Lo, The Summer is Over

I’ve been quiet all summer — at least online. In the real world I’ve been my usual self, blabbing on and on in a manner that transcends the seasons. But the summer is over, and now it is time to turn my attention to the virtual side of things. Maybe I associate spending hours on the internet with cooler days and crisp nights, parallel to the intense desire to sit around by the fireside that kicks in every fall. Anyway, not to overthink it or anything. The point is I’m back. Here. Posting.

Starting with a summer album of sorts. Even though my online self has been comatose, my offline self has been racing around working on various things, some of which I’ll post about during the coming weeks. But as far as summer projects go, visits to family were mixed in with various creative projects, including our town’s weekly farmers’ market and the Madden Road Music Fest in Ohio, which was held on the farm this year. The ol’ homeplace, in folk song parlance. Continue reading

Making Stuff: the Domestic Edition

Because of the internet and the bunch of killjoys who use it, those of us who look up stuff and read links our friends send to us on a regular basis have come to realize, in excruciating detail, that everything (every single thing) inside our homes is pretty much killing us. We are surrounded by chemicals, breathing them in from the time we roll off our toxic mattresses in the morning to when we relax in the evening on our comfortable couch as tiny particles of flame-retardant carcinogens waft upwards, entering our bloodstream via the air we breathe and our very own skin, that traitor.

So what is a conscientious person supposed to do? Well, some of us are purists and dress only in ethically-sourced hemp, use only milk paint and eat food that only comes from biological resources that don’t have eyes, which means that even some plants are off-limits. Others among us don’t go that far. I am one of those others. But still, I really, really, really despise being forced to play along with our Industrial Food-and-Chemical Overlords, so on to the real point of this missive: I recently made my own toothpaste, and I liked it.

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Summer Living

It’s been a crazy summer. From Germany and Canada to the west and east coast of the United States, my family all converged on the farm in Ohio for several weeks. Sometimes all at once, sometimes in succession. A wedding, a family reunion, and a camping trip involving the 47 members of my immediate family were followed just a mere few hours after we packed up the camping gear by the birth of the 48th member, whose mother managed to make it to the hospital in time for the baby’s arrival.

My family completed our month-long homage to the cycle of life by holding a memorial service for my uncle out by the pond at the farm in Ohio, the pond built by my grandpa and recreated, in a way, by my uncle, who put a pond on his own property all the way across the country in Oregon.

A few days after the memorial service, and on the last night most of us were together, the third annual micro Madden Road Music Festival took place at the old brick building at the crossroads of Mutual, Ohio. My mom has an antiques shop on the ground floor of the building, and a few years ago some of the family came together and cleared out the top floor for use as an occasional music hall. With its cracked plaster and old beadboard walls, the music hall resembles a depression-era honky-tonk or small town opera house. Which it probably was — both of those things — over the years. The floor still bears faded painted lines outlining the boundaries of an undersized basketball court from its stint as a sports center for budding young farmers.

For this year’s festival, both floors were put into use. We pushed the old bureaus and benches and side tables to the edge of the antiques shop and placed the tables and chairs in the center, creating a place for the festival potluck.

Potluck beginnings

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Hemisphere Coffee Roasters, a local coffee roasting business run by a family who source all their beans directly, came to the festival and transformed my mom’s shop counter into a coffee shop. Right next to the counter we created a bakery using an antique glass display case, which held goods baked by my nieces, who made everything from brownies to snickerdoodles to chocolate chip cookies. To the shock of everyone who knows her well, my mom spent the day of the festival baking bread to add to the bakery’s inventory. The bread was delicious, which belies the whole idea that only highly-trained experts who spend their youth sweating over commercial ovens as apprentices are capable of baking bread. The motivation for my mom’s baking spree came from the fact that proceeds from bakery sales all went toward efforts to help the friend of yet another sister who lived in Mumbai, a friend who is saving up with her husband so that he can buy his own rickshaw. I know this sounds over-the-top but it’s true. We raised money to purchase a rickshaw in India at our tiny music festival in the middle of nowhere, Ohio. We live in global times, people.

The potluck featured lots of stuff from the garden: corn and cantaloupe and squash. Someone brought a huge tray of macaroni & cheese, which was quickly consumed. And someone else brought a trencher of homemade popcorn. It turns out that popcorn tastes especially awesome when eaten from an antique trencher. And while I don’t know exactly what a trencher is (the people who brought the popcorn told me the name of the thing), I know that I want one for my next potluck.

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Five bands took both stages, alternating between the Antiques Store Stage and the Music Hall Stage, and each one was mesmerizing. Which also sounds over-the-top, but it’s just as true as the rickshaw story. Something about seeing musicians make music in front of you seems both familiar and completely strange these days. Familiar in the sense that making and experiencing live music in real time has been around since human beings themselves. But strange in the sense that most of us take our music in electronic doses, perfected and altered and manipulated before we consume it at random, usually isolated moments. Listening to real music being made by actual people in a roomful of family, friends and strangers, eating popcorn and cantaloupe and drinking coffee seemed almost bizarre. But really comforting too. A personal highlight for me was the music of Bob Lucas, who performed along with his daughter and son-in-law. These three are steeped in old-time music across several genres and decades. And Bob is a composer as well as an actor, director, producer in theater. Just one of those run-of-the-mill geniuses you often encounter playing above a random antiques store in Ohio. (Never underestimate the Midwest. It is full of surprises).

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Daniel Dye & the Miller Road Band

The morning after the festival we gathered outside my parents’ farmhouse to see our nephew David off to college in Chicago, and the summer was complete. It held everything: endings, beginnings and middles, all of it carried out to a sort of soundtrack of music-making at every point, from singing around the campfire to my brother playing his banjo at his newborn daughter’s side at the hospital to singing (and we do sing choral arrangements as a family, some of us more skillfully than others) The Lord Bless You and Keep You as a benediction, moments before David climbed into the van with his family, heading west — just as the sun climbed higher and higher in the east.