Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nacho, Nacho Dog-- I Want to Be Your Nacho Dog!

Hello Everyone,
Haven't been posting much. Was away in Maine for a glorious week of knitting and hiking. I'm going to write all about that for my Austinist column tomorrow. But today I am here to tell you about Nacho the Dog and Nacho's human creator, Emma Virjan.

Emma lives in Austin and Nacho lives inside Emma's head. He also lives inside the book Nacho the Party Puppy. And, not many of us can claim this, but Nacho has his own theme song written and performed by Asleep at the Wheel's frontman, Ray Benson.

I wanted to let you know that, besides gifting us with Nacho, Emma is also a designer who specializes in working with small companies to create company identities, brochures, and on and on. She's got a little room coming up in her schedule and I'm putting the word out here so if you need some designing or know someone who does, you can check out her website, VirjanDesign and give her a holler.

More soon...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Warren from Yer Main(e) Woman!

For the second year in a row, my annual knitting retreat smashed head on into Warren's birthday. And this year is a milestone-- War-War is officially 20 today! But he said it was okay for me to go far, far away and leave him all alone for his birthday, that he'd be just fine, sniffle sniffle. So thanks for that, Warren because I AM HAVING AN AWESOME TIME AT KNITTING CAMP!!!

If anyone is interested in just what we do up here at knitting camp, you can click here and find out. Or at least check out the most excellent pictures.

In the meanwhile, please join me in wishing Warren a super super happy happy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Super Bitch!

Timeline: Atlanta, GA Sunday, Sept 20, 2009, 9:12 am est

My first alarm went off at 3:45 am Sunday morning, and I obeyed it, mostly so I could get across the room and shut off the second alarm before it sounded. Alarm one, courtesy of Apple’s superior iPhone functioning, emits a very pleasant sound, not so pleasant as to be easily slept through, but certainly not as harsh as my ten-dollar clock radio.

The plan was to be in bed (or at least try) last night no later than 8:30 pm, in the hopes of getting my absolute bare minimum necessary seven hours of sleep. I had a wedding yesterday, the very last thing on my calendar before my weeklong vacation officially started. I wasn’t that thrilled with the prospect of this wedding—not only because I’m getting pretty sick of working seven days a week, every week, for months on end. But also, the mother of the bride would only agree to hire me if I promised to wear different shoes than I usually do.

She hadn’t actually seen the shoes I usually wear, but I’d described them for her: black leather thong/sandals. They’re actually very nice and, more importantly, they allow me to walk without a limp down the aisle. My right foot is significantly bigger than my left, courtesy of the surgery I had to restructure it back in 2005. I never was one for high heels or, really, any kind of “girly” shoes. Comfort first and all that.

But I went over to Sears (evoking more childhood memories than I have time to recount here) and grabbed a pair of twenty-dollar, faux leather, imitation ballet flats. Frankly, they looked dumb compared to my sandals. But, whatever.

Annoyed that MOB was so picky about the appearance of my feet, I decided I would dress however I saw fit for the test run. Thus I showed up at the rehearsal Friday with my arms bared, revealing my half-sleeve tattoos, hoping to make some kind of point.

This was my first time to meet the groom—that was something else that had been off-putting. I like meeting both bride and groom in advance. But here is where the tide turned. He was incredibly cheerful, and it was very clear that he and his bride were just delighted to be marrying each other. Their happy mood lifted dissipated what every irritation I had felt earlier.

Saturday, I lollygagged at Warren’s for most of the morning. I knew I had a lot of work to get done pre-wedding, but I wanted to spend time bonding since no matter how much I love traveling (and I do love traveling), the initial departure brings a deep sense of pack separation that unnerves me.

Eventually though, I got down to business. I ran a few errands, walked the dogs, pounded out 2,000 words, and did a little last minute packing. I take great pride in packing—I travel light, rarely forget anything. There is always a short “FINAL THINGS TO PACK” list that I take care of at the last minute. In this case, I made a mental note to switch out my wallet from my purse to my backpack after the wedding.

The wedding, it turned out, was splendid. I had the benefit of a wedding director, Deidre. Most weddings I do, I’m the only one running the show. From time to time there will be a director, which takes a load off of me. In this case, Deidre was so pleasant, so organized, and so no nonsense about all the details, all I had to do was trot up the aisle in my silly new shoes, sprinkle the magic dust, and command groom to kiss bride. I mean, Deidre even had prepared a mock license, which she filled in with all the details. All I had to do was copy her answers onto the real license, just like Bobby Connelly used to copy answers from my test when we were in high school.

As I prepared to leave, I exercised great caution. I did this for a few reasons. A) Mercury is in retrograde. B) I get so giddy at the prospect of vacation I get distracted, so I make myself be hyper aware C) the parking lot of this particular venue was full of trees. Really. Not organized trees. Trees scattered here and there.

I backed up with tremendous caution, watching not only for trees but cars. Slowly, slowly, slowly and then… BAM! Where the hell did that tree come from? The noise and the impact startled me, but inspection of my bumper revealed no damage, even though it’s more like a picture of a bumper than an actual bumper. I did note that everything on the dashboard (we are talking a lot of shit) went flying. Relieved that I wasn’t going to have to file an insurance claim, I proceeded home, worked in a quick plate of spaghetti and three rounds of Boggle with Warren, and then, off to bed.

But wait. Time to transfer wallet. Look in purse. No wallet. Look in purse ninety more times, as if looking will manifest missing wallet. Wallet does not manifest. Wrack brain. Now where was the last place I had it? Memory led me back to the wedding. I’d hidden my purse under a table near the dj booth to keep it out of sight during the ceremony. Maybe it fell out? The wedding was a half hour away. It was 8:30. This was going to mean getting to bed at 10 if I was lucky.

I looked in the car. No luck. I sighed, resigned to make the fifty-mile roundtrip drive.
Then I remembered Deidre, the uber-organizer. She’d sent a list of every single vendor at the wedding. I started texting them all —will you look for my wallet? While I waited, I decided to give the car one more go over. Now, I put on my headlamp, a recently acquired knit-geek tool.

You see, I was visiting with friends recently, and Steve put on his headlamp to find a book on his son’s shelf. When I saw this thing strapped around his head, I laughed in his face. “That’s ridiculous,” I said.

He told me sure it was, but really I should try one. So I did. AMAZING.

Within days, I had my own headlamp. The first time Warren walked in and saw me clutching my knitting with my locomotive-engine look blinding him, he burst out laughing. It’s true, I look stupid when I wear it. But it has changed my life.

So I strap it on and head out. I go through the car again. I sift and sort and sift and sort. Nothing. And then, the trusty headlamp reflects back a hint of something silver. Closer scrutiny reveals this is my wallet, which looks a lot like a cigarette case. Apparently when I smashed into the tree, the wallet was ejected and landed down the side of the passenger seat, where it settled, almost completely out of view, down a crack.

Which is why I am here today to recommend that you all get headlamps and those of you getting married hire Deidre.

In the meanwhile, I’m sitting here in Atlanta. My pack-separated anxiety has already mostly subsided. I got in some great people-watching on the flight from Austin. Lots of Longhorn fans, and more than a few redheads (I love red hair), and a few very, very beautiful people. One guy was so hot— not hot like I wanted to hit on him, but more like something to be admired from afar, a perfect specimen. A young mother across the aisle held her two-year-old and told him all about the tarmac and the Longhorns until he fell asleep in her arms and this recalled so many trips with Henry and I just yearned for those days.

Riding the train from terminal to terminal in Atlanta was also a thrill, reminding me of so many trains I’ve ridden on in Japan. Those happy memories filled me, prompting more happy memories of so many trips I’ve taken over the past thirty years. You could say, despite the 3:45 am wakeup alarm, it was shaping up to be a perfect day, one that will culminate in me getting to see the autumn colors and wear every single woolen item I’ve ever knitted.

But then, I got another kind of wakeup call. I got to my gate and there was no indication this was the correct gate. So I wandered down a few gates to find a Delta employee. And this is when I was reminded that, at least in my experience, Atlanta has the rudest airport employees anywhere in the world. Seriously, I think they have a special Super Bitch School for Atlanta airport workers. I mean, I didn’t have a fight or anything like that. I just walked up and asked for the right gate, telling my destination. Seeing I was laden with luggage (even though I travel light, I didn’t check anything in) the woman behind the counter snapped at me that she needed my flight number. Because, you know, Delta probably has 200 flights heading to Portland, Maine today so she couldn’t simply look it up by destination.

While I unloaded, and rooted around for my boarding pass, taking my sweet time, another clerk barked at me to tell her my departure time. I held up my hand and looked at both of them. TOO MANY QUESTIONS I said.

Finally, they confirmed for me I did have the correct gate info, and then one took the opportunity to lecture me on when and how information appears on the screen, as if I were a complete idiot. This reminded me of another rude airline clerk and I recalled that one was also in Atlanta, when Warren and I flew back to Austin from Honolulu via Georgia (god bless frequent flier mile ticket itineraries).

Well, to hell with them. They shall not sully my day. In four hours, I will be in Portland. In twenty-four hours I will be on an island, spending six glorious days knitting and eating homemade cookies. I will be wearing shoes that fit perfectly. And I will be far from the Super Bitches in Atlanta, Georgia.

Monday, September 14, 2009


For as long as I can remember (and I can remember long) my life has had a sort of pattern of going along at a busy and manageable pace for month after month until, suddenly, there's this critical mass moment where I look around my office and stuff is piled to the ceiling, you can't see an inch of space on my desk, and I'm staring at no less than ten deadlines. Being highly superstitious about just one thing-- and make fun of me all you want but I swear it's true-- I associate these over the top intense times with Mercury being in retrograde. Other believers in this astrological conspiracy theory often hold that for the roughly three weeks merc goes retro (which happens a few times each year), signing contracts is a very bad idea and that mechanical things are bound to break down. So are communications with others. Thus the theory is that it's best to try to wait these spells out as quietly as possible, don't make any huge decisions, and back up your hard drive.

While I do seem to suffer some of the negative fallout of M/R, invariably I find that this, too, is a time for endless opportunity to fill my inbox. So I'm sitting over here, desperately working to meet my book deadline (September 30th) which involves proofreading, fact checking, correcting, and formatting over 70,000 words worth of research and curating over 300 images procured from museums and private collectors around the world. I also need to caption these pics, by which I do not mean "here is a pretty quilt" but rather "here are the dimensions, material, year made, maker name, AND some interesting details." I am so worn out from it all, and yet I toil away at it.

Then Merc starts spinning backwards (an illusion, but a powerful one) and my email starts ringing off the hook with potential work offers. Last week, over the course of two days, I was offered seven writing assignments. That doesn't even happen when the economy is swinging in full high gear. I also have a 10,000 word assignment for a private client. And I'm waiting to hear back news from last week's job interview about a job that, when I think about it, I've been training for for over twenty years.

So what am I going to do about all this? Well first of all, I'm going to go get a poster board. When things pile up like this, there is no computer screen big enough to accommodate my To Do list. Instead, I get a good old-fashioned huge piece of paper and a sharpie, and I write it all down and set it on the floor next to my feet. Then, throughout the day, I refer to this list, monitor where I'm at progress-wise and, moments it is merited, make a very happy slash through a project completed.

During my interview last week, a question came up that I've heard before, one that makes me squirm a little. How fast do you write? When I'm bidding on a job to write marketing copy and/or overhaul websites for companies, I try to dodge this question, preferring to negotiate a flat fee over an hourly fee. Because, for whatever reason-- maybe thirty-seven years of practice-- I write very, very, very fast. I realized, as my answer was coming out of my mouth, that it was probably sounding like a bad cross between haughty, ridiculous, and impossible. I tried to explain that when I walk the dogs in the morning, I am writing in my head. I don't mean that in some romanticized way. I mean, I am forming and editing sentences, paragraphs, and entire essays. Then, on an ideal day, I come home, meditate for ten or fifteen minutes-- which seems to "set" what I've written in my head-- and then I approach the keyboard and pound out up to 2000 words of a fairly polished first draft inside of an hour. So you can see why I don't like to bill by the hour, since technically I might only actually be at the computer for an hour or two.

Once I billed for a gig and included the amount of time I'd thought about the piece before sitting down. That seemed fair to me. When the client balked and demanded a breakdown of my hour-by-hour process, I went ahead and sent a list that included several hours for mulling. Because frankly, mulling is when I do my best work.

Anyway, this post is not one of those fully formed, structurally sound pieces. I have yet to walk the dogs. I did not meditate. I'm just sitting here, procrastinating for a few minutes (something I rarely do though this book project has gotten me into that habit more than I'd like). I mostly want to say that I am psyched out of my head knowing that, a week from today, I will be on Monhegan Island, which is twelve miles off the coast of Maine. I'll be at a knitting and yoga retreat. I went on this last year, too. I get to spend five glorious days hiking, looking at autumn colors, avoiding yoga classes, and knitting my little fingers off in the company of other knit-addicts. My nickname at knit camp is the Termi-Knitter.

In preparation, I knitted the hat pictured above, modeled here for you by the dumbest/cutest dog on the planet, Rebound McCarthy. Rebound is fond of running into walls, licking the dirt off of Warren's shoes, and misjudging how high to jump when attempting to clear the arm of the futon couch, thus bonking herself in the head some more and further compromising her already limited intellectual capacity. But damn, she sure looks fine in that hat, doesn't she?

As will I when-- come on next week!-- I am in a place where the weather actually warrants the wearing of this chapeau.

You will not hear a peep from me then. Connectivity is limited. And to use one's cellphone, one must climb to a certain spot in the island's little cemetery, cross one's fingers in a certain combination, and face a particular direction just to get reception between the hours of 2 am and 3 am.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

You Gotta Buy This Record: Lee Barber's Thief and Rescue

A few months ago, Matt the Electrician asked me to emcee a The Island of Lost Souls, a music extravaganza he was putting on. That was the day I got my first taste of the tunes Lee Barber had written for his debut CD Thief and Rescue. One song in particular, All Night Long, grabbed me and shook me. Partly, this is because it’s a damn fine song. On a more personal note, it happens that, as Lee and his friends were singing it, out in the audience I was having a very intense emotional exchange with a friend of mine, someone with whom I’d had a long time falling out—we’re talking fifteen years—and at that very moment we were, way past when we should have been, patching it over. As someone who associates everything with everything else, this meant that I knew then that, for the rest of my life, anytime I heard the song, it would take me back to that incredible moment.

The next time I heard the song was a few weeks ago. Lee called to let me know the CD was about to come out and asked if I’d like an advance copy. Of course I did. We met up in a parking lot in South Austin, and he handed it over like we were kids swapping small bills for skunkweed. I think it’s always a little nerve wracking for both giver and receiver, when two people know each other and one asks the other to check out his newborn art. The giver wants the gift to be loved. The receiver wants to love it. But what if there’s a disconnect?

I wasn’t especially worried. Not only because I’d heard that set so I already knew I liked Lee’s stuff, but also because I know Lee is… how do you say it? A life artist? Is that too corny? But, you know, someone who lives his beliefs which I think is almost always bound to translate into true beauty. Plus our circle of overlapping friends is big, and within those nonconfining confines are some of my very favorite Austin musicians—Matt the Electrician and Southpaw Jones among them. So I figured I was going to like the CD but I wondered just how much I would like it.


Well, well, well

I listened to it on a drive out to the Hill Country where I was headed to perform a wedding. Though I am prone to hyperbole roughly 176% of the time, I have to say there is not a drop of exaggeration in the proclamation of love I am about to make. The record was, in a very weird way, wildly familiar and totally fresh and unknown all at once. I can’t figure out how Lee did that, but he did it. And as I listened, I was pulled in the way I was pulled in by early Bowie when I was a young girl, and later, in my twenties, when I first heard Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man. And, too, for some reason, Mott the Hoople came to mind, though I can’t even say I’m terribly familiar with much MTH beyond All the Young Dudes.

Now when I say these other artists came to mind, I don’t mean to suggest Lee is derivative. He is, in fact, wholly unique—from his writing to his voice. Granted, we’re all influenced by those who precede us. And when I found out later that Lee’s earliest ventures into music when he was a teen included a Leonard Cohen songbook, I wasn’t surprised. But I’m not talking so much about lyrics and musical arrangements when I reference vintage Bowie and Cohen. I’m trying to say that Thief and Rescue made me feel how those early works made me feel. An immediate connection that produced a visceral, palpable emotional… thing for which there is no precise word, but more like a guttural grunt-growl of recognition and gratitude.

There is not a weak cut on this record. And I am so psyched that twice recently, when tuned into different stations—KUT and KGSR—I heard the jocks singing the praises of the record, and playing cuts from it. In a town crawling with stunning songwriting talent, it is nothing short of amazing to quietly put out a piece that is so uncompromising and instantly have others get it and want to play it on the air repeatedly.

I read a profile of Lee that Corcoran wrote for the Statesman, which goes a long way toward explaining how my friend managed to pull off this magnificent musical feat. Turns out there’s nothing new to the “formula” he used, but that this “formula” is rarer and rarer to come by. And that is the no-formula-formula, in which one writes directly from one’s heart, and in this case that heart happened to have the blessing/curse of double-whammy disasters (divorce and utter destruction-via-hurricane of his hometown, New Orleans) inspiring what poured out of him. Anybody remember Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights, which they did together while going through a divorce? Well Lee’s ex, harpist Elaine Barber, with whom he used to be in the group The Barbers, is featured on the disk (along with many other incredible musicians, including Curtis McMurtry on baritone sax) which is another clue to the pure emotion that went into the creation.

The whole thing is just over the top. Over. The. Top. It was released yesterday and you can buy it at Waterloo or order it from Lee’s website. And I do hope you’ll all join me Thursday night at 11 pm when he takes the stage at The Continental Club, joined by his band, The Broken Cup. They’ll be playing the whole record, start to finish. I really can’t wait.

Check out an interview and some cuts at KUT Texas Music Matters.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Benefitting Them, Benefitting You

Hey Y'all,
This Wednesday at Antone's there is a benefit for Todd Wolfson. You might not think you know Todd, but if you've lived in Austin for more than five minutes, you've seen his amazing photos of musicians all over the place. And if you've ever owned one of the NAKED calendars I used to produce to help uninsured kids, you also know Todd's work. Todd had a bad bike accident recently and, like so many people, lacks insurance. I'll paste in all the details at the end of this post.

But before I do, please remember that I am also hosting a benefit on Sunday, September 13th, from 11 am til 1 pm at BookPeople on the third floor. That one is for Dan Nugent, long time BP employee, rescuer of swans, and total badass. Dan nearly died after recent surgery. He, too, is uninsured. There is not set minimum donation for Dan's benefit. I'm asking, if you're able, to throw ten bucks in the hat. But more or less is fine. We want to raise Dan's spirits at least as much as we want to help defray his mounting medical bills. There will be readings from cast members of the Dick Monologues and music from Southpaw Jones and we're even throwing breakfast into the deal. So please, please, mark your calendars and come on out.

Okay, Todd benefit info:

“Putting Todd Back Together” with Jon Dee Graham & Jesse Sublett, Skyrocket!, The Trishas, Paula Nelson, Carolyn Wonderland, Ian McLagan & The Bump Band, Alejandro Escovedo, Triple Cobra and Charlie & Will Sexton with Ruby James.

Date: Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Venue: Antone’s, 213 W 5th St. 512.320.8424,

To purchase tickets in advance click here.

Doors: 6:00pm
Show: 7:00pm

Cover Charge: $20 advance/$25 at the door

Silent Auction begins: at 6:00pm
Live Auction begins at: 7:30pm (and after each band performs)

DONATIONS: Help Todd via CHIP IN click here. All proceeds go to Todd V. Wolfson

Special thanks to the sponsors supporting “Putting Todd Back Together:” Antone’s, KGSR-FM, Austin Chronicle, ME Television InSite, Corcoran & Company, 101X, KLBJ-FM

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Ross picked me up for dinner & Elvis Costello last night. He was carrying a very big wrapped package for me-- pretty obvious it was a picture. But I was puzzled. We were supposed to be celebrating his birthday, not mine. He explained this was "an early birthday present" and that it was from him and Henry.

I love and fear presents, worried that I'll not "get" something, or be overwhelmed, or not know what to say. Well, I "got" this one, no problem. But I was also overwhelmed, didn't know what to say, and wept. For inside was a much larger version of the portrait you see above, my darling son, captured at 18 by young local photographer Matt Conant.

I always love pictures of Henry, but this one-- oh this is my new all time favorite, capturing his eyes perfectly. And I can see a glimpse of little Henry but, of course, I can also see the young man he has become. Hen has been gone now for a month or so-- took off for Portland where he is hanging out indefinitely. I am so happy for him-- so happy. But my empty nest syndrome has, at times, gone into high gear. So seeing that picture, nearly life sized in the print Ross gave me, after not seeing Hen for over a month-- it shook me up. Then today I started listening to the mix CDs I made him for his last birthday, and I was still more overwhelmed thinking of all the shows we'd been to together, how excellent it is we love a lot of the same music, etc.

Today when I talked to him I told him I'd been out walking the dogs, listening to the CD that made me think of him, envisioning the portrait in my mind, and weeping. Henry being Henry he said something-- can't remember what precisely, but I think it went like this, "That sounds real healthy, Mom."

Anyway, I can't thank Ross enough for arranging the photo shoot. And I already emailed Matt to heap praise on him. He said I could share the above image. If you want to see more of his work and/or contact him about a portrait, just use the link above.