Monday, March 22, 2010

First Love

I'm the blond sitting on the ground, and I don't have a clue what I'm wrapped up in or why. And the other girl with the long brown hair was my best summer friend in those days -- ah the adventures we had!

No, she was not my first love.

But Inky was. Inky is the marvelous dog pictured here. I don't remember what breed Inky was. He was black as midnight, black as, well, ink. Always with us, but not in an obtrusive way. If we fell when water skiing, Inky would swim out to "save" us. If we jumped off the raft, he jumped with us. He hiked wherever we hiked. When we started kissing boys, there was Inky, our chaperon, sitting beside us watching intently....and if the boys started grabbing and we made a noise he didn't like, Inky was known to gnaw an ankle or two. We took advantage of that once or twice, I remember.

Our cottage was a few cottages away from Inky's family and he would walk me home some nights, stopping at the edge of the woods that marked the boundary of my family's property. I was usually walking alone, and I greatly appreciated his company. I'd talk to him, tell him my problems and wish that Inky was MY dog. I wanted someday to have a dog just like Inky.

It took me nearly 40 years, but I finally found Rupert. Still, when I discovered this photo on my friend's Facebook page, all my feelings for my first dog love came flooding back to me and I wanted to bury my face in Inky's fur again. I've missed that dog so much after seeing this picture. And I'm thankful to have known Inky, for he led me to Rupert.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Great Acoustics + Full House = Command Performance by Mark Zane and Friends

Part Two: Onativia Church, LaFayette, NY

First Fridays at Onativia Church in LaFayette should not be missed. This lovely church provides the perfect stage, and Mark Zane brought his usual suspects with him to entertain on March 5th. Once again Mark packed the house and delighted us with his choice of covers and the originals we have come to love.

Bill Chernoff and Frankie Diamond accompanied Mark on guitar and provided engaging guitar leads throughout the night. We’ve come to anticipate an outstanding performance from Steve Pederson on bass; he never fails to live up to our expectations and was especially fun to watch at this performance, his bass notes clear and precise. Mary Snell added her lovely voice to several songs, giving us those goose bumps during the chorus of “Pink Houses”. When Mary and Mark sing “In Spite of Ourselves”, you forget for a moment that Iris DeMent and John Prine ever sang it. JimBob and another young man playing the ukulele helped Mark and Friends out on a rousing version of “Country Roads” that had most in the audience singing along, too. We enjoyed “Friend of the Devil” and “The Weight” very much, and sang Mark’s original “Walk it Off” as we headed to our car.

The hit of the evening? Every song rang true. It’s so wonderful to see a performance where those playing are comfortable, are enjoying themselves, are accomplished musicians and deliver a fine performance. Everything came together for this performance. It’s difficult to pick out a highlight of the evening; it seemed to be over too soon. We wanted to hear more and more and more.

If I had to pick a favorite song of the night, though, it would have to be Mark’s cover of “Hallelujah”. I never get tired of hearing him sing this. He always seems to get the words right. He nails it. And singing it at Onativia Church, where the acoustics are lovely and the words seem to swirl around the room with the notes chasing after them….the perfect song.

First Fridays at Onativia United Methodist Church in LaFayette. They pass the plate to pay the musicians. Be generous. They serve great desserts, too, for a donation. It’s a chance to hear great music without the noise of drunken laughter and loud conversations drowning out the music. Go. You’ll love it. Music starts at 7:00, goes until around 9:30. 6257 Dodge Road at the corner of Apulia Road. Just off Route 20. That cute little white church you always wondered about as you drove by. Well, check it out on First Fridays. You won’t be disappointed.

Put it on your calendar now – the First Friday of 2011 – Mark Zane and Friends will return. You’ll want to be a part of the full house then.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Angst

I hardly ever wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. Or any other day, actually. It’s not one of my favorite colors. I imagine there might be a touch of Irish blood running through me, as I am predominantly of English descent. Still, wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day was more than frowned upon in our house; it was absolutely forbidden.

Both of my grandfathers were born and raised in England, coming to the United States as young men to start new lives in the early 1900’s. One grandfather was actually sent here at the age of sixteen because his parents – he never saw them again – feared for his life. Life in the border town he lived in was suffering from the battling Protestants and Catholics. My grandfather wanted to take part in these battles. His father put him on a ship to America instead, with a note to a friend saying that said his son would be willing to tend to the cows on his friend’s farm in return for a bed and meals. This began a very successful farming career for my grandfather, as well as a life-long hatred of Catholics, particularly if they were also Irish. My other grandfather, although he had lived in a calmer part of England, shared the same views.

I was bombarded with this thinking as a young child, raised as an Episcopalian, told to wear orange to school on St. Patrick’s Day. I dreaded going to school on St. Patrick’s Day. I was even more of a misfit on that day.

One of my aunts married a Catholic; his last name was Sweeney. My grandfather refused to walk down the aisle and give her away. I was in third grade when the wedding took place and didn’t understand much of the conflict within the family then, only that my aunt stood her ground. That marriage lasted more than nearly fifty years, until my aunt’s death, and would still be going strong today. My grandfather realized his error in judgment later in his life.

My other grandfather, who scorned anyone not of "English stock”, also came to understand that diversity brought treasures into your life. My German Baptist grandmother probably had much to do with turning him around.

As a teenager, I was forbidden to attend dances at St. Mary’s School. And I wanted to go to those dances in the worse way. Other high schools played records at their dances; St. Mary’s had live bands. My boyfriends played in those bands. Of course, I went anyway. The only reason my parents did not want me to go was because Catholic kids went to that school – as if I had no classmates in my school who were Catholic? The Caugheys? The Kelleys? The Shanahans? They might have been in a Catholic church once or twice. I went to every dance at St. Mary’s that I could get to and I think this was one of the first times I felt justified in disobeying my parents.

There is no doubt in my mind that my grandparents’ strong religious views had a lasting impact on my own desire to learn about all religions and not judge any yet not subscribe to any particular religion myself. I’ve never found any that really fits with how I think anyway. And I’ve been quite happy living this way. If I had to choose, I’d be a combination of Pagan, Buddhist and Jew. I can only imagine what my grandfathers might have to say about that but believe they would have come to acceptance.

Today I do not wear green on St. Patrick’s Day and pretend I am Irish like most of the world does, although I am supportive of others who can. I would not think of wearing orange either. I wear whatever I want and think of my grandfathers who harbored hatred yet learned to cast it out of their hearts and be more understanding of those who were different. It gives me hope that it’s never too late for others to learn this, too.

Monday, March 15, 2010


This is the title of a book by Daniel Quinn I’ve come to read later than others. My son finally forced it into my hands a couple of days ago. He’s been urging me to read it for a two or three years now. There was a time when we communicated most effectively by his saying “Mom, you have to watch this movie” and I’d rent a skateboarding indie film. I’d usually end up understanding some issue he was struggling with, often hearing a character in the film say what I felt Darek might be having trouble telling me. I’ll admit it: I saw some awesome movies I’m certain I would have passed over had it not been for his urging me to watch them.

The same might be said about this book, Ishmael. I am anxious to get to the library to borrow the sequels. And if they are not available, I may break my “no buying new books” rule I’ve had since I stopped working and make a trip to Barnes and Noble to get them.

I read this book in less than two days, picking it up every chance I got. After the first couple of chapters I said to my husband, “I’m not getting why Darek was so enthralled with a talking gorilla.” A couple of hours later my husband noticed that I’d finished more than half of the book. “I take it the gorilla stopped talking?” “Well…..”

It’s difficult to argue with the basic premise of this book. No doubt Darek knew I’d be drawn to it as a past employee and long-time advocate of Planned Parenthood. I see how it has shaped his current politics and the way he’s trying to live his life. More people should read it, that’s for sure.

My only disillusionment came this morning when I did some on-line research and found Daniel Quinn’s website. I realize that his book is a work of fiction, and yet it takes on a quality of “fiction that can change the world”. And in it he claims that prophets are not necessary, and yet his website is set up in such a way to make him appear to be – dare I say it? – a prophet. This takes away from the message of his book, just a tad, in my humble opinion. And that’s a shame.

Yet, I’m going to read more. And think more. Isn’t that what good books are supposed to make us do?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Day With the Youngest Granddaughter

Had an unexpected treat afternoon with Gwendolynn, seen here wide eyed and loving her world.

It's such a pleasure to see my son being a responsible dad. He is Mr. Mom during the week while Gwen's mom works and then lead guitar player in Ruination on the weekends. Life seems good for them. How could it not be with this little sweetheart around?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Great Acoustics + A Full House = Command Performance by Mark Zane and Friends

Part One: Burritt’s Café, Weedsport, NY

This charming café located at the corner of NYS Routes 34 and 31B serves the best seafood bisque this side of Doug’s Fish Fry. We met my cousins there for dinner and stayed to hear Mark Zane and Friends play. I’d invited my cousins to meet us there (they live in the Auburn area, we live in Syracuse) because we don’t see each other often and it was a convenient meeting place. They are a little older then we are, much more conservative politically, but we love them and I’d been missing them.

I wasn’t sure they’d take to Mark’s music and actually expected them to make an excuse to leave at some point during the gig. We had a front row seat. My cousins were soon singing along to the covers Mark played and listening closely to the lyrics of this originals. They were so tuned into him, one cousin leaned over after Mark played “Knuckleheaded Fool” (go to www.myspace/ to hear this song) and said to me “He looks so young! I can’t believe he’s been married three times!" I was glad that Mark then explained that he teaches sociology and his songs were not all autobiographical. My cousins each ended up buying a CD and asked me to keep them posted on future gigs Mark might have at Burritt’s. They particularly liked his cover of “House of the Rising Sun/Amazing Grace” and hope it finds its way onto his next CD. His originals made their way into their hearts, too. Later they told me they sang, “Is There a Banjo in Your House?” as they were driving home.

The café was standing room only by the end of the night. The sound system at Burritt’s is first class. The audience doesn’t miss a note. Steve Pederson’s bass rang clear and it was so nice to hear him. Steve adds such a delightful accompaniment to Mark’s guitar. Steve and Mark are perfecting their stage moves; my cousins were amazed that Mark and Steve didn’t trip over any wires as they were jumping and moving their guitars up and down in sync. We love the guitar ballet them perform! Paul Marconi and his harmonica added the perfect touch to many a song. Paul seems to get better and better each time we hear him play. Frankie Diamond jumped up there on stage with the boys, too, and played some very nice lead guitar. (If only Mary Snell hadn’t been sick and could have been there to sing a song or two.)

Before we knew it, the night was over and we were driving home, “Ruby” and “Bethlehem” and “Utica” playing still in our heads. No matter how many times we hear these songs, they always sound fresh, the message is still there, they entertain and make you think and stay strong. And the tunes are so catchy; you just have to keep on humming them!

Thanks, Mark and Friends, and the wonderful staff at Burritt’s café, for an evening to remember!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

When Good Employers Go Bad

I've seen in coming. In the name of change, no one was paying much attention to what was going to happen when something was questioned. If there's a relaxed, laid back atmosphere to a workplace, it can be a lovely thing. However, sometimes this causes responsibilities to get blurred.

The workplace I'm writing about has undergone a change in management. Basically, some "young guns" have assumed power after about a two year time period when the business appeared to run itself as its founder was ill and subsequently passed away. These youngsters, while successful in areas of the business they may have run, have very obviously never opened up a book on managing personnel.

One of the soundest pieces of advice I ever received was from my mentor, Frances Mercer, my Executive Director at Association for Retarded Children wayyyyy back when. She never, ever reacted to a complaint about staff until she had heard it three times from three separate sources. Even then, she would have a talk with the person the complaint was about before taking any action. This one piece of advice is directly responsible for any success I've ever had in the world of human resource management. It's a piece of advice I wish I could pass along to the young men trying to manage a workplace now who are reacting rather than managing situations, and perhaps not listening proactively.

No employee -- whether it's their first day on the job or their ten thousandanth day -- should ever be put in the position where they are blindsided by an employer regarding their job performance. That should only happen on episodes of Survivor. I would caution others who work for employers who do not consider coaching their employees a vital component of managing. Who wants to work any place where communication is not open, honest and effective? Sure it might be fun to have everything seem laid back, but not when it's your back's against the wall and someone else has put it there unfairly and no one has heard "the other side of the story".

And, trust me, there's always another side to the story. Often, it's the side you haven't heard yet that holds the largest amount of truth. If the "young guns" trying to run this company don't learn this soon, they aren't going to have much of a company left to run. Once good employees leave because they aren't treated fairly, word gets out. It's a smaller world than we think. There are some egos that need to be reined in here. Before it's too late.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Tuesday at Sugarpearl

I write better while listening to music. As I write this, I'm sipping tea at Sugarpearl Espresso Bar and Lounge, located at the corner of Burnet and Crouse in Syracuse, NY. It's been a lovely addition to my neighborhood.

While sipping my tea I am absolutely enjoying listening to my friend Melissa Clarke's cover of James Taylor's "Steamroller Blues. It's making my toes tap. She knows how to work the guitar, that's for sure! It's one of my favorite blues tunes, when done right, and she's doing it right.

So -- you might ask -- isn't this a distraction, to be listening to live music and writing at the same time? Oh, yeah, definitely sometimes. But in a good way. Usually I can still find my words and scribble away. I've written the first two stanzas of a new poem before turning to this blog post while listening to Melissa. I listen to CDs at home while writing, why not live music? It inspires me in an entirely different way.

I once wrote an entire poem beginning to end while listening to the Barrigar Brothers play at the Red and White Cafe in DeRuyter last summer. I enjoyed them tremendously, although they cast me curious glances throughout the evening. I like the poem I wrote, hardly edited it at all.

Mark Zane has often found me scribbling in my notebook while watching him perform. I think singer-songwriters in particular understand: when the muse arrives, we open our arms to her, wherever we might be. Mark has even written a song about this called "Is There a Banjo in Your House?" Hopefully it will appear on his next CD. It is about the odd times that inspiration strikes us.

I find inspiration in the rhyme schemes of others, in subjects they've been drawn to write about, in the magic woven between their lines.

And so I'm loving this Tuesday lunch hour at Sugarpearl. Melissa has been singing some Beatle songs, a lovely, haunting version of Mary Chapin Carpenter's 9/11 song "Grand Central Station, some Leonard Cohen, Lucinda Williams and John Prine covers as well as her outstanding originals: "Spirit of America", "What's In Me" and "Women at Work" (and I apologize for probably getting the titles wrong.) I loved one she wrote about her mother-in-law who is suffering from dementia, which takes on the tone of a modern day love song; its lyrics pull you in, take you into the pain of such a relationship, and the joy.

What a delightful treat this was for me today, in addition to the sun shining for the second day in a row. I could nod my head and believe it when Melissa sang, "Here comes the, do, do, do."

I'll be back another Tuesday...even if it may mean skipping my writing group. Thanks, Melissa!
And thanks Phyllis and Deb for providing lunch time music for the neighborhood.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Stay Tuned....I'm Not Done Yet

Changed my mind. Rethinking the finding another job....for a number of reasons. It seemed I had what might have been the perfect gig for me, part-time where I could make my own hours in a small, non-profit environment, but the woman who had the job decided not to leave it. Oh well. I can keep my eye out for other opportunities.

So....I'll continue to write.

And I've lots to say. Mark Zane has been playing some awesome concerts at Burritts Cafe in Weedsport and last night at Onatsvia Church. We had the pleasure of seeing John Prine recently in Ithaca. I've been wandering down to Sugarpearl to hear Joanne Perry sing and Melissa Clarke starts singing there next week....and I'll be reading poetry at their Open Mic next week.

I'm too tired from a wonder night at Onatavia last night...have to check the spelling on that before I do another post on it. It's a wonderful venue. I said it before when we were blessed to see Donna Colton play there last summer. First Fridays....go if you get a chance. I'll post directions when I write about last night another time.

Just wanted you to know I'm back.