Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Extended Vacation

The month of me was spectacular, perhaps a bit too good since it translated into my extended vacation from blogging and writing anything beyond my research for graduate school. Actually, the real excuse is a heavy paper dealing with ethics in the making, valuation, and sale of art. This is a subject which brings up horrible memories of a controversial time at Randolph College. I have been reticent to say anything about it for reasons I won't go into here. Suffice it to say, it has been a difficult, complex, and heart wrenching task of reliving an unpleasant past. Although the writing of it is important to my graduate work, and I would not shirk its necessity, it has taken a bit of the joy out of writing for me in the process. Now that the semester is over, and the initial draft is complete, I begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps when I finish my paper, I'll be less cryptic and share my feelings on the events and the subject here. Right now, I am ready to walk away from the whole thing and enjoy my extended vacation. On that note, I leave today for a cruise of the Caribbean. Woohoo!

Anyway, instead of talking about ethics, the environment, and art, lets talk about me. Specifically, the month of me. I promised I would tell you all about it, and then I got selfish and took several months off. I am prone to selfish acts. I'll admit it. Anyway, the month of me was spectacular and I think I may have had the best fortieth birthday of anyone on record in the history of humanity. I'm not even sure I remember everything I did during the month, but the highlights were exceptional.

I started out with a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the National Gallery and the Hirshorne museum. We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard right beside the National Portrait Gallery. Apart from the typical frustration of driving in the convoluted streets of that city and the ridiculous cost of parking, we had a fabulous time walking the streets, enjoying art, eating great food. I got spectacular photos. My favorite is of the amazing sculpture pictured above by Ron Mueck at the Hirshorne and the New York fan who was equally awed by it.

Next was the highlight of my month, Shakori Hills music festival and an entire weekend with many of my dearest friends camping, enjoying and making music, and dancing till our feet ached. My lovely zoo peeps all came out to help me celebrate, as did my partner in crime and art making, Terri, who drove all the way from Lynchburg with an injured back to join the mayhem. She was a great sport! Nikki baked me a cow cake which made me laugh and laugh. Another story for another time. Pete dressed me up like a princess in tiara and jewels, to which Terri added a really cool scepter that lit up and played magical sounds. We sat around camp fires, listened to fantastic music and generally laughed until our sides ached.

But, I haven't even gotten started. My dear friends Kimmy and David cooked up some serious surprises for me along with the rest of my friends in Donna the Buffalo, the best band in the world. So, not only did they bring me fun decorations for the campsite and lovely gifts both in the bag and in their presence, they also had my favorite songs added to the Saturday night set list, dedicated a special version of my all-time favorite song, Conscious Evolution, to me and had my all-time favorite guitarist, Jeb Puryear, wish me a happy birthday, not once, but twice during the show. Wow! I was really floored. Now, you'd think the month of me would end there. I mean, how much more fun can one girl have? Oh, I haven't even gotten started.

After Donna ended what I now think of as my birthday set, we all waltzed on over to the dance tent to dance for several more hours to my second favorite band in the whole world, The Duhks. Maybe it was just the rosy glow of my party, although I really didn't drink that much, so I don't think so, but I feel like that particular set was one of the best I have seen by this talented band. I lost my magical scepter at some point during the show, but the magic seemed to stay with me regardless.

After, Leonard and several of my friends in the band hung out and closed down the dance tent. Then Christian, the drummer, David, and Kimmy and I ended up finished out to rest of the night, literally, laughing until the sun came up over at their campsite. I'm fairly certain the laughter alone lifted several years off my life. So, my actual birthday party ended with three dear friends and partners in mayhem watching the sun come up over the sheep field and wondering at the manliness of those big-boy sheep. They are really quite spectacular in ways we shouldn't discuss here.

As it turns out, the scepter went on to have its own fabulous party and found the perfect home away from me. Apparently, my friend Kath's daughters found it and had all kinds of fun playing with it until they tried brandishing it over the guy in the chicken suit who drives the hay ride tractors around the park. I guess they were trying to turn him into a frog. It didn't work, but he ended up with the magical instrument of birthday power and carried it around the rest of the weekend threatening the unruly children with it. I kept hearing the squeals of delight that followed it's funny electronic sounds, and I figured it was right where it belonged, spreading the magic of joy and laughter throughout the park.

But, fear not. I was still not without its magical powers because the magical fun did not end with the party, as one might expect. No the next day, after one short hour of sleep, as the campers began to rise from their warm sleeping bags, I woke unable to fall back to sleep. Feeling bleary, I opted for a shower and some coffee. So, I dragged myself out of bed, and took care of business. Once I had coffee in hand, I was beginning to feel mildly human again as the sounds of Keith Secola drifted across the main stage field with the unmistakable guitar riffs of Jeb Puryear wandering along the scale. Like a bee to honey, I followed the music and stood near the stage drinking in the sounds, letting the music wake me up.

Perhaps five minutes passed before I was being pulled by one of my herd friends, Gail, towards the stage steps, and led right up onto the stage to become one of the fry bread backup singers for the band. Suddenly, I am on stage directly in front of Jeb with a microphone in front of me singing. How did this happen? I had to laugh. So, I sang along, and danced and generally tried to make myself smaller since I figured most people would rather see Jeb play his guitar than me dancing around and pretending to be a professional singer. Still, it was amazing, a new perspective on the festival and perhaps one of the most fun things I've ever done at Shakori Hills. Thanks Keith. If you ever need a full-time singer, look me up.

Oh, and I cannot forget to mention the best dancing at Shakori every year in the dance tent when Preston Frank takes the stage. That man knows how to play some Zydeco. Put him together with Donna the Buffalo as his band, and you have some of the finest dance music ever played. So, we danced and we danced and we danced for the rest of the day.

Although the weekend was swiftly drawing to a close, I still had one more wonderful thing to come. David's son Riley, who is twelve, decided he wanted to play the drums with his dad's band for the first time during the Friends of Donna the Buffalo ritual closing concert of the festival. Can I tell you, he rocked the house. The musical talent in that family will indeed live on in Riley McCracken. I'm personally looking forward to many years as one of his groupies. We were all very impressed, including Tara, and I get the sense she does not impress easily. Christian Dugas of the Duhks also sang a lovely ballad, but not from his comfort zone behind the drums, but rather in front of the band. Although he seemed a bit nervous about it before the fact, he was impressively composed onstage and sang a hauntingly lovely song for the crowd. It was a spectacular birthday party to be sure. Thanks go out to all my fabulous friends and family who made my birthday one to remember. I love you all!

Photos appear courtesy of Bill Davis. Thanks Bill!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Month of Me

So, this month I turn forty. I'm actually rather excited about it, not at all freaking out like I did when I turned thirty. This time, I feel like I'm entering the best years of my life. Anyway, as a gift to myself, the month of October has been designated the month of me. This year, I'm doing it up in a big way. Wait until you hear about all the stuff I have planned to celebrate. I'll be blogging about it as I go. After the really shitty end to the month of September, things can only go up from here.

You see, Mom was reading the paper a few nights back, and there in the obits was a photo of one of our dearest friends, Bill Spruill. This man was a constant in our lives, one of those people who could show up unannounced, let himself in the house, and make himself right at home. One of those people you hoped would do just that. Every time he showed up, the world seemed a little bit brighter. Maybe this was because, like the photos, he was always wide open, always laughing, always so full of life. I don't even have a picture where he isn't grinning, head thrown back, eyes all squinted. And, most every picture of him also means everyone else around him is laughing too like the picture above. I cannot believe he's gone.

So, today, I begin the month of me at his memorial paying my respects to one of my favorite people. This might sound a bad way to start the month, but here's the thing. I plan to make a promise to Bill today to live my life as he lived his, like every day was the most important, like the present is all I have , so I'd best make the most of it. Then, after his memorial, Mom and I will take off for DC. We will wake our friend tonight with a fabulous meal in some swanky restaurant, perhaps enjoy their best champagne, raise a glass to him, and tomorrow we will hit the art museums, maybe shop in the village. Bill would have loved that. He would have joined us and soaked up every second. Although I will miss him terribly, its a comfort to know he'll be smiling down on us where ever we go.

Happy trails Bill! May your journey be sweet, and may you see all the things you missed down here on earth. I love you and I'll miss you! Until we meet again...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Where've You Been?

To borrow a title from Kathy Mattea, I'm sure those who read me are wondering what the heck happened. Well, perhaps after reading the last post about Goddard and my entrance into graduate school they might have a clue, but still. I have been bad about sitting down to blog. I have missed it and most of my writing terribly. Holding down a part-time job, running a pet sitting business, painting commissioned works, and freelance writing all four was a bit too much. The part-time job had to go. I worked my last days there just last week. That gives me twenty hours of my life back. It may not seem like much, but you'd be surprised. Lately, whenever I have a moment free, I find myself up on the parkway taking photos of the monarch migration and wishing them a safe journey and a safe haven to return to in Mexico, knowing full well both are improbable at best, but it never hurts to put the positive energy forward. The photos included are from these forays onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. The two below are called Coexistence One and Coexistence Two.

I love my pet sitting gig, most of the time, but after this summer, I have to admit I'm glad the traveling season is slowing down a bit now, for others anyway. It will be picking up for me. I have booked a trip to DC and to NYC both to look at the galleries and museum shows. It's such a hardship having to travel to the city to look at art. I don't know how I'll survive this graduate school gig. As a result, I will spend my fortieth birthday in one of my favorite cities on earth, New York. Mom got us a hotel five miles from Manhatten, basically across one of the bridges and several blocks from MOMA. To all you Shakori Hills peeps, never fear, my actual birthday is the week after the festival, so I WILL be celebrating at both locations this year. After forty years, I think I deserve a double whammy. This promises to be a great birthday.

Anyhow, that sums up most of the news for me, oh except I forgot to mention one tiny little thing. My poems have now been published. One in a book called Watermarks that is for sale by the Maier Museum of Art, and the other by Hip Pocket Press in the Canary. You can read that one here, and feel free to pass the link along to your friends. I hope you enjoy and promise to try and return to the regularly scheduled blogging program.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


After a year off, I am officially showing my masochistic tendencies again as a proud member of the Goddard College IMA program. Two and a half years from now, I will walk away from this experience with my Masters degree in Arts with a concentration in Environmental Studies. More importantly, I will walk away with a much stronger sense of who I am and what I have to say. I already feel like I have taken huge strides towards that end after only one residency. The program is what they call a low residency program, meaning you attend sessions on campus twice a year and the rest of the time you work from home. Some call it distance learning. In some ways, my first residency feels like a dream. Was I really there? Did all that really happen? Did I really make all those great discoveries about myself and meet all those great people? The only hard evidence I have of it now are the photos and the new facebook friends who appear to share the same memories, so I guess it did happen.

They told me it would be frustrating, having such a profound experience and then having no real vocabulary with which to speak about it that might remotely do it justice. I have toyed with posting this blog for days, trying to come up with something, and I have to admit they were right. (They being the other graduate students and faculty at Goddard who have lived through this experience in the past.) The best I can come up with is to say that it was like existing in another energy field entirely, one where my brain ran on some other wavelength. I walked around like an exposed synapse nerve soaking everything in and processing it at an alarming rate. It was wonderful, inspiring, frightening, emotional, confusing business. Most of all it was just amazing. I really didn't want to leave, but I fear if it had lasted any longer, I might not have survived it.

I came home more tired than I have ever felt in my whole life. However, its a good tired because I know I've accomplished something positive, started down a life altering path towards something more. The thought of the hard work doesn't scare me too much. Oh, yes, it does. No, it doesn't. I'm trying to get a grip on it. I don't mind the work, in fact, I think I will enjoy it, but still any kind of new life- altering path is bound to be a little scary, right? I have never been one to let that stop me, and it certainly won't stop me now.

Anyway, the program is really amazing. Tailor made for eclectic people like me who don't believe in the need to "specialize" in one field of study. My world makes no sense by splitting it into categories. Better to integrate, study in the places where subjects and disciplines come together, since this is the way the real world works. I never understood the idea put forth by academia that says you should choose and focus in on one thing. Since when does this truly serve anyone in their daily lives? Better, if you ask me, to be able to synthesize and use the knowledge you have gathered in multiple disciplines, particularly in today's world where multi-tasking is the norm. But, that is an argument better left for another time. I don't have the energy for it right now. Suffice it to say, Goddard's truly interdisciplinary approach to education was what sold me on them.

Lots of colleges, particularly those with low residency programs in the arts, say they are interdisciplinary, yet when I looked into them, they still expected me to specialize in one thing or the other. Goddard believes this is not necessary for everyone. Instead, they let me choose from three disciplines, and even those could be fairly broad, as long as I could fashion a study plan for the program which proved they were all necessary and which will lead me to produce something of value to give back to society when my degree is complete.

I chose to work in Environmental Studies, Creative Writing, and the Arts. My project includes looking at things like Animal Cognitive Studies and Deep Ecology, as well as Contemporary Environmental Art and Resurgence Art so that I can find the place for my own voice, my own talents. Although coming up with the study plan wasn't easy, I came home full of excitement, and after sleeping for nearly two days, I hit the ground running. Suzi Gablik, who I had the great pleasure to meet recently, will be glad to know that several of her books are among the first things on my reading list, as is the book Deep Ecology by Devall and Session. I'll be studying these and many, many more. Plus, I will be forced to view and write about all kinds of Contemporary Art. Such a hardship for me. :)

So, what have I gained? Well, first and foremost, the honor of calling so many wonderful new people friends and colleagues. All of the people I met in the Goddard community have been the most wonderful, accepting, open, intelligent, and loving group of people. Everyone leads with what feels like their genuine selves, all coming to the campus willing to share and give openly and honestly, willing to make this experience a safe place for everyone to explore themselves and learn about the world. This is a rare gift. Coming from someone who suffers from social anxiety, it was truly amazing to step into a place where I never once felt worried about sharing myself, my ideas, my life, my secrets, anything.

Could there be some magical spell over the campus? I am starting to see the possibility. I do know the connections I have made there will last a lifetime. Even if we cross oceans, if we don't stay in touch, we will always be connected by our time at Goddard, by our shared experiences, by the gifts we gave to each other of ourselves. That may sound like ridiculous hippie talk to an outsider, but that does not make it less true. For the gifts offered and shared last week from all of my Goddard community, more than anything else, I am grateful. I start this journey looking forward to all the other connections I will make, all the new knowledge I will gain, all the new paths that will surely open up along my life's journey, paths that will all start on one magical campus in Plainfield Vermont.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Floyd Fest 2009 Journal

For the past five years, my girlfriends (often referred to as the peeps) and I have headed up to the mountains of Floyd, Virginia for the Floyd Fest, a wonderful festival featuring music from around the world. It was a memorable Floyd Fest two year ago that first introduced me to Xaviar Rudd. Every year, they manage to introduce us to at least one fabulous new musician a year. This year's new band was The Belleville Outfit.

Anyway, we rent a cabin from the Wades, friends of my family. The cabin is just eight miles from the festival ground and right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. I didn't realize how much that place means to me until I pulled into the drive this year and felt the stress just melt off my bones. I guess it's the quiet, or maybe I just enjoy the fresh, cool mountain air, a welcome change from the heat of July here in the Lynchburg valley. It's almost sacred, this ritual of ours to attend the festival every year. When any of the girls cannot make it, even for a day, there is no measure to the amount of grief one might get from the rest of the group unless they can produce a really good excuse. Work simply doesn't cut it.

No matter how tight the money is, how busy the life is, how much craziness is going on in our lives, we would not any of us dream of missing this annual event. Even if we can only squeeze in one day, we all look forward to Floyd Fest for the whole year, and on the last day of the festival each year, we sit at Chateau Morisette on the terrace sipping wine and trying to put off the inevitable drive back to our respective lives, because none of us wants the weekend end.

This year's Floyd Fest was a real treat for me, even more than usual. Having just lived through the busiest July pet sitting season on record, where I had literally worked from dawn until midnight almost everyday without a day off for weeks on end, I so needed a break. Driving up to Floyd on the parkway at night on Wednesday was not the brightest idea, since the darkness is all consuming when there are clouds in the sky, but I could not bring myself to stay home one second longer. I left right after the last pet sitting gig was finished and met my friend Nikki a day early so we could be at the festival bright in the morning to set up our day tent in prime real estate.

Last year, we had to plunk our tent down in the middle of a poison ivy patch on a fairly steep hill because we got to the festival late on Thursday and the good spots were already taken. This year, we made sure that didn't happen again and our tent was right where we like it, just behind the dance tent in the middle of all the best music stages and not too far from the beer garden. Some crazy person put a blow-up monkey in the tree near our camp, and we affectionately named him "Shock." He made finding the tent fairly easy.

After five years of attending the festival for fun, this year was also a little bit of a working vacation, although it didn't seem like work at all. If you've been following me or know me at all, you know that I write regularly for Got2BeGreen online journal. This year, they offered to send me to the festival as a representative of the press, asking if I had any musicians I wanted to interview for the journal. Did I ever have musicians I wanted to interview! This year's Floyd had quite a lineup, including Donna the Buffalo, my favorite band of all time, The Duhks who run a close second, and The Horse Flies who make my top ten list, not to mention Toubab Krew, and The Blues Traveler, and many, many more. So, of course I said yes to my editors and agreed to go as a representative for their company, even though this meant I had to behave myself. I wanted interviews with Donna the Buffalo and The Duhks in particular, but also with Blues Traveler. Although I figured I'd get to talk to a few people, I never dreamed I would get to meet almost everyone on my top list of performers and many, many more.

Having been friends for some time with David McCracken, keyboardist for Donna the Buffalo, and having cruised the Caribbean with the band, I was fairly sure they would agree to speak with me. But, they were even cooler than I expected. David took me right up onto their bus and the majority of the band was there. I enjoyed chatting with he and his son Riley, and Vic Stafford, the band's drummer. They made me feel right at home in their little traveling world and I was absolutely thrilled. I can tell David thinks it's kind of funny how star struck I am over his band. It's just that they are the first band I ever loved enough to follow around the country. I'd even follow them around the world. They are also the first band that has taken me in, the first band I've ever been able to mingle with comfortably. It's been a real treat.

Now, having David as an official band member makes it even more exciting to be a screaming girl in the front row at one of their shows. I scream regularly with David's girlfriend Kimmy and the peeps while he laughs at our silliness. I know I've said it before, but I'll just say again! You should never pass up any opportunity to hear this amazing band live and meet the wonderful "herd" of followers who travel with them. After eight years, I still look forward to every show and I am never let down.

This year, during their one and only set at the festival, the bottom literally fell out of the sky just as the band started to play "40 Days and 40 Nights." The rain fell as the band got to the line that said "it rained and rained just like cats and dogs." Even with the water soaking their instruments, they never missed a note and they played on through a great rendition of "Mystic Waters" while the storm had it's fast and furious rage with us. Rain was pouring right onto the stage at a slant, slapping the band in the face, dripping from Jeb's hat while the symbols sent sprays out each time Vic hit them. By the end of the second song, however, they seemed to bring back the sun, and they were even graced with a rainbow behind the stage for all their hard work. After taking only a few moments to swap the no longer working keyboards with some from back stage, towel off the guitars and drums, and change a couple of shirts, the show went on without blinking an eye. How many other bands have you seen pull that off? It was amazing. The crowd went wild, and the show went into my memory banks as one of the best I've ever experienced. I really hope David's keyboards lived beyond the soaking. I have yet to hear from him on that.

Not only did Donna the Buffalo welcome me into their midst after the show, but so too did the Duhks. I met Leonard, singer/songwriter and banjo player extraordinaire, some years ago at Shakori Hills before they were grammy nominees, and I've made every Duhks show I could manage since that day. Even though several members of the band have changed, the music just keeps getting better and better. This year, Leonard hooked me up with Tania Elizabeth, the band's superbly talented fiddler and singer, to talk about their GreenDuhks project. Having just met me minutes before, Tania invited me to join her in the dinner tent, where I had the pleasure of also meeting Sarah Dugas, the band's lead singer, as well. They were both so nice about allowing me to intrude on their down time, and Tania agreed to find a quiet spot and give me a formal interview about all of the wonderful things she has been doing to promote healthy living on the road for the band and other musicians, and all the ways they are trying to engage their fans about living green during their shows. She truly is leading by example, giving me yet another reason to love this talented group of musicians.

And if that weren't enough, The Horse Flies came down from New York to join the Floyd Fest this year. They had not been touring outside New York much until a few months ago when they joined us at Shakori Hills, and I got my first chance to experience their music live. Many members of the herd have shared their music with me over the years. They kept telling me I needed to hear this band and their hard to define mix of sounds, but since the band lost their bass player six years ago (he passed away), the band had not been traveling outside of New York, or even performing together that I know of, and I had resigned myself to making do with the few songs I already owned on mixed cds. But, apparently they have found new life and have added a few new band members, and they are back out on the road spreading their sound around again.

Riding on my previous success with the bands my friends play in, I got the courage to ask Judy, the Horse Flies fiddler, if she would be willing to talk with me. Not only did I get to speak with her, but the whole band joined in and they even signed my new CD while they were at it. The only one missing was Taka, their djembe drummer. All in all, it really was a dream come true to be able to walk right up and chat with some of the most talented musicians of my time. I'm not sure why I felt I couldn't before, since I keep finding them all to be normal people with the good fortune to have found and cultivated their exceptional gifts. There really is no reason they can't be spoken to like any other human, but somehow they have all seemed unapproachable until I had the good fortune to make friends with several of them along the way. The official press badge didn't hurt either, adding that extra confidence booster I needed. Although the festival never really offered me any assistance besides the badge and a last minute email about parking. It seems I may have fallen between the cracks this year, so I cannot thank both my cool editors at Got2BeGreen and Svetlana at Floyd Fest, who scrambled to find me my (presumably) lost press pass at the last minute. Thanks to all of you for helping to make a real dream come true for me this weekend. Make sure to check out Got2BeGreen over the next couple of weeks for interviews with the bands.

The only band I could not even get within spitting distance of was Blues Traveler. They pulled the big star routine, having bouncers who would not even let me walk past their bus to get into the VIP tent, where I was actually headed to meet David and Kimmy after the show. These big burly guys in black t-shirts made me walk around the long way, as if I was going to pull the whole groupie routine and throw myself on the band screaming. As much as I would have loved to chat with any of them, the stupid groupie routine really isn't my style any more. Prehaps twenty years ago...Okay, I'll admit it, I did throw myself at David Lee Roth back when I was a teenager. He was really tolerant and kissed my cheek, and I was never going to wash it again. Now, I'm more than a bit embarrassed by the whole thing. What was I thinking being in love with him anyway? Oh, how I loved the hair bands back then. What can I say, I was young. I'm well over those days, well beyond acting too completely retarded in front of the rich and famous, no matter who they are. I could probably even restrain my baser impulses around Bruce Springsteen if I needed to. Well, at least I think I could.

Now, after meeting many musicians from all over the world, playing in so many different genres, people like Xaviar Rudd, Nawal, The Uppity Blues Women, Railroad Earth, Allison Krauss, and Kathy Mattea, not to mention Sarah Dugas and Vic Stafford pictured here, and so far finding most of them down to earth and completely approachable, I was not at all impressed with the Blues Traveler's big shot routine. There really is no need to pull out the "look how big my star is."

My girlfriend Serena, the master of the scam (and I mean that in the most affectionate and positive way, since I've always wished I had even one tenth of her nerves of steel when it comes to dealing with the world), offered to scam our way onto the Blues Traveler bus, and I have no doubt if she put her mind to it, she would have gotten us there, but in the end I really didn't want to go. After all the fabulous fun I had talking to almost every other musician at the festival, I decided I'd rather not have to scam my way into some star's presence when so many are perfectly willing to be approached just like every other human being. I think I'd rather just view it as their loss. They missed a wonderful opportunity to meet me. Too bad for them.

All photos were provided by Amanda C. Sandos or Kimmy Tiedemann.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Dog Days of Summer

This month finds me pet sitting for everyone and their mothers, literally. I even have my own mother pet sitting for me because I don't have enough hours in the day. With the economy down, and after months of nobody hiring, I am happy to report that people are traveling once more, and this has been my busiest July on record,(July always being the busiest month of the year.)If you have not seen the movie Best In Show, give it a look and you will get a glimpse into my life. I love my clients, but they ask for some really weird stuff. You have no idea. Anyway, since all of this pet sitting offers me little time to write, or even hit the on switch on my computer for that matter, I have opted to provide you with a photo essay and introduce you to some of my doggy friends. Most of the photos were taken with a cheap cell phone, so don't expect art here folks.

For all you cat lovers, I have plenty of cat friends too, but as you know, most of them are not interested in pleasing said pet sitter, and are often not cooperative about having their pictures taken. Also, I highly doubt any of them will give their consent to have their photos posted publicly online. Since I don't want any law suits,and if any animal could pull off suing me and win it would be a cat, I'm sticking to the happy-go-lucky, non-legally savvy dogs.

Meet a few of the pack:

First and foremost, the fabulous Kevlar, who belongs to one of Lynchburg's finest.

Next we have Max and Sophie, showing a bit of the size differential I'm dealing with.

Give it up for Isabella and Diana. Goddesses of the dog world. Diana will tell you!

Here's Belle enjoying her 4th of July feast.

Let us not forget Ida Street, fab dog of my mentor and lit professor at RMWC.

Here's Lola and Ringo who belong to a French woman so they only speak French. All I know is how to say to them is yes, no, come, sit, stay, and very good. We get along anyway. Some things are never lost in translation.

Here's Lacy, my little diabetic dog. Her twin sister Gabby thinks she's a cat, so no pictures, please.

Last but most certainly never least, here are my very own babies. Yummy belongs to my Mom. He has few teeth, so his tongue hangs out a lot.

Here's my fabulous Mercy. Look at that belly! She's the best hugger ever. When you squeeze her, she rumbles. She loves it!

Cinco loves to hang out by the pool and lay in the sun, but she's not at all impressed with the cute boys.

So, there are just a few of my dog friends. I hope you have dog friends too. They really are the best kind!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mountain Top Removal-A Crime Against More Than Nature

“Every time you turn on a light switch, BOOM, you’re blowing up someone’s back yard.” I was introduced to Ed Wiley, the extraordinary man just quoted, by Kathy Mattea backstage at the Mountain Aid Benefit Concert. She came out to Shakori Hills on her fiftieth birthday to help Ed raise money for his granddaughter and all the children of Marsh Fork Elementary School who are victims of mountain top removal coal mining. Just three hundred feet behind this school, there is a 1,849 acre mountain top removal sight with an unstable slate dam holding 2.8 billion gallons of toxic waste from the coal cleaning process. The community’s water supply is already contaminated, and the children of Marsh Fork Elementary have been going home sick on a regular basis for months. For more go to my latest article at Got2BeGreen.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Finding Grace

Tonight, I stepped out onto my back porch to let my dogs out one last time. The night was still and silent, except for the chirping of insects and the rustle of leaves from the constant warm breeze blowing. The flash of what my family calls heat lightening occasionally lit up the mountain ridges in the distance and the huge round bails of hay still waiting in our fields to be taken as feed for the local cows. All at once, in that moment, quite out of the blue, I found Grace again. She visits me every so often, washing a kind of happy peace over my being. It's the kind of feeling you only get when you aren't seeking it, the kind of feeling that leaves you a little giddy, a little breathless, and most of all a whole lot alive.

Once, a while ago, how long I don't even remember, Grace visited me during a mighty hurricane and allowed me to find peaceful sleep while the winds blew loud and long, making the sound of an oncoming train. One moment, I was close to panic with fear all alone with my dogs in a house with far too many windows, and the next moment, I just had the overwhelming understanding that I was safe and everything was going to be fine. The next morning, I sat down to write the beginnings of the following poem. I thought tonight it was time to share it.

Grace in the Face of Fear

Will you rise up to form the still waters,
turn your head to the oncoming storm,
track the clouds building walls pushing toward you,
know the winds that will blow them along?

When the darkness comes down with a fury,
angry words seem to rasp in your ear, hear
the groaning whipped limbs of the forest
and the roar when rain pelts the parched fields.

When the water runs off raging rivers,
soil eroding where earth seems to drown,
will you stay, stretch your arms to the tempest,
lift your face to the sky, stand your ground?

For the one who accepts what is coming,
calmly gathers her strength, bides her time,
breathes a sigh for the change that’s upon her,
casts off doubts, sets aspersions aside, she

finds Grace where so many will miss it,
in the quiet, cool lake of her mind,
where a voice calmly sings of the wonders
and the peace that the seekers shall find.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mountain Aid at Shakori Hills

Last Saturday, my mom and I met Kathy Mattea at the Mountain Aid benefit concert on Shakori Hills farm in Silk Hope, North Carolina. We went to the show because it was a good cause, and also because my friend, David McCracken was playing with my favorite band Donna the Buffalo at the end of the evening. Mom hadn't met David and his other half, Kimmy, and we wanted to remedy that. What better time than at a benefit concert to stop injustice. Anyway, before last weekend, had you asked if I was a fan of Kathy Mattea, I would have said, "Sure, I liked that song about the Grandparents. What was that again?"

Ask me now, I'll tell you that woman is amazing. What a voice. Her deep, alto sound is one you can't mistake, plus she really puts her heart and soul into it and transfers that onto the crowd. Several grown men stood around the field and cried during a few of the sad songs. But, she also pulled me out of my chair several times, because my feet just wouldn't stay still. Her Americana music is a little bit country, a little bit folk, bluegrass, and let's not forget a touch of the Irish, thanks to her fiddle/mandolin player and her own talent on the piccolo and penny whistles. I had no idea.

What a personality. Kathy is down to earth, very caring, an open and giving person. One might think this is just how she makes herself appear onstage, but behind the scenes she was equally open. She spoke to fans who approached her by name, remembered them and their situations, particularly those she was donating her time to help, and she took the time to chat with them, giving of herself with each conversation. When we approached Kathy, she was perfectly willing to share her own situation about her mother's Alzheimer when mom explained how "Where Have You Been" made her cry. My Gramma suffers from severe dementia and often does not remember us, either.

But, what impressed me most about Kathy was her willingness to donate so much of her time and talent to Mountain Aid, a cause that is not yet well known. It's an attempt to educate people on the effects of mountain top removal and its consequences and raise money to help those struggling to survive life in these mountains. Kathy is from West Virginia, and she very much wants to help people all over her home state and the surrounding states to cope with the destruction created by the coal mining industry, where homes are destroyed, their foundations cracked and crumbled by the blasts, where water is turned black from contamination, and so much more. These mining companies even have the nerve to dump toxic waste directly behind an elementary school. The money from Saturday's concert went towards helping the children of that school. More on this shortly at Got2BeGreen. In the meantime, you should visit here.

On a happier note, the big surprise of the day was Ben Sollee. He walked out on stage, just him and his cello, and I thought, "Oh, boy. Time to sleep." Classical music always does this to me. Not that I don't enjoy it, mind you. But, classical was not what Ben played. Well, he broke out some of it, combined it with his own style, a funky rhythmic sound, sort of like electric guitar. Sounds you had no idea a cello could make. His performance reminded me very much of the first time I saw Xaviar Rudd at Floyd Fest. He, too, walked out on stage alone with his funky didgeridoos, at the time I had no idea what they even were, and literally blew us away with his talent. By the end of the festival, everyone was lined up buying everything he was selling. The same can be said of Ben Sollee. People were even buying his vinyl albums. Yes, I typed that right. The guy likes vinyl. However, if you don't have an old school player, not to worry. He also has a CD for sale on his website. I highly recommend it. As my friend Cheryl kept saying, his music will give you goose bumps. Jessica thinks he's the next Bob Dylan. I don't know if I'd take it that far, since there can be no one equal to Bob in my book, but you get what I'm trying to say.

Last, but so not least, the night ended with my all time favorite band, Donna the Buffalo. Every good concert should close with their funky beat. How great is a band that can make people as varied as the two-year-old toddlers I saw dancing in the field all the way up to people my Mom's age dance together until their feet ache with big sloppy grins on their faces. As usual, the funky mix of zydeco, folk, country, and rock got the people moving. If you have not "herd" them, you really should give them a listen. But, to get the full impact, you must see them live somewhere, preferably at a Grassroots Festival near you.

The evening was topped by Kathy Mattea's return to the stage for an encore with Donna the Buffalo. Apparently, Tara Nevins approached her bus and convinced her to come out in her pjs and sing one more song. Kathy, who had just turned fifty at the stroke of midnight, and let me tell you doesn't look a day over forty, was happy to sing one more impromptu number with the band, even joking about being willing to come onstage without her bra. They sounded amazing together, Tara's distinct higher voice was lovely harmonizing above Kathy's gravelly alto. All in all, it was a night for the scrap books. Thanks to all who came out and played, donated their time and talent to such a great cause, and entertained us for the weekend. Thanks to Shakori Hills for hosting the event. And as usual, thanks to Donna the Buffalo for bringing their music and their wonderful herd of friends into my life.

All photos, blurry as they may be, were provided by Amanda C. Sandos

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Going to Goddard

How should I say this? WOOOOOHOOOOO!!!!!! Yep,that about expresses it. I just found out I was accepted into the graduate program at Goddard College in Vermont. So, I am off to the north east this August to begin an interdisciplinary study in creative writing, visual art, and environmental studies. Needless to say, I am knee-deep in paperwork here. Alas, this means less time to write what I want while I fill out the required forms and sign away my life. Nothing like amassing more debt to make a girl feel good about her future. Since the writing I submitted to the review board has already been slated to be published elsewhere, and I have promised first rights for them, I can only provide you with the link to my latest story here at Got2BeGreen, the very story I was working on in my last post, which features a few new photos not already seen here from my trip to see the Monarch sanctuaries two years ago and an interview with Dr. Lincoln Brower, a well-known expert on the species.

Below are the three of my paintings submitted to the review board. The photos I used are already elsewhere on the blog. Enjoy, while I get back to my dreaded paperwork.

Crabbing, Oil on Canvas Board, NFS

Emerald Boa, Watercolor, Sold, Prints Available

For Whom the Crow Cries, Watercolor, $100 8X10, framed