A Master Class in Memoir

Would you like to spend 5 days in October working on your memoir with a master teacher? Come to one of New York’s most gorgeous Adirondack Mountain lodges and workshop your writing with eight other students, with a private chef, luxurious accommodations, amidst fall splendor.

Details are here, for the second annual Dartbrook Writers Retreat, a memoir workshop with writer Abigail Thomas.

A Master Class in Memoir.

Real-Phonic Radio Hour

As regular readers here know (and I mean you, Mary Ellen Gross), one of my cherished memories is Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble in Woodstock, NY. It was the original event that took us to upstate NY for the first time.

Now in Minneapolis, we’re always on the lookout for live music. We’ve found an array of venues with a little something for everyone… if you look hard enough and are willing to skew the demographic at times.

Last fall, we learned Amy Helm was coming to town. She’s a favorite of ours from back in Woodstock. We were first introduced to her beautiful voice at a Midnight Ramble.

We were a bit puzzled by the venue. It was a library in St. Paul, and the show was described as a monthly event there. Hmm. Sounded interesting. After double-checking, we headed over to the James J. Hill Library for the Real-Phonic Radio Hour. 

As soon as we walked into the building, it was clear this wasn’t your ordinary library. Nor your ordinary music venue. The elegant open space had a stage set up on a platform in front of the three stories of book stacks. The audience seating was made up of rows of comfortable leather library chairs, small tables and couches. We sat down, and began to take things in. It felt like being in someone’s living room. Someone with a huge ornate living room. In fact, it felt a little bit like being in Levon Helm’s living room, which we observed aloud.

The show started, with the house band, Erik Koskinen. Emcee/producer Thom Middlebrook did an intro, cracked jokes, cued our applause, told us we were being recorded and introduced Erik, Paul Bergen, JT Bates and Lizz Draper. This band is one of the real treasures of the local scene — if you haven’t seen them, you’re in for a treat. Erik and Paul also produce the show.


Next came Montana singer-songwriter Martha Scanlan, of Cold Mountain soundtrack fame. Her pure, sweet voice was a perfect match for the room. Her gift for storytelling via the stillness of her songs was a revelation.

Musician Molly Maher, who is one of the producers of each month’s show, gave a beautiful and heartfelt introduction for Amy Helm and Byron Isaacs.

It was a full circle moment seeing two of our favorite musicians from our beloved Woodstock, playing right here in St. Paul in this new-found magical setting. The show was fantastic, with lots of jamming (including Molly) and a full stage of incredible musicians. We could have listened for hours.

After the performance, I talked to Molly. It turns out she modeled this event after the Midnight Ramble in Woodstock, having been there herself twice. We were astounded. Kismet, karma, full circle.

We’ve been back several times, and each time has been another unique and wonderful experience. We’ve chatted with people, often the same people, about this best-kept secret in town for live music. We joke that we shouldn’t tell anyone else.

But for Molly’s sake, and yours too, if you’re a music fan, I’m telling you. You must go. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, I promise. The quality of the music is first rate, and it’s an intimate night you won’t soon forget.

The most recent show featured honeyhoney, a duo from Nashville, aka Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe. And wow, are they good. Full of energy and joy, and life. Funny, talented, original and super nice. Jim Turner, one of my college friends, plays the Angel of Death in one of their videos, so I mentioned that to them. It was old home week after that.

Also featured was Brandon Sampson, a singer-songwriter from Rochester, MN, who has his own show called Americana Showcase. The audience, including us, loved him.

I’m not aware of another place in the Twin Cities where you can find such great shows, walk right up and talk to the band, have a drink and a few hours of kick ass fun for $20. Go. Oh, and you get 25% off the ticket price for bringing a non-perishable food item for their monthly food drive.

The Real-Phonic radio hour is held on the 3rd Thursday of every month. Next performance is April 17 at 8 pm, featuring Joe Pug.

Check out some photos from the honeyhoney show. Hope to see you at the library soon.


You Are, I Am

My husband and my friend Marybeth.

My friend Martha Frankel calls my husband The Friendliest Man on Earth. He wanders off when I’m with him to chat with strangers, while I sit and pretend to be involved in reading my menu or lately, my phone. Then he comes back and tells me he just met the guy who invented gum, or something equally interesting and outrageous. I wrote this as an assignment my teacher Abigail Thomas calls Two Pages. Her students write two pages on a theme she suggests. Often, the theme comes from a poem she shares with us; this one is inspired by the poem Litany, by Billy Collins.

You are the one who chats with the man in front of you in line at the grocery store check out.

I am the one who thinks every kind of store should have a self-checkout: tire stores, shoe stores, bakeries.

You are the one who knows the names of the doorman and his kids.

I am the one who knows the name of the doorman. 

You are the one who bumps into someone you know in almost every airport we pass through.

I am the one who keeps my earbuds in, sometimes even without music in them, so I don’t have to talk to a single person at the airport.

You are the one who takes 15 minutes to say goodbye. Even to the guy fixing the furnace.

I am the one who waits in the car.

You are the one who’s walking behind someone and notices their collar isn’t quite the way it’s supposed to be and gently fixes it, sometimes imperceptibly.

I am the one who curses slow-walking shoppers. 

You are the one who volunteers to clean out my mom’s pantry after she dies and makes me an orphan, mostly because you’re nosy.

I am the one who can’t bear to open its door.

You are the one who cries when watching Grey’s Anatomy.

I am the one who calls it High School Hospital.

You are the one who calls my daughter to see how she sounds.

I am the one who tracks your son online when he runs his first half marathon.

You are the one who buys me a comb when I mention I can’t find mine.

I am the one who frames a tiny picture of 9-year-old you and puts it on your desk. 

Woodstock Country Inn, Woodstock, NY

     It was hard to stop taking photos during our recent lucky fall stay at New York’s tranquil and beautiful Woodstock Country Inn. Located on gorgeous Cooper Lake Road, the 19th century farmhouse turned inn was built as the home of Woodstock artist Jo Cantine. Her paintings and handpainted furniture still grace the inn. Every window has been carefully placed to frame and enhance the unparalleled Hudson Valley light and landscape. And the details inside the house are as captivating as the view outside.
     The shared living room invites guests to cozy up to the fire, play cards and board games, or spend some quiet time with a book in a comfy corner chair. Each room offers its own unique amenities, including private entrances, cable TV, en suite baths, and private patios or balconies with breathtaking views.
     The surrounding hills and meadows allow for both brisk morning walks and captivating sunsets. The inn is located just two miles from the heart of Woodstock, but feels miles away when you’re tucked into your room overlooking the rolling wooded landscape. It was hard to say goodbye to this luxurious country comfort, but the memory of our stay will linger forever. And of course, we’ll be back.

A List for Grandma

We lived in Minneapolis when my daughter was little. She loved spending a couple weeks every summer with my mother and father in Iowa.

She made this list when she was a third grader, after her visit, and sent it to my mother.

My daughter’s in her 20s now, and my mother is gone.

Looking at this, it seems like yesterday. It all goes by so fast. People always say that, and it’s true.

Ps. As for #22, Hoot was the owl who lived in the trees by the creek in the backyard. As my daughter remembered, “Grandma talked to him.” I thought it possibly said, “Look for loot” which wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

GREER Chicago

My addiction to paper has led me to some wonderful places.
One of the most beautiful and interesting is GREER Chicago, an exquisite stationery and gift shop in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago.
Past visits have been the subject of posts here, but GREER is never the same from one visit to the next.
The hand of Chandra Greer, the owner, is evident throughout every inch of the store.
Here’s a photo tour/attempt to try to capture some of the beauty, grace and fun that is GREER Chicago.

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Springsteen and Me

This isn’t justabout Bruce and me. I used that title as a nod to my grammarian friend Stephanie, who took her red pen to the title of a new documentary, “Springsteen & I” – because technically it ispoor grammar. My advice to my dear friend: Roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair. I promise you’ll forget all about grammar after seeing the film.
The film is made up of Springsteen fan-submitted videos recounting what Bruce has meant in their lives, with forty years worth of his performances sprinkled in. It’s funny, joyous, moving, stunning, silly, and in the end, a profound elegy to an artist quite unlike any other in the emotion and devotion he inspires in his longtime fans.
Maybe you aren’t one of them. But there might be another artist out there who moves you the same way Bruce does me. Two of my favorite men, Tim Sieck and Tommy Mischke, recently had a discourse on whose version of the song “52 Vincent Black Lightning” is better, Richard Thompson’s or The Del McCoury Band’s. Tommy declared that when it comes to music, one’s reaction is very, very personal. What touches one person may leave another cold. That’s just the way it is.
But if you’re lucky, music really can change your life. It’s not a cliché. It’s the truth. The Springsteen documentary is all about this: that day, that night you saw or heard something that opened up the world for you. A lot of people who saw the Beatles or Elvis on Ed Sullivan say nothing was ever the same for them after that.
September 26, 1975, ended up being that night for me. What I heard that night 38 years ago changed me in a way I couldn’t put into words. I’m still trying.  
Here it is. At age 18, I saw a 26-year old Bruce Springsteen perform live for my first time. He was fresh out of Jersey. Born to Run had been released one month earlier. Few of us on the University of Iowa campus knew who he was. The only reason I did was because a friend who’d been to New York told me it was mandatory and we were going. As a freshman, I asked no questions.
I knew from the very first pull on his guitar, Bruce and his band were something I’d never seen or heard. He was all kinetic energy and passion, a wiry kid in a biker jacket, his curly hair jammed up under a tweed newsboy cap — both soon to be tossed aside as he worked the crowd. He never stopped talking or singing or dancing or playing that guitar. The music was jazzy, soulful, bluesy, funky…and the best rock ‘n’ roll I’d ever heard.

This was back in the days of his storytelling. The stories painted pictures as vividly as the songs they introduced. This was the Bruce who asked, “You talkin to me?” which young Bobby DeNiro saw at the Bottom Line in NYC and stole for Taxi Driver. His charisma was mind-boggling. 

Clarence Clemons was the dominant figure in the stories and on the stage. I’d never seen a little white guy cuddle up that way to a black mountain of a man on stage, kissing him and hanging all over him as they made the best noise I’d ever heard. Watching them showed me there was a lot more of the world I needed to see.
Bruce sang about the kids gathered beneath that giant Exxon sign where their midnight gang assembled…I knew about a midnight gang in search of something, not knowing what. I knew about spirits in the night.
As I watched him and listened to his explosion of horns, guitars, piano, organ, accordion and harmonica, I wanted it all. I wanted to be on the east coast where this sound was born. I wanted to be lifted out of my quiet little Iowa life and live those lyrics I was hearing. I wanted to go meet Eddie across that river. Anything else paled in comparison. I was in awe, speechless, spellbound, forever changed.
A couple years ago, I reconnected with a friend who saw me after the concert that night. She chuckled derisively at me and said, “Remember when you saw Bruce Springsteen and said your life was changed forever?” She said it like that was just so silly.
“I do and it was,” I answered.
What strikes me about it now is that I did know my life was changing. In that moment, I knew it. I’m so glad it was something I experienced and now can hold forever. The best $3.50 I’ll ever spend.
I’ve seen Bruce perform often since then, more times than I’ll admit to you – and the memory of that first night comes back to me each time and makes me cry.
I could go on. But I’ll spare you.
So, this is about a moment when music reached out and grabbed me and never let go. A profound moment – and I want to know if you’ve had one of your own.  And if you did, did you know it at the time?

So Here It Is

“When you moved to the Hudson Valley, did you know how long you’d be staying?” a friend recently asked me.

“I don’t think we really knew anything,” I answered.

I meant it. We didn’t. We knew we wanted to live in this beautiful place. But we didn’t know for how long. We didn’t really have a plan except to enjoy every day, savor the people, the scenery, the food and never forget to be thankful for our luck.

We certainly have done all the above. Our life in this unique place for the last three years has been like a dream, surpassing everything we thought it’d be.

Do you feel a ‘but’ coming?

It’s not a but. It’s a change.

We’re headed back to the Midwest, at the end of May. There are several reasons. None of them are because we don’t like it here. We adore it here. Family and work are calling us back. These are two very important things, right?

We’re headed to Minneapolis.

That’s in Minnesota, New Yorkers. It’s an M state, so you can’t confuse it with Ohio. Well, if you’re Martha Frankel it turns out you can confuse it with Milwaukee.

We’ve both lived there before. It was my home for 20 years. I love the city and I have very dear friends there; people I taught with for many years. I’m thrilled to be going back to be near them. In many ways the friends you made during your 20s, 30s and 40s are the ones who know you best. It’s life affirming to have friends like that. I’m lucky.

Here’s our new place, somewhere in this building. On the 11th floor. Good, right? It’ll be a new adventure, a deluxe apartment in the sky.

Here’s the view. Out that window on the left is the new Twins stadium. I mean, come on. And across the street is a beautiful park. And the Walker Art Museum. And and and.

So it’s all good. I’m just tremendously sad to be leaving this place.

The Hudson Valley and Catskills – what a magical setting. So much beauty and history all wrapped up in one funky package, just teeming with wonderful people.

In no particular order, these are SOME of the things I’m going to miss.

Our friends. Our wonderful, generous, delightful and forever friends.

The light.

The side roads and the back roads. Getting lost and discovering stunning vistas and villages.

Cuddy coming home saying things like, “Oh I ran into Pete Seeger at Rhinebeck Health Foods. He had a little shopping cart and he was looking at tomatoes.”

The craggy elegance of High Falls and its Mercantile. The Mercantile and its adorable people.

Autumn. Mocking the “leaf peepers” while not-so-secretly being one.

Winter. It snows a little then melts. Everyone whines. We know better.

Spring. Everything about spring in the Hudson Valley is a miracle.

Summer. Knowing people who swim in secret “swimming holes.”

Upstate Films.

Bard, right down the road.

The summer theatre at Vassar. Dinner from Gigi on the lawn before.

The have and have-notty discord that is Hudson.

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.

Calling Massachusetts “Mass.” As in taking the Mass Pike over to P-town Mass.

Going to the red brick Rhinecliff fire hall decked out in its election day buntings, being greeted by a white-haired man in LL Bean clothes, peacefully signing in and casting my vote for both NY governor and president of the United States.

Saying, “Let’s go to that coffee place in Red Hook,” then ending up in a different place after that every single time.

Driving north to the Adirondacks, marveling at more of New York’s astounding landscape.

Keene, New York. And the heaven on earth that is Dartbrook Lodge and Dartbrook Rustic Goods. Created and owned by two of the sweetest, most talented and generous guys you’ll ever meet.

Vermont. Boston. Great Barrington. Connecticut. New Hampshire. Maine. New Jersey. (but not Rhode Island)

The fall sun and pumpkins, bees and farmers markets.

Big bad sturdy gritty oh-so-serious Albany. I may be the only person in New York who loves the Empire Plaza and those twin mid-century buildings Rocky plunked there. I’m obsessed with taking photos of that space. And that Egg. What about that?

Oriole9. The coffee, the handsome honey badger chef with whom I wrote a book. The dolls who work there. The Before I Die Wall I helped paint with the beautiful woman who owns it.

The beautiful sister of the beautiful woman who owns Oriole9.

The beautiful children of the beautiful sisters.

Woodstock itself. Accept no substitutes.

Jumping on the train in Rhinecliff – where else on earth is like Rhinecliff? – and meandering down the Hudson, only to get tossed out at the intersection of Mayhem and Chaos, aka Penn Station.

Scrambling to the closest high spot in Manhattan to catch the sunset, then lingering until lights twinkle below.

DIG in Saugerties. Where my life changed when I met Daisy Kramer Bolle.

The Peekamoose. Oh, the Peekamoose. Oh, oh, oh…the Peekamoose. My loves who own it.

Crossing the Rhinecliff Bridge and never not being amazed that I’m crossing the goddamn Hudson River.

Channel 13. New York public television is where it all started.

WAMC. I love hearing them give the weather for the entire northeastern United States.

Those people who own Fabulous Furniture. I love em.

Every single thing about Rhinebeck. But especially Oblong Books and the Paper Trail. And the summer nights we walked into town to sit on a bench, eat ice cream and marvel at our lives.

Sitting in my beloved writing teacher Abby Thomas’ living room knowing I’m free to say or write whatever I want; a miracle I’ve not once taken for granted.

The Vanderbilt Mansion and the weirdness and wonder of Hyde Park.

The music.

The food.

The art.

So, there it is. That’s the news. I like to think of our time here as a visit to a really great arts camp, and now it’s over. Or the best internship in the world, and now it’s back to the real world.

But we’ll return often.

And until June, we’ll be here.

After that, our hearts are here forever.

                                                                                             Cooper Lake, Woodstock, October 5, 2012.

Calling All Girls

Yesterday Martha Frankel and I were in the midst of one of our texting flurries. I made a joke, and her usual cryptic response led me to think she didn’t get it. I spelled out the joke again. She let me know she’d gotten it the first time.
“Was my face red!” I texted back; smiling at my reference.
 What followed was one of our typical arguments.
 I’m in blue.
Just ignore the fact that she keeps calling Highlights “Highlighter.” That’s for another day.
So I googled it.  As usual, we were both wrong.
It was from Calling All Girls, which I’ve blogged about before.
Courtesy of Jane Marie at The Hairpin, here it is. This will take some of you way back. OMG.
As I read these, it dawned on me. This is the original Facebook, people!
We’d wait each month to read these. Often it was the first page I’d turn to when I got my hands on the new issue. I drafted so many versions of my own stories to send, but I never did.
And now…some of us post our embarrassing stories daily on Facebook.
Daily is a lot better than waiting a whole month for them, and then not even being able to interact with the people who wrote them. I always sort of had my doubts about whether girls like Patty Crain, Ambridge, Pa or Babs Layman, Hagerstown, Md were legit. Why weren’t any of these red-faced girls ever from Iowa or Nebraska? Always from the northeast. I pictured some sniffly guy named Murray sitting at a desk in a tiny windowless office typing these things while nipping from a bottle of Scotch.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons I like Facebook. I love reading funny things people are up to. I like to share my own funny stories.
Sure, Facebook is a lot more than that. But most of that stuff is hidden or ignored in my news feed.
I gotta go. I have to stalk Nancy Reidman, Waterville, Me on Facebook and see if she’s still doing shots from fingerbowls.