Happy Friday - what little thing might we do to make someone's world a little better today? Imagine what it would be like if millions of us did?

Truthfully, millions of people DO do little - and large - things each day to make someone's world better....

 

Sometimes it's the small and mundane stuff. Turning a leftover chicken into delicious Moroccan stew. Grinding through some minor 5th grade math struggles. Doing a small kindness for some folks doing some great hard work. And listening to someone figuring out a very lovely "Amazing Grace" on the fiddle. All in all, a simple harvest moon kind of night. At peace, for the moment, in the moment.

Every time it happens, I think of those kids at Newtown. The circumstances change, the body counts fluctuate, the excuses rarely do. Neither do the ghosts that visit me. Their class picture, along with their teacher and the others. I squeezed my kid extra hard and long tonight, because I still can. She was in kindergarten when Newtown happened. I'll never forget what she asked while we struggled to explain; "were they bad kids?"

I shed a tear or two; I wish I could say it was for the victims and the families in Las Vegas. They are far more than I can comprehend. It was a tear for my own numbness at yet another mass murder, and my apparent indifference, because if I haven't helped find a solution, after Newtown, the Navy Yard, San Bernandino, or Blacksburg, or any of the dozens of others that scar my memories in the last 20 years, I must be part of the problem.

Feeling overwhelmed? Me too.

It is breathtaking and stunning to take in all that has transpired since I finished last month's essay. Armed Nazis, Klansmen and Confederate sympathizers marching in lockstep through the streets of a city here in my state. One catastrophic hurricane unleashed on Houston, while another takes aim at Florida and the southeast. Wildfires in the west consuming iconic and revered landscapes. Flooding displacing millions in other parts of the world. Never-ending wars and barbarism sprawling across the lands which birthed most of the world's religions. A lunatic strapping a nuke to a rocket in North Korea. Arctic permafrost melting to a degree not seen in recorded history. All amid the ongoing daily routines, of getting ready for school, and work, and tending to the mundane rituals of life.

It seems huge and crazy, and out of whack....

And so it is done. The last first day of walking to school. I can now say with some certainty what the distance is between kindergarten and 5th grade - astonishingly short.

We began this journey 6 years ago, but in some ways our innocence about the world then versus now seems so quaint. Newtown happened within a few months of our starting this journey...

It is heartening that after flipping the odometer this many times, that one can still feel special on this day thanks to a few kind words and well-wishes from friends close and casual, and physically near and far. Each comment allowing me the gift to reflect for a moment on how or where we connected, and to think of that person in that moment. How they might be doing this very moment that they reached out to me.

I realized something not long ago that is having profound implications for me personally. I have "outlived" the imaginings of my youth...

The connection between my electric guitar and one of my favorite fruits

Music has always been in my house. I suppose it was inevitable that I would play guitar, and probably the only reason I didn't start until I was eleven or so was that Dad's classical was impossible to play, and his Supro Belmont electric only slightly less so. It took that long to be willing to put my fingers through it! But I wanted "into the club", and guitar was going to be my ticket, so I endured the seemingly six-inch high string action on the Belmont and tried to play barre chords.

By the time I was fourteen, I was craving a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar...

Most certainly an AnceStory of unintended consequences and lifelong implications.

My parents, sister and I just returned from the trip of a lifetime, the "Last Great Nuclear Family Vacation" - a 16-day odyssey to the homelands of our ancestors in Ireland and Scotland. While my parents had always had some interest in visiting "someday", two factors conspired to bring it into startling real-time relief....

"Paddy," I asked of my companion, "what do you think of when you look out there across the sea?" I had met this gentle soul a little farther back down the road towards Donegal town on the way to the spectacular cliffs at Slieve League. Soaring nearly 2,000 feet in elevation from the water's edge, breathtaking is a bit insufficient description....

Long ago in what feels like a galaxy far far away, I went to grad school at UMass to be an Environmental Engineer. My first year I lived in Northampton in an apartment, and right at the beginning of the semester this woman answered our call for a roommate. Alyssa Sheehan had just returned from living abroad in China and Japan, but she was from nearby Springfield.

I can honestly say I've never met anyone like Alyssa before or since...

Where to begin on this just completed, epic nuclear family odyssey to Ireland and Scotland? It was partly my discoveries in our family history that got my dad excited to go. He had expressed a desire to bring a little soil from his grandfather's gravesite in Forestville CT to return to the "Auld Sod". When I learned the grave location of Andrew McKnight and Sarah Milliken (his grandfather's parents) in West Calder, Scotland just a few weeks ago, the mission was set....

May 25, 2017. Reflecting on a year's anniversary, with love to cousin Lee and a toast to Aunt Margaret

I am flying into the sunrise, soon to land in Dublin. Sometime during this crossing of the Atlantic we have crossed midnight and into tomorrow. It strikes me here at nearly 40,000 feet above this blue ball, that this morning marks exactly a year since a significant milestone - one that more or less led to this trip with my parents and sister.

My cousin Lee and I met in person for the first time last April near Nashville....

Along with tons of other plants over the decades, Grandma gave a rose bush to my parents some 40 years ago. A few years back, my sister rescued its scraggly and dying self where it was shaded by a now full-grown tree in my parents yard. She transplanted it in her yard at home in Maine, where it had an unfortunate run-in with a roto-tiller....

For those with absolutely no interest in coaxing green things out of dark dirt and wonder "why do they do it?" as well as those with green thumbs or obsessive orchid disorder.

May 1st is always a bit of a personal pivot point for me. I'm often on the road for large chunks of March and April, and my absence usually results in weeds choking my gardens. They impose their chaotic unruliness over my carefully tended beds like an army of Orcs pillaging the good green Shire. Adding to that, deer come and graze on the new shoots of the bulbs I've stuck in the ground. I often walk around with my morning coffee looking for small signs of hope in the carnage, emulating the Michael Jackson look with a single glove for tugging at a strand of ground ivy here and bedstraw there. The proverbial equivalent of peeing in the ocean, but to clear a few square inches of precious garden space from the marauders somehow does my psyche good in spite of the magnitude of the discontinuity....

So today is #DNADay. We live in amazing times. In the 1950s Watson and Crick first described the crazy macro molecule that carries everything about living species wrapped up in a double helix. A few years ago a massive effort finished mapping out the entire human genome...

I've always loved lilacs. We used to have a large lilac bush at our old place on Snickersville Turnpike. I've been known to clip a couple when I've been on the road and stick them in a water bottle to freshen up the van during a spring tour, even once or twice without permission (see "The Great Lincoln Lilac Larceny")....

Plain and simple, my life might have been a whole lot different without Chuck Berry.

Chuck Berry passed away last month. It is bittersweet for me to acknowledge both the influence of my childhood mentors decades later and the realization that they too have aged and will not live forever. Chuck Berry certainly didn't get cheated by the vagaries of time at least, finally ending his final encore at age 90 and releasing a new recording too!

It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that Chuck Berry taught me how to play guitar...

A solo artist marvels at the intimate machinations of a large performing arts production, and some special kids who bring it to life.

The stage life of a performing singer/songwriter is usually fairly solitary. There is of course always the audience, and the interaction and energy between performer and audience makes each show unique. The sound engineer and the stage lighting crew play vital roles in shaping the experience. But ultimately, the performer plans the presentation in some fashion, and a like a one-person show, rolls it on stage and delivers.

From my background, theater is a totally different animal...

I think I've found something upon which most of us can agree.

Bacon - just about everybody loves it. The #1 food vegetarians say they miss. The smell of bacon cooking drives us nuts, and drives most every other cogent thought from the brain. Bacon. Mmmmm.

I think I've figured out what's wrong with our country, and more importantly, how to fix it...

As we Americans experience another period of societal and cultural upheaval (aka change), a few reflections on the lasting legacy of a few committed individuals who were also determined to change the status quo.

I spent more than a few miles on this tour reflecting on all the natural splendors I've visited in the southeast - swamps, maritime forests, barrier islands, salt marshes and other natural and geological oddities. Over twenty years I have amassed quite a passport book of out-of-the-way treasures of the southeast and south Atlantic coast, even when I leave out the many stunning lands in the southern Appalachians, a region where I have spent considerable time on repeated visits.

There is of course a maelstrom going on right now in Washington on several dozen different important issues, some of which will have profound impacts for many years to come...

Once again reveling in and revisiting the odd rituals that come with the New Year, and reflecting on how strange the journey is turning out to be, now that I've turned a few.

In case you missed it, in the Western world the calendar has flipped again. Our annual revolution around our beloved nearby star has reached this particular spot in the heavens, and because we draw 12 pages with an odd number of boxes on each, we must have a starting point for each of those collections. Thus, January arrives, heralding a New Year, and toting along all of the assorted rituals that we have tethered to it.

I'm not big on resolutions, but I do like to check my progress (or lack thereof) in a variety of ways, and of course count my blessings - including the ones that I might overlook...

Attempting to make sense out of a "post-fact" society, and place seemingly absurd moments into historical context.

There were some who predicted that Hell would freeze over if the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Let's just say that strange things have happened in this year when the Cubs finally did. I have a big crack in the side of my beloved Martin guitar. A whole lot of great musicians have left this earthly plane, including this month Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell. And then there is this election thing...

We think naturally of the past on Thanksgiving, remembering cherished family elders and traditions from our childhood. My never-ending exploration of my family stories and genealogy dropped an interesting and startling one in my lap this morning. It turns out that my 10G grandfather, Capt. Nathaniel Turner, was lost at sea on a voyage back to England out of the new settlement of New Haven in 1646. His ship, the Phantom, was immortalized in verse centuries later by Longfellow. I am grateful that he was not lost before he had children, or else I wouldn't be here!

Read Longfellow's "The Phantom Ship" here.

I just returned from a silent prayer vigil at the Quaker Meeting in the village. On this night when we seem to be drowning in a virtual sea of violent rage, deceit and conspiracy theories, what I needed was a moment of peace. Silence. Reconnection with real souls in person. Simply being present with each other and the unseen. Time to gather and sift through my swirling thoughts and conflict a final time. This night feels like our American dreams and ideals have been heaped onto a blazing pyre of our own virulent anger. I walked home alone in the dark, lit only by the late autumn moon through the trees...

How fitting an end to this All Soul's Day, El Dia de Los Muertos. Slowly these last few years I have pieced together my family story near and far, recent and distant. I have connected my grandparents siblings, even my father's father's family who scattered every which way in a trail of mystery and intrigue. Two years ago I was wondering if I'd ever find his sister Margaret, the opera singer who went west and seemingly vanished forever. This May we finally found her family, and while I haven't met most of her descendants - my west coast cousins - in person yet, I'm thrilled that they are part of my virtual life and that we share rich musical DNA...

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Tour Dates

  • 12/22/2017
    Twin Oaks Tavern Winery - Bluemont, VA
     
  • 12/31/2017
    Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sterling - Sterling, VA
     
  • 01/06/2018
    Redwood Run House Concerts - Philomont, VA
     
  • 01/07/2018
    Unitarian Universalist Church of the Shenandoah Valley - Stephens City, VA
     
  • 01/13/2018
    Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick - Frederick, MD
     

HAPPENINGS

SPECIAL THANKS

Andrew is a grateful Endorsing Artist for Elixir Strings and Fairbuilt Guitars, and a member of the Virginia Commission for the Arts Touring Artist Roster. He also is a member of The Standing "O" Project and Concerts in Your Home.

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