Thursday, December 31, 2015

Well Hello There, 2016!

Hey 2016, nice to meetcha.

I know, you're new around here, and people are going to have a hard time remembering your name for a few weeks, but by February we'll have it down. And by this time next year, we'll be referring to your successor by your name for a month or so anyway, so it all washes out in the end.

I'm sorry if we don't all get up to shake your hand and clap you on the back, but most of us stayed up pretty late last night and may have overindulged just a bit. Not me, of course. I decided to stay home with my husband and the dogs last night, because I've finally reached that age where a night of partying followed by a morning of regretting it doesn't sound worth it. Instead, we decided to clean out the freezer, barbecue whatever wasn't too freezer burnt, and catch the early showing of Star Wars so that we didn't have to wait in a line that snakes along for two city blocks like I did back in 1977. Again, some things just aren't worth it anymore.

I just want to let you know that you've got some big shoes to fill this year. There's a lot of stuff you've got to help get done, and you've only got a year to do it. That's all the time you get. Sorry. At least you've got an extra day at the end of February, which is more than 2015 had.

So here's your mission, 2016, should you choose to accept it. Well, a couple of missions:

#1: Politics. This country is going to get a new leader. It's not until next November, so we've got a lot of time to figure out it's gonna be. But until then, most of your reign is going to be filled with commercials and billboards, and speeches full of empty promises trying to sway voters. I just hope that by the end of your time here, we'll end up with someone that we can get behind (and I don't mean to push off a cliff). My hope is that we can, together, elect someone to lead this country for the next 4 or 8 years who can pull us together so that we can get stuff done.That's been an issue plaguing this country for a while now that the years haven't been able to change so far. We elect a president who spends the next 8 years trying to undo whatever the person before did, and whichever party didn't get elected spends the next 8 years trying to stop the other party from getting done whatever they promised they'd get done. It's downright embarrassing.

#2: Daesh. Since that election isn't until November, pretty please 2016, do you think you could spend a little of your time putting your nose to the grindstone to figure out a way to neutralize radical islamic extremists? I know this is asking a lot, because hating hate with hate is oxymoronic, but omygosh is there a way to get rid of a group of people committing genocide without committing genocide? I'm just going to leave that on your plate, because I'm overwhelmed and exhausted just thinking about it, but you're still fresh. You might have a whole new perspective on this issue I haven't thought of yet. And since you're new, not stuck in old habits yet, could you please do me a solid and not call them by the name that those other members of the media keep using? As I understand it, Daesh is the term we should be using, not the name of one of my favorite kick-ass Saturday morning cartoon superheroes from my youth. If you need to bone up on why this is so important, check out this great piece that explains it from the Boston Globe.

#3: The Walking Dead. No, not my favorite TV show, I'm talking about the growing population of humanoids shuffling around this town that seem to have no permanent home, no means of employment, and a penchant for pajama pants, face tattoos and either baby strollers with no baby, or bicycles made for little boys. My complaint isn't with their appearance or lack of a place to call their own. My complaint is that 2015 didn't do much to help deter this segment of the population from a life that seems to be solely focused on taking things that don't belong to them to either fund a drug habit and/or to continue to exist below the radar. And they're getting more and more thuggish by the day. Just calling it like I sees it. There is a herd (as they're called in my aforementioned favorite TV show) that seems to be only motivated to find ways NOT to contribute anything positive to the world. Even worse, there's a growing number of Walking Dead who roam the streets at night looking for something, anything to take at the expense of the people who rightfully own it. Waking up to find your car window smashed in for a tin of altoids and some spare change? Going to work to find a huge pile of trash (or maybe a smaller pile of poop) in front of your door? Come on. Let's work on handling this.

I feel like 2015 really failed us. So did 2014, for that matter. But please. 2016. Don't let this get worse. Let's work on finding a solution. And since I'm asking a lot, let me help you out a little bit with a word that - if used correctly - could do so much to help thin the herd, so to speak. Accountability. You've heard of aversion therapy? Behavior modification? I'm talking about simple psychology. Good moms and dads will also recognize this as basic parenting.

In super simple terms, this is like when you snap a rubber band on your wrist every time you want to eat a piece of fudge or smoke a cigarette. Here's how it applies to this situation: If someone commits an unacceptable behavior, then there needs to be a consequence. Accountability. Otherwise, there's nothing to deter the behavior. Currently, this segment of the population is learning that the rubber band is broken. Occasionally there's a minor slap on the wrist, but most of the time a person could get away with causing a pretty decent amount of damage or mayhem without much concern of receiving an equal amount of punishment. 2016, you're going to have to get together with law enforcement on this one, and you might have to work in conjunction with 2017 before things really turn around.

2016, I'm here to help you make friends. I want your name to be remembered fondly. I guarantee that if you can accomplish those 3 simple tasks I outlined above, this could be a pretty awesome year for you. In the meanwhile, here's some music worthy of your time. This is your year 2016, make it a good one!

For those of you who don't know how this works, click on the play arrow in the upper left corner of the Spotify playlist box below, and enjoy!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Stocking Stuffer

My mantra this week is this: Peace. Love. Joy. Harmony. It's more than my mantra, it's my wish for you this holiday season. And myself too. Let's all of us, everyone, have a holiday full of peace, love, joy and harmony, shall we? As I spend the holidays with my family, all together under one roof celebrating Christmas our way - which, in case you were wondering, consists of food, champagne, everyone giving my father their undivided attention (which is the only Christmas present he really wants and never seems to really get), Scrabble, gifts, family debates, more food, more champagne, Cribbage, movies, Boggle, another glass of champagne, a little bit more food and a long nap - I hope you find peace, love, joy and harmony celebrating in whatever way you celebrate or relax with your loved ones.

To help you enjoy your holiday a little bit more, here's a specially crafted playlist with the most palatable Chistmassy, Wintery Holiday music I could find. Think of it as a sweet little stocking stuffer from the Mistress of the Mix. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Pure Joy

'Tis the season of Joy, readers. And by that, I mean for this last season, my staff at the Redding studios of Jefferson Public Radio has doubled to a grand total of two (if you include me). Because of that, I've had a burst of Joy in my life. JoyAnna Hatcher, that is. 

Every once in awhile I find myself blessed with an intern hungry to learn, willing to listen to all my crazy stories, and young enough to mop the floor and take out the trash without complaining. This Fall, JoyAnna has accompanied me backstage to a show (Jim Belushi asked me if she was my daughter), learned that its just as difficult to get anyone to speak on the record about Redding's exploding crime rate as it is to land an interview about the potential closure of the Schreder Planetarium. She even traveled to Ashland to see how a public radio fund drive is accomplished, and even got thrown in front of a microphone for a couple of minutes. 

Sadly, just as I'm finally introducing you all to JoyAnna, it's also time to say goodbye, because as you read this, she's already back on the road, heading back to film school, her time in Redding already over. But during her last week at JPR, I gave JoyAnna one last assignment, which was to walk in my footsteps one more time, as today's guest columnist. Not only did she come through masterfully (and just like me, at the very last minute), she put together a playlist of music that is nothing short of amazing and wonderful, a playlist that completely nails my affection for a particular kind of music that I can't even find words to describe. Electro Groove Lounge Chill? Maybe one of you can come up with a phrase to describe it. Maybe I should just call it Pure Joy.

So loyal readers, meet JoyAnna. JoyAnna, meet your readers!

JoyAnna Hatcher
For the past 4 months, I’ve been the 21st Century equivalent of a squire to Valerie. That is, I’ve been her beloved intern.  I like to think of myself more like her sidekick, though, following her around and slowly learning the ins and outs of Public Radio. Whenever we meet people, Val usually gets one of two questions: “Is that Sophia, your daughter?” or “Who is that person?” While I’m always very flattered that I might be mistaken for someone so witty and beautiful, those questions always queue me to go into an explanation of who I am and where I came from.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m an L.A. native on hiatus from being a film student at USC. Some of the people Val and I encountered probably could have guessed this because of my slight L.A. accent or the fact that winter here in Redding has got me bundled up like an Eskimo.  My brief description where I’m from is simple and easy to digest, “I’m a student from L.A. staying with my Aunt and Uncle.” But, the real story of how I got here goes way back.

It all started in 1979 at the U.S. Center for World Missions in Pasadena, California. At the time, my mom, an artist from Redding, was working at the Center and my dad had just gotten a job in the mailroom. This is where they became friends. . . and remained friends for the next eight years.
Its kind of funny how when my mom tells this story she always says that she “never in a million years” thought she would end up with my dad. I’m inclined to believe that what she says is true since during my parents’ 8 year platonic friendship, my mom got on a plane to Japan where she was an ESL teacher, missionary, and girlfriend to not-my-dad-loser-Greg for 4 years. I don’t actually know anything about Greg. In fact, he was probably a nice and decent person but for obvious reasons, he and my mom were not meant to be.

All the while, my dad really liked my mom but he thought they were going in different directions. He wanted to go to the Middle East. Even though he was on the sidelines, he still went a little above and beyond for her. He sent her 5 bucks a month to help her out in Japan. To me, that sounds like nothing, but apparently it was a good amount considering how much they made.

Fast forward to Memorial Day weekend 1988. My mom was teaching ESL at Shasta College, her alma mater, to mostly Mien, Hmong, and Cambodian refugees. That was the turning point for my parents’ relationship and 27 years, 2 kids, and half a dozen pets later they are still together. The fact that my future dad was so caring stood out to her. Guess what, world? Sometimes nice guys do win! And yes, it was definitely a win because my mom is one of the most caring, talented, and vivacious people I know.

In many aspects of my life, I am my mother’s daughter. Time and again, I find myself walking in her footsteps. When I started college in Pasadena, I rented a room in the same dorms my mom lived in so many years before at the U.S. Center for World Mission. I got to stand in the same places and look at the same buildings that were a part of her everyday experience. A few years later I had an amazing opportunity to go to Barcelona, Spain to get certified to teach English as a Second Language. I gained a whole new appreciation for what she did in Japan and at Shasta College.  In my time here in Redding, I’ve taken classes in the same rooms my mom learned in and taught in. I’ve soaked in Mt. Shasta’s glory in the same way she did.

You may be wondering why I’ve chosen to follow in my mother’s footsteps in so many ways. Well, in some ways I find myself to be a sentimental person. There’s something about having added meaning and history to the new adventures I go on.  Something I’m just realizing now is that I jump at opportunities to follow in my mother’s footsteps in times when I feel unsure about who I am and who I want to be. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with my own doubts and insecurities and the only thing I know for certain is that when I grow up I want to be the kind of person my mom is. When I came to Redding, I was unsure if I wanted to continue on the same career path I was on. Being here I’ve learned a lot of things about news journalism and public radio, but more importantly I’ve learned that in the end it doesn’t really that much what I do as long as I love what I’m doing and the people I’m doing it with.

Readers, please enjoy today's playlist, put together by the Intern of the Mistress of the Mix. I loved it, my daughter loved it, and I think you'll love it too! Click on the play arrow at the top of the box below to enjoy it. My former intern and future award winning documentary film director calls this playlist "Daisies." But I call it Pure Joy.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Sticky Notes, My Stepson & Bob The Poptart

My desk. Today.

My desk is a freaking mess. It's covered with cds I haven't opened,entertainment and trade magazines I haven't read, scripts and underwriting contracts I need to file, checks I need to deposit, coffee mugs I need to wash, and underneath it all is a desktop calendar with notes scribbled all over it with numbers for phone calls I have hopefully returned. The month isn't even for December or November, I'm still stuck back in August. At least its the right year.

Clearly I need to do a little Spring cleaning.

 Or hire a maid.

Or just get off my ass and spend today organizing my desk and filing about 4 years worth of paper.

So as I start to clear off the mess, going through every scrap of paper and every scratch of handwriting to see what can be thrown away and what needs to be saved (or dealt with immediately), I start making a pile of sticky notes.
The evidence. Note that my desk calendar is now up to date.

These are very important sticky notes. You see, every time I come across a song that strikes a chord or I suddenly recall a song that I thought I'd forgotten forever, but it was really just lurking there in the dark, shadowy corners of my memory banks, I have a tendency to write it down on a piece of paper. You know, as something to get to later. Like cleaning off my desk. Because there's always later.

I've got the name Chet Faker written down. Not a typo. Not Chet Baker, Chet Faker. Real name Nicholas James Murphy, but I didn't know that the first time I heard the cool sounds of this Aussie musician doing his own version of "No Diggity" as I was sitting around the fire pit at 7 Devils Brewing Company while visiting my sister-in-law earlier this year in Coos Bay, Oregon. I liked it enough to write it down on a sticky note and carried it all the way back home with me.

There's another note with "Disclosure - You & Me - Flume" written on it. I can't recall the circumstances behind finding this musical gem, but I'm going to trust myself that I liked it. Otherwise, why write it down and give it the distinction of keeping it on my desk along with an empty jar of ibuprofen, a hair tie and a bottle of clear nail polish?

And then there's the extensive list of cool songs my 19-year old stepson Jesse turned me on to while he was driving us back home from a road trip a few months ago. I had an eye infection, so he was driving. In my car, that means driver picks the tunes and shotgun shuts her piehole. He plugged his iPod in, turned up the music, and let me just say this. It's not always easy being a stepmom. But Jesse has made my job pretty darned easy. There was that one time that we won't mention here, but other than that, we're a pretty solid team of Best Stepmom Ever and Best Stepson In The World. I didn't think it was possible to get a whole lot prouder of him after he was promoted to night manager after about a month on the job at Tops Market, but then he played his music for me. Yuma, Flux Pavilion, Carmen Forbes and . And I liked it. I mean I really liked it. Enough to take notes.

I've also got a note that I wrote to myself months and months and I'm just gonna say even more months ago when Bob the Poptart was over at the house, cooking up something wonderful in the kitchen like she always does and impressing me with her music choices, which she also does consistently. I don't know how Amanda Hetzel got the nickname Bob the Poptart, but my daughter's good friend since the 6th grade (who is now a co-worker of Jesse's at the supermarket) has always been called that in my household. If she were to call me right now, that's the name that would pop up on my iPhone.

Anyway, Bob the Poptart is quite possibly the most musically obsessed person I know besides myself. She goes to tons of concerts, has hobnobbed with all the cool indie bands, and is always playing me something brand new that nobody else has heard of yet. Seriously, sound like someone you know? And my husband wonders why she calls me Mom. So Bob played a couple of tunes that just blew me away. One of them was so great that I couldn't believe it wasn't at the top of the charts. I wrote it down on a sticky note. Stressed Out by 21 Pilots. Months and months and maybe even more months later, that song is now moving faster up the charts than any other song around. And I've had it sitting right here all along on a sticky note.

Since I'm getting off my butt and undertaking the long overdue task of cleaning off my desk today, I'm also gathering all my sticky notes and putting together this long overdue Spotify playlist of cool tunes that have been stuck in my craw, and literally stuck to my desk. I think you're gonna like it. All 90 minutes of it. Because that's about how long it's going to take me to clean off my desk.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hamming It Up for Thanksgiving

As I write this, I'm fixin' to sit down and eat my first Thanksgiving dinner.

And when I say that, I don't mean it's my first Thankgiving dinner ever, like back in 1621, which is when the first documented Thanksgiving in the New World took place. I mean my first Thanksgiving dinner of the week.

You see, my husband goes a little crazy for the holidays. And by a little crazy, I mean the man goes freaking bonkers. Maybe it's because he grew up in extreme poverty and has become a self-made pretty solid middle class citizen, but Eddie goes a little nuts for the holidays.

OK, to be honest, he goes whole hog nuts. There's no middle ground here. He's totally flipping manic from the first day of November through the last day of December.

It's probably because his birthday falls in the middle of November. Every day (and believe me, I'm not kidding) at some point he randomly yells, "It's my birthday month!"

It's his excuse for every faux pas, every bad move, every unsavory thing that comes out of his mouth, every temper tantrum he throws. For the whole, entire month. Gaaaaaaaaah.

Lucky me though, my birthday is the following month. And I'm keeping track. If November is his month, December is MINE. If he makes ridiculous demands, comes up with crazy excuses, tries to make me do anything he doesn't want t do because it's his 'birthday month', believe me, I'm keeping notes in my iPhone, and next month, he'll get his.

Oh he'll get his.

And we don't need to go into it now. I'm sure that'll be the topic of a later column, maybe in January, but right now his birthday month is still in full swing, so let me tell you what we've got going on right now.

Eddie has invited his Uncle Kelton down for the celebration. This is a holiday that encompasses the trifecta of his birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas, all packed into one crazy week of food and mayhem. Eddie loves his Uncle Kelton, who is the sweetest, kindest 79-year old in a cowboy hat that you've ever know, and his birthday is also in November. He's a man who still enjoys tinkering with motorbikes, playing with remote controlled cars, and watching American Pickers. (And ladies, he's single, just so ya know.)

Since we only have Kelton for about a week, Eddie is doing his best to consolidate every fall & wintertime food related celebration that he possibly can into his Uncle's visit. And that means every night I come home faced with a brand new feast of comfort food and heartburn. And just so we're clear, the heartburn is all Eddie's. But he's committed to celebrating as many holidays as he can while Kelton is here with us, God bless him.

While I write this, Eddie is pulling a huge ham out of the oven. It's been basted in apple juice, brown sugar, stone ground mustard and honey. The potatoes are boiling. Salad is being tossed. There's two more turkeys in the freezer downstairs and Eddie says he's buying another ham tomorrow, because today is pretend Thanksgiving, and next week we're playing Christmas.

As for me, I'm pulling together a feast of music for you to listen to as you prepare your Thanksgiving (or birthday month) dinners, complete with Ham, Turkey, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Wine and Pies. And it all starts out with all of us holding hands and saying grace. Just click the play arrow below, or check it out on Spotify.

If you're not doing anything next Thursday, get in touch. We'll have enough food to feed an army. And if you're over 65 and single, and you like motorbikes and remote controlled cars or American Pickers, I've got the perfect guy for you!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Back In The Swing Of Things

I dare you. I challenge thee. In fact, I bet you 25 cents that you can't listen to today's playlist without finding yourself dancing around the room, or at least tapping your feet. I just don't think it's possible. With that said, I'm not gonna say a lot today. Shocking, right?

But my husband has finally returned home after 6 long months in one of America's most favorite national parks, fixing the road around the rim of Crater Lake. It's year one of a 3 year job.

Sure, we've gotten to see each other almost every weekend, and we try to make the best of our short time together, but most of our rendezvous have been at my parent's house, hanging with the Ings. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. My parent's have been extremely flexible and accommodating. But there's just something about being home. And having my husband at home. In our own living room, watching The Voice together. In our own kitchen. Making dinner together. In our own bedroom. Making other things together. I don't have to spell it out for you. We miss each other. And we need to get back in the swing of things.

I just realized that one of the things I find myself doing more often when my husband is around, is to turn up the music loud and dance around the house. We fit pretty well together. As friends, as life mates, and as dance partners. So pardon me for being so brief today, but I've got a date with my favorite dance partner to get to.

I think we'll be pulling the shades at our house for awhile, but we'll give you a peek at our playlist! I hope you don't think I'm too forward if I suggest you whip up your own dinner fixin' date with your sweetie, turn on this playlist full of electro-swing amazingness, turn it up, and have some good old fashioned fun!

Check out today's Swingin' playlist on Spotify, or just click on the arrow below.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

When Halloween Gets A Little Too Thrilling

'Thriller' performed by Ashland DanceWorks
Redding has Rodeo Week, New Orleans has Mardi Gras, and Rio has Carnival. But Ashland has Halloween. Boy, does it ever have Halloween.

It's got kind of a rocky history, its ups and downs, but I haven't yet found a town that comes close to matching Ashland's crazy Halloween celebration. No matter what measures city officials have had to implement over the years to try to tone things down and lower the number of costumed revelers, the levels of inebriation, and the bad decisions that tend to go hand in hand with the combination of the two, Ashland's Halloween celebration still seems to go unmatched.

I don't know when it all started. I can't find much on the history of Ashland's Halloween Boom, but I remember heading downtown circa 1983. I was probably 16 years old, and what seemed like an impromptu parade began snaking down the street, stopping traffic, and the bars were packed and noisy, and looked like a lot of fun. Then around 1985, I marveled in the idea that with face paint and a costume, I had no problem waltzing into establishments that would normally spend a good two or three minutes scrutinizing my ID, then my face, then my ID, then my face. I mean, if I had a fake ID, that is. Or if I'd borrowed my slightly older blonde next door neighbor's ID (thank you Konnie May). Turns out I didn't even need it, since nobody ever asked to see it. I remember going into the bar at the Marc Anthony Hotel (now Ashland Springs Inn), and seeing Reuben, a teenager who was enough younger than me that I'd helped a friend babysit him once, with a drink in his hand. And he wasn't even in costume. It was just that easy, back in the mid 80's. On Halloween, that is.

Every bar in town was packed. Costume contests were everywhere, the parties spilled out into the streets. Costumes were elaborate, many times involving large groups of people. The Geppetto's marching wontons were a local favorite. The same crowd, I think, was behind the California raisins in 1988 and an entire deck of cards (including the Joker) another year. My mom (who one year went dressed as a high school version of me), remembers some of the best costumes over the years included a person wearing nothing but a shower cap taking a shower, and weatherman with an inside out umbrella and a windblown necktie. Other costumes involved pieces that were probably borrowed from the wardrobe department at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In fact, I think the dramatic types from OSF and other theaters around Ashland had a lot to do with the community's tendency to jump headfirst without looking into Halloween, and a lot to do with how wonderful it was for so many years.  That was all before it imploded.
Ashland's plaza on the craziest Halloween of record.
Eventually, the popularity of Ashland's Halloween celebration came back to haunt the town. The event had grown so large that tour busses were booked from faraway cities to bring hundreds of additional partiers to this artsy fartsy village of about 16,000. In 1986, the partying started early. On my way home from work at 4 in the afternoon, a drunk driver ran a stop sign and T-boned me going around 5 miles an hour, but he did about $700 worth of damage to my car. Later, dressed as a vampire bride, I made my way downtown where a stage was set up on the plaza and a band played for an overly enthusiastic crowd. Thousands of non-Ashlanders from as far away as Eugene and San Francisco poured into the small downtown. Five thousand extra people, by my dad's account. The party filled not only the entire downtown, but it overlapped into Lithia Park and out into the surrounding neighborhoods. I remember seeing a car that had jumped a curb and was left, parked diagonally in the middle of someone's front lawn. That night things got a little too rowdy for this sleepy little hamlet. A guy got stabbed, and another guy I'd gone to high school with got shot in the foot. I probably had a horrific hangover. It was just out of control, and too much for the city to handle.

This is when the city stepped in and tried to ratchet things back a few notches. In fact they pretty much cancelled Halloween for a couple of years. Revelers looking for an over the top, wild ass party had to find somewhere else for awhile. There was no band. No parade. No street closure. That made it a little bit more difficult for pedestrian crowds to fill the boulevard, and bars cracked down on what had been an all-ages free for all. Bouncers were hired to stand guard.

Slowly, things relaxed a little. The parade was held again. And people started to celebrate with wild abandon once more. And when things got rowdy this time, the Chamber of Commerce took quick action and cancelled everything back in 2011.

These days, Ashland's Halloween is a bit more dignified and organized, and mostly geared towards fun seeking kids instead of thrill seeking adults. There's a morning Monster Dash, Spooky Storytelling Time at the library, and a choreographed performance of "Thriller" by Ashland Danceworks in the middle of the street that takes place right before the Children's Parade at 2:30 in the afternoon. In case you're thinking about going, there's a schedule. On paper (and online), there's not a lot for adults at the contemporary Ashland Halloween celebration. But in reality, there are just as many adults in costume as there are children. In fact my dad's buddy Joe once said this about Halloween in Ashland: "I've been to Rio, and I've been to the Big Easy. In those places about 90% of the people are standing around watching the other 10% who are in costume. In Ashland, 90% of the people are in costume and the other 10% are standing around watching.
Windblown weatherman, photographed by Keith Henty
Today's Ashland Halloween party is almost dignified, except that (for good reason, I'm sure) they've had to set a few publicly posted ground rules. Like no open flames, nudity or display of weapons (real or fake), and no costumes that depict hatred, racism or religious offensiveness. And there's more.

If you didn't know better, if you didn't grow up in Ashland and see it go from pretty sleepy to pretty crazy back to pretty sleepy again, you might not think all those rules were necessary. But looking back at the late 80's, when things were so fun that they weren't so fun anymore, they're probably necessary.

As for me, my Halloween partying days ended the year that I dressed up as a mummy clad in full length long johns and wrapped from head to toe in the longest ace bandage known to mankind, but failed to consider in advance that I might need an escape route later on for any beverages that I might imbibe over the course of the evening. It was one of the most miserable nights on the town I ever spent, and from that moment on I've spent most Halloweens at home, handing out candy to about 3 or 4 kids over the entire course of the evening. And I'm good with that. Because I can always tell stories about the days when I experienced the wildest Halloween parties this ol' country has ever known.

If you happen to be the kind of person who still likes to get together with a group of folks for a rousing Halloween experience, I've got the perfect Halloween Party Playlist to go along with it below, and of course it starts off with Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Quinn Cooper's Final Bow

Until last Thursday, I didn't know what it felt like to experience my own heartache while reading a news story over the air. I've shared bad news of tragedy and loss, death and horror, but nothing that touched me so close that I read the news with tears streaming down my face. Until last Thursday.

My boss called me at 5 minutes to noon and said, "I need to tell you something. There's an active shooter situation at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg. We're sending you a news story in a few minutes, be prepared to read it." He told me to not to deviate too much from our news story, because even though it held less information than some other media sources were putting out, we were being careful not to release anything that hadn't been confirmed by authorities. We wanted to be absolutely accurate in every bit of information we were releasing to our listeners, especially those in Roseburg.
He spent a minute coaching me on the tone he thought I should use when relaying the news, and I was just the tiniest bit offended. I've been doing this for over 30 years now. Since I was a teenager. I've always maintained a level, authoritative voice when sharing grave information with listeners. I got this. I thought. And I told him so.

Moments after hanging up, my cell phone rang. This time it was my little sister Dana, calling from Medford. She asked if I'd heard about the shootings in Roseburg, and then pulled the rug out from under my feet.

"Brett is there."

Her husband. My brother in law, who I love dearly. The father of my 7 year old niece. The family member I look forward to cooking elaborate gourmet meals with during family gatherings. He was there. On the UCC campus. When the shootings went down. She told me he'd been in a meeting in a construction trailer, when someone came in and told them what was going on, and helped lead them to a safer location. At the same time, someone walked into my sister's office and informed everyone what was happening. She jumped up and ran out of her office, trying to reach Brett on the phone, but all she could get was that kind of busy signal you get when all the circuits are jammed. That's when five minutes becomes an eternity. Even though by the time my sister called me she knew her husband was okay, the moment she said, "Brett is there," my throat closed up. Tears began streaming down my face. Someone I love very much was close to something horrible and awful, and the thought that he was in the vicinity of death and could've even potentially been a victim of it was so much to bear that suddenly I didn't think I could find my voice. 

Somehow, I got through it, but it was one of the most difficult moments of my career. I had to speak very slowly and in an octave lower than normal so that my voice wouldn't crack, so that I wouldn't break down in the middle of a sentence, but I couldn't hold back the tears. They were running down my face as I relayed the news that four people were confirmed dead at the time, but there were additional victims yet to be confirmed. I ached for those for whom I was bearing the news that their loved one might not be coming home that night.

I thought of Taylor Moore, my daughter's new roommate at Southern Oregon University. When we'd moved Sophia into the dorm the week before, we had dinner with the two of them. Taylor told us she was from Roseburg, and we talked about how her boyfriend and all of her friends were still up in Douglas County, and how her mom really had wished she had stayed home and gone to UCC like the rest of them, but she was thrilled to be at in Ashland at SOU.

I texted Sophia and told her she needed to be with Taylor to provide support and compassion because something awful had happened. My text crossed paths with one from Sophia telling me that she was with Taylor when the news broke. That her boyfriend had already reached her to let her know he was okay. Many of her friends were reaching out to say they were also okay. But as the day went by, some hadn't. That was dreadful, ominous and agonizing. Not hearing from someone. Then the victim count began to slowly creep upward, and Taylor began to recognize the names of some of the victims. Kids she knew. Freshmen. Like her. From Roseburg, like her. Kids she'd gone to high school with. But some were never heard from again. When the chaos settled, 9 students and staff had been murdered, another 9 wounded. One of them was Taylor's good friend Quinn Glen Cooper.

Those that didn't make it.
You're going to hear more about Quinn Cooper, but I need to put on the brakes for a moment and tell you something else. I want to tell you about the thin silver lining in an otherwise completely fucked up situation. Well, it's more of a step in the right direction. Because there's really no silver lining here.

There's something my dad's been railing about ever since I was a kid, back when he quit his job teaching mass media theory at a university, and became a full time novelist. His first book, Soft Targets, was published back in 1980, more than two decades before 9-11. The plot centered on Islamic terrorists who had hatched a plan to commit a terror attack on a well known New York City landmark with a plane.

Back then they called it Sci-Fi. Because, you know, something like that would never happen in a million years. But the point my dad was making in the story (and would rant about during the nightly news, yelling at the screen), is that people like that are looking for attribution. They want their names and their cause to be put front and center in the spotlight for their 15 minutes of fame for horrific actions of terrorism and violence. And that, said my father, should never happen. It's like giving positive reinforcement for negative behavior. It's giving them exactly what they want. So don't do it. He maintained that the media should refuse to say their names. Never say their names.

Well, that's kind of hard to do. Or at least it has been, until now. Because until now, as the information hungry society we've become, we want to know everything, every little last detail, now. And media is all too happy to help hunt down everything it can to help us get our hands on every tidbit possible about the people and organizations who's sole desire is to destroy us. You and me. Our children. Our way of life. I get it. I'm a victim of it myself, as well as a perpetrator of it from time to time. But not this time.

Finally, on Thursday, a sheriff in a rural, kind of redneck county in Southern Oregon, stood up and said what needed to be said. That this a-hole who thought he was going to find glory and recognition through murdering young innocents who were armed with nothing but notebooks and pencils wasn't going to get it from him. Sheriff John Hanlin said "I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act." Instead, he encouraged the media and the community at large to focus our thoughts on learning the names and the stories behind the victims and the heroes. We need to start being part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

I'm heartened that a lot of people seem to be taking his advice. I have not yet read the shooter's name on the air, although I have explained to listeners where that information can be found on the internet. In fact, I don't even remember the guy's name. I'm kind of making a point out of having a mental block about it. I don't remember the guy's name that killed all those sweet young children at the elementary school in Connecticut either, or the guy who burst into the movie theater in Colorado. And I hope it's the same for you. However, I'd like to introduce you to a name I hope you will remember forever.

Quinn Glen Cooper   1997 - 2015
Quinn Cooper.

Nice name. It's got a ring to it. If that kid was going to make it in show biz, he wouldn't have had to change his name. Great name. Big brute of a kid with a sweet face. He was into martial arts, but loved to swing dance. He was into Metallica, Dubstep and Swing. Some of his friends jokingly called him Quinnie The Pooh. He looks like a great big teddy bear. Actually, he looks like the kind of guy who'd be a great friend. That's exactly what he was to Taylor Moore, who graduated from high school with him just a few months ago. I asked Taylor if she could give us an introduction to Quinn, even though it's actually his final bow. That's because Quinn was in a Freshman writing class on his 4th day of college at Umpqua Community College last Thursday, and he didn't come home that day. He was killed along with 8 other people in that classroom by some rageful misguided guy who's name I forget. His funeral will be this Saturday morning at 11. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help his devastated family with expenses as they bury their youngest son. There are accounts set up for almost every other victim and hero of last Thursday as well.

Here's Taylor, in her own words, putting Quinn Cooper where he deserves to be: in the spotlight.

If there's one thing you need to know about the amazing Quinn Cooper, it's that he was an inspiration to all who knew him, which was few. Sure, you would see him with his quirky walk in the halls, but not a lot of people actually KNEW him. Quinn was a phenomenal actor, dancer and companion. I got to know him extremely well this past year, our Senior year together. 

I was taking both technical and performance theatre classes with the outstanding drama teacher, Brad Allen. Quinn decided, on his own time, to take on a serious cleaning project with me; clean out 50 years worth of props in a long, skinny, creepy closet. Imagine having five 2-year-olds living rule-free in a toy store. Now multiply that mess by fifty years. That’s how flabbergasting this mess was. Regardless of how tedious and time-consuming this job was going to be, Quinn was prepared to be by my side until we completed it together.

At first, the project was fantastic! Seeing all the fun props and costumes hidden underneath a mess of other things was magical. But as we progressed into the next week, and the next… and the next… it got difficult, at least for me, to be hopeful for an end to the madness. Quinn, on the other hand, never let me give up. He motivated me the most when I felt completely discouraged at the 10-foot high piles of messes. Day by day, we got a little more done. And then a little more. And then a little more. After three months of using two class periods a day (equivalent to about ten hours a week), the closet was finally finished. It was swept, organized, and rid of any trash or useless junk.

Now, you may be asking why I told you about how cleaning out a terrifying closet relates to what kind of person Quinn Cooper was. The point wasn’t how long it took to clean, or how ‘perfect’ it looked in the end, no. The point is that Quinn inspired me every single day for three months. Whether it was to open up another box, or if it actually pertained to reality. Either way, Quinn didn’t give up on me. He used his witty humour or his loving heart to keep me going. He taught me to never give up on myself. Not one time did he ever let whatever the issue of the day was stop me from living. He persisted that there was always something greater to focus on.

Whenever there was a day I felt like I wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t brave enough, or just plain good enough, he was there, waiting for me in the prop closet, ready to finish what we started. Together.

Quinn Cooper. That’s a name I’ll always remember. And I want the world to know as a great mind and soul.

In theatre, whenever you highly respected someone for their work, you told them you were their fan. Well, on the stage of life, I was always a fan of Quinn Glen Cooper. I can’t thank him enough for what he gave me. I will forever be blessed that Quinn was in my life. He has a special place in my heart for his hugs, love, and soul.

Thank you, Quinn, for sticking by my side, no matter how difficult life got for me. Thank you for saving me from myself. Thank you for all that you’ve done, for not just me, but everyone who got a chance to know you. I know you’ll make a great addition to Heaven as an angel. And even though I let the tears fall, I’m not giving up. I love you, Quinn, and can’t wait to read your next script.

Thank you Taylor, for your loving and moving tribute to Quinn.

At first today's column wasn't going to have a playlist. And then I told Taylor that if she was inspired to put together a musical tribute to her friend, maybe a list of songs that Quinn loved, or songs that would serve as a nice tribute, then we could have music. So thank you again Taylor, for working through your grief, and finding the motivation  to accomplish something amazing during what has got to be the saddest and most difficult moment of your life. Maybe Quinn is going to keep inspiring her, even in his physical absence. Her musical tribute is below.

Note: Readers, I shouldn't let you go without talking about what happened Tuesday evening, as Taylor and I were messaging back and forth about how to put together today's playlist. Imagine for a moment that you're Taylor. You're a Freshman in the dorms on your second week of college, away from home. You've been crying your eyes out for 6 days in anguish over the devastating loss of not just one of your close friends, but the death, physical injury and emotional and psychological devastation that a mass murder can wreak upon an entire community. You're sad, hurting, and away from your family and friends, but you're safe. And then you get a text alerting you that a note has just been found in a building on your college campus. A note threatening violence and referencing the attack that took the life of your friend. And now your campus is locked down, classes are cancelled. Yeah. That happened. It probably doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to figure out what I did next. I went into Mom mode immediately, called my folks, and within 15 minutes Sophia and Taylor had been picked up and were at the Ing Ranch until the coast was clear. The campus is open again, and further details haven't been made public. Chances are this is a ridiculous, thoughtless hoax but I imagine that the anxiety has got to be taking an incredible toll on a lot of these students, especially on Taylor. Stay strong, honey. Roseburg strong. 

Taylor's streaming Spotify playlist contains eighteen songs. One for each year of Quinn Cooper's life. And because it's for him, there's Dubstep, a bunch of Metallica, and swing music to get you up and dancing. But we'll start out with "Roseburg Strong," which isn't available on Spotify. Probably because it was written just a couple of days ago by Roseburg native Brody Jansen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

She's Losing Her Baby

Bowtie, mismatched shoes, negligee &
drinking straw glasses.
I'm about to lose the best roommate I ever had.

All of her important belongings are packed and waiting by the front door, ready to be moved out of the house and into the dorms at Southern Oregon University, and by the time you lay your eyes upon this, she'll be unpacking five green & blue plastic totes full of clothing and school supplies. It occurs to me that this will be the first time in her life that she's making all the decisions about where her stuff should go, because the last time we moved into a new house with a new room and new places to put things, she was 4.

My daughter is going off to college this weekend.

Our relationship has been a simpatico one, almost without fail, since she was kicking around in my belly 18 years ago. There were a few colicky moments back in 1997, but other than that, we've been best buddies. She was my maid of honor. The person I get to schlep my laundry up from the basement. The person I've been watching The Voice with for years. The gal I just taught how to drive. My only baby, who's become an adult.

I'm gonna miss that girl.

For weeks we've been slowly going through her bedroom, organizing everything she owns into a few distinct categories: Stuff to take, stuff to keep here, stuff to give to her 8 year old cousin, stuff to give away to charity, and stuff to throw away. We've thrown away a lot of stuff. Apparently I raised a hoarder. We've got 2 car loads to take to Goodwill, two giant bins of toys and clothes for cousin Lena, the bookshelves in her room are organized with all the clothing, books and knick knacks she wants to keep at home, and my final thought leaving her room last night was that her bedroom is finally looking like a bedroom should look instead of like a tornado just hit. And everything she's taking is waiting by the front door.

All her stuff, and two sad dogs who know sumthin's up.
Last night we finally made it to the closet, where there lives a huge trunk full of dress up clothes. She's had it since she could walk. We brought it from Alaska when we moved to California.  We spent most of the evening going through it, deciding what was too gross to keep, and what needed to be kept for future costume parties, future potential children, and future Halloween escapades (she is going to Ashland, after all, home of the craziest city wide Halloween party in the mythical state of Jefferson).

Size 9 feet stuffed into size 5 shoes, and
one sad little puppy.
Trying on pretty much everything in the bin before making a decision on whether to keep or toss it, Sophia threw away the disgusting Dollar Tree wigs, but kept the purple fishnet stockings. Kept the bow tie, threw away the one black heel and the one gold heel. Threw away the pink pajama top with the puppies on the front, size 4-T ("Look Mom, I'm a hooker. Or Katy Perry."), kept all the rubber masks and the teeny little Uncle Sam hat on a headband. She kept the "Super Sophia" cape with a giant green S on the back I made from a pair of my purple satin pajamas when she was 3, and the pair of giant sunglasses, but tossed the pair of size 5 periwinkle heels from 1978 that my sister gave to Sophia along with a prom dress with a broken zipper, a stained negligee that finally fits her and doesn't look half bad  except for the stains, and a wedding dress that's too big even for me. Every one of these items was paraded out through the living room for me and the dogs in the most hilariously grotesque fashion show to ever hit the runway of our living room (and believe me, we've had plenty). She tried on my valkyrie costume (KEEP), her mad scientist smock (TOSS), a pair of tan 70's bell bottoms (KEEP) and at one point she walked through the house wearing leopard spotted shoes. Mismatched leopard spotted shoes: one was a platform heel and one was a furry slipper (TOSS).

Giant sunglasses
Last night I laughed so hard that I cried, but there are more tears - real tears - waiting in line for this weekend when this amazing soul, this joyful, thoughtful daughter and friend, moves out of the house, probably forever. Some of those tears are sneaking out now, but I know there's more to come. Lots more.

As I was going through a drawer with puzzles missing half the pieces, compact discs and random hair ties, I came across a cassette tape with a recording of a radio show I did back when I was 8 months pregnant with my little fashion model, the day before I left Alaska on the trip to Oregon to give birth. It was called "She's Having A Baby."

My friend Suzanne had told me that while I was pregnant, I should try to love myself a little extra, and take some time to do the things that really make me happy, because after the baby arrived, I wasn't going to have much time to myself for a long, long time. She was talking about reading books and getting massages, and I did those things. I also started a major genealogy research project, and started working on a new radio program idea I'd been thinking about, which was, for lack of a better description, an audio tapestry. I came up with a topic, and then went out on the streets with a tape recorder, and interviewed people about the subject, and then scoured the radio station's music library for   related music, and then I wove it all together. "She's Having A Baby" was the first one.

When it aired, 18 years ago this week, it was one of my proudest and most meaningful moments as a broadcaster. I was taking stories and music and bringing it all together in a way that was more fulfilling than just about any other thing I'd ever done on the radio. And it was dedicated to my (not yet born) little pumpkin.

A sidenote: Four and a half years ago, when Adam Mankowski walked into my office and suggested I write a column for A News Cafe, my first response wasn't what he expected. 
 "What in the world would I write about?""How about music," he said."Ohh, that would be sooooo boring," I replied.
And then I started thinking about that radio program.  And I told Adam how amazing it felt to weave stories and experiences with a playlist of music that went together perfectly. If I only there was a way I could do something like that for the internet. He said, "I think that's a great idea for a column. That's what you should do. Now how do we make that work?" And that's how the Mistress of the Mix was born. (Adam, you have my eternal, heartfelt appreciation and thanks.)

So last night as I held that cassette tape in my hand, holding back a few of those sneaky tears, I remembered back to that time when my daughter was growing inside me. Remembering how nervous and excited I was to meet her, wondering what she'd be like, how she'd turn out, and whether I'd love - or even be able to handle - the job of being a mother, and whether she'd even like me. At the time I couldn't even comprehend the fact that some day she'd be all grown up and I'd have to find a way to let her go.

I knew that the Spotify Playlist I put together to prepare to welcome my baby out of the womb and into my arms would have to be the same playlist I would share with you today when preparing to let her go out of my arms and into the world. I'm renaming it though, to "She's Losing Her Baby."

Thursday, September 10, 2015

She Drives Me Crazy

The first time I remember getting behind the wheel, I was in the 8th grade. It was a 1971 Ford Galaxy 500. A huge, ugly gas guzzler. I was 13, hanging around with the wrong crowd, and Tony, who worked at the skating rink, let me drive around the neighborhood for a while. I felt all grown up, and a little bit like an outlaw.

After that, I didn't have the opportunity to drive much, and my parents made it pretty clear that I wasn't going to be allowed to drive their vehicles unless I was paying for my own insurance, so I ended up catching rides with friends, taking the bus or walking everywhere during my teen years. I graduated from high school and started college without ever even getting my driver's permit. In fact, it wasn't until I moved to Boston to be a nanny, and was told that I would be given a car to use (another Ford, this time a baby blue Maverick). So I ended up getting my driver's permit the day before my 18th birthday, and by the time Christmas came 2 weeks later, I already had my license. And the next day I flew to the East Coast, getting my first real legal experience behind the wheel in Boston, in the middle of winter.

But enough about me. This is about my daughter. Just like her mother, she made it all the way through high school without a driver's permit, and is now, just weeks before leaving home to move into the dorms at Southern Oregon University (my alma mater), is finally learning how to drive.

And guess who's teaching her.

It's not my father, who is a bonafide, card-carrying race car driver. And yes, there's an actual card. My husband tried his hand at it for a weekend, and decided that if he and Sophia were going to remain on friendly terms, he'd better bow out. I know I could send her to driver's school, but we've only got a few weeks, and it's going to be the last quality time I spend with my girl before my little bird flies away. And I'm a glutton for punishment. I'm also a former Class C licensed school bus driver who went through rigorous training. My fingerprints are even on file with the FBI. So it's me.

So, these days when I get home from work, we put the top down on the Mustang with her in the driver's seat and me next her, holding onto the the things my stepson calls the 'Oh Shit Handles'. She slowly slowly slowly backs out of the drive way, and we head out onto the roads of Shasta County. She's so careful, trying to follow all the rules. She puts her blinker on long before she turns, tries to keep her hands at 10 & 2, and works so hard at trying to make sure that she's not going over the speed limit that at times I've had to remind her that it's just as bad to go 10 miles under the speed limit.

We had one pretty hairy incident last week during her first night time drive in my car, when she turned the corner so gently that the turn signal was still going. Attempting to turn off of the blinker, instead she turned off the lights. I started yelling.
"Turn the lights back on!" 
"How?" she  yelled back.
"The same way you turned them off!"
"How did I do that?"
Meanwhile, she had pretty much just rolled to a dead stop in the middle of the road, which, thankfully, was our own quiet street (except for the yelling).

And there was another moment when she had a really, really good day. She drove on the freeway for the first time, and survived. She pulled into a parking spot in the Target parking lot and was perfectly lined up between the other cars. She pulled out, backing up fluidly, and got back onto the freeway, merging perfectly. Her turns were executed brilliantly, her stops were smooth. Back home, she pulled into the driveway at an excellent angle, and came to a beautiful stop. She turned off the headlights and the engine, and smiled as I told her what an amazing job she'd done. We high fived.

And then I realized that we were rolling backwards. Panic ensued.

What I'm realizing about myself is that when I start panicking, I lose my ability to communicate effectively. Instead of saying, "Rotate the turn signal lever to the left side of the steering wheel forward to turn the lights back on," I'm yelling, "Turn the thingy! Do the thing! Gaaaahd!" And a few other words start flying out of my mouth. I know, that's not helping much.

What else probably isn't helping is when I say things like, "Brake! Brake! Brake!!!!!" followed by "Gentle. Don't brake so hard." And then I'm constantly saying, "Pick a lane, you can't have both of 'em!"

I know it's not easy for her. I think she's feeling defeated, like a failure because driving doesn't come naturally to her. And she's being so careful, so slow, that she feels like apologizing to everyone else on the road. 

Well, here's what I have to say to my daughter about driving. I'm talking directly to you now, Miss Sophia.

Yes, you're driving me crazy. But you're doing fine.

Yes, you're going slower than everyone else. That's because everyone else is going 15 miles over the speed limit. Get over it. But I'm still going to remind you that it's okay to go faster (I'll try my best to stop yelling, "Punch it!")

Yes, you're bringing the car to a full and complete stop 10 feet before the crosswalk at the intersection. Hey, at least you're not rolling all the way into the crosswalk, blocking the way for any pedestrians. Props to you. But I'm still going to remind you that it's okay to bring the car a few more feet forward. 

Yes, it's a white knuckle experience for me every time you turn a corner because I'm imagining the car going out of control and flipping over. And every time you back out of a parking space or out of the driveway because I'm imagining you ramming into something. It's my imagination, and I can't help it. I've got a great imagination. And I'm your mother. I worry. But guess what. You haven't backed into anything, and every scratch on that car was already there when Aunt Laura & Uncle Greg gave us an amazing deal on their old car.So cut yourself some freaking slack and wipe that apologetic I'm A Failure look off your face, because you're not. You're learning.

If you need any more reason to cut yourself some slack, remember that I'm the one who totaled two cars in a 24 hour period while behind the wheel of my 40 foot bus (they were parked cars with no one in them at the time, and I was distracted while trying to pull away from a curb both times). Shit happens. And shit's gonna happen. It hasn't happened yet, but I can't help but imagine all the possible scenarios that my one and only baby girl might get into. I seriously can't help it. I'm your mother. I know I'm driving you crazy right back.

So maybe I'm not the best one for this job. But I'm committed to it, and I'm gonna stay right by your side, firmly belted in, trying not to grimace or gasp or yell unholy words too often, and we'll get through this. And in two weeks, you'll be gone, off to college. And if you think the current situation is driving me crazy, just wait until you're gone. 

And now, to everyone reading this, I've got something to say directly to you as well. If you're driving or walking anywhere in the 96001 or 96002 zip code during the next 2 weeks, keep an eye out for a sweet metallic gray convertible mustang with two blonde chicks in the front. Have a little compassion, because this isn't easy for either of us, but we're doing our best.   To make up for the inconvenience, I've put together a sweet little playlist full of driving tunes for you to stream off of Spotify. Buckle up my friends, and enjoy the music.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Shazam (revisited)!

Sometimes I worry about me. Mostly it's at 3 in the morning, when I wake up from my slumber, my brain whirring, abuzz with worries that seem so ridiculous and silly during daylight hours. But at 3am, stupid stuff keeps me awake, suffering with concerns that don't seem to concern me the next day at all.

I have to watch old episodes of That 70's Show to get back to sleep. And if you think I'm kidding, come over sometime and check out the 27 episodes I keep DVR'd. I don't actually watch them per se.  I just turn on the TV, set the timer to turn off in 30 minutes, and roll over, listening to the familiar soundtrack replay for the umpteenth time, keeping one side of my brain occupied so that the other side can fall asleep. Frasier, Cheers, Golden Girls and Three's Company will also work in a pinch.

Now you're worried about me too, aren't you?

But the worrying I was referring to was more of a musical worry. Worrying that my taste has gotten a little bipolar lately. Maybe even quad polar, if that's a thing. Tonight I sat down and checked the songs I've Shazammed recently. Shazam, for those of you without a smartphone, is an app used to identify songs. Say I'm in a restaurant and I hear a song that strikes a chord. I open up the app, and it tells me (usually) the name of the song and the group performing it. I've written about it before.

Tonight I opened up the app again, and realized that lately, I'm just all over the map. A band called Pomplamoose, a Bob Dylan remake, a reggae mashup of Elvis and Led Zeppelin, a bunch of really cool stuff I heard on JPR's Rhythm & News Service, and then some weird guy named Lunchmoney Lewis. And I have no idea where I heard him, but obviously I did. Because I Shazammed him. Twice in the past year. I have the evidence. Anyway, like I said, I'm all over the map these days. Maybe that's a good thing? But when you hear today's playlist, don't judge me. I'm already judging me enough for the both of us.

For the most part, I can't recall where I was or what I was doing when I heard the songs I've Shazammed. It could be anywhere. A few stand out:

Marty Robbins, from Fallout New Vegas, a video game my daughter has been playing a little too much lately. But the song kept playing over and over again, and eventually it got stuck in my craw, and I had to know who did it. It was right there on the tip of my braintongue, and I couldn't stop thinking about it until I Shazammed it.

Another one came from some video on YouTube of the most adorable little boy, dancing to a Cuban mambo by a public pool, much to the delight of his parents, I'm sure. Much to my delight, actually. Enough that I had to know what he was dancing to. You know, so that I could dance to it, but maybe not poolside, and maybe not in front of my parents.

One of them, I remember, was because I just couldn't believe, no matter how fervently my daughter tried to impress upon me, that it was being sung by the most highly paid and in demand actress of this century. That would be Jennifer Lawrence. But for about 5 minutes, her song "Hanging Tree" was played on radio stations everywhere, and made her a little bit more money.

One of the songs on the list was featured on a Walking Dead promo (I'm not ashamed to admit it. It's my favorite TV show). I can tell from the timestamp on the app that roughly half of the tunes came from JPR, and the rest? I dunno. But this is the stuff that rolls around in my head, the music that moves me enough to make sure I have some record of what it is so I can hunt it down again later on down the road, and share it with you. Lucky, lucky you! You like Marty Robbins, right?

Without further adieu, here's today's Shazam Revisited Playlist on Spotify. It's just a musical peek inside my head over the past year, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing, or even something to be proud of. But I think you'll still enjoy it, regardless. But if you don't, I'm not gonna worry too much about it. Until 3 in the morning, that is.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

True Story

Have you ever had a story to tell that you knew nobody would believe? A story with so many instances of insane coincidences and cosmic connections stacked up on top of each other that even the most hardcore agnostic would be hard pressed to deny that some kind of supreme commander of the universe isn't pulling all the strings to control your destiny? I've got one of those stories. And I hope you believe it, because it's true. Call it fate, destiny, synchronicity, or plain ol' coincidence. I just gotta get this out to anyone who will listen.

It's kind of a long story, but please, bear with me, because I need to know your opinion. The Force of Destiny, or Random Coincidence? Chance or Fate?

Some folks around these parts might call it my divine appointment with Brenda.

The Story Behind The Story:
If you've been following my columns for the past few years, then you know that the day after I graduated from college, I flew across the Atlantic Ocean, then the Mediterranean, and ended up on a Greek Island. At the end of the summer, I landed my first full time public radio job, as a reporter on an island in Alaska. I flew back across those oceans,  made a quick trip to Stockton to visit one of my older sisters before returning to Ashland to pack up everything I could (record albums, pillows & comforter and as many clothes as would fit) into my Ford Escort for the 3 day ferry trip to Petersburg with my little sister.

Before I left, we had dinner with Ann & Bob Clouse, my parent's best friends. Bob was an Oscar nominated movie director (Remember Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon? That was his). Ann was a set designer, which came in handy when she renovated an old mill into a very plush B&B, the Water Street Inn. Ann told me that when I got to Alaska, I should try to look up Brenda Kleinfelder, because she was a good family friend. Family, really. Their daughter Celeste and Brenda were best friends, but the two were also sisters-in-law because Celeste fell in love with and then married Brenda's brother. Brenda was living in Alaska, on the very island I was moving to. And I should look her up, they said. So I wrote her name in journal, promising to look her up someday.

Thrilling & Wonderous Fact #1: 
 So I got to Alaska, and started my new job as a reporter at public radio station KFSK. They'd been waiting for me for a while, since I had to travel halfway across the world to get there. While they waited for me to arrive, KFSK had hired someone to fill in, as an interim reporter. Her name was Brenda Kleinfelder. The very name I'd written in my journal

Brenda and I met, reveled in the amusing discovery that we had some very close friends in common, and then we went on with our lives. We were friends, making our way in the same little community on the same little island for many years. We traveled in the same friendship circles,  probably got our rubber boots mixed up more than once at potluck dinners, and eventually, in 1997, we ended up having babies born just a few months apart. Born 3 months later, Sophia was the lucky one who got all of Maddie's hand me downs, and many times Brenda and I would get the girls together for baby play dates.

Impressive Sideline Fact #2:
At some point during our 13 years together on Mitkof Island, Brenda mentioned that in high school, down in Stockton CA, she had dated rockstar Chris Isaak. Before he was a rockstar, of course. I'd been a fan of Isaak since his first album in the mid 80's, so I was completely impressed. I recall asking her lots of questions while we drank a lot of wine one night during a wedding reception at the Sons of Norway Hall. But what I've always really wanted to know is whether or not San Francisco Days is about her. I'm just going to pretend it is.

Startling Fact #3:
I don't remember the year, but sometime in the 1990's, Brenda's mother passed away from cancer. Towards the end, when she was in hospice, Brenda went home to Stockton, for the long, painful wait. She stood vigil at the bedside, with the family and her mother's minister. When things got heavy, Brenda stepped outside for a few moments, only to be joined by Reverend Diana a few moments later. They chatted for a few minutes, and then the minister asked Brenda where she was living. Reverend Diana thought it was really an astounding coincidence that her sister also lived in Petersburg, Alaska. Her sister Valerie.  Brenda shared the story with me as soon as she returned home. We thought it was incredible that we were connected in so many ways. It was like we were meant to know each other, meant to cross paths and to be in each other's lives. And then we got over it and moved on.

Minor - but still kinda cool - Sideline Fact #4: A few years earlier, my sister Diana served as the minister at my wedding. Which was held in Ashland at the Water Street Inn. My little sister got married there. I even lived in the Inn for a month when I went down to Oregon to give birth to my daughter. I could never have afforded it. Each time it was a gift from Ann & Bob Clouse.

When I say we moved on, we really moved on. When Sophia and Maddie were both about 3 years old, Brenda and I both moved away from Alaska. She went to Colorado, I went to California. We both divorced, and ended up raising amazing daughters who love to dance and run. I only found this out because I tracked Brenda down about 10 years after we'd moved away, when Chris Isaak came to Redding to perform at the Cascade Theatre. Telling him that he and I had a mutual friend in common was a great icebreaker.  I didn't track her down until after I met Chris, so I didn't realize that she was in Eugene, Oregon now, and had divorced.

When I found out Chris Isaak was coming back to the Cascade in August, I immediately texted Brenda and invited her and Maddie to come down for the show and stay with us. Her response? "Heck yeah sister! It's a double date!" I haven't seen Brenda for 14 years, and the kids don't remember each other at all, so I'm really looking forward to getting together with my star-crossed sister to reminisce (and to see that incredible rocker do his thing onstage again).

This Startling Fact #5 Will Knock You Off Your Feet: A few Mondays ago I finally got the tickets for the show. Front row, baby. And yes, I pulled some strings, but mainly it was because Chris Isaak's people were nice enough to give their artist comps to his old high school girlfriend. That was not the fact that will knock you off your feet. This is: I immediately called Brenda to share the exciting news. When she answered, she could not believe I was calling her at that exact moment. "You'll never believe where I am right now," she said.
"Well the last time we spoke you were in Thailand. I give. Where are you?"
"I'm on my way to Aptos," she said. "But I just got off Southbound I-5 on the Market Street exit in Redding. I pulled off the freeway to get gas! How did you know I was here?!"

Pretty crazy, right? All morning I'd been thinking about how I'd better check on that request I put in to Isaak's people, and then when I finally pulled the trigger, the force of destiny put Brenda right on my doorstep.

We only had a few minutes of face-to-face time before she had to get back on the road and I had to get back to my radio show. She pulled up to my office, jumped out of the car with little Maddie in tow (who, freshly turned 18, isn't so little anymore), and it was like 14 years had never gone by. We hugged, discussed our upcoming visit, and then she said the thing that just blew my mind.

Prepare To Be Blown Away By Fact #6: 
"Sophia's going to college this Fall, right? Where?"
"Southern Oregon University," I said.
Brenda's mouth dropped. She looked at Maddie. Maddie looked at her.
"No way! So is Maddie! Track scholarship!"
"That's great! Sophia's going on the 'My-Mom-Works-At-SOU-So-We-Get-A-Staff-Discount' scholarship!"
Bren asked if Sophia was going to live with her dad or stay with my parents, and I said, "Dorms. I thought she should have the experience. Which dorm are you in, Maddie?"
As it turns out, Maddie and Sophia will be living not only in the same dorm, but in rooms right next to each other on the same floor. Mind blown.

It's like everything clicked into place when we realized that maybe this didn't have as much to do with Brenda and I being destined for a friendship, but instead it was our children. Our girls who don't even remember one another, but played for hours as babies, wore the same clothes, and toddled on the same beaches of Alaska. It all started when the Clouse's gave me a name to write in my journal the night before I left Ashland, and now it's coming back to Ashland, full circle, Sophia and Maddie synching up.

My husband says I'm the girl who connects the dots. If I meet a person, I find a way to connect us. To diminish the six degrees of separation down to one. I quiz people about their lives and their background, their interests and the places they've lived until I find the one thing that connects us. But in this case, I feel as if no matter which way I turn, I'm still connected to Brenda. And no matter what we did or where we went, our daughters were destined (or coincidentally going) to meet each other eventually.

Fate or chance? Destiny or random coincidence? Which do you believe in? Well, I don't know about you, but I believe I'm going to have to just put on some music so I can stop thinking about it. Enjoy today's Coincidence or Destiny Playlist on Spotify, and hope to see you at the Chris Isaak concert at the Cascade August 19th. You already know where we'll be sitting.