Why you should ask us for a favor

July 30th, 2015

In the past few weeks we have pushed our boundaries a bit. It has been a really good thing. But to be honest, it wasn’t our own initiative that made this happen. We were asked to play some shows that made us work different creative muscles.

Two friends, who happen to be talented musicians asked us to play some songs with them. Louisa asked that we learn a bunch of cover songs (songs written by other people).  We don’t do that very often. It tested our skills, made us use our brains differently, made our hands seek out patterns that we don’t automatically play on our instruments, made our voices find melodies we don’t often sing. Wendy challenged us to play some of her songs. She specifically chose songs that were easy to learn but they have a very different vibe and style than our stuff. She challenged our comfort zone and emotional space a little. We got to play with a band, and had to learn how to play well with others.

We were also asked to play some shows with special themes. We did not have the right song to fit the situation so we wrote them. No one asked us to write these songs, but they inspired us in other ways. When Katherine told us about the theme of the first show she also mentioned that she was rehearsing to perform at a memorial service for which she was asked if she might play some songs in a certain style. It was just a request, but she wanted to do it even though it wasn’t a style she usually played. She reminded us that it is nice to give some extra effort and care. It was enough of a push for us to write a new, appropriate song. Finally, Mark invited us to play an event and his desire to make the event special and meaningful really inspired us. He didn’t ask us to write anything new, but he made us want to, and we did.

We are home for a couple of weeks with new songs, new ideas, and renewed energy and spirit. Thanks to the friends that gave us those gifts.

So come on, ask us.

Christine (and Aidan, down the hall working hard)

Little Luxuries

July 1st, 2015

As if six weeks off during summer isn’t luxurious enough, I found an extra little luxury.

We always have a vegetable garden. It is a bit crazy given our traveling schedule, but we take a leap of faith, throw seeds in the ground, and hope for the best. I always have confidence that something will grow. I have confidence that some one will harvest. I have hope that sometimes I will be the one harvesting. But a summer at home is a rare and wonderful thing… zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, peaches, blueberries, blackberries. We don’t have a lot of space so I try to pull out whatever is done producing and replant quickly. But laziness has been the main luxury this summer. With all the abundance, I let some of the small beds languish.

The arugula arugula podwent to flower, small white blooms. I had never seen them before. They taste good and have been a beautiful little garnish on our plates. Then it went to seed pod. Yes, seed pod. Who knew? They are also edible (I hope, we ate them, we are still here), a concentrated arugula spiciness. Little luxuries indeed.

There is a lesson here, I think. I am impatient. I believe in efficiency of work. No doubt, I miss things. In other words haste and efficiency create waste and inefficiency. In still other words I might be controlling one thing, but all of the other related things are spinning in wild chaos.

I hope you have an outstanding summer. Let some of your beds languish. Experience the little luxuries.


Damn Flag

June 22nd, 2015

I was going to avoid talking about it. I tried. I really tried.

My heart was hurting last week thinking about the shooting in Charleston. I had not begun to think about who did the shooting or why, only to think about the terrible loss. Inevitably, conversations turned to racism, gun control, metal health care. It seemed to me that these conversations happened all too quickly. Didn’t anyone need time just to grieve? Didn’t anyone need time to think and process? Apparently not as much time as I needed. So I vowed to take that time and stay out of the conversation.

It’s not that I don’t have pretty strong opinions on those subjects. You know I do. And it’s not that I don’t share those opinions easily. You know I do. But it seems that we hit the familiar arguments as some measure of protection so we can spare ourselves the hurt of discussing the individual loss of life to an act of violence. We drop into a comfort zone of those arguments we know so well that we can spout our position without thinking. I felt those victims deserved my attention- before the reasons, the preventions, the arguments, I just needed to hurt. And I did.

Then that damn flag discussion started. For the record I want that damn flag taken down. For the record I believe that there are two flag issues – the one at the State house which clearly does not represent all of the people our the state and so must come down, and the ones everywhere else (and I do mean everywhere around here) which are expressions of free speech but pretty awful speech in my opinion. But I was going to take a step back and just listen. I live in South Carolina. I have lived here for four years. I am not from here. I am not from the south. I have neighbors who fly that damn flag. There is a store nearby that sells that damn flag and “southern merchandise”. My neighbors, but the way, are nice folks. They are good, kind neighbors and I do not believe they are racists, prone to violence, or full of hate. I do believe that some folks who fly that damn flag are violent, hateful, racists. So that damn flag bothers me, makes me uncomfortable, makes me angry, makes me wonder about anyone who flies it.  I’ve been told that damn flag is a symbol of southern pride and heritage. And when I say I fail to understand that reasoning, I am told that since I am not from the south, since I have no family history in the civil war,  I may never understand it.  Perhaps that’s true. So there I was hurting, and vowing to myself to keep my mouth shut.

I let the hurt seep in as much as I could take. Now its time to start talking and start doing. So here is what I have to say about that damn flag. To those who defend it as a symbol of southern heritage and pride: if you really mean that, then why didn’t you protect that symbol from the folks who stole it and co-opted it as a symbol for hate? where were you when that flag was raised while crosses were burning? where is your outrage when that flag is waved after a hate crime is committed? Your pride seems to be limited to taking offense when someone tells you to take it down.  Sorry, but you did not adequately protect your symbol. It now stands for racism and hate. You have lost that fight. And your fight was never with me, it was the hate-filled, violent, racists with whom you never really bothered to do battle. You lost. Take down your damn flag. Start with the one on the State house lawn. But let’s not stop there.

I will be talking louder and more frequently in my home state of South Carolina. I will be talking about damn flags, guns, racism. Wish me luck.


Inside a songwriter’s brain

June 16th, 2015

I suppose all songwriters approach their craft a little differently. So perhaps the title is a little off. Inside one songwriter’s brain might be more appropriate. Line one and I am already editing – that is certainly the worst of my songwriter brain.


I had an idea for a new song – a fictional back story about a real event and real people. I thought carefully about the story I wanted to tell, did considerable research on the two people involved. But I struggled with the actual song, the feeling and flow, putting words into the form of a verse. My usual, tried and true plan for moving the song along is to give it a lot of thought and let it go. Since I am not a great sleeper, I have long quiet nights to let my thoughts wander and ramble, unedited. They tend to work themselves out.  So I plotted and planned and went to bed. In the morning I had a song. But no, not that song. Not a worthwhile song about a scientist I admire. A song about a mosquito. A mosquito that causes the fall of mankind. Four verses and a chorus. Melody. Rhythm. Done.


Oh, and that other song, the one I was trying to write, nothing. And still nothing.


During our summer hiatus Aidan and I are faithfully dedicating ourselves to writing new songs. We set aside time to work. We improvise, or doodle as I call it. We share concepts, chord patterns, snippets of melodies. Sometimes its worthwhile and sometimes it is a total waste of time. Soon we will have an armload of songs and hopefully they will be songs we want to record that fit together in a meaningful way. But then there is my brain. It may get in the way and insist on writing drivel. I can’t stop it.

Pictures from the secret life of a folk singer

May 27th, 2015

As promised (although late) here are some photos from our days off on the road:

IMG_4766IMG_4798 a visit to Goddard Space Flight Center

including bunny suit for clean room

a trip to the Harley Davidson factory



shoehouseyardartpa Farnsworth at the shoe house

Farnsworth enjoying crazy yard art in Pennsylvania



waterfallteepee  Crossing a small waterfall during a hike (omitted photo of foot followed by photo of sky)

Farnsworth at the Teepee Gift shop between Cooperstown and Albany (cow is a camera hog)




gravestwogirlsnc  We like graveyards.IMG_4818

Two young girls drown together and are buried together.

You don’t see that very often



So that is a slice of our down time. We like to get off the beaten track and look around. We like it so much that we wrote a song about it and someday we might tell you about getting off the beaten track while traveling overseas.

Some times we are rock starsisis

The Secret Life of a Folk Singer

May 6th, 2015

Back home for a week after a wonderful tour, we begin to reacquaint ourselves with our static community. The one in Greenville. The one that is relatively constant and unchanging, tied to a locale. It seems odd. Stranger than the ever-changing, intermittent, geographically vast community of the road. We have become more comfortable out there than right here.

I imagine that is a hard concept for some people. Folks like roots, find comfort in some routines, like to see seasonal changes from the same vantage point. I can appreciate all of those things. Perhaps with an inside look at life on the road, you might glimpse some of the joy we find out there.

First, the numbers. 3661 miles, 25 days, 8 sidetrips, 2 donuts, 1 snow day. Doesn’t look very special in those terms, but if I break it down you’ll see.

3,661 miles. That is a lot of windshield time. I love that. It is quiet, meditative time, lyric forming time, reflecting on the last encounter, reliving the joy of a show. On small roads there is the chance of discovery, on highways a chance to connect on email, phone, etc. We listen to surprisingly little music while in transit, but we do write in the car. Driving south we saw spring from the first appearance of buds to full on flowers and leaves all in one day.

25 days. A long time to be away from our physical home. To be comfortable with that we need to have a really good concept of what home feels like and we need to take those essential components with us. Over the years we have paired it down to a few essentials; a few good books, some comfort food, a planned work schedule (written down), clothing for every possible weather condition. We also have to take stock of what our community means to us and make sure we have that on the road. On this trip we were lucky to see an abundance of friends and the warmest, kindest audiences. Our visits with friends tend to be brief, but however long or short, those visits really matter. I continue to be amazed at the community that exists without borders and without constant contact. Do we provide that for other travelers? I hope so. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have someone to count on back home. I know that neighbors who pass by and would notice if something was amiss. I learned that I can call a friend and ask her to crawl under our bed to retrieve CDs and send them to us. How to express the thanks for that?

8 side trips. A cool mural painted under a bridge, a tree carved into a candle and the word peace, a tour of the Harley Davidson factory, a house shaped like a shoe, a behind the scenes tour of Goddard Space Flight Center, a metal teepee, a great display of yard art with a kind of creepy appeal, an old graveyard. We live for this stuff. Really. We also got in a couple of really nice hikes in Maryland and Pennsylvania, good climbs, waterfalls, wildlife. It is an interesting contrast to the man-made quirkiness of the side trips.

2 donuts. Before this trip I cannot remember the last time I ate a donut. Probably when we still lived in NYC. Some part of every journey should be indulgent.

1 snow day. Cooperstown NY April 23. Its good to be surprised sometimes.

Tune in next week, I will post photos of all the side trips.

Manual Labor

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.

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)

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

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.