I Found Spring in Maine!

I’m visiting my mother over spring break, and you would think there would at least be a SIGN of spring SOMEWHERE – anywhere! But here’s what I’ve been getting:

[slideshow_deploy id=’865′]

And then my mother told me about YELLOW FLOWERS BLOOMING in the gravel down the road. Well, weren’t they crocuses? Cause those don’t count. Not native. No, they weren’t crocuses. Forsythia? But my mother knows what that is. No, it wasn’t forsythia. There was a native yellow flower in bloom NOW? I had to go check it out.

How fun are these?! I’ve lived for 52 years and never heard of Coltsfoot. Have you? Spring has come to Thrush Cottage on Little Webb Pond in Waltham, Maine.

I love them.

Spoils from a Chittenden Raid

Woodland Sunflower, Helianthus strumosus

My good  friend Glenn Levinson came over the other day for something of an impromptu visit with our family (Uncle Glenn!), and I had just come back from a grass, flower, and other types of plants raid at Chittenden Park in Guilford.  Now, I hadn’t seen Glenn in some time, and I was so happy to see him and be able to spend time with him, but precious sunlight was slipping away, and I had all these lovely things from Chittenden that were crying out to be photographed before it was too late. Fortunately, there were other family members on deck to keep the conversation going, and Glenn had to watch while I dragged out a Canon 5D Mark III (a non-descript-but-I-mean-business-sort-of-looking-camera), my very favorite 1.4 50mm lens, and an extension tube for close ups (all of these things given to me by my father). I started shooting, but it just wasn’t cutting it. I dragged out a tripod. Then a table. Then a backdrop. You might as well go all out. Let’s iron the backdrop! Glenn just kept saying, “Wow!” I felt a bit rude, but it had to be done.

Glenn! I’m so sorry if it was rude, and let’s have dinner together soon, but I hope you can enjoy the results.

I found ALL KINDS OF FREAKY THINGS at Chittenden that I had never seen or heard of before!

All this time, I thought I was collecting things against the law, but I read just this moment: “Wild flowers According to Dominic Price of wild plant protection charity Plantlife, “it is not normally an offence to pick the ‘Four Fs’ – fruit, foliage, fungi or flowers – if the plants are growing wild and it is for your personal use and not for sale.” I’m SO HAPPY!

I formatted three photos for use as wallpapers for 1920 x 1080. Please download to your heart’s content.

Here are the goods:

[ess_grid alias=”chittenden”]

Super 9 Shakes Up Salmagundi Club’s 2016 Photography Exhibition

John & Irene Liebler at the Salmagundi Club

Times are getting fewer and fewer that all nine of us can be in the same place, so these moments are precious to me. My best friend and business partner, Irene Liebler, submitted some of her work to the Salmagundi Club’s 2016 Non-Members’ Photography & Graphics Exhibition in Manhattan and got three pieces into the show (congratulations, Irene!), so it was a great excuse for all of us to go down… especially since all nine planets lined up, and no children had anything more interesting to do than hang out with their parents in the Big Apple.

As it turned out, not only did we all make it down, many, many friends showed up out of the woodwork to party with us! So much fun to see familiar face after familiar face turn up in places like the subway (Stephanie Hart), the restaurant (Deirdre Lonergan, Stephanie Gosteli, and Wendy Mackey), and the show (Jil Grey, Ellen Bean, Lauren Mallow (sp?), and Diane Heriot). It’s no small task to get to Manhattan from Guilford, so we were thrilled, and Irene was moved at the show of support.

One cool thing is that Rachel and her friend Scott Weady are the models in one of Irene’s pieces called “Sign of the Times.”

And, yes, that would be Abigail wearing four inch heels to traipse around Manhattan. Only Abigail.

[ess_grid alias=”s9-salmagundi”]

Garden Boys: Aaron (7) & Noah (5) Are a Raging Business Success

The moment I heard that my friends Aaron and Noah (ages seven and five) were running a flower business by selling arrangements in the park with flowers they grew in their own backyard, I was seized with a dire need to document the story. The cuteness factor was just too overwhelming to live life another moment without action. Combine that with the fact that I will forever be indebted to their parents, Grant and Amy, for providing a safe and encouraging environment for all three of my children to thrive in our church’s youth group, well… it would be a very small way to express my undying gratitude.

What I experienced went way beyond what I ever expected.  A salesman was being born right before my eyes (watch for when Aaron convinces two women to buy two arrangements instead of one because they couldn’t decide which one they wanted). And his description of what happened with the cone flowers made me laugh so hard, I broke the boundary of “the silent interviewer.” Their stamina for work was impressive at such young ages… a quality we can all be inspired by. Noah’s “sideman antics” are to die for, Aaron’s powers of articulation go well beyond his seven years, and the simplicity and beauty of their arrangements are stunning. I especially enjoyed watching everyone’s response to them. The boys were professional and respectful in all their dealings… and the response was beautiful to behold.

Grant and Amy, thank you for all you do for our church community and for my children in particular. I am grateful for your tireless work and for the parenting example you set. Your children have become precious to me.

When Sal Khan Gets Really Excited About Triangles

In an effort to support Abigail in her quest to be able to take Calculus BC by the time she’s a senior (she’s taking Geometry and Algebra II this fall as a freshman under special dispensation from the guidance office… I love Tammy Lizotte!), I am taking Sal Khan’s course in geometry with her over the summer. We had a bumpy start with her wanting to just skip over the tutorials and go straight to the exercises. I like to understand things before I take tests, so I was watching every tutorial all the way through. “No way am I going at this pace all summer!” We compromised with the idea of her explaining what she was doing as she was taking the exercises. (It’s been 38 years since I took geometry, but she’s been getting basic geometry concepts in math at school long ago. Thank you Guilford school system!)

We just jumped in and started from the top. After a few of these, I decided I really wanted to know what I was in for. (Can you say, “Leap before you look”?) How many of these tutorials would we have to do? Abigail didn’t know. I went and found a table of contents, and, to my delight, I found that we had already completed four out of the eight units. WOW! This was easy! Here is the table of contents:


Upon explaining this to Abigail with joy, she said, “MOM! What I’m going to have to do in school next year is going to be MUCH HARDER! I already know most of this stuff.” I was crest-fallen. So we went back to the course descriptions and found that Khan Academy had TWO geometry courses: Basic Geometry and Geometry. We were only taking Basic Geometry. I opened the table of contents for Geometry and gasped:


S%#$!!! I guess there’s no going back now.

So now we are in the midst of trying to do three units a day. Fortunately, Sal Khan is a delightful instructor and really loves the subject matter. We came across this unit description today which had us in stitches:


Thank you, Sal Khan, for all your hard work toward making this kind of learning accessible for all!

Throwing Myself In Front of the Lawnmower

Bulbous Bluegrass, Poa bulbosa

Yard Grass


If a person is going to be excited about spring and the plants that come to life at that time, then it would seem natural to be happy about the obvious things in the Northeast like forsythia and crocuses. And then the cherry blossoms. I think I missed them. I seem to be late to the spring party this year. I was just thinking the other day, “If only the grass would start to come up, now THAT would make it spring for me.” And then yesterday, upon driving up my driveway, I noticed that this certain patch had sprung to life. It only grows in one, ten-foot square spot in a triangle between three trees in the front yard. I was SO HAPPY because last year I spent considerable time, to no avail, trying to identify this grass, and I haven’t seen it anywhere else. Something about it draws me to it. I think it’s the wild, scrawly bits of it. Like it needs a haircut. Like it has an attitude about being wild and crazy. Like “Why aren’t you wild and crazy too?”

After getting out of the car and inspecting it thoroughly, I was greatly satisfied that spring had finally arrived. I purposed in my heart at that moment to take pictures of it the next day, on Sunday, my day to give in fully to my ADD and “Projects That Make No Sense.”

It being Saturday, with a long list of unfinished web development projects for clients, I parked myself in front of the computer and committed my heart to servicing my clients. While deep into the machinations of how to make WordPress send blog posts automatically to Mail Chimp, I heard a loud noise outside. It was getting louder. It started to really bother me.  IT WAS THE LAWNMOWER! OMG!!! Is Bryan really MOWING THE LAWN RIGHT NOW! MY PRECIOUS PATCH OF GRASS!!! Fortunately, he is used to my addiction and only chuckled slightly when I threw myself in front of the mower just as he was going around the corner next to my precious patch. I’m sure you will all be glad to know that I saved all but one clump.

The photo you see here is the result of way too many hours on a Sunday trying to capture my feeling about this grass. If anyone can give me any help with identification, I would be ever so grateful.

My friend Jil Grey came over later and at least feigned interest enough to ask to see my other photos. LOL! I mean, that is a seriously good friend who can even scrounge around enough to ASK to see more photos of grass. HA HA! My favorite moment was when she said, “Well, that one sort of looks like they’re having a conversation. Like it’s a cocktail party.” HOW COULD SHE KNOW THAT?! I had set up that shot to convey that very idea.

Grass Cocktail Party

The Finest of Sportsmen

The best players check their ego at the door and get the job done.
They are the finest of sportsmen.
The job: Open Mic at Donahue’s.
The mix-up: who was on lead guitar.
The result: no guitar player.
Many texts go out from Trot to Savino.
“Where are you?”
Trot plays guitar instead of bass.
We’re close to the end.
The last singer is up.
The song starts.
I notice we have a bass line.
Savino is playing bass!
There is great rejoicing.
A few more songs go by in this configuration.
Time to finish.
Someone in the band calls, “One more song!”
Trot: “Savino! Gimme that!!!!
“And never, never, never play five-string again!
“Remind me to bring a four-string for your ass!”
Axes change hands.
They blow the roof off on the final song.
Satisfaction is had by all.
I love my job.

What I Do to Prepare a New Song for Performance

Learning "Billie Jean"

Learning "Billie Jean"Earlier this fall, I was asked to sub on a gig with Tongue & Groove at Foxwood’s Casino at the end of November. I was so excited to get to front another band besides my own, that I said, “Yes! I’ll do it!” Then I got the list of songs I was supposed to know for it: 15 songs, only one of which did I know. The other 14 would be brand new songs to me, and many were not in my preferred genre of songs. Not only that, they all had to be memorized, and lead singers do even better if they’re prepared to cue the band on transitions. Yikes! I would have my work cut out for me over the next two months!

Upon hearing about it, my friend Phil Orr asked me what I was doing to prepare for such a performance. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to document my process with one song, even if it was just for the sake of my voice students. The song that happened to be next on my list was Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” So NOT in my wheelhouse! Oh my goodness. The process of learning this song is probably far longer than most of the ones I choose to learn. Warning: this is not for the faint of heart. It’s 87 steps.


  • I do a complete 20-minute vocal warm-up before any of the following sessions.
  • Find lyrics on metrolyrics.com  and copy and paste them into a Word document.
  • Spend way too much time formatting the text to look like my charts.
  • Go on Wikipedia to find out who wrote the song and read whatever other information they have on there about it
  • Go to www.musicnotes.com and print and study the first page they give you for free. It says Billie Jean is in F#m.
  • Find the song on Spotify.
  • I find that the Civil Wars also recorded a song called Billie Jean, so I listen to see if it’s different. Hey! It’s the same tune, only their version is a very cool acoustic version. Go Civil Wars!
  • Get distracted listening to the Civil Wars – maybe they have some good ideas I should include in the process.
  • Fire up the keyboard next to my desk.
  • Check that it really is in that key by playing the song while I play opening chords on the piano.
  • Find two things make the song distinctive: the cool bass line and the F# in the bass pedaling under F#m and G#m chords.
  • Yep – same key.
  • Use my very cool BPM app to find out what the tempo is: about 117 in this case, but since I have a weird thing about tempos being analog, I make it 116.
  • Make two windows side by side: one with the Word document and the other with the song queued up in Spotify.
  • Start song over and over again and skip around in it in Spotify to get all the redundant lyrics off my chart while learning and marking the song form.
  • Get bothered by all of Michael’s hiccups.
  • Do whatever it takes to keep the lyrics on one page
  • Create a two-column table and stick the lyrics on the left (chords and bars will be on the right)
  • Find a leadsheet on Ultimate Guitar Tabs, print it, and use it for the next step.
  • Try playing along to recording with Ultimate Guitar Tab chart to see if it’s even remotely close. (YAY! It’s spot on!)
  • Start the tedious task of figuring out what chords and how many bars are in each section.
  • Force everything possible into 4-bar patterns and assign every bar to a section.
  • Notice that verse 2 is short and verse 1 and chorus have the same chord progression.
  • Realize I’ve been dropping several bars out of the equation and add them in.
  • Think, “I should proof this” and disregard the thought.
  • Print chart.
  • Get a very sharp Ticonderoga pencil #2.
  • Brew another pot of coffee
  • Listen to song again and mark what lyrics the downbeats fall on. If there’s a weird pick-up, or if opening lyrics fall on the upbeats – I write in the counts.
  • Get annoyed that “Then showed a photo my baby cried his eyes were like mine” doesn’t make any sense. Does he mean, “Then she showed me a photo of my baby who was crying and his eyes were like mine”? Probably.
  • Get over the nonsense lyrics.
  • Go back to the beginning of the song and see if I can sing it all the way through with Michael and get the rhythm and melody correct by reading my own chart.
  • Notice that I have a vocal pick up coming out of the solo – so I better not be dozing off during the solo. Oh! And I come in before the solo is finished, so I better be counting too.
  • Run each verse about three times to iron out rough spots.
  • Run entire song circling spots I need to still work out.
  • Start thinking about the key I should do this in. I’m bummed out because the chorus is perfect for my range, but the verses are too low. Gotta see how high I can take it without sounding too weird on the chorus.
  • Buy karaoke track on Amazon for $.89.
  • Pull it into Mixcraft and take it up a 1/2 step. Not bad, but I gotta find out how many band members I will piss off wanting to do it in Bb. B is probably worse, but I’ll try it. Then C. They won’t mind C, but that’s probably too high.
  • Results are in:  Bb isn’t bad, B is okay, C is way too high! And I can’t work that Pre-chorus into my voice in any of those keys. Back to the orignal key: pre-chorus sounds awesome. Just have to lean way into the microphone to get those verses out in that low part of my range, dang it. Better to sacrifice the verse than the Pre-chorus and Chorus.
  • Take a break until the next day.
  • Convince Tony Cafiero (very fine keyboard player) that since this song is also on one of his lists to learn that it’s more fun if we learn this song together because, by now, I’ve had it with myself.
  • Go to Tony’s and sing it through 1/2 way missing a lot of stuff in the verses because I don’t have the phrasing down yet, so he stops.
  • “Ya wanna get some of this phrasing down now? Cuz I’m into going deep and getting this stuff.”
  • I’m embarrassed, but I let him help me. We listen to the first verse on You Tube a couple of times, and I figure out that my problem is that I’m not starting the lyric “She was” right on the downbeat of two. I keep wanting to start it on the upbeat, and it’s messing up everything.
  • We get back and start talking about keys, and I go through all the key ideas I had with him. We come to the same conclusion: even though the verses are a bit low, the more important parts of the song sound better in the original key.
  • We play the song almost all the way through.
  • Tony wants to talk about how I have too much of a classic sound going on in the chorus. I say, “Oh yeah! I hate it when I do that, so I’m glad you’re here to tell me that I’m doing it!”
  • We play it through a few more times while I try different techniques of not sounding operatic, and I find the ticket.
  • I notice I’m having trouble coming out of the solo, and I figure out that it’s because my entire lyric at that point is a pick up. Meanwhile, we move on to a different song, have a great time together, and I go home. (Thank you, Tony!)
  • Later that day, I find out that the gig for which I’ve been practicing this song has been cancelled with no promises of being rescheduled, so, of course, I am crushed because I’ve been going through this same process on several other songs.
  • It takes me a day to recover from the hit. Actually, it took until band practice the following week.
  • Since I’m sick over having put in so much work into this song and this blog post without satisfaction that I ask my band if they’re willing to give it a go for the sake of me finishing my blog post. Since we are more of a blues and rock band, I expected some push back, but, surprisingly, they were ALL game! The bass player even already knew the bass riff that is immediately recognizable, and the drummer already knew the pattern that went with the bass riff. I proposed that maybe we could even perform it at a couple of upcoming gigs. They are still amenable to the idea, so I press on.
  • We give it a go but have to abort because, even though I’ve created a chart, the song form is difficult.
  • We start back at the top, get further in the song, but, again, song form is a problem, so I have to explain a bit.
  • We start back at the top and make it all the way through this time. Meanwhile, I finally remember what I learned in step 44: start the beginning lyric on BEAT TWO, for crying out loud! It makes everything better.
  • It feels really, really low and weak in the verses now singing against an entire band, but I work with it anyway.
  • We decide we can perform it in less than two weeks, so now I have some work cut out for me to try and memorize the lyrics. To the shower I go!
  • Print lyric sheet and put in shower for work on memorizing lyrics and working out phrasing at the same time.
  • A week goes by, but I memorize the lyrics for the verse. the first prechorus, and the chorus in anticipation of band practice.
  • At band practice – I can do most of what I’ve memorized. Gotta get the rest of it by Saturday for our first performance of it.
  • I notice that any nuances I had worked on in the chorus are completely lost with the band playing, so maybe I’ll switch back to belting on that chorus.
  • Next day: shower session #2 – I get verse 2 and second pre-chorus down and review everything else.
  • Afternoon studio session: run it twice with karaoke track and lead sheet to reference. Try not to look at it. Still getting surprised by some of the song form.
  • Experiment with bringing some of the low verse lines like “cuz we danced on the floor” up an octave. Sounds WAY BETTER! And I think it works for the song!
  • More run throughs
  • Need to fix some phrasing on a few spots. Get Michael back and sing with him.
  • While I don’t care for all his “hiccups” and it would sound funny if I tried to pull that off, I notice he puts some extra “uhs” in places that give the phrases a more percussive sound like, “mother always told me uh be careful of who you love, and be careful of what you do uh cause the lie becomes the truth.’ I work that in.
  • “Who will dance on the floor” comes in about a 16th note earlier than I think. Dang syncopation. Or maybe it’s right on the beat?
  • Spend about 30 minutes going through the entire song backing up through each section that needs work and doing each one about four or five times until phrasing is correct and lyrics are memorized.
  • Experiment with singing entire chorus in my head voice with lots of air and rasp (I’m sick today – so it helps). I think it sounds more like the spirit of Michael’s voice. Thinking my vocal would have to be turned WAY UP in the mix to get that sound across, and I’d have to lighten up the entire song.
  • Sing it with the karaoke track in the car several times on the way to Donaue’s trying to get lyrics memorized.
  • Sing more times in the studio with karaoke track.
  • Make a cheat sheet cuz I’m still missing stuff! DANG!
  • Make a video to get a reality check.
  • Video’s not bad, but I don’t think I’m getting this song across. It’s just not my message! Sigh.
  • Pressing on: in a couple of sections, my rhythm is too “white girl” – make note
  • Still struggling with placement of that second line of the chorus.
  • Next day – more work with karaoke.
  • Got the first part of that stupid line. Still can’t hit the placement or the pitch on “kid”
  • Getting a feel for my voice in this song. Imagine how I would feel if someone claimed that I was the father of a child, and I knew I wasn’t. I’d be pretty pissed off. Try to take a more authoritative feel.
  • Starting to feel better!
  • For some reason, I can now belt that entire second line now. I just have to belt softer than I want to or it sounds weird.
  • Trying to get some dirt throughout to get unified feel to the tone.
  • Make second video.
  • Perform it at open mic on Saturday – no charts! I messed up some of the song form, but the band didn’t even notice. I think I only missed a few phrases toward the middle.
  • Played it at band practice again to shore up some of the form with them and recorded it. Not bad! Although I’m thinking it needs to be lighter and have much less vibrato. Gonna try it again next week.
  • From this point on – it’s just fine tuning over the next year or so. Since I’m performing it, it’s considered “ready for performance,” but I really do a lot more work “working a song into my voice” over years of performing it.