Friday, December 31, 2010

Bonne Nuit et Merci, 2010

On my mind recently is this: What IS giving, and how am I doing my part?

Due to being short on a lot of resources this year, part of my Christmas gifts involved braid breads -- specifically, Swedish Cardamom Bread. They were very easy to make (vegan) and good; I didn't sprinkle them with sugar, but did add raisins to one loaf and chocolate chips to the other. The loaves pictured here are replicas and include ground up oats because I ran out of whole wheat pastry flour. I often make-do.

Handmade crocheted items -- a large pink blanket, a nubbly soft brown scarf, and another pink and cream scarf -- and three packages of markers went to Nationwide Children's Hospital. If I had a child, and that child were sick, I would want them to feel warm and safe and still able to create while in the care of top professionals. Our local Andyman-a-thon raised over $70,000 (!) this year to benefit childrens' charities, which includes Children's Hospital, and in this small way I also pay tribute to Andyman, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this year yet still inspires massive giving here in Columbus.

I'm supporting Cold Antler by being a part of its wool CSA this year -- Jenna purchased her own farm and the wool I receive comes straight from the first sheep she's ever owned. I even know what they look like thanks to frequent pictures on her fantastic blog -- meet them here, including the new Blackface ewes. This is a solo endeavor on her part, and I love reading about her daily demonstration of independence and guts.

Making Memories grants wishes for metastatic breast cancer patients whose insurance has run out or are facing financial hardship, and often for whom a cure is too late. For a variety of very important reasons, my wedding dress went to this foundation.

Heartmade Blessings is getting a chunk of my yarn stash so that its volunteers can crochet squares that are then made into one large afghan to give to those suffering a loss, tragedy, or simply going through a rough time. The Bearghans are sent to an infant or small child in a similar situation. I just love this.

Tracks of harp music -- solo and in collaboration with other musicians -- are part of a CD recorded to benefit the United Way. Details coming soon.

I accompanied my mother for her first ever solo, a true gift to me. Yes, it brought tears to my eyes while we were rehearsing, though that's not exactly what is going on here!

In the midst of my mind-racing, I am grateful. Not just for finally getting the washer to work, for being able to end this warm day with a ride on the bike, or for the chance to sit here quietly in the last minutes of 2010 with a cup of delicious tea even while my neighbors are setting off several rounds of firecrackers. I am grateful for this past year and the people I've met and the experiences I've had that have encouraged me to grow in ways I did not expect.

What 2010 gifts are you grateful for?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Guggenheim: Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller

So last week I packed up and drove to New York City to experience firsthand the Sonic Arboretum, the collaborative work of Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller at the Guggenheim.

I'm not going to repeat what is already out there in
reviews, video, and photos of the August 5th sold-out show (links below). There was no question I would attend -- Ian and I had discussed this concept not long after my last visit, and I was eager to witness this stage of its unfolding.

Nevermind that I had never been to New York City. I can tell you the 1357-mile trip was perfectly punctuated by a Pittsburgh visit with a dear college friend and her beautiful fami
ly. I can tell you how driving through downtown Manhattan in rush hour is similar to driving in Paris but with far less horn-blaring, vocalizing and tailgating. Miraculous was my unceremonious introduction to unspoken Harlem pedestrian rules, as was how I got away with many unintentional traffic violations. "You'll be all right," were the surviving words after a staredown outside the Harlem Flophouse and I never encountered another soul there for the remainder of my stay. Panicked re-parking attempts at 2 AM were worth the hassle; I would have loved to stay longer in the eerie quiet and safety of the gorgeous room I now miss.

Perfect was the Cozy Cole in the Harlem Flophouse,
though my first preference was the Corky Hale

I can tell you how to pay $45 to park your car
in the wrong garage that doesn't honor parking ticket museum validation, and anyone who knows me would instantly see the irony of my having shown fellow concert-goers how to drink. After briefly touring the art exhibit, I sincerely asked permission to hedge in on a prime viewing location and wound up flanked by the individuals who most frequently appear in the online photos of the event.

What I really want to tell you is that the sight of those transfixed in a backlit upward spiral of white, immersed in the sound of layered strings and ethereal voice emanating through 53 Victrola-type horn speakers, can make you cry.

Click here or on the YouTube logo to watch in HD

And that despite wanting to pick up the Guggenheim and its contents and nestle it in a more accessible, softer and cleaner environment, it was worth the insane life-bending efforts to be there, in that moment, as is.

Dazed and seeming not to care? Put down your reporter's pencil after having scrawled numerous inaccurate details and try this on.

Imagine you are solely
responsible for creating a soundscape of precise and focused layers -- neither background music nor a full-blown concert -- without having any time to fully experiment with the unusual amplification equipment arranged in three separate pod groups on the main floor.

Imagine 1400 pairs of eyes in above-and-below 360-degree rounds belonging to human sponges and reflectors that are inadvertently altering every-direction sonic projection. Imagine being surrounded by several instruments and at least twice as many effects and looping pedals, as well as by a few dozen photographers and videographers contorting over walls and each other for the perfect shot of your perpetual split-second situation assessments.

Imagine feeling a shift in the room as soon as you start to play -- while engulfed by your own sound you wonder if this space is truly vast enough to accommodate what is spilling from your mouth, your hands, your feet. Tonight is a night of constant adjustment in response to mood, acoustics, and expectations, and you will need to make this appear intentional, authentic, and seamless.

Quickly and efficiently decide where and on what your focus will be, and hold that focus while also allowing the sparkling spontaneous nature of your music to soulfully unfurl.

For almost two hours. Include new music. End with a planned piece and drastically alter it after re-reading the crowd and your own energy. Exit the only way possible by backing up and sliding over the wall behind you. Repeat.


There is a fine line between playing to the space / crowd and exposing what naturally rises up and out of each moment. Or, as with Andrew Bird, there is no line like this at all.

I can't wait to see what happens now.

Live Show Review: Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller's Sonic Arboretum, Guggenheim Rotunda, NYC
Andrew Bird, Ian Schneller & a whole bunch of horn speakers @ the Guggenheim
About Last Night: Andrew Bird at the Guggenheim
We Were There: Andrew Bird at the Guggenheim
Andrew Bird live at The Guggenheim as part of the museum's "Dark Sounds" series

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Enough of the snow pictures already.

One of my favorite places to play -- The Darby House

It's August, and it's a month of adventures and risk-taking.

Jake's doll -- sewed him up while visiting with my beautiful niece & nephews

Starting NOW.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Slightly slow

I have a cold weather mode and a warm weather mode; I'm happy to be in the latter.

The post below, however, is a cold mode leftover-- important once, but passed its prime -- or a cold mode hangover, a dream whose details are gratefully difficult to recall, and the best that can be hoped for is remotely good decisions were made while in the thick of it.

Warm mode, and it's onset, has brought on a slew of absurdities, maybe a lot like what you've experienced; it's only that the
how hasn't yet caught up with the what. A little slow.

January is a geyser for the wedding industry and for marketing gurus determined to help creative entrepreneurs get their dreams off the ground. The internet and Inbox are bombarded with offers of trade shows and teleclasses, tempting you with alterations in calendar and content, yanking out from under you any time or sanity left unguarded.

February brings a slew of random gigs -- including playing the world premier of Stan Smith's piece at Capital's NOW Festival and Valentine's dinner at Barcelona -- that somehow happen around all the snowstorms. Photos of the mountains of white that line either side of the driveway are now so the norm they are no longer interesting.

When it gets to be too much, it doesn't matter anymore whether it's smart to go running out into the night, donning the faded coat that matches the heavy fog nestling over the land of just-melted snow, the same coat that, over fifteen years ago, your friend who came with you to the discount store queried, "Black? Again? And four sizes too large?" This is the coat now that is donned for dirty work, like wrestling with firewood, taking out compost, shoveling Volvos out of the driveway.

Or getting the mail. That's really all you intended, not to go crashing past the mailbox with old zippers and torn elastic flailing, clambering down the shimmering strip of grey that is the road, stopped only momentarily by the unmistakable wail of the pack of coyotes just two fields over, who cry early on this night, probably in the exact spot you were just yesterday.

You prefer to be in the fields and woods, but something keeps you on the road and you stop again for another sound -- the rushing of the water. The driveway piles of white you unceremoniously kicked to oblivion to further expedite their melting have transformed here to foam and fervor, smashing past fallen trees and stones. This is how you grew up: Watch the water. There is movement here. Obstructions don't exist here.

You needed this reminder. You don't have any more answers than you did yesterday, even though you handed over half your questions.

You're not crying, nor laughing, nor fearful, nor pained -- or maybe you are all of it at once. It's a flood. You are a portal, after all, channeling what you didn't have a choice in downloading. The waves crash and clamor through and past -- no obstructions.

As a kid, you studied the patterns of the water and cleared out the leaves just to watch it gain momentum. You marveled at how the crayfish could stand the cold. The stones and water, polishing each other clean for years, met for the first time the alterations created by your innocent and curious hands, the same hands that within a few hours pushed ketchup & mustard & cheddar cheese on bread into the gargantuan microwave to melt.

The trees along the side of the road whose midsections were barbarically removed to make way for power lines are fantastic dark angels, silent sentinels. Their wings reach out and up, spread for flight. Their heads are bowed into the wind, into the night, ready -- no obstructions.

No going back.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's the Big Little Things

There is a popular NPR program that ends with "Keep the faith!"

When the fish dies -- as they do here at the edge of a big end / beginning -- and the bowl breaks during washing and the very next day a Freecycle post offers two glass giants with just the right accessories, you don't question it, you just go get them.

And the very same day, when you round the corner at Goodwill during a statewide pre-storm panic and find the only and brand new set of fireplace tools for $3, you pick them up.

And then it snows. You wait for the big answers. Sometimes they hit you in the middle of a crochet stitch, or when nursing a firewood wound, or when inhaling newborn skin as he sinks into soft sleep in your arms, or when you discover the spot in the snow where the canine tracks reve
al the start of a highspeed chase.

Take action.

You gun it out of the driveway in reverse because it's the only way to prevent the car-made-in-snowy-Sweden from getting stuck. You visit friends on another planet and book your next gig on the way out. You overhaul some online music because what was there suddenly no longer represents who you are or what you do. Despite looming monsters like the next IRS and everything-else payment, you commit to the big purchase for really no logical reason at all.

he says, "I am so happy to do that for you."

Sweeping driveway snow in pink boots from a former life that were made for mud puddles and not single digit cold, you realize that after eight years you don't know where the edges are. That must be why that bush was planted there, the plant with purpose that has so often to you looked out of place and alone.

You already responsibly recycled yourself out of some necessary supplies, but at the end of the driveway, in hard-to-miss orange plastic, you find exactly what you need to start the next roaring fire.

Tomorrow there are more decisions to make, but maybe it's as simple as showing up, maybe with homemade black bean soup and perfectly popped stovetop popcorn and dark chocolate covered almonds and more fire, with an open mind and heart. Keep the faith.

Listening to:
Yes, Time and a Word -- lush and clamoring

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Wrap Up

So maybe you jump in a puce-colored car that isn't yours and in one day drive over 350 miles to see these.

But not just these. You choose the boring terrain route because research reveals that at the halfway mark you can fill up at a Kroger gas station using a hefty gift card someone sent you anonymously last year for Christmas.*

Miles and miles of angelic and ghostly
wind turbines wave you past. Their spinning, each at its own speed or not at all, stirs up hope. Something is happening here, evidence of effort, simple movement, working with what is. Even on the drive back, their slow blinking red lights are beacons of solace.

You aren't excited at all about the trip until you drive past the skyscrapers on the left and the lake on the right and haphazardly turn onto an unknown street. Happiness hits you head-on and you are caught off guard. You've arrived at Christmas, or rather, at a child-like glee you haven't felt in decades -- nothing can go wrong, you know to your core you are exactly where you should be, and everything prior to this moment is irrelevant. You are in the NOW and it is so RIGHT.

You drop your bags in the hotel room and can't wait to run around the city. While taking this picture of Fourth Presbyterian, where you will experience magic in less than an hour, a woman shuffles closer. "Say, can I tell you a story?" You answer yes without looking away from the camera. Her story may be bunk but you give her $5, the total amount you tucked in your pocket before racing giddily past the doorman, and it is worth it to have her look you dead in the eyes and say, "Thank you for listening. It is rare that people listen."

After having washed off travel, you realize it's probably open seating at the church and your tardiness could be disastrous. But there, in the third row, you spot a moveable aisle seat, which means when darkness descends, you scoot out nearly into the middle of the aisle for the best view.

And you're looking at this. Except you're pretty sure photos aren't allowed so you don't take the time to ensure you've got the best shot. Ethereal lighting, incredible sound through horn speakers and no PA, and a tenderness and honesty you haven't seen in a very, very long time.**

You are struck with the thought over and over, "So this is what it's like..."

Magic. Bliss.
And when it's over, you go back to the hotel unsure of what to do. The blaring TV in the next room makes it hard to think, let alone sleep, and you don't want to lose these moments. You don't want to leave the hotel room that used to, long ago, belong to someone, a home.

The next day you drive around many parts of the city you probably shouldn't as you left your GPS system a few states away. You park on a side street and pat yourself on the back for thinking to lock your belongings in the puce car trunk out of sight until you realize you also tossed in the car keys. After anxious and almost pointless phone calls for help you retrieve them but then decide you probably shouldn't park there anyway, and will risk parking directly in front of the building where the first photo was taken, right next to a now-obvious "Guest Parking" sign.

By now you are late and learn that the annual Christmas party is their reason for closing early. But they give you time to yourself with the Silhouette and the 2000 Electroacoustic. But given your past experience as well as the previous night's sonic delight, these instruments are even more achingly mechanical and bright despite countless efforts to create the warmth and depth you need. You feel validated a hundred times over as you realize what you've been doing, all these years, on your own, but unnerved by the thought that it might not fit here. You leave almost relieved that you don't feel so compelled anymore to drop thousands of dollars to acquire one of these fantastic instruments.

Earlier that morning you realized YOU ARE IN CHICAGO so instead of merely wondering about an important matter you could actually just go experience it. So after Lyon & Healy you seek out Specimen Products. A chord strikes deep within; this is such a welcome change from the factory, and you are so amazed at the technology and the offers / offerings that you are very eager to drop thousands on the spot.

You have a lot to think about so you head north without directions and finally are in the vicinity of your last stop. Except you don't stop. You drive past the address countless times before realizing you're in the right place. You hope no one noticed the puce car driving in circles and hesitatingly head out of town. It doesn't feel like it should end. You realize you need experiences like this more than you thought and must build them into the very near future. You just don't know how.

You face the holidays, the financial strains and binds, the coming of a new year and you've lost the giddiness. Your entire purpose now is TO GET IT BACK. Something about it is very right, and it's given you a direction of some sort, and now the trick is to not forget, despite your million worries and doubts.

You light a fire in your fireplace, take advantage of wireless internet to which you've only very recently discovered you've had access, look around again for what to remove in order to get ahead, and marvel at having released the final symbol of your biggest life failure by finally admitting you failed. And you let go. And it's not The End.

*Dear Anonymous Gift Card Sender -- for a long time I turned the gorgeous stationery with the return address of Bun's Restaurant over and over in my hands as I tried in vain to decipher your 2008 handwriting. This, right here, is my only was of thanking you; what you made possible is priceless.

** Other write-ups and reviews of Andrew Bird's Gezelligheid December 2009 concerts: