Friday, October 30, 2009

Missing Nickel Creek

"Others have excuses but I have my reasons why..."

Nickel Creek has been popping up on my Pandora mix. The songs are creating a nostalgic ache in me. How I miss them! I hope you won't mind if I write a little ode to the band and their gorgeous music. I well remember the first time I discovered Nickel Creek. Channel flipping in the 4th floor lounge of the college dormitory, the sound I heard when I reached CMT (which used to play music videos most of the day instead of inane reality television) made me put down the remote. On the screen were three kids... well, not really kids. They looked to be my age. A guy with a guitar, a girl with a violin, and a guy with a mandolin. There they were, harmonizing on "When You Come Back Down," and there I was, riveted. The sound created by their voices and instruments struck me as thrilling and soothing at the same time. I had to hear more! Based on half a music video, I bought their album. I knew every word by heart in a matter of days. I couldn't get enough.

While falling in love with their music, I fell out of love with a lot of formerly enjoyable music. It dawned on me that musicians could do so much better; that songs could be more genuine, more clever; that I didn't need to settle for the clear cut categories of 'pop' and 'country' that the radio stations hailed as all the best music. Listening to Nickel Creek at 19 years old changed the way I have listened to music ever since and it changed what sort of music I wanted to hear. I'd love to thank them for that.

The band turned out to consist of brother and sister, Sean and Sara Watkins and friend, Chris Thile. Before they wrapped up their Nickel Creek life, I saw them in concert four times, fell in love with each of their albums and introduced a wide range of folks to their music. Each album (only 3, sadly, not counting the hits collection or their pre-major label album) is astoundingly unique. Each stands on its own as a strong piece of art, carrying in it the band's sound - bluegrass, folk, americana... a single name is not enough - as well as a particular style that shapes that whole album, and only that album. Songs with Chris in the lead, Sara in the lead, Sean in the lead; songs featuring Sean's incredible guitar skills or Sara's emotionally alive fiddle performances or Chris's mandolin that he managed to make sound like a whole collection of mandolins playing together. And the harmonies! Needless to say, the concerts are among the best concerts I've every been privileged to enjoy. My first one, at Northwestern in Evanston, and the third one, in Green Bay at the Meyer Theater, are right up at the top with my favorite experiences in life.

A couple years ago, the members of Nickel Creek decided to call it a day. Who can blame them? Only in their mid to late 20s, the band had already been performing together for the majority of their lives. They've each continued making music through a variety of projects (Sean's collaboration with Jon Foreman as "Fiction Family" and his solo "Blinders On", Sara's solo record released this year, and both "Deceiver" and "How to Grow a Woman From the Ground" by Chris are all ridiculously good) but I can't deny that there are days that pop up when I only wish for new music from Nickel Creek. After the amazing album that was "Why Should the Fire Die," I am fascinated by the question of what they'd have managed to do next!

The one that started it for me:

The one that's in my head presently:

A couple from the final album: and

And just because it's loads of fun, Nickel Creek covers Britney Spears:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Faith Comes With the Morning

I know the common phrase is "joy comes with the morning," but I think mornings are capable of variety. Or rather grace is capable of variety, especially in the morning.

Last night brought on a little bit of a breakdown. The mental efforts of teaching RCIA last night and sorting out what each individual needs as they prepare to enter the Church, piled onto tiredness from a string of late nights, piled onto the 14 more classes to write, piled onto the manuscript synopsis I have yet to complete, piled onto the fact that I haven't written any new pages in the new novel in several weeks, piled onto a little loneliness and a little "what the heck are you doing with my life, Lord?"... the layers set me up for a rough night. I just wanted to pull myself out. Remembering the shape of my life a few years ago, when I was still too new to the area and my church community to be very involved in anything, I had nothing to stop me from filling my hours with writing and reading and adequate hours of sleep. And I was happy; I was grateful. My spirit came alive in an entirely new way as I wrote my first book. I thought it would last. I thought, "this is what God had in store for me and I had no idea until now."

That life ebbed until it is all but gone and I'm left asking myself why I let it happen. Was it my own doing? Or did God ask me to sacrifice for the sake of serving in His Church? I don't know the answer. I fell asleep praying for renewed faith in God's directing hand. I awoke with the same questions on my mind but a seedling of bolstered faith taking hold beneath the troubled surface.

But you, LORD, are a shield around me;
my glory, you keep my head high.
Whenever I cried out to the LORD,
I was answered from the holy mountain.
Whenever I lay down and slept,
the LORD preserved me to rise again.
Psalm 3:4-6

Friday, October 23, 2009

Basilica, cont.

Basilica, cont.

Autumn at the Basilica at Holy Hill

Last Sunday I took my passengers and myself on a detour on our drive home from Kenosha. These are pictures from Holy Hill, the Basilica of Our Lady, Help of Christians. It's not too far north of Milwaukee. Gorgeous sacred place. The day was so particularly beautiful, I'd have liked to stay all afternoon! I took some pics of the scenery and outside of the basilica, as well as a few inside but not many. I walked the outdoor Stations of the Cross rather quickly (must plan a time to return and pray them mediatively) and took photos just of the details that really struck me at the moment.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Pope Gets It

Adding to my appreciation of Pope Benedict XVI (which is already at a significant level), this is from an address he gave after a recent piano concert.

"This concert has, once again, permitted us to taste the beauty of music, a spiritual and therefore universal language, a vehicle so importantly suited to understanding and union between persons and peoples. Music is a part of all cultures and, we might say, accompanies every human experience, from pain to pleasure, from hatred to love, from sadness to joy, from death to life. We see how, over the course of the centuries and millennia, music has always been used to give a form to that which we are not able to speak in words, because it awakens emotions that are difficult to communicate otherwise. So it is not by chance that every civilization has placed such importance and value on music in its various forms and expressions.

Music, great music, gives the spirit repose, awakens profound sentiments and almost naturally invites us to lift up our mind and heart to God in every situation, whether joyous or sad, of human existence. Music can become prayer."

You can read the whole address here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dream Come True?

Friday night I dreamt an interesting dream. It had plenty of odd details but the gist of it was this: for the sake of the orphanage in China where my sister and friend will be volunteering in April, I was organizing a fundraiser concert with Matt Maher. When my phone rang (in the dream... much cooler cell phone than in real life...) and his name came up on the caller ID (because I have his personal number programmed in my phone, naturally), I panicked even though I knew what he was calling about. Being one of my favorite human beings AND a total stranger to me, a phone call from Matt Maher is apparently too much for me to handle calmly. I woke up pretty darn amused with myself, but also I woke up wondering how I could actually organize such a concert. It would raise far more money for the orphanage than any bake sale or car wash could, and surely he'd be happy to support the cause. Anyone know how to get a hold of Matt Maher?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day One

This is day one.

I absolutely love mornings. I don't always immediately love them. Those first moments as I become aware of the radio waking me from dreams and the chill of the air outside the blankets reaches my conciousness are not always my favorite times. But I get past those initial upleasentries and I greet the morning gladly. And on occasion, I love the morning from the start. By some miracle I realize that this day is new; I know from the moment I wake that the day has the potential to be a really good day. Aren't mornings wonderful for that? New chances. New light. New.

For some reason, this is one of those 'love it from the start' mornings. Don't ask me why. It's cold. It's raining. I have an overwhelming to-do list and not nearly enough hours in the day to accomplish it all. Yesterday could have been better. Tomorrow won't be much different. But today... I don't know. There is nothing stopping me from making today Day One of beginning to live how I've intended to start living for far too long. I mean, really, why shouldn't today be that day? Why shouldn't today be the day I start the daily prayer time I've gotten out of the habit of having, and reading for more time than I watch television, and skipping any regrettable unhealthy meals or snacks, and getting back to the gym at least 4 days a week, and letting go of the attachment that I've needed to let go of for so very long.

"An unexamined life is not worth living." (Socrates)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Autumn part 3

Okay, so maybe I have too many favorites.

Autumn part 2

Don't Tell Me the Forecast, Please.

October arrived and stripped any lingering late summer warmth from the air. It's been cold, even for Wisconsin, and this past Saturday (horror) there was brief white flurry in the air. Accompanying these unseemly realities came a clinging head cold, to which I greatly desire to bid farewell but can't seem to manage it.

I am comforting myself with my favorite blanket wrapped around my legs when I work from home, hot mugs of tea and an occasional ice pack applied directly to the top half of my face. And also willful ignorance of the forecast.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I Do Love a Good Wedding

The Office Wedding tonight!!! The level of my excitement is probably a tad disproportionate to the reality of it being a fictional, television wedding. Yet, I can't suppress it. Jim and Pam are getting married and I am so happy about it! (I will not admit aloud how much I will be wishing during the episode that I were the one marrying Jim Halpert/John Krasinski.) I almost feel like dressing up for the occasion and pouring a glass of champagne!

"You only fall in love once; the rest is merely practice to make sure your heart can take it." (Unknown)