Travel Theme: Details

Ailsa has issued this week’s photo challenge at Where’s My Backpack?, and this week, the devil is in the details. 

Like this one, close to my home. This weekend we get to feast our eyes on a ton of ice sculpture for the annual Lewisburg Ice Festival. (Bonus! It’s neither unseasonably warm nor raining, so the sculptures will make it through the festival, so long as the weather lasts.) I love this little walrus guy, and his detailed whisker holes and scary walrus tusks. 

I am he as you are he as you are me. Or something like that.

I am he as you are he as you are me. Or something like that.

Next stop: Venice! We were at a glassblower’s shop on Murano Island. The artist was showing off his mad glassblowing skills (which were prodigious), but every so often, you have to look elsewhere. I liked this schematic for an upcoming art glass project. 

There's a lot of fire in that hole.

There’s a lot of fire in that hole.

Heading home…and I mean, really, heading home from Italy, we were starting to descend and I realized we were flying right over Long Island. Which, might I say, is really long. And is made up of a lot of barrier channels and quirky little islands, like this one. I had no idea, until I saw it from above.

Greetings from New York. Now go home.

Greetings from New York. Now go home.

While we’re in New York…

…New York State, that is…

…let’s make a stop at Dr. Frank’s winery, on Keuka Lake. The wine? Delicious. The view? Gorgeous? But the little grape cluster cut crystals that comprise the body of the chandeliers in their tasting room? Swoon-worthy.



And finally, we end with a visit to my beloved Boston. Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has some extraordinary exhibits, but their musical instruments room is exceptional. Here’s a close-up of a hand-worked guitar inlaid with a salacious amount of mother-of-pearl. And check out the carving in the sound hole. Crazy!

What? Like making this was hard?

What? Like making this was hard?

That’s it for now. Enjoy the photo challenges, everyone! See you around Ailsa’s page. 

Travel Theme: Simplicity

This week at Where’s My Backpack? Ailsa asks us to celebrate simplicity.  Which, ironically, can be difficult, since we often try to cram as much as possible into a photograph to make it more “interesting”.  Though sometimes, just a “thing”, being or doing its thing, is enough.

Like these new pine cones that emerged with spring.

Spring was (literally) in the air.

Spring was (literally) in the air.

One fine morning I noticed the sunlight coming through the blinds was having its way with my boyfriend’s guitar pick.

Leave me alone in a room with a sunbeam and a guitar pick, and who knows what could happen.

Leave me alone in a room with a sunbeam and a guitar pick, and who knows what could happen.

When you’re out wandering in a nearby field, one ought to pay attention to the picturesque nature of the local fence-postery.

Just another day in Lewisburg.

Just another day in central PA.

Even the simplest way to dry laundry has beauty and charm.  It helps when that laundry is drying outside a building in Florence, but…


I often imagine what this family would say if they saw me take this picture. “Mom…there’s a lady photographing our underwear…”.

And finally, we have the groovy serenity of a backyard, sunset, and fog rolling in off the nearby creek.  Why did this one tree stand out?  No idea.  I’m just glad it did.


Seriously, I love my back yard.

That’s it for today.  Once again, a million thanks to Ailsa for the photo challenge!

Music: An Interview with Ellis Paul

This interview also appeared in the Local Music Collective Newsletter

Guitar-totin’ folk singer Ellis Paul is a busy man.  He tours anywhere between 150 and 200 days a year.  He writes every day.  And he is preparing to record his 18th album, the latest in a series of albums he is recording independently since leaving his former label in 2005.  After a recent performance at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Paul sat down with me for a few minutes to talk about songwriting and the pros and cons of recording without a label.


Paul broke with his former label and started the process of independently-funded music when he decided he wanted full creative control over his work.   He says, “You have to please people who aren’t you, and the reason you’re trying to do that is because they’re the ones who are paying for everything–the studio time, the mixing, the marketing.  You keep clamoring for the attention of the label executives who, understandably, want a positive return on their investment.  The big problem with that thinking is, the labels want to pigeonhole artists and have them create songs that are more formulaic and will end up on the radio.”

He continues, “When I work without a label, I’m only responsible to my fans, and myself.  With fan-funded music, you get to make all the choices, create your own deadlines, own all your own masters.  The downside is that you then have to pretend you’re a record label, and do your own marketing and promotion, which is not my favorite part of the industry.”

Bring it home, Ellis.

Playing Guinness, his beloved guitar, in fine form after a prolonged repair due to a tragic speaker incident.

Paul says his music has benefited by becoming more broad since he’s struck out on his own.  A former track athlete who didn’t start playing guitar until an injury sidelined him in college, he says, “I’ve been able to explore music I haven’t had a chance to yet.  I started playing in college and writing my own stuff as soon as I learned to play, so I didn’t have that high school cover band experience.  I don’t know a lot of covers.  Reinterpreting other people’s music alters the way you understand chords and song structure and so the vocabulary you’ve developed with your own music changes.  I’ve written a list of 200 songs by other artists I admire, and my goal is to learn them all.  And we’ll see how that impacts my writing.”

Songwriting, says Paul, is a combination of crafting and inspiration, and good songs find a successful balance between the two.  “When I’m working on a new album, I probably break in six or seven new songs on the road.  I like to watch how my audience responds to a song because it helps keep me in balance.  If inspiration takes over, it’s easy to start trying to be increasingly clever in your phrasing, or keep making cloaked references, and in doing so you can lose sight of what the song is about.  Conversely, if you give craft too much control, then your song can become contrived and joyless and your audience can start to follow how you think.  Playing new songs live can be a great way to stay self-aware and determine if you’re over-crafting or if you’re being too clever for your own good.”

Here’s a song already written for his upcoming album.

This article will also appear in an upcoming issue of the Local Music Collective newsletter.  

H! Challenge: Headstock

Headstock.  Not to be confused with Woodstock… I like to take photos of the headstocks of guitars.  Or basses.  Stringed instruments, really, and it’s just a matter of time until I co-opt my friend’s little girl’s violin for a photo shoot.  What?  No, she’ll be fine.  I’ll just distract her from her pursuit of mastering the scales with the clever use of television and candy.

Because people, I give.  AND, then I get to feel all cool and be like, pish-tosh, these silly old geetars?  You mean the ones my groovy musician boyfriend plays?

True story:  I was on the phone with a friend of mine, catching up, and was telling her about my new boyfriend (this was, clearly, years ago).  She asked what he was like and I said, you know, nice, smart, plays guitar, has a band.  She was silent for about fifteen seconds and then said, “So you’re FINALLY dating a musician, huh?” and I’m like, “God, YES!  And the best part is, he’s a musician, but he’s totally stable!”  Anyway.  Ahh, memories.

So.  I started playing around with photographing instruments, but felt like I hooked into something when I took the following picture of my brother’s bass.

Where it all began.

Usually I end up having a photo shoot with one of George’s guitars.  They don’t demand pay, I don’t have to worry about their late night parties with the newly-single Johnny Depp.  Though he is a musician too, so maybe I’m being a little cavalier here.


Below are some of my favorite pictures I’ve taken of George’s electric and acoustic guitars.  This is how a photo shoot goes in my house.

Yes, that’s a record in the background.

The first thing George said was, “Wow, that’s really dusty.”  I said, “Don’t think of it as dust.  Think of it as the spirits of great notes come to rest on your guitar.”

Nah, I’m just messing with you.  What I thought but did not say was, “Damn skippy, son. Why don’t you see if Pat Sajak will sell you a dustcloth?”

I think this is one of the first guitars George ever had.

And then there was that fine winter’s day when the sun was slanting in through the blinds and caught his electric guitar just so…

The sunlight, glinting off the tuning pegs…ahhh, l’amour.

In all seriousness, I love how the design on the pick sort of mimics the slats on the blinds. Really. Not joking here.

So that’s my tale of the headstock.  Remember, local peeps, if you want a groovy sexy headstock picture…*ahem*…call me.

This post is for the H! Challenge by Frizztext

Because I love a good alphabet challenge.

G! Challenge: Guitars

My boyfriend is a musician, and I spent some time as a music store nerd.  Not High Fidelitylevel of nerdery, mind you, but I can throw down with some pretty good music trivia and am generally fairly knowledgeable about music history (though no, I don’t play an instrument, and the music world thanks me for it).  So we tend to gravitate towards musically oriented things, including museum “fancy instruments” exhibits.  The following pictures were taken at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (Go MFA!) during one of our winter visits.

The MFA has a fantastic exhibit dedicated to all manner of musical instruments from around the world.  There are dulcimers and harps and a small cabinet containing crystal glasses that have been specifically ground to resonate at a certain note–no water required. And there are guitars. There are more guitars than I’ve included in this blog, but these two were my favorite.

The first is an Italian guitar made in the early 1600s by Jacopo Checchucci (as an aside, this was how his name was spelled on the MFA website, but I noticed it spelled without the second h when I did a quick Google search, so…musical historians, feel free to offer guidance.)

Four hundred years of ah-may-zing.

Check out the detail work in the sound hole.

That’s a lot of work for a part almost no one is going to be able to see.

And here’s another beauty, also of Italian make.  This one was built in the early 1700s by Jacopo Mosca Cavelli, so it is a mere 300 years old.

A hundred years, a little fatter, and astonishingly, even more elaborate.

I like that this one’s got a message.  It references Revelation 14 in the inlaid inscription…


I have absolutely no Latin training at all, but the best I can tell is that this seems to say that this is the sort of guitar that would be appropriate to play at the coming of the end of the world.  Latin scholars?  Anyone?  Someone?

The point–other than showing off fancy things–is this.  The guy(s) who made these stunningly gorgeous instruments didn’t have power tools and laser cutters to put this together.  Those instruments were shaped thanks to the cunning use of steam or the gentle application of constant pressure and the use of a rudimentary lathe.  (I admit it: I like the word lathe.)  The inlays were carved by hand and placed, piece by often miniscule piece, by tweezers.  Once again the sound hole is elaborate, which is something that nobody except the musician and whoever borrowed his guitar would see.  And I can barely get it together enough to give myself a little pedicure and get my gnarly feet ready to face the rest of the summer.

I mean seriously, I’m probably going to only have to do this once more for the season, before I can stop worrying about it for the fall.

Clearly, I’m not doing something right.  But I do enjoy looking at the results of those who are capable of getting it together.  It reminds me that we can do great things, all we have to do is focus on the task at hand, and do that to the best of our abilities.

Unless that task, of course, involves me playing guitar.  That, I will leave to the experts.

This post is for the G! Challenge by Frizztext

Because I love a good alphabet challenge.

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