Jun 26 2012


It all started with Leonard Cohen.

“Hey,” Mom said. “I heard this amazing k.d. lang song, and I want to play it for you. The lyrics are like…la di dah, and every chord she played was hallelujah…”

Mom,” I said. “You don’t mean the Jeff Buckley song, do you?”

“Uh,” said Sam.

“K.d. lang did it at the Olympics,” said Mom.

“Okay,” I said, “but everybody knows the Jeff Buckley song, I mean I can’t believe—”

“It’s a Leonard Cohen song,” said Sam.

“I don’t care,” said Mom. “The lyrics were so great. And every breath she drew was hallelujah…”

“Mom,” I said. “You are freaking me way the hell out here. All the songs I always assumed that everybody knew…I mean. Do you know—have you heard—my god man, have you heard of Warren Zevon?”

“Who?” said Mom.

And that is how it began. We made a pact. We’d swap playlists, made up of “great songs that everybody should know.” It was okay if they were songs we thought the other person had already heard. They just had to be great.

A few months went by, la-la-la, and I forgot all about the pinkie swear I’d made with my mom. Maybe I forgot about it because it involved Sam being right about music, an event that occurs with such depressing regularity that it all fades into a grey sameness.

Until Mom came for another visit, and she had a piece of ruled legal paper, much folded, and written upon (and scratched out, and written again) with ballpoint pen.

“It’s my playlist,” she said. “Let’s put it together now! I want to see how you do it.”

“Mom,” I said. “I’m making dinner. I’ll just go and buy these from iTunes when I have a spare second.”


I’m not saying it didn’t go smoothly at first. Track one, Hank Snow, “Golden Rocket.” Plug it into the iTunes search feature, ninety-nine cents, badda bing, badda boom.

Track two, “Sweet Sunny South,” Smith Lester. (Smith Lester?) Nope. Not happening. iTunes has some versions of the song, but none by that artist—in fact, given that I can’t quite make out Mom’s handwriting, I’m not sure that “Lester” is the last name at all. But there’s no likely matches either on iTunes or Amazon.

So I put that one away and move on. (By this time, Mom’s gone back home, so she’s not available for an immediate consultation.)

Track three, “Hard Times,” Geyser Stshhh….—… (Mom’s handwriting is illegible.)

At this point I start to suspect that I’m being outright trolled. I call Mom. “Hey,” I demand. “What’s this supposed to say, on track three? Geyser what?!”

“Geyer Street Sheiks,” she says promptly. “They’re a local band. They’re famous in St. Louis.”

This is my introduction to Music Hipster Mom.


“The Geyer Street Sheiks? Oh, you’ve probably never heard of them.”

After some time talking through the playlist, researching things, and digging through various obscure bands’ obscure discographies, I’ve got a clearer picture. First, it wasn’t Smith Lester. It was the “Smith Sisters,” and the song Mom wants is from their album “Mockingbird,” never released in digital format, but available on vinyl for like five bucks.


“I have that on vinyl.”

Meanwhile: the Geyer Street Sheiks tune was never released at all. They were famous in St. Louis, yeah: but then they broke up, and apparently had some kind of acrimonious dispute over the rights, such that none of their music is currently available in any format whatsoever.

Except. Except that…there’s some kind of sketchy eastern European pirate site…and they’ve got Great Dreams by the Geyer Street Sheiks for download, if I’m only willing to give them a credit card number, which I am not

Several hoops jumped through later (it involved buying a one-time-use PIN number from an ever-so-slightly more reputable third party site) I have the Geyer Street Sheiks’ Great Dreams, and also the Smith Sisters’ Mockingbird, but the former doesn’t have the track Mom wanted and the latter is still only on vinyl. (The record arrives, and I put it on our bedroom dresser. “Gaah!” says Sam. “I think those women are witches! I think they are trying to magick me from that album cover! They might already have my soul!”)


But…hold up…

“Mom,” I said. “On this Geyer Street Sheiks album, I’m seeing ‘Sweet Sunny South.’ And in iTunes, I’m seeing the Smith Sisters covered ‘Hard Times.'”

“No!” said Mom. “You’re kidding! Well, that’s probably fine, then, just switch ’em.”

(It wasn’t actually that easy, of course. We discussed first whether maybe it was the Red Clay Ramblers’ version of “Hard Times Come Around No More” that she’d actually meant? In the end I executed editorial control, and went with the version that plucked most deeply at my subconscious. I must’ve heard the Smith Sisters track a lot as a little girl: once I finally had it playing, every single note sounded familiar.)

OKAY. GOOD. We can move on. Track four, Gillian Welch, track five, Bob Dylan, no problemo. Track six, W.C. Handy performing his “St Louis Blues,” takes no more than a moment of searching. Track seven, “Marcia Ball — C.C. Rider.”

You’d think that would be easy. I’ve got a couple Marcia Ball albums on my iPod already. Not that particular track, but…you’d think…

“Oh,” says Hipster Mom. “Didn’t she ever put that on any of her albums? I just remember she used to play that song when I went to see her at the Split Rail or the Broken Spoke or something like that—it had a fence or some sort of a wooden part—”

“Mom,” I said. “This doesn’t help me find the track on iTunes.”

“This was in Austin,” she said. “It would’ve been ’72 or ’73…”

“Okay,” I said, “THAT explains why it’s not on iTunes.”


“I was into Marcia Ball before she was cool.”

So, a little more digging—my Google-fu is pretty strong—and I’ve got it. It was the Split Rail all right, in Austin, but it wasn’t Marcia Ball: not yet. This was before her solo career. She was playing in a band called Freda and the Firedogs. They made an album, and it included a version of the song: “EZ Rider.” There are used copies of the Freda and the Firedogs album for sale on Amazon for $49.99, but you can also get it directly from Bobby Earl Smith if you Paypal him fifteen bucks. When I do so, he sends me a very nice email thanking me for the order and asking how I heard about the band, and I’m kind of blown away. I tell him it was because he was track seven on Mom’s handwritten playlist of songs everybody should know.

It was the Split Rail, confirms Bobby Earl Smith. He says it’s always nice to hear from a fan of the old band.

Track eight, Emmylou Harris, I’ve got that one already. In fact the rest of the list is just about that easy. I’m thrown for a second by track fourteen: Jimmy Buffett? Really? I mean, I enjoy the occasional Jimmy Buffett tune myself, but I’m not under the impression that it’s anything but shameful.


“This is not irony. I’m absolutely sincere about Jimmy Buffett.”

Okay, Hipster Mom. If you say so.

Of course, after I’d gotten Mom’s playlist together, I had to finish my own. So here’s the final Mother/Daughter playlist:


Hank Snow — The Golden Rocket
The Geyer Street Sheiks — Sweet Sunny South
The Smith Sisters — Hard Times
Gillian Welch — Elvis Presley Blues
Bob Dylan — Boots of Spanish Leather
W.C. Handy — St. Louis Blues
Freda & The Firedogs — EZ Rider
Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson — Gulf Coast Highway
Martin Simpson — Sammy’s Bar
James Taylor — My Traveling Star
Sharon Shannon and Steve Earle — The Galway Girl
Taj Mahal — Candy Man
Jorge Drexler — Al Otro Lado del Río
Jimmy Buffett — A Pirate Looks at Forty
Amy Rigby — Dancing with Joey Ramone


U2 — One
Sinéad O’Connor — The Emperor’s New Clothes
Talking Heads and John Goodman — People Like Us
Thomas Dolby — I Love You Goodbye
Warren Zevon — Accidentally Like A Martyr
Jeff Buckley — Hallelujah
Crash Test Dummies — Superman’s Song
The Mountain Goats — Going to Georgia
Emmylou Harris — Going Back To Harlan
Guy Clark — Sis Draper
The Waterboys — The Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Linda Ronstadt — Willing
Scott Miller & The Commonwealth — The Way
Warren Zevon — Mohammed’s Radio
Bruce Springsteen — My City Of Ruins

You can see there’s some similarities. We both put Emmylou on our playlists—she’s my favorite singer, probably not least because I grew up with her music. We both have a weakness for Irish bands and rootsy Americana. I limited myself to fifteen songs because that’s what Mom did, but I put Warren Zevon on twice, because he’s Warren Zevon.

Anybody who wants a copy, leave your mailing address in the comments and I’ll burn you CDs of both mixes. Old skool, baby!

Jun 25 2012

Puppy Disappointment

So when we arrived at the breeder today, thrumming with excitement about bringing home our new puppy, it quickly became clear that:

a) in the year and a half we’ve been on the waiting list, the breeder totally forgot who we were


b) as a result, she’d matched us with a puppy who was going to be temperamentally unsuited to our family. The puppy she’d picked out for us was much smaller than her littermates, and showed some tendencies toward shyness and anxiety. This is obviously a bad fit for a family with two active and exuberant little boys. To her credit, she realized the mistake immediately and was pretty up-front about it. But the end result is that we came home without a puppy.

The next litter will be born in July, ready to come home in September. It’s definitely a disappointment. But the kids actually took the whole thing quite well. They seemed to feel that driving an hour and a half to play with a puppy for fifteen minutes, and then turning around and driving home, was a perfectly sensible use of a day.

Jun 23 2012

So Great

More sketches from The Big Booger Bubble:

Charlotte lifts off


How great? So great.

Jun 21 2012

Publishing Update

So this article is making quite a splash in the indie-publishing circles:

Publishers pay terribly and infrequently. They are shockingly dumb when it comes to pricing, and if I see one more friend’s NY-pubbed ebook priced at $12.99, I’m going to scream. They do minimal marketing and leave the vast majority of work up to the author. Unless, of course, you are already a big name author. Then they fly you around the country for signings and treat you like the precious moneymaking gem that you are. The rest of us get next to nothing in terms of promotion. If your book takes off, they get the credit. If it tanks, you get the blame.

No, thank you. I’m all set with that.

You know who I do like, though? Amazon. Well, all online ebook sites that let me self-publish, but Amazon is the true powerhouse right now. Say what you want about this company, but it’s because of them that I can continue writing.

Because of Amazon and other sites, I’m making enough money that I can continue writing. I’m averaging sales of 3,500 books a month, not including the month that Amazon featured Flat-Out Love in a list of books for $3.99 and under. That month I sold 45,000 Kindle copies, and sold over 10,000 the next month. Those numbers are insane to me. Absolutely insane. The fact that I continue to sell well a year after the book’s release is humbling.

There are more and more stories like this one, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that anyone who stands between author and reader—specifically the agent, and the publisher, who between them have traditionally taken the vast majority of any book’s profits—are now irrelevant. If you can write a book that people want to read—and if you can do that with some frequency—you can make a living as a writer. For a long time, this wasn’t the case. The ability for writers to connect with readers in an unmediated fashion is one of the great gifts the Internet has given us.

Although I still rank the Internet slightly under epidurals, as far as the achievements of civilization go.

Anyway, I’m still working on my second novel. My first should be coming out on Amazon soon (I’m waiting on the cover art, which is coming along great and is going to be amazing). Meanwhile, I’ve contracted with another wonderful artist to do illustrations for The Big Booger Bubble: I just got the first sketches today, and, oh man, I laughed and laughed.

Look, here’s the sketch for the “nose fruit”:

nose fruit

Ha ha ha ha ha!

Jun 19 2012

One More

I’ve got my chickens all in a row:


Jun 19 2012

Girls and Boys

My pullets are getting big and sleek:



We had to put chicken wire around the garden because they were eating my cherry tomato plant, and my parsley. It was odd: the other two tomato plants they didn’t touch at all. They’re very specific in their tastes, I guess.

The exciting news around here is that we will soon be adding another girl to the family. We’ve been on the waiting list for almost two years for an American Mastiff puppy, and that wait will shortly be coming to an end. We get to bring home our new puppy next Monday. She’ll be seven weeks old, and Robin has decided, sight unseen, that her name is Mona. I was lobbying for Lucy or Alma, but I have to admit that Mona is a pretty good mastiff name. But I insist on seeing her before I decide for sure! We are all a-twitter, getting the house ready for our newest “baby.”

Bonus picture, for gender balance: a little boy.


Jun 10 2012

Happy Campers



We went camping this weekend! We went with a group of other families from Robin’s school, so our whole section of the campground was like a single neighborhood, with kids running around freely among the sites. Here’s Robin and Davy with Robin’s “kitty friend” Evie:


The trip was fantastic. I was a little shocked when Sam came back from REI with an eight-man tent—all the tents I camped in as a kid were probably a third of the size—but it wasn’t too much of a bear to set up, and I have to admit that it was nice having a tent with an air mattress and room to walk around in.



This apple was Davy’s comfort apple. He toddled around clutching it all Friday evening—occasionally, but not often, taking a nibble—and when he climbed into his sleeping bag he was still cradling it to his chest. We eventually divested him of it on Saturday morning.

Davy seemed to have a really great time from beginning to end. He got in his sleeping bag so happily that we’re thinking of letting him use one at home, as a way of transitioning into his own bed. He ran all around the campground—this was a little wearying, actually, because one of us had to be constantly chasing after him. I’d say my most common sight over the weekend was Davy, rapidly retreating into the horizon.

Robin was a little more anxious about the whole thing. When we first got there on Friday afternoon he was excited, but as the sun set he started asking to go home. “It’s late,” he said. “We need to go home.” He elaborated on this theme at great length. “Sorry mommy, but the fire needs to stay here. We need to get in the car and Daddy could drive home.” I explained over and over that we were all going to sleep in the tent, that all of his friends were sleeping in their own tents nearby, that he would not be alone, that our house was still there and that we would return to it in due course, that camping was fun and it was all a grand adventure. His response to this line of argument was to tell me that I could stay, but he and Daddy and Davy needed to go home.

Interestingly, when it was fully dark and we all got in the tent, Robin put up no protest whatsoever about climbing into his sleeping bag and going to bed. I think he was just super exhausted at that point. The next day, though, he started to talk about going home again. So we decided that we’d stay for the day, but pack up after dinner.

The campground (Del Valle, down near Livermore) was a really beautiful example of California wilderness. I remember when I first moved here, being a little taken aback by the “golden hills of California”: they’re not really golden, you know. They’re brown. A tannish kind of brown, but still. The trees grow thinly, following the waterways: even the wooded areas are much less dense than the Ozark forests I grew up in, and all of the colors are dustier.


Anyway, in Del Valle I decided that I must have finally acclimatized fully to California, because I was just delighted with the landscapes. The tawny hills and the dusty oaks looked beautiful to me. Here’s some views from the campground:





On Saturday morning we went for a hike. Davy was a game little hiker:




We saw a lizard:


And vultures, and deer, and (on our way back to the camp) a family of ground squirrels:


And ferns:


And lots of wildflowers. Again, California wildflowers are sort of strikingly different from what I grew up with in the Ozarks: I remember tiger lillies, goldenrod, wild roses, Queen Anne’s Lace—big splashes of color. That’s not what you find in these dry hills. It’s more an exercise in keeping your eyes open, looking very carefully for tiny flashes of color, and then being rewarded with these exquisite little flowers in striking, almost orchid-like shapes:




I think those are California native bees nestled into the flowers. There are 1,600 species of native bees in California, most of which are solitary and live in burrows in the ground rather than making hives. They tend to be smaller than the familiar honeybee, and these as you can see are super iridescent, almost metallic-looking. The native bees don’t make honey, but they are critical to our ecosystems, and they’re under pressure for a variety of reasons (including mulch! Mulch is terrible for native bees!). My goal is to slowly replace our front lawn with flowering native and drought-tolerant plants that will provide a habitat for our indigenous bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. My mountain lilac just mysteriously died, but I have coyote mint, gooseberry bushes, and a manzanita that are all thriving. I also have a couple of pots of California poppies that gamely put out a few blooms every summer despite lacking proper drainage, and I planted some native irises by our drainspout that are kind of grimly hanging on. (I also planted lavender and rosemary, though they aren’t native species. They’re doing fantastic and they attract clouds of honeybees. Something for everybody!)

There were lots of birds around our campsite too. I got all excited by the scrub jays even though we have tons of them in our backyard. The woodpeckers were a treat too:


Also there were a flock of little grey tufted guys that I called tufted titmice even though they weren’t (I don’t think California has the true tufted titmouse). But “tufted titmouse” is incredibly fun to say, so that’s what I called them. Anyway, they probably were some kind of tit.

Sam and the boys saw quail, and wild turkeys, but I didn’t.

There was a lake at the campground:


Robin splashed about a bit in the shallow water. We have vague plans to enroll him in swim lessons this summer, so I guess that’s something we really need to get the ball rolling on.


I was worried about my chickens, but the girls were fine when we got home—just ready to get out of the coop for a bit. They’re doing great; I’ll try to get some pictures of them up soon, but I think this is enough photos for one post!