August 29, 2013

Music for Many: Gentlemen of the Road

Last weekend, I (along with 30,000 others) went to Simcoe for a music festival. Yes, thirty thousand.

It was fantastic. I have a lot of thoughts that are not-quite-music-related, and I will likely (possibly) write another post about those.

But first, I'd like to talk music! The Gentlemen of the Road tour headliners were, of course, fantastic. Edwarde Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros put on a trippy hobo show. I can't help but think their lead singer would have been an itinerant back-country revival preacher in the 1920's. Mumford and Sons brought the proverbial house down. I assume you've all seen or heard some of their songs, so there's no need to post any here.

I would, however, like to introduce you to a couple of bands you may not know.

First, it is important to note that there is a difference between country music and bluegrass music. If you've got a hate-on for country, I would plead with you to give bluegrass a chance. Maybe start by watching O Brother, Where Art Thou.

And then you should take a listen to Old Crow Medicine Show, who put on a lively romp of a show:

If you're still uninterested in these fast-singing, quick-fingered souls, then my other recommendation is Bear's Den.

One of two British bands I discovered late last year and am a bit smitten with (the other is Bastille*), Bear's Den is just the right combination of intensely poignant lyrics and fantastic musicianship. This was the only performance I voluntarily stood for, and even moved forward in the crowd. This was their first ever gig in Canada, and I'm not even sure if they have a full-length album yet! So get on board while they're still relatively obscure ;)

Take a listen:

I just. can't.

My heart breaks a little every time, in that aching way that also makes me feel more alive.

*I also need to link to this video - this song + the British Museum + bodily percussion = amazing.

August 22, 2013

An "Alive List": Email Excerpts

I've got more email excerpts for you.

This may become a series! Ok, this is totally an informal series. If you want to email me and have a profound conversation*, maybe I'll ask if I can post a piece of it here, to bring others into the dialogue.

Here's the set-up:
I was alarmed to realize today that I don't know what really makes me come alive. I need to think on this more, because there must be a number of things, and I should be doing those things, but I feel like I'm not really doing much that I get excited about.... Some days I'll just feel inspired to do stuff, and on those days it feels like everything is what I was made to do: cycling, dishes, work, conversation, cooking, art, hiking, improv, anything. But I wish I knew more clearly what makes my heart come alive... do you know for yourself? Do you ever get into this with your SD**? Does this question seem important to you? I'm thinking about it a lot at this moment, so it feels very important to me.

And my response:  
Your questions are very much like the ones that I discuss with my SD. This question of what makes you come alive is so good. So big. A good one. A doozy.

I have thought about it a lot, and I have a short list (that I'm sure will shift with time). Partly, this came out of a book I read called Courage and Calling by Gordon T Smith. I highly recommend it.... I'm also reading a book right now called An Altar in this World, and there is a quote that I thought of when I read your thoughts on feeling like ALL THE THINGS ARE RIGHT AND GOOD (that is how I internalized this line of your email: "Some days I'll just feel inspired to do stuff, and on those days it feels like everything is what I was made to do: cycling, dishes, work, conversation, cooking, art, hiking, improv, anything.") 
My alive-list. Can I share it? I know it will be very different from yours, but maybe reading it will prompt a thought/idea/framework in your mind that will help you sort through your own self.
  1. Reading or writing something that is true & beautiful. There is a sensation of being struck that I KNOW. It is that awareness of being alive, a person of feelings and thoughts, and having them keenly activated. (I shared a piece on my blog recently that makes me feel this.)
  2. Art/photography that captures the world in a certain way. The kind of art I want to grab off a wall and hug (or sometimes throw violently onto the ground because it is sad and heavy).
  3. Conversations like this. The moments when there's no bs or need to present some front, and existential truths and struggles are out in the open to unpack in a gentle fashion.
  4. Walking in the woods/watching the sunset/listening to crickets. Being in silence, realizing it isn't silence at all, but that I'm wandering through living breathing spaces. The sense of awe that comes from the fact that other things are ALIVE and all around me.
  5.  Holding a sleeping child. (there is nothing more to say on that.)

What about YOU? What's your alive-list? And, a more difficult follow-up question I'd love to blog about another time: how do you incorporate that into how you live your life?

*I really like emails and snail-mails, and they don't need to be profound, if you don't want to. If you're reading this blog, you're always welcome to send me a note. 99% chance I'll respond, 1% chance I'll find you creepy.

**SD = spiritual director. The answer is yes, we do talk about this and so much more. I have been mulling over a blog post (or seven) on meeting with her for months now. I should get on that.

August 19, 2013

3 Hippie Habits I've Recently Adopted

This will come as no surprise to many of you; I'm slowly turning into a hippie.

I don't often blog about these things, because who wants to hear about my personal hygiene and cleanliness strategies? Also, when I read other posts about amazing DIY projects, I roll my eyes and scoff - nothing I make looks that pretty!

BUT, when I find something fantastic, I like to tell my friends. And I believe in living simply, minimizing processed/strange/chemical goods in my life, and saving money. SO. Read on, if you like, or skip over, if you prefer.


Last year, there was my natural-hair-care experiment. While I didn't stick to an all-natural, home-made products after it was over, I have made significant shifts. For one, I only wash (shampoo) my hair every 5-7 days (every 3 showers). On other shower-days, I "co-wash" - mix a small amount of baking soda with my conditioner, work it into my scalp, and rinse well. I also use a leave-in conditioner, and hardly use gel (although I may start that up again in the winter). Also, I'm making a conscious effort to purchase plant-based, natural & simple products. I just purchased handmade castor oil based shampoo/soap and am going to try that out this week...will keep you posted (if you let me know you want to hear).

This summer I've made two more shifts. Both I was a bit skeptical of, but willing to try, and definitely impressed.


Back in the winter, I saw a post on Facebook about someone's homemade deodorant. I rolled my eyes at their hippie-dom, until I noticed that not one but two husbands admitted in the comments that they also use this homemade deodorant, and that it is the best deodorant they've ever had.

Well. If farm boys were publicly admitting to and advocating for this hippie recipe, I supposed I could give it a chance...and I was running low on deodorant. So I asked for the instructions:

Try starting with 1/4 cup of either cornstarch or arrowroot flour and add in 1/4 baking soda. Then add in coconut oil until it's deodorant consistency, probably 6-8 tbls.
So simple. So easy. I switched over on June 1, and I haven't once looked back. I've even recruited a convert or two... 

I play soccer and ultimate frisbee every week, and bike to work most days. I apply this deodorant as frequently as I did the expensive-mysterious-ingredients kind, which is usually twice a day. No one has complained/noticed any change in my smell (and I've asked honest friends). And if you don't want a simply neutral (very subtly coconut) scent, you can add essential oils.
This is the artsiest I can make my tiny Tupperware of deodorant look. Oooooh!
The best part? I made a half-batch, and it is still going strong. Costs pennies! Works like a charm! Is magic! Ok, not quite. There are two tiny things to be aware of, if you're intrigued by this idea. But they really are tiny.
  1. In the heat of summer (at the side of a sports field), this deodorant does melt & separate. I stir it with my finger to bring it all back together, and try to keep it out of the direct sun. Consider storing it in a jar or other container that seals well.
  2. If you choose not to re-use an old deodorant stick container, you probably will have to apply it with your fingers. (you only need a small amount, less than a dime) This may bother some people. Me, I like the smell of coconut oil on my hand.

Last month, I was running low on laundry detergent*, and started to research natural detergents/non-detergent laundry options. My brother made his own detergent in the winter (and he's the least hippie person I know!), but it seemed like too much work for me to find all those ingredients...

Then, at our neighbourhood street festival, I came across a vendor selling soap nuts. I'd heard of this somewhere along the line - a berry that acts a natural cleanser. The price was right, and the need was high. So I picked up a bag of berries, and have been popping a small cloth pouch of 4 berries into each load of laundry. Based on the cost of the bag ($10) and the # of loads per berry-batch (4 berries, 4 loads), and my rate of laundry (1 load/wk) I expect this bag will last me close to a year. AMAZING.

And my clothes are just as clean, just as soft - possibly softer - without any dryer sheets, chemicals, or complicated recipes.

Folks, I'm a content lady with these small shifts. I expect more will follow. And if that makes me a hippie, ok. I will wear that label and feel clean, healthy, and happy.

*ok, total lie. I'd run out of detergent and used Karen's for at least two loads...

August 16, 2013

Endangered Species: Anthem for the Day/Week/Month/Year

Can't get enough of this song:
I am an endangered species 
But I sing no victim's song 
I am a woman 
I am an artist 
And I know where my voice belongs

(First heard on So You Think You Can Dance; I adore Jasmine.)

August 10, 2013

Cycling in Toronto: That Girl

I have been a grown-up urban cyclist for almost a month (maybe more?). I'm amazed at how easily I've fallen into it, how quickly I've become THAT GIRL.

  • that girl with chain grease on at least one (if not both) shins at all times. How will my wardrobe survive in the fall??
  • that girl ringing her bell loudly as she passes a recently parked car.
  • that girl on the sidewalk going up the big big hills.
  • that girl in the clunky helmet because WHO CARES ABOUT FASHION.
  • that girl occasionally sneaking the wrong way up a one way street.
  • that girl madly peddling to make it through a yellow light.
  • that girl with the pannier full of vegetables from the farmer's market.
  • that girl carrying a bag of groceries precariously over her shoulder.
  • that girl who wears her helmet in the grocery store because I'm not an octopus with enough hands for everything.
  • that girl whose butt is constantly slightly sore, whose quads cramp occasionally from this new repetitive exercise.
  • that girl cycling in a skirt, showing off her thighs and hopefully nothing more.
  • that girl who arrives at work slightly sweaty and with a bad case of helmet-hair.
  • that girl on the sidewalk putting her chain back on, tightening her brakes, covering herself in grease.
  • that girl rapping & laughing with a friend as they cycle through the night-time streets. (no joke. more to come on this story.)
That's me.

When my friend gave me this bike, he also gave me two pieces of advice that I'm doing my best to follow:

"Ride like you belong. And be predictable."

No traffic-weaving for me, no curb-hugging, and no danger-inducing quick moves. Predictable, steady, confident cycling is where it's at.

August 5, 2013

Reading in 2013: The Sacred Journey, Sinners Welcome, Time and Materials & MORE!

I'm reading faster than I'm writing these days, so here is a snapshot of May-July's books:

The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner. A fantastic spiritual memoir that my friend Aimee lent me back in October. I delayed reading it, because I knew I wouldn't want to finish it. Then I read it slowly and in pieces, and I loved it. Here are my 3 favourite excerpts:
 Listen. Your life is happening. You are happening. You, the rooster, the clock, the workmen, your stomach, are all happening together. A journey, years long, has brought each of you through thick and thin to this moment in time as mine has also brought me. Think back on that journey. Listen back to the sounds and sweet airs of your journey that give delight and hurt not and to those that give no delight at all and hurt like Hell. Be not affeard. The music of your life is subtle and elusive and like no other - not a song with words, but a song without words - a singing, clattering music to gladden the heart or turn the heart to stone, to hanut you perhaps with echoes of a vaster, farther music of which it is part. 
Nor is it only the joy of God and the comfort of God that come at unforeseen times. God's coming is always unforeseen, I think, and the reason, if i had to guess, is that if he gave us anything much in the way of advance warning more often than not we would have made ourselves scarce long before he got there. 
I knew that with words I could make at least some kind of bridge across the vast distance that separates the inner solitude of each of us from the inner solitude of everyone else. 

Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr. A random library find, I enjoyed this book of poetry - covered topics of faith, love & relationships, and motherhood. My favourite part was the closing essay on her mid-life conversion to Catholicism, as I'm always super-fascinated to hear people's stories. If ever I am to study literature in the States, I would like to study under her.

Time and Materials by Robert Hass. Another library poetry find - to be honest, I don't recall anything specific about this collection, although I did purchase another anthology by the author since then, so I must have enjoyed it somewhat. He has ties to Mary Karr and Czeslaw Milosz and Tomas Transtromer, which predisposes me highly towards liking him and his work. We'll see how I feel after The Apple Trees at Olema.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Completely different train here. Non-fiction story of an African-American woman whose DNA was taken and used, without her knowledge, in countless medical studies and cures and has become one of the most widely used human DNA strains. This tells the story of her family, particularly the daughter who was only 4 when she died of cancer, talks of the ethics of medical science and studies, and illuminates the reality of racism and treatment of African Americans in the mid-to-late 20th century. Highly recommended.

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. First read for the book club I just joined. A light summer read, interesting for what it taught me of the Greek classics. (I supplemented this learning with a series of Wikipedia pages on the main characters/original plots). Predictable in most ways, not particularly profound, but it was nice to read something easy.

Say You're One of Them  by Uwe Akpam. A collection of fictitious short stories told from the perspective of African children. Upsetting and tragic, but sharply told and more than plausible. I felt distressed and disturbed, but that is, I believe, an appropriate response to the atrocities and dangers facing many young people today. Written by a Franciscan priest, it is clear that his compassionate perspective is not one of naivete. Highly recommended with the caveat that it will unsettle you. 

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor. I finished this one last Sunday, as I lay in my hammock. I had tears in my eyes, and spent a little time with Jesus, processing what it is that I fear and what it is that I'm grateful for as I plan my career and navigate shifts in my faith. Barbara's memoir of the move from a busy Atlanta church to a quiet pastoral community in Georgia and then leaving church ministry to teach at a community college resonated with me on many, many levels. Our stories are different, but not entirely. Grateful for my new friend Trischa, who recommended this one. Wondering when and how I can find myself a place to live outside of any city limits.