You Can Have It All, Just Not All At The Same Time

I am walking home from my dear friend’s house at 10pm with my sleeping second son strapped to my chest. It is February 2nd, the eve of my 33rd birthday. I am returning from a song salon, a gathering where songwriters help other songwriters songwrite.

I feel like a waning moon, half lit up and half dark. When we had our first boy I put a lot of energy into preserving my career. I played shows with my baby on my back, I leaned over the car seat to nurse my baby at 60 mph, we all co-slept in strange motel beds. It was a romantic adventure for a while. A few months after Emmett turned one, he was walking and talking and opining. Just try to strap him down for a 5 hour drive and then be a civilized human at a house concert…. just try and strap him down! We would go out on the road as a family, I would end up playing the show solo and still we would all become weary. I had to set down the idea that I could Have It All exactly the way I wanted it and pick up motherhood. I am lit up by my sons as a mother and unlit as a performing songwriter. Just because that side of me is dark at the moment, doesn’t mean it has ceased to exist. It’s just as present, but isn’t illuminated by the sun.

My days fly by without having much to show, just two little people, hopefully sleeping, and gratefully still alive. I was terrified of putting down my career because I always assumed that once you put something down, you walk on, unable to pick it back up again thanks to the ineffable forward march of time. Now I can see my songwriting career as a beautiful boulder i used to push up a hill. I stopped pushing it, and now I can sit in it’s shade, having a picnic with my family.

A very wise woman once told me “You can have it all, just not all at the same time”. I find this statement to be a deep breath. It gives me allowance to stand exactly where I am without the pressure to add more on my shoulders. I don’t have to be a full moon all the time! What would the tides look like that way?

I turn 33 on February 3rd under a full moon in a town that I love, married to a man who supports me no matter what crazy scheme I have hatched, with two healthy and darling boys. What an incredible blessing. Sometimes, I even get to sit down with songwriters and songwrite.

Historical Tellings from The Road #2; How I Met John Elliott

I left Portland in early January 2006, It was now late June the same year and I had yet to return. We made a crude circuitous route that included Arkansas and Boston, Montana, Colorado, California to Texas and back through Colorado to Lake Tahoe (i’ll make a map someday). The personnel had shifted a few times and now I was traveling alone. I had dropped off a few friends at the Rainbow Gathering and was now planning a 3 day solo camping adventure in Tahoe before playing the High Sierra Music Festival for the first time. It was a big gig for me. My young self had visions of grandeur, still not unspoilt from 6 sticky months on the long road playing fried chicken joints, unpopulated coffee shops, and dive bars.

I drove twice around the otherworldly blue of Lake Tahoe. There wasn’t a single campground less than $35 a night. A king’s ransom. When not fed by the venue I was playing, I was subsisting mostly on canned tuna with avocado and spinach, apples and Clif bars. $35 was a bit less than a week’s worth of food. I asked a park ranger if there were any free campgrounds. She told me about Blackwood Canyon. It was unmarked, 3 miles down a dirt road. I miraculously found the road and after a minute I was being closely followed by a green Honda civic.

I found a lovely spot amidst ponderosa and lodgepole pine. I stepped out of my van just as the guy in the civic stepped out. He sauntered over, smiled and quickly it came out that we were both songwriters. “Shit” i thought “the last thing i want right now is to be around another songwriter! I just wanted some solo time.” I found out later that he was thinking the same thing.

He had just started his first tour as I was just finishing mine. We avoided each other for the first night but on the second night we shared a fire and a meal. We laughed and talked easily. I guessed his sign incorrectly. He sang a song. I loved it. I sang a song. He seemed to like it. We stayed up late in the night and talked by the fire with the familiarity of childhood friends.

The next evening we decided to go to a Casino on the Nevada side of the lake. I had never been to one before. I spent $5 and hated it. John won enough playing blackjack to buy us both dinner. We went to a Mexican restaurant and while we were there, it poured torrential rain. Neither of us had showered in days.

We traded albums and I listened to his constantly. I wore a tube top at one my sets at the High Sierra Music Festival that week and my boob popped out. I’ve never sold so many CDs at one show before or since. (Little did i know that my future husband was attending the very same festival and we wouldn’t meet till 2009!) I went to John’s show in Portland the following week. He was fantastic, full of sparks and thunder. A veritable bonfire of a performer. We decided to go on tour together the next year. I should’ve known he was a leo.

9ish years later and i still listen to that album all the time. We’ve made records together, toured the country, cried on one another’s shoulders, slept in the same bed but never kissed, and shared secrets even though I’m so bad at keeping them. John even served as one of the two officiants at my wedding.

The road gave me the brother i always wanted.

PS-most of this blog post was typed one handed while I breastfed Benny!

From the Water Canyon in Joshua Tree, CA in 2007?


surprise domestic bliss

I’ve never been patient. Or particularly motivated to do things that don’t seem fun or immediately gratifying. I will admit to being, on occasion, lazy. However, I love to multi-task. I get a thrill out of seeing if I can get four things done at once in order to maximize my time with which to do absolutely nothing. I used to love the sunny and unending freedom of a long road with only songs to sing at the end. The simplicity of living in a car and sleeping on a stranger’s couch. Here I am in this one-level house built in 1972, with meals to be cooked, dishes to be washed, babies to bathe, lunches to pack, piles of laundry to fold…

Parenting has not changed me in those regards, so much as exercised my weakest muscles. Like lifting dead weights, my ability to be patient has slowly increased with the needs of those around me. Do you know how long it takes a 3 year old to choose a t-shirt? or pull up his pants? or eat breakfast? You may indeed know. Normal tasks cannot be done quickly around the Rose-Press Ranch, or any house with littles, I assume. When they finally fall to sleep at night, the millennial laziness sets in and it’s time to play solitaire and melt into netflix.

On the last evening of 2014, I vow to make 2015 the year I work on building my all muscles. The physical ones sure, running after two boys is going to take a lot of energy, but mostly these; The Patience. The Motivation. The Kindness. The Focus. I am going to get my tasks done one at a time and do them well as opposed to juggling so many balls that i end up dropping every one. I am going to delete the solitaire app from my phone (maybe). I am going to look my domestic bliss in the eyes and say thank you. Thank you for all this, the creeping slow meditation of motherhood.

family mosaic

How we found Hopi Ophelia

I used to own a white 1998 Dodge Grand Caravan named Brenda Jo Stevens. Brenda had a plywood bed built in the back of her with locking compartments for gear, thanks to my daddy. I put about 150k miles on her before i sent her off with two Mexican dudes, who planned to fix her up and give her a new life south of the border.

I slept many incredibly cozy nights with Brenda Jo in Wallmart and Wafflehouse parking lots, as well as campgrounds and neighborhood streets. The sketchiest place we ever temporarily called home was in Yuma, AZ. I slept for about 5 hours before moving on. Yuma is not a city i would care to sleep in again.  I wish i had more photos of Brenda Jo and her entire set up, but my computer died after downloading a year’s worth of tour photos once. Such is life.

In 2007, i went on one particular tour with John Elliott and Howard on support, from Texas through the Southwest, up through California, to Portland and back to Austin. It was April, or May if i do recall clearly. We played in Taos for $150 and a couple of green chili & turkey burritos (oh, green chili, how i love thee) and then left right after the gig because Howard had read about ancient ruins outside of Phoenix, Arizona, which was where our gig was the following evening. He offered to drive through the night, he wanted to visit them that badly. John and i slept in the back, bumped about by the New Mexican roads, in bad need of repair. Brenda Jo arrived at 6am. I awoke to Howard “Hey Raina, i found a dog”. I shot straight out of bed and said “THAT’S MY DOG”. The dreamiest pink and orange sunrise on the horizon of dusty Arizona mountains, saguaro cactus flowers all in bloom.

A few months prior to this, i had begged a puppy off a homeless dude at the old BouldiN Creek Cafe in Austin. The guy was pretty messed up and that puppy was precious. I grew up with dogs, and i desperately wanted a four-legged tour buddy. My Chinese astrology sign is the Dog. I am a dog person, deep down and through. I named the puppy Motown and carried him around for a few weeks in a makeshift baby carrier. Later, i ran into the homeless guy again at the Kerrville Family Tuesday night hang, the open mic at Trophy’s; a truly shitty dive bar that no longer exists. He had been bereft without the pup and needed the him back. I acquiesced. Years later, i was to find out that the puppy was hit by a car and killed mere weeks after i gave him back.

Hopi was tied to a tree behind the cultural center near the ruins, where one acquires a parking pass to visit the ancient city. She was covered in ticks, thirsty and starving. She was so much more than happy to see us. We gave her water and some granola, which was all we had in the van at that moment. We spent about 2 hours pulling ticks off of her, they were in her ears, all over her back and even between the pads on her paws. After her makeshift grooming session, we put her in the van and her life as a FolkHound began. In Phoenix, i took her to the Vet who gave her a few shots and a clean bill of health and then barely charged me after i promised to take care of her. How could i not make such an easy promise? This dog was my soul mate, my familiar, my new best friend.

Hopi Ophelia Desert Rose has seen more states than most people, she has enough self control as to refrain from eating a burrito sitting unwrapped in the cup holder of a van, she is the more patient than any of us with her new little brothers, she is kind with everyone except squirrels.  The best road find ever.

epic hopi in arches

The Dream Is Over, You Just Have To Carry On

Tonight i cut the shit out of my thumb with a cheese grater. Not just any grater, but a fancy Microplane cheese grater that my foodie sister gave me. This thing is as sharp as the bored guy at a Mensa meeting. I nearly had a complete meltdown, but managed to steer myself back on the course of dinner making. It was either that or me and the almost-2-year-old start screaming and writhing on the floor. Papa was at a rehearsal, so i had no choice. My right hand has been covered in eczema for about 6 months. It came out of the clear blue and has made finger picking the guitar, doing the dishes & washing my hair incredibly painful. So this unfortunate (and totally minor) accident felt like 100 papercuts bathed in lemon juice.

I have a generally sunny disposition. I am a glass-is-half-full-but-let’s-just-go-get-something-delicious-to-fill-it-with kind of lady. I can see the blessing and meaning in most ship wreck situations, but lately i’ve been up every night worried about The Ominous Future. Climate change, GMO, the bees, the Koch Brothers, Nuclear Weaponry, Natural Disasters, the plastic island in the middle of the Pacific, the list goes on and on. I carry the weight of these things like birds nesting in my hair and i feel completely powerless as to the job of their untanglement. Is there some higher purpose to these dead end roads? “God is a concept by which we measure our pain”. What is the point in eating 5 servings of organic vegetables a day if the beautiful glaciers are melting and the ozone is thinning and there will be no clean water left in 2 years anyway? Is this all an exercise in futility? AHHHHH!!!

Is it all about the minute moments of love? Is it about the new tenants in our birdhouse? The success of our small victory garden? a new song, an evening of laughter with friends, the scent of the baby’s skin, your lover’s kiss. This is the house that love built whicc fear will shake down to the very foundation if you simply open the door and let it in. Is God a concept by which measure not only our formidable pain and confusion, but also our staggering joy? “The dream is over, what can I say? the Dream is Over, yesterday”. Most days on which i wake up breathing, in a safe home, with plenty to eat, i think these moments are enough to keep the grateful train on it’s tracks. Enough to keep the hungry sharks of pointlessness from dragging me into an apathetic watery grave. Enough to keep the baby fed and think about making him a sibling. Maybe my blessing is that i have the affluent luxury of worrying about the big picture stuff, while some people worry every day about how they will feed themselves. Not to say we are exempt from the economic struggle, but if we ran out of food tomorrow, our community would feed us. They have in the past.

So am i left with on this day where i feel frustrated and small, David with a slingshot against a most gargantuan foe? I hold on to my hopes like a life preserver. I cling to the notion that humanity is mostly good at the core. You clear past the brush and garbage and the sadness and there is a red heart beating inside every chest that wants to love and be loved. My dearest held hope is that my great-grandchildren will lead long healthy lives on this Eden of a planet. That the governments of the world will somehow un-corrupt themselves. That we realize the great volcano of love from which we all sprang and start behaving like family. “You may say i’m a dreamer, but i’m not the only one”.

Happy Birthday John Lennon.

Spring Tour

Emmett has been all over. He’s been to more states than most grown-ups and Canada too. Last summer we did about 10,000 miles and managed to not lose our minds entirely. This year we are taking it a bit easier, as Emmett has greater mobility and force of will than last year. We have an almost 18 month old dude on our hands who would much rather play in a bucket of water all day than sit in a minivan. I can’t blame him.

So we are about to leave on our first ten day tour adventure. This week we will fly to my sister, Marisa’s house in Philly (check out her amazing blog> food in jars), then drive to Bard College in up-state NY, then to a farm in NH, then to Cape Cod to play this amazing house concert called No Place Special, then to Long Island for another fantastic house concert. Then a day off at my sister’s high rise in Philly, the place i have longest known, my grandmother’s apartment that my sister inherited around 10 years ago. We used to spend sweltering summer days here when i was young. My beautiful fake-eye-lashed grandmother, Tutu we called her, would take us to the Please Touch museum and Betsy Ross’s house and to the liberty bell. Even with my sister’s long residence, the apartment has held onto Tutu’s scent and in an instant i am always transported to my childhood. Thanks to Rebecca Loebe, Marisa’s house has now been dubbed The Urban Food Sanctuary, as she has delicious cheeses, jams, and physical manifestations of recipes you’d see on some fancy lady’s pinterest board. Right, then a gig in Brooklyn and a house concert in Philly… and then NASHVILLE.

The Folk Documentary is premiering at the Nasvhille Film Festival on April 19th and we get to walk a red carpet and be a part of it! I’ve never been in any sort of film before, so i am pretty thrilled. Before my dreams of folk stardom, i always wanted to be an actress a la Julie Andrews or Bette Midler. Not the cool actress, but the one who could really sing.

So, how does one tour with a baby? You may ask… The truth is, i’m not really sure there’s a cut and dry answer, you just move slowly, breathe deeply and know that at some point you’ll be home. Here’s a list of things that make musical parenthood better:

  • It’s easiest if you have help. This past summer, our dear friend Jaime donated her time to our tour in exchange for coffee, food & travel. We had a dedicated baby lover on hand during shows. It was fantastic. If you can convince a grandparent or bored friend to come along on your tour, that is the way to go.
  • Spend the money on the hotel. I have never regretted getting a hotel room. I used to sleep in my car in waffle house parking lots, but ladies & gentlemen i have moved up in the world and now the priceline app finds us a bed. it’s worth it. Hotels are moderately baby proofed and a space for a little person to run around with abandon is priceless.
  • Snacks, Books, Toys, Phone loaded with Thomas the Tank Engine. Anything that gives you a moment of brain space, feel no shame about using it. Emmett loves eating cheerios one at a time… it’s an easy way to avoid utter meltdown.
  • It’s going to be ok. A show lasts around 2 hours usually. As a mommy, it’s painfully hard to hear your baby cry, it’s painfully hard to know that baby is struggling and you’re not there to sooth him. But as long as the little person has a competent caregiver while you’re playing, it’s going to be ok.
  • Unload, Explode, Hit the road. The best thing about having a baby on tour is that no one expects you to stay up after your show, get drunk and jam all night. Other folksingers may agree that often the most exhausting thing about a show is the socializing post gig. Not to say that i haven’t met some of my favorite people at the merch table and i don’t DEEPLY appreciate getting to know the audience, but if you’re doing it right, you’re pretty beat after playing your heart out all night. Post gig with a baby is way quicker. People understand your tiredness because they have a concept of it. Tour exhaustion is hard to grasp unless you’ve been there.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you and your family are out there creating art and following your muse down into the darkness of the next town, you are doing something really brave and good for the world. You are sharing your love with people. Your kids will see you believing in yourself and thereby believe in themselves. You are modeling good behavior by being so damn true to your heart.

That’s what i got right now. It’s 11:33 pm and Emmett will wake up at 7:45am no matter what i do. Pictures of the packing process will be here on tuesday. thanks for reading!

Where to eat during SXSW (if you don’t want to fall apart)

SXSW is the craziest time of year for dear old Austin Texas, the live music capital of the world. Most of the year the weather is walkable, the beer flows cold, there is a seat for you at every table, and the tex mex is cheap. During Southby (as we call it) this town becomes a drunk 20 year old with a great fake ID, a penchant for mixing beer with liquor and waking up in unfamiliar places. It’s very attractive and fun, but unpredictable. I have put together a list of my favorite places to eat. I want you to eat your veggies during the day so you can hang later at night to see Prince at La Zona Rosa (wha??!?!!).

HEALTHY HIPSTERS PARTY HARDER (where to eat in Austin):

  • El Primo & Once Over Coffee Bar (South 1st & Live Oak, 78704)- best coffee in town, and this is coming from a dyed in the wool Portland-bred coffee adict. I would also stake my reputation on the fact that El Primo, the trailer in the parking lot, has the best breakfast tacos in town. I’m serious.
  • Thai Fresh (South 5th & Mary, 78704)- healthy, homegrown thai food in a wide open space with a kids corner. This place is run by a wonderful woman of Thai descent. They also have a large case of gluten free and/or vegan deserts. This is where i went for my birthday.
  • Elizabeth Street Cafe (South 1st & Elizabeth, 78704)- this is gourmet Vietnamese food. If you have a meeting with a fancy record exec, meet them here and come off as pretty cool. it’s loud, so you’ll have to lean in close.They have amazing french pastries as well. This is where we went for Andrew’s birthday.
  • Curra’s Grill (614 E Oltorf, 78704)- this is real tex mex, y’all. Get the Avocado Margarita if you are tequila-inclined. i hate margaritas and i love these.
  • Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon (915 N. Lamar)- pieces of amazing chicken to go. this is our newest addiction. Locally sourced and delicious.
  • East Side Kings (there are multiple eastside locations: Home fried beets with sour cream sauce among other deliciousness.They have multiple trailers behind various dive bars in East Austin. This place is run by the guy who used to cook for the fanciest sushi joint in town. it’s real.
  • Wheatsville Co-op (N. Guadalupe & 31st, 78705)- It’s our one and only grocery co-op and they do it right. Yes, the Whole Foods is shiny, but it’s downtown and that is going to be a battle. Also, this is LOCAL. put your money where your mouth is. Also put the popcorn tofu where your mouth is… ohmygod.
  • P. Terry’s (multiple locations)- It’s a fast food burger, but a good one. They actually care about what they’re serving you.
  • Blue Dahlia (1115 E 11th S, 78702)- yummy french food. They will give you a fresh salad with every item. If you can’t get in, there are a 5 great cafes within two blocks of here. Including Franklin’s BBQ which sells out by 11am every day, prompting people to line-up at 8am. I think they’re crazy… I wouldn’t wait in line for 2 hours for any kind of food.
  • Taco Deli & Houndstooth Coffee (4200 N Lamar Blvd, 78756)- Ok, there is another place to get a great cappuccino and a great taco up north. if you can’t make it to Once Over & El Primo, this will certainly do. The taco place closes by 3pm, so if you’re super hung over, you may not make it.

Eat well. Have a good time. Stay hydrated. Keep your eyes open. Don’t cross the street against the light. Be nice to all your servers & bartenders. don’t fuckin talk over a quiet show!!
Love you Southby, glad you’re here!

a little perspective

The grownups over here at the Rose-Press house are under the weather today. Emmett is a wind-up toy spinning about the house. or maybe he’s a pinball in a shabby chic pinball machine. he’s howling with the police sirens and barking with the neighborhood dogs. I’d love for someone to bring me some ginger ale, give me a neck rub while i feel a little sorry for myself and put on a pouty face…

And i got turned on to a blog today by a woman named Lisa who has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. That’s not just a little sick. She has 3 kids and an illness that won’t just go away with a few days of couch time. I immediately run over to Emmett and kiss him until he grunts and pushes my face away. My energy level rises knowing that this minor inconvenience of an illness will vanish within a few days. This woman Lisa doesn’t have that luxury. My heart breaks for a mama who doesn’t get to watch her kids become adults. And going through a very intimate thing out in public. It’s very good for all of us. Thank you Lisa for including us in your journey. It certainly helped me today to read your beautiful perspective.

i think i’ll go kiss my kid some more and be thankful for every second that i get to watch him figure out the world.

Bug&mom by schmidt

photo by the amazing Danny Schmidt in November 2012.

Home for a few days

We have been home from Toronto for a few days now.  The weather is perfect.  Emmett is running around like a lunatic, making stacks of blocks and destroying them and saying all kinds of interesting things.  Raina and I are enjoying downtime at home before the chaos of the spring starts.

This week has been spent almost entirely together.  We haven’t really left the house much, except for some errands, dinner at a friend’s house and a nice hang at the Once Over Coffee Bar yesterday.  It seems to be easiest to exist at home with Emmett these days.  He is no longer interested in being held for more than a few minutes at a time.  Running around is far more important.

Next week I will do a 6 night tour with Nancy & Beth.  We are playing Largo in Los Angeles on March 6 (opening for Rhett Miller), The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA on March 8 and the Wilbur Theater in Boston, MA on March 10.

Then I fly back to Austin for 4 nights of SXSW (overcrowded indie rock party that takes over the entirety of Austin, TX). I have about 6 or so gigs and parties to attend.  Lots of friends are coming to town to play shows.  My parents will be here helping with Emmett, which is a huge relief for me and Raina.

Then I fly back to Los Angeles for the night of March 15 to play at Largo with Nancy & Beth.  I’ll be back in Austin before noon on March 16 to play a couple of afternoon gigs and see a few other shows before SXSW closes down.  After that, throw in a quick trip to Houston, a recording session and an SF trip.  I’m already so tired of the airport and I haven’t even packed yet.

It’s going to be a pretty insane couple of weeks.  I will literally fly all over the country.  I will spend 7 of those nights away from Raina and Emmett.  That is definitely the most challenging part of my job.  It puts a strange tax on the entire family.  Emmett is too young for me to explain that I’m even leaving.  I just get out of the car at the airport and show back up a week later.  I wonder what goes through his mind.  Is he wondering where I am?  Is he waiting for me to get back?  Does he even notice I’m gone?

Raina is amazing.  She handles parenting without me like a champ.  She has high morale.  She has amazing patience.  Her comfort in the situation shows Emmett that there is nothing to worry about.  Papa will be home soon.  So he seems to go about his business building block stacks and knocking them down, eating yogurt and sweet potatoes, climbing on Hopi (our dog) and saying fascinating nonsense.

This will be a good trip, though.  The shows are at excellent venues.  The band is sounding great.  The people are some of my favorites.  But I will miss my boy and my lady.  I will think about them constantly when I am sitting, waiting for the next show to start.