Friday, November 30, 2012

Happy Friday with Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel might be my favorite group. I say "might" only because it's hard to top the Beatles or Led Zepplin, but Simon and Garfunkel are right up there at the top alongside those two greats. I first truly discovered Simon and Garfunkel in High School, with a live greatest hits CD. I still can't hear certain songs of theirs without thinking that applause is supposed to immediately follow. And my favorite song of all time, "America," is by Simon and Garfunkel. One of the most fun moments of Cameron Crow's film Almost Famous happens when Zooey Deschanel's character is caught smuggling the Simon and Garfunkel Record Bookends, on which the song "America" was released, into their home. (The idea that anyone would need to smuggle this record, which includes, alongside the gentle musings of the title track and "America," Garfunkel's artistic recordings of elderly people talking about their lives, is hilarious in itself). Defending the music to her mother, who insists that all rock music is about "drugs and promiscuous sex," Zooey's character yells, "Simon and Garfunkel is poetry!" "Yes," her mother replies, "It's the poetry of drugs and promiscuous sex." The mother then points to Paul Simon's puppy dog eyes on the iconic cover and insists that he is high on pot.

I, of course, side with Zooey on this one: Paul Simon is a poet, and the music that he and Art Garfunkel made together was poetry of its own sort. That's why I'm so excited to be joining with other performers in tonight's Dallas does the Music of Simon and Garfunkel at Opening Bell Coffee. The show starts at 7:30, it's $5, and you get to hear some of the greatest music ever. Bonus: I get to play my favorite song of all time. Here's a clip from Almost Famous featuring "America" to get you in the mood:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Giving Thanks

This year, we had two Thanksgiving dinners. The first was with my family on Thanksgiving day. The pictures below do not begin to show you how much food we had -- I think we set a record.

After giving our bellies a rest for a day, it was off to Thanksgiving feast, number 2 with Adam's family. We forgot to put the memory card in our camera that day, so we were limited to pictures from other peoples' smart phones. Again, the photos don't do it justice:

What a display of harvest blessing! The food alone shows how much we have to be thankful for. I'm hoping this thankful attitude can carry me through the crazy/busy end of this semester.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Happy Black Friday

I'm enjoying the day off -- without going to the sales -- and I hope all of you are having a lovely Thanksgiving Holiday. I just wanted to remind you that the Dallas Does Simon and Garfunkel event will not be happening tonight. It was moved to next Friday, November 30th.

Here are some pictures of my parents' cats, Regina, Red, and Ringo. to make your holiday that much brighter:

More Thanksgiving pics to come. Right now, I'm enjoying cuddling with my own cats and decking our apartment out for Christmas.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

5 songs of thanks

This morning I'm thankful for a lot of things: that there's no school or work for me today, that I'm about to cook a whole lot of delicious oatmeal butterscotch cookies, and that Christmastime is upon us. And those are just the shallow things. Here are a few songs that express my thankfulness:

1. "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," a 17th century hymn that never fails to remind me of my reasons for thankfulness with lines like, "hast thou not seen how thy desires e'er have been granted in what He ordaineth?" and "Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee." This version, by Christy Nockels, is my favorite.

2. Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke," which reminds me of how grateful I am for the musical greats who have gone before: "Basie, Miller, Satchmo, And the king of all Sir Duke/ And with a voice like Ella's ringing out
There's no way the band can lose..." Plus, there's no better song to dance to.

3. Gungor's "You Are the Beauty," which praises God for gifts like "music," "flavors," "breath, and sex, and sight." The song then moves into a fantastic jam (this live version rocks) that displays just how much reason we have to be thankful for music.

4. Led Zeppelin's "Thank You." This super-romantic song is the perfect way to tell someone you love how much they mean, all while getting to rock-out as you tell them.

5. Bing Crosby singing "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)." This one reminds me of all my blessings, puts me in the Christmas spirit, and puts me to sleep. (I don't know whether or not that's a compliment, but it's true.) In college, the Sunday night after our big Christmas concert, the whole music department would gather in the choir room to watch White Christmas on a big screen with lots of hot cocoa and other goodies and, of course, lots of singing along. It's one of my favorite college memories -- and yet another thing for which I am very thankful.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Happy Friday Thanks

I am thankful:

For getting to wear jeans to work

For donuts, for Starbucks, for long lunches, for company parties that all seem so appropos that one day of the week

For date night, girls’ night, gig night

For getting off work or class early

For memories of Fridays past: for Urkel and Uncle Jesse and Corey and Topanga. For school dances. For the feeling that anything could happen on a Friday night.

For this one-man a capella medley of TGIF theme songs.

For the anticipation of sleeping in, having a leisurely brunch, watching chick flicks in pajamas on Saturday morning

For “permission” to rest

For all the excitement of a weekend before it has slipped away in as much of a busy flurry as the week -- on Friday we still feel the excitement, still believe a million projects can be accomplished, still believe in weekend magic.

For the feeling, once more, that we’ve accomplished something. Or, if we haven’t, that we get to leave this week behind and start over next week.

For all these reasons, I give thanks for Fridays.

And I hope yours is a very happy one.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Giving thanks for Coffee

It's November 13, so I'm 13 days late at jumping on the facebook bandwagon of posting something I'm thankful for each day of November. Instead, I'm going to dedicate my remaining November blog posts to the theme of giving thanks. Today is simple: I'm thankful for coffee and for my sweet husband who has been getting up earlier than me all semester to make it. In the fall, he spices the coffee with cinnamon, nutmeg, and sometimes ginger, putting the spices right in the coffee grounds before it's made, and it is the perfect way to wake up on a chilly morning like this one.

Coffee has been my fuel of choice since college. I like it unsweetened, with cream, or with a delicious flavored creamer (today it's pumpkin spice). My favorite everyday coffee is Chock full of nuts, which we buy in huge containers from Tom Thumb, the only place around here that carries it. My favorite special coffee is Lavazza Espresso, or if I'm in the mood for a really dark, smoky, kind-of chocolat-ey roast, Starbucks' Verona Blend. My favorite espresso beverage is a perfect Italian cappuccino, which is not easy to find with that just-right-balance of espresso, milk, and foam. I've had particularly good ones at Coffeehouse Cafe, Buon Giorno Coffee, and the Pearl Cup. I also have pretty good luck if I order a short cappuccino at Starbucks. It's not on the menu, but if you request it, they will make it, and it has the same amount of espresso as the tall, but a better milk-to-foam-to-espresso ratio. My favorite fancy Starbucks beverage is a raspberry mocha. If they ever discontinue the raspberry syrup I will be a sad girl.

I love coffeehouses, too. I've been enchanted with them since high school; I thought they were so cool -- meccas for intellectuals, students, journalers, and book worms. And musicians, of course. I couldn't wait to be the featured performer at a coffeehouse, playing gentle, folk-y music, passing the hat in the old-school, Bob Dylan style. Looking back on my almost 15 years playing music in coffeehouses, I've been welcomed by all sorts of local shops, and seen more closings of truly great coffee shops than I'd like to count. Some that stand out in my memory are three excellent Fort Worth Coffeehouses that are now no longer with us: four-star coffeebar, Eurotazza coffee, and Panther City Coffee. Eurotazza stands out for actually paying its musicians (no wonder they had to close :( ) But all these wonderful establishments paid in coffee, which, as I've already made clear, I love. I especially enjoyed Panther City because I would take home a pound of delicious, house-roasted coffee at the end of the gig and enjoy it for a couple more weeks.

So I'm thankful for coffee, and I'm even more thankful for the people who make it -- like my sweet husband, my local baristas, the deacon at church who gets the coffee going before anyone walks in, and my mom, whose coffee habit taught me to associate a good morning with the funny little sounds of a drip machine and the smell of coffee floating down the hall. Being thankful for coffee is more than being thankful for a shallow creature comfort; it's about being thankful for the people and experiences that go along with that morning, afternoon, and late-night-study-session beverage. If, like T.S. Eliot's Prufrock, I have "measured out my life in coffee spoons," I can also count up the deep and lively conversations, the Scrabble games, the open mic nights, the finished papers or projects, the late-night movie screenings, the early-morning church services, or the quiet afternoons reading a book or having a heart-to-heart that were enlivened or made possible by coffee.

So this Thanksgiving, I will give thanks for coffee -- by having it in my traditional Thanksgiving manner: poured over a giant scoop of homemade whipped cream, paired with some pumpkin pie, while catching up with family as the Cowboys play in the background. Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Happy Friday: 5 ways to combat writer's block

Writing a dissertation puts me in the position of dealing with writer's block way more than I'd like. Here are some things that help:

5. Work in a different medium

Sometimes when I'm stuck -- especially if I lack ideas about a topic -- it's helpful for me to do something creative with the material: write a song about it, make a collage, draw a picture, etc. I think doing this helps me see the material in a different way and forces me to make sense of the ideas in a very different context, which makes me hone in on what is most important about what I'm trying to say. It also helps me, if I'm working constantly on a computer, to do something physical -- write by hand or make an outline and then cut up the pieces and rearrange them -- or draw a giant timeline in dry-erase marker on a mirror, like I did last spring, when studying for exams:

4. Sleep

It sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but often, when I'm working on a big project and suddenly feel like I can't go on, a little nap (or a long one) will help tremendously. I'll usually wake up with the solution to whatever problem I had been trying to solve. Plus, it's better to be well-rested when writing anyway.

3. Make lists

I do this constantly -- on Google calendar, on random note cards, in my journal, on the back of any random scrap of paper that happens my way -- heck, I'm doing it right now. Lists help me brainstorm and organize and just get my thoughts out of my head and on paper (or on a computer screen). They help me to complete tasks, they help me to generate ideas, and they help me remember to do things like buy cat food or pay the electric bill or call a friend. Lists are my friend.

2. Free-write

This one sounds a little cliche, but it works like a charm. If you've never done a free-write before, here's what you do: set yourself a goal -- either a word goal or a time goal -- for how long you want to write, then, write as much as you can, as quickly as you can, on whatever topic you're trying to write more about. Don't stop, don't censor yourself, and don't worry about grammar, spelling, etc. -- just write. I am amazed at the things that somehow come out of my head when I do this. Two websites that are made just to facilitate this sort of thing, and which I have found useful are and, both of which have ways of helping you set and adhere to free-writing goals. 750 words encourages daily writing of -- you guessed it -- 750 words, and it works mostly through "rewards" of winning badges for meeting writing goals. Write or die works through "punishment" for not writing -- you set a word or a time goal on the site's writing application, and the program keeps you on track by playing a horrible noise after a certain amount of time spent not writing or, on more strict modes, by actually deleting your material.

And the number one way to fix writer's block:

1. Get a deadline!

I am never more productive than under a tight deadline. Likewise, I am least productive when I lack a tight deadline. The deadlines always win. "Get some self-control," you say; "be a grown-up," you say. The problem, of course, is that being a grown-up means meeting lots of deadlines: paying rent, going to the dentist regularly, getting to work on time, meeting other responsibilities. Sure, I have internal motivation to write and all that jazz, but if anything else in my life has more pressing deadlines than my writing does (and lots of things do), I will always spend more time on those things than on my writing. That's what makes my current task of dissertation-writing so darn difficult: there are no hard deadlines. But Friday comes at the same time each week, so I usually keep my appointment to write a "Happy Friday" post like this one. See what I mean? The deadlines always win. I've tried, but mostly failed, at setting up some artificial deadlines with people in my life to hold me accountable, but that hasn't worked very well. There's no grade or job at stake yet. Maybe I just need to make my dissertation goals public, on this site, since apparently I feel compelled to write at least 2 weekly posts here. Do you have any ideas for how to make deadlines when there aren't any? I desperately need them.

And I desperately need you -- to have a Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Dylan Diaries: Dylan Live

Set List, Bob Dylan 11/1/12 at Verizon Theatre:

Watching The River Flow

Read more:

Thank goodness Dylan posts these set lists on his website. I was taking copious notes at the concert, but I could not figure out a few of these. Indeed, perhaps the most fun I had all evening was the game I would play with every song in which I tried to figure out what he was playing before he got to the song's chorus. That's because, predictably, Dylan played most of these songs very differently from the way we would be used to hearing them. In terms of arrangement, he sort of "Tempest-ified" all of the songs; I mean, stylistically, they sounded like they all belonged on his latest album, with its gentle rockabilly-blues sound. In fact, when he began playing the encore, "Blowin' in the Wind," I was convinced, until he started singing, that he was playing the title track from that album, a 14-minute song about the Titanic sinking, since his arrangement of "Blowin' in the Wind" was in 6/8 and included an Irish-sounding fiddle, much like that eponymous track. I was pretty glad when that turned out not to be the case ('leave it to Dylan to do a 14-minute encore,' I thought, until he growled out the line, "how many roads must a man walk down...") In the end, despite the Tempest sound, he didn't do any songs from Tempest, which surprised me; I expected to at least hear "Duquesne Whistle."

Vocally, of course, the songs were also basically unrecognizable, but for Dylan, his voice sounded pretty good. He played the piano or organ instead of guitar, complete with several piano solos that consisted of repeating the tonic note over and over or playing a descending scale -- either the blues scale or the regular one. These were the only musical tricks in his bag for the keyboard, and he used them again and again. More than once I was reminded of this video of a cat playing the piano (but the cat is much cuter and the symphony written around this cat's random playing is more beautiful):

As a Dylan scholar, I already knew that Dylan is famous for changing things up with every live performance, so there were no real surprises or disappointments with that part of the show. I'm grateful that I got the chance to see a legend. But, with the exception of his magnificent songwriting, sometimes I think he was just lucky, and has been winging it ever since, riding on his almost instant acclaim since the 60s and never bothering to learn a decent piano riff.

Am I horrible to say this? Maybe I'm just not hip enough to get it. Or maybe the secret is that he's a brilliant songwriter and a sub-par performer -- I mean that's been pretty clear for a while, no matter how much Dylan fans (including myself) may rave about how wonderful his unique performances are.

High Notes:

The highlight of the evening was, without a doubt, "Ballad of a Thin Man." This song was the only one that made me feel like they'd rehearsed the "spectacle" aspects of the stage show, because the lighting changed and the sound engineer added some spooky reverb to Dylan's voice, which was really effective on that venomous, accusatory hook: "But something's happening here and you don't know what it is, do you (do you...) Mr. Jones?" Don't get me wrong, though, the song wasn't only my favorite because of the show. It was also very well-played. And I might as well admit it: it was closest to the sound of the 60's original. "Tangled up in Blue" was also a treat, and it got the whole crowd singing along. Dylan's guitarist showed his Hendrix side in the way he soloed on "All Along the Watchtower," so that was another high point of the evening. Lest you think that only the 60's songs were hits, the 90's song, "Things have changed" was another crowd-pleaser, as was "Watching the river flow."  As an instrumentalist, Dylan was by far at his best on the harmonica, which he played soulfully and skillfully, sometimes while at the piano, or sometimes while wandering around the stage.

All in all, it was an experience I won't forget, and I'm glad to add Bob Dylan to the list of concerts I've seen.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mark Knopfler

North American Tour with Mark Knopfler

Last Friday, I promised a full report of the Bob Dylan concert. But before I talk about Bob Dylan, I think it's important to say that the Mark Knopfler portion of the evening alone was worth the price of admission. We actually arrived late to the concert thanks to some horrendous traffic through Richardson, so we only got to see the last half of Knopfler's set, and that alone was worth it for me. I was unfamiliar with Knopfler's work prior to the concert, and I only discovered that he was the frontman for Dire Straits a couple of weeks before the concert. He did play some Dire Straits songs, but the best parts of his set were the songs from his latest album, which he played a lot of. (Check it out, here).

I'm not a nut about guitar tone, but Knopfler's electric guitar tone combined with his fantastic playing formed one of the most beautiful guitar sounds I've ever heard. And his band was amazing, weaving together celtic folk sounds with the blues seamlessly, and making an accordion or uillleann pipes sing just as effortlessly as guitar and bass. Knopfler's deep, mellow, gravelly voice made for wonderful listening as well.

I don't want to commit heresy here, but, truthfully, Bob Dylan was a bit of a let-down after the Mark Knopfler set, which sometimes left me so stunned with beauty that I could barely lift my hands to join in the (rightly thunderous) applause. That being said, I'm glad I got to hear Bob Dylan perform -- and I'll tell you all about that later this week.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Happy Friday: Halloween Dreams

Happy Friday! I'm still recovering from the shock of too much sugar to my system on Halloween and from the Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler concert we went to last night (I'll tell you all about it next week). Here's our Halloween in pictures:

From bottom left, counter clockwise: 1. Adam and I dressed as off-duty Avengers. He's Tony Stark and I'm Black Widow. 2.  Every year we decorate with these wonderful gargoyles and Halloween Jones soda bottles. 3. My mantle this year -- I love decorating with books. 4. I dyed and straightened my hair for my black widow costume; it took a long time. 5, 6, & 7. More decor. Adam's grandpa made those Abraham Lincoln book-ends. Aren't they great? 8. A close-up of Adam's Tony Stark chest. 9. More off-duty Black Widow. 10. decorations. again. 11. Our Halloween week entertainment. It was my first time to watch Friday the 13th.

Have a Happy Friday and a lovely weekend, everyone. And don't forget to come see me play at Coffeehouse Cafe in Dallas this Saturday night, Nov. 3, from 6:30-9:30. I'll be playing a special solo set.