Monday, March 31, 2008

The Things We Can And Cannot Keep

The other day Delaney asked me about a song on my new record called "The Things We Can And Cannot Keep".  Here is where I will try to explain the song. 

I spent most of January in Kansas City recording You And The Evening Sky with Don Chaffer. This song was one of my favorites going into the month and it was fun to sing the vocal because I got to go some places vocally that I haven’t before on a recording. There was a moment of epiphany that occurred while I was singing. I was revisiting the lyric of the bridge, making sure it was the right sentiment, when Don leaned into the vocal booth and said, “Alli, it’s perfect”. The bridge, he meant, and proceeded to tell me how the song had just come together for him and how he, in that moment, understood the song to be about innocence. He was right. And in the same way a novelist can be surprised by their own character’s words or actions, the song revealed itself to me more fully that day.

The things we can and cannot keep is a line from a blog written by Rebecca Stevenson. She is a wife, mother, teacher, and writer that has inspired me greatly. After reading her blog one day, I wrote the first verse and chorus of this song.

When I sing the words to The Things We Can and Cannot Keep, I think of the apple cider my grandma makes at Christmas, of the days my mom and I would shop for new school supplies and that smell of new shiny folders and unused erasers, of my bedroom where I relentlessly came up with new arts and craft projects that eventually turned my carpet an array of different colors. It makes me think of my high school boyfriend, of the school newspaper where I learned to use a dark room, of my short stint as a cheerleader and the way I wanted desperately to be noticed. It makes me think of all of these things because I want to know what memories are going to stay clear, and which ones will fade away with time. I want to know what happens to the attachments I have to certain buildings and houses, and the connection I have with certain people who have been part of my life. I want to know what we can carry in this life, and in to the next life. I want to know why our convictions change, and about the ways we all “negotiate growth”, in Don’s words. (He uses those words during our dialogue about this song, recorded on the bonus disc.)

My favorite class of all of high school was one called Modern Literature that I took my junior year. My favorite book ever assigned to me to read is one called “The Things That They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. It is about soldiers in the Vietnam War and their stories told through the things they kept in their pockets or socks or bags or hearts. I could not have written this song apart from the image I had of a soldier with a knapsack, carrying all the things that he felt defined him.

Here are the lyrics:

The Things We Can and Cannot Keep

up the drive, ‘round a corner
stand atop of the front porch staring
at the swing that used to hold
your end of the day thoughts
there’s the old cherry trees and the neighbor who knows
every grandchild’s name
even sewed them some clothes for Christmas
you remember that Christmas

what can we carry, what will stay with us
what will shine like gold when the story’s told
some things will tarry, some will return to dust
there are things we can and things we cannot keep

I was young and he was in high school
in the band he played all the marches
circle girls, boys and their solos
dancing our hearts like an auction
we’re for sale and we’re cheap and we’ll sing you a jingle
oh “heart” seems to be the wrong word for a soul
It’s crazy how we try to find solace

Innocence like a bottle spun
sacred stones in careless hands
building up our cityscape
we write our names on a plot of land
where will we go, who will we be
and what, if anything, can we carry?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church

By Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church 
I keep it, staying at Home 
With a Bobolink for a Chorister 
And an Orchard, for a Dome 

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice 
I just wear my Wings 
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman 
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last 
I'm going, all along.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Life Lessons From Baking #1

Life Lesson from baking # 1: Always butter the pan before you start mixing ingredients. You're less likely to forget that way, and more likely to have a successful baking experience. It's also good to put most recipes directly into the oven after you are done with the dough or mixture. A prepared pan or dish ensures a speedy transfer.

What I've learned: When I think to do something, I should do it right then instead of waiting for a better time.  There will never be a "better" time. 
real life example: get gas when the light comes on.

*This is the first in my "Life Lessons from Baking" blogs :)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sad Orchid

My orchid has died. Is it past saving or will those green twigs sprout again? I just don't know. So sad. I've been pretty successful at house plants thus far so this feels like a true defeat. I guess I just didn't know how to care for it. Any orchid experts out there?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Joy and Obedience and Songwriting

I wrote a couple songs today with some great guys. I’ve been co-writing a lot this month and enjoyed it immensely. I’ve kept a pad of paper by my bed lately because of all the song ideas that keep popping up in my groggy half awake self. I got home today and all I wanted to talk about was the songs I wrote, I couldn’t wait to play them for my husband. Today we worked through lunch and I didn’t even notice. And normally I’m irritable and unproductive if I’m hungry.

People say different things about finding your “calling”. Finding the thing you were made to do. Or things.

I’m often conflicted by what the message of our culture is on this subject, and what the message of the bible is. The quote in my Real Simple magazine this month goes like this:

We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.”
-E.B. White

That resonates with me. Pretty deeply. But then that starts to feel self-serving and I think of verses like this in the bible:

..and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 10:38-39

It’s like something in me thinks that I should be moderately miserable as a sign that I’m following God’s will. What shady theology is that?? I know that is not what Jesus meant there, but somewhere along the way I started believing that He did.

surly those two concepts can coincide.

In jr. high I had a poster on my wall of an elephant standing on a beach ball. The quote underneath it said “The key to life is balance.”

I don’t think at the time I realized how true that really is...

Friday, March 21, 2008

By His Wounds

Isaiah 53:5
He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

1 Peter 2:24
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Aaron Douglas

Was having a hard time writing today, I couldn't seem to draw anything out of myself. So I went to the Frist Museum to see an exhibit of works by Aaron Douglas, an artist from the Harlem Renaissance. I still haven't written any great songs today but I left the Frist completely inspired. I'm pretty speechless and cannot believe I've never seen his art before. I am overwhelmed by the amount of life that exudes from every piece.

This painting is called "Into Human Bondage" (this picture I got online doesn't do it justice, if you ever get the chance to see his art in person, please do)

"...we must let down our buckets into our own souls where joy and pain, mirth and sadness, still flows swift and deep and free, and drink until we are drunk as with an overpowering desire for expression."
-Aaron Douglas
Letter to Alain Locke, June 1925

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Greet: To address with some form of salutation

This last Sunday, Palm Sunday, I played at a church in Mississippi. I played a couple songs in the morning service and then a show that night. The thing that I’ll remember most about the day was what the bulletin called “a time of fellowship and greeting”.

Now, I’ve gone to church every almost every Sunday of my whole life and I have never experienced a “time of fellowship and greeting” quite like this one. Most protestant churches seem to have them, that awkward 45 seconds of hand shaking before the pastor tells you it’s time to “take a seat”. Awkward because of the faces you recognize but names you’ve forgotten, awkward because you’re in that sleepy sunday morning haze, awkward because it tends to feel sort of forced.

But not this church. At this church you would have thought the service just ended because of the sudden bustle and noise. Everybody moved about the room to give hugs or catch up on each others lives. It seemed natural and enjoyed by all. It was a fresh moment for me.

This made me consider the whole idea of greeting each other in this way. So I did a little research and it seems to date back to the early church when they would greet each other with a kiss. or a “holy kiss”. So that turned into a “kiss of peace” or “the passing of the peace” that happens during a celebration of the Eucharist. And that has turned into “a time of fellowship and greeting” in a lot of our churches today. I found an interesting conversation about all of this at this blog, if you are interested in this sort of thing.

I’m not trying to convey some huge opinion that i have about fellowship and greeting time. I’m just sharing my favorite moment from this last Sunday, and if you’re one who likes to investigate, encouraging you to do some investigating into the Why of some of our Sunday morning traditions.

I love this quote:
Don't be yourself. Be someone a little nicer. -Mignon McLaughlin

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Photo's at the Library

Today I spent some time at one of my favorite places in town, the downtown library. There is an exhibit up of local civil rights photographs taken by Howard Lowe in the 60's. It was unnerving to see photos of the ground I had just walked on minutes prior decorated with such different scenes than what I saw with my eyes today. So much violence and hate, on these streets. And less than 50 years ago. It's hard to believe.

These aren't very good pictures cause I was trying to be discrete, since I don't know that it's entirely cool to take photos of photos in an exhibit. But here are a couple to give you an idea.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Back to 50 degree weather...

Well, here is the official update:

We got the CD’s just in time and left Friday afternoon, but we had to stop in Illinois Friday night because of a snowstorm. It was pretty bad but luckily we found a hotel that took animals and finished the drive Saturday morning.

The show was so much fun, thanks again for everyone who came! I really enjoyed playing some new songs and can’t wait to hear what people think of the record.

Oso did AMAZING! I’ve come full circle from feeling like I made a mistake in taking him in, to wondering how I ever lived without him. And trust me, I never thought I would say that about a dog. I really didn’t think I would be one of those people who use a baby voice when talking to a dog. Or has conversations with their animal as if they understood what we are saying. But I am doing those things! Who knew I had it in me. Old allergenic me. A dog person. I’ll use this moment to endorse allergy shots, which have changed my life- no joke. I might even go horseback riding one of these days… to really test it out. I think I’ll avoid cats though, thanks to too many attempted sleepovers gone bad because I thought I could fight through the allergy storm.

Anyway, although Oso had a whole back seat to himself, he spent most of his time laying on the armrest in-between the front two seats, as close to us as possible. He came far enough up a couple times that he hit the gearshift in to neutral. Crazy dog.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Back in Nashvegas

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Cedar Falls show last night, it was a blessing for me to feel so loved and supported. so thank you! I'll write more after some sleep...


The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent upon it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.
-Galileo Galilei

Friday, March 7, 2008

On the road again...

Today we are driving to Iowa for the CD release show on Sunday. There are a few things that could make this an interesting trip.

1. The CD’s aren’t back from the printer yet. We can’t leave town until we have them, since it is the CD release show and everything. I have to have something to release.

2. We are taking Oso with us. Ummm…. Not sure what else to say about that other than, I hope all three of us are still speaking to each other by the time we get there. Kidding. Okay like 80% kidding.

3. We are heading into the great white north, dropping about 40 degrees in temperature, and probably driving through many areas that are under “winter storm warnings” or have had “winter weather advisories”. And the meanings to those phrases vary greatly in different parts of the country. Where we’re going they actually mean it. What they should say in Nashville is “reckless drivers warning” or “winter scare advisory”.

No offense to all you proud southerners out there. I do love the way you cook your vegetables. I could eat squash casserole and some fried okra all day long. There are other things I love about living here too, another blog perhaps.

For now, I must finish packing and pray the CD’s get finished soon so we can hit the road.

See some of you in Iowa!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Copycat ipod Game

I've had an itunes gift card sitting on my desk for a few weeks now. I get so overwhelmed with itunes gift cards because there are just too many options and I can't decide what I want the most. I've narrowed it down to a few options, which are as follows:

1. The Stranger, Billy Joel. This is my favorite Billy Joel record and I actually own it but cannot find it so I’m thinking of re-buying it on itunes.
2. The Trumpet Child, Over the Rhine. Karen's voice kills me and I don't own this most recent record yet.
3. Cannons- Phil Wickham. I'm intrigued by Phil's music and have heard great things about him.

In my quest to find out more about Phil Wickham, I came across a game he played with his bloggers and I liked the idea so much I had to copy him! (Sorry Phil, if it makes you feel better, your record won and I’m listening to it right now)

The game is to put your ipod on shuffle and post the first 10 songs that it plays. Here are mine:

1. Kathleen Edwards- Back To Me
2. Julie Miller- Strange Lover
3. Brandi Carlile- Sixty Years On (live)
4. Lori McKenna- Mars
5. Feist- The Park
6. Sting- Brand New Day
7. Ray Charles- Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
8. Indigo Girls- Jonas and Ezekial
9. Weezer- Buddy Holly
10. Jonatha Brooke & The Story- Charming

If you don't have an ipod or something that "shuffles", than you can post what records you would buy with a gift card to a record store. Remember record stores? Wait... remember CD's? You know, those little silver discs that magically played music when inserted into a "Boom Box". Anybody??? :)

Anyway, play if you want to, I'm just curious to see A. if anyone is reading this and B. what you listen to

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Why do I find this:

…so humorous? I never would have even seen it this morning at the allergy doctor if I didn’t go to the first floor bathroom because there was a line at the 2nd floor bathroom.

This makes me think of my friend, Marie, who just moved to Toronto. She would also think this is very funny. I can always count on giving her extremely random birthday cards and watching her erupt into the same laughter I experienced when first reading it.

Marie and I met in 7th grade and have stayed close ever since. Well, except our one huge fight where we didn’t talk for months over something neither of us remembers. We were living in a 2-bedroom apartment with 3 of us, and Marie and I thought we could share a bedroom. Surely it would work great since we were the best of friends, didn’t do anything without the other. As some of you know, best friends make horrible roommates. I think it’s just a fact. Well, unless you live with your spouse who is also your best friend, which is a different story. Anyway, it didn’t work out so great, us rooming together. It’s too bad too, cause it was a great apartment. ☺

Today we are great friends and I miss her terribly up there in her own other country. And this is making me think about the concept of friendship and how we need those friends who have seen us at our ugliest and our most triumphant. Who know what things bring us the most joy and what make us laugh uncontrollably. Who have been hurt by us, and us by them, so that forgiveness can do it’s heart-changing work. There is something to a relationship that has seen mountains and valleys.

I’ve been in Nashville 6 years now and realize how rare it is to have a friend like Marie. It takes time and experience to build trust. My husband and I have great friends here; friends that we are living life with and know we can count on like family. But maybe the ones who already know the best and worst of our past are in a category all their own. I don’t know.. I’m sure I will keep growing in my understanding of relationship. I do wonder what our friendships will look like in heaven, don’t you?