Holiday Shopping While You Save The World

December 7th, 2011

I was writing up my holiday season to do list on the back of a junk mail envelope and I relealized it was Wednesday. Remember when I was doing a “World -Changing Wednesday” blog? Religiously. For three Wednesdays and maybe a Thursday? I barely remember it myself. But today I though we could revisit the concept with respect to gift giving.
I am not a scrooge. I like gifts, both giving and receiving. But I worry that we have gotten excessive, too hung up on quantity over quality. I would love to make every gift by hand, with lots of thought and individual attention put into each and everyone. But I have a life, and you do too.

Still I think we can shop and change the world. First, stay local if you can. Supporting locally owned stores keeps a greater percentage of dollars in your local economy. Second, consider purchasing things made locally or at least made in this country.
If you happen to live in Brooklyn, my friend Elissa has a fantastic store called Green in Bklyn on Myrtle Avenue. She carries lots of interesting, environment-friendly items. Several great gift items are made in Brooklyn such as beer-making kits, stuffed animals, cookbooks, and the cutest onesies you’ve ever seen.

On his facebook page my friend Jim Silar has chastized us all for our addiction to cheap crap from China. The usual rebuttal is that is difficult to find American made products. True, but here are a few that I will be giving this year:
Field Notes. These are great little notebooks perfect for gardeners, songwriters, etc… three blank books are only ten dollars. The come in blank, lined, or my personal favorite graph paper. www.fieldnotesbrand.com

Dancing Man Knives. I have a fondness for knives. Who doesn’t need a good knife. These are beautiful as well. www.local-showcase.com

Estwing Tools. I like hand tools. The other farmer prefers power tools, but you can never have enough of the basics. Still made in Illinois, they make a good hammer and are available at Home Depot or your local harware store.

Kentwool Socks. They claim to be the world’s best golf sock. Seriously? Can a sock make you a better golfer? Well, you know how those golfers are. They are made just down the road from me in Pickens SC. www.kentwoolsocks.com

Did you think I would leave out music? Please give the gift of beautiful music this year. Buying a CD from an independent musician is a great boost to their personal economy. Trust me a musician can do a lot with that small amount of money. If I started recommending folks I’d still be typing by New Year’s Eve. So here are two (unbelieveably hard to narrow down) recommendations. Carolanne Solebello used to perform with Red Molly so you probably already know her. But she is performing solo these days and not hitting the road quite as much so those of you outside of the northeast region might not have her outstanding CD yet. Dave Potts has a new live CD out and since he has hardly been touring at all I bet you don’t have it. Get both of those.

If you want to share the gift of Friction Farm music, we will sign, giftwrap and send a CD all for the regular CD price of $12. Just email me.

Go shop. Save the world.

The New Adventures of B&F Part 3 (the final installment)

December 5th, 2011

I will finally move on to other subjects after this post.
But first… tour food. I have always cooked on the road. Even when we toured in a car and stayed in hotel rooms I carried groceries, a little cooler, and an electric pan. I was the queen of one pan, twenty minute meals. I considered printing a small cookbook of these meals. We now have a tiny traveling kitchen, but I haven’t quite broken out of my old habits. Fortunately, we traveled through NYC. Its become a tradition to spend my birthday eating my way through the city. I visit a couple of favorites and old neighborhood haunts. This trip we hite Hudson Bagel, John’s Pizza, Crumb’s, and August. I had planned to have dinner at Mary’s Fish Camp but she was closed. August was a nice second choice. I know these places are not on everyone’s must visit list, but what does everyone know. I have heard conversation and read stories waxing enthusiastically about Magnolia Bakery on Bleeker, which is around the corner from my old apartment on Christopher Street. Magnolia is no Crumbs. I can make a cupcake as good as Magnolia. Crumbs is king. And everyone has their own favortie pizza place in New York. But if their favorite is not John’s they are just wrong.
Not all good food is in New York. My niece Melissa is enrolled in culinary school. She is specializing in pastry. She is awesome. One semester and she is making her own puff pastry dough… palmiers and tarte tatin to die for.

Cracker Barrel
What? All this talk about amazing food and I mention Cracker Barrel. Yup. I found out from my fellow RVers (doesn’t that have a nice ring to it!) that the very nice folks at Cracker Barrel allow campers to park overnight in their parking lot. How cool. So we tried it. Pulled up in Harisonburg Virginia and went inside to inquire. We were welcomed by happy friendly folks who said “sure you can park here over night”. We ended up doing this a few times. I am not a big breakfast eater, but figured the least we could do in return was get some coffee in the morning. Once in while, they just give you free coffee. Very cool.

Saltville
The final travel day was a great ending to a great trip. We had heard about another front yard art enthusiast. Directions to these places are always sketchy and we usually end up driving around a while and then asking directions. But it is extremely important to ask at the right place, and I know it when I see it. When you have a lot of spare time, ask me to tell you about getting directions to Shangrila North Carolina. In Saltville it is Duke’s Drive Inn. Directions went something like this; you go back through our little town, then turn right on the new road, you drive just so far and there’s an old railroad bridge off to the left, drive under that, it’s somewhere down there. Well, she was exactly right. I cannot explain how we knew which was the new road (it didn’t look any different) or how we knew how far “so far” was. But we knew. And we were richly rewarded. A person of obviously interesting character has created a small village alongside a small railroad track, complete with railcars, from mostly found objects. There are, I presume, sensors and triggers to make things such as helicopter blades spin and whirl as we pass by. There is a dog to greet us and tour with us. No other folks around.

So that’s it folks, the first travel adventures with the new crew. Next up, holiday shopping (while saving the world)

The New Adventures of Beethoven and Farnsworth (Part 2)

December 2nd, 2011

So this whole touring thing is supposed to be about the music and I haven’t mentioned that at all. But we did play some music. And it was extra special because it involved friends.
We played a Sunday afternoon show at the Peekskill Coffee House. Catherine from The YaYas booked this show for us. She’s nice. We are YaYa fans, is there an official catchy name for that? She and Jay came out to the show. Where was Paul? That is always the question. He says he is not avoiding me but it is too much for coincidence.
At the show we saw old friends (friends from a while back not friends who are old) Julie and Ken. In my brain they are still connected to Florida so it was a great surprise to see them in NY. Their beautiful daughter Frannie showed up in the middle of our set. Aidan notices her, and he looks a little troubled. I know that look. “Frannie, is that you?” She nods and smiles. “How is that possible?” You see Frannie was a kid when we met her. She is not a kid any longer. We have not aged at all but somehow, mysteriously, she is all grown up. I bet this has happened to you too. Aidan’s sister showed up too! with her son. He is now twelve but on that day he was a week shy of twelve.
After the show we showed of Beethoven. Thought the nephew was going to move in! Then we headed to Catherine and Jay’s for dinner. We hadn’t expected to have dinner, but if you show up she will feed you. Don’t try to fight it. She’s a really good cook, we should wrangle another invitation over there.
Then there was Nerfa, a music and hug fest, a gathering of 750 music makers and enablers, a place to get some business done while hearing amazing music and catching up with good friends. We hosted a little reunion of some of our fellow Kerrville New Folks: . In a tragic oversight I forgot to invite Arlon Bennett, I am still suffering from the guilt. We also hosted a night of duos: Ilyaimy, The Whispering Tree, The Twangtown Paramours, Adler & Hearne, and Wool & Grant. WE have some very talented friends. We were also given oportunities to play by Open Ears House Concerts, AcousticMusicScene.com, Ripton Coffeehouse, Listen Live Music, and Bat Kat’s Who Dat. We also have generous friends!
We played a songwriter night in High Falls, sharing the night with folks who writer great stuff that is nothing at all like the songs we write. Some fancy picking, some very timely themes, some tape looping… a fun night. And we made music all night at Gzizi’s in the west village With Olinde Mandell and Meg Braun. So much fun made even better because we shared it all with friends.
So in parts 1 & 2 I got to music, friends, and foam. On to food and more roadside oddities
The adventure continues in Part 3…

The New Adventures of Beethoven and Farnsworth

December 2nd, 2011

A tale of friction farm, foam, food, and friends.

Yes, I said I’d write this a week ago. You know I can’t be trusted.

For fans of “On The Road With Ned and Pinky”, fear not. Trusty Ned (our Subaru Outback) and emotional Pinky (Ned’s friend the pig shaped finger-puppet) are fine and healthy. But for longer trips we felt we needed something a little bigger, a little homier.
Beethoven is our new (well new to us anyway) Chevrolet/Roadtrek camper-van. Yup, camper-van Beethoven. Go ahead, collectively groan now and get it over with. Because Beethoven is a bigger vehicle, he needs a bigger side-kick. Enter Farnsworth the bull.

Our first trip was to New York in November. Who’s great idea was that? We were awfully lucky with the weather. Heading north through Virginia there were
still some autumn colors. I started a song as I crossed the James River. It seemed like a good one, but it remains unfinished. As I said earlier, I can’t be trusted. Some traveling troubadours make efficient use of their travel. They map out a nice direct route from point A to point B. I seek out roadside or front lawn oddity and adventure. That may be half the reason we tour. Don’t tell Aidan.
Foam

As we crested a hill on Route 11 near Natural Bridge in northern Virginia, Aidan and I gasped as the same moment. (It’s okay, we’re married now). Emerging ahead of us on a hillside was Foam Henge! It is exactly what you think it is. Stone Henge recreated in foam. Big. Painted. With signs and stuff. It is free, without much fanfare, just a dream realized by a man named Mark Cline in a few weeks’ time. Worth seeing. Seriously.

But on the way there we had an odd experience. We pulled off the road into the small parking lot of a small building to have a snack. The house next door was covered with buzzards (or maybe vultures?). At least two dozen big, creepy, birds sitting on the roof line. I am pretty sure there must have been a dead
body in there. Right? Aidan insists they might just be the local birds, or migratory. Whatever. He refused to knock on the door.

An Environmental Side Note

The big van gets ridiculously bad gas mileage. It was hard for us to justify this. However, we never need to stop at a hotel. So the big pile of cleaning chemicals they would use cleaning a room after we stay there for just one night has been saved. We find that we are more conservative with resources like water and gas
(for heat and hot water) when we are in the van. Hopefully this evens out. Aidan would like you to know that properly inflating our tires improved our gas mileage nearly 2 miles per gallon.

The adventure continues in Part 2…

What I did on my summer vacation

September 6th, 2011

I don’t recall actually writing the “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essay when I was in school. Uh-oh may be I still owe that homework. Well better late than never.
This summer was pretty magical. I never use that word. But it works this time. We start with the official kick-off of summer: Memorial Day. Went to Texas. Kerrville Texas to be exact. It was our first trip to the long-running Kerrville Folk Festival and we were New Folk… just when I was thinking I can’t be new. We hung out with other New Folk artists at the Rouse’s Camp. Lindsey and Deb host the New Folk each year and they are the perfect hosts, providing the support we need, a place to land, breakfast, and fun. I feel like we really bonded as a group and for me, it was a change to expand relationships with Catherine and Jay from the YaYas, Karyn Oliver, Rob Lytle, Phil Henry, MaryBeth and Mike from The Twangtown Paramours. And we forged new friendships with Eliot Bronson, Jane Eamon, Roy Schneider and Tom Corbett. The music was crazy good and not just on stage. In fact some of the new folk won me over with songs over breakfast that they didn’t play on stage. At the suggestion of many friends we sought out Bill Nash, who brings a whole new meaning to the love of music. We return to Texas to attend SWRFA at the end of the month, and we’ll get to see a whole bunch of new, old friends.
We came home to a struggling vegetable garden… a few days without water can be disastrous. But food, water, sun, shade and everything perked up. Just like Aidan and me. Zucchini, yellow squash, soy beans, bell peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, and tons of herbs. My neighbor Ted thinks this barely qualifies as a vegetable garden (he doesn’t say this, I can tell) but it has been a while since we have had any sort of a garden and this has been such a fun experiment that I am planning a big garden next year… asparagus, artichokes, melons… I even have a couple of fall crops already in the ground!
July brought the wedding of my niece. She’s the one who sort of inspired “Somewhere to Call Home”. We went home to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival later in July. We had missed last year since we were moving. It was fun to be Emerging Artists this year. A great group of musicians including friends Sharon Goldman and Ellen Bukstel , and new folk folks Grace and Karyn. We spent a night with Leni and David who we know from Florida and had fun catching up, and eating wine soaked peaches! On our return home we drove by a sculpture garden and had to stop in. The sculptor Bijan welcomed us in and knows folks who own a restaurant within walking distance of our place in Greenville. Tiny world.
Then it was off to France for a proper vacation. Ten days in a little corner east of Paris, nestled between the Champagne and Burgundy regions. We drank wine you will never hear of, ate local cheese and bread, and devoured pastries. I could fill a page with stories, but here are two. One afternoon we went to the outdoor food market. We thought it would be fun to put together a picnic and drive into the countryside. But once in the country, we realized we had nothing to drink. We stopped by an apple orchard. Their farm stand was closed, but a young man opened up and got us some cider. Opened up a few bottles and gave us a tasting. The car wouldn’t start! And the kind young man returned, gave us a couple of glasses and offered us the table in the orchard. Great afternoon.
Next day we set off to find the automaton museum. It’s not in your guide book. It is in a small village, hard to find, not well marked. It is closed. But we knocked and were welcomed in by Michel Marcu, the 80 year old creator of moving dioramas. Dolls creep me out a little, moving dolls are even creepier. Still this was amazing. This guy designed and created the gear mechanisms that move the dolls in some pretty complicated ways… horses walking, people dancing, clock towers opening and planes flying. There was a doll that poured a little wine and drank it, his eyebrows raised, he moved his head and smiled, I think his eyes followed us. Really. Michel not only created the mechanisms, he made the dolls, and costumes, and backgrounds. When parts were not available for his gear mechanisms, he made them. We spent a good part of an afternoon with this man who does not speak any English and spoke French to us like we were four year olds so we could understand him. He showed us his workshop, unassembled components, the works!
And so September finds us home for the month after a magical summer. Just how magical? We were so inspired by the musical friends that we spent time with and want you to hear their music too. So our next CD, due out in January, will be covers of music by a few of our favorite duos. We’ll also be hosting a room full of duos at Nerfa. It will be magical.

The long awaited May Newsletter

May 26th, 2011

I feel like the kid doing homework on the bus on the way to school. I was never that kid. But here it is May 26 and we hit the road again tomorrow and the newsletter hadn’t been written and sent.

So here’s what happened this month:

We played a show in Asheville and it was awesome. Our friend Julie Maccarin hosted a house concert. Her house looks out over the Blue Ridge Mountains, what a killer view. We played with Sarah and Darby who are in a duo called Adele Cotton. They rock! cello, guitar, snailalele (I can’t explain, you have to see it). They are from Greenville too, but we hadn’t met them before. Found out that Julie is also a singer and songwriter and has a CD of children’s music out… why has she been keeping this a secret from us?? Barry and Sonia from Georgia showed up (they surprise us all over the country). He’s been hiking the Appalachian trail.

Went to Serfa. You’ve heard me mention Nerfa before and this music conference is similar, but smaller and with a southern vibe. Oh, and I was one of the organizers (hence really late newsletter). Its a gathering of 200 musicians and music enablers for a long weekend of music, learning, music, sleep deprivation, and more music. FUN.

Aidan finally finished his video for “Why, Why, Why” . It is a photo montage of people and their dogs. Its his first ever video and I think its pretty cool (I might be a little biased) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHrBL8GBzvo Please take a look, it will make him really happy, We are trying to figure out how hook this up to a place to donate to the aspca or other animal adoption charity… anyone know anything about how to do that??

Finally, we head to Kerrville TX this weekend as finalists in the NewFolk songwriter competition. You know how folks always say “its an honor just to be nominated” and you wonder if they really mean it? Well we mean it. We have a lot of friends that are also finalists – The YaYas, Twangtown Paramours, Rob Lytle, Karen Oliver, Phil Henry – they are all immensely talented and they are really nice people. So we are honored to be in that company.

I’ve been slacking on booking shows. I’d like to blame it on being busy, and I have been busy, but I’ve also been slacking. We’re heading through the Mid-Atlantic states and will be in the northeast November, Florida in January and February. Also have a day or two June 30 – July 2 driving from G’ville to upstate NY and back. If you have any ideas or want to host a house concert please get in touch.

Tomatoes, hot peppers and squash starting to look good, herbs rocking, blueberries being shared with birds, figs will be ripe next month.

Hope we see you soon,

Christine (and Aidan)

World Changing Wednesdays for Earth Month

April 7th, 2011

April is Earth Month. I felt like a great thing to do to celebrate was to try to reduce my consumption of energy, thereby reducing my CO2 output.
April 1 we started a new tour. Driving a bunch of miles does not help to reduce my emissions (although its a low emission car). Still, I’m going to do what I can this month. And you can play along. It will be fun.
So here’s some numbers that have been sorely lacking from my recent posts. The US accounts for 1/5 of the worlds CO2. That’s bunch. The average family of two is responsible for 42,000 lbs of the stuff annually. I figure if we (that’s me and Aidan) could use 10% less that would be a big reduction. If WE (that’s me, and all the yous out there) could reduce our output by 10% that would be amazing.
So I’m in the car most of the week, and using a gallon of gas results in 19.6 lbs of CO2 according to the EPA. The only thing I can do about that is drive at a more reasonable speed. that means getting more organized, and leaving a little earlier. No real sacrifices there.
Once home, there’s a lot that can be done very easily to consume less energy and output less carbon.
More numbers: using a kilowatt of electricity is equivalent to 1.5 lbs of CO2 and 100 cuft of natural gas is equivalent to 12 lbs of CO2. If you know how much electricity and natural gas you use, that’s big start in reducing your emissions. You can calculate your total household utility energy use, figure that in terms of emissions, determine how to cut 10%.
In simpler terms, lets find ways to cut back easily. Typically, a water heater accounts for as much as 12% of household energy. Making sure it’s thermostat is properly set at the recommended 120F is a good start. 80% of the energy used in washing clothes goes towards heating the water. Do more wash in cold water. Unless your clothes are really dirty, they should be fine in cold water. And while we are on my favorite topic… use less laundry detergent. You don’t need so much, really.
Using the electric dry setting on the dishwasher is an energy hog. Let them air dry, emit gobs less carbon.
Lawn gear is ridiculously inefficient. Mowers, trimmers, edgers… all use inefficient motors which spew a lot of carbon emissions. Not saying your lawn need to look untrimmed, just do a little less. Tell your neighbors I said so. Take out a little grass and let something native spread.
All of these things are free. I picked free stuff, and easy stuff because they are things we can all do and are more likely to continue to do. In 2007 the American council for an Energy Efficient Economy did a survey of home buyers about energy efficiency. Over 60% said they did not have enough money for energy renovations or were unable to pay extra for energy efficiency. Later in the same survey, when asked what they would do with an extra 10K, only 24% they would invest in energy efficiency. Most picked granite countertops. Its a choice folks. Lets make a good one.
This is just the short list. There’s a lot we can do around the house to reduce our energy consumption and our carbon emissions. I’ll keep sharing ideas all month. How about you? Got an idea to share?

Wednesday is for teachers

March 31st, 2011

I’ve been really swamped lately, and tardy with posting. That’s because I’ve been working on SERFA, a music conference I am helping to organize.
One of the things we’ll be doing at this conference is bringing grade school aged kids in to listen to some acoustic music. Then they will get some hands on time with instruments. Great idea, right! Not my idea btw, Clint Alphin a wonderful Nashville based singer and songwriter came up with that.
But it got me thinking about how many schools have dropped their music programs. Which got me to thinking how nervous each and every public school teacher I meet is about losing their job. I know in election season all of the candidates talked about how important education is. Top of their lists. Hmmm. Every school district around the country is facing cuts.
I don’t have a million dollars to donate to my local school, do you? Let’s assume no. So what can we do.
Aidan and I will offer our services to schools and libraries as we travel. We can do a short performance, talk about writing and music. We’re not usually doing anything in the middle of the day in the middle of the week anyway. If you want us at your school, library, community center… just ask.
What can you do? If your kid has a great teacher, let them know how great they are. Just say thank you. If there’s a book fair at your school library, participate. Even if you don’t have kids in school. If you have left over supplies from the office, donate them. I know a teach who had to buy paper for the copier to give assignments to his class! If you are a musician, story teller, artist… offer your services on occasion.
These are small things. We are a big crowd. It will change things. I promise.

Wednesday Word of Mouth

March 24th, 2011

I got a note from my friend Marc Black reminding me that it was national water day, so I thought I would write about water protection and conservation. But then I really thought about Marc’s message. It was about fracking and his campaign to stop this from happening, especially in the upstate NY region where Marc resides. He has really been working this, spreading the word, educating folks on this subject. And he is doing that through his song “No Fracking Way”. Its a good song – catchy, funny – that helps him get the point across.
That’s what we’re going to do today. Pick something that matters to you. Something global, national, local…its up to you. Pick something from one of our previous Wednesday’s if your brain is on spring break today. Now spread the word. Talk to one friend, or two. Post something on your facebook status. Get your point across gently, respectfully, intelligently, perhaps with some humor.
Ponder this. If each Wednesday you and I took one of the small steps towards saving the planet and improving this place… AND if we each asked one person to join us in that small step.. that would be a lot of steps.
So share this blog with someone. Or, go watch Marc’s video (I’d have a link if I were prepared but just search Marc Black No Fracking Way… you’ll get there)
Let’s take a lot of steps together and make this a great place to walk around.

Thursday, It’s the new Wednesday

March 17th, 2011

Thursday is a lot like Wednesday only a day later. I got distracted. Blame it on that whole spring forward thing. Forgot yesterday was Wednesday. the world was not saved. Fortunately we’ve done enough in previous weeks, that the planet lasted an extra day without us.

Aidan and I have been doing a little construction this week. Built a closet in the hallway and took advantage of some unused space (i.e. a wall) and built a pantry. I posted about it on facebook wondering where folks in the 1940’s kept all their stuff. Turns out they didn’t have all that much stuff. It made me stop and ponder. By average American standards I am not a huge consumer. Still, I have a lot of stuff. Why do I have all this stuff? do I need all this stuff? why am I thinking of getting more stuff?

The short answers are I don’t know, no, and I don’t know. But I do know that we have all become voracious consumers. Most of us have more possessions than we require. Some of us have more than we really want. So this week, I ask you to think carefully about what you purchase. Do you need it? Do you really, really want it? Why are you buying it?

I am not against buying things. I am not against supporting businesses. I am against waste. I am against mindless spending that uses up our valuable resources so that we have less left for what really matters. Much of our domestic manufacturing has been moved to areas with lower labor and social costs, lower building costs, lower environmental standards. Big business didn’t do this. We did this… by demanding lower costs so we could have more stuff. I did this. You did this. And we can start to undo this.

We can become more mindful consumers. We can speak with our dollars. We can support local business, organic farmers, unions, socially and environmentally responsible businesses. There really is enough money for all of those things if we choose carefully, and mindfully.

I would give up much of this stuff to have the wealth to supply portable cooking stoves, heaters and fuel to families struggling in Japan tonight. Its not Wednesday. You can still save the world.