Mama Can’t Rap

{In response to the Daily Prompt: Papa Loves Mambo}

The Point album coverMy early obsession with classic rock and roll, my soft spot for the singer-songwriter, and my appreciation of quirky fun all trace back to my earliest musical memories.

My mom loved Elvis, and I still appreciate the early days of rock and roll. Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and the King himself all take me back to my parents’ turntable. As my own tastes developed, these influences led me to the Yardbirds, the Animals, the Rolling Stones, and, my teenage favorite, Led Zeppelin.

My dad in particular loved some singer-songwriters. We used to drive down to the shore almost every day one summer, an hour each way, to go fishing off a particular bridge. My dad had a peculiar habit with the audio cassette of the Simon & Garfunkel album Bridge Over Troubled Water. He loved the first three songs so much that he would play them while my little brother and I belted out the lyrics, and then, he would rewind the cassette and play those three again. And again. And again.

I now know “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “El Condor Pasa (if I Could),” and “Cecilia” like the back of my hand, and it’s always summer for a least a moment whenever I hear one of them. It turns out there were some great songs on the other side — “The Boxer” and “The Only Living Boy in New York” — but I never knew it as a kid.

I still love plenty of singer-songwriters. An early favorite was James Taylor, and lately I’ve been into M. Ward, Brett Dennen, and Andrew Bird, to name a few.

Finally, I remember my parents also being into various quirky recordings, and that’s come along with me as well. My parents would play the Nilsson album The Point, a story album about a kid who is ostracized for being the only person in his community without a point on top of his head, until the twist at the end of the album. I have forgotten a lot of the story, but I still remember my dad mimicking the line “You got a point there!” whenever one of the kids would make a good point about something.

I still love songs that strike me as funny or quirky. My latest obsession (a year or two later than everyone else) is “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore. It makes me laugh, and I find it inventive, although at least part of the fun is getting to mortify my teenage boys with my awful attempts at rapping.

Hopefully, I’m passing on a fine tradition of parents influencing their children’s musical tastes.

What music do you remember your parents playing?

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Sunflowers (Weekly Photo Challenge: Perspective)

Today, I photographed the third sunflower that’s bloomed in my basement this long, cold, lonely winter.

third basement sunflower

It’s a little burst of summer sunshine that I thought was perfect for the weekly photo challenge theme of “perspective.” Despite its beauty, a different perspective of my basement sunflowers is pretty grim with the harsh grow light, the furnace, the cluttered space, and the dying plants that have already bloomed.

basement sunflowers with grow light

If you don’t like the view, change it.

I wrote about growing these sunflowers in my basement in this post: New life amid the polar vortex

It was one of my challenges to complete 101 things in 1001 days.

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If My Life Had a Soundtrack

This week’s Twisted Mixtape theme is “if my life had a soundtrack.” Well, it turns out my life does have a soundtrack, as long as you take a stroll with me through my YouTube channel. I hope it’s not too self-indulgent to feature some of my own videos that I set to beloved rock songs.

1. “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead

A few months ago, I completed my challenge to do 101 things in 1001 days, and I am still feeling the effects of these things rippling through my life. This video shows all 101 of them, in a mix of short videos and one-second photos. To quote another Dead song, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

2. “Hotel Yorba” by the White Stripes

I love this quick paced, joyous song, so I paired it with the hundreds of photos I took in June to document a month of my life, one of the tasks of 101 things in 1001 days. (Read about the challenge: A Month in the Life)

3. “Watching the Wheels” by John Lennon

I chose this one for its lyrics when I turned round and round, speeding down a hill, in my first and only zorbing ride. (Read about the challenge: Zorbing: A Gigantic Hamster Ball and the Meaning of Life)

4. “Marrakesh Express” by Crosby, Stills and Nash

This classic rock song is embedded so deep in my psyche that for all I know it’s one of the reasons I decided to go to Morocco in the first place. (Related post: Fried Chicken on the Marrakesh Express)

5. “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles

I featured this song recently in a short video slideshow when I had a sunflower bloom in my basement in the dead of winter. It was such an uplifting experience to see that gorgeous flower, and this song always lifts me up too! (Read about the challenge: New life amid the polar vortex)

Bonus. “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys

It’s a stretch to say this song is one of my favorites, but it does cheer up a room in an instant. I chose it for my video on juggling behind a bar because it came from the movie Cocktail (with juggling bartenders), and How I Met Your Mother featured it that way too. (Read about the challenge: Bar Juggling Scene)

My Skewed View

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When winter gives you lemons…

Homemade limoncello collage

When winter gives you lemons … make limoncello!

Tart and sweet, crisp and cold, limoncello is a delightful after-dinner drink, and it turns out it’s easy to make at home.

I just finished my second batch; my first try was delicious too, but I liked this batch even better, less sweet and a little stronger.

grain alcohol and lemons

To make limoncello, I first peeled eight lemons.

peeled and cut lemons

You just use the zest in the limoncello. I squeezed the leftover lemons for a batch of homemade lemonade.

squeezed lemons and lemon juice

Add the zest to grain alcohol or vodka, and let the mixture steep in a cool, dark place for at least a week.

grain alcohol and lemon peels in canning jars

Strain the mixture, and discard the zest.

Add simple syrup. It will turn cloudy as you pour it in. Here is the limoncello recipe I used, but be sure to adjust the amount of sugar to your taste, and add the simple syrup a little at a time.

Chill in the freezer for several hours.


homemade limoncello

I love trying to make simple things from scratch. Some other homemade delights:

What do you like to make from scratch?

Beyond 101 things Beyond 101 Things

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Guilty pleasures, musically

This week’s theme for Twisted Mixtape is “guilty pleasures.”

1. “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees

By the time I reached high school, I had firmly placed myself on the rock side of the rock vs. disco schism that divided us all. I had a secret disco past, though. Although I can’t dance, my one disco claim to fame was somehow earning second place at a Sunday night juice party when the local disco allowed its mirrored ball to flash on kids from junior high. A dorky boy and I, a dorky girl, went through the choreographed routine we had learned at our disco lessons. Now, when I hear this song all these years later, I know how cheesy it is, but I still smile widely at how much I love it. I’m staying alive. Just don’t tell the Class of ’83.

2. “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass

I actually don’t feel guilty about this one. I love it, but my husband always groans when it comes on. Could it actually be a bad song, and I don’t know it? I don’t think so, but my husband and I are usually quite in synch. The man does like “Black Coffee in Bed,” though, so we can’t give him too much credence.

3. “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins

I love to hate Phil Collins. I just can’t stand him, and there were those years when he was even infecting my beloved Eric Clapton. But yeah, yeah, yeah, this is an okay song.

4. “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

I initially rejected this song when my kids played it for me by calling it “noisy.” Yes, I am oftentimes musically stuck in the 1970s. A few weeks later, I played it for my kids, saying I liked it, without remembering that I had called it noisy. Yes, they are still teasing me about that one.

5. “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent

The man’s a gun nut, but I’ve always liked this song. Do you feel conflicted when you like an artist whose character you dislike? I’m a big Woody Allen fan, so this conflict rears its head pretty frequently in my universe.

Check out some more guilty pleasures at Twisted Mixtape.

Related post: The Most Metamorphic Six-Year Stretch in Rock

My Skewed View
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A landslide brought me down

 wedding bouquetImage by Catherine (Creative Commons)

When I worked as a wedding videographer, this happiest day of a couple’s life could be filled with orchids and doves, but it could also show the worst in a person. Bridezillas exist, and they are even less attractive through the viewfinder of a video camera poised on your shoulder. And when the bride didn’t spring for you to have a soda from the bar during your 14-hour workday? She’s even uglier.

Tina and Drew paid for our premium package, into which we threw every bell and whistle we could think of, so we were making a “Love Story” video before the wedding ceremony. We shot them in a variety of deeply gazing scenes, over which we would lay audio of them talking about how much they loved each other. Tina was domineering and arrogant throughout the shoot, her right on her wedding day, but real problems started when it was time to get audio from Drew about how much he loved Tina. My husband Randy did the interview.

Randy: “What made you fall in love with Tina?”

Drew: “Well, you know, man. What are you gonna do?”

Randy: “But what made you realize Tina was special?”

Drew: “Well, she had a big rack and a fridge full of beer, so I figured what the hell.”

This was one of the more quotable exchanges, but it didn’t make it into their “Love Story” featurette and is published here for the first time.

So on this particular wedding day, when Tina told us to videotape her singing “Landslide” to her father, I braced myself for some insufferable schmaltz.

Tina’s father was very ill, and the thought of this oh-so-perfect bride using her dying father as a prop for an extra dose of the spotlight filled me with dread. I framed them in an intimate two-shot, though, and hit record.

“I took my love and I took it down
I climbed a mountain and I turned around”

After the first few lines, I realized this moment was not what I expected. Tina’s thin, pitchy voice whispered out the lines. She was terrified, and her voice cracked.

I slowly zoomed in. Through the viewfinder I saw her eyes fill with tears as she sang to her father.

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you”

The bride faltered, losing her way in the lyrics. The lead singer of the wedding band softly picked up the lyric and firmly carried Tina across. Tina got going again, tears streaming down her face with love for her father.

Tears streamed down my face as well.

“And if you see my reflection in the snow covered hills
Well the landslide will bring you down”

I will never hear that song again without thinking of Tina singing to her dying father. I’ve been guilty of ugly prejudgment since then, and I’m sure I will be again, but in that moment I realized the ugliest person is beautiful too, and the worst singer can sing the most beautiful song.


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101 things in 3 minutes

(Video link)

“Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again.”
–”Ripple” by the Grateful Dead

I still feel the effects of completing 101 things in 1001 days rippling through my life.

Got 3 minutes? I feature all the challenges from my list in this mix of photos and brief videos. I also updated my eBook to include all the challenges.

Timid No More ebook cover 150 Timid No More, on Amazon

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Wanted: Garbage-Eating Friends

chopping carrot

“A plague o’ both your houses! They have made worms’ meat of me.”
–Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet

I cut the nub off a carrot, and at the familiar thwack of my knife on the board, I thought again of my little departed friend.

“I miss Chewie,” I called to my husband in the other room.

My guinea pig would always squeak when I chopped vegetables because he knew some delicious scraps were coming his way.

For much of the year, I compost my vegetable scraps in my backyard, but in the winter I just throw them out. These treasures could be making black gold, but instead they’re just becoming garbage.

I have some new creatures on the way, though, to help me out in the basement. The benefits:

  1. I will have a new pet (actually many pets); while Chewie cannot be replaced, these new creatures will hopefully worm their way into my heart.
  2. I will have little critters to feed my vegetable scraps.
  3. Coffee grounds, egg shells, banana peels, tea bags, and newspaper: likewise.
  4. The black gold I glean will nourish my new basement herbs, also on the way (herbs of the basil and cilantro kind).
  5. I will add fresh herbs to my cooking repertoire, ‘cause don’t you hate buying a big bunch of parsley for the top of spaghetti, and throwing most of it away after it gets slimy in the fridge?
  6. I will get nutrient-rich water to use on my new plants.

All of this is to say, I’m excited that some new pets are headed to my house in a box. Have you figured out what they are?

Rhymes with Jed Jigglers. (Give up? Link)

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Motivational mixing

Every now and then, I get motivated to do some jogging, which I loathe. It’s no surprise that it’s usually in the spring, when it’s time to end my long months of hiding from the cold.

Before I think about anything physical, though, my first step is always the same. I pore through my music and make a new playlist, and only then am I ready for the C25K program. If you’ve never tried it, it really works. It alternates short segments of walking and jogging to take you from the couch to a 5K in nine weeks, or more if needed; there’s no rush.

The last time I tried it, though, I decided to leave the stopwatch at home and play a little musical roulette. I set my iPod on shuffle and jogged the length of one song, then walked the length of the next. Somewhere deep in my iPod, I had the ridiculous 17-minute-long “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Thankfully, that didn’t come up during an early jogging turn, or it would have been back to the couch for me.

Here are five great songs that are great to get you going.

1. “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by the 13th Floor Elevators

I first heard this song from the quintessential mixtape movie, High Fidelity. It’s impossible to walk to it if you find yourself out on the road in a pair of sneakers.

2. “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop

This song, featured in the opening scene of Trainspotting, can make even heroin addicts in Scotland inspirational: “Choose life.”

3. “Don’t Do It” by the Band

This song, by one of my favorite bands in one of my favorite movies, was the encore of their last show, but it opened the film “The Last Waltz.”

Rick Danko: “The object is to keep your balls on the table and knock everybody else’s off.”

That they did.

4. “When You Get Back” by Jon Cleary

Despite this song’s decidedly more laid back groove, it always gets me going. And I want to cha-cha all night long.

5. “Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring” by Traffic

Who knows what tomorrow may bring? We’d better get out there today.

Check out some more great motivational songs at Twisted Mixtape.

Related post: Sleepers: 10 more movies you’ve never seen, but should

My Skewed View
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Lost in Cuzco

Lost in Cuzco

During my first day in Peru last August, my mushy brain and I kept stumbling over simple questions. I had started at sea level 20 hours before, endured a cheap-flight marathon through five airports, and crashed in a hotel room at Cuzco’s oxygen-starved 11,000 feet. Altitude sickness mixed with jet lag: the greatest sleep aid known to man.

After resting most of the day, though, I felt up to a short stroll around the block to keep alive my streak of getting 10,000 steps a day.

I’m not known for my navigational abilities, and I joked to my husband before I stepped out on my own that if I take four lefts, I couldn’t possibly get lost, right?

First street, left. Second street, left. On the third street, a little half-street didn’t seem quite right, so I walked on before turning. After my final turn, nothing looked familiar, so I walked in the other direction.

I’m not known for my Spanish abilities either, but before I got hopelessly lost I decided to ask for directions.

I summoned up the courage to ask a street vendor, “¿Dónde está el Hotel Prisma?”

She scrunched up her face in confusion. My accent must have been way off.

“¿Dónde está el Hotel Prisma?” I repeated, louder.

She still looked confused. “¿Hotel Prisma?”

“Sí,” I said. Look at me, having a whole conversation in Spanish.

She pointed to the building behind me. She must want me to ask in there, I figured.

“Gracias,” I said and turned.

I crossed the threshold before I realized I was entering my own hotel.

It must have been the altitude.

Although exhausted, I waited until 6 p.m. before going to bed for the night. I set the hotel alarm for 8:30 and sunk into oblivion.

The alarm sounded, and I complained to my husband that it felt like I had hardly slept, that I could sleep on for hours.

“Ya think?” he said. His teasing-me smirk was all over his face, but I still didn’t get it. He pointed to the pitch-black night outside the window.

Ah, it was 8:30 p.m., not 8:30 a.m.

Like I said, the altitude.

I sank back into sleep with 12 hours stretched out before me. The hotel’s thin walls shared every conversation, barking dog, and slamming door. Still, I slept on, waking frequently and falling back to sleep.

When a shrieking woman woke me at 1 a.m., though, enough was enough. Was she fighting? Did she just get engaged? I couldn’t tell through the cobwebs of sleep.

I cracked the door open. “Miss,” I said into the darkness, “could you please try to keep it down?”

A man replied, “There’s a rat in our room.”



“Can I help?” I said.

“We called reception.”

“OK, sorry.”

I got back into bed and listened to the drama unfold for the next hour.

The woman occasionally let out more shrieks, followed by “Sorry, sorry.” I heard violent bangs and pictured the night clerk bashing at the rat with a broom handle.

Eventually, I drifted back to sleep, still interrupted by barking dogs and now the probably imagined scurrying of a terrified rat that had taken refuge in my room.

I slept on, dreaming of a place without rats, where four lefts are always right.

Related post: Hiking the Inca Trail

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