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Manual Labor

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

First, let me warn you that you cannot make a comment on this blog.  That is not intentional. It makes me sad. I have no idea what is happening. I updated my version of wordpress, the “sorry you can’t make comments” thing happened, I went on forums for ideas to fix it, tried the simple fixes which did not work. I am too busy (euphemism for lazy) to learn how to fix it right now. Sorry.

And now, the actual blog. We are building a house. Someday, on this currently tree covered piece of land there will be a small, efficient house built by our own hands and many other hands. A lot of trees have been sacrificed for us. Twenty to be exact. It was heart-breaking, but all of that wood will go to good and exciting uses – more on that another day. I have taken to calling the property Twenty Oaks.

Since we have never build a house before we thought we should start with a garage. It has been a challenge, fun and interesting, but still a challenge. Because the land slopes (sort of a mountainside) we needed to level a space for the garage and build a foundation wall. Aidan and I are both university educated people who try to put our brains into things. We are good at learning and good at problem solving. I would describe us as handy and willing to work. Grading land and laying concrete block are way beyond our capabilities. We hired someone to operate a bobcat sort of thing and someone else to build a masonry wall. I have heard the phrase manual labor all my life. Never thought of it as a bad term, but now, as we start to talk about construction on a daily basis I sometimes hear a tone in that phrase. I hear a reference to “just a machine operator” or a suggestion to hire “some bricklayer.”  And, of course, that we should get someone to do the “manual labor.” Because we are too busy with the more intellectual task of what? check writing?

We watched with wonder as footers were excavated with an 18 inch digger to within 1/2 inch of the specified dimensions. Is that even possible? Obviously it is, but it takes way more skill than labor. Our mason measured and placed rather complicated guides to ensure the wall would be square and straight. He mixed mortar like a real baker would mix bread dough, with an instinct of how much water to add to get the perfect consistency. He threw mortar with unbelievable accuracy into an even line. It reminded me of throwing pizza dough or frosting a cake.  (Sorry, all of my analogies are food based. I must be hungry. There are cupcakes in the other room and I can hear them calling.) It’s an art-form.

It is so easy to over-simplify a task that someone else is doing without a solid understanding of what it takes to do a job. I am honored that so much skill, artistry and care will be a part of our home. Certainly it is a lot of labor, much of it done by hand, but also by head and heart.


Words Matter.

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

A while back this blog became infested with a ton of spam comments. So I stopped for a bit with every intention of starting again. But then there was some other shiny thing that caught my attention and the idea of writing a weekly blog just faded away. In the past month three people have mentioned my long-lapsed blog. Thank you three wonderful people. Hopefully there will be more readers, but for now, I write for the three.

I am a reader of books, a writer of lyrics. Words matter. Language matters. Please let me be right about that.

I was walking through a parking lot back to my car and passed a three year old girl. She was wearing a flowery dress, striped tights, bright sneakers. I smiled at her and that was all the invitation she needed. She wondered why I had parked so far back in the lot. I explained that I felt quite lucky to be able to enjoy the longer walk on such a beautiful day. Her expression was half smile and half disappointment as she told me that was what her mom said. Mom smiled. “Are you a hippie?” the girl asked. I laughed a little, “yes, are you?” She shrugged, “I guess.” I gave her an enthusiastic grin, “excellent!” She smiled. Mom smiled.

On the way home it occurred to me that someone had likely referred to them as hippies in derogatory way. My own definition of the term has been a little mixed, but now it has a good connotation for me. I probably would have called the girl’s parents hippies based on their attire, bumper stickers, and fondness for the back of the parking lot. I would have said it with kindness. But someone had taken that word from this young girl and given it a different meaning.

At a recent show a man introduced himself, complimented our music. He was a self-described conservative christian and he remarked that he was probably the only one in our audience. He was probably right. We had a nice chat, so many things to talk about, so much common ground. Really. Christianity was his moral compass, and that, he said, directed his conservatism. While he wanted others to follow in his beliefs, he felt strongly that loving other people with respect and without judgment was the only christian way to spread his message. He did not appreciate that his adjectives had been taken by those whose values did not include the most important christian value – love. I could relate to his feelings. There are some people who call me a liberal as if its an insult, and there are some liberals who have some of the most intolerant views I can image.

When did we start using these adjectives to label people so narrowly? How did these wonderful, descriptive words become weapons to intentionally create divisions and build stereotypes? I wanted my adjectives back. I wanted our collective speech to be more inclusive, less hateful. I want a three year old to feel good about who ever she is. I swore to undertake this in my own words and use of language.

And then, Ted Cruz announced his presidential candidacy. Why must the universe test me. Many mean-spirited, sophomoric adjectives filled my brain. They came very close to seeping from my brain through my fingertips and out into the world. They were really funny. The universe must hate me. I took a breath. I thought of my new conservative-christian friend and the three year old potential hippie. I don’t want Ted Cruz to be our next president. To be honest I would rather he was not a candidate sharing his views. I think his economic ideas are short-sighted and bad for the nation. I don’t believe he will be respected by foreign leaders. I think he will create more division among the people of our country. You see, I can use words and language to express my point of view without personally insulting anyone or labeling and stereotyping large groups of people. It is not as fun. It is not as funny. But I can work on that.

Words matter. Language matters. We need to learn how to talk with each other again. We need to take back our adjectives.

The Tao of Q (except for monkeys)

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Aidan doesn’t really do much electronic communication. No facebook, not big on email. So you don’t get to hear the things he has to say. You miss a lot. So here is a little bit of the Tao of Q.
When Aidan was quite young he went to the Napa County Fair. His older brothers decided to spend the day with their dad in wine country. Aidan had a fun day; rides, exhibits, arcade games. He told his brothers all about it. They said they visited their father’s client as planned, at a vineyard, with an island in a lake that had a shipwreck and monkeys. That sounded pretty amazing and Aidan felt he had made the wrong choice.
A decade and a half later, Aidan and I took a trip to Napa and drove through the wine country. I asked for recommendations on where to drop in – smaller places, with nice people who were enthusiastic about their farms. Aidan asked if there were any vineyards with lakes, perhaps a boat. Fortunately he never asked about monkeys.
One afternoon on a dirt road we saw a very large pond out past a tasting room. There was a small island in the pond. We walked around the far side of the pond and there was a boat, a sort of Chinese junk, leaning on its side. There were no monkeys. The folks at the vineyard said the boat had been there forever, they never remembered any monkeys.
Aidan was thrilled. He called his brothers. “I found the winery with the island and the shipwreck!” They had no idea what he was talking about. “Where you guys went when I went to the Napa County Fair.” They had gone on a boring trip with their father. They had missed the fair and had made up a fun story.
You can make your beliefs happen, will your desires into existence, create your own reality. Except for monkeys.
This month our desires become reality. We hit the road for a short tour playing lots of songs from the new CD. We start in at Fiddle & Bow, a long-running series that we visited while traveling years and years ago. We always wanted to play there. Then to Virginia for a show at West Wind Vineyards, because you know we love wine. We will share music and lead workshops at suusi, a gathering that our friend Russ Taddeo told us about a few years ago. We have been trying to make that happen but couldn’t work into the schedule until this year. All the show details are on our “Shows” page.
It’s going to be fun. We really want to see all of the great people we have met over the years. And in the next twelve months we are going to make that our reality. But there won’t be any monkeys.

California, Cooperation, Collaboration

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

May was a crazy month!.. Organized and attended the SERFA music conference, went to Switzerland, released the new CD, getting ready to go to California.
One of the things that keeps me sane through all of this is finding the meaning and the wonder in all of it. Here it is: collaboration.

Serfa is a gathering of musicians, venues, djs and more who bond over this broadly defined category of folk music. Most of the people who attend are musicians. We do this for a living and we should be there to network, meet concert presenters, book gigs, get airplay. And we do all of those things. But it amazes me that we also share information, skill, and experience with each other. We really support each other and offer each other advice in this crazy life we live on the road. I never had a sense of competition. For me the best moments were the unplanned and unscheduled. One afternoon a couple of friends gathered in the lobby in front of a big stone fireplace with a view of the blue ridge mountains. I sat back and heard Carolann Solebello and Rob Lytle play some brand new songs and some classics. A small crowd gathered, the circle grew and everyone played, listened joined in. It was magic. Later we met up with an old friend, Tracy Feldman who played violin on our first CD. We hadn’t seen him in about 5 years. We made time to play together and it was really as if know time had passed. He has a gift for knowing how to support a song when he plays.

Right after the conference we got on a plane. Lots of fun, beautiful, interesting moments in Switzerland. (I will post some pics on FB) We went to one of our favorite museums, Musee de Art Brut in Lausanne. Fantastic exhibits. Some people there told us about another museum that they enjoyed that had an exhibit they enjoyed so much they couldn’t wait to tell us about it. So nice of them to share, in detail, what they enjoyed and why we might also find it interesting. Taking a little time out of their holiday to make our experience a little better. At that collection of exhibits there was a fascinatingly curated showing of two painters; one swiss, one America, one living, one not. Their lives had not overlapped but there were striking similarities in their work and in their work over time. Fascinating. The cooperative exhibit brought new people to both works and new insight into both works.

I feel like that ties into our new CD quite nicely. Songs inspired by reading. The authors, whose works we have enjoyed, really opened up new paths in our writing process and took us to places we had not been creatively. They didn’t intentionally collaborate with us, but sharing art is a way of collaborating with the world. I really hope our songs bring new readers these authors.

So we are heading to California. We will play a few shows including one with Michael McNevin. We met Michael through Susan Moss who makes great introductions. She seems to know who will like each other. Haven’t seen Michael in a few years, but when I said we were heading to California he did not hesitate in putting together a show. He’s a great writer and performer, we can’t wait to play with him. He is cooperative. It makes our world so much better.

Crazy month turns out to be all about working together.

Past, Present , and Future not necessarily in that order

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

This week we head to SERFA. For the unindoctrinated that is the Southeast Reagional Folk Alliance Conference. It is a three-day gathering of musicians, DJs, concert presenters and other folks in the music business. The idea is that we get some business done – learn from each other, discover new music, maybe even book some shows. All of that happens. But it is not the reason that people attend these conferences. The true reason is that like each other’s company, particularly in a setting where we are not distracted by other people, places, or things that don’t relate to our musical lives. It is an amazingly fun weekend which always builds strong bonds between the people that participate. Oh, and the sleep deprivation makes it really funny. Here are a few quotes from previous conferences:
“I can’t operate the milk” (Christine)
“Can I touch your monkey?” (MaryBeth Zamer of the Twangtown Paramours to Aidan)
“Gordon, don’t let the chicken bite the pig” (Christine)
“Things don’t just happen by accident, not good things anyway” ( Mark Dann our fearless recording engineer)

We leave for Switzerland right after the conference. Updates and pictures from both adventures next month. And maybe some swiss chocolate if you are nearby.

We were in Texas last month. It was our first real trip to Texas and it was fantastic. We have been to Kerrville before, but the Kerrville Folk Festival is like its own nation, so it doesn’t count as Texas. We did some shows with Karyn Oliver and Rob Lytle. We call ourselves (and a rotating group of others) The Elevens a nod to our musical meeting at Kerrville in 2011. FYI Karyn has a new cd out. She played some of the songs in Texas and they are fantastic.

The people in Texas were incredibly nice. Brian Kallinec hosted us in Houston. Brian and his wife Pam opened lots of wine and served lots of cheese and we got to hang out with the nicest folks. Went to the art car museum, it was awesome. Click on the art car tab at In Austin Matt and Tonya Hiland were kind enough to put us up and put up with us. We had gluten free pancakes for breakfast. My first taste of gluten free stuff. Amazing! And in Arlington we were welcomed by Karen and Craig. They had a lot going on last month, but they still made us feel at home and very well cared for. Aidan will not stop talking about the homemade muffins. I am going to have to get recipes. WE had kolaches in West, TX and arrived home to hear about the accident there. Surreal. Not sure why all I mentioned is food, but sometimes that’s how we remember a trip.

Right now, our friend Leni Engels has a very new book called the Book of Mom. She is a nurse, mother, and music fan. She put all of that into this guide for new mothers. Including lyrics from a bunch of songs from great artists, and our First Two Wheeler. While we are away, go take a look at There will be a quiz next month (okay not really, but you should check out the book ).

Have a wonderful Memorial Day.
New CD will be available when we get back next month!!
We are heading to northern California for a few shows in June.

The Glamorous Life of a Folk Star

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Ever wonder what it’s like to be on the road as a traveling musician? It is a fantastic affair, one glamorous adventure after another. This week we have travelled from South Carolina to Florida for the purpose of playing music for Floridians. But when not on stage, the high life continues.

We drove seven hours, most of it in the rain, and fell asleep exhausted. But when we awoke we were rewarded with a superb sunny day in North Florida. Went for a nice walk and finished the drive, spent a little time by the bay before our first show.

Day two was an easy drive and a great show. We spent the evening with Alice, a great hostess who has lived an interesting life and shared stories about her travels. The next day we had lunch with old friends. They are also musicians, but play a different style from us. Nice to hear about their music trials and triumphs.

A visit to a historic site, a hike along a river bank, and dinner under the stars. Yes, a charmed life we lead! I had a difficult day concentrating since I knew Marshal Rosenburg was recording percussion for our new CD. I wanted to be there, but I wanted to be here. I paid bills and answered emails while sitting outside at a picnic table. A caterpillar fell on my head. Screams ensued. Glamorous indeed.

Did a little SERFA business. Did a little work on the Texas weekend of shows coming up in April. Listened to new CD mixes sent by Mark Dann. They are sounding good! But working on these songs remotely is a challenge.

For those of you keeping score on last week’s post, snacks eaten: many, band aids used:2, extension cords used:2 (he really is never wrong), flashlight used:once, gratuitously (maybe he is a little wrong once in a while). Yes, I used office supplies.

We are playing a show this evening, and tomorrow I begin work on the CD artwork, outside under the oak hammock. I guess it is a glamorous life.

Travel Rituals

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

I am packing to head to Florida for a few weeks, and I can’t wait. We have been homw for five weeks, our longest stretch in Greenville. I think I could be on the road full time with no home base. I know Aidan would hate that. We both love to travel, but he likes having a home base and getting in a few projects around the house.
Long before we were musicians we did a lot of traveling. These days, traveling in our camper van, it’s not really like leaving home. Still, I notice that some things about travel never change with us. We have rituals, do you?
I like to clean the house before we leave; do all the laundry; put clean sheets on the bed; put out fresh towels. Sometimes a traveling troubador comes by our place while we are gone, so it’s good to have a clean house. But really, I have always done this. I trim my bangs. I pack snacks as if we will never find a store. I pack bandaids and antiseptic as if we will never find a store. Hey. I get hungry, and I get cuts and scrapes. We usually go through all the snacks and most of the bandaids.
Aidan likes to make a list of things to pack or things to do and check off those things as he goes. He backs up his computer. He brings extra extension cords (?) and extra flashlights. He says he likes to be prepared. But I know that this is not entirely true because he lets me arrange our travel plans.
When we first traveled together for vacation I would make the plans. To me a plan is a flight out and a flight back. Done. After all, I have snacks and bandaids – I am ready for anything. Aidan likes hotel reservations, transportation, maps, ideas of places to see. We have arrived at a state of compromise. We have some reservations, some plans, and some times when we will be tumbleweeds. We will have plenty of snacks, and bandaids, and extension cords and flashlights.
How do you like to travel? Do you have any rituals?

Hope we see you somewhere down the road!

Amazing Guest List

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

We are lucky to have very talented friends. And we are very lucky that those talented friends are also very generous. We asked some folks to play on the upcoming CD… and they said yes! Our philosophy about having folks play on our songs is simple: ask folks that we love and let them do their thing.
First up, Tom Prasada-Rao. Tom is an interesting guy. He is a fanastic songwriter and plays a million instruments. He produces some of the songs on the album and he adds guitar, keyboard, created some percussion loops. We give Tom a lot of room to suggest ideas, and he does. But he always puts the song first. Never suggests anything because it suites him better, never tries to take the spotlight (which he could do very easily!!). He really gives the songs a lot of breadth and variety.
A funny thing happened while we wer at Tom’s studio. Neale Eckstein phoned and said that he wanted Tim Burlingame to play on a song we recorded with Neale. We trust Neale’s judgement, but we had never heard of this guy. He is with a duo called Sweet Talk Radio. Coincidentally our freind Rob Mattson was hosting them at a house concert. Rob has good taste. We asked Tom and his wife Cary if they new Sweet Talk Radio. Second coincidence, they are singing harmony on Cary’s new CD. Trusting our friends, Tim now appears on one of our songs plaing guitar and banjo. You have to know that banjo was not our idea. But it works.
Pat Wictor played on “Desdemona Weeps” on the last CD. We knew we wanted him on this one as well and we sent him two songs. Neither of us thought about what he would play. We just knew it would be good, and it is. Deni Bonet is a violin/viola/guitar/ukelele player, songwriter, fun performer. Deni didn’t just play violin on a song, she gave us three distinct parts that each stand alone or could be used together. I can’t even think in those terms. Marshal Rosenburg, who plays with the Buskin and Batteau Trio, will be adding percussion any day now. I can’t wait to hear it.
There are risk. We ask folks to play and we are not even in the room when they do. The results could be something we don’t like. But that never happened. And of course there is the risk that you ask amazingly talented folks to play on your song and they are so good they overshadow you. Surprisingly, that never happened. They just make the music better. These folks didn’t just play, apply their craft to a song. They really gave their creativity and their unique talents. It is unbelievably generous and I hope the end result is worthy of them.

Folkies are good folks

Friday, January 25th, 2013

The folk community never ceases to amaze me. Perhaps there is something in the character of people who are interested in lyrics and stories that also makes them likely to care about people.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that we would be touring in Florida and were still looking for some dates. An old friend, who we hadn’t been in touch with for a while, offered up her home for a house concert. She doesn’t host concerts. Just this once. Just to help us out. Two other friends, both of whom we know only through music, offered us a place to stay while we are touring. Just to help us save a little money. Just to help us out. On New Year’s Eve we were out with friends and some folks we had just met asked where we perform locally. We don’t. So our friends says “play at my house”. We arranged a date. She doesn’t host house concerts. (Well, she has done one other – Cosy Sheridan, so we are in great company). Just helping us out.

I have played music for a while, met a lot of people. Nice people. But not this nice. I have worked a lot of jobs with nice people. But not this nice. This community welcomed us, nurtured us, and continues to support us in ways I could never have imagined.

Though we can never say thank you enough, THANK YOU.

From Book To Song

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

So how does a book lead to a song? Here’s the short version of how a few of the books inspired us. These books led us down a curvy path, with a few detours, but each led us to a song.

Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the God Particle
I chose this book after the possible discovery of the Higgs boson in July 2012 and started reading it in September. I was reminded that the Higgs field was theorized in 1964. So for 48 years physicists have been in search of this one particle that justifies the theory. Bazillions of dollars and hours and brain cells expended. And they feel like it’s important work and worth the effort. No one has characterized these Nobel Prize winners as obsessed. I have been looking for the perfect black boots for a few years. They would justify my theory that the right boots could explain many of my questionable fashion choices. Similarly, I bet there are some folks out there who believe there is a perfect pair of jeans out in the universe. I haven’t spent nearly as much money, time or brain cells on it, yet I feel it is important work.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter
This book was given to us by Aidan’s friend Joe. I read it while on tour and then took the first, long driving shift. I write a lot while driving. It was election season. Everyone seemed to have a strong opinion and an even stronger desire to express that opinion. The book made we wonder if, despite all our interest and opinions, any of us has any idea of what happens in the capitol, or why. Do we really understand the side-deals, the motivation, the long view? And do we really care? Do we care enough to research, speak-up, follow along for years? Or do we just loudly opine once every few years. And I was driving.

Reading Lolita in Tehran
I wanted to re-read this following the Arab Spring events. I was very drawn to the idea of women actively fighting for their own destiny. The book is not about women leading a loud, public protest. It’s about small, quiet, personal revolutions and how they can lead to bigger things. While I was reading, Aidan said we needed to write another song with Bev Grant and the Brooklyn Women’s Chorus in mind. That was the perfect fit.

Hope you enjoyed these little back stories. Maybe I will share a few more. And I hope that whatever you are reading takes you on an inspiring journey.