Friday, November 30, 2007

Taking A Ride with the Devil

Could be any of a million things, but I just don't find myself quite yet in the holiday spirit. Things have been downright hectic, and even now as I type there are about a hundred other things I feel obliged to take care of. Things simply never stop. Consequently, my ability to string together meaningful messages for this blog has been not at an all-time low, but certainly lower than usual.

It's not all bad. It's not all good. It's just constant motion. I can't even say I'm running from anything. I feel that I am running to the end of this search or that one, the end of an uncertain period, the beginning of a new epoch, to a time when I can better blend life's work and loves.

On three occasions in the past week, I was taken back deep into my past. Somehow my old stomping grounds have been resurfacing. In the last ten years, I'd have to say that I learned we spend the first 25 or 30 years trying to get away from where we came from, and the rest of our lives trying to get back.

The first was a conversation with someone who works for a state history agency. Somehow we got on the topic of the contribution of the Quakers, and I mentioned that the home I grew up in had an underground railroad tunnel in the cellar. Later that week marked the 30th Anniversary of my father's death. And I was introduced to someone who has family back in the almost-holler not far from where I grew up.

All in a week's time. So I'm paying a little attention.

These times, when we propel ourselves too far forward at such a pace but yet are so clearly reminded, if not downright notified, of our nature and our roots, is like a ride with the devil. We are tempting fate in these times, the fate of our psyche to be able to reconcile the life we are trying to put on with the life we were born to live. It's a winless race, but people run it every day, sometimes me included.

This dark beautiful tune could be the soundtrack to such a race. In my imagination when I hear this song, the opening is almost the music you might associate with a night ride on a river or down a canal past drooping willows, the kind of ride you might take to get away from the home guard if you were running from your master (and oh, how we all run from our masters). It breaks open into a fast paced, full string band theme the way you might break free and run across an open field in search of ultimate freedom. Whether you make it or not is uncertain. It always is, as uncertain as freedom.

But there's no good in not trying. That's letting the devil win. And makes you a prisoner for life, a prisoner of your life.

So go on and join Dirk Powell in A Ride with the Devil. Think about what you've been running from, and running to. And make sure you have good tunes with you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Holiday Shopping Public Service Announcement For the Love of (the International) Bluegrass (Music Museum)

I'm not much of a shopper anymore, but the holidays have often had me over a barrel because I love to give. Over the years, however, as stuff begins to outlive its usefulness and we all have begun to see the world a little differently, many of the folks I normally exchange gifts with have gone to a new strategy of supporting organizations we all care about. For those of you not quite ready to make the break from shopping tradition, here's a little something you might enjoy.

Visit and you'll see what I mean. First of all, it's been vetted by one of my favorite organizations, the American Association of Museums. Second of all, think of how many cool museums are out there that could use a boost. And third, gosh darn it, you can get your shopping done AND support the International Bluegrass Music Museum!

This time of year, there is so much pressure to outdo last year in tidings, trimmings, and trinkets. If you're gonna spend your hard earned cash, why not make sure some of it is going toward something you believe in?

Tony Rice has your back with some perfect shopping music. Here from his 1983 release, Church Street Blues, is Gold Rush. Ready, your favorite museums!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ready or Not, Here It Comes

Today I did what no decent mother would do to her children.

Certainly no loving mother would do it on the second to last day of Thanksgiving break.
Friends, I made my children clean.

Not just tidy, mind you. Not just, move the mound of dirty socks into a laundry basket. I mean, move the stuff away from your walls and wipe up those baseboards.

And they did it. And damn it, they liked it.

We popped the Skaggs Family Christmas album in my son's player, and went to town. And then we tackled the downstairs a little. To top it off, we decorated the mantle over the fireplace that is still empty of yule log, but it's ready since I had a friendly sweep come check it out and remove about 10 years of crud from my chimney. (Oh stop it.)

I'm not sure how to approach the holidays this year. Work is plentiful and pretty formidable, and there's kind of this tidal wave my kids will be riding just on the other side of the New Year. So I hope to have some fun, and spread a little cheer where I can.

As sorry as I will be to send my kids off on Monday for a few days, it's time I got back to business. Back to work, and back to playing. While we were working we caught this favorite tune and my son said to me, "Not bad, Mom. You could do that one."

And goshdarn it, after all, I guess if I can get my kids to enjoy cleaning the glass on picture frames and dusting all 88 keys on my mother's old upright Steinway, I could probably learn to play this familiar holiday tune. Since we did get a start on decking the halls, it's appropriate. I think I'll get going and pick up that old Mando right now.

May you have a good night, and merry too, and may all be well that is.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Has everyone been as busy as I have these last few days? Why do holidays go so swiftly? On Tuesday night as my daughter and I swapped out our rollerskates for shoes, it seemed like we had an endless stretch of days in front of us. Now it's Friday night already. We're piled high in leftovers and cardgames and what seems like an endless rotation of dishes.

But it's been really fun. Rich. On Tuesday night, Son of Mando had a friend sleep over. They were up late playing not video games, but checkers. On Wednesday, while we were all playing in the woods behind our house -- a treat I usually deny myself deferring to other chores -- the boys discovered that we could actually walk to my son's friend's house by crossing the woods. Five minute walk, no roads, no streets. That amazed me in a "Stand By Me" old-fashioned radio flyer kind of way. The entire way back my daughter and I just said over and over, "Wow, that's just crazy." It is.

On Thursday we had a truly wonderful time with my brother and all of his inlaws. My middle brother has a wonderful extended family, and we've been privileged to share some of lifes joys and heartaches with them. They are family to us as well. My brother's youngest daughter, my fourth niece, is very ill with something called biliary atresia, a condition she's had since birth. She's a hard worker and it breaks my heart to see her life sort of in suspended animation while they figure out what this disease will do next.

Today was an oddball day. I spent a little time working at home and the office, with my daughter in tow; she's always up for a trip to the office. We also played in the new snow. Snow! (There is a period during which it charms me and then suddenly, around January 7 or 8, the charm wears off. This is why, this winter, I will learn to ski.) There was no post-Thanksgiving shopping; most of my friends do a charity gift exchange (we make contributions to favored charities rather than buy gifts) and with Santa visiting The Other House this year my shopping will be a little lighter. I don't know what PR machine created this new tradition of staying up all night on Thanksgiving to go shopping at 4 a.m. the next day. What happened to putting up a Christmas tree that day? Or Museums? Or not doing anything at all?

Tonight, we dropped our many books and movies off at the library and searched in vain for Christmas lights; our search took us all the way to another nearby town where barely did we see an unbulbed tree.

So here we all are, in holiday limbo, somewhere between leftovers and stringing lights. The kids have been up every night since Tuesday until at least 10 or later, and I'm usually not far behind them. Watching them play and relax probably could teach me something between loads of dishes and laundry and checking work email.

I just hope that everyone has as much to be thankful for as I do. Beautiful, healthy, smart children who are the light of my life. A wonderful family. Loving friends. A home and plenty of food and warmth. A job I look forward to doing every single day. My own health, clarity, and, 80 percent of the time, peace. Happiness. Satisfaction. Hope.

These things are gifts. I didn't earn them. These and other little miracles are the things that keep me going. And I am happy to share my leftovers.

Even though it really is too early, I'll kick off the holiday season with a tune from Ricky Scaggs, from the Skaggs Family Christmas recording. Here's one entitled Go Thee Down.

I hope you're enjoying a few leftovers of the soul along with that second pumpkin pie in your fridge and turkey soup.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Lotta Wind

Man, I got friends.

I sort of find myself in the middle of a situation. I guess I did sort of get a little uppity and tell my X that he needed to get his head out of his ass and deal with the stuff going on with the kids like a man. In a manner of speaking, I asked for it.

But my kids didn't really ask for what's happening to them. What kid does?

I remember being a kid. Basically, there is little or no democracy. You kind of have to do whatever the grownups tell you to do. When my mom had to sell our house out in the country, and move us to town, it was the very smartest thing she could do. Hell, we lived in an old house. The people who built it were buried in the cemetery down the lane. It had a door in one cellar which opened into the underground railroad. It was a monster to heat. And 20 acres to mow? What single mother has time for that?

So I remember the night before we moved just feeling like I would never sleep again. My life was OVER. I lay on the floor in what used to be our sort of family room, listening to the radio. I was so afraid of the change that was coming.

And you know what?

I survived. And my sister, too. And we had a great run. It had it's moments, but overall, my mother knew what she was doing.

Granted, not all grownups do. But I do understand that sometimes a sort of martial law is called into effect. My kids and I don't respond to that very well but pretty much we know that there's little we can do when it is invoked.

So we listen to the wind.

I like to stand on hilltops and mountains sometimes, and enjoy the wind and the view at the same time. I realized tonight that there hasn't been a moment in the last four or five years when I stood at a beautiful place and felt, "Gee, this would be so much better if I were like, glued to somebody's side." The majesty of a place is there whether we are alone or with another to witness it. I love that I can breathe deeply and allow the expanse of a beautiful vista to wash over me and be completely in that moment.

Tonight the kids and I watched a silly movie, Princess Diaries 2. What a sneaky little movie! At the end, the lovely young Princess Mia (Anne Hathaway) convinces her Parliament to abolish an outmoded law that required that a female heir could not be Queen unless she were married. How about that? Disney--who knew! It was a timely message. Sometimes I feel that I am not living up to some standard by being alone, as though being married automatically confers special powers. It doesn't. It does however confer additional responsibility, and you're either up to it, or your not.

I'm not sure that the so-called "benefits" of marriage suit me very well at this point in my life. I do love to be able to put my children first without reservation, and to spend the time I'm not with them any damn way I choose. Certainly the genuineness of the union and the benefits of my remarriage to my children would have to prove enormous in order to convince me to take that step.

But my kids are in a situation, and I'm in it with them, and so I gotta go listen to a lot of wind. I hope it is well intentioned. I hope there is genuine concern and integrity behind it. I hope I am utterly convinced of sincerity and love.

And if I'm not? Well, then I can refer the matter. And listen to more bluegrass while it gets sorted out.

Blow Big Wind

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Way It Works

The way it works is, you work.

I work. The way I pay for things, like my kids after school care and camp and our expenses, and my insurance, and repairs, and my mortgage, is that I work. I have a job, a job I actually love. It doesn't pay as much as I'm worth and probably never will, but it is work worth doing, and I do it close to 50 hours a week.

So when I'm not at work, I have a little fun and I do a lot of parenting. I would love to go back to school but I can't afford the money or the time away from my family or my work, nor would I be allowed to move my children for a program that would make sense for me, a Masters in Arts Administration. (And the simple people scratch their heads.)

I could go out and get me a ticket on the next gravy train too, but the thought of that ride leaves me with a little throw up in my mouth.

I ain't waitin' for no gravy train.

I'm just working.


Up This Hill And Down
Claire Lynch Band
Up this hill and down
Up this hill again
Up this hill and down
Up this hill again
Well it's a mighty, mighty long road
One ain't got no end

Well it's five o'clock in the mornin
'Til twelve o'clock at night
It's five o'clock in the mornin'
'Til twelve o'clock at night
I work so hard to live
I ain't got no life

Up this hill and down
Up this hill again
Up this hill and down
Up this hill again
It's a mighty, mighty long road
One ain't got no end

Well if you're good man, he don't kill you
He'll drive you insane
If you're good man, he don't kill you
He'll drive you insane
Well love's about got me down
But I sure do like the pain

Up this hill and down
Up this hill again
Up this hill and down
Up this hill again
Well it's a mighty, mighty long road
One aint' got no end

Some day I'll have some money
I won't have to work so hard
Some day I'll have some money
I won't have to work so hard
Saturday I'll talk to my man
Sunday I'll talk to the Lord

Up this hill and down
Up this hill again
Up this hill and down
Up this hill again
Well it's a mighty, mighty long road
One aint' got no end

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Done Done Her Duty

This year I let slip past a little known anniversary.

On November 2, it had been five years since my mom died.

It was the first year none of us called each other. I only mentioned it to my son at the very end of the day so he wouldn't dwell on it.

After five years, you'd think it was time to delete her clearly no-longer-in-service phone number from my cell phone. In fact she died before I even got my current phone but the number just transfered on over when I got my new phone.

The thing is, while the rest of us were sad and still miss her deeply, she was ready to go. She was tired, she'd not been in the best health, and she really wasn't interested in putting up much of a fight, for whatever reason. I think she feared becoming a burden to us more than anything. It's what mothers feel I guess.

Sunday night, Tim O'Brien did a few of his much older songs, including a Hot Rize tune called Late in the Day, which always reminds me of my mom. But between his set and Mountain Heart, there was a Duhks tape rolling. With my mom on my mind, I heard one of their tunes I love best, Death Came A Knockin'.

It so rots that I can't post this vid here of the Duhks. SO the link is below. Just as I was listening to this tune again making it my MySpace tune of the week, I thought, "Dag, I bet Casey Driessen would nail this tune." And whaddaya know. Who's that little fella in the blue shirt there off to the left?!

Enjoy this one, and be sure to sing along for June Anne. She done done her duty for sure, and I hope I can say the same when my time comes to buckle on my travelin' shoes and stand by the Jordan stream.

Death Came A Knockin
by The Duhks, Grey Fox 2007, Ancramdale, NY

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Older The Fiddle, The Sweeter the Tune

Not JUST a wonderful weekend with friends and fabulous food and fun in a different time zone and city.

Not JUST many greetings and salutations from friends and family.

Not JUST Tim O'Brien singing Happy Birthday to me at the Kent Stage.

Not JUST Mountain Heart playing at the Kent Stage.

But Tim O'Brien playing WITH Mountain Heart on the Kent Stage, on my birthday.

The only way it could be any better is if instead of giving everyone a day off to celebrate Veterans, we actually gave our veterans health care, and jobs, and supportive services, and a place to live.

Have a good night, and if you are a banker, postal worker, or government slave, a nice day off tomorrow.

The Older, and Most Definitely Better, MM

Friday, November 09, 2007

Suspended Aggravation

This blogger is temporarily having fun in another (windy) city.

Check back Monday as I'll be up all night Sunday reeling from the terrific Tim O'Brien and Mountain Heart show at The Kent Stage.

Until then, enjoy this little honky tonkin' number from The Gibson Brothers. It's bluesy, and grassy.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Signs of the Times

Thank God election day is over. Now we can take down the signs and all get back to important things. Like, what the hell difference does passing a school levy make if real property values are now literally in the basement?

Today the news was more of the same. With oil prices hovering around a hundred bucks a refined barrel, we could be in deep trouble.

Well, no shit, says the common man.

This here is the guy who runs Countrywide Home Loans. Countrywide is among the biggest subprime lenders in the loan debacle. But he still has a job, at which he made something like $57 million a couple of years ago. He's not alone. There are lots of culprits in this mortgage mess.

What bothers me is that a handful of selfish bastards have created one hell of a mess. Homes are appraising at less than they sold for years ago. Meanwhile, a couple years ago Mr. Mozilo made around $57 million, larger than the budgets of most school districts in Ohio, which being the bass-ackwards state it is, still relies on home property real estate taxes to support its local school districts. So what's next? Public school systems will tank, but who will have money to send their kids to private schools?

I work around a 50 to 60 hour week and sometimes more. The difference is, I don't get paid nearly as much as Mr. Mozilo and his peers, or the oil execs, or frankly, a lot of every day people. But I work really hard, and as I've said, I really do love my job. On the rare occasion I make a mistake, I do something about it, not sit around on my fat ass while the world turns waiting for conditions to change or for someone else to accept responsibility.

This, more than anything, is what pisses me off. Even lying doesn't piss me off as much as people just evading accountability. The worst of these crackers are the ones who take a situation they created and then turn around and blame it on the ones who are suffering. Can't tell you how many times I've seen that trick.

In China, when people screw up, or their companies screw up, they just take 'em out back and shoot 'em. That's it. I can't say a lot of good things for that country, but given the state of things, sometimes I wonder what it would be like if people at the top of the corporate food chain actually had to pay for their mistakes. But shooting these bozos is too kind. It might be fun to to see refinery execs taken out back and maybe rolled in some oil before dipping them in a big vat of, oh I don't know, ABC bubblegum.

If everyone behaved as though they were responsible for their own actions, the world would be a different place. No God to rescue you, no one else to blame for the people you've hurt, no knight in shining armor or lady in waiting to bail you out of your past. No more waiting on the wind to change before you change your life. No more looking around, just, looking within. Then we will really see.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Truth is Inconvenient

Pardon me while I run my hands through my newly eco-friendly haircut while I enjoy the photos of my niece who went Trick or Treating as Mother Nature.

I thought I was paying attention before, but since Son of Mando and I watched "An Inconvenient Truth" a couple of weeks ago, I realize, damn, I still waste a lot, do a lot of things that aren't necessary, consume more than I need. I am also feeling really irritated by the enormous effort people will go to in order to conceal things from the rest of us. Lying is so easy; truth is entirely inconvenient.

Now it's true that Al Gore's Nobel, which I hasten to point out he shares with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has riled a lot of people against his celebrity. But sitting there watching all this science in plain English so that even my 13 year old son understands made me realize that the world would be an entirely different place if Al Gore had been allowed to take office. After all, he was elected. But through a series of miraculous and unexplained conveniences, he didn't become president.

What a mindfuck, really. And now, it's a clusterfuck -- we have not only a shitty president but a war, a tumbling economy, and towns in the South that can only have water service for three hours a day, thanks to President You Can't Make Me.

I used to get so mad when people would ignore simple red flags, but I don't anymore. I've learned that, by and large, people are stupid, and they like it that way. They're not stupid because they're really naturally that dumb (the current President of the United States excepted), they're just lazy or afraid, and that's just sad. It's much easier to ignore the truth about something when it doesn't agree with the direction your life is going or support your consumptive, self-absorbed, or uber-capitalist habits. It's far harder to do the right thing which sometimes means putting something or someone ahead of yourself, like your kids or your community, or your country's water supply. The scientific evidence is there, but most people just ignore it because it's too silly or inconvenient or expensive to try to change their habits, even when it benefits them directly. Certainly I need certain things to be convenient, but not to the point that it's ridiculous. (Even my own X, someone I consider generally to be pretty smart, would rather pay five dollars to pay an invoice online for a class trip our son is taking, instead of mail a check with a .41 stamp. Five dollars. Where does that money go, and why? I pointed out that's half a week of school lunches for our daughter and I offered to send him a stamped envelope with my share.)

Tonight I watched the movie "Over the Hedge" with my kids. It's a hilariously pointed stab at Suburban America. The lead critter, R.J., proclaims, "For humans, enough is never enough!" That's the damn truth. The loads of other people's crap I see on tree lawns every Tuesday proves this. But meanwhile we can take simple steps to act on the real and serious consequences the world is facing. Even my kids have learned to connect the dots and recognize that the things they do now will have an impact beyond them, and consequences for people they might never even meet.

Don't let anyone bullshit you with a bunch of counter baloney. They're just embarrassed or insecure. You can...
  • Turn out the lights in the rooms you're not using. "It takes more energy to turn a light back on" -- bullshit! Oh, and use a compact flourescent in any lamps that will take them. They're no more dangerous than the half-empty cans of paint you have in your garage or the batteries you threw out yesterday. I tell my children that it's not just about saving a few pennies on our electric bill. Energy we don't use can be used by hospitals and schools and nursing homes.
  • Don't idle your car. I can't tell you how angry it makes me when people let their cars run while they drop their kids off at daycare. I'm tempted to take their goddamn keys. Turn the car OFF. If it's too much trouble to turn it off and on, or takes too much time, get up five minutes earlier, or wear less makeup. Your skin will thank you.
  • Use reusable bags at the grocery store. Keep them in your car. Plastic is nasty to make and never goes away. You probably have enough unused plastic bags to scoop up dog poop and line waste cans for the next five years. I also find I buy only what we need and sometimes even buy less when I think about carrying it.
  • Don't get the reusable bag thing? Ask for paper. It biodegrades. Plastic never will.
  • Before you buy something, ask yourself three times on three different occasions whether you really need it. Never make a special trip for anything unless it really is an emergency.
  • Do bigger loads of laundry.
  • Don't water your grass. If you and your neighbors all quit watering your lawns and instead use it to water your vegetables, you can all have a big party with healthy homegrown food and it won't matter that your lawn is brown because you're all having a good time.
  • Eat food in as natural a state as possible, and eat less meat. Think about the grocery industry. Sure, it might be really cool to think you are saving a lot of money buying those big honkin burger packs at the Greedy Eagle. But first the meat has to be fed, then killed and butchered -- did you really want the statistics on groundwater contamination here or do you want to wait until you have an empty stomach? -- then it's processed beyond recognition, frozen by some sort of crazy energy-consumptive process, packaged, loaded onto a diesel truck where it is carbon-fuel delivered to your grocery store. I have news for you. That ain't no fitty-cent burger on your plate. By the time you lift that nasty thing to your mouth, it's been around the block more times than you have, and cost us some serious climate wattage. Gotta have a burger? Find a local butcher, or kill it yourself. If more people had to bust their asses like they did in the old days to get the food they eat now, there would be a lot more vegetarians.
  • Plant things. Grow some food. Grow anything. And don't slather it with pesticides. Grow plants that are compatible with one another and naturally repel pests. You can even plant things that deer don't like. Really. All you have to do is learn how to do it.
  • Recycle. Really. And, if you don't like recycling, buy stuff with less packaging -- or don't buy it at all.
  • Drive a car with a higher gas mileage. This is one I am guilty of violating, but I can't afford a car payment right now. But I am seriously considering, once I turn my present car over to my son, getting a much smaller, much more efficient automobile. Fiddles and mandolins don't take up much room, and I don't have dogs (yet). Meanwhile, just drive less.
My kids and I do a lot of these things at my house. Sometimes it's really hard and we make more convenient choices. And I know it's easy to make excuses. But we just can't anymore. And really, neither can you.

I found a lot of inspiration in this song by the original Country Gentlemen. It's actually the first song that introduced me to them, and I fell in love with it right away. It's just got their signature sound -- and message. They've just always been different, and I'm so pleased that Randy Waller is carrying the tradition forward now. Please take a listen. It's a good soundtrack for gathering up your compost or breaking down cardboard. Too inconvenient? Tell that to your grandkids.

Redwood Hill