Birds, Bees, & Babies

Gabriel Elijah on Mother's Day 2017

 

It was Mother’s Day morning, the morning I took the test. I knew it was too early, but I wanted to know just in case I was actually a mama on Mother’s Day. I set the test on the counter in our tiny studio apartment’s closet/bathroom. A quick glance told me negative. I sighed, steeling myself to the result, and started brushing my teeth. 

I spat the toothpaste into the sink, put the toothbrush back in the holder, and started to walk quickly out of the vicinity of the test. But it called to me, and I couldn’t stop myself looking at it quickly in passing, just in case I had missed something.

And there it was. A second line. Super faint, but there. I tried it in different lights, rotated it to different angles, and the line did not disappear.

I was pregnant. An inexpressible joy filled my heart. Somewhere deep inside of me was the baby that is now sleeping peacefully in our incredibly messy room as I sit in my rocking chair writing this post. Let me just say, it’s true that a baby changes everything. I’m just amazed that I’ve been able to write this much without interruption. I'm also loving the new IPad my parents got me. On a further side note, I can still taste the blackstrap molasses, bell pepper, and arugula smoothie I made for lunch. Unfortunately. And the healthy Immaculata chocolate chip cookies I made after. Haha. Solidarity folks. And postpartum figures... 😳

But back to Mother’s Day 2016. I walked into the main room of the studio, where James was snoring peacefully in bed in the dim morning light. He is an extremely heavy sleeper. It is nigh impossible to wake him up. So I sat down on the edge of the bed, smoothed his hair back, leaned in, and whispered, “Hey!” No response. I shake him vigorously and shout, “Guess what? I’m pregnant!”

It only took once. He was up. “Are you serious?” 

I show him the test.

“And it’s Mother’s Day,” I said. “Isn’t that crazy?”

“So when does that mean we got pregnant?”

“North Carolina according to the chart.” We’d played at St Michael the Archangel church a couple weeks earlier and I specifically remembered kneeling and praying for a baby. And also eating great amounts of delicious breakfast food at a local French bakery.

James laughs. “Nothing like good food and fun… So when is the due date?'

"January 17. Looking at the chart, it'll probably be a boy!"

"The DaSilva line lives on!" (James is the last male of his line.) He hugs me. “I can’t believe I’m a father!" Then a look comes over James’s face. “I don’t have a gift for you!”

And he never got one. Meanie. But it was short notice. 😘

Not being the secretive type, we told the family that day. Our baby existed and therefore would be celebrated. On my side of the family it was the sixth grandchild: we are pretty used to pregnancies, childbirths, and babies, and so we announced in a simple way over the breakfast brunch after church. Much joy! 

On James’s side of the family it was the first grandchild, so James wanted it to be a special kind of surprise. We discussed it as we navigated the maze of Home Depot looking for a cute birdhouse to give James’s mother.

There’s nowhere that will make me lose my temper faster than trying to find something specific in a supermarket.

“No wonder I’ve felt so bloated!” I said as we strolled calmly into the store.

“You look great, honey,” James said. 

“Even though I’m like only three-and-a-half weeks pregnant. Seriously. Oh man, I kind of feel nauseated.” I look at my iPhone. “Oh gosh, we are going to be late for dinner!” I see a Home Depot worker at the far end of the Miracle Gro. “Excuse me, sir, do you know where bird houses would be?”

A look of suppressed panic flits over his face. “Um, I think that would be outside somewhere. Like, by the garden hoes.” He points vaguely over my head.

“Oh okay, thanks!” I turn around and we start walking in that general direction. By the time we’ve actually found the doors leading outside I’m starting to feel exhausted. Then we get outside. It’s hot.

“He said they were by the garden hoes.”

“Oh, here we go,” James said. We scan the wall with squinted eyes, trying to make sense of the jumble of garden tools.

“I think I want to say it this way,” James says. “We’ll give her the birdhouse, and then say, ‘Mom, we have another gift for you, but it won’t be here for nine months.’ How do you like that?”

I laughed. “I love it! You do it, okay?” My eye alights on something that looks like it lives in the vicinity of bird feed.

“Oh man, these are birdhouse building kits! Ugh. We need one of these cute little bird houses that are all painted and stuff. Seriously!” Frustration broils inside of me. Who’d ever want to make a birdhouse when you could just buy one? … just kidding 🤐

James takes charge. “Excuse me, ma’am?” He accosts a young teenage girl who is working in the flowers behind us. “Do you know where the bird houses would be?”

The panic is genuine on her face and she doesn’t even pretend to know where they are. “I mean, maybe in the chicken wire or something?” She gesticulates vaguely to the left.

I wonder to myself how on earth a girl from the suburbs had the guts to get a job at a Home Depot? I’d probably lose my mind trying to pretend like I knew what I was doing in mulches and stuff…not to mention the heat of the outdoors…and wasps in the plants! (Says the girl who set up a beehive in her backyard… 🙈)

We walk a mile to the chicken wire section and look in vain through the barbed packages. Then I ooh and aah over the cute scarecrows. And then I feel my body melting to the floor as the Home Depot rises in horrific size around me and I say, “James, let’s just go. This is ridiculous.”

So we start making our way to the exit, I blindly trusting in James’s ability to navigate (I have an opposite sense of direction…for real). On the way out, we bump into the bird houses.

Who knew? No one. We get a cute little bird house, and since we don’t have time to get it wrapped correctly before we are supposed to be at James’s parent’s house for Mother’s Day dinner, we fill it with bird seed, coast down the driveway at the house, and sneakily hang it from a tree while James’s parents are grilling steak on the porch above.

And then, after dinner, James announces the news. Except it comes out like this: “Mom, we have another gift for you. It’ll be here in January.” Which of course doesn’t give quite the same impression as ‘nine months’… I nudge James to elaborate.

“Oh, that’s so sweet of you honey,” Kathy says. And then a look of confusion crosses Kathy and Mario’s face. “Wait, January?”

“We are pregnant!” James says, smiling.

Tears flow. Hugs circulate. Blessings abound.

And so that’s how we found out. I was pretty pleased with the idea that I’d be having the baby in January, when there is generally not a huge amount of touring for the Annie Moses Band and smack-dab two years from when we got married.

Little did I realize that that meant I’d be pregnant for one of the most busy touring seasons in our history, traveling all the way South to Disney Land, West to Colorado, North to Michigan, and East to New York City, with the baby kicking during my piano solos.

But more on that later 🙃

A Romance in Cheese

February is the dreariest of months.

So in order to accentuate the dreariness, we decided to make the month our Whole30 offering.

You may have heard about the diet. It basically means no coffee shops, no dates (except the fruit kind…😳), no restaurants, no fun and lots and lots of onions.

It was quite a slap in the face to James and me, who live in the middle of downtown and love to keep no groceries but raw vegetables and then step out our front door and waltz off to see the world and grab a croissant. The worst was that I could have no cheese.

Cheese has been a long love affair for me. Beginning with Wallace and Gromit claymation as a little girl ("cheese, Gromit!"…if you don't understand that reference, you should look it up…) At my wedding, I specifically chose an artisan cheese board. At Whole Foods, I dwell over the cheese bar. I love cheese. I suppose it’s the British-Irish in me. Every year I go on diets and cleanses, but never yet have I gone over 7 days without cheese. Until February.

For 30 days I broadened my horizons. I found out that you can make things tasty without cheese by adding lots of garlic and onions and herbs to everything you cook. Or tomatoes. Who knew? And that you can make amazing fried potatoes with only a little coconut oil and salt. Or that grass-fed beef and pastured eggs are the best thing in the world. In fact, I didn’t miss cheese at all. I didn’t miss sugar at all. I didn’t miss carbs one bit. 

And then the Whole 30 ended and the first thing I decided to add back in was a little cheddar cheese on my fried egg.

BAM. My whole body felt like molten metal dripping to the floor. I was like Olaf the snowman in summer. I lay down and staggered over the revelation that the ‘exhaustion waves’ I’ve struggled with my whole adult life are because I eat cheese. Wail 😭. More specifically, I eat cheese that’s pasteurized and covered with chemicals rather than fresh raw cheese.

I tell James.

“Really!” he says. “That puts a whole new spin on why we had that awful argument out of the blue that one time.”

“What? When?” I say. And then the video reel of memories in my head fast rewinds (remember that?) back to another day.

A summer day. Bright and sunny. James and I are in the blissful season of our dating lives, where our world consists of James picking me up at 10am and whisking me off to enjoy the wonders of springtime until 9pm that night. 

James drives me south down Nolensville Pike, past green meadows and beautiful houses. We are young and in love, the sun is shining, our dreams our spooling out in front of us with the highway. We stop at a tiny little community consisting of an Amish grocery, a thrift store, and an antique shop. We window shop and then go into the Amish grocery and buy a big hunk of cheese. We haven’t had any lunch, so we decide this and a couple colas will be our picnic.    

We eat the cheese as we drive further down the highway towards Franklin.

Why isn’t James talking to me? I look over at him. There is a glazed look about his eyes. I am so tired. My veins feel like they are filled with lead.

“Are you ok?” I ask.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” James says. “Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I just feel like you’re distant.”

James sighs in exasperation. “I am not distant!”

“Yes you are! I feel like you’re not interested in talking to me.”

“I thought you didn’t want to talk to me!”

“No, I just can’t think up anything to talk about.”

“I feel like you’re not interested in me! You know, sometimes I think we fight too much. Maybe we need to think about this.”

“We never fight! I mean, compared to most people.”

“I don’t know. Why do you always feel like I’m distant?”

“I don’t always feel like you’re distant!”

Silence reigns in the car. 

I break first. It’s a bad habit of mine from the times I had fights with my sister as a little girl. If I didn’t say sorry first I’d feel guilty. So: “I’m sorry, I’m just so tired.”

“Why are you tired?”

“I don’t know.”

The sun is darkening. A wind kicks up in the east. I turn off the air conditioning. James turns back on the air conditioning. I turn on John Mayer. James switches it to John Coltrane after the first song. The second song was my favorite.

The mood thickens.

And then James reaches over and pats my hair, rubs my shoulders. “Sorry honey, we can listen to John Mayer if you really want to. Why don’t you like air conditioning?”

“I hate air blowing on me.”

“What!?” James looks at me, horrified. There is nothing he loves more than air blowing on him. Apparently when he was a toddler he’d fall asleep on the floor with his face in the stream of the air vent.

“Yeah.”

“You know what? I don’t feel very good,” James says.

“Me neither.”

“It’s the cheese.”

My memory video reel fuzzes out at a walk in a green meadow across from the Franklin factory and becoming happy again as the cheese digests. My mind shimmers back to the Present. 

“It really was the cheese!”

A Girl in Ipanema (that's me 😉)

The heat is overpowering. The sky of Rio de Janeiro stretches blue and untouched above my head. Homeless men line the sidewalk, passed out in drug-induced sleep, no shirt upon their backs, skin jet-black from the sun. A woman walks past me, nursing her naked brown baby at her bare breast. 

People swarm the Ipanema Beach, dressed in as little as possible. String bikinis, speedos, tube tops, no tops. I am dying in capris and a t-shirt, my umbrella open above me, giving only slight relief from the sun. 

There is a tropical magic in the air. This is the region where the famous “Girl from Ipanema” was composed. The story goes that Antonio Carlos Jobimwould sit every morning in his favorite cafe facing the window and see a blonde-haired beauty walk by on her way to work. He composed the bossa nova jazz tune and had his friend, Vinicius de Moraes compose lyrics to match the story. I understand the curiously striking and exotic aura of the song, seeing the hot charm of the Ipanema Beach.

Our hearts are beating irregularly from the heat, so we stop at a side cafe and get a glass of sugar cane juice to cool off. It is fascinating to see the long green stalks grind into the great juicing machine. Every restaurant, cafe, gas station has one of these. Even at the very smallest, greasiest dive you can get a glass of fresh-squeezed mango juice. 

I drink the sweet green juice, trying to still the beating of my dehydrated heart. But it makes me thirstier, so, seeinga concessions stand with a big waterfall of coconuts hanging off the side, we head for some coconut water. One coconut is 5 reals, a little over 1 American dollar. We order two, watching as the man gets an ax and lops off the tops of the coconuts and sticks a straw inside. It is raw, sweet, refreshing. The hairy coconut is heavy and awkward in my hands. 

We pose for a picture with the statue of Antonio Jobim, the blue umbrella framing our faces and melding magically into the sky. Teenagers from the favelas sit under scant trees, selling handmade jewelry and woven baskets. I buy a mismatched pair of feather earrings.

Then my husband points it out. The Ipanema Cafe, where Antonio Jobim wrote “The Girl from Ipanema”, sitting in a sticky corner overlooking the simmering sidewalk. The restaurant is packed to the gills, the fans whirring desperately above the pictures on the walls of Jobim’s manuscript.

I push through to sit at the one empty table without waiting for the receptionist. A drop of sweat runs down my back. I lift my hair, all two feet of it, twisting it on top of my head, feeling the fan on the nape of my neck, the breeze wafting through the open windows. I wave a hand at the waiter, “Con license! Con license!” No one seems to understand my version of “Excuse me.”  Finally he turns towards me, sees my raised hand. “Agua. Agua.” I mime drinking desperately. James tries to supplement my broken Portuguese. Sizzling iron skillets of picanha float to the tables around me, adding to the heat of the room.

My heart flutters. Weariness and nausea from the heat overtakes me. It becomes apparent to me that I need to get back to the hotel before I die. Visions of the swimming pool flash through my head. I slap a mosquito off my arm and call an Uber on my iPhone. The waiter brings two water bottles. I guzzle mine, marveling how the locals around me aren’t affected by the heat. They are laughing, talking, eating hot food, drinking beer and Guarana sodas. 

I feel like a tourist. I suppose because I am a tourist.  I am in South America and I feel a sudden happiness at the experience, the adventure, being able to see what life is like on the other side of the equator, even though it may give me a heat stroke. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

We leave 5 reals on the table and climb into the Uber. The air conditioning hits me like heaven. Cold, sweet luxury. I lean my head back and dream of the hotel swimming pool only ten minutes away. 

 

Hear my favorite version of "The Girl from Ipanema" here.

Terror on the Sugarloaf

“I want to get away from the tourist-y part!” I whisper, grabbing James’s arm. We are standing on the Sugarloaf mountain.

“I agree. These shops are all the same.”

“Let’s go back to that rope bridge with the fruit growing in barley fiber pockets on the trees. I want to see nature. I mean, gosh, we are in the tropics!”

We walk back to the bridge from the platform where everyone is looking at the immense view, smoke from a burning building smudging the sky. The bridge stretches into the woods, bordered by great tropical trees with dark waxy leaves. Men hover, spraying water onto the rare flowers growing in barley planters along the tree trunks.

“Now this is fun!” I say, looking over the edge of the bridge.

We emerge from the forest and find ourselves in a deserted corner of the mountain. A few men stand around, repairing parts of the sidewalk. There are stairs with a rope cutting them off from access.

“That’s the way down to the forest,” James says.

I move forward, lift the rope, and start down.

“That is off limits,” a worker says.

“Oh really? Why?”

“No going down there,” he reiterates in broken English.

“Oh, ok." I wait till his back is turned and then walk down the stairs, pulling James after me.

A path thru a beautiful forest and an opening onto a balcony overlooking the city. I lean over the balcony rail.

James hugs me from behind, kisses my head. “Look at that,” he says.

We soak the beauty in, the little terracotta roofs, the quirky favelas nestled in emerald green hills, the great sea beyond. The Christ statue stands on a mountain opposite, looking over Rio de Janeiro. 

I make a video blog, trying to document the view. We take a picture or two.

Then we see the birds.

“Look at those buzzards! There must be something dead.”

The black birds dance against the blue sky.

“Those are crows, honey. Buzzards circle, they don't swarm.”

“Oh my gosh, they’re coming this way!”

We watch as the black cloud of birds flies towards us. One bird breaks away, flying at breakneck speed in our direction. I watch in disbelief, waiting for it to veer away, but it doesn’t. I scream as it swoops low over our heads. I can feel the wind of the wings. The rest of the birds are close at hand.

“Run!” I scream to James.

I dash back to the woodland path, my iPhone shaky-cam-ing with me. A grey wing flaps above my head. “HURRY!” I yell.

“Honey, those are bats!” James says.

“BATS!!!”

I open the umbrella, running like a penguin, aware of how dumb I look even in the midst of my fear. Another one swoops and the vision of one getting caught under the umbrella and then locking it's teeth in my eyes makes me try to shut the umbrella again.

Then I am out of the forest. Back at the shops. Out of breath. James behind me, cool as a cucumber.

“I need WATER!” I gasp.

“Let me get you some, honey,” James says. Awwww…

I write a Facebook status to celebrate the adventure. You know, because that’s what you do in the 21st century.

Then my sister comments, “Do you know bats have rabies?”

And James just chuckles as the blood drains from my face and I guzzle his water bottle.

English Magick

I confess to writer’s block. This blog keeps slipping from my grasp. How do you put one amazing trip across the pond into one blog that justly chronicles feeling and thought? What are those nebulous terms anyway? 

Who am I?

Just kidding…

When push comes to shove, the thing I brought home from England was a sense of magic. My small plebeian-consumer bohemian-hipster 21st-century 20s-statistic head got blown to smithereens by the sheer immensity of history. And how that history, the farther it goes back, gets bigger and more unexplainable. 

For instance, how can one man take away an entire country’s culture, kill people, burn all ancient Christian books and ravage churches because of a money-mongering divorce and people still honor him?

Which brings us to kings and queens itself. Visiting Windsor Castle where all the great monarchy of England lived before Queen Victoria and marveling that these walls listened to the daily patter of people who were the leading rulers of the world. The wealth of a castle itself gives authority. For goodness sake, the King had a room to sleep in, to put on his house slippers in, to get his bath in, to eat his breakfast in, to listen to his daily appointments in, to get dressed in… Haha. For real, he almost had that many rooms!

And then we saw Glastonbury Abbey. Burned by Henry VIII. Traced back to AD 64. The legend says that Joseph of Arimathaea traveled here with Jesus in the Hidden Years (when Jesus was 13-29 years old) and they built a chapel of adobe. Joseph returned years later and established a monastery here with eleven disciples. 

The place has an eerily holy feeling to it. Like it’s way bigger than you and you could never know what is here that is unseen. The brilliantly emerald grass of England amongst towering stone arches, Gothic walls leading nowhere. Our Lady Chapel, re-built thousands of years ago when the daub one burned down, is the heart of the Abbey ruins and stands the most in tact. You can almost feel the ages of history, the remains of the thousands of saints that are buried in the grasses surrounding the Abbey. 

And then, of course, that’s where King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were buried. No biggey. Apparently when King Edward and Queen Eleanor came to honor and move their grave to the place of honor in the Abbey in the 1000s Queen Guinevere still had shimmering waist-long golden hair that disintegrated when she was touched. And then when Henry VIII ransacked the Abbey the grave was destroyed and Arthur and Guinevere’s remains disappeared.

We know because they took Instagram photos of it. 

Actually back then they had a social media program called an iWitness Account. 

Haha. 

I know. I stink at jokes… ; )

Then there was the day we drove through the dazzling green meadows of England farmland and saw idyllic stone farmhouses with ivy creeping up the walls and orchard trees and white sheep. Or saw the great Bodleian Library where Hogwarts was placed and has books that are thousands of years old and a fellow of the library must know the original language, whatever it may be, to read it.  Or ate in a pub that was built in the 1600s. There’s a reason BBC films all their Masterpiece Theatre mini-series here. They don’t have to build any sets.

The last day in England we stopped at Stonehenge. This place beat any of them. 5000 years old. Stones standing against the cloudy England sky in a bitterly cold, rainy afternoon. Sheep graze around the Henge, keeping the grass naturally chopped short. One of the archaeologists on site told us about the phenomenal history of the place. There are villages that pre-date the Henge underneath the soil. If you knock over a few molehills with your foot, you’re bound to find ancient artifacts. There are barrow-downs everywhere where people who appear to have been great men of ancient eras are buried. You can draw a straight line from the outer rocks of the Henge to the Great Pyramid of Giza (also built around the same time). How did they know how to make a straight line across the world before satellites?

StoneHenge

There’s an outer rock that I am convinced is a troll turned into stone. He was probably the troll set to guarding StoneHenge. Or maybe the troll that was trying to destroy StoneHenge that was outsmarted by a wizard. You can decide for yourself.

TheStoneTroll

There’s a reason so many of the great fantasy novelists have come from England.…

You can look at my iWitness Account on Instagram (@camillerosemary) to see more pictures of Merry Olde England.

 

London Jitters

As a little girl I loved nothing better than historical novels. Dear America Diaries, the Little Maid series, Elsie Dinsmore, Laura Ingalls Wilder, you name it. As I got older, that love morphed into real diaries: Sarah Morgan’s famous Civil War account, Anne Frank, random real diaries that I found as a pre-teen discovering Amazon’s labyrinthine possibilities.

And now I’m in my second childhood. Historical novels. I’ve read nothing but historical novels for 2 months.

I LOVE THEM.

There was a part of me when I was choosing my degree that genuinely wanted to get my Bachelors in History rather than English. In the end, I decided that I could learn about history through English. So I did English. Besides, more novels and less curricula ; ) 

That to say, I hate when I read a historical novel that completely butchers history. Not naming any names, but I just read a novel that totally messed up Anglicanism vs Puritanism. This elderly agnostic novelist had clearly never been to an Anglican church before or read any books about Puritanism other than her 5th grade history book, which also talked about turkeys and pilgrims. 

Grrrrrrr…

Anyway… when I met James he took me out to sushi for the first time in my life. I think I fell in love with him right then and there. I entered into Ginza in Green Hills in Nashville (so yummy) and found myself, with a little bit of imagination, right in Japan. Later on in our dating he took me to an Ethiopian restaurant. Never tasted anything like it, the sponge bread, the tea, the lentils… A Cuban restaurant with dancing and real Cuban coffee. A Costa Rican place. An Indian restaurant, with a man playing zither and mutton cutlets with bones in it and curry (ah, curry!!!) and coconut milk (love love love). And then a Thai restaurant, with more coconut milk (seriously love), where I accidentally poured the wrong bowl over the wrong bowl and made a mess and then had a spice attack of tomato-color proportions blush up over my face and had the waiter laughing at me.

Ah well.

Not to say that those cuisines are my favorite taste-wise, but to me, every time I walked into one of those places I felt like I was in a magical bubble, propelling me into another culture, experiencing another part of the world.

The world is so huge. And I want to see it all. 

So that’s why we went to Italy for our honeymoon. We are incredibly excited to be going to Brazil at Christmas to meet James’s whole Brazilian family (!). And in six hours, I am going to be at the airport getting ready to fly to London. I have the Little Dorrit miniseries downloaded on my phone and Wolf Hall in my backpack so that I can get quite immersed in English-ness before I arrive. You can imagine how excited I am. If you want to see the fruit of the excitement, you can check out my Instagram (camillerosemary) through the journey. I will be spoiling everyone’s news feeds.

OCTOBERS

Sometimes there are periods of life where you walk around in the present and you feel the past with you, at your back. 

This autumn I can’t stop thinking about how last autumn I was newly engaged, spending these four months of the busiest time of our year planning for my wedding day and my honeymoon.

That fall was full of calls to venues, culinary plans, finding dresses, pre-marriage counseling, traveling, red beret hats and wool scarves, leather gloves and long coats, crimson leaves and hot chocolate in the Smoky Mountains.

A year later, after an Italian honeymoon, a blizzard, a busy spring, a crazier summer, and a full cross-country trip, I am again traveling in the vivid paint splashes of dying leaves, this time with my husband beside me. 

I love traveling North in this season. I love Starbucks hot chocolates, fuzzy blankets in the car, hoodies and sweatpants, the panoply of fire-red and purple and canary-yellow flying by the car window. Tennessee is lovely, but the fact of the matter is that its Autumn and Winter pales to the glorious color-ridden climes and then the frosty wonderlands of the north country.

One iconic day this October, we find ourselves in the lovely town of Madison, Wisconsin, performing in a theater in the nearby city of Edgerton. A morning free, and James, my sister Annie, her two children David and Vincenza, and I are off to enjoy a few hours in the most enchanting autumn day I have experienced this year. Blue skies, brisk winds, trees effervescent in the colors of fire, and the lovely downtown of the Wisconsin capital.

After a delicious breakfast of farm-to-table crepes and pour over Ethiopian coffee, we set off to explore the day. Annie and her children enjoy the lovely children’s museum, complete with a fairy-tale porch garden.

James and I enjoy the beautiful farmer’s market in the shadows of the Capitol building.

Among the tables and tables of honey and flowers and vegetables and apples and Wisconsin cheeses, I find a magical cornucopia of everlasting bouquets, scarlet pumpkins, dried maize cobs, pussy-willow and fern.

It is all arranged delicately, atop barrels and baskets or piled enticingly. An autumnal paradise. All grown by an elderly woman who gardens, hangs the plants to dry and then arranges them with twine.

Whenever I see such enchantments, I am inspired. My mind’s eye sees the day, one day, when my husband and I and our seven children will have our own pastoral wonderland. 

And my husband and my boys will till the soil and weed the garden, of course. Why else have all those kids? ; )

Since James and I are a pair of hobbits stuck in human bodies (when we don't feel like being elves), after very little walking and exploring, with two little brown paper packages tied up with string and our artisan coffees, we find a quiet nook to read our books underneath a great flaming tree that blocks us from the chilly sweet-scented autumn wind. 

Because sitting together, reading our books, and drinking coffee on beautiful autumn days is quite our favorite thing to do.

LOOKING AT LIFE THROUGH A WINDOW

I peer in and see myself, my life house. All things taken for granted are noticed. All status quo is undone.

I turn around and I see my dreams up in the sky around the house. What I want my future to be. How I want my children to live. How I want to grow old.

How to get there?

Beside me is my husband. We are lying in bed, resting at the end of a long day. Intimate. Real. I tell him about my life house, my dreamscape, about me. And then he talks back. He notices everything. Understands everything. Knows exactly what to say, even if it's not what I want to hear.

Pillow talk.

He knows every part of me, good and bad. He loves me most of all. He is wise because he knows and loves.

I feel complete security, safeness. The two are one. There is no 'I' in this world, but 'we'. There is no loneliness. No fear. It is a magical place, marriage.

As the masterful song 'Nature Boy' says,

The greatest thing you'll ever learn

is to love and be loved in return.

The new Cinderella has become a favorite among my family clan. We have it on our phones and the toddler nieces, Audrey and Vincenza, will scroll through to the only parts they are interested in: the dance and the ending. Girly to the core. : )

I remember seeing the movie in the theater, soon after James and I were married. It struck me deeply.  

'Have courage and be kind,

for where there is kindness there is goodness,

and where there is goodness there is magic.'

Not only this main adage of the movie, but at the very end, when Cinderella is seen as she really is, and sees the Prince as he really is, and both love wholly.

'This is perhaps the greatest risk we will ever take, to be seen as we truly are.' 

Yet it is the most beautiful magic in the world. Love is not blind, for God is love.

Lavender green dilly dilly

Lavender blue

You must love me dilly dilly

For I love you.

North & East

We are traveling North through green farmlands and New England woods. Ironically, we are passing through some of the same places that the Pope will visit, one or two days in front of him. Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia.

immaculateconception.jpg

After three concerts we come to rest in Connecticut. We stay with friends from the three years that we lived in New Milford. It is a delightful reunion. My friend Bradleigh and I have been best friends since we met at a church flea market as children and connected over our love of antiques and Anne of Green Gables. Someday I will write a children’s series all about our New Milford adventures, exploring old houses, gathering acorns, discovering elf kingdoms in the woods. 

My sister, my husband, and I all enjoy the happiness of staying with Bradleigh and her family––including her new adorable Adaline baby––in her quaint white house surrounded by a New England forest, cleared of brushes and brambles, with quietly rustling leaf floors.

We spend all of Monday drinking coffee, hiking through the nature preserve down the road, writing and reading each other’s writing in a grass meadow while Gretchen plays guitar, walking to the post office and farmer’s market, and ending the evening with bourbon cream local peaches and Far From the Madding Crowd

The next day we awake early to drive into New York City. It is a different reality. One second we are in New York farmland, the next minute we are passing the Trump skyscrapers.

As I sit looking out the window, I am reminded of playing Monopoly. It’s commerce and capitalism and corruption and opportunity and opulence represented in a million people and a million buildings stuck on an island scarcely the land mass of my home town.

There’s something exciting and exhausting about it. Rather magical. We spend the morning in meetings with our team, planning the future, seeing bright possibility and the months ahead spooled out on paper and colored with imagination. We see the first music video from the Western Odyssey trip played in the Warner Classics office.

Then our Uber app makes a car appear and we are in The Cutting Room, where we perform that evening. Afterwards, exhilarated and hungry, my husband gets me a delicious grilled cheese sandwich from a local New York cheese paradise.

In the background of all this adventure is a deep sadness, because through all the business of our schedule, we get news from home that our grandmother, Dorothy, is very sick. She has lived in our house for three or four years now and we love her dearly. Zoe, our new little sister, was downstairs with her when Dorothy suddenly fell backwards from her walker. Her equilibrium was so impaired that my mother had to get the help of a neighbor to get her up and to the hospital.

All throughout the day we hear text updates back home in the South that describe a very bleak situation. It is deeply sorrowful to me. Grandma Dorothy is a mainstay of life: a quiet, simple, kind woman. Her room downstairs is always cool and peaceful, a bubble of tranquil organization inside the hustle and bustle of daily life. I feel especial pain for my new little sister, whom Grandma Dorothy helped to adopt and has taught to read and write and play piano. They have a very special bond. 

The next day the news is still bad. We come into the City again from Connecticut and stop there on our way to Philadelphia for other meetings. My father flies home to be with his mother. My heart aches that we can't all go home. The little ones are all around us, crazy in the craziness of the City, and it strikes me how little Evangeline is just beginning to stand up and learn how to walk, and now my grandmother cannot stand or walk. 

James and I stop in St. Patrick's Cathedral to pray for my grandmother. Kneeling in that space, I marvel at life. Why does our heart beat? Why do we know to breathe when the umbilical cord is cut? How are we built so uniquely? How does a sperm and an egg connect and a woman’s womb fosters a new life with personality and dreams and thoughts that will one day foster new life that fosters new life?

Update: I am very happy to say that my grandmother Dorothy made a miraculous recovery a few days after this post was published, and is now out of intensive care and on her way to complete health.

Hard Times Come Again No More

Colorado

A Western Odyssey

Thick darkness. Restless wind. Headlights on a two lane highway. Two orange foxes darting in front of the car. A thump.

The general outcry from several half-asleep people resonates in the vehicle. My heart hurts, just thinking about those poor foxes in pain. What can you do?

“I think that was the turn back there! We missed it!”

It has been a very long car ride.

We rumble down a dirt road, winding through the hill silhouettes that flicker in the headlights. The road guides us to a gate in the darkness, and then to a golden patch in the lights of log cabins. 

*    *    *

I awake in a cozy room with wooden doors like Pa Ingalls built in Little House on the Prairie. A sign on the door says that this cabin is a hundred years old and used to be the cowboys’ barracks. I like to imagine it. 

I step outside. The beauty of the landscape stuns me. Rolling green and golden hills stretching in every direction, the blue sky above, a wind so violent it knocks the sleepiness out of me. 

I dart back into the cabin for a very scanty coat that I happened to stuff into my hangup bag, and then Gretchen and I walk up to the meeting house, ducking into the wind with every step.

Hot coffee has never felt so good. Or homemade sausage and gravy and local eggs. We all sit at the log tables, talking and laughing with the cowboys and cowgirls of the Colorado Cattle Company, famous for its appearance in City Slickers, hearing the history of the gorgeous place, relaxing before our next video shoot. 

*    *    *

The afternoon sun has gone behind the oncoming rain clouds and the wind is more frozen than ever. We drive cross country to the set, a barren riverbed beneath a cliff, with two gnarly trees and bleached driftwood decorating the scene. The sky is grey above the grey ground. The wind whips my black dress around and around my legs. 

I step gingerly through the tall grasses, watching for rattlesnakes, though the veterans say it is too cold for snakes. Sandra, one of the cowgirls of the dude ranch who hails from Switzerland, says she sees 4-6 rattlesnakes a week in summer and always brings a shovel and a knife with her when she goes riding. 

I sit on my missionary organ and feel the wind slowly defeat my jacket as I bury my head into my hood. Sandra brings us hot coffee to warm us in our frozen state. We watch Annie and Jeremiah perform their solos while Paul achieves swift moving shots with the camera in the dry river bed, listen to Graham playing the music over the speakers, read books, huddle.

And then it is time for the group shot. I shiver as I take off the hoodie and the boots and warm mismatched socks (my socks are always mismatched…don’t judge me). Since I am not impoverished or living in the Dust Bowl and therefore do not have any shoes that look like it, I go barefoot. 

I soon regret that decision. The river bed is cold and wet, with sticky clay and sharp pebbles. I set the missionary organ up on its box and we play Hard Times Come Again No More over and over, the wind ripping our curls and tearing around our legs, the cold seeping in till my hands and feet are numb. I dig my toes deep into the clay. 

And then Tim and David are flying the drone above our heads. We are drowning in the music and the wind and the experiences of the man who wrote the song, the passionate cry for peace, all wound up in our memories. The plea is as old as the earth.

Rain begins to drip-drop into the dry river bed, falling off the leaves of the gnarly old trees and splashing in the sage brush. I wince as the dry grass pricks my bare feet on our walk back to the truck. Who could live without shoes? We load up our things and tumble cross-country back to the warmth of our heated cabins, our soft blankets, eating delicious, piping hot burritos.

It sinks into me. The blessedness. 

American Rhapsody

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I am currently getting ready for the Annie Moses Band's appearance at the Grand Ole Opry tonight. I am thrilled to make music on this legendary stage with my family and I couldn't let the afternoon pass without writing a note about being doubly thrilled to perform music from our new album, American Rhapsody, that is officially released today! 

I love the music on this record. It is cinematic and beautiful, creating a kaleidoscope of the colors that have created the American heritage. 

This theme is especially poignant on this day, September 11, when we remember the men and women who gave their lives for the freedom that America celebrates. May we never forget!

I hope you all tune in to share the music tonight, in honor of our beautiful America. 

 

The Grass on the Prairie

Nebraska

A Western Odyssey

I am in a pretty little attic room at the Prairie Creek Inn, with Victorian furnishings and wallpaper, and a window that overlooks a green Nebraska field glimmering with dew.

I roll out of bed and walk out into the hallway, where the smell of breakfast wafts up the glossy wooden stairs. Gretchen is in Annie’s room, getting beautified for her moment in Where You’ve Always Been, the first music video shoot of the day for our new album American Rhapsody. Outside Paul, Tim, David, and Graham, our incredible, can-do camera team, are consulting with Alex and Mama about scenes. 

Being an avid believer in the happiness induced by a solitary country walk, I set out on my own to peruse the grounds. There are rustling green soybean fields and a hobbit door sprouting out of a hill.

The prairie grasses growing taller than my head; a gravel path running through a small grove; the Lake of Shining Waters spreading before me.

Wildflowers growing by the side of Prairie Creek, and a butterfly resting on one of the pink blossoms. I hear the voices of the children, David, Audrey, Vincenza, and Evangeline, coming from the farm where Benjamin and Berklee are letting them pet the horses. 

Back at the house, I rush through hair and makeup in preparation for a piano shot on Where You’ve Always Been. Through the window, I hear the song coming through the monitor and riding on the wind up to me, and see Gretchen, pristine and slender in her white dress, her hair blowing in the wind, as she sings the song she wrote about Grandma and Grandpa in our old countryside refuge, Zafra, Oklahoma.

And then it’s my turn, playing a grand piano in a bay window overlooking the beautiful Nebraska farmland. The house is over 150 years old and was moved to this location and restored by the innkeeper and his wife. 

I love old houses. You can feel the age in them, like good wine: the memories in the walls, the whispers of a forgotten time that was just as real as ours today.

When the afternoon sun is streaming down the Western side of the sky, Where You’ve Always Been is finished, and we journey into Lincoln, Nebraska. Our very dear friends welcome us into their home, where they have cooked a feast of farm-fresh food for us. It is a much-needed respite from the work of the day, to talk and laugh and enjoy friendship. 

A bit of a shut-eye, a refreshing of makeup and hair (my poor hair…curled two to three times a day for two weeks only to be ravaged by the wind! alas…), and we were off to the uncut Nebraska Grasslands for shot two of the day, The Grass on the Prairie.

The chug-a-lug up the road––which is merely mown grass in a great expanse of virgin grasses––is a bumpy ride, but we do get up there, thanks to our good ole pickup trucks. Once there, the vista is breathtaking.

We are on a race with the sunset. The shimmering silver from the cloud overlay envelopes the green grass, sloping for miles in every direction. The grass is as tall as we are. Annie hurries into her silver evening gown, with a windswept chiffon bustle, and begins to shoot the beginning of the music video in the grass. It is surreal, a picture that one ought to only see in fairy tales, right there before your eyes. 

I change into my pearl-white gown, which was also my wedding dress, and will be immortalized in a prairie sweep with a grand piano from the 1800s (which also weighs 800 pounds and comes with a hydraulic lift…whew!).

I wrap a lace shawl with shimmering pink and blue flowers around me. I feel enchanted, standing in these clothes underneath the sun, playing an ancient piano in the grasslands.

And then crickets start to jump into my skirt. 

And then I realize I really need to relieve myself.

The only thing to do is to embrace my pioneer heritage and to drift off into the grass, away from the cameras and the drone overhead, as far as I can possibly go and still be able to breathe through my fear of rattlesnakes. I once heard of a woman who always wore dresses and never underwear so she could go whenever she wanted to.

Ewwww…

Ahem. After that I go join our friends, who have been a Godsend, helping us set up the scene and cart all of our things to and fro, bug-spray at hand. We watch Annie’s glorious moment, see the power of her performance, and talk about how incredible this whole experience is.

Then they tell me that there are mountain lions in Nebraska.

Planet Earth clips of golden lions crouching down in golden grass flit across my mind. I look around quickly. The dusk is obscuring any definition. I wish I had David Valentine’s childlike peace…when Audrey Jane got scared of mountain lions, David Valentine said, “Don’t worry, Audrey, this is nature! There aren't any lions in nature!” 

And then it’s time for the full group shot. We coalesce in the scene, the wind frolicking in our hair and our skirts, as Paul works the glide camera and the others work the drone. There is only an hour of sun left, but they work fast and creatively.

The sun is gone. We are in rivers of headlights in the grand darkness. We women change out of our evening gowns behind held-up sheets, as the the men tear down the set and get the piano back in the truck bed. We rumble down the road and make friends with the crickets hopping around the car.

Back at the Prairie Creek Inn, I talk with James in my comfortable little room, and am so tired that I black out three times in the midst of our conversation. The weariness finally gets the better of me, and I fall asleep, makeup and all. 

I hear that everyone else had a party in the barn, filming the third music video of the day, Choctaw Cowboy - the acoustic bluegrass piece from American Rhapsody that my sister Gretchen composed - until 2am, regaled by locally grown watermelon and our friends’ homemade chocolate chip cookies. Berklee at the BirchTreeMeadow.com captured this picture in the fun.

As all the Nebraska natives told me, Nebraska is the best-kept secret ever.

A Western Odyssey Begins

Independence, MO

American Rhapsody hits stores on September 11. 

Along with being super excited comes some very simple, predictable brain calculations. 

(New album coming out + 8 potential music videos) + having three weeks off after FASA and a PBS special = cross country road trip!

Only problem is, my husband can’t come for the first week.

Wail!!!

I am not a woman of the strong and independent variety that can separate from their man for weeks at a time and get along all right. When I separate from mine I feel like I’m missing a leg and everybody’s telling me to walk. 

So comes the moment at 4am when James drives me to meet up with everyone at the house. Thankfully everyone is late, so we cuddle on the couch in the dark living room, soaking in the last moments. Alas. There’s always a bubbling fear inside too. What if something happens?

And then the moment when I’m sitting in the car with all my backpacks and purses and drinks and stuff in a mound around me, while mine and James’s hands meet in Tarzan and Jane fashion through the car window.

Then James runs after the car as it drives down the quiet suburb road. Tears well in my eyes. 

8 whole days!!!

There’s only so long I can sit teary-eyed in the back seat, nursing the heart-ache, before I get fed up with myself and pull out a book to read. Unfortunately the book I brought was Til We Have Faces. Reading about Psyche being separated by Cupid, the best husband of all time apparently, is not the best reading fodder right now.

The travel traditions slowly start to sink in. I assimilate into the Bubble, where you leave home, travel, do bunches of stuff, have ridiculous sleep schedules, eat at Panera Bread, Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle, and Cracker Barrel on rotation, dress up, and play music. Then you come back home and everything’s just the same and you feel like you never left at all. They are parallel universes: Road Life, Home Life.

Suddenly Road Life merges with Laura Ingalls Wilder. It jolts me out of my despair. Here I am, traveling over to Independence, Missouri. The whole purport of our Western Odyssey sinks in and Excitement begins to simmer inside of me.

We are actually driving the direction of the Oregon Trail, across three time zones, from Independence MO through Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho/Montana to Washington's Pacific coast. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Memories flit through my head of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, of that children’s manual of the Oregon Trail that I poured over as a nine-year-old girl and wrote a whole book about. Here I am, walking in that place. Independence, MO.

And then I get to put my memories and thoughts outside of me by having to speak them to a camera lens. Freaky.

And then a very dear friend comes by and we talk and talk right there on the pavement of the beginning of the Oregon Trail, and happiness comes back in along with excitement about where this journey will take us.

Can you tell I’ve seen Inside Out? ; ) Emotions! Emoticons! ; ) (do you remember the days where you first saw that colon and parenthesis and thought, What in the world IS that???)

As the sun starts to set behind the Missouri woodlands and the little kids come back sweaty from their wagon ride, we set off again. After seeing a real wagon and sweating bombshells in the Missouri summer simmer, Little House on the Prairie becomes hazed with a kind of traumatic imagination of heat and discomfort…poor pioneers! 

Darkness blankets the sky as we coast into the grasslands of Nebraska. I fall asleep, because that’s what I do when it’s dark and I’m in the car and there’s no iPhone service to watch a TV show with.

What did people do before iPhones!?


The Alternate Universe

Today is rainy and so we have classical guitar music playing. Yesterday was rainy and I had classical harp music playing. Ambience is created when rain and classical music collide. Just look at any romantic movie where a couple kisses in the rain. Actually, the first time James ever tried to kiss me I was standing in the thundering rain in a state of trance. It’s irresistible because you've seen it in Hollywood a million times and Hollywood tells you it's the height of passion. Rain means the heavens are being emotional.

Every once in a while, when I am in a very romantical mood, I will run out in a thunderstorm and raise mine eyes to the passionate sky and get utterly soaked. Marianne Dashwood had the same problem. Unlike Marianne, after a few minutes I get really cold and then I go inside and drink something hot. Because I like being comfortable.

But anyway, back to the purpose of this blog, which is to say that I have not blogged in 2 weeks. Alas. The second week I missed because I was recuperating on a sunny sugar-sand shore from the first week which I missed because the Fine Arts Summer Academy finally caught up with me.

There was the Younger Division's incredible performance of Hallelujah Harvest, written by my genius parents, where I helped my best friend Lillian put on and take off all the lavs. Putting on a lav is rocket science. Period. Then a day underground in a super cool cave called the Cumberland Caverns (aka Bluegrass Underground) for the show Trailblazers! Then an evening in the awesome canning factory turned performance venue called the Cannery Ballroom for the jazz show Love Goes the Distance! The FASA talent is jaw-dropping. And all that music put together in 6 days. Literally.

Then we enter into the period of day-long back-to-back rehearsals with all the students and the camera crew and the tech crew (I just turned on Barber’s Adagio for Strings for added angst in the ambience of my writing ;) ) where I get very sick along with half of the FASA participants in the form of a razor blade sore throat, no voice, and (bonus point!) a pinched nerve in my back (from sitting on backless harp benches for hours and hours every day).

For three days, I drink concoctions such as colloidal silver, apple cider vinegar with fresh ginger (the equivalent of herbal whiskey…goes down like fire!), and rooibos tea. If I had two full weeks to get well, they would have worked. Unfortunately, I have two days to get well. Finally I give in to the tiredness, have my husband take me home in the middle of rehearsal, sleep away the afternoon, and when I wake up watch Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet for mental peace. Ahhh…

When I am still not better, I cave on my typical au-natural-never-take-pain-meds-or-any-type-of-chemical and get a steroid shot. The next day I am doing way better and can actually speak! Hallelujah. And that day happens to be the day where I arrive at the Grand Ole Opry House at 8am and sit in a makeup chair getting Glamour and Glitz done for a couple hours with the amazing artists at About Face; then we perform a 5-hour-long tiny-audience close-camera-shot run of Art of the Love Song (which will be released as a PBS special in March 2016) in our beautiful couture dresses that were made from scratch by the amazing Karen Hendrix Couture.

Then an hour of touch-up instead of eating supper, because supper happens to be a very delicious, moist pulled pork in…barbecue sauce (when my husband comes into the dressing room with his plate wobbling dangerously in his hand there is a generally hysterical screaming moment from all 4 girls in their beautiful ballgowns, so he coincidentally leaves the room). Then a quick picture-taking in the Opry hall with my good friend and exceptional photographer Traci Shepherd (she took all these pictures!) before I run, petticoat and heels and all, to the stage because it is 7:30pm and time to begin!

So we perform the live showing of Art of the Love Song, this time with a full audience. And boy, it's amazing! Music is speaking a message, and having hundreds of people to speak it to creates an intense synergy in the air. It floods you with energy, gives you purpose in the performance. You are playing a sweeping kaleidoscope of colors and truths with your family and the orchestra and the choir. It becomes a dance, sweeps you up in the moment, takes over and makes you ascend above your fear of messing up or forgetting your part.

And then Art of the Love Song ends and Songs of Innocence & Experience begins. A quick turn-around, our ballgowns change into orchestra black, and the Fine Arts Summer Academy students take over the stage. What talent!

From my seat behind the harp in the orchestra or from backstage, I am awed over and over again by the stellar vocalists and instrumentalists painting their own kaleidoscope on one of the most influential and famous stages in the world.

The next morning, when I wake up, it’s like I’ve been in a time warp. I realize that the whole thing was only 12 days. And yet there are so many memories, so much inspiration…it feels like an alternate universe that keeps on echoing through eternity, and every year I dip into it.

In fact, it's a little bit like I've been to Narnia, with its terrible battles and transcendent beauty…and then I tumble back through the mysterious wardrobe and into reality. Life goes on like normal, but I never forget the magic.