Category Archives: music

A story of Petrushka

It all began with a request, from my first born, to create a special gift for his long time university level private-lesson teacher/ coach / mentor, Paul Patterson.   If anyone could understand our complex and multifaceted young musician, and light a path ahead for him through the throes of life in a conservatory setting, Paul has been that person.   He enabled Jack to see that there was no need to choose one musical path over any others – that to study jazz music was not to abandon the classical tradition.  This forked path is not for every musician, and it takes a great deal of extra work, but over the years, with the help of some other amazing instructors as well, Paul has quietly given our Jack many tools to follow his musical nose down whichever path that may lead.

Words simply cannot convey how grateful we are to Paul for his patience, his belief in this kid, and for truly shaping a young life in a way none of us thought possible.  Maybe in some ways, he even saved that young life and placed it on a more hopeful and focused path when he needed it most.

I had in mind perhaps a painting, of a master and his young student. Or perhaps a handmade book.  In typical fashion I thought and thought but was dragging my proverbial heels, artistically speaking, as Jack’s end-of-conservatory recital drew nearer.

Finally, Jack came up with a brilliant, though rather lofty, idea for a gift.  The kind of gift which might suit a teacher who has everything he may want or need.  What if I were to create a small puppet-styled doll, in the shape of Stravinsky’s famed Petrushka ballet?

And so I sourced some scrap wood from a carver friend, and set to experimenting.

This red cedar is incredibly beautiful, but difficult to carve in the time scope we had (and with my ever-so-rusty carving skills!).  So I fell back on some basswood I had up in our attic space which is softer to work with.

After a number of practice runs and false starts, I finally had a serviceable head with which to build Petrushka’s figure and so I set to work on the rest of the body.

I carved and carved.

Shaping things out of little blocks of wood and slowly bringing character and a bit of life to them.

I’ve worked with puppets in the past, most notably with the brilliant Frisch Marionette Company.  But my work there mostly centered on the performance aspect of puppetry, not necessarily the building of them.

And so my goal with this particular work was not a proper puppet necessarily, poised and balanced for nuance of movement, but rather a doll, with puppet tendencies, to be presented as an artful gift.

Soon I had pieces of this puppet-doll put together and able to move hither and thither in his own way.

To me, a representation of anything, be it animal, person, or puppet character, doesn’t really come to life (two-dimensionally or three) until the eyes have been gifted the spark of personality.

Creepy as this may look to those averse to clown-styled imagery, it was upon painting this Petrushka’s face that the personality of this tragic ballet-theater character truly fell into being.

Soon I was crafting a little outfit for him, all handmade, as proper gifts often are.

After awhile he was complete, except for the semblance of strings to give him the feel of a proper puppet, if not necessarily the movement of one.

This Petrushka is full of quirky personality, much like our Jack, and much like his amazing mentor, Paul himself.

It’s been a great joy to put time and energy into this project, even if it meant getting behind in and left behind by a few others.

This Petrushka’s workings are a tad on the clumsy side…

 

But he is a lovely sculptural gift for some one who loves music.  Someone who has himself, done much to sculpt the abilities, thinking and sensibilities of our young musician.  Things we as parents can’t always do.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  I firmly believe in the truth of this and I take pride in the other adults we’ve invited into our lives over the years to help us in raising ours.  We are deeply indebted to all of them, and this trend continues into the young adulthood of both of our kids.  All that said, Paul Patterson is exceptionally close to our hearts for all the hours he has spent shaping and carving out the musical life of Jack.  We often ran into him at gigs Jack had, even outside of University life.  He always had much to report on all of the hard work Jack was putting into his music, and how we might best support him in our own, non-musical ways.  We can’t thank him enough!

Paul, this one is for you.  With love and gratitude.

River Run Wide

For days, it seemed as if it would never stop raining.

We hunkered in our homes, all of us  (including the Faeries, I do believe!) watching the gardens begin to awaken between raindrops and the rollercoaster weather patterns for which our region is known.

We tended our indoor plants as well, hungry to touch something green once again.  We are all of us ready to go outside once more.

As the rain poured down, our normally babbling brooks not only rushed but eventually even did a fair amount of flooding.  Up and over our little bridge and the drive.  Thankfully, the flood waters only lapped up to the door, with nary a trickle actually making it indoors.  We were lucky.

Eventually, the sun has shown here and there.  And things are beginning to bud and bloom.  Risky behavior for these intrepid plants, as warm days are still fleeting.

But bloom, they do.

While the streams rushed outside our doors, and the Ohio River and its tributaries raged closer to town, another far sweeter and gentler River has begun flowing…..

A new album of folk-styled music has been taking shape out in Seattle where my young friend Alex Sturbaum now lives.  You may remember Alex from my post about his amazingly hand-crafted wedding a few months back.  Recently Alex created a Kickstarter campaign for his River Run Wide project and it has been successfully funded (though there is always room for more)!!  I was thrilled when he gave me a call and asked me if I might be able to produce some art work to contribute to the design of the CD and it’s wee booklet.

There are so many tales to be told and behold through Alex’s music -both via traditional songs he’s interpreted for this solo album as well as his charming original works. Narratives rich in visual detailing and a sense of nostalgia for something just out of reach.  You can practically smell the salt air of a ship’s passage in his maritime songs….

You can feel the pull of a mighty river and maybe hear the voices of those working it just over the lapping of the river waves on shore…..

There is a longing for home that music such as this evokes.  It may very well be a sense of home which can never be quenched.

Congratulations to Alex, and his talented band of merry, music-making friends, with whom I’ve shared a number of late night sing-alongs.  May this album head into the world and encourage more singing, more gathering and telling of old tales, more joy in the making of music.

Where your name is spoken

Looking Westward, a drawing of mine from a few years ago…. Raven is a bird close to my heart.

What a winter we are weathering.  Not for the normal reasons which might lead to a bout of winter weariness such as darkness or the ice and snow (we’ve had little of either, though we do suffer our fair share of a seemingly endless milky-gray pearlescence, which is a nice, wordy way of saying ‘day to day dismal’.)

Instead, there seems to be a general sense of malaise in all corners, at least to my winter-wearied eyes.  The political climate of late is one I am deeply committed to keeping track of, though how to do so and still nurture my rich inner world is proving to be a bit of a challenge.  (I am up to the challenge.)  All told, through this winter’s darkness, both literal and metaphorical, I’ll admit to having had to dig quite deeply to find any light lately within my heart- physically, creatively.  Some days I have felt quite extinguished indeed.  It’s been a hard time, ‘I don’t mind tellin’ you.’  

But, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve and all is not lost, fear not!  I am back to running the local village paths once again more routinely, just in recent days, no matter the weather! This morning I awoke with the clearest head I have had in months, the cobwebs having been cleared from my seratonin-deprived brain by just a few short, but successful hard runs around my neighborhood.  I could nearly weep with joy for the returning of this source of bliss and emotional sustenance in my life.

While running has not been available to me, walking still has.  Our dogs enjoy a wee trot outside each day, provided the roads aren’t too salty for their exposed paws.  I delight in a rhythmic jaunt where I can get lost in my thoughts.

A few days ago, the sun did shine for a day. (read: a brighter milky-pearlescence).  My hub and I went to the local nature center for some sketching time.  There are all sorts of very still, very dead, yet somehow quite animated taxidermy-style animals there and we took some time to draw them.

There was woodsmoke in the air there that day, and a sweetness as well, signaling maple sugaring season.  We enjoyed learning about how our native forebears likely processed, consumed and traded the sweet, valuable maple syrup and crystalline sugar using handmade tools they gathered from the earth and adapted to their needs.  I did not take a picture.

We discussed that day of how sad things have been (how sad I’ve been) and we talked also of how mood-changing a song might be when it catches our ears just so.  My Hub found one such song called I Don’t Recall done up so very beautifully by Lavender Diamond. They have a new video….

We were intrigued by the biography of this project to be found on Spotify…..

“The folk delight that is Lavender Diamond originally came to life in Bird Songs of the Bauharoque,  a punk operetta inspired by the work of American painter/architect Paul Laffoley.  Vocalist Becky Stark wrote and created the piece with a friend while living in Providence, RI, and starred as Lavender herself, a winsome part bird/part human who wants peace on earth.”

Hub wondered at which point in the song she was human and which bit might find her in bird form – to which I argued, why can’t she be both?  Both, at the same time.  animal.  woman.

I’ve been pondering a great bit lately this whole notion of polarity.  Political polarity, yes of course.  But also the light vs. the shadow sides of ourselves.  The Masculine and Feminine bits too, always in a dance, yes?  And even to how we react to times of great strain.   I am intrigued (and often infuriated) by the discussion of a perceived necessity to choose one thing over another.  Why can’t we be Both.  I am both Woman and Animal.  I am Light as well as Shadow.  I enjoy tapping into both the (traditionally regarded) Masculine AND Feminine within my whole self.  When I allow this, I am more wholly alive as a total human being.  Perhaps like Lavender herself.

Music has indeed been a balm and an inspiration when Mother Nature is resting and doesn’t give us much to go on in the way of sketchable stuff.

Though if one pays close attention…..

One of my favorite flute teachers shared a song the other day which caught my ear, as songs of old often do.

It put me in mind of leggy hares to be found across the pond.  so different from our own bulky little bunnies.  so I sketched one up.

As I continue to climb out of the dark hole of my recent state, I am grateful for things which catch my ear.  The music often being the first and foremost quality of a song shared.  If I get a tune rolling round in my head, words or no, that can be a good thing.  It can, indeed, change the tone of an entire day for someone sitting rather on the edges of things emotionally speaking.

But sometimes, what catches my ear is deeper still than just a catchy tune.  Sometimes, as I listen to a newly found thing, often on obsessive repeat, (yes it’s true, and part of my charm, I like to think) the words partnering with the music to enchant the heart can act like will-o-the-wisp.  Lights in the darkness, taking me down an enchanted lane to other worlds….

This morning the lovely Lin-Manuel Miranda (you know, of Hamilton fame?) shared the music of one Ali Dineen in the form of this song in particular, which much like the Lavender Diamond song above, has a happy feel to it.  (and, turns out, Lin was one of Ali’s 7th grade teachers.  Can you imagine?)

This song led me down the proverbial musical rabbit hole of her music in general and I was not to be disappointed.  (Thank you Lin!) Little lyrical snippets pulled at my heart strings as I jogged the paths here amidst this gray, cold village here in Ohio.

“Somewhere else there were
miracles, carnivals, and a space in the air
only your bones could fill.”

Just weeks away, I am reminded by this tune, is a trip south to Antigua, Guatemala where I will sink into constant art-making for a solid week.  This makes me happy beyond imagining.  And reminds me that winter will pass.  In spite of how hard things can seem just now, personally, nationally,  globally.

“Spring it brought madness and chaos and song
the wind growing warm, the days growing long
I watched the world blow through your mind
we stooped low to pick up what it left behind
Scattered stories of our country’s childhood,
though we’re deaf to their sounds
We’re trying to stand up straight
but we don’t know what’s weighing us down.”

“go when your feet are restless
go when you hear a faraway song
heed what your bones are saying
don’t wait for your saint to come….”

“go where your name is spoken
stay when you feel like standing still
no one can guide your footsteps
so walk where you will “

So, yes, later this spring, I will travel to Guatemala, where once upon a time, my name was spoken.  I have been trying to tap into that little gypsy girl who lived everywhere and nowhere.  The me who spoke Spanish “like a native” (my mom’s words) and who seemed to feel at home anywhere.  I seem to have lost track of her over the years but I am keen to get reacquainted.  I’ve been taking a formal Spanish course locally and it’s been more difficult that I had expected.

We conjugate a good bit, which I will admit, I don’t know how to do adequately in English, in spite of my ability to speak the language here.  I am banking on a small faith that this class will warm me up to hear my name spoken on the warm volcanic breezes in the Highlands of Guatemala.  I’m told I went there as a girl when my Nana Campbell came to town.  I do not remember.

But I do remember what calls to my soul:

Music.

Art.

Stories.

Other Artists.

(we are all artists)

Thank you for reading…..

~a

ps.  do go toss a few coins into the hats of any or all of these amazing artists.  they deserve it.

 

 

 

 

Hamstertown Ball

“You can think and you can fight, but the world’s always movin’, and if you wanna stay ahead you gotta dance.”
— Terry Pratchett

riley-school-turns-20Yesterday a number of us gathered at the local Irish Heritage Center to celebrate a very special birthday.  Our beloved Riley School of Irish Music turns 20 this year and to mark the occasion, we put on a ceili, which could be described as like a wedding, only without the happy couple.  There was music from our ceili band, much dancing, called and instructed by the one and only Éamonn  de Cógáin, lots of food and drink to be had, and all in all was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.
It is difficult to describe the place the Riley School has held in my life personally, and in the collective life of our family.  The music my kids (one more than the other) and I have learned and played over the years has changed us all for the better.  We have life long friendships now which we’d have never found without this school.  I began at the school as a mere parent accompanying my child to fiddle lessons – and I found my tunes and my tribe.  This music has taught me many things which apply to a life well lived and art well made.  I’ve learned to be less shy, to laugh more, to make mistakes and keep on playing.  My son has gone on to pursue music as a profession and my daughter can still pluck out a few tunes on the banjo.  (Party tricks do come in handy and one must always be ready to surprise people.)  We are better because of this little school which teaches what some might call a simple folk music.  Which I suppose it is.  But it’s complexity is to measured by the effect it has on the lives it touches.  dancers-learn-their-3s-and-7sMusicians play so that dancers might dance, at least in the Irish tradition.  It was lovely to have such intrepid souls out to dance this day, many mere beginners.

Éamonn-teaches-and-encourages

But soon our caller Éamonn had everyone laughing and trying steps and smiling and dancing.

dancers-learn-to-swing

With all of the malcontent the recent political happenings has dredged up, I have been thinking a lot about the place of music and artfull-ness, and dancing and laughing in the face of all of it.  I imagine that those who played Irish music over in Ireland during the troubles certainly must have played in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult times.  And we do too, now, in these difficult times. To be fair, I suppose many voters do not think we are in difficult times with our new leadership choice.  Though I certainly do.

And so, it is more important than ever to dance.  To play our favorite tunes with vim and vigor.  To paint the brightest of pictures.  After all, we are all running along on the hamster-wheel of life.

I hear told that there was a similar dance, also with a band, in the town square of HamsterTown.  One wonders what tunes they danced to that day, and whether their caller could even hold a candle to our Éamonn.  I imagine, he’d have given him a run for his money…

hamstertown-ball

While we’re together (A very Oberlin wedding – illustrated)

sometimes, photos aren’t enough to convey the richness of a magical time with those we love.  sometimes, we need the drawn interpretations of a journal entry or a few sonic scrapbook snippets as lenses through which to taste this fleeting magic…….

battleground

(push play…. just below. enjoy the harmony, and perhaps, a guffaw or two…)

gods-2

handmade-finery

promisestoasts-and-teajigs-and-reelsdancing

eventually, as many magic times do, festivities melted into songs over cups of tea, and a few more sips of celebratory libation by those who were on that path….  here are a few more tracks of songs sung, littered with the sounds of toasts being made, more laughter, and some scratchy sketching here and there just near the recording device.  Best wishes Alex and Rae.  You are loved.

 

Musical Activism

“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.

Pavilion Wedding at the Swanannoa Gathering

I am returned, once again, from the magical world of the Swannanoa Gathering, which this year celebrates it’s 25th anniversary.  And once again, it was quite the week of music and mayhem, tunes and tricks, laughter and love, friendship and food, beverages and beauty.

There are many ideas floating around in my head for drawings and illustrations seeded by this past week which I shall soon share here of course.  Art begets art and by spending the week with so many talented and creative folks, I am fairly swimming in artful thought-glitter!!

As you can see, there is much joy to be had in a week at the Swannanoa Gathering.  This is so very sorely needed in this heavy world at what feels like a very dark time.  I was keenly aware of the bits of the outside world which seemed to follow us beyond the mists into this special place.

mists of reality closing in

But in spite of dark times and a world awash with so much hatred and violence, we came together, once again.  A dear friend of mine from Swannanoa overheard someone say one night at a ceili where everyone dancing seemed to have a smile on their shining faces, “Why can’t we be like this all the time?  All of us?”  I don’t think he meant just us at the gathering, but maybe more the world at large.

ceili fun
Yes, for a brief second, Cillian Vallely was a dancer.

So hard not to smile in the midst of this music.  Heartfelt, Joy-filled….

And in the midst of all of the fun, we were there to learn.  Everyday, we went to the classes available to us to soak up all the tunes and tips we could from our multi-talented instructors.  For me, this was Nuala Kennedy in the morning, and Kevin Crawford in the afternoons.

The rapport and sense of play these two bring to teaching and playing and performing is simply infectious and I find them both incredibly inspirational in my own teaching work as well as of course, the music itself.

class begins

Nuala teaches

in which kevin hunts down a roving F #
“who’s playin’ that F sharp lads?? it was over here somewhere…”

Neither one of them lets us get away with anything but our very best work and so on the edge of our seats, we huffed away on our flutes and learned so very much.  My mind is still quite thick with all of the information we gained over the week!

The week was not all classes though….

There were concerts, lectures, opportunities to play more slowly on a new instrument.  There were sessions till all hours of the night.  And of course lots of laughter and community with friends.  Here is a small sampling…..

slow real slow
Slow, real slow. Slow session needs a reminder to slow down sometimes, so a sign was placed to much laughter!

 

peaceable kindom
John Skelton cracks up at a flute ‘truce’ between Nuala and Kevin, who often are seen as camp rivals. All in good fun!!
A highlight of the week was this blast of flutes playing all together. This sound is one of main reasons I got into playing flute in the first place.
A highlight of the week was this blast of flutes playing all together. This sound is one of main reasons I got into playing flute in the first place.

 

clash with the fiddles
The fiddles didn’t take too kindly to the notion of ‘Rejecting the tyranny of the fiddle’!

 

Ellen and I attempted to stay dry whilst at dinner one night. We look rather sweet and somewhat Parisian or something I believe!
Ellen and I attempted to stay dry whilst at dinner one night. We look rather sweet and somewhat Parisian or something I believe!

(side note: during the storm, a huge lighting strike occurred on campus.  it hit a tree and out went the power.  it was captured in this amazing sound byte by my friend Mary….. listen for at least 40 seconds…..)

 

Love walks
These two celebrated their second anniversary this year at the gathering where they were married. (click!  It’s a link to the post about the Swannanoa Pavilion Wedding.)

 

misty selfie
So steamy at times there in the North Carolina mountains!

 

last night's songs
A song between old friends.

 

In which we concertina beginners hang on by any G we can grab onto!
In which we concertina beginners hang on by any G we can grab onto!
Nights in the breezeway provided lovely acoustics and a break away from the crowds round the regular session tents.
Nights in the breezeway provided lovely acoustics and a break away from the crowds round the regular session tents.

 

The walk from our living quarters to meals and other things over on campus.
The walk from our living quarters to meals and other things over on campus.
Woodland wildlife
Many folk saw bears around campus, but all I got were some tree-giraffes….

 

The food served up by Osborne and Pei En is so scrumptious! They treat us so well. Thanks for this snapshot Bob!!
The food served up by Osborne and Pei En is so scrumptious! Over the years they’ve become good friends who welcome us back kindly. Thanks for this snapshot Bob!!

There is so much more in the world of sweet snapshots I could share with you here.  Special thanks to my flute friends Kate, Bob and Colin who generously shared their pictures for this post.  And I could leave the update here and that might be the end of it.  But while we were at camp, the world was continuing on its crazed path of recent self destruction.  News was leaking in.  The music we were making took on a whole new gravity.

As is often the case, the ‘Flutilla’ was planning some mischief for the end of week student showcase.  In years past we had made fun with the ‘rivalry’ between Nuala and Kevin, as our allegiance to them both made them often wonder, ‘hmmmm, who do the flute kids like best?’  But of course we love them both equally and we get something different from each.   So this year, we took on the fiddles.  Which seemed a fun direction to go, based on the hijinks at the concert the other night.  And so I drew up a little drawing, and we made a plan for take over in the form of wearable art…..

 

 

Reject the tyranny of the fiddle!!!! (coined originally by Kieran O'Hare)
Reject the tyranny of the fiddle!!!! (coined originally by Kieran O’Hare)

Update!!!:  Due to the high level of interest in this design, I have created a tidied up version of it to put on products such as totes, shirts and the like which you can order from the link below.  Proceeds will go toward a scholarship to Celtic Week at the Swannanoa Gathering.  Viva la Flutilla!!!!

Resistance is Flutile

Visit my Society6 page HERE (click on ‘here’)  🙂 

But then we awoke the next morning to read the dreadful news of Nice and beyond and we approached the day more somberly.  I had the feeling that my blog post from before leaving for camp was even MORE important and we all talked about how important and actually ‘serious’ the ‘fun’ we were having at camp truly is.

My dear friend Joe Bly wrote a gorgeous poem, in true mythical epic poem format that had begun with the ‘let’s take down the fiddles’ sort of approach and idea.  But as he wrote it, it changed.  Into something bigger and better than all of that.  With his poem, the ‘tyranny’ we speak of became all that is evil in the world at large.  All the violence and negativity.  The work and fun we embarked upon at the Swannanoa Gathering is the rejection of all of that.  The folks I know from the gathering go back to their real lives as doctors, teachers, paramedics, therapists, healers, parents, lawyers and beyond.  They are bright and active in their communities and keenly aware of the news.  And into that work in the outside world, they bring the laughter and creativity that a week of music camp can ignite.  I simply marvel.

Cloaked in the mists of Tír na nÓg, the Otherworld of Swannanoa, Where three hundred days pass as three, Rival Clans of the Blackwood vied in feats of strength and skill, Lost in the Loop of myths and legends.

Come! Ye Fianna of the Flute! Daughters of Méabh, Sons of Cúchulainn! Come forth from the mists and meet in the ford of the river that divides us, For now is the time to cast arms beneath the waves And in Friendship and Honor Unite.

We are reborn as warriors anew as we march forth into the shining day.

For are we not free? For do we not face the shadow of a common foe, Hearts and eyes open wide?

For we shall not grovel in fear of the Darkness But serve the light of the clear morning.

Behold! The fog lifts! We shall Behave the Bravest, as we find Common Ground, Carrying the Tune before us as the new standard of peace and fellowship.

We are the new Druids, raising our staffs of

Blackwood, Horsehair, Silver Wire and Skin.

We cradle the sacred rite passed down through the mists of legends, And it is our sworn honor to push together against the night, With our strength and our weapons of music and laughter.

Now, more than ever.

I do believe that Joe may have channeled something divine in this poem.  He read it  aloud at the showcase before the flutes came together as one and played a jig together in unification.

The shirts and our grand plan were secret so we handed them out 'trunk sale' style in back of the pavilion. Great fun!
The shirts and our grand plan were secret so we handed them out ‘trunk sale’ style in back of the pavilion. Great fun!
There are so many of us when we band together!!!
There are so many of us when we band together!!!
star teachers
Everyone flutey wore the shirt. It was grand!!!

The evening wore on and there were so many gorgeous tunes and songs put on by everyone….  We soaked up and steeped in the final evening together.

Jack played in the showcase with his fiddle class taught by Martin Hayes, the Buddha of the Fiddling world
Jack played in the showcase with his fiddle class taught by Martin Hayes, the Buddha of the Fiddling world

As the week came to an end, we all talked much of not only the music we had experienced, but also of the wisdom we were given by those who light this musical path.

martin speaks of presence
Martin Hayes is a font of musical life wisdom and I love him for it!

A highlight of the week for me was a ‘potluck’ lecture-talk put on by Martin Hayes who is a great fiddler, not only in the traditional sense but also as one who is constantly pushing the boundaries of the music itself.  He spoke of being truly present in our music and that to do that we must be present with ourselves.  This notion of presence really struck me.

When I play music, or make art, I am most truly present.  And the doing of these things over the years has enriched my life and caused me to be more present in all aspects of my life.  Presence.  It’s crucial.  Presence in ourselves.  Presence with each other.  This alone could help heal a lot in this world, I do believe.

some notes jotted down from martin…

“…raw beauty of a melody.”

“simple music, heartfelt.”

“connective tissue between musician, instrument, and player”

“anything that further releases inner expression is valid”

“allowing.”

“trying is an obstacle”   (yoda??  is that you???)

“presence”

“leave the safety zone behind”

“trust the unknown.”

“create a spell.”

Last week at Swannanoa was more than just music.  It felt a lot like activism.  Pursuing creativity and kindness, music and beauty in a world so hell bent on the opposite seems like an insurmountable challenge at times.  But I accept this challenge.  As best as I know how to.  I share my approach to art work in the form of teaching and I’ve been told it has changed lives for the better.  Much in the way my instructors at Swannanoa and beyond have changed mine.

I am deeply grateful to be on this beautiful planet at the same time as these people.  These musicians and friends of mine.  The world needs their beauty.  My beauty.  and Yours.

“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.

It bears repeating.

 

Edgeness. 3 funerals and a birth

IMG_3185

I have heard it said that in 7 years, a person’s whole body – every bit of it, down to the cellular (and perhaps beyond) level – is replaced in that time by a new set of cells, ready to take on the task of the day to day life of being human.  But what of the soul?

I’ve returned from some magical travels to a more equatorial part of the world with my beloved, and have landed amidst the mud and mire of early spring back home.  Normally a joyful season for most folk, what with the coming of green things and the promise of new fawns in the bulging bellies of the local mama deer, early spring has, in fact, proved challenging for us over the years.  This year marks the 7th anniversary of Esme’s death which was a sea change in the lives of both of my children, in our own lives as parents, and in the collective life of an entire close-knit community.  Not to mention, her dear family.   Everything is now measured against this tragic event.  And in March, we are called back to the season to take stock, re-visit ourselves and our losses and re-calibrate our lives to a certain extent.

And so we did.

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Es’s weeping cherry tree in Spring Grove Cemetery is thriving.  Under the now formidable presence of the tree, little offerings of love and memory are present….

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We were glad to see them.

Madeleine and I drove around the cemetery just to take in the beauty and the years of memorials present there.  It’s breathtaking, the number of stories held by this place.  Just the names and birthdates alone get you thinking, ‘ Why did this person die so young?’  Or maybe even, ‘wow, that guy sure lived a long and hearty life for the time!’.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to any of it.

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There really doesn’t.

It was strange that M. was home for Esme’s anniversary as it was only to mark the passing of another family friend, the loving mama of a dance friend of her’s.  Lucinda, a wonderfully witty, thoroughly engaging fellow dance mom I’d known over the years, passed away from cancer, leaving behind a kid just a year younger than my own, amongst many others she loved and whom cherished her.

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We are all heartbroken.

And so from memories of one to memorializing another, March seems to be funeral season.  We are all glad we have each other.

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Amidst all of this funeriality, I was called upon to play some music with friends at the wake of someone dear to them.  And so we did.

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It was fascinating to me to see the effect of the presence live music has in the environment of grief.  Music, especially live music, seems to punctuate the moments of celebration of a long life well lived, while simultaneously allowing for the pauses for tearful acknowledgement of great loss to a tune perhaps more in the minor key, or slowed down enough to capture the depth of that loss.  I was honored to play a small part in all of it.

And today, M and I attended Lucinda’s funeral.  And then made our way back up to Columbus to plant her back at school where she belongs.

Like I said, it’s been a heavy season.

But every edge has two sides.  Alongside the grief in recent days, was a fair amount of hope-full worry in our family, which has thankfully come to  a bright and beautiful homecoming.

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Our nephew, wee Frank came to us on Monday, just over a week ago.  He arrived early, amidst some worry as to The State Of Things regarding how he was faring.  Sure enough he had a bit of a struggle for a number of days as he caught his breath from his early oncoming.  Eventually, thanks to the tremendously brave parenting and caregiving he was fortunate to receive, Frank went home to get to know his siblings. Things, for perhaps just one wild moment, seemed completely right with the world…. (though in this shot, Big Brother Harry might not be so sure.  I’ve heard he’s come ’round in the mean time. )

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This is the crazy balance of it all.  Walking the knife’s edge of life’s beauty and heartbreak.  Making time for all of this Big Life Stuff, while trying to fit the work of Making a Living, or perhaps even Getting a Little Art Made, into the grooves of life’s floorboards.

Even though I didn’t feel quite up to it with these recent heavy days, I met up with some fellow sketchers to challenge the blustery breeze of Esme’s day with some drawing downtown.  Christina had invited a few of us to join her while WCET filmed her segment for a show on her work.  I can’t wait to see it, and of course share it with you, as her work is fabulous.  Sketching is a strong part of her work and we all enjoy sketching together.  In spite of the chill, we all managed a sketch of Music Hall, as well as some lively conversation…

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Why is it always a lesson?  That making the time and effort for some music and some art, are the things that make sense of a difficult season?  Perhaps because I am only human and by that I mean, I have still much to learn.  This is the development of the Soul.

It is March.  I have many hours to make up at the Shop and many, many more hours to make up to my own solitude and writing and sketching of new ideas.  In times like these when life comes at us reckless, I wonder, how do they do it?  The successful ones.  Those produced, published, and promoted.

Perhaps they just stomp the work into the floorboards of life, between the moments of birth and grief.  I have heard that music happens between the notes.  Perhaps I am onto something…

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More soon…

 

 

 

Changing Tides

11202886_10155872437970048_5120591334540910967_nToday is my 46th birthday.  As is often the case this time of year, things are in a state of semi-controlled chaotic flux, what with school starting soon and Big Moves happening for both of the kids.  Jack returned from Brazil just in time to join us on our annual summer sojourn to the coast of Maine and is now in the process of returning to his collegiate life across town.  Meanwhile, in similar fashion, our youngest, Madeleine, is making lists and preparatory pilings of her own as we move her into a dormitory at Ohio State University next week.  Things are getting real.  They are embarking on a world of their own making….

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All of this is, as expected, a little on the bittersweet side of life.  But it is also the Way Of Things.  This is why we raise them.  So that they can hopefully head out into productive lives of their own.  It is time for us to focus back on ourselves for the first time in ages.  I for one am feeling a delicious fire burning in my art work, music and in my inner life, while the Hub, Tony,  has plans of his own involving far flung watery places to explore.  It is an exciting time for all of us.

So let me just catch you up a bit on happenings since I last wrote.  As you now know, I am in the process of putting together a new workshop, launching in February.  I’ve had quite a bit of interest, and a few sign ups too!  And while I have been mostly on the road since the announcement and not able to ‘blast’ it properly as of yet, it is my hope that this class will be a ‘go’ with just enough folks to make it a reality.  Do let me know if you have any questions!

Ah yes, the road.  How it beckons!!  Last I touched base here at my online home, I was off to a week of full on music at Swannanoa.

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This was a week of complete bliss for me personally.  Tearful reunions with people I only get to see once a year.  We fell straight into tunes and laughter and musical mayhem that only ‘band camp’ can provide.  I opted for two classes, both in flute, with two of my favorite instructors/musicians/people on the planet, Kevin Crawford and Nuala Kennedy.

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They are not only brilliant teachers and players but they are absolutely hilarious to spend time with.  In my own teaching I try to emulate the sense of fun and level of laughter I’ve known in classes with these two.  It is through a childlike sense of play and creative experimentation that the best learning is to be had.  Learning a creative pursuit as an adult can be daunting!  Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, or painting a picture, adults take themselves (ourselves!) so seriously.  Getting out of our own way is half the battle.  I am still riding the wave of magic and beauty of that week, with renewed gusto to practice my tunes, to keep learning and improving.  I intend to make it back to this week again next year.  There is such a sense of ‘Brigadoon‘ to it all, magically happening each summer and then just like that, it’s gone….

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A song that captures the sense of a week at swannanoa is this

Of course, if you follow my summer patterns at all, you know that no summer is complete without a dip of my toes into the ocean in my soul’s home, Maine….

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Ginger Small and I were reunited up there as I’d heard very little from her all summer.  And we have much work to do!

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I spent a fair amount of time just gazing out to sea and doodling….

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…that is, when I wasn’t partaking of the bounty of the ocean.  YUM!

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Our time in Maine usually allows for a bit of the ocean and a bit of the lakeside as well.  I did a fair amount of oogling and doodling there as well.

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It is a time we treasure, and each year we know it might be the last where everyone attends.  Any next year could see the kids doing their own thing elsewhere.  So while I painted and sketched a good bit, and came up with a number of tiny paintings, it is never enough.

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Maine tugs at my heart strings harder and harder each year.  Every year, it gets more difficult to leave the fresh salt air and cool breezes available there.

“She loves the serene brutality of the ocean, loves the electric power she felt with each breath of wet, briny air.”  ~Holly Black

Having lived there once upon a time, I know life in New England is not all summer time and roses.  Winters are cold and long.  But I simply must spend more time there.

“When anxious, uneasy and  bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.” ~Ranier Maria Rilke

For a while now, my dear, long time friend Amy (she who attended to the births of my children, my soul-sister) and I have admired the whimsical, colorful world of artist Henry Isaacs.

His paintings are impressionistic, energetic, and brimming with color that is at once straightforward and complex.  They are the kind of paintings that make me yearn to pick up a paint brush and paint.  But not in my usual sketchy fashion.

I’ve had this yearning to paint for awhile now.  And I have painted.  Here and there.  I’ve made some paintings that I like a fair bit.   While others have lacked the intensity I wanted them to have.  They often feel too cautious to me.  I’m not quite sure how to approach the materials, having had only nominal amounts of instruction in this particular way of art-making.  Often as soon as I have found my way into a painting, it’s time to quit to attend to Life.  And by my next visit to it, I’ve lost the steam.  Clearly, I need some help.

So in honor of everyone in this household going off and learning new things and forging exciting new paths, I am heading back to the coast of Maine in just a few weeks to take a workshop with Henry Isaacs.   I am so very excited to learn some new ways of approaching paint and then applying these lessons to the sights and sounds I find so enchanting by the ocean.

“I have sea foam in my veins, for I understand the language of the waves.”  ~Le Testament d’Orphee

Perhaps I may get the opportunity to paint the ocean of sage in the high desert of New Mexico at some point as well.  Again, something I have yearned to capture, but outside of my sketches, have never seemed to accomplish successfully.

I believe in following the voice of one’s heart.  That intuitive voice that whispers ‘this, yes, this!!!!’.

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I’m following that voice as much as I can these days.  My Right Work seems to be a three-pronged dance made up of teaching workshops in beauty-filled places, making up whimsical stories and pictures for the young at heart, and just painting/sketching/drawing by myself (also in beauty-filled places).    In between there I’ll work the day job when I can, manage the comings and goings of these adult children of mine, and try to keep this house in some sort of working order.  Oh yeah, and music.  Always music.

Today is a day of musing.  Pondering my life’s path.  I feel like the 46 year old me is waving enthusiastically to a younger version of me as if to say ‘This way!  This way! Aside from a few bumps in the road here and there, life’s going along quite nicely just now!  Just hang on!’ Because it is going along quite nicely actually.

I’m excited at the timing of this painting workshop opportunity, as it falls just as I have a moment to catch my breath before really needing to buckle down to work this fall on February’s offering.   I get another taste of salty Maine sea air before they must batten down the hatches for yet another winter.  My kids will be off doing their own thing for the first time really ever.  I’m thrilled and excited and incredibly grateful for all of it.

Happy birthday to me.

….and here are some of the new Tiny Offerings from recent travels.  Let me know if you would like to own one!

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A day for greening

green 1It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and we all know the level of crazy this can mean about town, and frankly, the whole world.  I was up before dawn to accompany my young dancer to a ‘Kegs and Eggs’ event at one local Irish establishment where she and some fellow McGing Irish Dancers stomped their steps in front of a packed house as well as the local news crew.  Then it was off to the school day for her and a couple hours in the studio for me.  She heads back out to dance the bar circuit later today and I will join my musical friends for a couple of gigs ourselves.  It’s High Holy Season for Irish musicians.  And we love it!

Before I head out and get lost in the tunes and the mayhem, I figured I would engage in a little paint play, exploring the many facets of the lovely color of the season.

green 2It’s a greening time of year, so the green theme is appropriate I suppose.  Traditionally though, I have heard that St. Patrick actually wore the color blue…..

st-patrick-icon-magnet-643x800I am grateful for this day, the one day when Irish music is sought after by the unwashed masses, and we get to play, play, play the day away.  It’s really a gift.  If you are local, a few of us are playing at the Brazenhead Pub in Mason, Ohio between 4-5.

Photo by my friend Rick BoyceAfter that gig, we will meet up with a few others at a favorite venue of ours, The B-List bar in Bellevue, Ky.

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A mystical island tale, a lakeside sojourn, a journey’s end and home again.

Last I left you here I was to spend a week in a place much like the land of Brigadoon of lore at the Swannanoa Gathering.  And gather we did.  It felt like coming home to a family I only ever see once a year (twice if I am truly fortunate).  I took no pictures.  I made no drawings.  I played tunes which only live on in the hearts and memories of those of us who were there for the week.  It was indeed a week like no other.  There was a wedding! Yes, a REAL wedding!! And we wore dresses and popped champagne, cried tears of joy over poems read at the ceremony.  The experience was one of time outside of time.  I have designs for an artful gift to make up for the Bride and Groom and will share that with you here later, along with maybe some photos of the blessed event.  Suffice it to say, it was an honor to be a part of it all. And it was over far too soon for my liking….

Yet we simply had to leave.  The Gathering was to turn itself around for another group of folks who have an equal love for something equally obscure, each week being precious and different.  Jack and I were home for about 36 hours, to do laundry, rethink the contents of our knapsacks and to remind our poor dogs that we hadn’t completely abandoned them.  (While we were in Maine, they were in extremely capable hands of a friend who loves them and our home almost as much as we do!)

We were off to Maine.

Perhaps more than any other residence of my soul’s True Self, Maine is where I come home to roost.  The smell of the pine trees and the sea, the expansive green-ness of it all.  It’s captivating.  And it causes a churning and questioning each year about ‘what are we doing, living in Ohio of all places? When we could have this….’  But in spite of this churning, we must return there, having once lived there long enough to be hooked for life.

We stopped in Freeport to pick up our loved ones, and headed en masse to Monhegan Island, the magical, mystical spit of land about 15 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean.

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It was gray and rainy, and not a particularly pleasant day for a near 2 hour ferry ride.  (a number of us suffer from wave sickness when conditions are Just So, and we were a tad on the worried side…)

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Yet in spite of the occasional rains, the breeze was nice and so was the ferry ride itself.  I felt lulled into trance by the hum of the motor of our dear Balmy Days II.  Soon, through the mists, we could spy Monhegan herself.  ‘The Island’.

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She came closer and closer.  And the rain clouds dried their tears for us, little by little.

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And just like that, upon our arrival, the sun was out to welcome us. It was to be a beautiful 2 days of island exploration.

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Monhegan has an old tale to tell, older than most places in this fledgling country of ours.  The Native Americans who first spied the curious “canoes with wings” (European sailboats) had fished around Monhegan since time before history.  But of written history, there are about 400 years of stories which add up to a place steeped in the narrative of a strong and hearty ilk who have fished, farmed (a bit) and made a life (as well as some art!) on this tiny iconic rock of a place.

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We love to add our stories, even just a day’s tale or so, to the Book of Monhegan.  This island has a way of getting under a soul’s skin.  And if away for long enough, one finds one’s heart fairly longing for a glimpse of it, a chance to walk it’s paths and stack its stones once again.  I myself already can’t wait to return.

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Many ships have wrecked on or near Monhegan over the centuries.  This one below is the wreck of the DT Sheridan.  It’s a lovely old iron vessel that has rusted to a gorgeous oxide color and is still substantial enough to climb upon and explore.

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Some of the locals even use it as a nesting place…..

 

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We all love to comb the coast for stones that call to us.  I for one appreciate stones cast by Mother Nature into the shape of a heart.  I hadn’t seen any of these since Taos.  I was delighted to find many of them here on this island.

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As is the case with many water bourne places, down every lane of this island and tucked in every hidden, protected cove lie boats of all shapes and sizes and utilities.  I never tired of seeing them anywhere.

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And yet the ocean is not the only Great Being inhabiting this island.  There are many acres of protected woodland space and folks like to take found natural objects and detritus and create little fairy huts which haunt and taunt the hiking paths.  So many of them, in every shadowed space! We delighted in spotting them.  And of course in building one of our own as well!

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On this day, I did manage to make a sketch in my journal…

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…and Jack, managed to have a tune, and to find a friend with whom to play it.

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Soon, after a bite to eat and some time to rest our weary feet, the breeze shifted.  As we glanced up, we noticed that the light had begun to change…

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Much like my beloved Taos-land, Monhegan Island has drawn artists from around the world and throughout time with That Perfect Light that people speak of in a hushed and awed whisper.  This is the haunting hour of the day that painters long for.

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I pined for my oil paints, which in deference to space in our old wagon, I left behind in my studio at home.

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But I vowed that next we have the opportunity to return for longer than one glimpse of an overnight, I would make a point to bring them along with me and attempt in some small way to Capture the Light.  In this day and age of Contemporary Art, much of which I am thrilled by, there is some discussion of painting, especially painting plein air or landscape painting of any sort, being a waste of a modern artist’s time and effort.  I firmly disagree.  I believe that to even begin to capture the light of a beloved scene, or the spirit of familiar place is in some way to have touched the divine.  Much in the way some folks may go to church, not to become God, but rather to touch God for a moment through prayer or contemplation.  To me, this is why drawing and painting in a specific place at a specific time (versus maybe from a photo later) holds such magic.  I am fortunate to know many artists who feel the same and do not seem to feel the need to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’, so to speak, with regard to Old v. New in the Land of Art Making.

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The little old houses light up with the breath of the sunset.  Pinks, yellows, limes and golds….

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We laughed and danced in celebration of the sunset.

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And we were treated to a spectacle that most people don’t often get to witness.

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I love a good sunset.  And we do have them back here in the midwest.  But there is nothing like an island sunset.  The photos simply cannot do it justice…..

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[more boats!] 

The following day we were to leave our beloved island, to continue our journey, this time to lake country…..

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We were loathe to leave her behind, but know we will be back….

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And just like that, we were nestled in the Kennebec Highlands, at a lakeside cottage which has become familiar to us and we enjoy returning to…

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We were greeted with moody, changeable skies which rained and threatened rain a lot of many days.  But we were not to be put off that easily.  There was sailing to be had on the new arrival in the boathouse….

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…and rolls to be practiced in the kayaks we had brought with us from 1000 miles away….

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Almost as if we had willed it into place, the light did return to warm us with some sunshine and sunsets.  Though to be honest, so long as it’s not a total wash out, I am a fan of misty, gray days.

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One early morning I awoke to the sense that all was strange and modified in some way.  And so it was.  We had been socked in with fog! I arose to capture an image, and promptly went back to sleep.  It was vacation after all!

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So long as it wasn’t raining firmly, which it didn’t do much, we found ourselves on or near the water.

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Even Ginger Small got in on the sailing fun that week!!

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The sunshine did make an appearance here and there on all but one of our days at the lake, so we were happy campers.  Simply being all together, cooking meals, sharing cocktails and laughter and games was enough for us.

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It is hard to believe how grown up these cousins-of-soul have become.  Each year we wonder if it will be the last of the four of them together at Camp, as Life and Work may yet intervene.  But so far, so good.

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They are, the four of them showing serious signs of Growing Up…..

 

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On the other hand, growing up is highly overrated.  The lake brings out the kid in all of us.

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After a lovely reunion back in town with some old pals from our days in the Navy, it was time to saddle up and head home.  The New England sun rise beckoned us, ‘please don’t go…’.  We drove and drove and drove.

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Soon we were welcomed home by an iconic billboard just north of our fair Queen City which we look to as a bit of a ‘you’re almost there’ beacon, for all its doom, gloom, hell-fire and brimstone.  We do live in Ohio after all, which is not without its quirks.

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And home, while not without its quirks, is also not without its gifts.  I arrived home to find a lovely package from a cousin.  She sent to me some old art supplies belonging to her mom, a great auntie of mine, one of which was an engraved paint box!  I am very thankful for this unexpected gift and must yet make a proper thank you card to send….

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One thing that has unexpectedly pinned me here back here in Ohio is my musical community, which I look to upon returns from amazing travels to keep me from ‘burning up on reentry’ like some traveling Space Shuttle coming home at the wrong speed and at the wrong angle.

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These folks, and the music we share together each week at the local session, have been, are, and likely will continue to be, one of my greatest gifts in this life as I know it.  We gladly occupy our space in Harp Jail for a time every week.  When I am not fully landed from travels, and my soul aches to be elsewhere, these people and this music guide me back to center time and time again.  I am so thankful for it.

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Music is why I have the Day Job that I have; a place that I happily go to many days a month (even on my birthday!) because I love my work and I love the people I work with….

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and they seem to like me as well.  Birthday cupcakes are wonderful… birthday cupcakes with a butterfly ring are just over the top!!

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I like for celebrations to last and so this week my birthday drones on and on in the best way possible.  I am 45 now (in sheep-count-speak that would be ‘two pebbles in my pocket and a yan, tan, tether, mether, pip on my tongue.’)

My mamas (yet another reason to come home to Ohio!) treated me to lunch yesterday at a rather fancy place which I had never been to. We shared amazing food, delightful conversation, cake (!)…

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and even a champagne toast!!

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I was gifted with a small chalice which is just right for a little spot of red wine at the end of the day…..

I couldn’t be more happy with my birthday celebration thus far.  And it isn’t over yet!!

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One reason I like to extend the length of birthdays, and all good things really, is if you imprison your event into one calendar day, potentially other happenings on that very day could taint the taste of your special day, making it not so nice after all.  On the calendar date of my birthday I received a rejection letter from a local arts organization who’s been trying to find some work for me (we will find the right project eventually, I have faith!) and I was quite saddened not to be chosen by their partner on this most recent project because it had seemed so fitting.  Rejections are part of the work of being an artist in this world but they are still a stinging thing, especially on your birthday!!

Also on my birthday came the news of Robin Williams’ untimely and sad passing due to complications of depression.  I was deeply moved and saddened by this news, especially as I have battled depression at various times in my life in varying degrees of severity.  I have tools which work much of the time to keep me healthy, but I am acutely aware of how close the darkness lies.  And of how tenuous my own relationship to lightness truly is.

At the end of a season of travel there is always a time of adjustment, a time that generally holds with it some heaviness of spirit.  But I know through playing music, finding magic and mystery and whimsy in the out of doors (see this guy below??)….

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…I can potentially keep myself from the true depths of darkness.

I can seek the beautiful in this world and catalog it, allowing the ugly news of the world in when I choose to do so  and on my own terms.  Being informed in this age of instant news at all times is tricky business.  It is important to be well read, up to date, ready to vote and be an active part of society.  And yet...  This world needs poets.  And artists.  And pinks so pink they match the shoe laces on my running shoes.  This world needs monks who pray on mountain tops, even when the world seeks to destroy itself while they do so….

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I am home.  I am rested, yet restless.  I am out of practice and in desperate need to get back to the drawing board.  And so I will.  Today I started with a visit to the zoo, where I sketched some lions….

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home again 15

You will find my virtual self checking in here at the blog, lurking now and then over on Twitter, and eventually back on Facebook*, where I will seek to find some new terms for my relationship with that platform.   Meanwhile, I’ll be seeking beauty….

*{for the time being I am taking a break from facebook, as it has become a place which seems to contribute to my heaviness of spirit.  That said, the day of my birthday was made more lovely by many wishes from friends far and wide and I am so grateful for this!  I shall return to that virtual space after a time for in the long run, there is often great value and connection there for me.}