside her tees and jeans. To the one who isn't a sports mom, who doesn't have a froo-froo pet, who maybe has a tattoo or piercing other than her ears. To the girl who is a sports fan and who isn't there because of her man, but because she loves the game. To the girl who knows who she is -- and it's none of the things being marketed to us.

What I really want is something that speaks less to the girl we were back then, and more to the woman we have become. To the one who has persevered and overcome things in the way that countless others have: with style and grace and a reserve she never imagined she had. I want real and authentic. I want Stratocasters next to the daisy prints. I want stylish and confident, secure in knowing who I am at this point in my life.

I want a line of embellishments that reflect my likes, my needs. And I'll happily help you out for a small consulting fee. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Year of Firsts

Yesterday marked 50 weeks to the day. In exactly two weeks from today, it will be one year since Mom left us. This Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of her final trip to the ER. Everyone told me about the "year of firsts" -- all the big events that are suddenly missing a person.

Last year, we had less than 24 hours until we hit the first of those firsts.  Mom died the day before Dad's birthday. A week before my brother's birthday. Three weeks before Easter 2016. Those firsts came along so rapidly that we didn't have time to process them. Then came Mother's Day, which is a day I would just as soon forget for the remainder of my days. And on and on it went.......

The first six months were horrible. I grieved Mom so much. Then on that anniversary weekend, she sent me a sign, a siren call really: it was time to let go as I'd promised, as I'd wanted her to do and be free. She was telling me that she couldn't be free as long as I clung tightly.

My birthday came and went. I missed Mom giving me a card and saying "I'm sorry it's not more...." As if I were still five years old and expecting a couple of dollars tucked in there. It was a rather wistful day.

Thanksgiving came and went. Then we lost Maddox. Losing Mom hurt, losing Maddox cut hard and sharp. Christmas came and we were okay until Dad choked up during grace. We made it through New Year's and all the bowl games.

And now comes the anniversaries we never wanted to "celebrate" ......
Another friend in the one-parent-left club mentioned that for her, the second year was the worst. The first was bad but you expected to come upon these things ...... But in that second year you're somehow supposed to be over it. As if you ever are.

The hard days for me will be Feb. 27 -- the day the doctors told us to start considering all our options -- and March 4, Mom's last full day, when I spent hours in silence with her at Hospice and sang to her. March 9 will be the anniversary of her funeral, and that day too may be hard.

What this year has taught me is that life is short and fragile, that you had best tell those you love that you love them. You have to follow your bliss and enjoy every moment, because you are not promised even one additional second. Do what makes your heart sing and soar. And love. Don't put tags or labels on it, just love unconditionally, as you are loved. Love large, love often, but love wisely all the same. And fear not.

As my family has unpacked Mom's passing and her life, we are saddened by how much and how often she was guided by fear. I usually am not the type to allow fear to rule my choices, but now I'm even less inclined to do so. I will not allow fear to make my choices for me.

And in doing so, I will honor my mother.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

When Adulting Sucks

Today marks 48 weeks since Mom passed. And come Monday, we McClellans will gather again to say goodbye to yet another member.

Dad's oldest sister, my Aunt Joyce, passed on Wednesday, February 1. Another one to pass at age 78. There have been way too many people I know recently and throughout my life who died at that age, and it's kind of freaky, to be honest.

So since 2009, we have lost Uncle Clyde, Uncle Bill, Aunt Harvalene, Uncle Jack, Mom, Aunt Glendel, and now Aunt Joyce. Two siblings and their spouses, plus three more of the in-laws. And counting my Uncle Bob's first wife, two other cousins lost a parent as well. Eight family members gone in as many years -- but four of them in less than two calendar years.

There are five left..... Uncle Bobby, Uncle Donnie, Aunt Peggy, Daddy, and Uncle Harry. There are two spouses left: Aunt Peggy "Red" and Aunt Betty. Bobby will be 81 next month. Harry just turned 71 last summer. Daddy will be 73 next month. I knew the day would come when my childhood and the people in it would be gone. God knows I went to enough funerals as a child and teen (and continuing...) that I have a pretty decent grasp on death and dying. But it never gets easier.....

In fact, as I get older, it gets harder. It's a slap in the face to my own sense of immortality. I know, I know, I didn't really ever believe I was immortal -- when you lose a classmate at age 14, it really steals that whole idea from you. But I've been trying to slow down time since I was 18. In my head I still think I'm in my late 20 or early 30s at worst. I've been to high school class reunions and number 30 is upcoming this year. But it's impossible, is it not? So my oldest cousin just turned 60 - I'm still a baby, right? The mirror tells me a different story and I know it.

There's a special irony in battling wrinkles while you're still battling acne -- or that you're still battling acne when wrinkles are supposed to be your biggest skincare issue at this age. When you're coloring your hair not to look spectacular but to hide the silvers and greys and making sure that you're covering the mousiness. When you're caught in that space of trying to look the young person you know that you still are, but not trying to look as if you're desperately clinging to a long-gone youth. Subtly covering the gray is great, but using "Loretta Lynn Bootblack" is another story.

Adulting sucks at times, and saying goodbye to loved ones is among the suckier parts of being an adult. With that, I look back on the fond memories of my family and my childhood, and plan to say a sweet farewell to my aunt. She is with her loved ones, and I rejoice that she is free from the confines of a body that did not want to cooperate with all she wanted to do still.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

One Year Ago

I can tell you exactly where I was -- working from home on an ice day. And sitting at the dining room table in yoga pants, a tee-shirt and my well-worn black hoodie, headphones on and blasting "Say Hello 2 Heaven" while I cried buckets.

There were two primary reasons: foremost, January 22 is the anniversary of the passing of two good friends, eight years apart. Last year was the tenth anniversary for one, and coupled with the slew of celebrity deaths that had just happened (David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Glenn Frey), I was a hot mess.

But just as important, the day before, a good friend sat me down to let me know she and other people were worried about me -- seriously worried. I had been snippy and snarly, more so than my usual self. They were worried that all the tumult of 2015 had caught up to me at last -- my own surgery and unexpected delays in full recovery, my brother's emergency surgery and subsequent hospitalizations, my mom's continuing decline, job changes and stresses. She suggested I speak with my doctor and I made plans to do so on the next appointment (the following week).

And I spent time trying to figure out where it all went so crazy wrong.........

I still don't know exactly. I knew then and still know where one key turning point was, but it was already long past those expected trigger places and events. Instead, it was years and years in the making. Years of making do and years of putting off. Years of being strong and going on an empty tank. Years of saving others before I put an oxygen mask on myself.

But the time had come. No more running on empty. I spoke to my doctor and she absolutely agreed that I needed chemical intervention. We started a medical regimen for assistance. And after a year I can honestly say that I do not care at all if I have to take this pill for the rest of my life, as long as I never have to feel the way I did from October 2015 through January 2016.

I planned to not say much about my story. I'm not one to provide ammo to my enemies either. But then I learned that my mom had generalized anxiety disorder -- as did I. My mother absolutely refused to acknowledge any shortcomings, especially mental health issues. That happened to others, not her and certainly not her children (ahem, both of us).

And after she passed, I became more determined not to be silent. I no longer cared what anyone thought. Silence kills. Silence creates shame. My mother truly suffered in silence because she was too concerned with what others would think. I no longer cared. I would not allow others' opinions to have one iota of effect on my healthcare. I would not live in shame and embarrassment over a chemical imbalance.

I do not have a character flaw.
I do not have a weakness in my positivity.
I most certainly do not have a defect in my spirituality.
I have an imbalance in my brain chemistry. It is an illness, just as hypertension or diabetes or gout are illnesses.

My illness affects my brain and my thought processes. My illness sometimes affects my ability to relate well.

My introverted nature and my disease are not mutual by-products of each other.

Yes, my anxiety disorder feeds my depressive episodes at times. At times, the depression feeds the anxieties. It's a horrible cycle and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

But I have help. I have medication. I have good friends. I have awesome music. I have creative outlets (music, jewelry making, writing, photography and others).

And I have hope. When all else has become uncertain, I still have hope.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Annette's 2016 Brag & Gag! (electronic version)

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” — Vicki Harrison

If there is one recurring theme I have heard from friends near and far about this year, it has been “Sweet Baby Jesus, can this year get any worse?” Of course, hearing those words in January and February should have been the clue to beat all clues. I remarked to a friend the other day that it was strange to realize that 2016 was both the best year of my life and the worst year.

My odd year actually began somewhere just before Thanksgiving 2015. I found myself battling an episode of the blues that wasn’t just related to Seasonal Affective Disorder. I could not shake it, and all the positive thinking in the world wasn’t working. Add in some killer migraines, and I was not my usual sparkly self. The slew of deaths of some of my favorite celebrities in early January only seemed to compound things. Luckily, with the assistance of some good friends, I was finally able to get back into the groove of my life. I really had no idea just how much I would need to be in that happier place again, and all too soon.

As most of you know, in late February, our family faced its most difficult crisis – Mom fell very ill. We believe that her congestive heart failure worsened and led to another heart attack. Unfortunately, her body was in no position to fight back. In just four days, she had a steep decline, and the doctors asked us to begin considering all the options. As the days went on, the continuing lab work results gave us no hope, and soon we had no choice. We began the difficult and heartbreaking process of letting her go. In the earliest light on March 5, just before dawn, she left our physical presence. You know that at some point in your life, you will lose your parents. However, let me be the first to say that you’re never adequately prepared, no matter what you think. Yet in the months since her passing, I have felt closer to her than ever before. I feel her when I sing, I hear her words and inflections coming through certain phrases. And I laugh, realizing Big Nance is still here after all. I’m proud to be her daughter still.

If that weren’t hardship enough, in December, I was forced to make a similar decision for my beloved Maddox. He had developed a tumor on his side which seemed to grow almost exponentially in late fall. In early December, it appeared that the tumor had ruptured and broken his skin. After consulting with our vet, we realized there was no hope of improvement -- only worsening. With the heaviest of hearts, we let him go. Fittingly, he left us on the exact 9-month anniversary of Mom’s funeral – he and my mom were buddies to the end. He was never the same after she didn’t come home. As he was leaving, I told him that if he saw “Nanny” he’d better run to her. I’m sure the two of them are together, looking over us even now.

And it is more than just our family – it literally takes both hands and a few toes to count the number of friends of mine who have lost a parent this year. I became scared to see a name in the Facebook or Twitter “Trending” sections – for fear that if I clicked it would tell me that person had died (and sometimes it was just that). It was a horrible year to lose some of my favorite artists -- and all I can think is that Jesus finally became so bored checking out the shoes of heaven’s newest occupants that he decided he needed an ongoing “Heavenstock” or “Glorypalooza” because he took some of the best!

But he didn’t get all of them! The “Best Year Ever” side of the equation was that I got to see some amazing concerts and do some fabulous traveling! It all started in January when Pearl Jam announced that Greenville (my quasi-hometown) would host a concert on their 2016 tour. Of course, I wasn’t going to miss that. My brother and I went and had a great time – especially when they played “Given to Fly.” It had extra-special meaning for me, as I’d used some of the lyrics to announce mom’s passing (And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky / a human being that was given to fly…).

That was only the beginning of the amazement. I am completely convinced that my mother (who fostered my love for music) has been my supernatural conduit to amazing shows and tickets. On the day that we were finalizing her arrangements, I bought tickets for a Chris Cornell show in June in Charleston. I got home from the mortuary to check the seating chart, and I was center stage in the fifth row. I knew then Mama was still looking out for her baby girl. It was also the anniversary of her mom’s passing that day -- so I know she and my grandmother teamed up to give me an unbelievable gift. Trust me when I tell you that if you ever have an opportunity to see him in a solo show, GO. I don’t care if you don’t know much of his music (you probably do and don’t realize it), I’ll give you pointers beforehand. But yes, you must go see him. You will be in awe.

I also got tickets in May for The Mavericks, whom I have adored for 25 years now. They were amazing; too bad the crowd was half-dead. In August I finally got to see Rick Springfield, whose posters adorned my walls as a teen. He had The Romantics and Night Ranger with him, and both groups were fantastic! In October, I saw The Avett Brothers – wonderful show, lousy row-mates (coming in, out, in, out, back in again, oh wait, back out again….). Also that month, I saw a new blues/roots rock artist named Fantastic Negrito. He is another artist you must check out. He had opened for Chris Cornell’s spring/summer tour, and then he had a small tour of his own this fall, which made a stop in Asheville. Little did I know that I would see him twice more after that, because he was selected as opening act for Temple of the Dog for their 25th anniversary tour! I ended up seeing them twice….

For my first Temple of the Dog show, I spent a weekend in New York City—it was my first trip there, and I fell immediately for the Big Apple! My dear cousin and her husband were there as well, and we had an amazing time! Even though our seats weren’t all that awesome (nosebleed level), we saw the whole band -- our seats were right over the side of the stage. We also got a bonus comedy show from the 3 clowns behind us! Before the show, we did a tour of NYC, including a stop in Little Italy for lunch, picking up stuff in Chinatown, a harbor tour to see the Statue of Liberty, and a show on Broadway! And you must go see Kinky Boots, it is phenomenal!

My second Temple show came about rather unexpectedly. In September, a friend who had tickets to the Seattle show asked me if I wanted to go with her to Seattle. Her niece (who was supposed to go) was not going to be able to make it. Plans were made for me to join her, and we met up in Seattle that weekend. What an amazing place and weekend! We did the Space Needle, the EMP/Museum of Pop Culture (which is unbelievable), Uber’d our way to other spots we wanted to see (including the apartment complex from the movie “Singles”). And of course, the concert was fabulous! The band was just as phenomenal as they had been in NYC. Apparently, we were also right in the middle of a VIP section, not that I recognized any of them. But they all had super-duper badges and access codes. SPECIAL!

Work: I cannot begin to say just how blessed I am to be part with an amazing work team. They have been there for me whenever I’ve needed them this year. I am still in Customer Service/Dispatch and this year became the Onsite Escalations Specialist (slash Team Lead). We have an awesome company and I’m excited to be part of our growth forward. Last year, I gave up working for Weight Watchers when Mom got sicker. As much as I enjoyed the people I met and what I did, I needed to be there for my family. No regrets at all.

Travel: Besides New York City and Seattle, I finally got to visit a few other new places and knocked some states off the “been there” list! First up in my travels was a weekend trip to Jacksonville for my cousin Scott’s wedding to the adorable Edith. I’m so glad that she’s part of our family, and that we didn’t scare her too badly…. Ha!! In the early fall, I made a visit to my friends Russell and Amy in Louisville, KY/southern Indiana. During part of my trip there, we met another friend Amy K. and wandered over to the boot-heel of Missouri for a cool road trip. There was no concert while I was there, but I saw the possible venues (including the very gorgeous Palace). And we got to see the graves of Col. Sanders and the still-fresh dirt at Muhammad Ali’s plot. I am sad to report that the Colonel is not interred in a bronze replica of a red-and-white-striped bucket, much to my dismay. While I’m definitely planning to return to quite a few of those places, I already have one trip planned for 2017: a trip to Columbus OH for a weekend festival/concert. Yes, I am insane, I realize that….

I am still singing both with church choir and with Premium Blend (a capella). We still practice monthly and try to do a few small gigs here and there. As jampacked as last year’s schedule was at the holidays, I’m glad this year was a little slower. And I was thrilled to be able to meet up with some college friends for a long-overdue dinner out and catch-up session. It was fabulous to see people -- some of whom I hadn’t seen in possibly 25 years (which cannot be, since we’re all still 27 and fresh out of school, right?)

I also had the delight of making some wonderful new friends who are becoming part of my framily – thanks in no small part to the power of music. Many of us share very similar musical tastes, and it is a joy to share not just the music but our sadnesses and joys with each other. We know that music uplifts and heals, comforts and strengthens.

I also cannot overstate what a blessing my family has been this year. It has been them, along with my closest friends, who propped me up, held my basket when I dropped it, and served as a lifeline for me during the dark moments. Through laughter and tears, they have kept me safe and sane. Never ever take these people for granted: both the family of your birth, and the family you have chosen through friendship. You will need them all one day, and I am honored to have amazing people in my life.

To all of you, please know that my best wishes for a beautiful, peaceful, and prosperous 2017 go out to you all. May we all be shining lights in a world where too often we see only darkness. May we always seek the higher truth and the greater good. And may every blessing descend upon you and remain with you!

Remember my "Year of the Concert" post from June?

Yeah - it got way better after that. At that point in June, I had only 2 more shows planned on the agenda: Rick Springfield in August and the Avett Brothers in October. Life had other, much greater plans for me.

Okay, so let me talk about the planned shows: Rick Springfield was there with The Romantics and Night Ranger. All three were incredible. The Romantics did a short set, and they were pretty much as I remembered. Night Ranger tore the place up!! Not only did they play their songs but they pretty much owned their side projects too -- the guitarist had played with Ozzy, so they did "Crazy Train." Jack Blades trotted out "High Enough" from his Damn Yankees days. And "Sister Christian" made me feel like I was 14 again and the world lay before me, just for the asking. I would easily go see them again. Then Rick Springfield -- 3 days after his 67th birthday, and looking hotter than the 12th level of Hades -- kept us all on our feet! Even the newer material was very well-received. And yes, "Jesse's Girl" was the encore.

In between this show and my planned Avett Brothers show, I had the opportunity to go see Fantastic Negrito as a headliner in Asheville at a small club. Fantastic Negrito was the opening act on Chris Cornell's tour, and so I was honored to go see him again. He did not disappoint, and if you haven't seen my bazillion tweets and posts about checking out his music, then you're definitely not reading my posts and tweets. Seriously, this guy is speaking truth in his music and we all need to pay attention.

Then came the Avett Brothers -- I'm not a superfan of theirs but I like the music of theirs that I know. They did not disappoint either! They were way more energetic than I'd expected just from the music I was familiar with, and that was awesome to see! The only thing I hated about this show were some jerkwad row-mates. I had an end seat - no biggie, I almost prefer those - but these people took in-and-out to a whole new level. They showed up 80 shades of wasted and proceeded to ratchet it up to 100 while they were there. In with a yard of beer, out to expel a yard, in with another, back out because her bladder is teensy too. Back in 20 minutes later and 10 minutes later, out again. I left before an encore ever happened because I could not take one more minute of it. I had had enough. I'll definitely go see the Avetts again, because what I did see was incredible!!! And I'll definitely familiarize myself with more than just the hits.

But the best -- the very best -- was yet to come.....

***

On July 20, the shared birthday for two musicians I adore (Chris Cornell and Stone Gossard), they announced that there would finally be a tour for the 25th anniversary of the Temple of the Dog album. Oh Mah Freakin' Gawd. You see, at the Pearl Jam show, when they mentioned that very day was the exact 25th anniversary of the release of the TOTD album (04/16/91), the roof just about came off the place. By a miracle of miracles, I managed to get 2 tickets for the show at Madison Square Garden.

Yep. I was going to be going to Mecca. The city that never sleeps. The city I had dreamed of visiting since I was a young girl. I could not wait. Originally a coworker was going with me, but in some strange twists of fate, she could not make it at the last moment, and my cousin and her husband went instead. We had a blast!!!! Both of us girls had not ever been to New York, but we've decided we simply must go at least once a year, if not more often. Live there? Maybe not, but visit often? Oh yes!! We got to see Kinky Boots on Saturday night, she and her husband saw Phantom of the Opera on Sunday night (while I rested off a bout of seasickness; don't ask....), and then we went to MSG for the concert of a lifetime!!!!

Our seats? Meh. Section 413. But we were in the building!! Seriously, you do not know how many complaints there were online from "longtime loyal fans" who were either griping about the lack of available tickets (which true, they sold out quickly) or the price of said tickets. So I kept my mouth shut and went, I didn't care if I had to sit on a freakin' toilet seat to see them. As it turns out, they may have been in the nosebleed section but we were front row of that section and could see the stage with no problem -- including all the guys in the band. And Temple of the Dog completely and totally rocked the joint. Speaking of joint, the guys behind my cousin and me were very much into joints for most of the concert. Cheech and Chong would have told them to slow their rolls (literally).

Then there was Seattle. My first trip ever to the opposite coast. I'd only been as far west as Breckenridge, Colorado before -- and at that point, the farthest north I'd been was 49th Street in Times Square -- all that changed! Seattle is lovely - there is no other way to say it. Even with the grey skies and rain, it is beautiful. At first it was a little discombobulating because while NYC was almost overly friendly (yes, really - put every misconception out of your mind, they're awesome), Seattle was a little more reserved. But the people were truly genuinely nice, once you kind of settled into their vibe.

New York was a place where I could visit over and over again, but I'm not sure I could live there (though I wanted to so much as a child and teen). Seattle, though -- yeah, I could live there. It's laidback and relaxed and that isn't just due to the legal doobie. It is a different vibe altogether. A very pleasant one. Yeah, Seattle was awesome. The people were chill in the best way.

Our seats for this? 14th row on the end. And somehow we were smack in the middle of the VIP section. I don't know how, and I didn't recognize anyone (although there was this very handsome slightly older than me guy who could have been Matt Cameron's brother --  just the smile and the way the eyes crinkled made me think so). But it was AMAZING. They rocked just as hard there as they did at NYC. I headbanged to a bunch of the songs. It was freaking awesomeness!

***

So I've had a quiet December, musically speaking ......... well, kinda:

You see, I already have 3 concerts lined up before next June. In February, I'm going to Bon Jovi, who is kicking off his tour in Greenville - yeah, THAT Greenville!! (to use a tagline). Then in May, going to see Soundgarden twice. Hell to the yeah, they're touring in the spring, doing a weekend festival circuit (which makes me hope for a full-on tour come the fall with the new album release). So I'm going to Carolina Rebellion in early May for the one day/night they're headlining. One, it's close to home and two, I'm not really interested in seeing any of the other acts for the weekend. Especially since so many of them will be at Rock on the Range, which I'm going to see 2 weekends later in Columbus OH. What drew me to this festival above all the others? The Sunday headliner: Metallica. The opportunity to see them (although as my brother says, most of their stuff since '95 has sucked) is much better than Kid Rock (the Wisconsin festival) or even Def Leppard (the Southeastern US shows). Plus, I've never been to Ohio! Not that I've been to Wisconsin either but if I'm going there, it had better be for a Packers game, ya know?