Thursday, June 26, 2008

Front Porch Pickin' Session

Ahhh, summer! Last night, Alison, Oscar, and I got together with good friends and had an old-fashioned jam-slash-hang-out party on our front porch (see pic!). When Maria and Carol arrived, the sheep on the lawn baa-ed their welcomes, and Carol immediately whipped out her guitar to play them a "hello-sheep" song. Their only response was to continue to eat their grass, which I'm pretty sure means they appreciated the music -- and the gesture.

We munched on chips, homemade guacemole (secret ingredient -- freshly squeezed lemon juice), salsa, Vermont sweet apple sausages, and local strawberries (grown and picked in Essex, Vermont), drank some wine (the cheap stuff... and boy was it good), sang, and played our guitars.

The sun settled behind the hill in front of our house, and the mosquitos -- although the porch is enclosed -- still somehow managed to get inside. We played until fireflies lit up our front yard like the strip in Las Vegas. We didn't sing and play as much as some jam sessions we've had, but it felt good to just hang out and chit-chat about families, running, wedding planning, and summer for awhile. We still played a couple of standards and figured out a couple new ones too (Alabama's Dixieland Delight and Kermit the Frog's Rainbow Connection).

What felt really good, I'd say, is the connection friends can make at a front porch pickin' sesh on a warm Vermont evening. Ah, summer!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Week of Writing

It's been a week since my last post, and you are probably saying, what's up? Why hasn't he been writing? Oh, I have been writing. I spent the last six days attending a workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It's a great place to work on your writing. First off, the Work Center -- or "Fock" as I called it, as that's how you would pronounce F.A.W.C. (which, I suppose makes all the attendees "Fockers") -- had five or six workshops going on simultaneously -- two fiction, one poetry, one painting, and one printing -- so that meant you were surrounded by about fifty Fockers creating stuff. The faculty was incredible -- best-selling author Pam Houston, fiction writer, novelist, and journalist Matt Klam (my workshop's leader), and former United States poet laureate Maxine Kumin. My week started the day before the workshop, when Dorothy, the head Focker, called and asked if I would give Maxine a ride to the Cape(apparently her husband had a health issue). If you are wondering what a laureate in her eighties talks about, we listened to the Red Sox game and talked about writing. About what you'd expect.

My group had seven people -- mostly unpublished, but all highly skilled writers. We workshopped our pieces and did some writing. We laughed about our eighth participant, Georgia Davis who had paid in full, but never showed. We finally decided to make our assignment on the last night a piece about Georgia. We went to work there in Provincetown -- a place where everything is upside-down -- surrounded by writers, after reading night, when all the Fockers shared their work up at the podium in the Kunitz Lounge. It was amazing what people came up with. Georgia was a hot surfer, a middle-age wife living a double life. She was deathly afraid of flying, and she was listening in on our group with a bug she placed in our studio that was tuned into her Iphone.

One guy in the group didn't do any writing on Georgia, but he took it one step further. Into our class walked a short-haired woman. She looked twice at the door, seemed confused about something, then apologized for being late. Matt the teacher looked at her in disbelief; we all did. Was it Georgia? She was, until she and the guy couldn't keep straight faces anymore. She was a fake.

That's what I've been doing all week.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


These are good times if you are a self-taught musician. Take me, for example. I hear a song I like on the radio -- or someone tells me about a song I should play. All I have to do is "google" it, and I'll easily find the chords and lyrics. It's actually too bad I wasn't better, because more often than not, I also find guitar tablature that's way above my ability. Anyway, I take what I can use, print it out, and then teach myself the new song.

I've been hearing a new song on the country radio station -- "15 Minutes" by a somewhat local country singer named Jamie Lee Thurston. Not to digress, but I feel I should mention that three years ago, I not only hated country, but swore I'd never listen to it. These days -- and I'm not sure how it happened -- I am a country music addict. Not to digress further, Jamie Lee's song, incidentally, is about how last night he decided to quit all of his vices -- smoking, women, and drinking and how " was the worst 15 minutes" of his life. Apparently Jamie Lee is just on the verge of making the big-time, but he's not quite there yet. How do I know this? Because when you google his song or him, you get some hits, but no information.

How am I going to learn his song? I asked myself. I've only heard it like twice, so I don't even know the words. I decided that the first step was to call the radio station so, at least, I could hear it again. Knowing I was going to be in my car for an hour, I called the radio and asked the DJ if he would play my song. He said, no, that the entire playlist was locked in for the rest of the afternoon, but there was a request program later that evening, and I could try back then. Suddenly my phone beeped and flashed. "No Service Area." I lost him.

The next morning, no closer to learning the song, I thought of that DJ. I felt a little badly because I bet he thought I hung up on him. I decided to set the record straight. "I'm the guy who called yesterday to request a Jamie Lee Thurston song," I said when he answered. I explained how I had hung up on him, but that I really hadn't hung up; I had just lost cell coverage. I told him I listened to his program all the time and I wanted him to know I understood that they can't always play requests. He said that sometimes callers do get really angry, and he thanked me and we hung up. I never even requested my song.

Two songs later, he put on "15 minutes." At the song's end, he came back on the airwaves and, although he did not reference our conversation, his voice was more vivid and lively. I felt good -- and I heard the song I wanted to hear. So last piece: how am I going to learn that song? I think what I'll do is go down to the music store and buy Jamie Lee's CD. He's on the verge of making it, I hear he's a hard-working, local guy... and I bet another CD sale wouldn't hurt him at all.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Summer Hits Vermont

92 degrees. That's what our outdoor thermometer says. In some places, 92 doesn't really phase people, but here in northern Vermont, it really affects us. We get slow -- really slow. And we don't function at our normal levels. It's like we're all taking downers. We're tired, but people don't want to take naps because it's so sticky and uncomfortable. 92 really hits us hard around here.

So what do we do to survive. Two words. "Find Water." I happen to be lucky; my family has a cottage in the Lake Champlain Islands right on the broad lake. And when it gets hot like this, there is no better place to be. Along the water, it feels ten degrees cooler, especially when the wind blows like it did today. Oscar made a bee-line for the water, and spent the better part of the afternoon in the water. The water is still icy -- although it's June -- so we got the canoe out. Oscar took his first canoe ride and didn't find it very relaxing. He wouldn't lay down or move; he half-stood, half-sat between my feet the whole time. Alison swam, wearing a wetsuit on everything but her feet, and reported numbness there after about ten minutes. It looked refreshing though.

Back in Richmond, our house is surrounded on three sides by trees and, for the most part, stays in the shade. All windows are closed and curtains drawn. Luckily, it stays pretty cool in here. It's hot, and we're not used to it, but we are doing our best to find water, drink water, and stay cool.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Getting in Shape

Every year as ski season winds down (this event isn’t happening as I write – as much as I sometimes do hope for endless winter!), I have to get back into the habit of running. It hurts, let me tell you. Even though I wouldn’t exactly say that I sit on a couch all winter – I’m out there downhill skiing, backcountry skiing, playing hockey, rock climbing at the gym – getting in the running “habit” is every bit as difficult as getting back in running “shape.”

Ski season generally ends around mid-April, and I can say that now – early June – I am finally in the running habit. I started going out once or twice a week in late March, got out four or five times a week in April, ran a marathon in May, recovered, and now most days I get up feeling mentally and physically prepared for a run that I know I must complete sometime that day. It’s a good mindset!

The same goes for writing. Writing, when you get down to it, is no different than running. It exercises muscles that – after periods of atrophy – need to be worked out a little bit. This spring I have been pitching magazines, writing stories, and doing a daily “10-minute writing drill.” I am also into the second week of an internship at EatingWell magazine (like running, it certainly helps to surround oneself with a bunch of people who eat, think, and do writing all day long!), and I’m getting ready to go to a week-long writers’ workshop on Cape Cod later this month. And, I am happy to report that – different than my running muscles – the writing muscles feel mostly worked out and limber as of June 6th. If only the running came as easily!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Two days ago, Alison and I took Oscar our 18-month-old yellow lab for a run on the Burlington Bike Path. I should qualify that statement: Alison and I were running. For Oscar, our running pace is nothing too strenuous -- a brisk walk, or at best, maybe a trot.

I think he enjoys our runs. He smiles, stays right with us, and gets excited whenever he sees us pull out our running shoes. But what he really loves is running -- full-speed, honest-to-goodness, dog-running.

For example, 3.5 miles into our bike path jog, we came to the Starr Farm dog park. Dog parks, as far as I'm concerned, are miracles, because they promote so many positives. Anyway, we decided to take a little break to let Oscar visit with some of the dogs within the fence of the park. So with our dog straining at his leash in excitement, we opened the gate, stepped inside, and let him go.

Full tilt, slobber flying on both sides, and tufts of grass and dirt flying into the air with each of his thundering bounds, Oscar charged three-quarters of the way across the park to where a group about four dogs were standing. Three of the other dogs froze -- mesmorized by the 70-pound yellow flash hurtling towards them like a meteorite. The fourth dog, a smallish light-brown terrier, bounded into action. It charged away, with Oscar in hot pursuit -- one lap, two laps, three laps, four laps...

And I am talking about full speed. They finally came to a stop, panted for a second or two, then launched towards each other, wrestling and playing until they separated and went into chase-mode again, full speed, in circles, changing directions, from one side to the other -- all around the park.

Oscar hopped, skipped, laughed, smiled, and jumped the whole time he was in the park. Exuberant. This is living, he seemed to be saying. He re-joined us for the rest of our run after five or ten minutes in the dog park. He breathed a little more heavily after his high-speed tempo workout, but I know he could have gone longer. If it's fun, Oscar has energy reserves. Although he let his tongue hang out of the side of his mouth on the way back, I wasn't fooled. He would have run all day if we had let him.