Finding Fine

20150510_122014(Just by way of background: about a month ago, I was running a routine errand on a quiet Friday evening, and while I was at a red light waiting for it to change, an inattentive driver plowed into the back of my little Corolla. I was sore, but OK, but the car had extensive frame damage and is gone.)

The other day I was going through a bag of stuff that we took out of the little blue car before it went to the body shop, and the stuff I pulled from the glove compartment before it went off to the salvage yard when it was declared totaled. Among the stuff: a spiffy, shiny maintenance record. Barely used. I’d also saved the all the receipts from oil changes, and the nice tires I got not too terribly long ago.

None of which matters now. It doesn’t matter that the tires had a good warranty. It doesn’t matter that the engine and transmission and brakes were all in great shape.

Likewise, it doesn’t matter that I never got around to cleaning up those few drops of dried coffee in the cup holder, or wiping the dust off the dashboard.

In his homily on Sunday, Father said that “all analogies limp.” And I’m not sure there’s really one I can draw from this anyway.

I’m just thrown off balance still, I guess. It makes you realize that doing the right things is no guarantee of anything, whether it’s a car’s existence or your pet’s well-being or a person’s life. You can do everything right, you can be the sort of person who (like my little Toyota) generally enjoys perfect health, and you can still die in a freak accident or end up with a sudden catastrophic illness or cancer. Being careful is no guarantee. Being “successful” is no guarantee. We’re all still totally vulnerable. There’s no magic bullet.

This past week was also the anniversary of Mom’s passing, so those emotions are in the mix, too. I remember that after she died, it took me a long time to get over a frightening, paralyzing awareness of the fragility of life. We take for granted that each day we’ll get up, go to work or school or church or the grocery, come home, go to bed. Day after day, year after year. Mostly, we do. And yet, at any given moment, that could come to an end. When Mom died, it was the first time I was really struck by how easily and quickly someone could go from being here to not being here.

At the moment, I’m back to that awareness, and I know it is partly an opportunity to find trust and to think about what truly matters in this life and the next, but mostly it feels like living on the edge of a precipice, and it’s taking a long while to fade.

Hold Fast

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Mushrooms from a nature walk with my brother and sister-in-law, nieces and nephews–a memory worth holding!

If there is one bit of worldly wisdom I wish I could convey to my younger self, it is this: don’t be afraid to spend your time and money on experiences.

It’s something it has taken me far too long to learn. It just seemed almost wrong to spend money on trips or concerts or other intangibles that left you with nothing–nothing, that is, except memories.

There is a paradox there, however: it may seem that experiences are fleeting while objects endure, but in our memories, it’s just the opposite.

On top of that, things can weigh heavily on our homes and minds, especially as the years go on and despite our best efforts, they accumulate.

I’m at a point now where I’m concentrating on letting go. Part of this is yet another attempt to work on my poor organizing skills. But another part is realizing there’s a certain peace, a certain freedom in only having what you need, only buying and using things you really want.

I’m not really a materialistic person, I swear. Yes, I like beautiful instruments and other objects. I appreciate good tools. There are things worth having.

But as I pass into another phase of life, I want to pare down, concentrate on what matters, spend more time and money on making memories, not on gathering things.

Unfortunately I can’t go back in time to straighten myself out:

I can’t tell myself to buy fewer instruments/guitars (except that one, because man…) and spend more time and money on camps and festivals and lessons.

Take the younger siblings camping.

Take more road trips, just to explore and appreciate.

Take a cooking class, just for the fun of it.

Take lots of classes just for fun of it.

Find ways to take trips, even if I have to go alone.

Try that restaurant, even if I have to go alone.

Buy flowers once in awhile, even if they’ll fade away.

Pay attention.

I’m a little late to the ball game. But I’m trying to embrace experiences a bit more. Don’t let week after week after week slip by unlived in. Call people more. Spend more time with family and friends. Observe the seasons. Check out nearby places. Do things. Learn, even if what I’m learning isn’t “useful.” Stay curious.

And remember.

Bad Thing

I don’t know if I’ve ever told the story of how Halvah came to me.

It was the year 2000, and I had my first grown-up civilian job, doing PC support for a small company in Lyndonville, VT, not too terribly far from the town where I grew up. I got a full hour for lunch, so sometimes Mom would come by and pick me up and we’d go out to eat.

One day at getting-toward-lunch-time, one of the gals at the front desk called me and told me Mom was there. She hadn’t said she was coming, but I still wasn’t terribly surprised. But when I went up to the front to meet her, I found her practically wringing her hands, very agitated. “I did a bad thing,” she told me furtively. “Can you get away for a few minutes?”

Of course I said “of course,” but I was amused and bemused. I followed her out to the car, where she showed me the “bad thing” in the form of a cardboard cat carrier containing a little ball of beige and brown fluff that cried and cried in a gravelly voice.

It turned out Mom had wandered into the pet store in Littleton, NH, which back then occasionally had puppies and kittens–often local “oops” litters. There was a single Himalayan/Siamese kitten all alone in a cage there, crying and crying, and it broke Mom’s heart. She (the kitten) cost $250–a crazy sum of money for Mom–but she shelled it out and fled with the kitten, hoping against hope that I’d bail her out and keep the poor baby.

I mean, really, what else *could* I do? I named her Halvah, because her coloring resembled the sesame candy, and because she was so sweet.A few days later her voice changed to a more normal cry–she’d apparently cried herself hoarse.

In the long run, she turned out to be more sassy than sweet. She is her own cat, sets her own rules, gives affection under her own terms. She doesn’t mind a warm lap now and again, and she’ll greet me at the door, but woe to anyone who might try to pick her up, or pet her an instant longer than she prefers. MAJOR woe to anyone who tries to get her to take a pill or eat a food not of her choosing or deign to allow her nails to be cut. She knows how to strike like a snake, claw like a cougar, and wail like a banshee.

Select Halvah adventures include the time she somehow found a way to get from under the sink to under the floorboards at an apartment in a not-terribly-well-maintained old house, and then got stuck because she insisted on going forward and wouldn’t back up. My brother and I spent what felt like hours huddled on the floor in the middle of the night, calling and pleading with her, while Tam yowled frantically and wanted SO MUCH to go in after her. I imagined having to call my landlord at 2AM to explain that he was going to need to cut the house apart because my cat was too stubborn for words. (She finally grudgingly backed her pudgy behind to the starting point, and Jim and I hauled her out by the legs).

Then there was the time I moved across country. My sister Margaret rode along in the minivan as we transported all my belongings and the two cats from Vermont to Colorado. We discovered pretty quickly that Halvah would cry loudly if we didn’t have music playing, and we further discovered just how much of this country has almost no radio stations. I’d foolishly packed all my music away in an inaccessible box, so we were left playing two CDs my sister had on hand, over and over and over and over for thousands of miles: Clint Black’s Greatest Hits, and an Everly Brothers collection. I will forever think of Halvah and that trip when I hear those songs.

Age is starting to catch up to her now, and she’s showing some symptoms of the kidney disease that took Tam last year. In her case, I know treatment options will be limited: she eats only the food she wants to eat, you can’t trick her or force her when it comes to pills, there’s no way in the universe I could give her fluids. She has very definite opinions, and at her age, I guess I can only respect those opinions and hope she has some good times left.

She’s one of the more interesting cats I’ve known. And she’s still Mom’s little “bad thing,” and I love her for it.

Happy 17th, you funny little girl.

Personal Log, Wintergrass 2017

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At the very last second, everything worked out for me to go to Wintergrass this year: the huge indoor bluegrass festival held at the Hyatt in Bellevue every year. These are some of my thoughts and experiences on the concerts and workshops. Buckle your seatbelts, this is going to be a long trip. It’s the closest thing I can manage to taking you to Wintergrass 2017 with me!

Thursday:

True North: a semi-local bluegrass/Americana band. Took us for a ride through all sorts of emotions. I think my favorites were the song they’d written about the festival’s move from Tacoma to Bellevue and how it’s a tough place for bluegrass songs (chorus: “it’s a hard place to suffer, and that really gets me down”), and this tear-jerker:
Be Here Now

Kruger Brothers! As I recall, they started out with a portion of Jens’ Appalachian Concerto. At Wintergrass, of course, it was just the three musicians–Jens Kruger, Uwe Kruger, and their bass player Joel Landsberg. But somehow they *still* sound like an orchestra. Exceptional musicians in every way. And a beautiful composition by Jens.

The Kruger Brothers & Kontras Quartet – Appalachian Concerto


Uwe also did People Get Ready, which is a crowd pleaser. We were pleased.

Kruger Brothers – People Get Ready


Darlingside – not entirely sure how to categorize these guys! Eagles meets Simon and Garfunkel meets I dunno? They sing tight harmony around a single mic, but are more folk rock than bluegrass. They used a kick drum and a loop pedal and build their songs up to a swirling crescendo that will drag you in. I’m not sure I entirely get their lyrics, and that usually means I don’t care for the band/artist, but their sound is so pretty!

Darlingside – White Horses

Friday:

John McEuen did an audio visual presentation on the history and backstory of the famous Will the Circle Be Unbroken album, starting with the history of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and continuing through the recording of the album itself. There were all SORTS of archival photos and clips and anecdotes, interwoven with live performances of some of the songs by the John McEuen Trio. So, so well done. Some people asked hopefully about a DVD version, but it sounds like it might not be possible. John McEuen *is* however working on a book covering the information, with lots of the pictures and all. It will hopefully be out next year.


Mollie O’Brien & Rich Moore Family Band. I’d heard Mollie and Rich before a few times, including at little ol’ Traditions down here in Olympia, WA. Man, what a voice she has! Powerful. And he’s pretty nifty on guitar and harmony vocals. This time around, they had two daughters with them, leading to some tremendous family harmonies. I don’t see any of their family performances out there on the Interweb, but they do have an album! It’s called Daughters. Anyhow, here’s Mollie and Rich: Mollie O’Brien + Rich Moore – Train Home


Jeremy Kittel Band: these are one of the groups that helped support the whole “Bach to Bluegrass” theme this year. For any who loved The Goat Rodeo Sessions–taking bluegrass or Celtic tinged music and classical-fying or jazzing it up a bit, you need to check this group out. Virtuosos. Also one of the few hammered dulcimers I’ve seen at Wintergrass, and who doesn’t love that?

The Jeremy Kittel Band – Irish Tunes


Hot Rize: What can I say? This was my first time seeing my favorite ever bluegrass band live, and they didn’t disappoint. So much fun. Also, Bryan Sutton may be the best flatpicker in the world.

Hot Rize – Western Skies


Caitlyn Canty: wasn’t entirely sure how to take her stage presence/persona. Great voice. Her songs are lyrically rich–so many vivid images crammed in. Overall, not entirely to my taste, but she’s talented and I’m glad I saw her.

Caitlyn Canty – Get Up


The Kruger Brothers, Part Two: they were ON for that performance. Joking around, pushing one another, taking everything as far and as high and as deep as it would go, and it was magical. Every Wintergrass has a few moments that take on mythical proportions for me. This year, this was it.

Kruger Brothers – Beautiful Nothing


We were in the Cedar ballroom where they were broadcasting live via Concert Window. Now I really wish I could go back in time and tell ALL THE PEOPLE to watch. C’est la vie.


The Kruger Brothers ran late because they could (as Uwe pointed out with a big grin, they were the last act on that stage for the night), but as soon as they got out, I jogged over to the WAMA suite to hopefully catch at least a little of Kathy Barwick and Pete Siegfried‘s act. I was hoping against hop that they’d to “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” when I was there, and when I walked in, Pete was introducing it. Further proof that someone loves me. I’ve heard a lot of people do that song, but I’m not kidding when I say their version is my favorite by a good bit. Pete has a marvelously expressive voice, nicely completmented by Kathy’s tasteful guitar picking and his own mandolin. I don’t think it’s out there in YouTube land. You’ll have to buy their Long Time Gone album. But here’s something of theirs to tide you over.

Barwick and Siegfried – Dusty Diamonds

Saturday:

Turtle Island Quartet: They can’t really be categorized, but essentially they are all fabulous classically trained musicians who do everything from classical to jazz in the form of a fairly traditional classical quartet: first and second violin, viola, cello. (This is the only thing traditional about them.) I am surprised we didn’t listen to them growing up, honestly–I think Dad would enjoy them if he doesn’t already know about them. Very fine musicians.

Turtle Island Quartet – All Along the Watchtower


Flatt Lonesome: this was about as traditional bluegrass as I went all weekend. As they put it, mostly a family band: twin brother and sister (he on guitar and she on fiddle), their older sister (mandolin), her husband on banjo, and then Dobro and bass. The Robertsons did the vocals, and man oh man, what vocals! 
Flatt Lonesome – You’re the One


Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg: these two were a big, big pull for me. I’m a big fan of classical music, and Caterina is one of the very best classical mandolinists in the world today. Mike Marshall, for his part, has brought classical music to a lot of bluegrass musicians. The two of them met and fell in love at a Mandolin Symposium a few years back, have two adorable little girls, and despite very, very different musical backgrounds, make beautiful music together. Which I enjoyed tremendously. As I said at the time, it made me want to play classical mandolin SO MUCH, but I think it would take decades to get there. Very complex music.

Caterina Lichtenberg and Mike Marshall – Bach Gigue in D Minor

Sunday:

Sierra Hull. She is so young, and yet has been a known musician so long, it’s hard to get your head around it. She’s a powerhouse. I got to see her live at Traditions a few months back. I confess, I think my favorite song of hers this time was Mad World, during which she fingerpicked a ’64 Mandocaster. What this says about my taste, I dunno. But man, this is good.

Sierra Hull – Mad World


Tim O’Brien, as in lead singer/mandolinist from Hot Rize and brother of Mollie O’Brien. Very good performance. Do wish he’d played more banjo, but ya know, you can’t have it all, but YouTube does, pretty much.

Tim O’Brien – You Were on My Mind


Oh, and at the end of Tim’s set, a bit of a dream come true for me: I love Mollie and Tim’s voices together, but I’d only ever heard them in recordings. For years I’d hoped they’d sing on stage together when I was there, and finally it happened!


The Wintergrass Youth Orchestra closed things out. Such a cool concept. Mostly they are local middle schoolers, and they work all year to prepare for this performance. Some of the performers volunteered their time to perform with them, so they did music with The Turtle Island Quartet, Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg, Tim O’Brien…and some others after we took off, though they were winding down. Really neat to see!

Kids are Scary

Kids are so awesome and so scary. Everything is new and everything is meaningful, and *that* is awesome and scary.

I mean, you and I can’t remember what we had for breakfast last Sunday, but kids…kids, you never know if that bagel you buy them, the bagel you only buy them because you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to sit down for breakfast at the house, that bagel could become The Bagel, the one bagel to which all future bagels will be compared, the bagel they will remember to their dying day as The Bagel of All Bagels.

Or, alternatively, you don’t know if you’re going to blurt something impatiently and, likewise, they’ll remember those words for the rest of their lives, in all their darkest moments.

I love my nieces and nephews, and I hope some of the experiences we have together are good memories they carry forever. At the same time, I feel like any time spent with kids is such a huge responsibility. I love it, and I’m awed by it, and I am slightly terrified, too.

Maybe that’s a teeny slice of what parents experience. I can hardly imagine. Whew.

Pirkka Rinkeli

Resolved 2017

It’s a little late for New Year’s Resolutions, but c’mon, is the chaos of Christmas season and its aftermath really the best time to think about goals? I usually need a break and some reflection, and this year has been no exception.

But here are my resolutions in a nutshell:

Pare down, use up, put away.

I feel like I spent a lot of the last decade acquiring. I have stacks of empty notebooks. I have odd ingredients I bought for a recipe but then forgot about, which I really should use before they expire. I have pens and pencils and ink. I have clothing I bought (from Goodwill generally, but still) and put in a drawer, forgotten.

I declare 2017 the year of living inexpensively. There will always be cool new limited edition notebooks and pens and boots and that. I have more than I can use anytime soon.

I also want to clear out the things I don’t use or need–a surprising amount made the cut in spite of my move, and while there’s not necessarily anything wrong with a few sentimental objects, I can proooobably at least let go of that old bluetooth headset I haven’t used in six years and which doesn’t charge. It’s a bit daunting to go through every drawer and closet, but exhilarating as well.

I’m also realizing one of the reasons I’m so challenged by order is that I keep treating symptoms rather than disease. The reason I end up with jackets strewn all over creation just might be because there’s no coat rack. If I brought the hamper in from the garage and used it without the stoopid flippy lid I hate so much, maybe there wouldn’t be dirty clothes on the bathroom and bedroom floor. If I put away the winter clothes in the spring and vice versa (after all, I have an attic now!), maybe I’d have enough room to keep all my clothes and blankets and sheets in the dresser where they belong.

It’s all going to take some effort. Building some habits. Establishing new routines. Maybe avoiding certain temptations. But just thinking about it makes me feel freer.

So off we go.

Random February

I am inordinately fond of this face.img_20170203_092448_746

This one is pretty cute, too.

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Currently reading:
1. Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic is fascinating, but also scary and sad. It mostly traces the rise of opiate addiction stemming from prescription drugs, and the changing face of drug dealing that partly fueled and partly followed that addiction. As someone from an area (rural Vermont) that really didn’t have much in the way of drug abuse when I was a kid but where there is now a startling rise in overdose deaths, , this was an eye opener.

2. (Much more uplifting!) The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I’m not all that far into it, but so far it’s pulling at my heart and mind in all sorts of ways. On top of the heartbreaking personal challenges faced by the rower on which the author spends the most time (Joe Rantz), I’m captivated by the local connections: seeing Seattle and the Kitsap Peninsula as they were during the depression and leading up to WWII. As someone who didn’t grow up in the area, it can be easy to forget how young civilization really is here, how recently it became a center of culture and technology, how shaped it was by logging and fishing and other more rugged enterprises.

Currently up to: aside from reading and some clawhammer banjoing, mostly cleaning off some devices to sell: my old phone and my computer. In part, this is to pay for…

This.
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When I bought my house, it was a fade-into-the-sky-stormy-slate color, which wasn’t terrible, but since the paint was chipping and cracked in places, I needed to  get it painted anyway. After much consideration, I switched to TARDIS blue (AKA Sherwin Williams Honorable Blue). And I love it. I LOVE IT. I’m broke, but my house is so pretty!

I suppose the guy across the street might frown on my bringing out a chair to sit on his lawn so I can admire the outside of my own house as I read this weekend, too broke to do much else.

But it’s tempting, I admit.

Slice

For a brief time when I was about 13, I had a contact lens.

Yes, that’s singular. As in one lens.

I have very poor vision in my left eye–unaugmented, I see a matter of inches. As it turns out, I’m actually nearsighted in my right eye as well, and eventually I got glasses. I still don’t see with both eyes together, but whatever.

But at the time, the doctor just wanted to see whether it was possible for me to use my eyes together and actually have depth perception. So they just corrected the left to bring it up to the same strength as the right.

It didn’t work. I saw double, or saw things shifted to one side so I’d go to touch something or pick something up and find it had disconcertingly dodged me. I ended up closing one eye or the other a lot of the time just so I could function. The whole thing rather put me off contacts.

BUT! There was one really cool thing. And I’m never sure why this isn’t talked about more. Am I the only one who experienced this? Is it supposed to be a secret kept by contact lens users? Do I risk being hunted down and silenced? I don’t know.

But here’s what I found: soft contact lenses protect your eyes from onion vapors. Usually I turn into a teary, snotty, miserable mess when cutting onions. I love them, but oh, they hurt. However, I could close my non-contacted eye and slice away.

For a few short months, whenever Mom needed help in the kitchen, I was an invincible onion-chopping cyclops. And that was SO VERY COOL.

Replay

I have a tendency to obsess over two or three albums or artists at a time. I’ll spend a month listening to almost nothing but Bach Cello Suites, for example, or play a particular 90s band’s albums on repeat for days at a time until I know what song is coming up next before it starts.

And then sometimes those albums get lost. I have music I’ve not listened to in years. It is the joy and the challenge of the modern world, I guess: gone are the days when someone might have just half a dozen records they know by heart.

As I was setting up a new device the other day, I started scanning through the list of albums in my digital library–so many old friends, so many brief but passionate flings, so many that brought back so many memories. And I decided it might be fun to take a weird little piecemeal stroll down memory lane. (Ain’t it funny how a melody can bring back a memory?)

I’m working my way through them, in alphabetical order, at least the complete albums, and skipping over a few of the Giant Box o’ Bach types. There are some odd juxtapositions (Ray Charles to monastic chant?!), and admittedly my tastes have evolved (and devolved) through the years, so not everything is going to appeal as much or in the same way as it did at one time, but I’m still enjoying the trip.

So far:

• 12 Greatest Hits – Patsy Cline (An auspicious start. Love me some Patsy.)
• 25 – Harry Connick Jr.
• Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet
• About Time – Don Stiernberg (swing mando!)
• Achtung Baby – U2
• Acoustic Phenomenon – Patrick Ross (GREAT Vermont fiddler)
• Advent at Ephesus – Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles
• Afternoon in Paris – Stephane Grappelli (Spent a LOT of time with this one back in the day!)
• Alive Again – Matt Maher (which I tend to sing along to and scare the dog)
• All The Good ‘Uns – Ian Tyson (man knows how to paint a word picture…)
• Amahl and The Night Visitors
• An Enchanted Evening With Jose Carreras (which makes me miss Mom, his biggest fan…)
• An Evening in the Village: The Music of Béla Bartók – Jake Schepps (banjo!)
• An Spealadóir – Bua
• Anam – Clannad
• And I Feel Fine: The Best of the I.R.S. Years – R.E.M (how to feel drunk without drinking–hefty doses of R.E.M. over tinny speakers)
• Angelina Carberry & Martin Quinn (Irish tenor banjo!)
• Anthology – Ray Charles
• Anthology: Chants & Polyphany from St. Michael’s Abbey
• Armchair Apocrypha – Andrew Bird