My 3 Things - April 2016

1. LISTENING: Lori Cullen's "Careful How You Break My Heart"
When I first heard Lori Cullen play her guitar and sing, I said to myself, "I'm gonna make that girl my friend." Long story short: I did. Lori lives and makes music in Toronto. Most likely, you'll have travel to T.O. to hear her play live, which is a shame because besides being the kind of performer who twangs on all six strings of your heart, she's one of the funniest people I know. When I am in a certain kind of mood, I put this song of hers on repeat.

 

2. WATCHING: City of Gold
I've spent time in L.A. on and off over the years. I'm currently in an "on" phase, so I was totally primed for Laura Gabbert's wonderful documentary about Jonathan Gold, famed L.A. Times food critic. Gold is an entirely lovable fellow who has made a life of eating and writing about all the cuisines in his beautiful mash-up of a city. In the movie, you drive around in his truck with him as he explores eateries fancy and not-so, waxing rhapsodic about everything from tacos to the L.A. punk scene. He muses that "taco" should be a verb, the whole process of making and eating one is best accomplished in one motion: from the griddle, to the guy handing it to you out the truck window, to your hands, to your mouth. The movie is a love letter to L.A. It's also a love letter to this singular, quirky, soulful, spirited, relaxed, loving, whimsically serious, totally awesome person.

 

3. READING: The Journal 1837-1861 Henry David Thoreau, edited by Damion Searls
For many moons, I've been reading the New York Review Books one-volume edition of Thoreau's journals. This book was a balm to me throughout the final year of my Mom's life. When I had almost no strength to focus on reading because of the all-encompassing exhaustion of caring for her, I'd open The Journal and take in an entry of, say, 250 or 500 words and feel refreshed, addressed.  During the final days of her life, as my Mom drifted in and out of lucidity, I read aloud from The Journal to bring the rhythms and rhymes of Thoreau's rambles in nature into her room, into the mysterious world inside her head: "What shall we do with a man who is afraid of the woods, their solitude and darkness? What salvation is there for him? God is silent and mysterious. Some of our richest days are those in which no sun shines outwardly, but so much the more a sun shines inwardly. I love nature, I love the landscape, because it is so sincere. It never cheats me. It never jests. It is cheerfully, musically earnest" (Nov. 16, 1850).

 

I'd love to hear what YOUR 3 things are ... Let me know in the comments below! I read every one.

Mail Me 1 Thing FAQ

As many of you know, I've been exchanging letters and postcards with my fans since forever. This fun activity used to be called "The Postcard Project."  

Now, I'm calling it "Mail Me 1 Thing."

I thought it was time to re-up the FAQ.  Here goes ... 

  Just a few of the things that have been mailed to me

  Just a few of the things that have been mailed to me

What is this Mail Me 1 Thing anyway?
You mail me 1 thing and I mail you 1 thing back. Pretty straightforward. Very fun!

What's your mailing address?  (This is NOT where I live; it's just a mailbox.)
319 Lafayette St, #159, New York, NY 10012

Is this for real?  Do you ACTUALLY mail 1 thing back to me?
Yes, I actually mail 1 thing back to you.

Like what?  How does this work?
Like: if you write me a letter, I'll write you one back.  If you write me a postcard, I'll write you one back.  If you send me a drawing, I'll send you one back. Want to see examples? Follow me on Instagram to get a look at what I receive and what I send.

I use the hashtag #mm1thing on Instagram and Twitter.

What can the 1 Thing be?
Usually, it is a postcard or a letter.  Sometimes it is a drawing.  It could be a photocopy of your favorite poem.  It might be a small painting you made.  Or perhaps it is a hand-drawn map of your favorite place. Really, the sky’s … I mean the mail’s … limit.  

Can you give me more examples of the 1 Things people have sent you?
A postcard of the Eiffel Tower with a kitten and a rainbow on it.  A letter written in the tiniest handwriting on the smallest scrap of paper and a magnifying glass with which to read it.  A drawing of a bird.  A drawing of a street musician. An invitation to a duel. (True!)

What are some of the 1 Things you’ve sent back?
A postcard from a gas station on the New Jersey Turnpike.  A letter written on the biggest piece of paper I could find.  A drawing of my foot. A drawing of an owl. One of the drafts of my songs.

How long does it take for me to receive a postcard or letter back?
Depends on what country you live in, the vagaries of the postal service (yours / mine) and the hectic-ness of my life. 

I mail 1 thing back to everyone who sends me 1 thing. Patience is part of the process! So is things getting lost in the mail!

Why would I write a letter when I could just send an email or a text?
Because it's fun! Because mailing a physical object and wondering when it will arrive to the person on the other end is a beautiful act of creation, trust, and love.

For me, writing letters and postcards has always been part of my life and my songwriting process.

I like connecting to my fans in a human way. I'm tired of screens. Aren't you?

How many things have you received since you started the Mail Me 1 Thing project?
Over 200 ... at least. I've never stopped to count. At this point, I have a couple of multi-year correspondences with people I've never met. Imagine that! Pen pals ... in this day and age! 

Will Mailing Me 1 Thing make me a better person or make the world a better place?
Hell yes it will!

My 3 Things - March 2016

1. LISTENING: Vintage Tina Turner "Proud Mary"
These past few weeks, I've been going out to see a lot of music and I've been making a lot of my own. The rough and tumble of that much input and output calls for a little smudging of my soul.  Vintage Tina always does the trick.

 

2. ART-ING: Giorgio Morandi at the Center for Italian Modern Art
Restraint. Delicateness. Discernment. Patience. Process. Subtlety. 

These words describe Morandi's paintings and are the reason why I am drawn like a magnet to his work.

A friend took me on a surprise adventure to the luminous, spacious SOHO apartment that is The Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA) to see an incredible Giorgio Morandi exhibit. Unless you find yourself in Bologna and want to visit Casa Morandi, were Morandi lived, worked, and died, there is no better place to see Morandi's work right now than in NYC at CIMA.

The show is small and perfectly paced. There are only about 40 paintings, mostly from the 1930s, thought by many to be his most intense decade of exploration and growth. Everything Morandi became known for -- the vases and bottles, the table top arrangements, the muted palette, the point of view experiments, the monumentality of simple things -- is here. Watch an idea develop over the course of two or three paintings: subtle variations in color, slight rearrangements of shapes on the table top, paint applied thinly or with a rich impasto. And since CIMA is only open for small guided tours of 10 people or less on Fridays and Saturdays, you can linger as long as you like. A beautiful research fellow (male or female) will even make you an espresso in the straight-out-of-an-Italian-design-magazine kitchen.  It was very hard to leave. 

Luckily, I can go back. The show is up until June 25, 2016. If you live in NYC or are thinking of visiting, you still have time to see it. Reservations are required and the tours sell out weeks in advance. I might see you there. I'll be the one sitting on the stylish, modern couch in front of the fireplace, looking at the two paintings over the mantelpiece, watching the light change, watching myself change, reflecting on patience, process, and restraint.

 

3. SEEING: "Hamilton" by Lin-Manuel Miranda on Broadway
Yes. I'm one of the lucky ones. And yes, it lived up to its hype. But beyond all the amazingness you've (no doubt) heard about -- the rapping, the reimagining of history and race -- what was most amazing was watching the watchers, reflecting the zeitgeist that "Hamilton" surely is.

Some things you should know: I did not read anything about Hamilton before seeing it.  I was vaguely aware of its trajectory and the trajectory of it's writer, composer, and lead, Lin-Manuel Miranda, but only because I live in NYC and these things you hear by osmosis. Although friends in foreign countries told me they were listening to the score everyday, I was never moved to. I don't own a TV, so I didn't see Hamilton on the Grammy's, though of course I heard about it the next day. I went to the show about as clean-slated as one can go. I had tickets in the nose-bleed section, nearly the last row of the theater. Up there, the pitch of the seats is so steep you flirt with vertigo. The stage resembles a diorama, set at knee height, half way across the room, the actors three-quarters size.

As soon as the lights dimmed, the crowd went wild. Two young women behind me sang and rapped along from the very first words. They pre-giggled, pre-sighed, and pre-swooned before the entrance of each of the swaggering, main characters. At the end of Lin-Manuel Miranda's first number, as the theater erupted with screams and a crush of never-ending applause, I said to myself: "This isn't Broadway. This is a rock concert."

Indeed. There's something going on here, a ripeness in the culture for everything Hamilton represents and does so well: the SNL/Colbert-ness of the humor, the rap braggadocio of the main characters, the musical allusions to specific rappers (Tupac, Notorious B.I.G.), the mash-up of music (Destiny's Child, Fugees, Tin Pan Alley, Les Miz, harpsichord fugues, Beetles pop), the beloved Broadway tropes of recurring songs and mirrored scenes. Would Hamilton be such a big hit if it wasn't preceded by a decade of musical TV and movies like American Idol, Glee, and Pitch Perfect 1 and 2, if it didn't exist in the age of Spotify and Youtube? But there are other musicals on Broadway now and they aren't inspiring such froth and frenzy in the culture. 

This is Hamilton's moment, for sure. I'm looking forward to looking back on this time when I'll be able to more skillfully and articulately parse the forces at play. For now, I'm content to marvel and be swept up in the spectacle.

My 3 Things - February 2016

1. LISTENING: Calder Quartet playing Janacek Quartet No. 2 'Intimate Letters' - Mvt. 3
Last week, I was lucky enough to see Calder Quartet perform the entire Janacek piece Intimate Letters. Wow. Here's the third movement for you to experience. What a piece of music! And what an incredible performance of it! A little background: Janacek wrote this for his muse, a 25-year-old woman he fell madly in love with near the end of his life. She was the inspiration for a volcanic outpouring of music from the aging composer. In addition, he wrote her over 600 letters!  About this piece, he said it was "written in fire." Indeed!

 

2. POEM-ING: The City of Paris has You in Mind Tonight
In my reading, thinking, and song/writing about death, I recently came across this poem by Deborah Landau.  More than a few of her phrases caught and crystallized particular thoughts I've had about my Mom since she died. The poem speaks to the strange experience of being left behind by the dead.  In my case, one minute, I am tenderly ministering to my Mom's mouth and eyes and lips and the very next minute she is no longer breathing. Where did she go? She is still very much here, still warm, still needing a kind of care and she is not here at all.  What is here? Who is she now? Who am I now?  Landau describes this here-not-here moment throughout the poem as she moves through her memories and the cityscape of Paris: "Just at the moment when the person has disappeared forever / they tell you he's alive forever lucky him." The poem is long and and multiple readings bring rich reward.  Plus, in the third section she addresses the person to whom her elegy is written with this devastating line: "O incidental fragile beloved one, / chance of recovery none."   

 

3. READING: the essay Words Unwired by Lorin Stein
I felt hugely relieved to read Lorin Stein's short, important essay in the New York Times Book Review a few weeks ago. In it, he makes the case for "private" reading, writing, and thinking. He means reading, writing, and reflecting that is unencumbered and unmediated (un-media-ated) by the impulse to share, produce, or "do" anything with what we discover. The point is to deepen our inner life, not come up with a tweet or a piece of content. Stein writes, "We spend more time than ever on our devices, but it seems fair to say we like them less, especially when it comes to reading ... Turning off your phone has become a prized luxury. Over these last few years all of us, readers and writers alike, have developed a growing appreciation for what the Internet wants to take away: our time alone with the written word." 

As I re-up my commitment to what I have affectionately nicknamed "The Death Album," the collection of songs I began writing when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer, time alone with the written word is all I am focused on. The only way into my stack of new ideas and unfinished songs is through stretches of uninterrupted time to read, think, write, rewrite, play guitar, sing, try, fail, cry, find joy, lose joy, keep going, and let go. This time has nothing to do with you or the outside world. It is neither social nor media-oriented. It has only to do with me and what I want to say to my Mom.   

Stein puts it perfectly: "Writing fiction is pretty much the opposite of writing a good tweet, or curating an Instagram feed. It’s the opposite of the personal-­­­slash-professional writing that is now part of our everyday lives. More than ever, we need writers who are unprofessional, whose private worlds come first." 

Hallelujah and amen. 

(Creating long stretches of uninterrupted time to work is how you make yourself as a musician. You must be comfortable spending time in solitude, with only yourself, your instrument, and your ideas. This, of course, is an old topic: everyone from the Stoic philosophers to Rainer Maria Rilke have advice on why and how to do it. For a more recent take, see Cal Newport's blog and his new book Deep Work.)

 

Extra-credit: DEVICE-ING: Shure MV88 iPhone microphone (music gear geekery alert)
For the last couple of months, I've been using the Shure MV88 to make better-quality quick-and-dirty recordings on my iPhone. I start with the voice memo function on my phone, recording the aural confetti (lyrical and musical) that go into making a "finished" song.  Once I get a song into position, I've found that recording a rough demo with this nifty little mic adds volume and punch. If you want to travel light but sound good while doing it (the MV88 fits in the palm of your hand), this thing will do the trick. 


XOXO
What music are you listening to? What poems are you reading? What are you creating with your pockets of solitude? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

My 3 Things - January 2016

1. LISTENING: Ben Webster's version of "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning"
Basically, I'm obsessed with figuring out how to play my guitar the way Ben Webster played saxophone. Webster's version of "Wee Small Hours" is the song that stopped me in my tracks and started me on this quixotic path. I've listened to it almost everyday for a year now. I played it for my Mom as I was sitting with her in the wee small hours of her final mornings. 

 

2. READING: When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
I've been meaning to read When Things Fall Apart for a long time now, and I finally did. A close friend read and recommended it about two years ago. I almost bought it on at least two occasions since then. At last, the universe intervened.  It appeared in my mailbox, sent by a friend who had cared for and lost a parent to cancer.  As the saying goes, "If it is for you, it won't go by you."

This book contains radical advice: instead of avoiding fear, impermanence, and change, practice accepting these things. Chodron encourages us to "stay on the brink," stay with tough feelings like sadness or frustration. Instead of seeking a solution, remain in a state of unknowing. Don't try to fix things. Try letting go. After all, we really don't know how life will unfold: "We don't know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don't know ... No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear. We are very rarely told to move closer, to just be there, to become familiar with fear." Doing so opens up a space for change and peace. 

 

3. PERUSING: Other people's 2015 reading lists
I read 96 books in 2015. To do that, I keep a list of books I want to read and I'm always hungry for suggestions. I subscribe to more than a few book-related email newsletters, and it's de rigueur for each one to have a "best of 2015" list. When these lists come out I pay attention and fill my well.

There are the usual suspects, of course: The New York Times Sunday Book Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and Brain Pickings.

Here are three more "Best of 2015" reading lists I enjoyed:

QUESTION / COMMENT: What book/s did you read in 2015 that changed you? 
Let me know in the comments below! 

My 3 Things - December 2015

This list is straight up, no nonsense. Certainly no year-end wrap-up or New Year's resolution-y directive. I'm daring myself NOT to do a review of 2015. I'm daring myself NOT to make a resolution. Instead, my goal is to have no goals. You can bet I will be creating things and taking action, but I won't be using goals to "get" somewhere. 

The wise words of Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart are helpful here: “We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged enough or ate the perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that’s death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn’t have any fresh air. There’s no room for something to come in and interrupt all that. We are killing the moment by controlling our experience."  

1. LISTENING: Rickie Lee Jones's version of Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most
I've been working on a new song about spring but it is not all flowering trees and birds. Shocker. The working title is "The Spring That Felt Like Fall." Truth is, I've been wrestling with pretty much everything about the tune and lyrics. So, I did what I always do when I'm stuck: listen to everything and anything that reminds me of some aspect of the song I am writing. Of course I had to listen to this classic of the Great American Songbook and I finally came 'round to Rickie Lee's version.  (And, to keep track of all these weird spring songs, I created a "Spring is So Weird" playlist on Spotify).


2. WATCHING & REMINISCING: Remembering Jim Hall 
My good friend Brian Camelio and his talented team at ArtistShare (the label that released my last two albums) just created Remembering Jim Hall, an intimate and charming portrait of my friend, hero, and pen-pal, the late, great jazz guitarist Jim Hall. (I appear in the video at the 10 minute mark, talking about the prank that Jim pulled on me before I ever even met him!) 

Jim was an inspiration to everyone who knew his music. His playing was sensitive and playful. As a person, he was genuine, interesting, and interested. He took the time to send me the latest books and newspaper articles that he found intriguing and thought-provoking. This video gives you a glimpse into his world, how endearing, thoughtful, and puckster-ish he was. Mostly it shows you his big, wonderful, sorely-missed heart. (To read more about what I said and what I played at Jim's memorial gig at the Blue Note, go here.  Jim is one of the main inspirations behind the sound of my band REDSTACK.)


3. READING: The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
When my Mom got cancer, I gave myself the task of reading the literature of death.  (One could argue that all reading is about death or that reading is a kind of death and on and on.) I recently read this classic, Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych. I should have started with it. It is such a deeply affecting short story that when I got to the end, I immediately started over. I've read longer tomes about dying.  Those were important.  But let me help you out: start here. Then, see my other recommendations here

Leave a comment below and tell me what's what.  Did you like these 3 Things?  What did they remind you of?  What are your 3 things that you want to share with me?

My 3 Things -- November 2015

My Mom's memorial service was on November 7, 2015.  Organizing that, seeing it through, was (in my mind) my last duty to my mother.  It was a beautiful service.  Many of you were there.  Thank you.  Since then, I have been adjusting to a new normal: life without her.  She was the center of my world.  I am very much at sea.  Here are a few buoys I've held onto this past month.

1. LISTENING: Fred Eaglesmith "Truckers Speed"
Just heard this song for the first time, though I've been a "Fred head" for awhile now.  Like many of Fred's tunes, the lyrics to this one absolutely blew me away.  Fred's songs are perfectly crafted, devastating little gems.  The shortest of stories designed to twang the sh*t out of your heartstrings.  Do me a favor: ignore the video of Fred and his band and focus on the lyrics.  You'll just about die.  And if you didn't know Fred before, well now you do.  You're welcome.

2. DONATING: the organization CAREGIFTED -- "the giver is gifted"
I just found out about CAREGIFTED from a friend who has seen how much my life has changed since becoming the primary caregiver for my Mom (she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer almost four years ago and died on October 13, 2015).

Caregiving is many things besides an act of love and generosity.  For me, it is a mirror, a mountain, a crucible, a rehearsal for my own death.  On a daily and (often) hourly basis, caregiving calls me to action, to examine and cross-examine my ideas about the nature and value of time, as well as my notions of attention, ambition, sacrifice, family, self, patience, strength, and suffering.  There is not one part of me that hasn't been burned by the fire of this all-consuming work.

What is CAREGIFTED?  It's a non-profit organization that gives long-term family caregivers a break from the daily work of caring.  Caregivers are "granted weeks away in inspiring locations: scenic vacation spots where they can refresh their perspectives and record their views in words and images, returning home better rested and represented."

As if CAREGIFTED's mission wasn't amazing enough, it also works to increase the public recognition of the caregiver's gifts to society, as well as of their historically unprecedented numbers.  Amen.  "Full-time caregivers have sacrificed their own leisure, resources and ambitions to serve those unable to serve themselves. Such acts of love go largely unnoticed because these caregivers are generally confined to their homes, mired in unpaid labors."

Who thought up this wonderful idea?  A poet, of course.  In 2009, the poet Heather McHugh won an MacArthur Foundation Grant and was awarded a $500,000 prize -- an amount she decided was too much money for one person.  Her godson and his wife had just given birth to a baby with severe disabilities.  McHugh couldn't stop thinking about how stressful it was going to be for them to care for a daughter who would never be independent.  McHugh founded CAREGIFTED because it was "obvious" to her that they were going to need a break.

It is fitting that a poet, someone attuned to the lived-experience of life (and of time and love), should think up something as wonderful as CAREGIFTED.  The poet's gift is to see what we cannot or do not see and mark it, name it, urge us to pay attention to it.  I've made a donation to CAREGIFTED.  What are you doing for the caregivers in your life?

 

3. WATCHING:  Joseph Campbell and "The Power of Myth" with Bill Moyers
When my Mom got sick, I decided that she and I would watch and re-watch these six interviews with the great mythologist and thinker Joseph Campbell.  I've seen them all at least a dozen times.  When my Mom was too tired from chemo to think, I'd get her comfy on the couch and we'd play an episode.  Campbell's ideas helped illuminate our struggles.  He helped her make sense of her hero's journey.  He gave us a way to talk about the gifts of the present moment, a way to find peace and joy in the here and now.  A month before she died, Mom and I started watching again from the beginning.  We were riveted.  We were relieved.

I wanted you to know

It's been a little over two weeks since my Mom died. 
I am so sorry for not reaching out sooner.  I've been beyond heartbroken.  More like heart-crushed.  I've been speechless.  Paralyzed to reach out to you.  You, who have been such good friends, such tender, worthy companions on this four year journey.  
It's just that the end was ... so many things.  So very many things. 
I'll be writing about it (the beginning, middle, and end of the end) more on this site, in songs, letters, essays, and on a new site I'm making chronicling my vagabonding in the land of death. I'll be painting and drawing about it, too.  And, of course, I'll be living it.  Day by day by day. 
For now, for you, here is the obituary I wrote for my Mom and a portrait I took of her in 2014.
(If you'd like to leave a comment, please do.  Don't second guess yourself.  Just open your heart and write.  I will read and respond to every single one of you.  If you'd like to write me or my family a letter, my mailing address can be found on this page.)

On October 13, 2015 Katharine Draper “Puss” Schutt, 71, of Chadds Ford died peacefully at home after a lengthy and honorable reckoning with ovarian cancer.  Puss was a lover of the outdoors, deeply committed to her community, and – above all – devoted to her family.  Throughout her illness, she was tenderly cared for by her husband, children, and sisters, the oncology team at the Helen F. Graham Center, and Delaware Hospice.  

Puss was raised on Twin Bridges Farm, Chadds Ford and was the second born of Katharine Reeve Draper and Ford B Draper.  She attended Tower Hill School before graduating from Milton Academy in 1962 and from the University of Pennsylvania in 1966.

She married Charles Porter “Chip” Schutt Jr. in December 1967, embarking on a wonderfully full union of their two large families and the creation of their own.  Puss joined Chip in his passion for sailing and they traveled extensively and adventurously.

Puss worked with great devotion for many organizations, including as President of the Garden Club of Wilmington and as President of the Board of Trustees of Tower Hill School.  She contributed significantly to the successes of the Delaware Center for Horticulture, the Winterthur Point-to-Point, the Vicmead Hunt Club, and Christiana Care Health System where she remained engaged even throughout her last year.  Her earnest interest, valuable insights, and wise counsel will be greatly missed by all who had the privilege of working alongside her. 

Puss loved spending summers in Northeast Harbor, Maine and winters at Galio Farms in Vredenburgh, Alabama.  She remained connected to both communities year-round through her subscriptions to the local papers.  Since childhood and until her last days, she reveled and found solace in the natural world.  For many years she shared a family passion for riding and foxhunting with Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds. Dogs, too, were always part of her life.  She was an avid walker, alive to the particularities of the wildflowers and birds of every landscape.

Puss had a gift for remembering the complex genealogies of both her and Chip’s extended families.  She delighted in creating and strengthening connections—hosting innumerable family gatherings, holiday meals, and impromptu get-togethers, writing unique and chatty letters, and always making the effort to ask about the lives and interests of others.  She believed in the importance of a firm handshake and looking people in the eye.  Puss had the true sign of greatness in that she was absolutely without pretension.  She had a profound respect for every human being and was warm, generous, and inclusive in her attention.

Above all, she was the spark of the spirited family she and Chip created: daughter Kate of New York City; son Jake of Mill Valley, California, his wife Hilah, and their children Jasper, Elsa, and Luke; and son Porter of Wilmington, his wife Laurisa and their daughters Ryann, Tatum, and Bridget. 

She was predeceased by her sisters Avery Draper of West Chester and Ellen Chadwick of Chadds Ford and is survived by siblings Jim Draper of Alexandria, Virginia, Prue Osborn of Unionville, Reeve Draper of Wilmington, and Ford Draper, Jr. of Chadds Ford.

Puss’s smile, kindness, and genuine interest in others will be remembered by all who knew her.

A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, November 7, at 10:00am, at Christ Church Christiana Hundred, 505 E. Buck Road, Wilmington, DE 19807.  A reception will follow at Vicmead Hunt Club, 903 Owls Nest Road, Wilmington, DE 19807. 

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to either the Brandywine Conservancy , P.O. Box 141 Chadds Ford, PA 19317 or the Friends of Acadia , P.O. Box 45, Bar Harbor, ME 04609.

My 3 Things - August Twenty Fifteen

I've been with my Mom this entire month -- cooking, cleaning, taking her to her doctor for the last time, starting hospice care, creating time for her friends and family to say goodbye, making a sacred space of her home, spending time in the gardens and fields she loves, sharing early mornings and late nights with my Dad in the quiet of her exhaustion and heavy sleep.  My 3 Things reflects the work of living and the work of dying I am doing right now -- with and for my Mom and my family.

1. MAKING:  Ice cream
I've been wanting to make ice cream since my days in Cambridge.  Back then, any afternoon or evening I wanted, I could take a leisurely stroll and end up at a fantastic, inventive spot like Toscanini's or Christina's, or ranging farther afield, Emack & Bolio's or JP Licks.

This summer it was finally time for me to get in the game.  My Mom loves ice cream, too.  Carpe Ice-em. 

I'm unfussy about most things.  I'm the guitar player who only owns two guitars, one of each kind -- an acoustic and an electric.  In late June, I went to William Sonoma and bought their cheapest, lowest tech ice cream maker.  

Since then I have made 11 batches of ice cream: fresh peach x 3, lobster (true), fresh mint chocolate chip x 2, banana's foster x 2, real vanilla, real vanilla chocolate chip, and fresh mint.

Ice cream is "all about that base."  It's your gessoed canvas, your blank page.  I've made almost every kind of ice cream base there is to make -- custard, raw egg yolk,  milk and cream, buttermilk, etc.  My go-to is Melissa Clark's from her comprehensive article The Master Ice Cream Recipe.  Start there or stop there (if you're the kind that likes a blank page).  The rest is up to you. 

 

2. COOKING: Cheese soufflé
I'd had it.  My Mom and her sisters were once again waxing rhapsodic about the cheese souffé they used to have for lunch.  Why were we not having cheese soufflé NOW?  Today?  This summer?  With a side of corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes? No one but me had an answer.    

Done.  Took two tries.  The first was hockey puck-ish.  I nailed it on the second try with the recipe from my grandmother's masking-taped, dog-eared copy of The Joy of Cooking (aka "The Joy" in our family's lexicon). The Joy's description of a soufflé is worth reading even if you never intend to make one: "The soufflé is considered the prima donna of the culinary world ..."

People hear the word soufflé and immediately think "no way."  Yes way.  It isn't THAT hard.  Two tries is nothing.  Ice cream is way harder.  I dare you to use Gruyeré instead of cheddar.  If you got it, flaunt it.


3. BAKING:  Challah
A friend of mine bakes a loaf of challah every Friday.  Her "recipe" is actually pure improvisation; she's a master.  Her loaf is virtuosic.  Heady and ripe, it gets stuck in your brain.  I don't experience synesthesia usually, but her challah does it: when I think of it, I smell it.  I swear.  And when we've finished a meal and she seals the challah up in a double zip ziploc, I can still smell it from across the room.  She laughs but it's true.  It's the smell of a big handful of peat: wonderful, rich, and wild. 

My Mom loves challah.  My Mom's in hospice with a month or two left to live.  Homemade ice cream in the freezer.  A soufflé on the table every week.  Why not a loaf of challah?

I asked for my friend's recipe and she gave me it to me.  Or something like it.  You can use this one; it'll do. Substitute honey for the sugar and add a little more salt than you think is wise.  I go for a honey that's edgy and weird (surprise, surprise) like this heather honey with whisky.

My Mom loved my challah.  She ate it that evening; she ate it the next morning.  I joined her with butter and a little of the homemade concord grape jam we made last week.  By noon, all that was left was the honeyed, salty-sweet memories of two nourishing meals filled with moments of awe, laughter, and love.

Singer/Songwriter Margaret Glaspy

I knew it was going to be a late night, so I ate dinner and took a nap.  There was too much time to kill between dinner and going out.  Napping was the best strategy.  After all, I’m not a night owl by any stretch of the imagination.  As most of you know, I get up around 4 a.m. most days, meaning I go to bed at an undisclosed early hour (let’s just say I go to bed earlier than my nine-year-old nephew). 

The nap was for strength: I was going dancing with my bestie Julian and his bestie Margaret (whom I had never met).  Julian and I had been talking about going dancing since in utero.  

My 3 Things - July Twenty Fifteen

1. LISTENING: "Somebody to Anybody" by Margaret Glaspy
I love this little demo.  It's a sly song that gets under your skin.  More people should know about Margaret; I'm doing my part.  Enjoy!

2. READING & THINKING ABOUT: The found material of (song) writing -- an interview with author Lydia Davis in the Paris Review
Most of my songs include a piece of "found material" -- phrases I overhear when I am walking down the street, words I read in a book, bits of found poetry I snatch from a sign or a conversation with a friend.  Lydia Davis, a master of the shortest short stories, speaks to the nature of found material in a wide-ranging interview in the Paris Review.  Here is a short excerpt from the article:

INTERVIEWER: More and more you seem to use found materials in your stories.

DAVIS: Back in the early eighties, I realized that you could write a story that was really just a narration of something that had happened to you, and change it slightly, without having really to fictionalize it. In a way, that’s found ­material. I think it’s hard to draw the line and say that something isn’t found material. Because if a friend of mine tells me a story or a dream, I guess that’s found material. If I get an e-mail that lends itself to a good story, that’s found material. But then if I notice the cornmeal making little condensations, is that found material? It’s my own, I’m not using text, but I am using a situation that exists. I’m not making it up. I find what happens in reality very interesting and I don’t find a great need to make up things, but I do like retelling stories that are told to me.

3. SEEING -- Ada/Ava in NYC 
Someone who knows me very, very well took me to see the shadow puppet/live-music/overhead projector project called Ada/Ava one evening in late June in NYC.  All I have to say is: Run! Don't walk to see it if you are anywhere near NYC between now and July 26th (when it closes).

What is it?  It is a heart wrenching and mysterious tale about two identical twin sisters, septuagenarians, who live in a lighthouse.  It is also about death and mourning, self and other, losing and finding equilibrium.  

This ghost-story-ish tale is told -- without words -- through the use of overheard projectors, silhouettes, shadows, actors, live music and live sound effects.  Instead of hiding all the mechanics of the storytelling and image-making, everything is on display.  Ben Brantley of the NYT describes it perfectly in his review of the show: "This involves, among other things, arranging pieces of paper and transparencies on the projectors, and stepping in front of a white curtain to cast shadows, which are then incorporated into a fluidly cinematic mise-en-scène. This materializes on a screen above the very visible work space, and you can only marvel as you witness this continuing, simultaneous transformation from technical fact to narrative fiction."

In short, it is magic.  It is simple and beautiful and fantastical.  I've sent four people to see it so far.  It's your turn.  Go. 

Cars & Trains Singer/Songwriter Tom Filepp

Tom Filepp is one brave soul.  

That's what I thought the first time I saw him perform.  All alone on a stark, blank stage in New Hampshire (or was it Maine?), musical gadgets and gizmos blinking and syncing all around him.

Me? I can barely get my guitar in tune and my amp to work, much less fiddle around with different pedals or stompboxes.  That's why I don't use 'em.  I keep things simple and concentrate on my touch.  But I'm just a guitar slinger.  

What does Tom sling?