There is a very plain word which describes this revolutionary new system I’ve been putting into place in my life. “Routine”. I know – it’s not very exciting and it doesn’t really seem revolutionary at all. The word occurred to me this morning as I was exercising. I thought “this is what normal people do all the time”. I’ve always seen the word “routine” as a bad word – as bad as the word “normal”. But here I am waking up at the same time every day to do my morning ritual, then scheduling my office and meal hours. I started on March first and it’s been two weeks now. The only one part of the daily plan that I have yet to implement is the 10pm “Relax” time. So far I have continued working each night until I was too tired to go on any longer and then finally put myself to bed. I think I’ll get around to the relaxing part eventually. (maybe once taxes are done) Routine. There is something peaceful about it – and something maddening as well. Surely the schedule is helping me make sense of the otherwise shapeless hours which make up my daily life. I’m feeling a little bit more in control – and I’ve been quite productive! Part of me wants to be constantly on the road where I have no control over the circumstances and timing, where the scenery changes each moment and there are new faces and names to learn each day. Part of me thrives in that environment. But there are other parts of me – parts that crave that elusive thing called “home”, parts that really want a routine, that enjoy having a little control. I am the constant balancing act of all these parts and my pendulum has been swinging in one direction for a very long time. Now I’m at the other extreme – the extreme called “normal” and (at least for now) I’m feeling quite at home.
In celebration of Halloween this year, The Ragbirds played three shows in costumes that I made out of mostly recycled materials. Drawing from childhood nostalgia, the band chose Fraggle Rock as the costume theme. I started with a thrift store spree, buying fuzzy pillows, scarves, bathrobes, blankets and 6 baseball helmets. Then I visited my favorite Ann Arbor craft store The Scrap Box, for fabric remnants and various details (like eyeballs, felt and yarn). Piecing the heads together by eye, the Fraggles took shape.
I put together this video to highlight the first two weeks of our 2012 Fall Tour “The Halloween Leg”. Enjoy!
This is Part 3 of my Video Blog Series, featuring the song “Believe It” from The Ragbirds debut album “Yes Nearby”. After an amazing show at Larkin Square in Buffalo, NY we were hanging around my parents’ living room and I decided this would be the perfect place to have a sing-along for my video blog. So, here it is. With my band mates, my mom and dad, my cousin Chelsea and her friend Gork singing along.
Best quote from my dad: “Are we going to be Youtubians now?”
This is the first of what will be a series of video blogs where I break down some of The Ragbirds songs and perform them solo, with stories. Inspired by “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin I’ve been sharing my own process of the pursuit of happiness in my recent posts. But for me happiness is intrinsically and inextricably tied to my music. So to expand on the word pictures I will be painting in my written entries, I will also be overcoming my fear of video cameras to share some songs with you. Enjoy!
Music Festival Breakfast Burritos
This is a very basic recipe for spreading joy. The ingredients are cheap, the steps are simple and the rewards are many. I spelled it out exactly the way that I do it, just to give you a glimpse into my head (and my van pantry). Get fancy with Tofutti’s “Better Than Sour Cream” and avocado or guacamole if you want to, fancy-pants! Make ‘em however you like – the important thing is to share!
TIP: For best results, it’s best to start cooking at exactly 11am and not any sooner or any later.
Two-burner propane stove,
Cheap-ass small random saucepan with mismatched lid
$14 crepe pan
Good cast iron frying pan (bought at thrift store)
Cooler with ice (and air-tight, waterproof containers for all the ingredients inside)
Oven-mitts, can-opener, spatula, serving spoon, long-handled lighter (need I state the obvious? When camping – YES!)
(optional: A Bloody Mary to make the work a little lighter doesn’t hurt!)
TIP: have your husband or best friend run to get you a coffee while you cook. Then give them the fattest burrito!
2 packages Simply Potatoes – Southwest Style
1 15-oz carton Egg Whites (at home I use tofu to make it vegan, but on the road eggs are easier to cook!)
A few tablespoons of butter (I label mine “Butter” because it’s actually dairy-free Earth Balance)
1 large can of refried beans
2 Tbs Nutritional Yeast
1 Tbs + 1 tsp chili powder
1 Tbs cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper
Shredded Cheese (optional – I leave it off of mine)
1 jar of Salsa
20 whole-grain tortillas (the kind with 8g of fiber – trust me, you will all need extra fiber at a music festival!)
Light the stove, add a few Tbs of “butter” to the cast iron pot and when melted, add as many of the potatoes as will fit. (If they won’t all fit, cook the remainder in the crepe pan on the other burner and wait till they cook down enough to pile them together before proceeding to the next step)
Keep the flame on medium and let the potatoes cook, stirring regularly, as you open the beans and light the other burner. Add a little salsa to the bottom of the small cheap-ass saucepan and set it over medium low heat. Then spoon in half the beans and stir, add more salsa (about ¼ c), add the cumin and about 1 Tbs of the chili powder (not that you will be measuring, but just to give you an eyeball idea), and then add the rest of the beans, stirring constantly (because the pan sucks and it WILL burn them!) Keep stirring the potatoes. As soon as the beans are revealing their heat (steamy and bubbling) put the lid on and set them aside.
Now, raw eggs are not easy to travel with so recently I’ve been opting for the carton of egg whites because it’s healthier and also easier. Place the cheap, “non-stick” (yeah, right!) crepe pan on the burner and add 1 Tbs of butter, letting it melt in the pan over medium-low heat. When hot, open the carton and pour in the eggs. If you’ve never used these before you will be amazed how easy it is! Of course right about this moment you will find out if your stove is on completely level ground or not. Add the nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and 1 tsp chili powder, plus salt & pepper to taste. (Isn’t everything “to taste”?) Stir the eggs with the spatula and swirl the pan a bit to get the mixture to lay evenly. Reduce the flame to low (as low as the touchy propane stove allows!) Keep stirring the potatoes!
Jostle the eggs after a few sips of your Bloody Mary and when they seem to be firming up enough to flip, cut the eggs in half with your spatula, then flip each half carefully. The confined space of a propane camp stove is a challenge for making anything pretty – don’t try to impress friends with a good omelet-flip. It may ruin breakfast.
How are those potatoes? Should be done. Now scoot them over to ¾ of the pan and turn off the heat. Scoop up the eggs and place them on the bare ¼ of the potato pan, just to stay warm. Use the now-suddenly-available crepe pan to fry up the tortillas, one at a time (It’s really a juggling act – I’ve done it so many times now I’ve got it down!)
Here’s the trick for making the burritos come together: serve them two at a time. Fry up both sides of one tortilla (medium heat – use non-stick spray for ease) then put another one in its place on the pan immediately. Take the cooked tortilla and ration out a small spoonful of beans, a thin strip of eggs, a hearty helping of potatoes, salsa and cheese (if you so desire it). Flip the tortilla on the stove. Now wrap the newly-filled burrito slowly, tucking in the ends with respect for the fillings and roll it tightly. Set this burrito on the pan in place of the tortilla that’s there and assemble the new burrito in the same way. When it’s ready, add it to the pan beside the other one and announce that breakfast is served. People will suddenly appear. Repeat the two-by-two technique until your guests disappear, or seem to no longer be hungry. You are now a human assembly line of joy! I recently fed 17 people with this recipe (3 people ate small-portioned “seconds”)
1. Don’t forget to eat one yourself!
2. Make someone else clean up!!
SO, yeah I did say 2010. And yes, I know it is 2012 now. But I started writing this little journal and saved it as a draft and got distracted and never posted it. I found a few more just like it when I recently re-opened my blog. So far I may be the world’s worst blogger, and maybe I should just pick up where I left off and leave the past in the past, but my brain works in such a way that I need to release it all, in order of sequence. So, I’m going backwords in time for a minute, but once I get caught up, I will know exactly where I am. And there I will begin.
. . .
Thursday October 7th, 2010
The road begins with one painted white line and we follow it like children seeking bread. We stuff our packs and load the wagon, then roll of like gypsies at sunset, anticipating what the dark will bring. Tonight we will strike up the band, stoke the fire and sing. There will be drinking and dancing in Mount Pleasant tonight.
What was blue turns orange, What was orange turns gray, But everything’s black at the end of the day.
Friday, October 8th
The scenery from here to the Upper Peninsula is worthy of an art gallery. Only it couldn’t be captured and pinned on a wall, nor penned down in words. The trees are showing off for us – they raise their arms and burst into a hundred colors before giving up the good fight. The sky is bright with Autumn sun.
It’s fair weather and I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m trying to stop thinking about how long this journey will be, to stop counting the days, and start focusing on the day. God gives me enough grace for each day and that’s enough. Today I am healthy and I have everything I need.
Saturday, October 9th –
This morning is luxury. I slept till noon and woke up alone in the Ramada of Marquette. Randy and the boys went off kayaking and though I know I’m be missing out on some fun, I’m not the least bit envious. Having a morning of peace and absolute quiet to be alone is such a rare treasure. I pampered myself a little – took a long bath and did a pedicure, made coffee, spent time in prayer and meditation and now I’m relaxed and ready for what the rest of this day will bring.
. . .
Like a few pages torn from a journal, these are just glimpses of my life on the road. I will be continuing to develop and fill in the blanks as it all unfolds – occasionally out of order, like a strange dream.
I decided to write this because many people ask me for tips and suggestions about how to stay healthy and happy on the road. I’ve been touring in bands for almost 12 years and The Ragbirds are on the road nearly 200 days a year now and so I’ve learned a trick or two. I’m continuously researching natural products and vocal techniques – I am my own guinea pig – so maybe you can learn from these experiments. Keep in mind that everyone is different and some things other singers have recommended to me haven’t worked for me. Listening to your own body is the best advice anyone can give regarding health and happiness.
This is just a short list of products that you can find at any health food store (or even better – save money on Vitacost.com – see link below) I also use a travel NETI POT daily and I keep a little 2 oz plastic travel bottle with salt water in my backpack which I use to gargle frequently. Plus, of course, I drink lots of water! (ask my band-mates – they get a little annoyed at the frequent pit stops, but it’s so important to stay hydrated!) I make tea frequently so I travel with a small ELECTRONIC TEAPOT. I also take advantage of the opportunity to hydrate my throat by putting a scarf over my head and breathing in the steam.
*Emergen-C (so convenient for travel! I take other vitamins at home, but this is the best on-the-go)
*Throat Coat Tea (I only use this when my throat is really sore, not regularly)
*Osha Root Extract (1 dropper full in a shot of water – excellent for a sore voice!)
*Tiger Balm (I massage this into my neck after lots of vocal use) Massaging the throat and stretching the jaw, neck and tongue helps your voice last longer (yawning is a good start!)
*Raw Honey (I get a thermos full of hot water at gas station stops and I add raw honey regularly to herbal tea, which I carry with me. If I am feeling under the weather fresh ginger and lemon are added as well)
*Eco-Teas Yerba Mate – South American Tea for mental clarity and good energy (it’s caffeinated, but better for you than coffee!) Some people don’t recommend caffeine at all because it is dehydrating, but I still rely on it for performance energy.
*Chia Seeds (these are so hydrating and packed with benefits – especially fiber, which is hard to get and extra important while traveling) I add about a tablespoon of chia seeds to my water bottle (often together with Emergen-C). Shake immediately so they don’t clump – the seeds become a bit gelatinous, but you get used to it.
OK, so I’m also a little bit of a freak who carries her own supplement shaker to add to foods. A mix of NUTRITIONAL YEAST and DULSE (seaweed) FLAKES add extra vitamins and minerals to quick foods that are often lacking in nutritional content – and extra flavor so I use less salt. Maybe it’s an acquired taste – I really love adding it to eggs, potatoes, popcorn, grits, sandwiches and salads.
Some of these products may seem strange and/or expensive. If these ideas are new to you, try them one at a time, instead of making a long shopping list. The nutritional yeast and dulse flakes need only be used sparingly and they last such a long time.
NOTE: I don’t eat meat or dairy and that seems to work best for me, but everyone’s different. Keeping a snack in my bag keeps me from getting mean (nuts and/or fruit usually – I love dried apricots). I find avocado to be very soothing to my throat and stomach so I eat it whenever I can.
To exercise I have a thigh master (haha!! – I really do!!) as well as a resistance band in the van that I use to strengthen my muscles. The aerobic activity of our live show gets my heart pumping, so I’ve found it very important to stretch before shows, just like an athlete warming up for a game. My hubby bought me Yoga Paws for Christmas and I like that I can use them on any surface without carrying a mat with me. I try to sneak in brisk walks, sit-ups and push-ups when I can. It depends on if I’m waking up on the floor in a hippie house in a scary part of the city or in a suburban hotel and how tight the schedule. Sometimes we don’t have time even for a shower!
I always travel with a journal, a prayerbook (I love the Divine Hours) and a book of poetry (Rumi, Hafiz, Rilke’s “Book of Hours”, Leonard Cohen’s “Book of Longing”). The Ragbirds’ song “Silence is Everywhere” is about finding inner quiet even when there is noise all around.
Here’s a Travelin’ Machine TOUR VIDEO I made featuring the song “Silence is Everywhere”
Deep breathing exercises and meditative music (Bach Cello Suites and Zoe Keating‘s album “Into the Trees” are favorites on my ipod!) are small ways to escape the chaos and enter into inner silence.
Also, I try to stay in touch with people outside of the circle I travel with every day, stay connected to family as much as possible to stay rooted, and keep it real with God. (for me that means daily confessions and asking for guidance). I admit I am lucky because my husband and brother travel with me! (but that comes with its own set of challenges too! haha!)
AT HOME: (to recover from a tour)
*Apple-Cider Vinegar and Blackstrap Molasses (I don’t travel with this because it’s messy!) – 2 Tbs of the cider vinegar (I use Bragg’s) and a drizzle of molasses in a 16-oz glass of water. This is balancing and refreshing, plus it seems to help with sinus issues that I’ve always struggled with.
*Smoothies!!! One of the best things about being home is that I can make them myself and not pay exorbitant prices for a healthy drink. I like to start with kale and almond milk, blend that well, then add frozen fruit and juice. Often I add chia seeds too!
If you decide to check out Vitacost, please register through my link so we can both get a $10 off coupon!
Let me know if this is helpful for you and pass it along to friends – especially those who may be touring musicians too! Feel free to add your own suggestions and comments.
Sincerely and with much love –
What I haven’t said or now have a different way of saying:
I’m pulling back the curtain for some of these songs which offer a behind-the-scenes perspective on the touring life. “Six Wheels” offers a light-hearted commentary on “riding with the boys in a travelin’ machine”. “Tomorrow River” is a song I wrote for my mother with a tinge of homesickness in the lyrics and some really emotional solos from both the violin and the electric guitar. “Hard Times” (title still in progress) is about perseverance and recognizing adversity and obstacles as beneficial. “The Race” is about trying to keep up in a high-speed, image-focused society.
For this album, there are a few new styles that I haven’t tried before including a song in the style of a Celtic Sea Shanty. This is a predominantly masculine style. It was sung aboard the ships as men were rowing and working to the rhythm and women were not even allowed aboard. These are the songs of poor hard-working men, sung through sweat and blood. Here in my song “Mercy of the Sea” I am using this imagery as an analogy for the unruly mind in a distracting and treacherous world. It’s about being the captain of one’s own soul – taking ownership of your choices. While I do add a little more grit and force to my voice, it is still a contrast to the traditional shanties, having the story sung by a female.
I have also written a Cajun-Zydeco style tune called “The Bully”, which came to me after watching the series ‘Treme’, a documentary about the Balfa Brothers and spending some time in the South getting to know musicians who play this style of music. Paul Simon really introduced Cajun music to me first and it seemed the perfect setting for this upbeat lyric I had written about beating depression (who is “the bully” in the story) and recognizing the small accomplishments of life that keep me encouraged.
Lastly, as far as new genres, there is a Circus-Inspired Waltz called “Acrobats” which deals playfully with the pitfalls of long-lasting relationships, comparing married people with acrobats performing dangerous feats of extraordinary skill.
Those first seven songs have taken shape and all but “Acrobats” have been preformed live now. The rest are still coming together. We’ve talked about recording “Moribayassa” (the African rhythm that we sing “I’ll Fly Away” over) There are six or seven more that are conceptually or partially written which we will choose from and whittle into shape. I’d really like to express our environmental passion which we’ve been living out, but have yet to sing about. I’m also working on lyrics about global consciousness, diversity and how seeing the beauty in all people helps us see God.
I’m still brainstorming for a title that summarizes or at least works in harmony with all these ideas. There has been some imagery which seems to keep coming up – a stage with sails, riding out a storm on the open sea. I’m working on sketches to get this idea across, also working with imagery using many different types of wheels.
I’m calling this Part III of a 3-part series because it ends here, but clearly it is far from finished. The end goal is the album of course. But I’m documenting the process and the concepts behind it better this time than ever before. So really this is an excerpt from what will soon become “The Insider’s Liner Notes”. I haven’t decided fully how to make this available to people who are interested in what goes on behind the songwriting, but for now I am offering it as a Kickstarter reward (at the “Ebird” Level – All the levels are named for birds) To find out more about that and other incentives to be a part of the process of our new album recording, check out www.Kickstarter.com.
What I have already said (in 43 songs)
Looking back, I’ve told stories about overcoming limitations (The Limits Of Me) and fear (Brave New Beat), making slow and difficult life changes (Finally Almost Ready), tending one’s own dirty mind (The Innkeeper), and dealing with death (The Bridge Where Our Worlds Meet), dying, and disease (Medicine). There is a call to action (Wake the Birds) and a reminder that every action is the message you’re really speaking no matter how small (Little Things).
I’ve also talked about depression (Low-Flying), apathy (Door in the Wall), discouragement (The Show Is Over), addiction (Stuck Inside of Who You Are), self-destructive behavior (Book of Matches), clumsy self-expression (Tipi Baya), music pouring out of emptiness (Space), the jaded heart that’s given up (Getting Dark), leaving a destructive situation (Roar, Claw & Bite) making peace with an enemy (Ypsilanti Song), and parting ways peacefully with well-wishing (Anywhere)
On love, I’ve written about the Springtime of new love (Around The Time), the harvest of long-lasting love (Harvest), forgiveness (Stretch My Love), dysfunctional love (The Frame), the intimacy of shared experience (The Inside Story), trust (Love’s Great Joke), inexpressible love (How Can I Say), love that rescues (Get In), love that is blessed by God (Holy Kiss), and love as a safe place (Hiding Place). On family, there are two songs about the bond of blood despite and through times of grief, one set at Christmastime (This Kind Miracle) the other after a funeral (The Family Tree). [click for a FREE download of this song, as a sample track from my upcoming solo album]
There are songs about hope – directly (Believe It) and indirectly – and many songs with spiritual themes like awareness of God (Picture), the Devil (Enemy), self-awareness (Narcissick), separating deep truth from temporal realities (Religion) and redemption (Totem Pole). There are also a few songs about the strong striving desire for purification (Tarantella), righteousness (I Will Make My Nest High Up), contentment (Good), rest (Workaholics Lullaby) and a widening of the heart towards all of humanity (Panoramic Camera) Of all my songs, only one is directly a worship song (Adoration), although our 2009 album includes an African worship song (Onyame Kokroko). Still, almost all of my songs mention God or Love, which are synonymous and I consider them all spiritual.
To find out more about the upcoming album, stay tuned for Part III of this blog. Also be sure to check out The Ragbirds’ Kickstarter page for more information about the recording project and how you can help make it possible.
And so this new album project begins with a handful of songs that have been pushed out of the nest already to fly and a nest full of eggs waiting to be hatched. I’m looking down at the expanse of the road we’ve walked so far – measuring the journey. What message have we carried? What mood have we inspired? How have we grown and changed along the way?
This will be the fourth collection of songs that we share with the world. There are 35 original songs already recorded and released on The Ragbirds first 3 albums. Then there are 8 more original songs on my new solo album (to be released soon!) So, after 43 songs have been sung, what more do I have to say?
As touring has taken up the bulk of our time and made up the majority of our experiences in the last two years, this batch of songs seems more honed for the stage. I’m trying to write songs to create the live show experience that I want to present – songs that fill in the holes where something seems missing in our live presentation. And the themes are naturally inspired by our experiences traveling across this diverse country.
So the songs, in a way are catered to the party. They are a natural expression of our daily life, which is setting up the circus tent in a different city each night and living the songs out on stage. They are fun, lively, danceable, and diverse. I think that since I was able to get some of my sadder and more personal songs out in my solo album, I am able to naturally express this communal, joyful side of life without feeling deprived of self-expression.
There are a few songs that explore new genres, which is always a musical adventure for us. When I attempt to adopt a new musical style I spend a lot of time sitting with the old players of that style singing into my ears. I learn the history and I study the form, but more importantly, I listen deeply and for a long time until it has found its way into my soul. Only then can I truly write an original song in that style and let myself shine through.
On this new album my goal is for the band to step up the quality of every little part so that we can present a more polished sound, with tight rhythms, more harmony than ever before (and more fiddle!) We’ve had lots of studio experience now and this album should bear the evidence of all our lessons learned.
I also want to say things we haven’t said yet – to lift people’s hopes up – to make them believe in joy. The overall vision is for listeners to experience the fun, uplifting encouraging live show that we put on nearly every night in every city we travel to. I want to bring that happiness that I see on the audience’s faces into their cars and kitchens and living rooms.