Monday, December 26, 2011

Fast Away the Old Year Passes.

Hail the new year, lads and lasses.

This is the usual time when we all sit around scratching our heads and asking, "Where has the time gone?" and as always, getting no real answer. Time comes and goes of its own accord, no matter how we set the clocks, but that, as we say in the South, is a whole nother story.

So. 2011. I lost several friends to cancer, including my dog. I lost my job, making me unemployed for the first time ever in my adult life. Presidential campaigning is going on and people are kvetching about the same things they kvetch about every election: jobs, the economy, civil rights, etc. You'd think by now we'd have figured out how to elect people who could solve some of these problems, but I digress.

All the fuss over Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas has worn me slap out. Really, people? I'm sure you have something better to do with your time than fuss about how someone wants to wish you well. It's a courtesy that we wish each other well at all; why complain about it? Smile and say Thank You and get on with it. I've said before, if it's important to you to keep Christ in Christmas, then do something Christ would have done instead of getting your knickers in a twist about greetings. That cashier at the MegaLoMart who wished you Season's Greetings may be working three jobs because her husband got laid off and hers is the only income they have to provide even a tiny bit of Christmas joy to their kids. You never know what someone's story is, so why not keep Christ in Christmas by showing a little compassion to people? It neither picks your pocket nor breaks your leg. And to go one step further, as Ebenezer Scrooge once said, why not keep Christmas in your heart all year long? Why wait till December to be nice to folks? Compassion and generosity know no season, because there is always someone in need somewhere, even if all they need is a friendly smile and a sincere "Thank you."

That's enough of that, so let's change the subject to PUPPIES! As you know, Mister and I were heartbroken when our pal Sampson died suddenly in October. It was the first time in 20 years we didn't have a dog in our house. I hated it. I could have gone out the next week and brought home a puppy, but Mister wasn't quite ready, and fall really is our busiest time of the year, so we waited. On December 10, the day of a full moon and a lunar eclipse, we brought a puppy home from Metro Animal Control and named her Luna. I was so happy I started crying right there in the Animal Control lobby, and the front desk lady asked, "Are y'all okay?" Yes ma'am, we are absolutely, unequivocally fine. Do not be alarmed.

One week later, Luna started vomiting pretty badly. I took her to the vet the next morning, and to my great horror and disappointment, she tested positive for parvo, in spite of already having two rounds of vaccine. Turns out, young pups aren't really immune until they've had the whole series of vaccines and given their little pup bodies time to build up antibodies to the virus. I was devastated. I thought, surely we did not bring this little sassy puppy home with us just so she could die from a horrible virus.

Mister and I were on pins and needles for a week while Luna was at the vet, getting IV fluids and lots of attention. I have to give some big props to the staff at PetMed in Antioch, where we've taken all our pets for the last 20 years. They really stepped up to the plate and took great care of Luna. She came home just a couple days before Christmas and while she's still recovering, she's eating well and acting like a normal puppy - zooming all around the yard, trying to put everything in her mouth, then taking a huge nap. The cats still aren't sure what to think, but they seem to be coming around.

I am ready to put 2011 in the rearview mirror and drive on to 2012. I wish all of you happiness and prosperity in the new year, and I'll leave you with this little rhyme I've always found most inspirational:

May you always have a reason to dance,
And never find frogs in your underpants.

Till next time ---

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Unbroken Threads.

I had planned to come on here tonight and talk about memento mori and my love of skulls, seeing as how we just had Halloween and El Dia de los Muertos, but that's going to have to wait, because I had A Moment on the way home from work tonight.

Maybe it's those premenopausal hormones, but as I was driving home from work just at dusk, I looked up for a moment and the moon took my breath away. It made me gasp aloud. It was so huge and bright and creamy there in the almost-night sky, it took me by surprise as if I had never seen it before. Listening to Richard Thompson on the iPod, singing one of the myriad "cruel mother" ballads of yore, I thought, here I am listening to a 400-year-old song, looking at the same moon those people looked at 400 years ago. And it was like I was hearing the song and seeing the moon for the first time ever.

It's not the first time I've had that thought, but tonight for some reason it seemed especially poignant. Maybe it was the hormones, maybe it was sweet sadness of the murder ballad; I don't know. For a moment, I was aware of being part of a much greater whole - part of the unbroken thread of history. Of course, all of us are part of that thread, but it's something most of us don't contemplate on a daily basis, if at all. We're usually too busy to notice what's been there all along.

Several years back, I was confined to the sofa with a case of bursitis in my knee, thanks to an overzealous attempt at learning Irish step dancing. Since we've never had cable tee-vee, we were tuned in to PBS for some intellectual enlightenment. The show was NOVA, and the episode was about 3000-year-old Caucasian mummies that had been unearthed in the Chinese desert. Who were they? Where had they come from? Why did they settle in China? Excavations revealed woven fabrics that looked suspiciously like woolen plaid, along with some stone spindle whorls. (See to read a transcript of the episode.)

When I saw those 3000-year-old spindle whorls, I nearly lept off the couch, bursitis be damned. At that moment, I felt myself connected to those European mummies in the Chinese desert, because I also use a drop spindle, 3000 years later. I don't remember if I cried, but I do remember getting really choked up. This is a hard thing to explain to people who aren't into history, but it's sort of like the Beatles: "I am, he is, you are, he is, you are me and we are all together." For a moment, I was one of those desert immigrants.

And tonight, looking at the moon and listening to "Bonnie St. Johnstone," I found myself thinking how I could make that centuries-old song my own, spinning off Richard Thompson's version, which was spun off from other versions, and so on and so on. It's the folk process at work, and it's still alive and well. I know many of us bemoan the idea that the old ways are vanishing, but maybe that's not necessarily true. The old ways are still there; we just use them differently in our ever-changing world, adapting as we must, often flying by the seat of our pants. And why not? That's the best way to see what you might not otherwise have seen.

Till next time --- keep spinning that thread.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Let's Talk Music.

Last year, Mister and I went to see Paul McCartney in concert as part of our 20th wedding anniversary celebration. (Yes, I got married when I was 5 - thanks for asking.) This was a show I had waited for since I was an old married lady of 13, and it was just my luck American Express had a presale on the tickets. Furthermore, the tickets were under $100 each. Double score!

Anyhow, Mister and I both agreed that McCartney's show was so fantastic, we never needed to go to another concert ever again, because anyone else would pale in comparison. Except for one: Richard Thompson.

If you are a music fan and don't know Richard Thompson, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, go to or iTunes right now and sample some tracks. (I'll wait.) RT was a founding member of Fairport Convention when he was just a lad, and has been in the music business ever since. He's managed to set a standard for musicianship and songwriting that few have been able to meet, let alone exceed. And yet, for whatever reason, he's not a household word like, say, Taylor Swift.

Last night I got my chance to see Richard Thompson in a solo acoustic show at Nashville's historic Belcourt Theatre. We had supper right after work and got ourselves in line, which rated me a third row aisle seat - not too shabby at all. (I had already bought the tickets online back in August.) This was a mature and well-mannered crowd, not like the bad old 80s when going to a general admission concert meant you got at least one elbow in the face while jockeying for the best vantage point. No, this was a bunch of folk music enthusiasts who just wanted to hear some prime tunes.

And we did. RT did not disappoint, not once. While I'm mostly in it for the songwriting, I was blown away by his guitar playing. He didn't need a band, because he sounded like 2 people on the guitar. I'm still not convinced that he doesn't have two extra invisible hands. He played one guitar for the whole show, and he didn't change clothes forty-eleven times, and he didn't have a bevy of dancers on the stage.

One man + one guitar = one indescribably incredible musical experience. See, it can be done without glitter and theatrics.

Richard Thompson is also funny and personable. He explained that on this tour, he was asking an audience member to choose an old album title out of his Beret of Randomness, and he'd play three songs from that album. Our audience member chose You? Me? Us? which apparently wasn't a huge seller, and is hard to come by now, but the songs he chose from it were spectacular: especially "Sam Jones," about a bone collector. And you all know how much I love bones. (I was really hoping to learn this song right away for Halloween, but was thwarted when I discovered it doesn't exist in a digital download. I had to order a second-hand CD instead. Patience is a virtue, I guess.)

Of course he brought the house down with "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," which rated a standing ovation. Throughout the show, members of the small audience called out their favorites, and Thompson did his best to oblige. He also threw in at least one new song that hasn't been recorded yet, which happened to be another of my favorites of the night. Until he records it, I guess I won't get to hear it anymore unless I see his show again. Oh, what a horrible fate, Dutchy. Reckon I'll be keeping an eye on that tour schedule.

All you young whippersnappers who want to write songs - and yes, I'm talking to you, Taylor Swift - owe it to yourselves to take a few lessons from Richard Thompson. He's clever, witty, erudite, and most of all, he's his own writer. Even though he has a distinctive style, no one could ever say his songs all sound alike. Over 45 years, he's provided his fans with a wide range of incredible songs - not just his own original material, but historic folk material as well. His 1000 Years of Popular Music includes songs from the Middle Ages and 15th century along with modern-day pop hits.

Thanks, Richard. I'm a little late to the bandwagon, but I hope to be listening for another 45 years.

Till next time ---- now I just need to see Elvis Costello.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gone to the dogs.

I've been absent a little while because this is the time of year when I don't know what day it is. Fall is always our busiest season with performances and other events; even in spite of less out-of-state travel right now, we're still busy as ever. It's a fun, challenging, and stressful time, so full of activity that if an unforeseen incident occurs, it greatly upsets the apple cart.

And last Sunday night, we had to euthanize our dog, Sampson. Consider my cart completely tumped over, all the apples spilling out and rolling willy-nilly upon the ground.

Sampson was 8-1/2 years old. Our former neighbor, Stephanie, found him in the parking lot at Mansker's Station one night when we were having a sewing circle. He was a little fuzzy ball of fluff with a fat little puppy tummy, all alone in the park. We had lost our older dog just a few months before, and here was a puppy who needed a home, so of course we took him.

The fat little fuzzy pup grew into a 90-something pound goofy dog with big clumsy feet and long gangly legs. His tail was as long as my arm, and table height, so that we had to keep our drinks and breakables out of its way. He was playful and affectionate, and protective of me to a fault. We discovered the hard way that he didn't appreciate strangers all up in his face - on one visit to the kennel, the kennel attendant went to put his name tag around his neck, and when she got in his face, he nipped her. There was no blood, no lasting damage, but the young lady was frightened, and we were horrified. But once we realized this, we were able to make the proper modifications so this didn't happen again. Our big loveable goofball taught us a few new things about dog behavior.

Sampson never missed a meal, and managed to score quite a few extra, with our without our consent. Because he could reach the kitchen cabinet standing on his back legs, we lost a few leftovers over the years. One evening he decided to try gnawing on some corncobs, I guess because they were there. He also loved bread of any kind and would come trotting in from the other room anytime he heard me open the breadbox. No unguarded bread product was safe in our house.

He loved to curl up on the sofa, and many's the time he kept me close company while I was sick. When I was unemployed last summer and feeling sorry for myself, he was always right there. We went for nice long walks in the neighborhood before it got too hot. Sampson loved to go for "walkies" and would get ramped up anytime he saw his leash or my walking sneakers.

Just about two weeks ago, Sampson started to get draggy. We thought it was just his hip dysplasia acting up, so we made sure he had plenty of soft cushions to lie on as the weather cooled down. We didn't force him to go up the stairs, and the only walk I took him on was short because I didn't want to be hard on his old joints. He seemed tired, and his neverending appetite flagged ever so slightly, but I didn't think anything of it. He was almost 9 and had arthritis.

Last Friday evening, Mister noticed something wrong with Sampson's left eye. Sure enough, it was entirely red, like an albino rabbit eye. We ran him over to the vet before they closed, quite apologetic at being the jerks that show up at the last minute on a Friday. It turned out Sampson had gone blind. His bloodwork didn't turn up anything too odd, so the vet sent us home with some meds and made us an appointment to see the vet opthalmologist on Monday. (Yes, there is such a thing as a veterinary opthalmologist. Vet medicine has specialties just like people medicine.)

We took him back home, gave him his meds religiously, and let him lounge around on the soft cushions. He was tired and listless, and then Sunday morning, he wagged his tail a little. I thought maybe we were making progress. But later that afternoon, I noticed his front leg was swollen and it looked streaky under the fur. I got a good look at his skin, and it was bright red.

Not good.

Mister and I made the decision to take him to the emergency vet, where we left him overnight. New bloodwork showed drastic changes, and they weren't encouraging. Something was terribly wrong with our dog, and it was something terribly bad. X-rays showed he had an enlarged spleen and fluid around his heart, as well as suspicious masses in his lungs. He went downhill fast from there, and in the middle of the night, we had to make the choice to say goodbye. It was time.

The vets think Sampson had hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive and untreatable cancer that eventually causes the dog to bleed to death internally. There was nothing anyone could have done except what we did: we kept him comfortable. We loved on him. That was all there was. I wasn't quite ready to let him go yet, but it was the right thing to do.

I have loved and lost many pets over the years, and plan to love and lose many more, if I can help it. It's heartbreaking to let them go, but the joy of having them in my life far outweighs that. I'd like to think all my pets are waiting for me in the Summerlands somewhere. If there are no dogs in Heaven, I think I'd rather not go.

Goodbye, Sampson. Thanks for being my friend.

Till next time ---- hug your furry friends.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Crisis averted.

If you've been with my little blog since the beginning, you know how much I love and use my bread machine. It makes bread at least twice a week and sometimes more on the weekends if I have time. We rarely buy bread at the grocery anymore unless I get a hankering for some pitas (which I could also make if I wanted to go to the trouble).

Lately, breadmaking has been a little of a challenge. A couple of weeks ago, I went to make my regular loaf of whole wheat bread. I put all the wet ingredients in the pan and when I went to measure out the flour, I noticed it was crawling. Yes. Tee-tiny nearly microscopic crawling things were in my flour. I took everything out of the Rubbermaid bin I had kept all the bread things in, and to my great horror, found that all of my supplies were crawling with critters. White flour. . . wheat flour. . . barley flour. . . rye flour. . . gluten. . . coconut milk powder. . . buttermilk powder. . . all the sugar. . . it all had to be thrown out. Every. Single. Last. Bit. We took the bin outside and hosed it off. Thinking it was safe, we put it back in the kitchen under the table. And guess what?

A couple of days later, there were still tiny crawling things in the bins. We took them all outside, cleaned the floor and the bins with hot bleach water, and having decided out invaders were tiny pharoah ants, we put ant baits in the bins when they dried. Mister packed up his wine & beer supplies with bay leaves, and so far, it seems to have worked. I'm still keeping an eye out for the little critters, though.

Tonight I went to bake a loaf like I usually do in the middle of the week. I put all the ingredients in the pan, put the pan in the machine, set it on the Express cycle, and went about my business. When I went to check on it later, I saw it wasn't rising, and. . . wait. Is it BOILING in there?

Yes. It was boiling. The ingredients hadn't been mixed when I turned on the machine, so it all just sat there in a blob cooking in the pan. I thought, great, now the bread machine's crapped out on us, and we'll have to start buying bread again. I took the pan out to let it and the machine cool off. Mister and I were contemplating going to the grocery to pick up a loaf of bread, when I noticed the BREAD PADDLE sitting on the counter. Then it dawned on me.

I had altogether forgotten to put the paddle in the machine. Made bread so many times I have the basic recipe memorized, and I FORGOT to put the PADDLE in there.

So, after the machine cooled off and Mister cleaned out the pan for me, I started over. And sometimes, that's all you can do: laugh at your dumb mistakes and just start over.

Till next time ---- if you fall off the horse, just dust yourself off and get back on.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Introverts unite!

Did y'all feel the introvert love on Facebook today? Because you should have. Several of us were sharing links about what it means to be an introvert, and how it probably doesn't mean what you think it means.

I always fancied myself an extrovert. I like to talk, I like to socialize, and hey! I love to be onstage. That's all extrovert stuff, right?

Not necessarily.

After all my talking, socializing, and performing, I needed some quiet time. If I didn't get said quiet time, I got really stressed out and anxious and depressed. (Yes, you can be anxious and depressed at the same time, but that's a whole other blog post.) For a long time, I thought this was just me being a whiny unsociable brat, and I pushed through it. Till one day, I couldn't push through it anymore. I needed help.

I went to see a psychologist. My dad had died, and I was depressed about that, and depressed about feeling like I wanted to be alone because I felt like people expected me to be ON and when I wasn't ON, I was letting everyone down.

"Aha," she said. "You're an introvert."

I started to say "but---" and before I could get it out, she said, "Forget what you think that means." Then she explained to me that the term "introvert" had been unfairly misused to the point where it had negative connotations. "It doesn't mean you're a serial killer or a psychopath," she said. "It means that you get your energy from inside. Extroverts get theirs from outside. One isn't better than the other. They're just different ways of relating to the world, and the world needs both kinds of people."

Y'all, I am not exaggerating when I say I felt like a huge burden had magically lifted from my shoulders. I read everything I could about introversion. And when I began to actively nurture myself as an introvert, everything changed. It made all the difference. I'm no longer struggling between the me who likes to be onstage and the me who likes to be alone. I can do both. Woot!

I got really tickled at a job interview I had just after I found out I was losing my job. The ad was for a "research assistant - Master's degree required." Perfect! When I got there, though, I discovered the employer was into personality profiling. He declared me a "double extrovert" and said someone like me wouldn't be happy doing research all day. Some personality profiler, huh? I tried to explain that I love love LOVE doing research, but he wasn't listening. (Whatever.)

So if I turn down a social invitation, or sneak off at a reenacting event for a few minutes, it's nothing personal. If you catch me being quiet instead of chatty, there's nothing wrong. It's just me recharging the batteries so I can keep on having fun.

Till next time ---- here are some of the links we passed around, if you're interested:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Stuff You Say.

I think every longtime couple/family/group of friends has particular expressions they use amongst themselves that outsiders may not understand. Mister and I have several. One favorite of mine is "He/she needs a consultation with the Pope," meaning the person in question has terrible hair.

How in the world did we get that? I'm glad you asked. It comes from a story the late Jerry Clower told years ago on Riders Radio Theater, about a barber with a bad attitude. A customer came into his shop for a haircut and was all excited because he was going to Rome and hoped he'd see the Pope at the Vatican.

The barber, being a negative soul, told the customer that "Rome is awful, it smells bad, the airlines will lose your luggage, and no way will you get to see the Pope." The customer shrugged it off and went on his way. A few weeks later he returned, again all excited because he'd taken his trip.

He said to the barber, " You lied to me. Rome is beautiful, it doesn't smell bad, and the airline was great. And I did too get to see the Pope at the Vatican, waving to the crowd from up there on his little shelf. While I was walking away, a man touched me on the shoulder and said, 'Young man, the Pope would like to meet with you personally.'

"Well, I couldn't believe it. I followed him up some stairs, down some stairs, through a lot of hallways, and we finally got to the room where the Pope was. The Pope said to me, 'Young man, I felt it necessary to pray with you, and counsel with you, because out of all those people out there in the courtyard, you have the sorriest haircut I've ever seen.'"

That was many years ago, and I've never forgotten it. It's funny how some things like that stick with you seemingly forever, and others just fade off into the ether. Needing a consultation with the Pope became part of our family lore. Apparently there are a lot of folks out there with unfortunate hair, because I find myself using the expression often, especially where Bill Gates and Donald Trump are involved. (Sweet Fancy Moses, with all the money those men have, you'd think they could afford a decent coif.)

Till next time - what are some of your tribe's expressions?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Still Hot.

Some of you know that Mister and I live in an old farmhouse with no central heat or air. That's right - I said I have NO AIR CONDITIONING in my house. This was a conscious choice on our part, because the house and its grounds were otherwise perfect, and the rent was just right. And we really liked the landlords. We do have a window AC unit in the bedroom and cool the rest of our side of the house with fans. Usually this is perfectly acceptable.

Usually. This year isn't usually. Neither was last year, for that matter.

There have been several summers when we rarely used the bedroom AC at all, opting instead for a box fan in the window and saving the AC for only the hottest days, usually in July or August. Our electric bill was about $30, and we didn't think anything of suffering through a few muggy days here and there. I mean, what else do you expect from summer in Tennessee?

And considering we spend a good bit of time outdoors in several layers of historic costuming, the lack of AC helped acclimate us to being uncomfortably warm. I went from getting a headache with the slightest temperature rise to being able to withstand the Southern humidity, at least to the high 90s. But this year is different.

Even in April, when I lost my job, I found myself getting severe migraines just being out in the sun for an hour doing yardwork, because it was already 90 before noon. We had no spring to speak of this year. March was cool and rainy, and then all of a sudden, it was OHAI SUMMER'S HERE. There was no time to acclimate to the warming temperatures, because there were no warming temperatures. It was cool, then it was hot. And it stayed hot. What's more, it gets so humid inside the house that I can't even dry my hair when I wash it.

I suppose this is a symptom of global climate change, but I'm not a climatologist, and I don't play one on the Interwebs. I do know that history has shown that the climate will change when it feels like it without any assistance from us.

Till next time -- I'm going up to the bedroom where the cold air is.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


July in Tennessee. Yep, it's definitely hot. I know it's hot pretty much everywhere right now and even our friends Up Nawth are feeling the pain too.

But I still love summer, and I'll tell you why.

It's not dark when I get up in the morning. (By the way, I am gainfully employed again, so I'm back to getting up at 5:30.) It's not dark when I drive home in the evening. I get to wear sandals and paint my toenails outrageous colors. Truthfully, I paint them outrageous colors all year, but they only show in the summer. Ice cream. I love ice cream all year but it seems especially sweet and cold in the summertime. Blueberries. Raspberries. Figs. Corn on the cob. Home grown tomaters. Shandy. Sundresses. Cooking out on the patio. Going over to the Wave Pool for a swim early in the day before it gets too crowded.

Air conditioning in the car. This is especially important since I don't have any in the house except the window unit in the bedroom. (It's an old house. Proves people really did live without AC, and not all that long ago, either.)  Wearing my hair up, although that gets tedious after awhile, because really, how many ways can you do an updo without professional assistance?

PALETAS. Mexican popsicles made from real fruit puree and sugar with none of that corn syrup nonsense. They are delicious. Which reminds me, I haven't had one yet this summer.

But here's probably the best thing of all. Last night we had a few friends over for a small shindig out in the yard, and four little girls ran around catching fireflies in a jar while we grownups quaffed cold beverages and played some oldey-timey music, all without pocket-sized electronical gadgets. I'm grateful that some things never change.

Till next time, stay cool.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Consider John Adams.

It's July 4 Weekend here in the good ol' US of A - a time when I like to ponder our founding fathers and mothers and the tremendous risks they took for a nation in its infancy. It may be something most of us don't ponder often enough.

I encourage everyone to watch HBO's miniseries, John Adams, based on the writings of David McCullough. McCullough is probably one of the finest American history writers around. All of my history nerd friends love this series because the costuming is outstanding,  and the finer details of daily life in the 18th century are attended to, which means we can actually enjoy a historically-based movie without feeling the need to pick it apart. (Because believe me, we will.) Not only that, I think the series really brings home the reality of the grittiness of 18th century life. It was hard. It was dirty. There was no Internet, no TV, no flush toilets or indoor plumbing. If you wanted to contact someone in another town, you had to put quill to paper and write them a Real Letter, which they weren't guaranteed to receive. And if you caught the smallpox, you were likely to die, or at least come closer than you'd prefer.

In spite of his many accomplishments, John Adams often gets short shrift in American history, probably because he was just a normal, crabby, hard-working guy. He didn't have the charisma of Jefferson or Washington, and he was known to be somewhat ill-tempered. He had a habit of saying what was on his mind, which often got him in trouble and made him the butt of jokes. Lucky for him he had a strong, intelligent woman like Abigail for a partner. (Get a paperback copy of their letters. You will be amazed at the story that unfolds, and many of your ideas about what you think you know are likely to be shattered.)

Until I watched the HBO series, I hadn't realized (or else I had forgotten long ago) that John Adams defended the British soldiers accused of perpetrating the Boston Massacre. Now, whether the movie portrayal of this situation is exactly 100% accurate, I can't say, but I will say this: it is extremely thought-provoking when you stop to consider that taking this case could have cost John Adams his entire career. While other lawyers were understandably reluctant to take the job, Adams did, because he believed that everyone, including the unpopular, deserved justice under the law.

Adams took an unpopular case because he believed in justice. I have often asked myself, where are those people now, who will stand up for something when no one else will, simply because it's the right thing to do? Oh, I'm sure they're out there, but the news these days seems more concerned with who got kicked off American Idol or Dancing With the Stars, or who's been fooling around with his housekeeper behind his wife's back. Personally, I'm more interested in those people who are in the trenches doing the real work of bettering humanity by believing in something and acting on it.

This weekend, consider John Adams, and all the other men and women of history who took the risk of believing in something, even though they could have lost everything as a result. Independence is their eternal gift to us.

Till next time ---

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why yes, I would like a little cheese with my whine.

I won't lie. The discouragements - I haz them.

Unemployed 2.5 months, 20+ years of work experience, two college degrees, only scored two interviews out of eleventy-million job applications and both companies sent me the "thanks for playing, but you're not a winner" email. So, yes, discouragement at this point is, unfortunately, all too easy to come by.

I've already mentioned before how much the Job Dance has changed since the last time I had to look for a job. Not only that, the steps seem to still be changing on a daily basis, and the dance instructors all have different information about how to execute said steps smoothly and with style. Here's another thing I won't lie about: all this job-hunting business makes me feel older by the minute. Not just because a younger person with less experience has an advantage in the job market, but also because the seemingly timeless rules about loyalty and service are obsolete. That makes me sad.

In the meantime, grocery prices are going up and gas is still over $3 a gallon. Some economists say it's getting better; some say it's getting worse. How do we know who to believe? Things never seem to change a whole heck of a lot for me, anyway, regardless of economic conditions or who's in the Oval Office. And I can't help feeling just a little bitter when I think about how I did everything I was supposed to do, and still ended up without a job. I'm trying to make side money but that only works when people have money to spend.

BUT. . . I have plenty to eat. I have plenty to wear. (Too much, really - I need to get rid of a few things.) I have a place to live with a tee-vee and a flush terlet and a computer with an Interwebs connection. And I have a lot of friends & family behind me. (You know who you are.) That alone is worth millions and takes some of the sting out of discouragement. AND. . . I may have some temp work lined up shortly. So there's that.

In the meantime, would you please pass the brie?

Till next time ---

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Yard Work.

So, I'm still unemployed, going on 6 weeks now. It's certainly not for lack of trying. Those of you who have been in this situation understand the anger and hopelessness that start to set in, not to mention those few pounds that show up because you're not running up and down the office hall trying to put out everyone's little fires.

The other night after supper, I was in the kitchen making a piece of jewelry. Mister asked, "Are you okay?"

"No," I replied.

"What's wrong?"

"You mean besides feeling like a total failure and a beached whale?"

He sighed and paused for a moment, then said, "Why don't you come out and help me cut some trees?"

Not really the response I wanted, but I acquiesced to his request, and dressed myself for Yard Work. You have to understand, Yard Work isn't something I've ever done much of. Sure, we've had vegetable gardens in the past, and I've planted tulips and sunflowers before, but that's pretty much it. Our landlords are in their 70s now, though, and aren't up to doing much landscaping maintenance anymore, so we're trying to take care of things.

We had so much rain this spring that weeds and other overgrowth sprang up seemingly overnight. The azalea bushes were being overtaken by hackberry seedlings, and the side flowerbed that normally sports irises, peonies, and a rosebush was covered in some weed that looks like a parsley on steroids. An ambitious and determined Virginia creeper was creeping across the side porch and about to creep onto the door. Clearly, there was much Yard Work to be done.

Mister gave me the giant pruner and I got started on the extraneous growth around Azalea #1. He showed me how to use the electric hedge trimmer to shape the bush (you 12 year-olds can stop snickering anytime), and I was on my way.

Prune, trim, prune, trim. Hey, here's an oak seedling - so sorry you can't stay. Bye-bye. And you brambles, you definitely have to go. Don't be wantin' no brambles around here. Sampson the Giant Puppy alternately laid quietly on the sidewalk or stalked the grass for unsuspecting cicadas. Then Mister said, "Hey, this one has a bird's nest in it."

Sure enough, among the leaves of Azalea #2 was a nest with two brand new tiny pink featherless baby birds. This little discovery made the whole foray into Yard Work worthwhile. We decided to leave Azalea #2 alone till the fuzzheads leave the nest.

We made a lot of progress together in one evening. Next morning, I went out for awhile before it got too hot and started in on the overgrown flower bed. That evening after supper, we both went out again for some more hack & slash. I finished the flower bed, uncovering the myriad irises, the peony bush, and the rose bush, which had to be trimmed waaaaaaay back and freed of a brambly vine I think is a morning glory. Did I mention I hate brambles?

The next morning, I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. In spite of practicing yoga (although clearly not enough!), I was sore. Really sore. But the yard looks so much better now, and hey! We have baby birds.

Maybe this Yard Work thing isn't so bad after all.

Till next time ---

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Soldier On the Square.

Here in the South, as most of you know, it's common for a town with a square to have a Confederate memorial of some kind in said town square. Franklin, Tennessee is no exception - it was the site of one of the most devastating Civil War battles in Tennessee. I've passed that soldier a million times. One day it dawned on me that he wasn't just a Confederate soldier, but more of an Everyman, at least to me.

He's every untrained backwoods militia man who died fighting for our independence from the British. He's my Union ancestor, John B. Feather, who died at Andersonville in 1864 at the age of 19, a time when he should have been smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, and chasing pretty girls. He's every Doughboy who lost his life in the Great War. He's every soldier who fought at Normandy, and every sailor on the USS Arizona. He's every 19 year-old who died in the jungles of Vietnam. He's every man and woman who's died in Afghanistan and Iran in the service of the United States.

That's what I think of now when I drive by that monument: not just the carnage of 1864, but all the American lives lost in service to their country. I hope that this Memorial Day, you will remember them all.

Till next time ---

Friday, May 20, 2011

Walking the Dog.

I like walking the dog - he and I both need the exercise - but I'm beginning to wonder if it's worth it.

This morning, on the way out, a fairly large dog barked at us from his porch. He was not leashed or confined. I hoped he wouldn't just charge. We kept walking, Sampson barked once and stopped, and while the other dog took a few steps down onto the side walk, he stayed in his own yard. No problem.

On the way back, the first dog had been taken back into his garage. Sampson and I trotted along quite merrily without a care in the world. I saw a little Shih-Tzu-type dog in a yard up ahead, but didn't really think anything about it - till we passed the house.

That tiny dog, who probably weighed all of 3 pounds, ran across the yard, across the street, and down the sidewalk after my 98-pound doofus, yapping all the while. Sampson started flailing around, like he does when he's excited, and I just tried to keep walking, thinking the little dog would eventually give up and stop. Sampson was making his squealy noise, not his aggressive "get away from me" bark, so I didn't think the little dog was in any danger from Sampson, but dogs are still dogs after all, and I wasn't going to take any chances.

Little Dog kept up the sidewalk after us. A lady still in her nightgown started running up the sidewalk after it. "Please get your dog on a leash!" I shouted. I don't think she heard me.

We kept walking, Sampson kept flailing, and the little dog was STILL trailing after us. I said, okay, that dog's just going to keep it up till we stop. I made Sampson sit, the little dog stopped, and the owner was able to get hold of her charge - across the street and 3-4 houses down from her own place.

"Please don't let your dog run around loose like that," I said.

"I didn't know y'all was out here," she said.

"It doesn't matter," I said. "Your dog could have run out and been hit by a car." This is a well-populated subdivision with cars going in and out all the time.

"Oh, she would never do that."

Really? Obviously she just did. I said something else; I don't really remember what it was, and it wouldn't have made any difference anyway, because clearly this lady was delusional about her dog's behavior. This time there was no harm, no foul, but what about next time?

I don't want there to be a next time. I want my outings with my dog to be pleasant without the threat of being charged by someone else's loose dog. And this isn't the first time this has happened - years ago, Mister and I were walking the two dogs we had at the time, both on the medium-to-large size, and we were charged by a Min-Pin down the street, who was literally nipping at my Elkhound's ankles. I was shocked and amazed that Zenith didn't rip its little head clean off.

Now friends, I know it's tempting to think your pets are safe going out for a pee loose and unattended in your own yard. And in some places, they probably are. But in a closely populated area with lots of other people and dogs and cars, not to mention the hawks and owls, it's probably not a good idea.

So, till next time - spay and neuter your pets, and make sure they're safe when they go out. They depend on you to take good care of them.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Search Continues.

So, I have been unemployed now for almost a month. I can't even tell you how many jobs I've applied for. I had one interview for a one-year grant-funded position with a $9000 pay cut. I signed up with a temp agency who hasn't called me with any assignments. The university I graduated from twice won't call me for an interview for love nor money. I do have an interview this Friday (yes, Friday the 13th) with a data research company.

I've discovered, of course, that the job search world has changed immensely in the last 15 years, and that the "experts" provide conflicting information. Dumb down your resume, because if you have an advanced degree, people think you won't stick around. (Really? Even if I was at my last job for 15 years?) Don't dumb down your resume, because your education is important. Don't include any dates that might allude to your age if you're over 40. (Never mind that age discrimination is illegal.) Call the company. Don't call the company. Go visit in person. Don't go visit in person.

You can see how a prospective employee might get easily confused.

I grew up during a time when the prevailing philosophy was "get a job, stick with it till you retire, and you'll be rewarded for your loyalty and dedication." That's just not true anymore. I visited with a career counselor a week ago and he said they're now telling people to be prepared to have 4-6 different jobs during their careers and 3-4 different career paths. Well, all righty then. That would be great if I were just getting out of college, but I'm 43 years old. How many other career paths can I expect?

I've also noticed that nearly everyone wants a background check and a drug test. The background check I can deal with, but the pre-employment drug test? I'm not crazy about that. I don't have anything to hide - I'm a real goody two-shoes where that's concerned - but it's the principle of the thing. I feel like it is a violation of my 4th Amendment right against unreasonable search & seizure. Why would you ask someone for evidence of wrongdoing without just cause? Isn't that against our philosophy of innocent till proven guilty? They're assuming I might be guilty and I have to prove myself innocent. Not only that, I'm not real crazy about having to discuss any medications I do take with anyone other than my healthcare professional. That's just not anyone's business.

But apparently that's the way of the world now. If you want a job, you have to take a drug test, whether it's relevant to the actual job description or not. So be it. If that's what they want, I'll do it, but I don't have to like it.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying taking Sampson the Giant Puppy for walks, and having naps in the afternoon. But I do want to go back to work. I have bills to pay, and the dog has to eat. I have to eat. Maybe, if a miracle occurs, I can finally get the clutter in my house under control.

Or not.

Till next time ---

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Art Class Modeling.

For the last few years, Mister and I have picked up extra pocket money now & then by modeling for art classes at our friend Pat's studio. It's really amusing when I tell someone I'm going to model for an art class, because it's almost guaranteed that their first question has to do with whether I will be clothed or not - as if there are no paintings of clothed people, anywhere, in the history of the universe. Mister and I model for portrait classes, which means Clothes On, and we show up in a variety of costumes. I especially like to dig into my hat collection. This is what I wore to last Monday's class:

Black pillbox veiled hat with a feather boa. You can't see it in the picture, but the hat has a really interesting texture to it. Last week when I modeled, I wore a smart black spring cloche, made of paper (yes! paper!). I've also modeled in 19th century clothes, 18th century clothes, sometimes with knitting, sometimes with a violin, and sometimes in belly dance garb. And one time, Pat said, "Just come as yourself. I don't think you've done that yet."

Figure modeling is when the model shows up in his/her birthday suit. Personally, I don't have any aversion to this, since 1) they keep the door closed; 2) all the participants are over 18, and 3) it pays $20 an hour instead of $15. I told Pat if they ever needed a sub for a figure class she could call me, but she hasn't yet. Ah well.

Being prone to fidgeting and restlessness, I was unsure at first how this would work out. It's 20 minutes of sitting perfectly still with a 5-minute break, for about 4 hours. (The day class does break 30 minutes for lunch, and the night class takes a 15-minute break in the middle, so it's not as monotonous as it sounds.) Well, this is when all that yoga practice came in really handy. I discovered that sitting still for 20 minutes at a time is a lot like meditation. It's actually pretty relaxing. The trick is not to get so relaxed that you want to fall asleep, which is sometimes a challenge. Plus, staring at the same spot gets your contact lenses all foggy no matter how much you blink, but that's another story.

The most interesting thing, besides seeing if I can stay awake and still for 20 minutes at a stretch, is to see how different painters interpret me. They all have their own style, and I've come to recognize a few of them who have their work on display in the gallery there. Some of them are excellent portrait painters, others, not so much, but that's why they're there - to perfect their skills. Painting takes practice, after all, and it doesn't magically happen overnight.

One week, an artist painted me in all neon colors, while I was in 19th century dress. Last week, a woman did a black & white pastel rendering that was completely art deco, and I absolutely loved it. It didn't necessarily look like me, but it had a definite style about it, unlike anything anyone else in the class was doing. My favorite painting, though, is one Pat herself did of me a couple of years ago. It's a black & white oil portrait of me in 19th century clothing with my violin. Once she was finished displaying it in the gallery, Pat gave me the portrait, and I cherish it.

Monday night, one artist was having trouble getting my face the way she wanted it. The beauty of oil paints is that if you don't like something, you can scrub it out and start over, which she did - several times. On one of the breaks when she had me faceless, I said, "You know, there's days when I feel exactly that way." But by the end of the class, she had a fine portrait.

Sometimes that's how it is. We have to scrap our work and start over - and over, and over, and over. If Plan B doesn't work, we go on to Plan C, and if we've got the fortitude and determination, maybe we're on Plan Z before we get it just right. But that's okay. We owe it to ourselves to endeavor to persevere.

Till next time ---- anybody need a portrait model?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My first 24 hours of unemployment.

As of 5:00 last Friday, I officially joined the ranks of the unemployed. This is a strange feeling for me, because I have never once been unemployed in all my adult life. From the time I started working full-time at age 21, I've always had a job. And now I don't.

I didn't go home moping, however. Mister and I had already planned to meet a group of folks at Monell's for dinner. (Y'all who aren't Nashville folks, I'm so sorry you don't have a Monell's in your town.) I thought there was only going to be about 6 or 7 of us, but it turned out we had about twice that many. These are ladies I met on a message board several years ago, and since then have met many of them in person, but Friday night, I finally got to meet a few more. We had a rollicking good time and stuffed ourselves with fried chicken, corn pudding, green beans, turnip greens, catfish, hush puppies, ribs, and biscuits. Oh, and banana pudding. Unemployment works up an appetite, after all.

Saturday morning I met with a friend about writing a movie script on women's suffrage. Did you know (and I'm sure some of you did) that Tennessee cast the deciding vote on the ratification of women's suffrage? And that the young man who cast that vote was only 24 years old - the youngest person in the Tennessee legislature? And that his mother wrote him a famous letter urging him to cast that "Yea" vote? So, I have an interesting research & writing project to work on while I'm looking for that job.

After that, I went to a dance class. Not just any dance class, mind you - this was a burlesque tassel twirling class, and yes, it's exactly what you think. No, I don't plan on doing this in public anytime soon, or ever, for that matter, but it seemed like a fun thing to do, so I did it. (Maybe I should add tassel twirling to my resume to see if anyone's paying attention.) Then I came home and made some jewelry, which will be available for sale on my website as soon as I can get the photos up.

This past week, I've had the great fortune to be supported by people who have been in this position before, some of them more than once. My friend Pat, who owns an art studio with her husband, told me how she'd had a nice comfy desk job with a big factory operation in Nashville. It was a great company and she was happy with her job. But they ceased operations, and she was out of that comfy desk job. She said, "If that hadn't happened, I'd probably still be sitting there at my desk, and this studio wouldn't even be here." Yoshie, my movie producer friend, said almost exactly the same thing. She is a great inspiration because I have personally watched her reinvent herself more than once over the years when it became necessary.

Today, I have no idea what the future holds. It's scary and exciting all at the same time. So I guess now it's my turn to reinvent. To infinity, and beyond.

Till next time ---

Sunday, April 3, 2011

In which I am made redundant.

Last Thursday afternoon, my boss called me into his office to inform me that after nearly 15 years of service, my position was being eliminated effective April 15.

Oh, swell.

The prospect of looking for a new job doesn't exactly inspire me with confidence. Two years ago, when the agency was in serious financial trouble (like a lot of organizations at that time), I applied for at least a dozen jobs over the summer, to have only one interview - and that was a courtesy from someone who knew me. You'd think a company would want to hire someone with experience and education who's willing to work, but that wasn't the case. It's an understatement to say I was discouraged. Having survived that round of layoffs, though, I decided to just stay put.

And now? Well, there ain't no staying put no more. I've put in a few applications and have resolved that if no one calls me before Easter, I'll hop on over to the temp agency after the holiday and sign up. Mister and I already had a trip planned to visit his family, and I'll have enough money to keep the bills paid till then. Plus, it will be nice to have a few days off.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at least a little scared. I'm also really pissed off, but there's no purpose in that. I'm sad too, because I've invested 15 years there. When I was growing up I was led to believe that company loyalty counted for something. Maybe it was true 30-something years ago, but in an uncertain economy, I suppose all bets are off. Oddly enough, though, I'm not freaked out. I'm strangely and cautiously hopeful. My mom said, "At your age, don't you think it's time to find the right job? You know, this might be a good thing, otherwise you'd have just stayed there forever." And she's probably right. It's a comfortable job, for the most part. (Honestly, Mom surprised me. I thought she would be the one to freak out.)

I also feel strangely liberated. The world is my oyster at this point. I don't know what's around the next corner but I'm excited to find out. In the meantime, I'll keep sending out that resume and working my contacts. I'll get my new jewelry website going and keep working on my knitting projects. I can do some more art modeling (clothes ON, people, get your minds out of the gutter), and if I need to pick up a few shifts waiting tables, I'll do that too.

So. Till next time ----- anyone need an office manager, fiddler, chick singer, belly dancer, or Jill of All Trades?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Sound Of Your Voice.

With very few exceptions, people who have told me over the years, "Oh, I can't sing," were lying. Only thing is, they didn't really know they were lying. For whatever reason, they either didn't like the sound of their own voices, or had no confidence in their abilities.

I sang in public for the first time when I was 6 years old. (I'm 43 now, so you can do the math.) To this day, I can't stand to listen to myself, and I've talked to other singers who feel the same way. It's not that I don't like the way my recorded voice sounds - I think it has more to do with the fact that I'd rather be singing than listening to myself, if that makes any sense. Plus, the voice you hear inside your head is a little different from what the people outside your head actually hear. But I digress.

One thing I've discovered about singing, or even public speaking, is that in order to do it reasonably well, I have to be aware of the sound of my own voice. How high or low can I go? What are my voice's limitations? What are its strengths? In order to answer these questions, I have to do more than simply hear myself - I have to actively listen. We hear our own voices all the time and as a result, we don't really take the time to listen. Now, hearing vs. listening is a whole subject on its own, and we won't go there today, but just for a minute, think about listening to your own voice without cringing or freaking out. It's probably not as bad as you think.

This isn't to say that everyone can sing. I think we all know that not everyone can sing. BUT, I also know there are a good many of you who think you can't, but you really can. You're just afraid of the sound of your own voice. Well, don't be. A voice is an instrument like any other and it takes time and skill to master, so don't expect to sound like Pavarotti on your first try. Pavarotti didn't spring full-grown from the head of Zeus his ownself. And besides that, there was only one Pavarotti, which means there's only one voice like yours.

Like a lot of other musicians, I've listened to someone and thought, man, I wish I could sing like that. I wish I could fiddle like that. But I can only sing like ME. I can only fiddle like ME. It's no use feeling intimidated by those who are better, because trust me, no matter how good you get at anything, there's always going to be someone you think is better. (Dang artists. Never satisfied with their work.) So don't worry about that. Just focus on YOU.

Listen to the sound of your voice. Own it. It's yours and no one else's. You never know what you can do with that voice till you give it a try.

Till next time ---

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Women's History Month.

Since March is Women's History Month, and I'm a woman who loves history, I thought I'd share a few books I've enjoyed lately. Most of them should be available through or your local bookseller.

I'm almost finished with Bold in her Breeches by Jo Stanley, which is a collection of essays by different authors about female pirates. Yes. Female pirates. Many of you have probably heard the legends about Mary Read and Ann Bonny, and they are included in this collection, along with several other rogue women of history. Not only that, the essays explain how women were indirectly involved in the business of piracy without being actual pirates themselves, but serving as washerwomen, tavern operators, prostitutes, etc. The writers also examine the socioeconomic conditions that led some women to serve on pirate vessels.

Women of the House by Jean Zimmerman made a huge impression when I read it a year or so ago. Mister gave it to me one Christmas because it's about a Dutch woman and her descendants, and many of my own ancestors were Dutch. This book follows the family of Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse from the 17th century until after the American Revolution. What I found most fascinating was that the Dutch way of life for women in the 17th century was unlike everything I'd ever been taught about the women's experience throughout history. Granted, they still couldn't vote, but Dutch women at that time were highly independent. They owned businesses and property and didn't necessarily change their names when they married. Margaret came to America in 1659 as a debt collector for her cousin. She built her own fleet of trade ships and at the end of her life, was the richest woman in New York.

All of that changed in the 18th century when the British took over New Amsterdam and renamed it New York. Under English law, when a woman married, she and everything she owned became her husband's property. Dutch society tried to keep some of their own customs on the sly, but eventually had to give them up. Margaret's great-grandchildren, who remained loyal to the Crown during the Revolution, were forced to flee for England after the war - even though they were born in America had never lived in Great Britain.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of my favorite historical women: Abigail Adams. Abigail was tutored at home, as girls often were in the 18th century, but she also educated herself through avid reading. John Adams, being no fool, recognized a smart woman when he saw one, and their partnership is one of the most endearing in American history. Due to his political duties, John spent most of his married life away from home, and Abigail ran their farm and took care of four children in her husband's long absences. Their enduring relationship is revealed best in their letters to one another, which exist in many editions. I prefer the Penguin Classics edition for its historical notes.

I'm sure you are all familiar with Abigail's entreaty that John and his comrades "remember the ladies." I present her comment in context, along with his reply.

Braintree, Massachusetts, 31 March 1776: ". . . I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

"That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute; but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend. Why, then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity? Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex; regard us then as beings placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness."

John Adams's reply, dated April 14: ". . . We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bands of government everywhere; that children and apprentices were disobedient; that schools and colleges were grown turbulent; that Indians slighted their guardians, and negroes grew insolent to their masters. But your letter was the first intimation that another tribe, more numerous and powerful than all the rest, were grown discontented. This is rather too coarse a compliment, but you are so saucy, I won't blot it out. (Yes. John Adams just called his wife SAUCY.) Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems. Although they are in full force, you know they are little more than theory. We dare not exert our power in its full latitude. We are obliged to go fair and softly, and, in practice, you know we are the subjects. We have only the name of masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat, I hope General Washington and all our brave heroes would fight."

So, this month, challenge yourself to learn something new about women's history. Better yet, go out and make some history of your own. And remember the words of scholar Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: "Well-behaved women rarely make history."

Still giggling over John Adams calling his wife "saucy." Till next time ---

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Dead Girl Song.

I know, I know, y'all are wondering why it took me so long to get around to writing about murder ballads. The answer is: I don't know. But I figured I'd start with my favorite: The Two Sisters, or as our friends like to call it, The Dead Girl Song.

I could say I have no idea how I got interested in murder ballads, but that wouldn't be entirely true. Back when Mister and I were first married and listened to Celtic music almost exclusively, we had a cassette (remember those gadgets?) of various artists which included a version of the song Bonnie Susie Cleland. I don't think I have the cassette any more so I can't even tell you who sang it. Anyway, to make a long and tragic story a little shorter, Bonnie Susie, a Scottish lass, is burned at the stake by her own father for falling in love with an Englishman and refusing to give him up. Incredibly sad and tragic, no? This tune grabbed hold of me pretty tightly, but I didn't really want to be grabbed by That Kind of Song - because actually liking a song about a woman getting burned at the stake would make me a freak, right? - so I let it go at the time.

Some time passed. Mister and I got into historic music and did a lot of research and listened to a lot of recordings. We got the first Songcatcher CD, which included a song called Wind and Rain, sung by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Our ears perked up, since we sing two-part a capella quite a bit, but when it got to the part about making a fiddle from the drowned girl's body parts, I was back to feeling like a freak because I liked a song about a person getting killed. Nice people don't like things like that.

Finally I decided that yes, nice people do like things like that, and it doesn't make me a freak. (I do, however, continue to get funny looks from some people when I say I research murder ballads.) We started including this song in our repertoire and it's probably one of our most requested tunes, along with Willy Taylor, which is a song about someone getting shot. It's kind of a joke now that "it's not a real Caudells show till somebody gets killed."

But back to Wind and Rain, aka The Dead Girl Song. This is one version of many (and I do mean many) of a song commonly known as The Two Sisters. The gist of the story is that one sister drowns the other in a fit of jealousy over a man. In some versions, her bones and hair are fashioned into a musical instrument, usually a harp or a fiddle. Even back in the old days, this song was apparently quite popular, as song collector Francis Child collected over 30 English versions, as well as 9 Danish, 12 Norwegian, 2 Icelandic, 4 Faroe, and 8 Swedish versions. Twentieth-century researcher MacEdward Leach maintained that the ballad was widespread in Germanic & Slavic regions; Tristram Coffin claims that The Two Sisters has more American story variations than any other song. He lists more than 60 known North American versions of the song, including one from Newfoundland.

As you can see, The Two Sisters got around. Once we started singing Wind and Rain, other versions of the song kept popping up: Custer LaRue's Binnorie, Martin Carthy's Bonny Bows of London, Loreena McKennitt's The Bonny Swans, just to name a few. Mister went on a Scandinavian folk music bender awhile back and found us a Swedish version. I've also found a German version on the Internet, but just words, no music. (Gosh, I guess I could write some. Folk process at work and all.)

I wrote my Master's thesis on murder ballads, not only to explore the history of these songs, but also to try and figure out why people are so drawn to them. I'm still not entirely sure about that last point, but I think it has something to do with the human's fascination with drama and tragedy. There's something cathartic about a tragic song, and when that song is centuries old, it connects the listener to all the singers and listeners who went before.

And to me, that connection is probably the most important reason to keep singing these songs.

Taking my nerd hat off now - till next time ---

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Other People's Blogs, February Edition.

History and horses all together - how can you beat that?

This month, I'd like to spotlight the Fiddler's Green Horse Farm blog, by my friends Bill and Deborah. They've been involved in living history for several years and at one time supplied horses for Civil War events. Nowadays they're mostly doing 18th century living history or cowboy events with a mounted cowboy shooting group. We've shared some great times with them over the last few years, including a road trip to Colonial Williamsburg. Locally, Mister and I help them out with 18th century horsemanship demonstrations, which is where my main blog photo is from. (Slowly but surely I'm getting used to the sidesaddle - one of these days I just might be dangerous.) I'm sitting on one of their horses, either Sonny or Cash; I can't remember. Usually if there's a photo of me on or with a horse, it's one of Bill & Deborah's critters.

If you look closely at the New Year's Day photos, you'll see me in my Clint Eastwood serape brandishing a fine pistol. I also feel the need to tell you that's a Clearwater hat. (I love that hat. I love hats in general. That's a whole 'nother blog post, which I will get around to one of these days.)

You can visit the Fiddler's Green blog here:  and enjoy taking a little trip back in time to when a horse was your best vehicle.

Till next time ----

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Driving Christine.

When my father-in-law died, we inherited his 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee. We weren't entirely sure if we wanted to keep if or not, so we let it sit in the driveway for awhile till we decided. Last month we had the brakes repaired and got all the tags & insurance & whatnot to make it legal for driving in the State of Tennessee. Mister drove it for a couple of weeks, then turned the keys over to me to try it out.

I had been a passenger in this vehicle on several occasions and never noticed anything out of the ordinary. But the first day I drove it to work, I couldn't get the key out of the ignition. I tried all the normal ways I knew of releasing keys, and finally I got it out. I opened the door a little and flipped the auto-lock, and when I opened the door all the way to get out, the car started - without the key in the ignition. (I should point out that while the Jeep has remote keyless entry, it does not have remote keyless start.)


I told Mister about this, and he said, "Huh." He'd never had anything strange happen while he was driving it. I figured I had probably done something inadvertently, it being my first time driving a car with that many bells & whistles, and just put it down to new car ignorance. Several days went by with no incidents. The remote control unlocker stopped working, and I figured it just needed a new battery. I didn't think any more of it.

Last Wednesday, I went out to get in the car to go to work, and when I opened the door, the horn started honking. Repeatedly. I remembered the remote control thingy had a PANIC button on it, which will make the lights blink and the horn honk, and I thought maybe I had pushed it by accident (even though, remember, I thought the battery had died). I pushed the PANIC button to stop the horn honking, and it just honked more. Eventually I got it to stop.

When I got to work, I thought I'd try out the remote again. I got out of the car and hit Lock. Yep, it locked. I hit Unlock; again, the doors unlocked.

And then the engine started with me standing outside the car with the key in my hand. Thankfully, all it takes to get it to stop when this happens is a tap on the brakes.

I had a violin lesson that night, an hour north of town. I called Mister and said, "Will you come switch cars with me after work? Because I'm not driving CHRISTINE anywhere till we figure out what's going on." Which is kind of disappointing, because all weirdness aside, it's a pretty good ride. It's got a great stereo and seatwarmers too.

He drove Christine home without incident. (Of course.) Yesterday, though, when he drove it to work, the electrical display started flashing "REAR LAMP FAILURE." Mister got out and checked all the taillights. There's been one little side light out all along, but everything else was working fine.

We may or may not drive Christine today on our outing. As long as Mister's driving, I'm not too concerned. But if you don't hear from me soon, send out a search party.

Till next time ----

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Spinnin' wheel got to go round.

Or in my case, a drop spindle.

Now, I figure that most of you reading this know what a drop spindle is and what it does, but just in case: a drop spindle is a handy-dandy little tool for spinning fiber into yarn. It predates the spinning wheel by --- well, no one really knows. Thousands of years is probably a reasonable estimate. The spinning wheel is a relatively new piece of technology, considering the grand scheme of human history.

I've been spinning with a drop spindle for at least 15 years or so. I chose to start spinning with the spindle because it was less expensive and more portable. The plan was to eventually get a wheel, but that still hasn't happened, mostly because I don't have a place to put it. And even though a decent wheel isn't outrageously expensive, that money usually has to go to things like car repairs, surprise vet visits, medical bills. . . well, you get the picture. So, over the years, I've gathered a pretty fair collection of spindles.

A drop spindle is basically a stick with a balanced weight on it, called a whorl. The whorl can be at the top or the bottom of the spindle shaft. I've used both and lately I've really come to prefer the top whorl spindle, especially for fine fibers like alpaca, because the weight distribution allows for smoother spinning and less breakage. For heavier fibers, the bottom whorl spindle works just fine. There are even teeny-tiny little spindles for spinning cotton.

The drop spindle also gives me a personal connection to those ancient people who used this tool. (My fellow history geeks will understand this.) Several years ago, NOVA ran a program on the mummies of Urum-Chi -3000 year-old Caucasian mummies in the Chinese desert. Why were they there? Where had they come from? At the time, I had a bad case of bursitis in my knee, but when the archaeologists pulled out several stone spindle whorls, I just about jumped straight up off the sofa, and I was nearly in tears. I was overwhelmed to think that I was helping to carry on a multi-millenia-old tradition, small and insignificant as it may be.

Any spinner will tell you, though, spinning is addictive. It's mesmerizing. The wheel - or the spindle - turns, and yarn appears before your eyes. It would be magical if it weren't so easily explained by physics and science. It's a simple matter of twisting fibers together, and yet, it's so much more than that. I don't really know how to explain it. But here's a photo of my latest project:

This is a mixed fiber batt I bought for a spin-a-long. The first half of the batt is already spun and on the spindle. After I spin the second half, I'll twist the two halves together for a 2-ply yarn. And yes, I'll do that on the drop spindle, too. What I'll do with the yarn once I'm finished is anyone's guess. We'll just have to see where the knitting muse takes me.

Where is your muse taking you these days?

Till next time ----

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Oh, the huge manatee.

Well, friends, this is the first time in several days that I've been upright for longer than 30 minutes without feeling the urge to lie down RIGHT NOW. I have been the lucky recipient of the Stomach Virus from Hell, which put me out of commission for about a week. A whole week.

Now, see here - I don't get sick, at least not for more than a couple days at a time, so this has been one of those head-scratching experiences. When the trouble started early last Sunday morning, I thought it was just a case of overeating the day before. We'd had friends over during the day, then went to a party that night, so I nibbled and noshed all day. I took a couple of ginger capsules and figured that would be the end of it. Yes, folks, ginger and peppermint are two natural remedies that really do work for minor indigestion, but when I spent all day Sunday lying on the sofa, I thought maybe there was more to it than eating too much. (There usually is when the ginger doesn't work.)

I stayed home from work Monday, again lying on the sofa all day. (I'm glad we have a big DVD collection, because the offerings on daytime teevee are poor at best.) Tuesday morning I went to see the doc, and here's the funny part. I couldn't see my regular doc because she was going home sick with the stomach crud. That should have been my first clue. So I got poked and prodded and they took a sample of this and that and sent me home with a couple of scrips in case it was a bacterial thing, blahblahblah.

I made it through the whole day on Wednesday and thought I was getting better, till Wednesday night when things got worse again. And here's another funny part - Mister was doing the prep thing for That Test Guys Over 50 Have To Take, so we were certainly a pitiful pair. Thursday morning I called my doc's office back, pleading that Something Has To Be Done NOW, please, for the love of all that's holy. They finally called me back at 5:30 that evening to let me know I didn't have any nasty bacteria, just a virus, so hey, you're stuck with it till it decides to leave. Lay off the antibiotics and get you some Imodium.

Gee, thanks, Doc.

Anyhow. Friday I tried to go to work. I lasted all of an hour and a half. I just could not stay upright without feeling like I was going to hurl. I had to get home and lie down, which I did for the rest of the day.

Are you keeping score here? By this time I've taken nearly 4 whole days off work for a stomach bug. I don't think I've ever taken that much time off work for one illness in the 20+ years I've been working. I just don't take sick time unless I absolutely have to, thanks to an overgrown sense of responsibility. When people are counting on me to be there, I hate to let them down. But here's the crux of the matter: sometimes you have to take care of yourself, otherwise you're of no use to anyone else.

I've always been one of those people who would push through being sick, and most of the time that works out all right. Lately, though, I've come to realize it's not always necessary to push through. Sometimes it's necessary to lie down on the sofa all day. Maybe if I'd stayed home on Wednesday instead of pushing through, I might have got better sooner instead of worse again, although I realize there's really no way to tell. I feel like I've learned to listen to my body better, but even so, I don't always pay attention like I should, because I feel like I should be Out There Getting Stuff Done. Rawr!

Stuff will wait, though. It's flightless. It's not going anywhere. I'm fortunate to have a job that lets me stay home when I'm sick, and I know there are people in my office who have my back if I need them. Mister will pick up some of my house chores for a day or two, and the laundry --- well, like I said, it's flightless.

We don't have to buy into the Get Everything Done NOW mentality that our Insta-World has thrust upon us. Is it any wonder we're getting sicker, fatter, more stressed out? Sure, there are things that have to get done on a regular basis - I know that - but the Universe won't collapse if a meeting gets canceled, or a project deadline has to be pushed back a day or two. We owe it to ourselves to take care of us, too. If we don't take care of us, nothing will get done at all, and then we'd really be up a creek.

So listen to your body. Is it telling you to slow down? Then slow down a little. Is it telling you to cancel that dinner date and get a nap instead? Do it. Is it telling you to go ahead and have ICE CREAM for supper? Yes, you can do that too.

Till next time - y'all be nice to yourselves.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Other People's Blogs, January Edition.

From time to time I'd like to share other blogs & websites I think are worthy of your time, and I'm going to start with Deanna Raybourn.

Deanna is the creator of Lady Julia Grey, the elegant, clever heroine of five novels, beginning with Silent in the Grave. I am a self-admitted historical fiction snob, and I could not put this book down. I finished it in a single weekend. Not only that, I read it twice. Deanna not only tells a great story - she also has the increasingly rare ability to put words together in an artful fashion so that the reader is transported right into the middle of the action. Her characters are multifaceted, vibrant, and fascinating, not to mention delightfully mysterious. Lady Julia even has a pet raven, Grim, who talks and asks for treats. And Nicholas Brisbane - well, I won't give too much away. You'll just have to read for yourself.

Deanna has also written a vampire novel titled The Dead Travel Fast. I haven't read this one yet, but I've heard great things about it. It's definitely on my list. So many books, so little time. sigh

Deanna's blog can be found at her website:, and her books are available at online and in-person retailers everywhere. (Just go ahead and buy them, because you'll want to have your very own copies.) I have had the pleasure of meeting her in person, and yes, she really is that fabulous. So pour a glass of wine, put your feet up, and spend an evening or few with Lady Julia Grey. I guarantee it's time well spent.

Till next time - happy reading!

Friday, January 21, 2011

How the Violin Changed My Life.

I was a piano player from the time I was big enough to get my sticky toddler fingers on a tiny toy piano. A little later, I plunked out some tunes on my mom's friend's piano. Eventually I started lessons, and I devoted many years of my early life to the keys, until I suffered a serious burnout in my second year of college. I reached a point where I just didn't want to play anymore, and that made me sad. So I changed my major to English to preserve my sanity and my GPA, and left the piano alone for awhile, lest it become a full-blown adversary.

In the summer of 1989, I met this guy. We played a little music together - or, more accurately, he played while I sang. A year later, we were married, and he showed me how to find my way around on the guitar. I got competent enough to accompany myself in public, and we continued to play in our friends' living rooms at parties, picnics, etc. A few years later, we got into historical reenacting, and of course the music naturally followed. While we had a decent act going on, I felt like we needed more instruments besides just the guitar. At the age of 31, I decided I wanted to try playing the fiddle.

I started out renting a violin to see if it could work out; if it didn't, we weren't out a huge amount of money. The first day I brought the thing home and started fooling around with it, I knew this was going to be a long and rewarding relationship. Within a few weeks, Mister traded an electric bass he was no longer playing for a full-size Romanian-made violin. I found a great teacher, completely by chance, and I was off and running.

All those years I spent with the piano worked to my advantage, because I already read music, although my knowledge of theory had slipped a little in the meantime. And somehow, the violin felt --- familiar. I don't really know how to explain that. I had never entertained the thought of playing the violin, not ever, but once I started, it seemed like I had done it before somehow.

With the fiddle, just as I had done with the piano, I learned a lot of things by ear alone. Fiddle tunes aren't really set in stone anyway, so while sheet music can be a great help, it's more of a general guideline than anything else. And while I plugged away on my Irish & early American tunes, my teacher said, hey, do you want to do some classical stuff?

Well, yeah, does a bear poop in the woods?

We started with Vivaldi, then threw in some Bach and Handel along with some technical method blahblahblah. I always hated that as a piano student even though I understood its value in building technical ability, which had never been my greatest strength. While I don't learn classical music to play in public, it has gone a long way in improving my overall playing, plus I enjoy the challenge.

Anyhow. . . the fiddle added a lot to our act. It brought a whole new dimension to what we were doing with regard to recreating historical music. It also brought me a lot of attention - I guess some people, especially gentlemen of a certain age, still see a woman fiddler as a novelty. I think I've been flirted with by every grandfather east of the Mississippi.

A violin case is also a no-fail conversation starter. People want to know, "do you play?" Many people have told me stories about their moms, dads, grandparents, etc., who played. Kids are especially fascinated. Depending on their age, they're a little more tricky to deal with because the younger ones don't fully understand that a musical instrument isn't a plaything, but I try to accommodate them all I can. If a child is interested in music, I don't want to be the one to discourage that interest. And of course there's always someone who wants to know if I'm toting around a machine gun.

One of my fondest memories comes from an event at Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill in Kentucky, from several years ago. Mister and I had been invited to participate in the Day of Releasement, which was a day when the Shakers took off from work and had a picnic. (This is documented in the site's historical records. So yes, the Shakers did have a little fun every once in awhile.) We portrayed non-Shaker visitors passing through, playing a few tunes in exchange for a meal. I took a short break to visit the facility, and on my way back to the picnic site, a little girl maybe 5 years old walked straight up to me and threw her arms around my waist. Well, naturally I was surprised, because I didn't know this child, but her mother said, "That's Rosa. She's learning to play the cello." That right there was worth the 4-hour drive to play in the summer heat in 3 layers of long clothes.

I love the violin. I'm never going to be Natalie MacMaster or Joshua Bell - I know that - but so what. If I'm in a foul mood, all I have to do is play for a few minutes, and somehow everything is brighter. I still take lessons, because there's always something new to learn. (Plus, most musicians are rarely satisfied with their own ability and want to do better. It's our cross to bear.) It's an hour drive to my teacher's house and some nights I think, aw man, I don't feel like making that drive, and it'll be late when I get home, and I'll be tired. . . but I make the drive anyway, and always feel the better for it.

I write this post not only to share my love of the violin, but also to encourage you, gentle reader, and let you know that if there's something you always wanted to learn, it's never too late. If you really want to do it,  you'll find a way. I was 31 years old before I ever picked up a violin. If I had convinced myself I was too old to learn, I would have missed out on a great joy.

So don't cheat yourself. Never stop learning.

Till next time ---

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why I Changed My Mind About the Bread Machine.

Twenty years ago, my new husband and I had this grand idea that we would eventually have a little farm where we would grow all our own food, bake bread, build things, make soap, you name it. At the time, we were living in a small apartment, so growing food was pretty much out of the question, but I could still bake bread and make wizardry in the kitchen. So I did. I even made mayonnaise.

I hear the snickers among you, but let me tell you, homemade mayonnaise is a thing of beauty (if you like mayo, that is), and it's amazingly simple. But I digress.

I baked bread. I got pretty good at it. Then the bread machine came along, and I was not impressed. No, friends, I was not impressed AT ALL. I thought the bread machine was just a way for non-culinary people to say, "Hey, I baked bread!" when it was the machine doing all the work. Plus, I hadn't had any bread from a machine that had the lovely density of what I considered true home-baked bread. That was that, and I let it rest. No bread machine for me.

Fast forward twenty years. The Mister and I never got our little self-sufficient farm, but we did happen onto some musical pursuits that started to take us away from home during certain times of the year. This cut into my bread-baking time, so I stopped baking, and we just bought whatever bread was on sale at the grocery. This was a suitable arrangement for awhile, till I started taking an interest in what was actually going into my food. And friends, let me tell you, commercially made bread is one of the worst offenders. There's a lot of stuff in there that doesn't need to be in there. All that needs to be in bread is water, yeast, sugar, salt, and flour. That's it. Now, granted, specialty breads will have other ingredients like fruit, nuts, grains, herbs, etc., but for basic bread, you only need 5 ingredients. (If you want to find out what's in your food, I recomment The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, both by Michael Pollan.)

That's when I started to think again about the bread machine. Believe me when I say I had a great moral heart-to-heart talk with myself over this. I don't ever want to be one of those people who lets machines & gadgets do all their work. I've always loved creating things by hand, and considering a bread machine made me feel like I was selling out. But on the other hand, I could control the ingredients in my bread and bake a more wholesome loaf than we'd been buying at the store; plus, it would save us some money since we had been spending extra on the "good" bread. Eventually, my desire for a more wholesome bread overcame my opposition to machinery, and I bought a used bread machine on Ebay.

The machine came during one of those periods when we were frequently away from home, so it was a month or two before I got to use it. But when I did - I was impressed. The whole wheat bread had that wonderfully dense quality that I loved. I was hooked. For everyday bread, I make a whole wheat on the express cycle, which only takes an hour. (ONE HOUR! For fresh bread!!!) I have to make about three every week since a 1.5 lb home-baked loaf has less air in it than a 1.5 lb store loaf, so it yields less slices, but it's so much more tasty. And guess what? It only has 5 ingredients.

I love my bread machine. I'm looking forward to experimenting with some great new recipes. Sometimes changing your mind can be a great thing.