Category Archives: Reflections

Thoughts that mature a little bit when written out.

Making Music

Whoa! Hi!

I’m not going to talk about how long it’s been. Not gonna do it.

SO… I just got these.

One is a super nice instrument mic and the other is a super nice vocal mic. Well, I guess I should say that that they look super nice. I haven’t tried them out yet because I don’t have mic cables right now, but I’M IMPULSIVE, YES I KNOW.

This recent purchase was mostly spawned by a couple of recent hand overs.

This beauty…

It calls itself a tone port and connects mics and 1/4″ cables to my computer via USB, which WAY trumps my previous efforts of trying to record with a webcam. So long unintentional overdrive! It did take some installing of sound editing software (Audacity, which can be downloaded for free Here) which was all open source and free and, admittedly, not the greatest thing. But, hey, I think it’s going to be a OK. It’s certainly a step up.

Also, there’s this!

You see!? Technology negates friends once again! So long as I only design songs that slowly build up, this can be my whole band! It wants a zero percent cut! It’s an intern!

Both of these came from my buddy Sam, who just got married recently.

Proof:

I really like that picture and I really like Sam. He’s a writer and a musician and an artist and a damn fine friend. And soon I’ll be able to write a song about all of that and record it on these silky smooth new devices.

Granted, I’m still needing an amp and some cables, but I’ve committed to finally getting a setup together. Ideally, I want my living space to be a collection of different workshop areas. Tools for wood, tools for metal, tools for soil, tools for sound, tools for food.

I’m excited to almost have enough sound tools to have music be a part of this project.

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Reflections of a Deliver Driver: Robinson Crusoe

So, I deliver maple syrup.

I wake up at 4:00 am and head to the sugar house. The van is waiting for me, list of delivery locations on the seat and about a metric ton of maple products in the back.

When I first started, I was just listening to a lot of NPR and scanning the different local stations as I drove around the state, hoping to find something cool to listen to. I started devouring the library’s collection of audiobooks once I realized that Listening to news all day is depressing.

This means that I’m now going through a great work of literature about every week. This is awesome, as it’s been a while since I’ve had a routine that exposes me to new and challenging ideas through literature, but I want to do this well. After all, these are writers whose work has remained relevant for decades, even centuries, due to their unique insight into the human experience. If there’s one thing that I’m into above all else, it’s that experience. I don’t want to treat these conversations with great minds like idle chit chat.

And so a new routine is born. I want to take the time to unravel the thoughts I have while listening to these works so that I can better apply their truths to my life. I figured writing these thoughts down would help me to keep track of them. They’ll be in no particular order.

So, Robinson Crusoe.

Daniel Defoe wrote it in 1719. It’s about a fairly privileged young man who leaves the security of his family to live the more exciting, and more dangerous, life of a sailor. He get’s stranded on a tropical island and ends up having to  make his way for about twenty years by essentially retracing nearly every technological accomplishment of human beings. Starting out by hunting, he then ends up farming grains, taming livestock, making bread, drying fruit, weaving baskets, and making fired pottery. It’s a pretty sweet situation.

The book is essentially about a man’s relationship with himself and his relationship with God. In the author’s perspective, there’s not really a difference. Crusoe’s God is a mixture of providence and ethics, to be thanked for his luck in surviving so many close calls and to be obeyed in matters that call up his ethical conscience.

There’s a particular section that sparked an interesting thought. Crusoe is spending another day tending to his systems of survival and remarks at the beauty of his settings. While feeling like complimenting his surroundings, he begins to wonder about creation and existence. “Who is the maker of all this?” he asks himself. He immediately answers, “It must be God.”

This is more a point of defining what God is to him than it is forming any kind of creation story. There is existence and whatever is responsible for that existence is what he will address as God. The second summary quickly follows. “Then God must also be the governor of it all.” This leads off to an internal debate about the nature of free will and suffering.

It’s the initial juxtaposition of these statements is what interests me, though.

If you create something, you control it.

This pattern is easy enough to see everywhere. You raise seedlings to control their growth and dictate where they’ll grow. You build an engine to run it. You bear a child to raise it. This is more than just a way of creating, but a general expectation of creation. The creator often feels cheated if their creation goes against their will. “I made you and I can erase you.”

Now, take creativity into account.

This is a word associated with art, which has become less associated with utility. While I don’t agree with this dissociation, it’s there and there’s no use in denying it. Don’t make art, get a job. Don’t get a job, make art. I say make all your work art. That’s another conversation, though.

Is it that a purer art just doesn’t fit into the utilitarian mindset? Why would you make something just for the sake of beauty? Art is the photo negative of communication: it creates different meanings for different people based on their differing perspectives and experiences with it. In this sense, the artist relinquishes control.

I’m not going to make any statements regarding creationism theory, but I do think that bringing this perspective to the table changes the discussion slightly. Maybe utility is only a mortal faculty.

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Ends and Beginnings

Whoo, buddy.

A lot has been happening. The best thing about it is the little bit of time I have and the no bit of money I have, which makes for the perfect environment to untangle my thoughts and experiences. Where to start…

It’s winter and I’m pretty happy.

There’s something about walking around in the winter. There’s this kind of instant camaraderie that connects anyone you meet while walking to town in February. It’s like we’re in a special club of people who can get through the cold weather just fine, thank you. This is what made camping in the winter so incredible. No one does it, so everyone that does instantly shares an intimate connection.

I guess the only other thing I can say right now is that I’m really into the whole period between the 17th and 18th centuries right now. I’ve been driving around a lot, delivering maple syrup, and I’ve been blazing through the library’s audiobook section. So far, I’ve caught up on everything from Sherlock Holmes and the Great Gatsby to Catch 22 and A Confederacy of Dunces.

What really got me going, though, was picking up Robinson Crusoe. What does it mean when I find myself constantly wanting to be in his shoes?

A cave house with stores of powder and shot, fields of corn and rice, herds of goats that you tamed and bred, and the means to make your own raisins.

That kind of sums up what I want to do. I know I’m being a little short sighted and the idea of not speaking to another soul for some twenty years would be a little rough. This raises an interesting point. Would he have done it all if he weren’t alone?

I think the allure of this story for me is the idea of being able to do something without the influence of anyone else. Not in a “Now I can do whatever I want, No Pants Dance!” kind of way, but just being able to get lost in a task for no other reason than the intrinsic motivation of it. Not thinking, “Boy, I hope that Dan really likes these raisins.” Maybe I’ve just had too many rough room mate situations.

I think this speaks a lot about my personality, though. If I’m delighted by the idea of being stranded on a tropical island, does that mean I can’t stand to be around other people? Maye that’s a bit extreme. I like people a lot. I think it’s more accurate to say that I care so much about people, that I can lose track of myself in them. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. What to do, what to think. Ultimately, though, I’ve found that moving towards being who I am is better for everyone.

Especially me.

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L.S.A. Album!!!

I have to pay for those exclamation marks, you know. They were necessary.

So, I’m super excited about this.  Before I get into details, though, let’s meet Alan.

I met him through my friend Twon Schroedoer  during a potluck at my brother Mike’s house. This exact situation is how about 90% of people in Indianapolis know each other. All I knew at first was that he and his then-girlfriend/now-wife, Alida, used to live in Chicago and used to be in the band 1997 together. When I heard both of those things, I thought “Whoa, cool!”

Over time, I got to know him better through various Know No Stranger events. He’s an honest, caring, and hard working friend who loves his wife, his friends, and his community. He also holds the world record for the longest hug with his friend, Doug Pierce.

Before the L.S.A. album, he had been playing the role of Indy’s super accessible recording expert for anyone who wanted to put something out there. The first time I heard his recording/producing skills were on the album “Yellow Snow: A Midwest Christmas” He made a call for Indianapolis musicians to write a few Christmas songs each for the sake of building something awesome.

And it was. Not only were these really talented people writing really awesome original songs, they we’re mixed at a level that sounded SUPER professional. I think everyone had been working with four track recorders and such up to that point and this album really blew everyone’s minds.

I worked with him on recording three songs during one trip home, which gave me insight to his process and his talent. He has a unique ability to give direct feedback and suggestions while still giving whoever he’s recording complete control of the music. It was an awesome experience.

It was a little over a year ago that I heard word of the L.S.A. compilation. Alan sent messages to all the Indy musicians who he thought would be interested, calling for original songs for an album to raise money for the non-profit group Loving South Africa which is part of Loving Accurately Ministries of Indianapolis. Their goal to motivate and awaken churches in the Indianapolis area to get directly involved in aid to South Africa was inspired by the pastors’ personal experience living in Kwazulu-Natal, the AIDS epicenter of the world. 55% of all South African’s living with AIDS live in Kwazulu-Natal.

  Alan took on organizing, recording, and mixing this album so that all of the money made from sales could be donated to the LSA organization to fund aid projects. The album is so awesome in so many ways. I’m honored to be a part of it and I’m psyched to get it out there.

Check it out!

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Taking Time

I found myself thinking about donuts recently. There was a time when we worked on a farm and every day on the way home, we would pass a Dunkin’ Donuts store. After a ten hour day of heaving, hefting, hauling, and horses, the neon pastries sounded like the best thing on the planet. We resolved to have a day where we’d wake up early, buy a dozen of our favorites, and eat them in bed. The plan worked splendidly.

Recently, though, I remembered that the gas station near our house was also one half Dunkin’ Donuts store. I thought, “Man, it was kind of silly that we drove to the other one all the way across town when we could’ve just walked around the corner.”

Then I started thinking that it was actually odd that there is no difference in the food served at either location. Then I thought how odd it was that there was no difference between the donuts we got and the ones I could buy back in the Midwest. Same experience, different climate zone. Convenience.

Terrible things have been done for the sake of convenience. Food, energy, education, medicine. Every industry had been polished by our ever-increasing need to have things quickly and homogeneously. I mulled over this idea of the negativity associated with convenience in my last paper on biological ties to behavior.

I remember my friend Jose finishing up the last portion of the Wilderness Survival Immersion Project where he spent three weeks in the woods, surviving on the primitive skills that he’d learned up to that point. He’d described how strange it was to leave that experience and jump right back into society.

“It was strange getting in the car. Like, ‘Whoa, this is really comfortable’ and then going into town and seeing everything was crazy. Everything was High-Res, like my vision was still really tuned in and I was still really aware of everything. It was kind of overwhelming.”

So, there’s the big thing: Awareness. We’re conditioned out of it.

In the woods, living by the little bit of gear that you’ve crafted, you’re tuned in. Your entire body is tuned up to help you survive. Your vision is clearer, your hearing is better, and your memory is more exact. With more convenience, these senses get diluted. You don’t have to focus as much when everything is clearly marked with bright signs and clear pathways straight to it. Focused hearing is no longer needed for survival and is used just for communicating. Your memory gets spotty from never having to suffer the consequences. Even if you leave your lunch behind when you go to work, there are grocery stores, vending machines, and delivery services available if you don’t decide to take the extra ten minutes to turn around to get it. If you somehow miss your exit, despite the four signs leading up to it, it only adds another five minutes of driving to your trip. All of these built in second chances keep us from feeling the consequences of our actions and keep us from planning ahead.

Naturally, I think about the implications on food culture.

People are living meal to meal, not because of shortage and poverty but because of too much convenience. Why do I need to think about baking bread a day before when a loaf of bread is two dollars? Why should I worry about canning vegetables in the summer when I can get produce at the grocery store in the dead of winter?

Three reasons. The first is energy. Think of all the energy in the form of electricity and oil that goes into the making and shipping of food at an industrial scale. You can take that out of the equation and replace it with your own energy to plan and work ahead to make the things that you need in your life and to make sure that come from near by. Honestly, though, this point has been argued for decades and doesn’t seem to be working. The global energy crisis is too vast to be felt and care about in daily life and will always lose against general convenience.

So let’s talk about quality. With time and know how, I can turn three cups of flour, a teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of yeast into a loaf of bread that I would expect to pay five dollars for. The ingredients cost me the change that I gather from my pockets before laundry day. While this is an argument that feels much more relevant, it still tends to lose in the face of convenience. After all, what I’m saving in money I’m paying in time and the cheap loaf of bread isn’t poison.

Beyond the quality of the finished product, though, there is the quality of the experience.

This is what changes minds. If you make something yourself, it might take a while before you can get the same quality that you would demand from a professional. What’s remarkable, though, it the reluctance to throw away that bad loaf or that kind of wonky box or that bag that has some uneven stitches. There’s a pride in being able to make something. It’s the side effect of testing our skills and seeing them work. There’s something phenomenal in that.

So, yes, you can argue that making things yourself has less environmental impact and that you stand to save some money, but it’s the personal impact, the feeling of empowerment, that changes minds and behaviors.

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Keene Pumpkin Fest

Part of my heart is as soft as dumplings for local festival traditions. Naturally, when I that Keene has been putting on a pumpkin festival for over 20 years, I was into it. This was how the initial conversation went.

“What’s at the pumpkin festival?”

“Pumpkins.”

“What’s the reason for having the festival?”

“Pumpkins.”

“Ah. Is there anything we should bring?”

“Pumpkins.”

I thought I was kinda getting my leg pulled at first, but he was right.

First, there were a lot of pumpkins. Each year, they take another shot at the world record for the most jack-o-lanterns in one spot at the same time. They’ve broken it a couple of times, but I’m not sure who the current record holder is. What’s really important, though, is the reason for this festival.

There really isn’t one.

Sure, there’s food.

And Keene is a pretty cool place to convene.

But, man, there were SO MANY PEOPLE!

Got me thinking about festivals in general. Before, I would always assume that the size of the crowd reflected how worthwhile the event must be. A huge crowd at a band must mean that their music is awesome. A large crowd at a coffee shop must mean that they have chairs that are really good at helping you with sitting down. Seeing the pumpkin fest changed this for me, though.

Don’t get me wrong. It was awesome. I’m not trying to set this up as a “this-thing-was-not-good-but-all-these-people-showed-up-WTF?” kind of rant. It was awesome seeing the pumpkin towers.

Also, it was great to have something to look forward to with friends. Especially when there’s sushi that uses local, wild mushrooms (Shout out to Vendetta in downtown Keene)

It’s actually this second part that makes the whole thing worthwhile. The social aspect of any event, from the World Cup to The Jumping Frog Jubilee of Calavaras County, is a place for people to gather. There’s something about being in the same place with crowds of people while everyone’s focusing on the same thing, even just a little. In this case, Keene had decided that it would give the community the gift of a festival, with little more than some jack-o-lanterns at it’s heart. The healthy community did the rest of the work. I love this process so much! The healthy community responded to a small bit of stimulation and made itself a pearl.

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Snow and Soup

Winter is long and winter is cold and winter is expensive.

All of these things are true and all of these things are unpleasant.

With all of this in mind, though, I still crane my neck and squeal at the first flakes that mark the end of autumn. It means sweaters and stews and baking and sledding and long hikes with no one else out in the woods. I’m really into it this year.

I think this is partially because of how psyched I’ve gotten about cold weather adaptation. I’ve continue to work the stand at farmer’s markets as the days have gotten colder, leaving me with nothing to do but thicken up my blood. My body complained at first, begging me for more layers or for just a quick trip inside, but I didn’t really have a choice. A few days into it, I noticed that I was still just wearing a jacket while everyone was burrowing into their parkas and chattering their teeth.

“Awesome!” I thought, “I’m finally that guy! I’ve never been that guy!”

I’ve always been the blue-lipped skinny kid losing feeling in his fingers after sledding for half an hour while husky, bearded men grabbed trout out of the river with their hands. I realize now that my syntax makes it seem that those two events always happened at the same time, but that’s not really what I meant. I only thought about these men as I fought the cold and envied their imagined hardiness. I’m not doing daily polar plunges or anything, but I at least feel good about going glove-less in November.

But that’s all a long tangent to today, the day that Peterborough, NH, the place I live now, got it’s first snow of the year.

And a real snow, at that! I was expecting a few flakes to melt and be forgotten, but we’ve already got four inches! This required a proper ceremony. Luckily, I’d just gotten a bunch of free parsnips the other day…

About three-and-a-half pounds, actually. Since the connection between soups and snow for me is so strong, I thought I’d best not put this off any longer. I got to work on a creamy parsnip soup by first trimming a little over two pounds of them down before cubing and roasting them in a bit of oil at 400 degrees for about a half hour.

Also, note to whom it may concern: I learned tonight to always take extra care in washing your root vegetables before cutting them. Nothing sinks the heart faster than the crunch of gritty loam under the blade of a newly sharpened knife.

Also, the recipe didn’t call for it, but I’d already made up my mind that this was going to be the winter of a thousand roux and thought this was a good place to start. While the parsnips were happily roasting away, I took two tablespoons each of king arthur flour and bacon grease. I now wished I’d used a lighter oil, not for flavor but for color. It was a bit hard to tell if I had moved from white to golden roux when the whole thing started out as beige. I’m definitely not regretting the flavor, though.

As far as I can tell, it was a success. It didn’t separate into weird clumps of make any acrid smoke, so it met my two criteria for success! I also realize that a bacon grease roux is not at all photogenic, but I’m just so damn proud of this thing.

Soon after, I had sauteed an onion with a half-stick of butter in a large stock pot, and added to that the parsnip cubes for about five minutes. Once things seemed to be getting along alright, I added two quarts of stock. One turkey and one beef, just because that’s what was thawed. I let that come to a boil, then homogenized the whole lot with a soup blender that my neighbor friends kindly lent me last minute.

Up to this point, only a little pepper had made its way in. This isn’t really my style, so I got to work while everything was still hot. As far as I can remember, here’s what I added.

-A few pinches of cayenne

-Two teaspoons of grounds pepper. Maybe more.

-At least 1.5 Tablespoons of sea salt. Maybe more.

-The roux I had made.

-About a tablespoon of powdered garlic.

-A pinch of both nutmeg and cardamom.

-About 1/2 cup of nutritional yeast.

I think that’s it. I got almost four quarts out of it. We ate one tonight with some sour cream, chives, and shredded cheese, paired with some home-baked bread and one of the last bottles of our first home brew.

Welcome to winter.

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