I should start with some history!

My son and I were talking one day, not so long ago. Out of the clear blue sky he said, “Dad, I want to start flying RC again.” I stepped back in surprise! We hadn’t flown RC airplanes together for a number of years. He had gone off to college. I had been focused on performing music after my retirement from my “day job” of the past thirty years or so. Flying RC had been good for both of us. Shared interests are great for bonding during those teen years, but time pulled us both in different directions.

As it turns out, his timing was impeccable! He was becoming established in the workforce, and I was winding down my musical endeavors due to my hearing loss and subsequent cochlear implant. Flying was one of the things that I had intended to do more of, upon retirement. Somehow, I had lost sight of that particular goal.

The end result was that we decided to get back into what was once a major shared interest. The big decision was made, now it was time to decide the path! All of our old aircraft had been sitting still for about twelve years. The batteries were shot, the engines were frozen by residual oils that had hardened in place. However, the airframes were mostly intact and could be made flyable with a little TLC. So we picked a couple of small, simple aircraft to work on, went off to the hobby shop to purchase new batteries and other items required to bring our old hobby back to life.

That’s how this journey got underway! The next few blog posts will be about regaining our ability to ride the clouds.

johadel

A funny thing happened on the way to Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday.  My job, when it comes to Thanksgiving Dinner, is to prepare the turkey, stuffing & gravy for the feast.  I love this job!  I pull out Cathy’s old copy of &The New McCalls Cookbook& from 1973 and use their directions for preparing turkey & giblet gravy.  The stuffing is usually the dried, cubed, herb seasoned stuff, but I usually add an onion or two, plus some chopped celery to fancify it.  Of course, everything must be scaled up by a factor of two!  It appears to have been written with a family of four, plus two sets of grandparents in mind.  We usually have between 16 & 20 guests for our celebration.  So this year it was a 24lb turkey & a 7lb turkey white meat roast.  Thank goodness for having a double oven in our kitchen!

The turkey part went off without a hitch; the mashed potatoes were ready well in advance; the broth with the neck & giblets (destined to be about a half gallon of gravy) was done cooking and waiting to be finished.  The toughest part of preparing the turkey comes at the very  end.  It always gets so frantic when the turkey comes out of the oven.  Get the roaster out of the oven (no easy feat with a 24lb bird);  Bird out of the roaster so I can get the drippings for the gravy while the bird rests;  Prepare the gravy;  Pull the stuffing out of the cavities & carve the bird.  Meanwhile, all sorts of pandemonium breaks out as we get the food onto the serving table, acquire dinner libations, start migrating toward dinner seats, etc. . . And all the while, at least a dozen conversations are competing to be heard, all at high decibel levels!  (I have a very noisy family)  It is not really an environment that is conducive to keeping all the step required to finish the gravy in my head.  Heck, it’s even difficult to keep my act together reading the directions straight from the cookbook!

Regardless of the difficulty, I was forging ahead and things were going well.  The ingredients had all been mixed and I cut in the slurry of water and cornstarch to thicken the gravy.  However, it soon became apparent that I had not scaled up the amount of cornstarch to do the thickening.  (I was converting from flour to cornstarch for thickening AND scaling up from three cups of gravy in the cookbook to half gallon of gravy in the real world!)  I had emptied my container of cornstarch with the first go-a-round, so I hastened to the pantry, grabbed another container, quickly made up a slurry and cut some of it into the gravy.  But it just didn’t get any thicker, so  I cut in the rest of the slurry (about three tbsp of cornstarch).  It still didn’t get thicker, but I was out of time!  I had to get the turkey carved & on the table!   We managed to get everything on the table, said grace and chowed down on turkey, all the fancy vegetable that folk brought to the feast and lots of stuffing with lots of gravy!

After feasting for an hour or so, we all retired to the living room to sip drinks and talk about all the important stuff people talk about after Thanksgiving dinner.  The thing that was unusual this year is that everyone started to pass gas!  I don’t remember that EVER happening at a family gathering!  We all laughed it off and enjoyed the rest of the evening, finally breaking up around 9:00pm.  (We needed to get Aunt Irma back to Hamilton).  I just felt fortunate that none of the candle flames set off a gas explosion!  (Yes, it was THAT bad!)

After we got back from Hamilton, Cathy and I were stuffing the dishwasher and putting away left-overs, when I noticed something odd:  The second container of &cornstarch& that I pulled our of the pantry was actually baking powder.  

So I had inadvertantly mixed three tbsp of baking powder into the giblet gravy instead of cornstarch.  No wonder it hadn’t got any thicker after I added it.  And is it any surprise that everyone who ate the gravy (most of us) had a huge gas attack within an hour of eating?

Note to self in the cookbook for next year:  Always read the labels carefully, no matter the hurry you may be in to get the gravy ready to go!

It has been an interesting ride since I had my cochlear implant installed on March 16th, 2017.  The surgery was no big deal from a recovery standpoint.  There were a few painful days, but no more than you’d expect from having a hole drilled in your skull, and having electronics installed under your scalp.  I did look a little funny with that bald patch around my left ear.  Thank goodness it’s all growing back!  It’s getting difficult to even find the scars now.

On 03/30/2017, I was cleared to resume normal activities.  My first day back to teaching was the following Monday, 04/03/2017.  I was teaching three days a week at that time. It was much more difficult to teach with my left ear totally deaf and the right ear with only a conventional hearing aid!  Fortunately, at that time most of my students were on either saxophone or ukulele and I could function adequately with my frequency limitations and the lack of directional location.

My first post-op performances came later that same week, with two shows on Thursday and one on Friday.  As with teaching, performing had some new challenges.  I still could not hear much of anything above my vocal range.  Centering pitches was difficult due to the almost total inability to hear any of the higher partials.  The new challenge was having only one functioning ear!  I was amazed at how much I depended on spatial relationships for separating out sounds in my head.  Fortunately, all of the gigs had me on vocal/bass and Lou on keyboard.  That relatively simple sonic environment made it possible to pull off the performances adequately.

So, on 4/08/2017, my equipment activation day is still three days of teaching and two more gigs away.  I’ve waited this long, I know that I can wait for one more week.  Nevertheless, it will be a trying week!

Johadel

Well, I’ve decided to take the big leap.  I’m going to have the first of my “Borg Bits” installed this week.  I’ll be having surgery to install a cochlear electrode and interface coil in my head.  That will mean the loss of the remaining natural hearing in my left ear (the right ear will be unaffected), but it brings the hope of much improved hearing overall.

Most cochlear implant (CI) recipients experience a vast improvement over the use of hearing aids (HA).  The full spectrum of audible frequencies will become available again.  Granted, CI hearing is “different” from natural hearing, but with careful retraining of the auditory centers of the brain, the artificial stimulation of the auditory nerve is usually as effective for speech recognition as natural hearing. 

Having the full audio spectrum available will also make it possible for me to hear birds once again.  That is one thing that I have missed greatly since the onset of my hearing loss.  One of my favorite events while camping was listening to the birds at daybreak.  It always seemed to me that, in their own birdish way, they were celebrating each new day by screaming, “I’m alive!  I’m ALIVE!”.  Not hearing their daily celebration of life has been a great loss to me.

Another thing that I have missed greatly is the audio spectrum above G at the top of the treble staff.  For me, that portion of the audio spectrum does not exist.  The upper register of soprano clarinets, flutes and violins are simply gone from my hearing.  The CI holds out the hope that I will be able to hear those instruments once again.  However, my main concern has been that many CI recipients do not regain the ability to discern pitch with the accuracy required for functioning as a professional musician.  There is substantial anecdotal evidence that adequate pitch recognition can be accomplished, but there has been little scientific study done in that area of CI hearing. This is not surprising, since the main goal of most CI patients is simply to improve communication with the hearing world.

Based upon reading and conversations with musicians having CI hearing, it appears that the people who are most likely to regain pitch sensitivity are those who have had extensive musical experience and training prior to implantation.  I fall in that group, so I am hopeful that the CI will prove a useful tool for performance & teaching. If not, it should still be very helpful in better understanding audio based communication, and I still have my natural hearing in my right ear with which to perform.

So the worst case scenario is that I have a few more years of performing with my remaining natural hearing. The best case scenario is that I will use my new “Borg Bits” to perform for many years in the future.

Let the “assimilation” begin!

Johadel

Today was a typical mid-winter day in SW Ohio.  The temperature started out in the upper twenties and rose to the mid thirties by early afternoon.  The sun was shining, so I decided to do some yard maintenance.  The house gutters had clogged up with sticks and late falling oak leaves, so I fired up the leaf blower and climbed up on the roof to blow off the debris and clear out the gutters.  About half an hour later I climbed down the ladder to survey the results of my labor.  The combination of late falling leaves and roof debris made the yard look awful, so I decided to continue with the leaf blower.  The goal then became moving all the yard debris away from the house and over the edge of the ravine behind the house.  Sometime later the mission was accomplished.  Then it was time to move fallen branches to the kindling pile, clean ashes out of the Buck Stove, put food out for the critters and put away the tools.  All in all, just about three hours of work.

As I went into the house and started to remove my shoes, I realized that my back hurt a lot and that my muscles everywhere, but especially my legs, felt stiff.  I could barely bend over to reach my shoe laces!  I got a cup of coffee and hobbled over to my La-Z-Boy and collapsed into it’s comforting softness.

It was then that I started to think back to the old days.  Back in my 30s, when I was working in a marina, mostly as a Marine Electronics Specialist, but filling in on fiberglass repair, engine mechanics and other general marina tasks as needed.  (read “barnacle scraping & bottom painting” here) 

I was the guy that, while trying to get a stubborn fitting loosened, broke the top half of a bench vice completely off its base.  (The comment from one of my fellow workers was, “give that man anything he wants!”.)  I was the guy who, instead of calling for a crane to lift a three cylinder diesel so we could align the shaft coupling, simply hunkered down and lifted one end of the engine enough that my work mate could slip shims under the engine mounts. 

I wondered, where is that guy now?  Even in my mid 50s, I didn’t think twice about running ten or more miles in the afternoon, then going out to play and sing a three hour gig for a dance or a party!  What happened to that guy?  It seems as though ever since I passed the big Six-O decade birthday, every part of my body has started showing signs of accelerating decreptitude!  I remind myself of an old hound dog.  The attitude of being happy and content if there is food available, and that the only requirement of my life is to lie in the sun and wag my tail when someone walks by, would be such easy traps into which I could happily fall.

I made only one New Year’s resolution this year.  I resolved to start on a progressive program, starting with simple stretches and maintenance exercises, progressing to aerobic and strengthening exercises as my body allows.  Hopefully, I can regain a little something of that guy that slipped away while I wasn’t looking.

There is a truism that I had often heard and formerly dismissed.  But no longer, for I now know it to be fact that, “Getting old isn’t for sissies!”.  So just pass me that bottle of ibuprofen so I can get on with life!
Johadel

I’m a musician!

This is an affliction that I’ve had for almost 50 years.  It doesn’t really matter which instrument, or what kind of group.  The only thing that matters is finding an outlet through which I can participate in making music!

My plan throughout much of my adult life had been to work in an engineering field to earn adequate money to support my family as the kids were growing to adulthood.  When that had been accomplished, I intended to leave engineering behind and pursue, once again, a career in the field of music.  All that was fine & good, and seemed a great plan until a few years ago, when I discovered that I was going deaf!

This was a most disconcerting development for someone intending to use his ears, fingers and voice to earn a living!  At first (around 2001), it didn’t seem like a big deal, just little drop in the high frequency sensitivity.  I figured it must be from standing next to the drummer’s ride cymbal for all those years.  There was no need for hearing aids yet, so I started to wear musician’s ear plugs.  Acoustically, they were very transparent and there were replaceable cartridges available with attenuation from 5db to about 50db.  The only difficulty with the ear plugs, was that they made my voice very loud in my head when I sang.  Fortunately, the band that I was in at the time did not require me to do any singing.

Over the past decade, things have gone downhill significantly!  My mild hearing loss has progressed to a profound hearing loss.  Currently, near Middle C, my hearing is down about 20dB.  At the Treble C, it is -30dB and near High C, -75dB.  My hearing sort of levels off at -95dB around 1500 Hz (G, one octave above the treble staff), and continues at that level all the way to the top of the spectrum that the audiologist measures.  I currently wear a pair of rather powerful hearing aids to help me function in a world that largely depends upon sound for communication.

Normal human hearing, in terms of frequency, runs from the low teens up to around 20,000 Hz.  However, the fundamental frequency of the pitches that our instruments play are well below the top end of the audio spectrum.  For example, the highest note on a standard 88 key piano is just a shade below 4200 Hz, but we do gather much useful information (such as tuning, timbre, etc. . . ) from the higher, harmonic content of each note.  I can hear enough of the harmonic content to determine pitches up to about the A above the treble staff.  Higher than that, all the notes sound the same because I can’t hear enough of the higher harmonics.  Luckily, saxophone, bass clarinet, my baritone voice and my bass guitar are low enough that I can function with a good monitor and my hearing aids boosting the high frequencies. 

Because of my loss of pitch sensitivity in the higher registers, I gave up teaching flute about five years ago.  Currently, I teach all levels of bass guitar, bass clarinet, tenor sax, alto sax and ukulele, but only beginner to intermediate clarinet, because I can’t discern pitches above the clarion register.  I generally avoid soprano sax for the same reason.

It just seems so unfair that, now that I have the time & wherewithal to once again pursue a music career, my ears are failing me.  I had really hoped to be performing through my seventies.  The way my hearing has been deteriorating recently,  I’ll be surprised if I’m still performing in two years!

My ENT doctor says that he can fix me up with a cochlear implant and I will be able to understand conversations again.  He’s not so positive about the music thing, but I’ve heard from a number of musicians that say they’ve been able to work since the implant.  It just appears that it takes time and patience to relearn pitch sensitivity with a brand new set of signals.  Besides, they only do one ear and wait until you are ready to do the other.  So I can always shut off the implant and perform the way I have been recently, with the hearing aid and monitor.  The thoughts and emotions involved in deciding to give up what remains of my natural hearing and go to a cochlear implant is a topic for a whole ‘nother post!
  Do the words, “Bionic” and “Borg” pop into your head too?

The whole thing puts me to mind of the old “Six Million Dollar Man”  T.V. show.  Remember the opening credits, when the character, Oscar Goldman intones off-camera, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better…stronger…faster”.  Would “perfect pitch” be too much to ask?

Johadel

Yes, this morning had its fair share of them!

I’d been waiting for the Xterra to be ready (new alternator installation) since 9am.  It was now 11:40!

I had planned to spend the morning giving myself a haircut & going over some tunes that I haven’t performed for some time.  They were on the list for this afternoon’s show at Berkeley Square and I really wanted a refresher prior to performing them.  However, my ride to  the repair shop was only available early, so here I sit!  My expectation, based upon a phone conversation yesterday, was that the vehicle would be ready around 9:30-10:00ish.

I ended up getting home with enough time to shower and pack my gear.  So much for practicing!

I hit the road for the gig on a very overcast, rainy afternoon.  Headlights on, windshield wipers on, fan to defog the windshield on.  Halfway to the gig, I noticed that the windshield wipers were getting slower & slower.  Then various alarms on the dashboard started to light up.  On a hunch, I shut off the headlights and all the alarms quit!  It appeared that the new alternator was not charging, but there was no charging indicator light saying that it wasn’t.  I decided to continue to the gig, hoping that I would make it.  The battery was so discharged by the time I pulled into town, turning on the brake lights would pull the battery voltage down enough to shut off the dashboard instruments.  The engine finally quit as I was backing into the parking space at Berkeley Square.  Lou and a couple of nurses helped me push it into the space.

We unloaded our gear and played the show.  For all the upset and anxiety floating through my day, the gig went really well.  Lou played the heck out of the piano, and my voice felt really good today!  The audience was happy with the requests and the other tunes we played and so were we.

After the gig, I decided that it would be best if I skipped the evening concert band rehearsal (bummer!), got a new battery, installed it and headed home.  I figured that if I didn’t run lights, fans and windshield wipers, I could make it home on the basic battery charge.  The facility maintenance crew provided me with some tools and then Lou took me to the local auto parts store for a battery.  We got it installed and fired up the engine.  Sure enough, when I put the voltmeter on the terminals, the indication was such that the alternator was producing a very small amount of electricity, which is probably why I didn’t get a charge indicator light on the dashboard.  It also meant that I could almost certainly get home on the current charge of the battery.

Off we went after thanking the appropriate people at Berkeley Square.  Lou followed me up I-75 until it was clear that I would make it home.  Thanks Lou!

Once home, I set up a charger to top off the battery so I would be able to get it back to the repair shop tomorrow.  Got the equipment unloaded so it could go into one of the other cars for the gig tomorrow.  Into the house and sent messages to My Lovely Young Bride to let her know what had been going on.  Then a big sigh of relief!

I’ve had more things go bad today than I’ve had in quite awhile.  But on the positive side:

  1.  The Ivory Doghouse had a really good show.
  2.   I get to spend the evening (and dinner) with My Lovely Young Bride.

Thank God for silver linings!

Johadel

I’ve been putting this off far too long!  For the past three years, I’ve been lurking here on WordPress, reading and commenting on other people’s blogs, but not contributing myself.  That’s just not right!  So, finally, I’m going to get started writing here.  My current plan is to post one article per week.  Most likely, I’ll start off by telling any readers that I may have about who I am.  After that, well we’ll just have to wait and see. . .

That’s all for today! 
Johadel