This is Not a Banjo


Pete and I went to a concert on Friday night and something happened that I feel compelled to post about.  Partway through the show, the lead guitarist pulled out a banjo-guitar (or banjitar) and people lost their minds.  I heard a lot of gasps of joy.  I heard people all around saying “oooh, a banjo!” and applauding.

I felt the need to tell Pete “that is not a banjo.”

Photo via Folk of the Wood

A banjitar looks a lot like banjo, with its round head.  It also sounds similar to a five-string banjo in some ways.  But it has the neck of a guitar and is strung like a guitar.  Anyone who plays the guitar can play the banjitar.

Pete could tell I was a little huffy about all this applause over a banjitar, and told me that people just like the sound of the banjo, even if it’s not quite the real thing.

5-String Banjo; photo via Deering Banjos

Point taken.  And the guitarist, who was amazing throughout the concert, was using the banjitar to enhance a song that, in the words of the lead singer was “fasty-folky.”  Fasty-folky music is all the rage right now.

If I seem a little defensive, it’s because I haven’t been playing much lately.  I’ve been trying to prioritize, and banjo-practice has fallen by the wayside.  My poor banjo has been neglected, and I almost feel as though I can’t properly call myself a banjo-player, since I haven’t played in months.

So I’ve decided that to combat this, I’m going to learn a new song once a month and post about it.  I’m hoping that someday I’ll even become technologically adept enough to record myself playing them.

In the meantime, here is a video of Steve Martin and the late, great Earl Scruggs playing one of my favourites:

Being a Mother is Hard. Let’s Not Make it Harder: A Birthday Rant


My sister wrote a comment a few weeks ago in response to one of my recipe posts.  I just had to re-post it, because it’s spot-on.  A bit rambly, a bit ranty, but spot-on.  And she was entitled to rant that day, because it was her birthday.

I love The Office and I will use any excuse to post Dwight’s birthday sign.

To provide some context, I had been telling her about how much I had been struggling to find some balance in my life.  I’m raising a toddler, trying to keep a house clean, to cook homemade meals every night, to have quality time with my husband, to keep in touch with friends and family, to read books and exercise and practice my banjo and pay attention to politics (isn’t Rob Anders a dickhead?).  I can never manage to keep up with everything at once, and that often frustrates me.   She wrote me this great, insightful comment and it came at the perfect time.  She’s smart, that sister of mine.

Here it is:

I’m very impressed with all your home cooking and baking.  It makes me think, though, about the pressures that we put on ourselves as women.  Just a few generations ago women worked unbelievably hard to do physically demanding, never ending cleaning and cooking…and child care and clothes making and farm work and volunteer work and care for elders and church duties and some piece work or other work to bring in extra income.  As soon as modern equipment made that work a little easier, the cult of domesticity took hold and expectations soared, so the work load, and the guilt just shifted.  Then women took on work outside the home, which is fantastic in many ways, but then the “double shift” started.  Convenience foods became more common, not surprisingly.  But of course, whenever things get a little easier, the expectations increase again.  I am finding that many of my women friends are feeling the pressure to add even more time and effort to their daily work schedule to make home cooked everything.  It doesn’t matter if this is added to a work day outside the home or a work day at home with kids (and quite frankly I find it easier in many ways now that I’m at paid employment during the day rather than home every day).  I feel some guilt and embarrassment when I rely on convenience foods (not fast food but pre-made lasagnas and the like).  I’m very much in favour of better, home cooked food.  It’s appalling how many chemicals and salt and sugar are used in commercially prepared foods.  Still, it’s frustrating that each time things get a little easier for women, somehow the expectations on us increase and our work is just as time consuming and our “failures” just as guilt inducing.  Who places these expectations on us?  How can we get out from under these expectations and feelings of responsibility?  Both my husband and I work full time.  I know he doesn’t feel any sort of guilt or shame when our house is messy and has not even considered that home cooked is better let alone felt the pressure to work even harder to ensure we eat home cooked.  So, be it resolved that we should eat home cooked and let something else slide, like perfectly decorated and perfectly tidy houses.  We should definitely give up the appearance that all of this is effortless.

I know this isn’t my blog, but it’s my birthday and this is my rant.

She’s right.  I’ve been putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to be perfect at all of this, and it’s not necessary.  In fact, it’s counterproductive.  I was mulling this over today when a friend posted a link to an article about how difficult it can be to be a mother in our culture.  It’s a great read.

So instead of rushing around sweeping and mopping and scrubbing for the rest of C’s nap, I’m going to loaf and have some tea.  And when she wakes up, I’ll be a much happier mom for it.

Excuses, Excuses


I’ve been having difficulty keeping up my blogging lately, for a variety of reasons.  Here’s a quick list:

1) Toddlers are BUSY.  It’s getting harder to find free moments when C is up and about.

2) I never have time for everything, and right now the two things that are suffering are blogging and banjo-playing.  I’m not happy about it, but I have to prioritize.

3) I’m following through on my goal of volunteering my time with a community organization that I think does really good work.  That’s definitely time well spent.

I’m hoping to keep things up and running here, despite the time-crunch.  Tomorrow night I’m going to a lecture and book signing by Linden MacIntyre of the Fifth Estate.  I read his Giller Prize-winning book, The Bishop’s Man, while I was pregnant with C and I loved it.  I’ll be sure to report back…someday.


Banjo vs. Bagpipes


This is going to be a quick post, because it’s the long weekend and our little family is going to attempt a hike when the baby wakes up in a few minutes.  Hiking with C is a challenge because she dislikes baby carriers, but we’re attempting to desensitize her to them by taking her on pleasant, short hikes once in a while.  This is (we hope) going to result in baby who will be happy to go on a 10 km hike in July when we take her camping in Algonquin Park.  I’m only half joking.

I’m writing this as a bit of an update to my last post about how to play a loud instrument with a baby around.  This past Friday, at a pre-party for the mountain race that I’m doing in less than two weeks (eeek!) I met a woman who plays the bagpipes.  She also has a baby boy who is a little older than C.  I asked her a million questions.  She told me the following:

1) She can’t play bagpipes in the house, even when her baby is awake and happy, because they’re too loud and they scare him.  A lot.

2) She practices with her pipes & drums group, but can’t practice anywhere else unless it’s with a little kazoo-type, bagpipe-practicing contraption that doesn’t make much noise.  I’ve heard of these.  They’re good for learning new songs and developing muscle memory.

3) She couldn’t play her bagpipes much at the end of her pregnancy because it’s so physically demanding that it would cause painful contractions.  Apparently she would still play with the pipes & drums but would have to sit out the odd song because of this.  She is tough stuff.

What I took away from this conversation is that I should make a better effort to keep up my practicing.  If this awesome bagpipes-playing woman can manage to keep up her practicing with a baby who is terrified of her instrument, I have no excuse.  Even though the banjo is loud, it is nowhere near bagpipes-level noisy.  So it’s decided.  There will be daytime hoedowns in this house.

Now I just have to deal with the fact that my tuner is broken.  Its demise involves peanut butter.  I’ll discuss this later.  In the meantime, I hope everyone is having a fantastic long weekend!  Happy Victoria Day!

Have you hugged your banjo today?


The poor, maligned banjo is actually quite a beautiful instrument.  Ever since I put on my first pair of finger picks, I’ve noticed a few things.

1)      When you play the banjo, everyone asks you to play Duelling Banjos.  This is reasonable, because it’s a very recognizable bluegrass song.  Thanks, Deliverance!  And it’s actually a really fun song to play.  However, it is a duet.  People will insist that you play it alone, with awkward pauses where Ronny Cox should be playing guitar.  They will not take “no” for an answer.  Damn you, Deliverance!

2)      Any time a television program discusses a topic such as cousin marriage or people who fish with their bare hands, there will inevitably be a banjo picking away in the background.

The banjo is subject to a lot of stereotyping, but it can be difficult to learn and to play.  It’s also a lot more versatile than a lot of people realize.  My sister used to always say “you can’t play a sad song on the banjo” but you can play beautiful, melodic songs on the banjo that can sound quite haunting.  She doesn’t say this anymore, because she has recently taken up the banjo herself.  Go, sister!

In any case, the banjo is awesome and I’m often disappointed that I don’t have more time to practice.  I have a sticker on my banjo case that says: “Have you hugged your banjo today?”

My poor banjo hasn’t been hugged in a while.  I would love to play it more, but it’s such a LOUD instrument.  And nap time is such a precious, precious time.  People have suggested that I take it downstairs to our unfinished basement and play it there, with the baby monitor close at hand while C naps.  There’s nothing very wrong with that idea, it’s just a hassle.

I could probably do some quiet picking in the front room of the main floor (where the banjo lives), but then, where is the fun in that?  The banjo is meant to be played loudly, vibrantly, and with enthusiasm.  A quiet hoedown is just not the same.

Can anyone relate to this?  Has anyone figured out how to do something pleasant, yet nap-unfriendly during the day? 

Bike, banjo, baby and blogging


I have an eight month old baby.  That means several things.  I’m pretty tired by the end of the day.  I do a lot of laundry.  I spend a lot of time hanging out with a little pre-verbal person who makes me laugh and tries to eat my face.

Before C was born, I heard so many warnings that my life was going to change so dramatically that I would no longer recognize it, or myself.

You’ll never get a good night’s sleep again.

It will be ten years before you have time to read a book again.

You won’t have any time for yourself, everything is about the baby now.

I started this blog because my husband and I are first time parents who are struggling to do a good job with our baby, while holding on to our passions and individuality.

Pete is a mountain biker, but he would like me to point out that that he is not ONLY a mountain biker.  We have seven bikes in our garage and not one of them belongs to me.  And we’re not storing any bikes for anyone else.  We don’t collect old bikes and restore them for people.  Pete owns seven bikes.  And before anyone comes to the (admittedly logical) conclusion that he’s a big spender, he drives a 2002 Honda Accord.

I play the banjo.  I decided to learn an instrument after I finished university, mostly because I was sick of studying and wanted to do something different.  I bought a banjo at a local music store and drove family members crazy for a few months until I could pick out a recognizable bluegrass song.  Poor them.  They heard a lot of “Cluck Old Hen” and “Old Grey Goose” and “Shuckin’ the Corn” and other banyard tunes.  Sorry, family!

We have lots of other interests, of course.  This blog is going to follow us as we try to keep up with all of these things while raising a wonderful little person.  I’m hoping that as we stumble along we can share some of our successes and missteps.  I’m also hoping that we can get some tips and tricks from readers.

Thanks for reading!