Chris Botti in Fort Pierce

It's been a while since I've written a blog but tonight, before I go to bed, I must write about my evening. I went to see Chris Botti in concert and there is quite a story to my love affair with that man and his music.

I don't quite remember when I was introduced to his music. I remember liking it for years (maybe since 2006?) but it wasn't until a couple of years later when I awoke in Kuwait a bit disoriented from traveling from Colorado --  I awoke to a song of his and was transfixed. I slept with headphones (Bose earbuds, more specifically because I needed to drown out the noise in the tent from other Soldiers shuffling about and making a racket or snoring or other annoying tidbits that keep people from sound sleep.) I put on some tunes but awoke early - maybe it was around 3am or so? It was early but I was wide awake. I stepped out of the tent and sat at the base of a T-wall (called a T wall because if you invert the "T" then you can imagine a tall wall with a "bench" on either side at the bottom supporting the vertical structure).

I brought my iPod with me and just sat looking out at the desert night sky. It was beautiful, cool out (finally!) and the world felt still. The song I awoke to was "Like I Do Now." The song was melancholy but felt hopeful. That was exactly what his music felt like to me - probably because that's the feelings I projected onto his music.

Fast forward to Ramadi (Al Anbar Province) Iraq.

Have you ever been somewhere and noticed there was constant noise? There was always constant noise - generators, Soldiers, vehicles, chatting, doors opening, A/Cs running, ... just noise. And, there was always a sound of weaponry. Now, some people may say how much they love weapons. They carry them around in the USA but in war zones the sound of weapons often means death. Someone is shooting at someone with the aim to kill (often). So, hearing constant weaponry was unnerving. Do you get used to it? Sure - but in a sick kind of way you do. I never warmed to the sound of death and I can only hope most Soldiers prefer not hearing weaponry. Diplomacy is so much better for the world.

Nonetheless ...

After a horrible mission and back in my CHU (room) -
drenched in sweat and a bit of anguish ...
I look back at these pictures and remember
exactly how I felt and the look on my face
is deeper than what's really conveyed.

At night, when I had some time to myself in my little CHU (that's like a windowless trailer that is just a room - about 6 feet wide by about 9 feet long - windowless because if you are mortared/rocketed, glass shatters and ya get really hurt). In my little CHU, I'd put on his music. Cinema Paradiso --  a favorite of mine but then again, I have so many others. I'd daydream about listening to his music in civilian clothes, with make up on, with no weapon at my side, with a glass of wine in my hand instead ... I'd dream these wonderful dreams as I listened to his music.

Music has a way of transporting the mind and soul while the body remains. I left the war when I listened to him. I was at peace - sad and longing for what was awaiting back home but still, I felt peace. His music and also that of Diana Krall's ... good god, I'm so grateful for them. ... in thier music my mind felt peace.

Back in Iraq in Tirkit later on ... whole other story but I brought his music along with me. And then fast forward a few years.

I had left the Army and was living in West Palm Beach and heard he was playing at the Broward County performing arts center. I got tickets. During the show, I had tears in my eyes. Watching him play live the songs I had listened to by iPod was emotional for me. To say I was still healing from things was an understatement.

After the show, I got in line to have him sign my ticket stub. I finally made my way to the front and with a shaky voice, I told him my name and said briefly something like, "You were with me in Iraq" or something nonsensical. He spelled my name wrong (not surprising because my name is absurdly difficult to spell unless you are Bavarian) and then I went home.

Fast forward again years ... I sent out a tweet (I no longer have my twitter acct but am glad I did at the time) that mentioned how much I love Chris but would have loved to have had him spell my name right on my ticket. I was just throwing that out there into the void -- the sphere of twitter nothingness -- and who answered that? None other than his manager Jeremy.

He arranged to send me an autographed DVD and CD of one of Chris Botti's album -- name spelled right to boot!!! He didn't have to do that - but he did. And then he offered me a free ticket to Broward. I now live about 2 hours north of Broward and as a single mum, it's not super easy getting down that far for an evening. Plus, that's a lot of road time. I did plan on going but childcare ... and well, it didn't work out. BUT -- as it turned out, he was coming to this little town of mine called Fort Pierce!!! NO SHIT!!!

So, complimentary tickets a thing of the past ... I bought a ticket for the best seat I could find.

Tonight was the concert. I told Jeremy that I was going to hug him when I saw him - I really appreciated his kindness.

At the end of the amazing concert, I went toward the stage in our small theater and found Jeremy there. I gave him a hug and he brought me backstage. There was Chris with some well-to-do family or theater members ... and so I stood off to the side to wait. By the time Jeremy returned, Chris was done taking pics with the crowd of fans and I got a picture with him and Jeremy.

But here's the kicker ...

Temporary housing in TQ (al taqqadum)
which was a city near us in Iraq where
we staged before moving out to
Ramadi (our final destination).
The goal of the pic was to show the scale of
the T-Walls. 
He didn't sign my ticket stub and I didn't ask. He said, "Liesl? I know you." And yes, he just may recall my name among the tons of traveling he has done. He said it correctly. Do you get that? I have been correcting people about my name from the time I could speak and Chris said my name correctly. Ohhhhhh geez. How fucking amazing is that?! (Language. Sorry, Jeremy).

I got pics with both of them and did a horrible job explaining to either of them the magnitude and power Chris' music had on my time in that fucking Sandbox overseas. Forever grateful for him is my summary.

And to the entire band - the drummer, bassist (is that the right title? I don't know and I apologize if I'm wrong), guitarist, pianist, violinist, vocalists, and whoever else I'm missing ... YOU WERE WONDERFUL tonight!!!

I am so glad I made it out to see you. And, Jeremy -- if ever you read this, thank you so much for taking a few moments to brighten my life because that little bit of time shed a whole lot of sunshine on my life. Thanks for taking me back to meet Chris and, Chris Botti .... geeez, what can I even begin to say ... other than I am glad you exist and have followed your passion. I am grateful to have found your music. It means the world to me.

Chris Botti - me - Jeremy 
The man with the music! 

to give you a sense of the emotions surrounding being deployed. Here's a blog from December 4th (years ago) during my time in Iraq around Christmas ...

 december 4 What to say?  

i keep starting a blog and end up deleting it. i write freely and then go back and read it and think, "wow, that's not appropriate to publish" or "would i really want to give that kind of impression?" i think it's nice having the freedom to blog and share my story but the tougher life gets here, the more closed off i become. it's a double-edged sword, in my opinion, because i don't want to get nailed for having an opinion but at the same time, getting to write and publish is quite a peaceful release for me.

wow, my world is full of stress. i feel like my future is so up in the air that it's tough to wrap my mind around what's going on. what is going on? ask me at a later time. 

my eyes have never been so tired feeling. i sleep ok at night. i no longer sleep great though. i don't even remember if i've had a good night's sleep since i've been back from r&r. since i can't remember, i guess that answer might be "no." is that sad or what? our doc is a funny dude. he keeps saying, "i've got stuff that can help." i keep telling him, "thanks, but i don't like pills." i'll stick to my chewable vitamins instead ...

i haven't done much yoga lately, which hasn't helped much at all. the person i do yoga with had been traveling lately and then i was traveling and then our schedules weren't in sync and then she had meetings, etc. overall, i don't think i've done yoga in about 2 weeks. that's a long time out here! 

the weather has been freezing to me and moderately cold to others. i'm not a fan of the extreme heat or cold. where does that leave me? hopefully, anywhere other than iraq after this tour! lol my little combat CHU heats up so quickly so i flick on the heat for only a few moments at night to toast up the room and then i shut it off. it's good to have it turned off anyway because the air system smells awful. 

i hung up a string of christmas lights in my office. i have done my best to make it a comfortable work environment and so far, i'm pleased with the outcome. the lights add to the ambiance and i actually don't mind being at work ... at least not when i'm alone in the office. i have my ipod playing a combination of common, diana krall, chris botti, otis redding, epmd, nas, fiona apple, jewel, tamia, wu-tang, chopin, etc. the music gets me through the day. i find it amazing that some people don't function with music. i can't live without it. music fuels my passions. i could never go without.

my job has been incredibly boring since i've returned from r&r. i've only gone out twice in a few weeks. gosh, it's terribly boring to just photograph ceremonies. it's weird to see how fast people get awards out here anyway. so many awards, such little time. i suppose that's a blog unto itself so let me drive on with some other topic. 

christmas morning ... if i am still here (and i guess that's up in the air at this point as well), i hope i can find some french toast. all i want is french toast. i'll be incredibly disappointed if i have to work on christmas. the funny thing about being pao (public affairs officer) is that i'm not really a part of the unit. or, maybe it's just they (the battalion) help me not feel a part of it. i don't stand in formations, i'm often not recognized like the other soldiers, i'm told i'm a female (yeah, these guys are combat arms but they aren't doing a combat arms mission so i struggle understanding what being female or male has to do with anything), and in the planning process i'm often overlooked. i just "celebrated" my year anniversary with this battalion. what a year it's been thus far. i digress ... getting back to christmas morning ... sorry about that! ok, so i hope i find french toast on christmas morning because it's tradition. no one's cooking tops that of my mom's but i'll still be excited because she sent me FABULOUS maple syrup. none of that fake, yucky syrup for me. just grade A maple syrup for this jersey girl. i have a little tiny jar of it that will perfectly coat 2-3 slices of french toast. how wonderful for me! now if only i could get a hold of real butter (not this corn oil nastiness) and some powdered sugar. (i must be dreaming because both seem unattainable out here). i'm really looking forward to my bfast meal though with a nice cup of coffee with raw sugar and creamer. 

so, overall, my christmas will be fabulous if these two items are a "go" (1) everyone leaves me alone and doesn't ask me to photograph THEM celebrating the holidays cause then i won't get to enjoy it myself and (2) i get some good ol french toast ... even if it is made by a TCN. 

yeah, i really hope i don't work on christmas. wars stop for big holidays, right? lol 
then again, the iraqis enjoy "celebrating" our holidays by trying to hurt us. maybe they'll overlook this holiday. we'll see ...

what else can i talk about? i've already covered the weather, the holidays and my lack of yoga ... 

oh, here's a funny (or not-so-funny) tidbit ...
i've recently gotten a few of the letters i've mailed out returned to me. the 82nd decided to implement some new mailing policy so i have to write my name on letters i mail home. i rarely ever put my full name in the return address portion. i mean, why would i want to anyway? anyone who isn't intended to read the letter wouldn't know who is sending it or how to reach me. i don't want some psycho sending me mail just cause they saw my address, you know? there are quite a few crazies in the world and i have no interest inviting them into my life. apparently, the 82nd feels differently about that. crazies are now welcomed. lucky me. i am required to write my full name on the return address portion of the letter or it won't be mailed. 

do you have any clue how disappointing it was for me when i went to pick up mail at mail call and i got no mail but i did get back TWO letters? nice. that was like getting stabbed in the heart. 

mail has been slow lately. in addition to the changes in mail policies, i think they pick up mail less often. either that or my "fan base" has been slacking. during the holidays, it's no fun to get less mail. as a matter of fact, it hurts a little more when you feel like ... all you look forward to is mail and only a letter or two shows up. now, don't get me wrong ... i am extremely grateful for the one to two letters. i guess what i'm saying is that people sent so much at the beginning of my tour and have since tapered off a bit. it is what it is ... 

i remember what i used to do for my deployed friends. i would go to the store and get a little stocking, write their names on it, drop in a lil xmas ornament that said "peace" or "love" or "hope" and add in a few lil things like a nice smelling pine candle or something. i'd have rows of care packages lined up for my deployed buddies and ship it out with all my love to their part of the world.

being away from the holiday sucks. it sure does. but it sucks even more when you can't find your calling card, your internet in your chu has been broken for weeks and you have limited time available on the MWR computers and when it rains ... it freakin pours. or maybe i can just say "when it rains in iraq, it rains mud." it's both a true statement and reflective of the fact that when shit goes bad in iraq, holy crap, it's tough to deal with! 

geez. i sound like such a sad cookie. 

is it really this bad? eh. sometimes it is. my buddy tony reminded me, "it can't rain every day." so true, tony. so true.

i'm not one to cry but lately, there have been a few big bullies who have gone out of their way to hurt my feelings. that's sucked bunches. and i've had others who have said a few mean-spirited comments about my work as a pao. for the record, i allow very few people to injure my feelings but i take such pride in my work that negativity about it makes it feel like they stab me and then twist the knife. (no bueno) i guess i'm even a little more sensitive these days because of the holidays. i don't mean to be ... i just kinda ... am. despite getting verbally bashed by a few lovely fellaz here, i'm good at standing back up, brushing it off and driving on. at the end of the day my goal is to be content with my decisions and at peace with who i am. i feel good about myself despite the onslaught of misery, i trudge through at times so i guess i'm fortunate. "it can't rain every day." yes, i must remember this. the sun shall shine again. this too shall pass. always forward. yes, yes, yes. note to self: stay positive. don't lose focus. life is too beautiful to waste it being upset about the petty bullies i encounter. 

on a more positive note, i finished one of chelsea handler's books. she's hilarious. it was far superior to the "dakota home" nonsense i picked up when i was stranded in balad. i cracked up while reading chelsea's entire book. lots of giggles. lots of smiles. omg/oma ... it felt good to crack up.

well, i'm going to bring this update to a close.

and ... just in case there is a santa ... 

dear santa,

it's tough being away for the holidays and this period of my deployment has been the hardest for me. please help bring me some holiday cheer in whatever form you deem acceptable. and, in addition to that holiday cheer i'm looking to experience ... please comfort my family and friends back home. it's tough on me out here but i know what a challenge it is for them as well. so, remind them that i love them and miss them and will see them all in just a few short months.



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