Sunday, November 14, 2010

2010: the year of laughing and lamenting

Well, it's been a spell. But I'm back to the page. Dang, this year has been a flurry of banjo strings, guitar strings, heart strings, studio recordings, and other wonderful things. Including...

- Palindromes
- Portland Symphony Orchestra excursions
- Guitar Studies at 317 Main Street
- Purchase of my Takamine acoustic guitar
- Winter Hot Toddy Jam Sessions and cross country skiing
- Family Reunion in Oregon
- Promotion to Marketing and Communications Manager at True North, nonprofit integrative health center
- NESCom Studio Sessions (a summer learning and teaching exploration)
- Greyfox Bluegrass Festival (as a wide-eyed, inspired spectator)
- Prairie Home Companion Summer Love Tour
- Jellyfish + Seahorse: Boston Aquarium meets Halloween Paper Mache Speakeasy
- Gigs up to wazoo...solo, duo, and with Ramblin' Red, folk-bluegrass quartet.

Yup, music has taken me all over Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Man, if I had a nickel for every time I've carried my guitar and banjo up and down the 3 flights of stairs to my apartment I'd already have my own cabin in the woods! One day...

:: check out past and upcoming gigs at


Releasing "Laughing and Lamenting" - my newest CD celebrating loss and growth.

My Laughing and Lamenting CD release party at SPACE Gallery made me want drums and upright bass and pedal steel on EVERYTHING I do for the rest of my life.

It was ridiculously blissful.

:: Want to listen and buy a copy? Almost gift giving time...
:: I also posted a few of the tunes on my Facebook music page.

Ok, enough reminiscing for one day. Off to play with Edie Carey this evening, to support her own latest CD release. Hasta pronto--don't be a stranger.......

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Top Ironic Music Moment of the Month (so far)

OK let's review one more time...what NOT to do...

While preparing for U2's FREE concert in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate at the 20th anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, what did event organizers do (at MTV's instruction, mind you) to ensure non-ticket holders didn't get the same privileged view as the 10,000 who did snag a free ticket online?

They put up a wall.

Jeesh. Silly primates.

Now, let's turn our attention and energy toward acknowledging the significance of the fall of the wall for Germany, for Europe and for the world, shall we? And watch some big colorful dominoes topple over too? (I wonder how the artist got THAT gig...?)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Studio Bound

It's kind of like when a new jar of pickles magically appears in your fridge.

Or when ocean waves splash your sun-kissed skin, sailing across the bay in your bikini. Or when you wake up to a snow day, pummeling around till your toes turn numb then retreating inside to hot cocoa warming on the woodstove. Or when apple crisp aromas, made with apples you just picked, come wafting from the oven.

Or, perhaps, when you find yourself on top of a volcano in the guatemalan highlands, watching another volcano erupt below just before sunrise having hiked all night with the full moon.

This is how recording music is for me: total magic.

For someone who always has about twenty projects going at once, and a hundred new ideas in my mind at the same time, there's something very spacious and calming about aligning 11 tracks next to each other in a neat package - a linear, cohesive, structured THING containing tidy tid-bits of creative ponderings and questionings and realizings.

"Laughing and Lamenting" will contain 11 new tracks, stripped down to just a few instruments, celebrating the loss paradox - the humor, the heartbreak, and the growth surrounding loss. i've got march 2010 on my calendar - hope you'll add it to yours cause i'd like to share this with you.

I might even share my pickles. If you're real nice.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Costa Rica


The only way to properly unwind from two weeks of waking up early, studying all day, freezing our butts off, and traveling around by foot, taxi, launcha, shuttle and chicken bus, is to sprawl out in the hot sun on an empty beach and get pummeled by warm Pacific waves. That’s exactly what we did at Bejuco Beach. A hot 3 hour bus ride from San Jose brought us to Jaco, once a quiet, quaint beach getaway for cityfolk on the Pacific coast, now an unappealing conglomeration of gringos seeking a daily fix of surf and illicit pleasures, and Ticos – many of whom cater to such gringos. Our buddy picked us up at Pizza Hut, also the bus stop, and we headed south to a small gated community he dubbed “little America.” The house was equipped with HOT water (except for a couple days when the water was completely shut off for reasons we could only speculate were related to the condo construction up the road) and a TV, which we hardly turned on till the last couple days to catch the Oscars, etc…

A short walk down a dirt road past a shack with several kids playing out front that may have been a Tico house, another “little America” gated community and a couple hotel/restaurants, lay Bejuco Beach. The sand was scorching hot, the water deliciously warm, the rip tide forceful, the waves unpredictable but totally surf-able and swim-able.
We ate the freshest of fruit – banano and platano, pineapple, mango, avocado, watermelon, sweet melon, papaya and pipa fria (fresh coconut with a straw stuck in it). And we used Lizano “salsa” (a yummy sweet curry sauce) liberally on pretty much every meal we made. The typical meal in Costa Rica is a delicious “casado” plate – arroz, frijoles, ensalada, platanos fritos, con pollo o carne o pescado o... (rice, beans, fresh salad, fried plantains with chicken or beef or fish or...) – which you can get at any roadside “soda” (little eatery, mini restaurant). The word 'Casado' is a spanish word for 'married' so pretty much what you get is a bunch of basic food elements married together to make a complete meal. Delicioso.

One evening after dinner we lit a bonfire on the beach and went swimming under the clear starry sky, stirring up phosphorescence in the waves. During the day, we were usually accompanied by two adorable dogs that were taken in by one of the “little America” year round residents, Playa and the Puppy. They would guard our stuff on the beach, greet us whenever we returned home, and follow us up to the tienda.

For our nightlife fix, we cruised 15 minutes up the road to the small chill surf town of ESTERILLOS OESTE. At low tide you can walk out on the reef of black volcanic rock and investigate the sea creatures hanging out in the tide pools (while cursing the insects nibbling at your ankles if it’s dusk) before perching on a barstool at one of the open air tico bars. One night we stumbled upon karaoke night at the local discoteque (picture your local dive bar with a bunch of Ticos singing cheesy Spanish love songs and sloppy salsa numbers). We brushed up on our salsa dancing (did we ever mention we took a few salsa classes in Xela?), tried to figure out which one of us the off-duty cops sitting nearby were winking at, and moved on…

Determined to see some monkeys and other creatures of the jungle, we spent a day in MANUEL ANTONIO PARQUE NACIONAL amidst loads of other camera-touting tourists. Mission accomplished: little white-faced monkeys were swinging from palm tree to palm tree, we spotted a couple of sloths hanging out up in the trees, and we heard the infamous sound of howler monkeys. We also happened upon what looked like an ant-eater, a huge hungry iguana that kept pestering us once we settled onto a secluded beach for lunch, and a couple curious raccoons. One of the beaches was only accessible at low tide and we didn’t time it quite right but a little precarious volcanic rock climbing brought us to a beautiful beach with hardly anyone on it. It was dreamy to spend the afternoon swimming, snorkeling, reading, snoozing, and keeping the iguana at bay. Dinner at Ronny’s Place, perched above a beautiful ravine, was the perfect finish to a perfect day.


Almost every day a group of horseback riders would come charging down Bejuco Beach, and the last day we finally got to be those people. After an hour and a half riding through a beautiful jungle trail up above a huge development company, owned by a gringo who actually came on the trip with us, we let the horses loose and cantered up the beach. That afternoon we had to pack it all up and set our alarm. But it wasn’t a bus we got up early to catch, it was the 5:30am waves at Oeste. Undeniably the best surf of the entire trip.

That afternoon we found ourselves in Alajuela, just north of San Jose, a nice little city to wander around before flying back to the cold northeast. After buses and taxis and airplanes and being stoked the car actually started after being parked at the bus station for 5 weeks, we landed home late Thursday evening.

Don't forget to check out our photo slide show (
) if you have minute, and we hope you’ve enjoyed following our Central American adventures. We look forward to catching up with you all soon. SALUD!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hot springs from heaven, chicken buses from hell

After two laborious weeks of Spanish language instruction and forgetting more verbs than we learned we bid farewell to our Guatemalan host family and headed for the hills. We left their drafty but very loving home promising that when we someday return to Xela we´ll pay them a visit. Their hospitality over the fourteen days we lived with them was extraodinary doing everything they could to make us feel welcomed and amply stuffed with liquified beans and white bread, a staple of just about every meal served. To add to fond memories we shared during our short time on Diagonal Eleven in Xela their blue Chow Chow let us pet him on our final day, something the friendly but so skittish animal wouldn´t allow the entire time we were there.

From Xela a short bus ride on one of Guatmela´s ten-thousand Chicken Buses brought us to the ramshackle pueblo of Zunil nestled under the shadow of the Volcano we had climbed the previous weekend. From Zunil a three dollar truck ride is purchased from the waiting cadre of Toyota´s on the side of the road. Preferring the fresh air of the bed, we proceeded nine kilometers up a twisting mountain road with the driver operating at excessively high speeds for the hairpin turns. The views from the back of the truck were absolutely stunning. The clouds, the first we´d seen in the previous three weeks, were shrouding far hills as the valley floor disappeared. Every spare hectare of land was cultivated with cabbage and radishes and numerous other vegetables, tended by indigenous farmers.

Our destination was better than expected. Fuentes Georginas is a natural hot spring nestled in a steep valley high up in the clouds. Frequented by touristas and locals alike, some with visible ailments like broken bones and multiple sclerosis, the mineral pools are known for their curative qualities. The largest and hottest pool was almost unbearable at first but after slow submersion, poco a poco style, all our cold nights in Xela disappeared. Not a bad way to spend El Dia del CariƱo.

The following day we descended in the back of yet another yota whose crazy driver was bent on meeting every oncoming pickup loaded with indigenous families at breakneck speeds. We requested that he drop us off in the vicinity of the revered San Simon. People kept pointing us down narrow paths festooned with spent confetti and tamali corn husks where we found the residence of Zunil´s own deity, who moves from house to house each year. The god of San Simon was represented by a mannequin dressed in a running blazer, white cowboy boots, a backwards (Purely symbolic) yellow cowboy hat with the initials SF on it and aviators glasses. Lit candles flickered at his feet and wreaths of flowers and other ornaments were drapped over his throne. A priest was busily chanting some incantation as he used the gods own gloved hands to bless the worshiper knealed before him. A bottle of Venado, the local hootch, was then ceremonioulsy poured into his open mouth from a silver chalice as he was tilted back by one of the young attendants, the same who took our 5 Quetzale admission fee. This whole experience was brief but poingnant. It was amazing to see how unique, reverent and strange religion can be anywhere in the world.

Thanks to a speedy shuttle service we arrived at our next stop, Chichicastenago, in time to see the hustle and bustle of one of Guatemala´s reknowned weekly markets. Attended by tourists and locals alike all manner of fruits, meats, grains, t-shirts, carvings and weavings were available for a haggled price. The abundance of craftwork all made by hand in Guatemala was amazing. It was even more enjoyable to see a religious procession that culminated in a frenzied fire works show which included setting off mortars and home made bottle rockets from the church steps amidst crowds of people. Included in the procession was a marimba band and three men wearing animal frames covered in baloons and more homemade fire works the size of beer cans which would be lit off while they were still dancing around in the contraptions.

The following day, after outsmarting a con shuttle service with the help of the alert and honest hotel keeper, we were headed south onboard the always hazardous Guatemalan public transportation. We enjoyed the heartpounding experience of a van packed with more Guatemaltecos than one ever imagined possible, a second class bus careening around curves and passing dump trucks in the fog on Guate´s only highway, if you could call it that, and a bona fide chicken bus doing fifty miles an hour through narrow residential streets to only slam on the brakes moments before pesky speed bumps.

The Chicken buses are by far the most thrilling diversion in Guatemala. Absolutely crammed with riders the buses are everywhere which means you never have to wait long for one. They are all converted school buses from the U.S. that have been painted and blinged out with horns and lights and other glamorous decoration. They comprise the bulk of Guatemala´s public transportation and often end up in the accident section of the news paper but unless you´re willing to shell out the dough for private transportation at every turn they really are a conveient and fun way to see the countryside from the local point of view.

Thankfully we arrived safe and sound in our final and first stop, Antigua. After three weeks it´s comforting to be somewhere a little touristy to catch up on our souvenir shopping and to have something besides liquified beans for dinner. Tonight we´ll watch the sun set behind a Volcano one last time and pack our bags for the coasts of Costa Rica.

Monday, February 9, 2009

El Volcan Santa Maria

Last Friday night was uneventful. We were in bed by five in the evening with earplugs inserted to drown out the fire crackers of weekend revelers as we tried to get a few hours of restless sleep before midnight. When the alarm went off we quickly dressed and were out in the silent and deserted streets of Xela. After a brisk walk through the always empty and erie late night streets we arrived at the gated office of the guide outfit. With a group of 20 other students they would be taking us up the side of Santa Maria, an extinct volcano about thirty minutes up one of the valleys near Xela, in the middle of the night.

The bus ride was bumpy and somewhat foreboding passing through the trash strewn outskirts of Xela. We disembarked at 12:30am under a nearly full moon onto a dirt road following our three guides, one of whom has hiked Santa Maria over 70 times in his life, a true Xela diehard. The road,which in the morning would be used by farmers and caballeros hearding goats and cows up the mountain to graze, meandered in and out of the woods as we approached the foot of the Volcano. We hiked by moonlight and flashlights bundled in all the fleece and wool we had with us, including the lovely long johns we purchased at Mercado Minerva earlier that week (remember?) for the next five hours...

With a group so large it was necessary to stop every thirty of forty minutes to allow the slower ones to catch up and ensure everyone was feeling ok. For kids like Sorch and I who grew up near the ocean 3772 meters is higher in altitude than either of us had ever climbed. The thinner air was very noticeable, especially if attempting to move any faster than our lead guide who slowly shuffled his feet up the dusty switchbacks.

The views on the way up were spectacular. The seriously cold and clear air showed a glimmering lights of Xela beneath us spread all over the valley floor. Everyone was suprised by the size of the city of around half a million people. The stops, which seemed frequent, served to freeze the perspiration we had accumulated but for those who hadn´t gotten much sleep they were necessary.

About an hour before sunrise we reached the summit rising above large pines trees that cover the Volcano. A rocky summit was barely visible in the dark, the moon having set by this time, but the lights of the country side spread out in all directions for dozens of miles. While setting up a makeshift camp on the grassy southern side of the volcano we were greeted by a spout of lava and a burst of dark ash reaching hundreds of meters into the air. Along with the predawn eruption we enjoyed the warmer air wafting up from the much lower but active Santiaguito volcano.

As the stars disapeared and the eastern horizon became visible behind a range of steep mountains the guides fired up a large pot of hot chocolate, a staple for anyone in the cold in Guatemala. With a sugar buzz from the rich cocoa we watched the break of day what might as well have been the top of the world. Just after dawn another plume of ash, this one much bigger than the first, exploded from little Santiaguito garnering ohhs and ahhs from all of us. The still air allowed the plume to mushroom thousands of feet into the air and slowly get spread out of the valley below.

The hike down was long and resulted in very sore calfs and hips but the warmth of day allowed everyone to strip off layers of clothing. The descent into a Guatemalan saturday morning was met with suprise as local Mayan family after family passed us with boquets of wildflowers and babies swaddled in blankets wrapped onto their mothers backs. The thin sandles, radios and heavy loads of food and water for the kids made our hiking boots and camel backs seem frivoulous. I had a hard time picturing some of the women my grandmother´s age treking up the volcano we had come down but full moon rituals rooted in Mayan beliefs were something they´ve done since they were the babies precariously carried up on their own mothers backs.