Dear Family and Friends,
One of the benefits of writing this annual letter and creating the card is the opportunity to look backward and count my blessings. Last year at this time COVID continued to rage, killing people right and left, upending the meaning of "normal" and breathing down our necks. This year it is still with us - but there are new treatments, there is less of it, we know better how to protect ourselves, and staying home is feeling more and more "normal". I may have finally gotten used to the idea of having things on my calendar evaporate without much warning, and not freaking out every time it happens. This is progress...
About the Card - and Why is it so Late?
I explained the thinking about the card on the splash page. During the weeks that I usually immerse myself in this project, I was up to my eyeballs in another project: Bob McQuillen (1923-2014) was a good friend and a prolific composer of fiddle tunes. With his centenary year coming up, I cooked up a project to try to document the playing of ALL 1,554 of his published tunes during the year. It's insane, I know, but I did it anyway and you can find all the info - and how to participate - at the website. My good friend and collaborator Deborah Maynard put the pieces together and figured out how to do it. Find it at the website we created, McQuillen Tunes Dot Com.
Here is a link to a YouTube video - it's one of Bob's tunes, "Ralph Page," with photos from my collection. The audio is from an old cassette that I digitized - it's pretty funky, and about as jolly as we can get. It's Bob himself on piano back-up, Andy on guitar, me and Jill on fiddles, and Michael McKernan on mandolin. Here is a better audio of the same recording, digitized from the vinyl LP by Everest Witman.
If you don't want to read all the details about what I have been up to, skip to the bottom. There you will find a brief round-up of the rest of the family.
Here's what I've been up to:
I celebrated my 70th birthday on Tuesday, May 10, with a funny little COVID-era tune session. A few of us gathered at the Athens Brick Meetinghouse (a favorite local landmark), and played some of the Tunes Composed By Women that I had been collecting for about a year. The meetinghouse has been undergoing an amazing renovation, and they were just about to pull the windows out, but we squeaked in there just before; the pews are all fixed, so there was no way to sit in a circle; there isn't any electricity or plumbing so I had a couple of portable power stations and a porta-potty. Thanks to the friends who schlepped up to the wilds of Athens to play tunes with me on that special day.
Article 22 & the Slavery Amendment to the Vermont Constitution
After years of working their way through the legislature, two proposals to amend the Vermont Constitution were put to a vote this year. Both passed.
Proposal 2 makes clear in Article 1 of the Constitution that “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.” Proposal 5, the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, enshrines an individual person’s right to reproductive autonomy as central to a person’s dignity. I didn't see much objection to Proposal 2 but Proposal 5, Article 22 on the ballot, received a lot of push-back from anti-choice voices, who framed it as making "late-term abortion" (which is not a thing) widely available. That is simply not the case; any abortion past 22 weeks and six days (the currently accepted threshold of viability) requires approval from the ethics committee at the UVM Medical Center, which is the only provider in Vermont that will perform an abortion after 19 weeks. Article 22 passed with over 75% approval from Vermont voters. Another reason I am happy to live here.
I have followed a textile artist in Colorado for a few years on the social media, admiring her work with jean jackets and little purses. I reached out to her to up-cycle a jacket I bought at Gap on deep discount - I never wore it, it still had the tags on it. It has a "Gap 1969" logo - maybe it is supposed to be retro? If so, I am very retro indeed. I realized that I was never going to wear a jacket that said "Gap 1969" on it (famous last words). I reached out to Susan Ramsey at So and Sew Creations in Lakewood, CO to ask if she would do a custom job. We went back and forth for a while - I sent her photos of stuff, she sent me photos of stuff. Finally I sent her the jacket and this is the result. What fun! Click here to see the front, and some pumpkins.
I found a recipe online for rugelah - a filled cookie that my grandma Rose used to make ("Grandma's Cookies!"). I made them last year for Thanksgiving and they came out pretty well, so I tried again this year. Grandma made little round cookies, but most of what you will see is a crescent shape. Here is one of mine.
You can still skip to the bottom.
Playing Fiddle Tunes
I have tried to find a photo of me fiddling where I don't look mad, grumpy, spaced out or otherwise like I am not having a great time. It's the most fun I can have, and I never look like I am enjoying it. Having a mask on helps, I think.
Some of the highlights this year have been playing tunes on my porch, in backyards, on the Creamery Covered Bridge, at the Brattleboro Farmer's Market, under the Pizza Pavilion at Orchard Hill Breadworks, at the Buddy Walk in October, at West Townshend Pizza Night, at the Westminster West Church, and monthly at local assisted living homes - Bradley House in Brattleboro, and Valley Cares in Townshend, plus an adult day program, The Gathering Place.
This year I played for a few dances - some public, some not, some where masking is required, some where it is suggested. With two friends, Mary Cay Brass (accordion) & Mary Lea (fiddle), we formed a trio to play Scandinavian music. It didn't take long before we added French tunes, Finnish tunes, and some other tunes.
A different configuration - Mary Cay Brass, Andy Davis & I - is Trois Amis, playing French Canadian tunes. Andy and Mary Cay both play accordion, and both play piano. I sit in the middle while they run back and forth swapping from one instrument to the other. They both sing, too.
I don't know what is more glorious - having a keyboard in one ear and an accordion in the other, or having an accordion in each ear.
You can see me in this photo of the Creamery Bridge - I'm on the far right, but you can only see my hair (before I got it cut). Photo © Chris Madigan. Below is a photo of the haircut, the fuzzy thing over my left shoulder is Daffy.