Jenny Anne Mannan

American Songstress

On Visits, Data Overages, and the Homeward Trek

Yesterday we began our trek westward. Even with the luxury of spending 2 glorious weeks with my family in one of our favorite cities, the time felt surprisingly short. Without a computer of my own, and having exceeded our data limit for the month, I wasn't able to make any posts during our visit and (and also I'm woefully behind on all the social media!), but I plan to properly chronicle all the highlights just as soon as we are back in the 509. In the meantime, we had a blast and were all sad to say goodbye to our second home down south.

Before we could leave, though, we had to gather our belongings from all over Williamson & Maury counties (I'm not exaggerating. Our stuff was EVERYWHERE), and I had to spend about 36 hours cleaning out the car. I was going to take a picture of the before and after but I didn't. I know I should be documenting the ugly along with the beautiful, but in the moment the ugly is just so...ugly.

Aaaanyway, when we plotted our return route, we wanted to avoid any 600 mile days, so Day 1 took us about 515 miles to Arrow Rock, Missouri. One of the obvious but valuable lessons we've learned on this trip is avoiding the freeway is always worth the extra time when we can afford it. Arrow Rock Historic Site, village, state park, & campground is about 13 miles north of I-70, and between the rolling hills, stately farm houses, old barns, views of the Missouri River, Lewis & Clark landmarks, and the view of the stars after dark, we were not at all sorry for the few added miles.

Of course I forgot to take any decent pictures, so I'm borrowing these from the Arrow Rock Historic Site website.

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Just off the freeway and looking as untouched by the twentieth century as a Mark Twain story, this beautiful historic little town sits on the banks of the Missouri. 

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This is the historic Lyceum Theater. When we drove past on Sunday morning a pair of strolling ladies gave us a look of skeptical greeting, which made perfect sense to us when we reached the intersection and realized the only way forward was over the antique gutter system flanking the brick sidewalks, which is to say, across a 159 year old ditch which would make even the most formidable of fenders afraid for their cosmetic if not actual safety. I'm working on perfecting the art of the verbally guided trailer direction, though, so I jumped out and was all, "no go STRAIGHT forward, then right..." and so on, mostly flinching and hoping like crazy I wouldn't be responsible for that awful metal-across-rock sound. Miraculously, no such sound was heard, aside front an occasional sibling-on-sibling screaming fit, and the trailer, Caleb, and I emerged victorious. 

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Here's our campsite - the bazillion bugs are hard to spot, but they made their presence known just the same.  

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No amount of study can replace these first-hand encounters with the rich, beautiful, complex, and tragic history of this land of ours. I am so thankful for these unexpected whispered voices from the past, and I hope, as our family practices listening to them, we will grow ever more toward listening to ourselves and each other. 

On Visits, Data Overages, and the Homeward Trek

Yesterday we began our trek westward. Even with the luxury of spending 2 glorious weeks with my family in one of our favorite cities, the time felt surprisingly short. Without a computer of my own, and having exceeded our data limit for the month, I wasn't able to make any posts during our visit and (and also I'm woefully behind on all the social media!), but I plan to properly chronicle all the highlights just as soon as we are back in the 509. In the meantime, we had a blast and were all sad to say goodbye to our second home down south.

Before we could leave, though, we had to gather our belongings from all over Williamson & Maury counties (I'm not exaggerating. Our stuff was EVERYWHERE), and I had to spend about 36 hours cleaning out the car. I was going to take a picture of the before and after but I didn't. I know I should be documenting the ugly along with the beautiful, but in the moment the ugly is just so...ugly.

Aaaanyway, when we plotted our return route, we wanted to avoid any 600 mile days, so Day 1 took us about 515 miles to Arrow Rock, Missouri. One of the obvious but valuable lessons we've learned on this trip is avoiding the freeway is always worth the extra time when we can afford it. Arrow Rock Historic Site, village, state park, & campground is about 13 miles north of I-70, and between the rolling hills, stately farm houses, old barns, views of the Missouri River, Lewis & Clark landmarks, and the view of the stars after dark, we were not at all sorry for the few added miles.

Of course I forgot to take any decent pictures, so I'm borrowing these from the Arrow Rock Historic Site website.

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Just off the freeway and looking as untouched by the twentieth century as a Mark Twain story, this beautiful historic little town sits on the banks of the Missouri. 

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This is the historic Lyceum Theater. When we drove past on Sunday morning a pair of strolling ladies gave us a look of skeptical greeting, which made perfect sense to us when we reached the intersection and realized the only way forward was over the antique gutter system flanking the brick sidewalks, which is to say, across a 159 year old ditch which would make even the most formidable of fenders afraid for their cosmetic if not actual safety. I'm working on perfecting the art of the verbally guided trailer direction, though, so I jumped out and was all, "no go STRAIGHT forward, then right..." and so on, mostly flinching and hoping like crazy I wouldn't be responsible for that awful metal-across-rock sound. Miraculously, no such sound was heard, aside front an occasional sibling-on-sibling screaming fit, and the trailer, Caleb, and I emerged victorious. 

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Here's our campsite - the bazillion bugs are hard to spot, but they made their presence known just the same.  

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No amount of study can replace these first-hand encounters with the rich, beautiful, complex, and tragic history of this land of ours. I am so thankful for these unexpected whispered voices from the past, and I hope, as our family practices listening to them, we will grow ever more toward listening to ourselves and each other. 

Journey's End

The sixth and final day of our pilgrimage was also June Dixie's birthday. We had a little celebration before we broke camp, and she was thrilled to 'have my birthday in the trailer!' 

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Travel-friendly gifts only! 

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After she opened her presents, she snuggled into her spot with her new dolly (next to a newly acquired bin containing most of the aforementioned Backseat Disaster). 

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We crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky, every mile taking us further into the land of Mark Twain, Wendell Berry, and John Hartford.  

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The gently sloping farm fields were separated by creeks and rivers as often as fences, and as we drove it was impossible not to picture Jayber Crow paddling down to the Chatham's farm...

Then we finally crossed the Tennessee state line!  

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60 miles further and we saw the Nashville skyline!  

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...and a little way south of town to Nana's house!  

The luck of the Griswolds was with us up until the very last moment of the trip, right through the too-tight right turn into the driveway, scraping the side of the trailer on one of the gate-posts...but I didn't take a picture of that because I was too busy greeting Mom and John and the sibs. 

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Everyone was relieved to finally have room to stretch their limbs, and a genuine sofa on which to recline. 

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And June put on her birthday dress while Nana served up pizza... 

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and cake...

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At the end of day 6, we'd crossed 10 states, traveled 2,284 miles, and made too many memories to count. Now that we're here, parts of our trip already seem surreal...but you and I both know it all really happened! 

The Heartland

Real talk from the road: The car could easily be mistaken for a hovel. (Which my brother Jesse insists is pronounced hah-vel? He's wrong, of course, it's huh-vel.)

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Now then, if I may draw your attention to the piles of books and papers mixed with random game  pieces and bits of trash and the occasional corn nut around the kids' feet - how do these little people generate so much mess? 

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Unable to reach & clean up the mess, I concentrated on their faces and the view.  

From this point forward, our route followed the interstate. Changes in the landscape were almost too subtle to pinpoint, the gentle slope of farmland stretching to infinity. 

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Farmhouses mark the sites of original homesteads, and as we drove past I wondered how many of the original families still farm this land.  

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Since it is so easy to get lost on those endless plains with just one road for hundreds of miles, June took on the job of Navigator. 

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The blue is obviously land.  

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Waylon was not so much playing the travel Battleship as he was strewing the teeny tiny red and white piece into all the cracks and crevasses of the car.  

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We drove through a tiny corner of Iowa, but no road sign welcomed us. Then we turned south, Kansas on our right and the hills of Missouri on our left.  

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This was all we saw of Kansas City.  

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And we turned east before we got a straight-on view of St. Louis. 

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Since the following day was June's birthday, we made a quick Target stop in Illinois to grab a few gifts. We'd planned to wake up in Nashville on her birthday, but she was elated at the prospect having her birthday in the trailer. 

As night fell, we realized our goal of making it to the Paducah KOA was far too ambitious considering our (still) malfunctioning running lights, so we pulled off at Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park. We drove on a dark country road through hazy fields and 'controlled hunting areas', the way illuminated only by our headlights and thousands of lightning bugs. When we finally found the campground, it was full. Of course. Friday night of Memorial Day Weekend.

We remembered a sign just off the freeway for a campground in the opposite direction, so we turned around just in time to see flashing lights in our rear view. Caleb pulled over, and a friendly Illinois police officer told us, "You got no lights!" Before he could write us up, a loud boom from the campground distracted him and saved us from a fine. He sent us on our way, and we crossed our fingers hoping for a vacancy at the Whittington Woods. 

There was just one empty campsite, so we thankfully pulled in, set up, and threw the kids into bed, but not before a friendly fellow camper helpfully pointed out, "Your running aren't working!" We both smiled and thanked him, and as soon as he was out of earshot we said, "WE KNOW!!" in unified exasperation.  The air was thick with humidity and bugs, and the boys were delighted to see a frog hanging out on the door to the bathroom.    10:00 pm found Caleb and me sitting beside our campfire while every mosquito in Illinois feasted on my feet.  

There was just one empty campsite, so we thankfully pulled in, set up, and threw the kids into bed, but not before a friendly fellow camper helpfully pointed out, "Your running aren't working!" We both smiled and thanked him, and as soon as he was out of earshot we said, "WE KNOW!!" in unified exasperation. 

The air was thick with humidity and bugs, and the boys were delighted to see a frog hanging out on the door to the bathroom.   

10:00 pm found Caleb and me sitting beside our campfire while every mosquito in Illinois feasted on my feet.  

625 miles on day 5, and only a 150 or so more to go! 

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Hell's Half Acre

After spending the night at Eagle RV in Thermopolis, Wyoming, we awoke on Day 4 rested, inspired, and determined to cover some serious ground.  

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Caleb sporting his clotheshorse-turned-designer brother Jacob's jacket. (The label is Mannan-Renz. Kickstarter & collection coming soon.)

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Caleb doing dad jobs.  

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The kids look ready to take on Wyoming and Nebraska, which is good cause that's what they did!  

About 20 miles in, we hit a traffic stop because a crew of mountain-crawling Cats and billeted jackhammerers was busily blasting away at some of the precariously dangling cliff-edges along the road. It looked hard. And dangerous. 

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It was impossible to complain about this view though. The road follows the Bighorn River all the way through the canyon to Boysen State Park, a happy little oasis on the bank of the Boysen Reservoire right in the heart of Wyoming. Next time we'll stay there. 

60 or so miles later, we came upon a place I had thought only existed in hyperbole. 

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You read that right. Hell's Half Acre is a real place, and this is what it looks like: 

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A 300 acre geological bathtub ring. Amazing. In the future, I will be more careful not to use the name of this natural wonder in vain. 

From here, we met up with I-25 and drove through Casper and Douglas (home of the Wyoming State Fair, at which the Bullas made many appearances) then we hopped off the freeway and took Hwy 26 toward the Nebraska state line. We tried to pinpoint the exact spot where the West ends and the Midwest begins, and Caleb and I both agreed it's right at the Nebraska border. The ranges and sage brush give way to freshly plowed fields, and silos take the place of stockyards.

Totally honest, I've always thought of Nebraska as an infinite stretch of flat, straight road flanked by cornfields as far as the eye see. And, along I-80, it is pretty much exactly that. But the view we saw on Hwy 26 something altogether else -- tall, sweeping clouds, a skyline so vast you can see the curve of the earth in every direction, T-storms on the southern horizon, the road criss-crossing the North Platte River, huge bluffs rising up out of nowhere, high plateaus and beautifully charming and tidy old farmhouses. I am so glad we took this route, and so sad I didn't take more pictures! 

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At the end of day 4, we'd driven 615 miles, which is as much as we'd driven in the first 3 days of our trip combined! We pulled off the freeway at Doniphan and to the Mormon Island State Park (not pictured cause I was busy making Waylon clean up the trash hovel his seat had become.) 

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Fed and showered, we crashed and braced for another day of serious mileage. 

Yellowstone

Day 3 of #mannanroadtrip2017! If you've been to Yellowstone Nat'l Park, you know words are woefully inadequate to describe the bizarre and breathtaking beauty in every direction. If you haven't been, you should go. Tomorrow.  

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When I was a kid on tour with The Bulla Family (later on, when we got hip, The Bullas), we routed a detour from our fair & festival circuit through the park at least once every summer. I spent countless hours looking out the window at these views, imagination captivated by the beauty and mystery of these mountains and rivers. 

Caleb wanted to see some bison. This old guy was minding his own business jogging along the road and causing a 45 minute traffic jam. When we passed he didn't even wave. 

Caleb wanted to see some bison. This old guy was minding his own business jogging along the road and causing a 45 minute traffic jam. When we passed he didn't even wave. 

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Then this little baby caused paparazzi mayhem!  

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Finally though we got to Lower Geyser Basin where we were greeted by that familiar mixture of sulfur steam and chilly Wyoming wind...if you want to experience this at home, just peel some hardboiled eggs while you stand in front of your open freezer. 

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Behind Caleb and the kids you can just see the boiling mud pit in which somebody (Waylon) claimed to have seen a drowned/dead buffalo.  

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Old Faithful, obvi.  

  And the Old Faithful Inn, or as the kids called  it, The Castle. 

 

And the Old Faithful Inn, or as the kids called  it, The Castle. 

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At the gift shop, we bought postcards and, since Caleb is a bona fide bibliophile, a book about Yellowstone, and also a sticker to commemorate our first voyage in our trailer. 

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Yellowstone Lake, also known as on top of the world.  

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We finished Day 3 at Buffalo Bill State Park catching up with my darling Aunt Jenny and Uncle Jim (not pictured because I was too busy enjoying myself to remember to grab my phone from the car), whose lifelong pursuit of adventure will forever inspire me. 

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Also, to restore balance to the universe, tomorrow I'll post video of the kids bickering and the hovel that is the boys' seat.  

Sometimes...

Sometimes, when you're camping, you wake up to this: 

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The happy faces of first and third born, who at home are often separated by school schedules and the easy compatibly of their peers, bunking together in the trailer because their sizes fit the fold-down dinette bed. 

Soemtimes, when all the forces of mischief and wiring conspired against the previous day's travel plans, you end up braiding your baby's hair at Denny's in Missoula while you wait for the guys at Tire-Rama to replace your trailer tires. Also the rims, it turns out, because your current rims are something called 'split rims' and have been known to blow up whilst being driven down the freeway and are no longer legal. 

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Soemtimes you pull off the freeway so the boys can go potty and you are reminded that Montana is really the Last Best Place and was probably the First Best Place and has always been your favorite place since you were but a girl watching it fly by the window as your dad drove the big brown bus down I-90, The Road To Everywhere.  

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Sometimes, you swallow your principles and buy the fun pack of chips at Costco cause you know the trip is gonna be hella long and snacks will be your only link to sanity and consequently your 3-year-old becomes convinced you aren't really in charge of her because no self-respecting authority figure would willingly hand out something that tastes like savory candy or for that matter Doritos. 

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Sometimes when you wearily pull into your campsite, 24 hours behind schedule, you realize nothing is as important as the memories you're making with these little people you sometimes forget to look at because you see them every minute of every day.

If you're really lucky, once you're out in the wilderness with no one but each other, those little people might agree with you.     

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Are We Gone Yet

Everything was locked and loaded at 9 am sharp, just like we planned. Which we all agreed was a feat of no small magnificence considering the length of our trip (4-ish weeks) and the number of people in our family (6). 

The kids eagerly jumped into the car, surrounded by pillows and activity books and snacks, and waited patiently while we hooked up the trailer. Casually and oh so naively, we conducted our perfunctory trailer light check.

Nothing. No brake lights, no turn signals, no running lights.  

We told the kids to hang on while we unplugged cords, blew on connectors, jiggled wires, and kept calm. We told them we would fix it while we googled, YouTubed, and searched as many vintage trailer forums as we could find. We told them to go watch tv while we cussed, sighed, and took turns running to the auto parts store. 

2 hours in, our best buddy Kev happened to be in the neighborhood and stopped by to see us off. 3 hours, a beer, a couple of iced coffees, and approximately every known swear word and trailer wiring supply later, Kev & Caleb were still out there, tinkering and troubleshooting in vain.

About this time the kids lost heart. 

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Approximately 8 hours past our ETD and no closer to solving the riddle of the malfunctioning lights, Kev had to take off. We had replaced as many things on the 12v wiring system as we could buy from O'Reilly auto parts, except the 7-pin connector which our continuity tester told us was working fine. (Btw, I now know way more about our trailer's wiring than I ever wanted to.) In one last desperate effort, Caleb decided to replace the connector, and if it didn't work we'd have to reevaluate the whole plan for the trip. Like, Thule and hotel instead of camp, which is to say, crush my dream of taking my kids on the Great American Camping Road Trip and ruin our summer and our lives. 

After more YouTube, more trailer forums, more trial and error, more cussing, and more precious TIME), we replaced the connector, plugged it in, and held our breath. Success! For one shining, glorious moment, all the lights were lit! We threw everyone back into the car, pulled to the end of the driveway, stopped to lock up, and realized the running lights were no longer working. Brake lights and turn signals were still good, though, so we said screw it, we can get to Missoula before dark.  

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At exactly zero dark thirty pm, we blew into the Missoula KOA, which, while not the rustic haven of #wanderlust glamor instagram fantasies are made of, was 200 miles closer to Nashville than our driveway and was therefore perfect. 

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Day 1 of #mannanroadtrip2017 ended with s'mores around a campfire in Montana, so, with the help of our family misadventure spirit guide Clark Griswold, we did it! 

 

Adventure Awaits

In case anyone has been wondering why I haven't announced the lineup for May's Northwest of Nashville show yet, it's because there isn't one :( I know, I am sad too!

But I have a good reason for taking a break this month: we're taking the family and the 1970 RoadRunner travel trailer, replete with original avocado appliances and hideous red-and-gold carpet (along with every activity book/travel game/road trip snack in the history of mankind) on a cross country trek to visit my family in Nashville. I am giddy with excitement, but also I keep waking up in the middle of the night in a flat panic over all the books and shoes I won't be able to fit in the trailer. And the kids need new swimsuits. And sunscreen. And Waylon needs some waterproof shoes. Ibuprofen!....that's when I remember they have Target in Nashville.

Besides, my job of packing food and clothes and books is tiddlywinks when I compare it to Caleb's list of things like checking water pumps and sway bars and tires and ball bearings...Sorry, what was that? I heard water pump and I zoned out. 

Every May when I was a kid, my family band would load our tour bus with our most essential earthly possessions (fiddles, guitars, my mom's upright bass, sundry personal items, and a Saxon math textbook -- not because it was beloved but because, like most homeschoolers, I never finished math on time), and we'd hit the road until late October. We'd usually head East first, through Montana then down to Yellowstone, across the plains and down to Nashville, where Shoney's breakfast and Bluegrass celebrity sightings were as ubiquitous as lightning bugs and thunderstorms. 

That's right. Bluegrass celebrities are a real thing.  

So while my kids won't be taking the following-in-my-footsteps thing quite so far as to dress in matching Western shirts and play a twin fiddle version of Sally Anne & Orange Blossom Special 3 times a day at the Wyoming state fair, come Monday The Mannans embark on a cross-country pilgrimage along the Bulla Trail. There will undoubtedly be adventure, hijinx, laughter, and hopefully a minimum of catastrophe. 

So while my kids won't be taking the following-in-my-footsteps thing quite so far as to dress in matching Western shirts and play a twin fiddle version of Sally Anne & Orange Blossom Special 3 times a day at the Wyoming state fair, come Monday The Mannans embark on a cross-country pilgrimage along the Bulla Trail. There will undoubtedly be adventure, hijinx, laughter, and hopefully a minimum of catastrophe. 

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I'll be sharing photos and updates here if you'd like to follow along on what promises to be an equal parts Griswold/Ingalls rough & rowdy fun old fashioned family vacay.  

And if you happen to be in Nashville on June 3rd, come to my dad's for a Jenny Anne Mannan house concert.  

Happy trails!  

Those Memories

Happy new year friends!

This was one of my favorite records when I was a girl; it's impossible to exaggerate its influence on my own music. Mark's fiddle solo still gives me goose bumps. I wanted to sing just like Linda and play just like him. Enjoy!


Peace Where You Find It

I love family photos. I love taking them, I love looking at them. When I was a little girl I loved nothing better than a visit to either of my grandparents' houses where I would pore over photo albums documenting family vacations and events big and small. My aunties are great scrapbookers, and they have archived decades of family gatherings, trips, haircuts both successful and regrettable. Their photo books chart fashion eras, home decor fads, cousins coming of age, and most of all they tell us that time really does fly.

In the age of digital and social media, memory preservation looks a lot different than it used to. We don't always print photos anymore, we stream or share them. Photos aren't just family photos, they're social networking tools. And sometimes, as I scroll through Instagram or Facebook, I wonder how much of our memory sharing is about preservation and how much of it is about creating a brand. Of course when I post pictures on Facebook or Instagram, I want to put my best foot forward, so to speak, so I filter or edit out the less-than-picturesque bits -- the chaos in the mudroom, the dustbunnies, the dark circles or crow's feet around my eyes, and I accentuate the positive. I slap on some lip gloss and zoom in on one of the good intentions that made it past my wishlist and I share that with all my friends. And acquaintances. And other moms who, if they're anything like me, feel pretty overwhelmed a lot of the time and carry around more than a little guilt about all the fun or productive or meaningful memory-making they wanted to do with their little people today but probably didn't because they had laundry to fold or multiplication tables to teach or errands to run or a friend to visit with or a shower to take. But the picture doesn't show all of that, because I've taken pictures of dust bunnies before and they're gross and who would want to share them, and I'm not sure how to photograph Guilt but when I figure it out I'll let you know. So there I am accentuating the positive and my brand becomes Frost-Filtered-Homemaker-Earring/Baby-Wearer-Who-Reads-Aloud-To-Her-Kids-All-The-Time. Even though my actual persona is Busy-Mother-Trying-To-Capture-Snapshots-Of-Beauty-And-Peace-In-the Midst-Of-Chaos. Putting my best foot forward, I'm not really telling the whole truth. Pictures are worth a thousand words, but sometimes the whole truth takes more like two thousand.

This is exactly the problem. We forget that, online, we're not always our actual selves. We're the image of ourselves. This image may not have much to do with who we really are, how we actually feel, what we actually do, because, of course, we're trying to be positive and prove to ourselves that our lives have picture-worthy moments too. The trouble is that many people on the receiving end of that image think it's the real thing, and so they look at other family's photos and sigh and wish they were one of the happy, chill moms who let their kids get out the glitter glue at any time of the day. It becomes a vicious cycle - the effort of one person to remind themselves that their life is beautiful becomes a measure for another person to live up to.

The immediacy of photo sharing has changed things too. I remember back in the Dark Ages having to wait at least an hour to get my photos processed. Now, I snap a pic and post it within seconds, fully edited and framed and hashtagged. And the options for improving that photo are limitless. Glance over any photography Pinterest board and you'll find tips for how to get more Instagram followers, how to use Photoshop, how to pose. Always use the same filter, put your hand on your hip, be clever but direct about hashtags...It's not that there's anything wrong with using technology to take the best photos we can, it's just that sometimes it feels like we're more focused on the share than on remembering the original experience. A great yoga instructor once told me when we experience a thing -- a sunset, a meal, a feeling -- our efforts to describe the experience take us out of the moment, until we're experiencing the description instead of the original event. I think it's this way with our modern means of memory preservation - sometimes the result and the feedback are so immediate, they influence our record of the event or even the event itself.

My aunties and grandparents were primarily interested in preserving memories for themeslves and their posterity. They just wanted photographic evidence that they made that trip to Yellowstone, that all the siblings and cousins were together that day in 1990, that they saw that rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. They weren't planning for all of their friends and relations and acquaintances to see and comment on each of those events, they saved that privilege for the few who were invited over for the slideshow viewing. They weren't creating a brand. Glennon Melton over at Momastery has said people can use their online persona or brand to do things at each other. We post our Saturday morning breakfasts or 4 layer birthday cakes at each other to prove that we're okay, we're justified, we're right with God and the world. Maybe we've got it wrong. Maybe we should take a page out of our grandparents' photo albums, the titles of which could easily be, "See, kids, we did have fun sometimes!" If I'm really telling the truth, that could be my caption to myself for every photo that I share. Through that tight spot between my shoulder blades, the mess in the pantry I'm trying to ignore, the lunch dishes that have yet to be taken care of, the sharp words I wish I could unsay, the great unnamed Something for my kids I may or may not be able to identify and get around to today, I can take some photos and remind myself, "Look! WE DO FUN THINGS! Our little life is messy, but it's great!"

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Look! We throw rocks in the river!

Summer

Look! We sit on the sun-bathed porch!

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Look! We love each other!

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Look! We go to the movies!

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Look! We take ferry rides!

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Look! We do the Ciderfest!

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Look! We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and we go to the orchard!

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Look! We build forts!

We're discovering that peace isn't an ethereal, far-off, pie in the sky concept. It's here, right here, in the middle of all the chaos and the stress and the lack of sleep and everything else. It's active, it's the sometimes tenacious belief that THIS IS THE LIFE. Peace is right here, if I look for it. Peace is where we find it.

The thing is, I'm not posting these pictures at you. I'm posting them AT ME! My brand is a byproduct of what I'm trying to do: remind myself of what's actually true. Sometimes when I glance around my life, I focus on the to-do list, the work, the messes, and the backdrop of peace and beauty is a little blurry. Sometimes the camera lens is the tool that helps me focus on those things. And when I look my friends' photos, I could stand to remember that that's probably true for them too.

And also it's a good idea print some pictures and put them in an album in case this whole internet thing doesn't work out.

Always Looking For A Home

It's like clockwork. Every year. Like the shadows of old injuries that ache when it's coming on to rain. How do we live through the muscle memory of the darkest days we've faced in this life, how does one brace for impact, when the flood will come as surely as the month of August; when the waves will take on a new but always whelming shape with each season of grief?

My response to this season is to get restless. I need something to do with my hands. I take on projects. I make lists. I cook. I fill the calendar with efforts at happy memory making. I get anxious. I wonder why I can't make decisions. I wonder why everything looks too big. I wonder why all my stuff is so shabby and I start looking for new stuff.

My friends and family see it, they see it happening and they know what it is. And they love me. They write songs for my family called, "Always Looking For A Home." They tell me the restlessness I feel is probably more of a spiritual longing than a physical one. They bring me gifts and sweet notes to let me know they remember what happened that day 8 years ago.

I don't know why, but knowing what to call a thing takes away some of its power. I remember when I first learned to identify the feeling of anxiety. It was such a revelation, just knowing what to call that shallow-breathing, panicky, pit-in-my-stomach feeling. Even though I still get anxious, I can tell myself, "This is anxiety. I know what this is." And then I breathe in and out, and remember what Suzanne the yoga instructor always said, "Healing oxygen will go right where it's needed." I think it's the same with grief.

Before I had any firsthand experience with grief, I thought it looked and felt like sadness. But now I know better. I know sadness is only one of the many shapes grief assumes. In A Grief Observed, CS Lewis said, "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning..." For me, it's the restlessness, the want to be somewhere else, do something else, have something else. The urge to run. Without fail, it gets more palpable at this time of year. I feel it most acutely when the days are long and hot, when the air hangs heavy, when I feel more than remember long ago summers spent picking raspberries and chasing grasshoppers and sleeping under the stars with the brother to whom every day was an adventure, and whose adventure took him where I can't follow.

And yet. Even though this restless summer feeling has its origin in grief, I think the feeling is much bigger. I think grief unlocked something that was already present, something that everyone feels, something we can't define, something we try to explain or medicate away. CS Lewis said it's what the Germans call sehnsucht, "That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves." It's the spirit that animates the songs of John Denver, the melancholy-laced hope in Fernando Ortega's voice, the catch in my throat when my baby tries her best to laugh at me. It's the shadow of a great grief, present in all the world, an ancient grief that has been reconciled in eternity, the consequences of which we continue to feel in time. It's the longing for a home, that perfect place where all is as it should be. And even though I've never experienced such a place, the yearning I feel for it is like a memory, the details of which I can't quite recall; like a song I might have heard when I was very young, the tune of which haunts my dreams but eludes my waking mind. Why does the longing for heaven feel so much like nostalgia, when it's a place I've never been?

But my brother is there. He's there now, whole, as he should be, at home, at peace, further up and further in. And I am comforted. I live in this beautiful world, bruised by sin and suffering, and I hope.

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"For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before." --The Last Battle, CS Lewis

This Is Bluegrass, But Then Something Else

Back in October, John Gjaltema of altcountry.nl got in touch with me and asked me to send him a copy of my record for review on his Netherlands acoustic music site. I wasn't sure how he found me, but I was excited to send my record all the long way across the ocean and get feedback from someone with a European point of view all the same. Maybe he would like what he heard. Maybe someone else from the Netherlands would read it and become a fan. Who could tell, maybe this exposure would lead to playing a few festivals in Europe...I've always wanted to see something in Amsterdam besides the inside of the airport. Hans Brinker was like my favorite book when I was a kid.

Then of course I got busy settling into my new life in the country (more on this soon), and being pregnant with baby #4, and getting ready for the holidays, and I forgot all about John Gjaltema and his Dutch point of view until he forwarded me a link to his review of my record. It was a bit of a thrill to see my name in such an unexpected, exotic context, and I was curious about his response to my album. Paraphrasing will simply not do it justice, I have to share the review with you in its entirety.

Op haar negende wist Jenny Anne Mannan al hoe ze een gehoor tevreden moest stellen. Ze babbelde er op los, terwijl ze zelf de snaren van haar gitaar wisselde. Mannan groeide op in een muzikale familie die er veel op uit trok om gezamenlijk voor een publiek te musiceren. Op Saints & Sinners (eigen beheer) trekt ze de lijn van toen gewoon door, hetgeen betekent dat hier old-time mountain music valt te beluisteren. Dat is bluegrass, maar dan toch net iets anders. Eenvoudiger vooral. Gaat het in bluegrass vooral om het plezier van het samenspel veelal uitmondend in watervallen van noten, in old-time lopen de klaaglijke melodieën rechtuit. Niet te veel poespas, de trillingen van de snaren dienen liedjes vol smart. Helemaal niet raar dus dat Mannan in haar eentje deze cd volspeelt. Op fiddle, mandoline en gitaar begeleidt ze zichzelf op de negen nummers van Saints & Sinners. Dancehall Hornpipe, Dancehall Waltz en Dancehall Rag zijn instrumentals. Mannan komt uit de bergen van de in het noordwesten van Amerika gelegen staat Washington. Ze woonde een tijd in Nashville, maar gunde haar drie kinderen de rust van opgroeien in de nabijheid van de familie. Verkrijgbaar bij CD Baby.

So. Do any of you speak Dutch? I don't. Of course I didn't expect the review itself to be written in English, I mean, how narcisstic are we Americans anyway? But I did think that since John Gjaltema took the trouble to send me a link to his review he might also include at least a hint about what he said. But since he didn't, I turned to that well known and credible source of all information: The Internet. I found a translation website which promised to translate anything from any language to any other. Perfect! I copied and pasted the review into the translation generator, and received the following reply:

On her ninth knew Jenny Anne Mannan Mangal already how they had to set a hearing satisfied. They babbeld there, while they themselves the strings of her guitar exchange. Mannan Mangal grew up in a musical family, with have a lot to withdrew from public to jointly for a songwriter. On Saints & Sinners (their own management), draws the line when simply by, which means that old-time mountain music is to listen to them. This is bluegrass, but then something else. Easier in particular.

Aside from being glad that oldtime mountain music is to listen to me, I have no idea what to make of that. Is it a good thing that I myself the strings of my guitar exchange? But surely babbling there is not so good... Not only do I not know what the review said, I don't even know if it's positive! Oh well. I guess I can shelve my fantasies of European stardom for a little while longer. And in the meantime I'll continue making bluegrass, but then something else.

First Day of School

Oh the early morning quiet! It's our first day of school and the kids decided to sleep in. This reminds me of last Christmas morning when they slept till 7:30 - who does that? I thought their excitement would get them up before the sun, but here I sit, fully dressed and coffeed up, waiting for my little pupils to appear. (Oh and in case you were wondering, it's no accident I just compared the first day of school to Christmas morning. My friends and I have a theory that, as moms, we get excited about doing the things for our kids that also meet our own needs, and these things are different for every person. School meets my needs. Don't make fun.)

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After spending a busy summer soaking up the sun, taking the kids to the pool, dragging the kids to shows, cooking dinner on the grill, and steeping ourselves in wonderful, schedule-free chaos, I was so excited to sharpen pencils, clean out our desks, throw on a sweater, make lists and schedules, simmer some soup on the stove, and start our second year of school. (That was probably too many s's. Sally sells seashells by the seashore. Sorry.)

Tennessee is starting homeschool kindergarten this year, and my only plan for him is that he rub shoulders with learning enough to spark his curiosity and fuel his imagination. Minimal structure, less bookwork. Just guided activity and hopefully some learning by osmosis. If all he learns this year is that school is exciting, I will consider kindergarten a success. Right now, his favorite letter is x, and when I ask him to write it he crosses his fingers and says, "eckkkttth!" I can only hope to foster that level of enthusiasm in all our work together.

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This is Tennessee's standard pose of concentration. It's my number one reason for homeschooling this active, curious little boy. He simply cannot sit. To him, sitting is what you do when you've given up - when it's time to check in with your blankey and admit the world is just too much. Sitting is not what you do when you're problem solving. Everyone knows your mind is more engaged when you're precariously perched on the edge of a rickety Ikea chair. (He only fell off once.)

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I don't know how long his love of this particular puzzle will last, but for now he's asking all the right questions and loving the answers.

Violet is starting first grade, and we've got a few more guidlines for her: reading, writing, and arithmetic. ("Addition is counting forward on the number line...")

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So far math is her favorite, and since I happen to love powerful women who love numbers, I'm eager to see where her interest takes us. I'm sure we'll begin by reviewing how to write the number 3, but that's okay. Education happens one number or letter at a time, right?

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The kids eventually woke up and, if success can be measured in the cozy warmth of activity, curiosity, questions asked and answered, and above all, snuggling and reading, then we all enjoyed a very successful first morning of school. I am so excited to share the wonderful world of ideas with these interesting little people, and to see it all through their eyes.

My first grader:

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Another perk of homeschooling: silly faces for school photos are encouraged.

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My kindergartener:

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Aaaand my toddler:

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We have very limited academic aspirations for him this year...perhaps teaching him that not all birds are chickens? We'll see.

In Which It Takes 45 Minutes To Make A Pie

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Or, put another way, "Oh this old thing? I only wear it when I don't care how I look."

What is this quality of effortlessness that we seem to value so highly? For some reason, it seems that working hard on something isn't as valuable as as being good at something without trying. Hollywood is full of illusions of effortlessness - effortless beauty and fitness, effortless talent, effortless wealth. The only thing Hollywood will admit to working at is their 'craft', which, having seen more than my share of wooden performances, makes me wonder in many cases which craft they were working on and why so many film and television act-ors are so bad at working as well as acting.

But back to the point - effortlessness. My husband has this idea of effortless beauty (we're children of the 90's, you know), but unfortunately, since he's a guy, he doesn't understand that this idealized picture in his head of effortless beauty can really only be achieved by at least getting to Beauty Base Zero - which even Katniss Everdeen knows involves some tweezing, some moisturizing, some smoothing, some concealing, and probably some hair-coloring. And, as I get older, 'effortless beauty' also involves quite a bit of exercising and some strategic shopping. Unless, of course, he wants me to look like I'm actually still in the 90's, which he certainly doesn't and it's a good thing too because even my sacrificial love has its limits. And anyway I'm not altogether sure I can still grow my eyebrows that thick or find that particular shade of cranberry lipstick or that Eddie Bauer flannel. And by the way, the whole hair color issue really bugs me. My husband has the most incredible, thick, shiny, black hair - natural highlights and lowlights, glints red in the sun, gets blacker in the winter.

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I was a towheaded little kid whose natural haircolor as I've gotten older has grown into a non color, and I am unwilling to spend my adult life with mousy, nondescript hair just so that I can feel that false sense of superiority that apparently accompanies natural haircolor. The other day I told Caleb it's just mean when he says people shouldn't color their hair - it's like Heidi Klum saying people shouldn't be ugly.

But the illusion of effortlessness haunts us wherever we go. When I go into someone's spotlessly clean house, I don't automatically think of all the work that went into cleaning. I just think their house is cleaner than mine. When I attend one of my nieces or nephews birthday parties where I'm greeted by a smiling hostess and handcrafted desserts and decorations and thoughtfully selected party favors, I don't think about the week of planning and preparation that went into making that party a success. I just think my sisters-in-law are inherently better at party planning than I am.

A week ago I spent the morning dashing hither and thither around my house, trying to outsrip my kids' pace of domestic destruction and keep each room tidy long enough to actually enjoy a clean living space for a few minutes. My afternoon was booked full of lessons, and I wanted to pretend that order reigns supreme in my house long enough to make an impression on my students and help facilitate the learning process. I quickly realized my mistake, though, when my students' mother came in and assessed the level of clean-ness in my house and started stressing out that her kids would wreck it up. I'd taken for granted that she would realize that, like herself and all mothers of small children, I'd achieved this magic window through careful planning and a dither of activity and quite a bit more hollering than I'd like to admit. Yes, I wanted order, but I didn't want to perpetuate such a false idea of perfection that a fellow mother didn't feel comfortable bringing her kids over. I won't be able to maintain that standard for very long, and I'll be wildly misrepresenting myself in the meantime. How often do I work to create an illusion of effortlessness, only to put someone else under a burden? And if I'm working this hard at it, isn't it possible that everyone else is too?

So, I'd like to state the following: I spend at least 1/2 hour getting ready every single day. I wear mascara to the pool. It takes me 45 minutes to make a pie (not including baking time), and that's with the help of my KitchenAid. I get stressed out before every one of my kids' birthday parties, and usually dissolve into tears at least once. I color my hair. I work out, and I read articles about how to dress a post-baby body. I count calories and ratios. I often change outfits several times before leaving the house. I clean what my GrandFriend Jill calls the 'company path' every time I know someone is coming over, and I feel a slight pang of irritation when someone stops by and catches me in my jammies before I've had a chance to pick up the breakfast dishes. It isn't that I want credit for working so hard, it's just that I'd like to be free to say I am working hard. I'm coming in on Saturdays. I'm putting in overtime. I found it so refreshing when Salma Hayek talked frankly about how hard it was to lose the baby weight while maintaining a healthy nursing-friendly diet - much more endearing to ordinary women than Giselle Bundchen, who apparently breastfed her way to her prebaby runway body in 9 weeks while eating cheeseburgers.

Let's be nicer. Let's be honest. It takes 45 minutes to make a pie, and I wore this because I absolutely care how I look.

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Music Festivals: A Family Tradition

Last week I met up with my friend Kimber Ludiker, fiddle player for the amazing and inspiring (and coincidentally all-girl allstar) band, Della Mae, and played an opening set before their show out in the Spokane Valley. The evening turned into a mini festival, with lots of music, passels of kids running around, and a full moonrise over the mountains. Summer night air, high lonesome singing, hot picking...these are the sights and sounds of some of my fondest childhood memories. My darling friend Brittany Roberson showed up with her camera and captured some of the fun.

See, there's Kimber. She's rad. Seriously, I'm not just saying that because I like her. She's a total badass. I mean, both her parents are national fiddling champions themselves, so I guess it makes sense that she's a 2-time national fiddle champion and lives and breathes fiddle magic.

That's my mom's guitar strap, by the way.

There's Caleb and Waylon watching and listening...

 

And this right here is really what festivals are all about. Throwing as much food and drink at the kids as possible and then turning them loose to run and play so as to keep them out as far past their bedtimes as possible.

 

Here is my lovely Violet, with my lovely photographer friend Brittany.

This Saturday I'm playing at the Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival, so we'll have a chance to do it all over again. 

Oh and I'll have my brand new CD for sale. You should come. Bring your kids and listen to some music and make some memories!

Summer Reading

My summer reading list often turns into a wish list. Sometimes I hear myself saying things like, "I just don't have time to read," or "I'm too tired to read." But I burn with shame and remorse to confess that Caleb and I have succumbed to a wicked addiction to "The Bachelorette", and I can't honestly say I don't have time to read when I do carve out time to rubberneck myself silly watching this train wreck of a love story. (I really hope she picks Jef. Oh that's not a typo. That's how he spells his name. Jef with one f. I like him a lot. And Emily seems so happy with him, and I think he would be a good dad to Rickie.) Judge and roll your eyes all you want, it's good old fashioned American reality tv at its best. Anyway, the point is, anyone who makes time to watch reality tv most certainly cannot claim she's too busy or tired to read. The question is when to make it happen? I keep imagining a sunny afternoon, blanket spread in the backyard, happy, distant hum of kids splashing in the sprinkler, iced coffee or cocktail in one hand, book in the other. And let the mirthless laughter commence. It's not totally beyond the realm of possibility that Jupiter will be in its 7th house and the Big Dipper will be at its zenith while 5 wolves howl 3 times each and there will be at least 15 minutes together with not a single disturbance in the Force and I'll be able to jump into my aforementioned daydream, is it? 

I think it's like everything else in life. I find time for the things that are important to me, and try to let the rest go.

As far as reading materials go, I am always on the hunt for a good summer mystery. Something along the lines of The Mysterious Benedict Society, but maybe a slightly more grownup version. Last summer I tried The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was not what I meant at all. Can anyone write thrilling stories that aren't chock full of the grotesque and morbid? I'm not even moralizing here, I just think it's lazy storytelling. I mean, if we use our imaginations we can find lots of mystery and intrigue without a single person being naked or violated or murdered. Grownup mysteries almost always begin and end in a dank basement with the upstandingest character in the story turning out to be depraved beyond all reckoning, with a few twists and turns along the way, and come to a shocking conclusion when the very flawed protagonist exposes or maybe accidentally kills said villain and then goes on to suffer from crippling PTSD while trying to forget, but finally finds redemption 30 years after fact when in an act of great heroism he writes his memoir. Apparently my standards are very high - and I might add, consistent. A girl who only elevates her mind with quality entertainment like "The Bachelorette" has to be picky about what she reads, too.

Anyway, this summer I've got a great reading list, and I'm having trouble deciding which book to pick up first.

1. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

My sister-in-law and I decided to read this before the release of the much anticipated film (this fall?), because we can't very well see the movie having never read the book. When I started the first chapter, I realized I have in fact read this book before, but I was undoubtedly much to young to appreciate the rich nuances of this classic. I can't wait to read it as an adult.

 

 

2. Chinaberry Sidewalks, Rodney Crowell

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A gift from my stepdad and inscribed by the author (!!!), I could tell within the first few sentences that this is going to be one of my favorites. After all, Mr. Crowell is one of my favorite songwriters. I have high hopes for his memoir.

 

3. The Picture of Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde

Last winter Caleb and I happened to catch the 1945 film starring George Sanders and Angela Landsbury based on this book, and it was riveting. We immediately bought the book, and it's been waiting faithfully ever since. The preface alone is thrillingly brilliant: "We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless."

 

4. Lit, Mary Karr

I first heard of Mary Karr in a Rodney Crowell song, actually. "Earthbound", from the record Fate's Right Hand:

Tom Waits, Aretha Franklin, Mary Karr

Walter Kronkite, Seamus Haney, Ringo Starr

The Dalai Lama, Charlie Brown

Make me want to stick around...

Earthbound.

Clever, clever clever.

Ms. Karr's writing is beautiful and witty and honest and so distinctly American.

 

5. Little House On The Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder

My kids and I are making our way through the Little House series together, and it's a rarity for me to make it through a chapter without Violet asking, "Are you CRYING? AGAIN?" I am overjoyed to share these wonderful adventures with my kids.

 

6. Give Them Grace, Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessic Thompson

I've only read the foreword, but I am looking forward to the rest.

So that's a pretty good list, right? I'll let you know how it goes. Please don't make fun of me if all my lofty intentions only amount to half of a memoir and a few desperate searches through the parenting book for hope and encouragement. I hope for better things, but I also like to be realistic.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to make sure the DVR is set to record "The Bachelorette: The Men Tell All."

PS, What are you reading this summer?

 

 

Updates

So. A few things.

This morning I overheard my son telling his sister that he can't wait for swimming lessons, it's gonna be so fun, which reminded me that I haven't even looked at the pool calendar yet. But wait, that's not the part I meant to tell you about. Oh well, we've gotten started now so I guess I'll tell you anyway. Also I was shocked at the unbridled and unfeigned excitement in his voice, since last year I had to try every trick in the book to keep him from making a spectacle of himself (okay, a spectacle of me) at his lessons, including threats, bribery, cheerleading, peer pressure, and shame, concluding each day of fun with tossing him off the diving board to his swim instructor, and still, despite all my wonderful parenting and coaching, he scored a solid NW in every category of his evaluation.

His favorite part of swimming last year was sitting on the edge of the pool and playing with the squirty crab toy. He still talks about it.

But, okay, so he's excited to go back? I have to get right on that.

Anyhoo, that's not the part I meant to tell you about. What I meant to say is, the calendar now officially says it's summer, whether the weather agrees or not, and I've got a few things coming up that I want to highlight.

1. I am working on finishing up my record. Still. It's been exactly a year since we started recording, and I think it's actually going to get done! I can't believe it. I feel like I'm in the last 3 miles of a 1/2 marathon - you know, the part where I'm literally cursing myself out loud and wondering why in the world I ever did this on purpose. I could have stayed in bed this morning and slept longer! I could be drinking hot coffee right now instead of sweating my brains out and running my legs clean off and peeing my pants just so that I can say I ran really far. (I realize that's way too much information. Sorry.) But I just have to try to remember the feeling of crossing the finish line and hang onto that, because I know it will be just the same with this record. It's been such a group effort on so many levels, and sharing my progress, slow though it has been, with all of you has kept me energized and inspired. Caleb and I are finishing up the artwork right now, and I cannot wait to show it to you.

(Yes. That is an open BandAid wrapper in the background.)

2. In honor of the release of my first record, my dad is helping do my very own Hatch Show Print poster. You know, these guys:

The ones who made posters for Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash and The Beatles. The ones whose work is all over the Country Music Hall of Fame. I've had 2 of their posters hanging in my house since I very first set up my house, and those images are so historic and significant. I can't believe I'll get to have my very own! I'll also keep you updated about a very special cd/poster combo pack.

3. I am playing at the Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival on August 11. My first solo festival. I am so excited.

4. On August 19, I'll be participating in a very special benefit concert for the Schuh family. The Schuhs are practically an instution in the Northwest fiddling community; they're the ones who make every contest feel like a family reunion. So of course, the fiddling community is rallying around them as Jay fights cancer. Visit the Facebook events page to find out how to donate, and how to purchase tickets. It's sure to be a great time. You won't want to miss it.

There's lots more of course. I'll keep you posted about swimming lessons.

 

 

Charis and Eirene

So many important letters began with the appearance of those fraternal twin sisters, Charis and Eirene. Or, as we more commonly know them, Grace and Peace. "Grace and peace to you, from God our Father." "Grace to you and peace, from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you making my prayer with joy." "Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you." "Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you."

I grew up hearing all these verses in Sunday school, and in every sermon, the salutation of each of these precious epistles was somehow skimmed over. Yeah yeah yeah, grace and peace, blah blah, let's get to the heart of the message. You know, the part where we tell everyone they're not good enough and they need to work harder. And yet, what message could be more important or significant than these two words? Grace. Peace. To a busy, sometimes overwhelmed, often guilt-laden, never adequate wanderer, these words say it all.

Grace. Favor. Goodwill. Loveliness. Acceptableness. (Can it be?) A tangible, oft-repeated refrain: "You are lovely. I thank God for you. You are acceptable."

Peace. Harmony. Concord. Security. Safety. Prosperity.

Sometimes I forget. And other times, I just can't believe it. Not because I have not been secure, and safe, and the recipient of overwhelming goodwill. But just because it seems too good to be true.

 

Copyright 2016, Jenny Anne Mannan. All rights reserved.