Interlude Pt. 2

So to tell more about my vacation – before it slides from my memory…..

So I don’t have that many more photos that I took; I’ll share some that others took…..

One of the things I have wanted to start here in Aba-lama-ding-dong for more than 10 years is a community sing. I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about them but had never attended one, so my lack of experience has been my stumbling block for all this time! I have been to Gospel Sings before, but I knew it would be somewhat different doing a community sing…. So I found one at the Central Pennsylvania Arts Fest that I could go to. It was held at a downtown Presbyterian Church.

Until about 5 minutes before it started, I was the youngest person in there by at least 10 years (except for the sound guy – he looked to be about 20). 2 families came in just before we started with grandparents, parents and grandkids, so a broader range of age was present. I think when it began there were maybe 70 people there. They handed out a booklet of song lyrics, which I later kept as a souvenir though we were asked to turn them in (I’m so rotten I know). Note to self – Beatles songs can be quite difficult to do well in a community sing. There were a couple of hymns sung as well and the fella leading it was quite witty throughout. I’m stealing all his best lines by the way….

I enjoyed it – though I was reminded again that I was up North – almost no one spoke to me or made eye contact, and there were zero people of color in this space. In fact as a group, we sang the very whitest version of “Wade in the Water” I have ever witnessed…… but it was good to take part. Now I feel very sheepish in waiting SO long to start a community sing here – I have all the skills to do it and I have some ideas about involving other good songleaders I know here. Singing is a wonderful way of bringing people together!

As it was Wednesday, the Arts Fest really wasn’t together or in full swing as yet but that was OK by us; we ended up meeting a couple of wonderful folks – 1 in a shop, another taking surveys on the street that we had really good conversations with. Yup, even Studmuffin was talking to folks. 🙂 That night, we stayed at an Airbnb that is usually a Girl Scout camp. Absolutely lovely location and very rustic but we were fine with that too. Could hear the bullfrogs all night long….kind of a balm to my soul really.

The next day we went to visit a family just over the PA/NY border who used to live down here. They moved away about 7 years ago and I was determined to visit them as …well, tomorrow is promised to no one and truly we were within an hour’s drive. We had a splendid visit – we went to lunch at this place that raises turkeys and makes maple syrup (which I bought some for my folks at the gift shop. Yup, Helen almost always finds the gift shop – but I love to give gifts!). So good to spend time with them – and completely forgot to take any pictures of us together. Here ‘s a picture of the restaurant we went to – food was great!

Also, I got a new guitar – a Martin Backpacker. I brought another full size guitar with me, but I knew that I would not be up to carrying it around at Augusta this year, so I got one of these – they weigh less than 5 lbs.

I got this out at our friends’ house and we did a little singing together. So good to see old friends! The guitar is an unusual shape and combined with my own shape, I had trouble playing it and making it sound good. It’s clumsy to use, though I’ve just seen an add-on thing that I might get which would make it better……… But it’s useful and I’m happy to have it. I played it as much as I could during our week’s vacation before Augusta as I knew my calluses on my fingertips were really weak.

We stayed at another lovely Airbnb in Erie PA and met the delightful fella who was the host and his dogs. I so enjoy meeting the hosts. There is such loving care put into the hospitality – it’s a spiritual thing for me. Studmuffin has also come to like it a good bit, though he’s a confirmed hotel rat. He likes the anonymity and the bland decor and not having to talk to new people at hotels. He wouldn’t do Airbnb without me along, but when I’m there to carry the conversation, he rubs along nicely. The hosts in Erie had left a bag of grapes in the fridge for us that were perfectly ripe and delicious – so very thoughtful and we ate every one of those grapes and went to bed early.

It was at this point that I think we went to Falling Water – on our way back to Pittsburgh and then Elkins. I had bought our tickets online because there is no air conditioning in Falling Water and I wanted us to go through the tour before it got really hot outside. It was a good strategy and I really enjoyed the tour. We had a wonderful guide and it was his birthday I found out, so I sang to him later at the end of the tour. Seeing these FLW houses and FLW-inspired houses has really made me want to refurbish all of my flowerbeds this fall – God willing I’ll have the energy- and to get rid of a whole lot of stuff we have. Again energy may be a problem here, and I truly loathe having to sort through our possessions in this way. It’s one of my least favorite activities, but we have lived in our little house for 21 years and the accumulation of stuff over that time period is a bit overwhelming. Our house is just under 1000 square ft, 3 bedrooms and our main bathroom is tiny (2 people can fit if one stands in the tub….). Now that we have only 1 of our progeny living with us, you’d think that I’d be using that other room wisely……alas but no. The comedian Phyllis Diller is my “Spirit animal” and I follow something she said:

“Housework won’t kill you. But why take the chance?”

We stayed at a truly outstanding Airbnb for our last night in PA – it’s called Schnoodleberry Farm and the hosts were fantastic. Really it’s a destination in itself and we were sad that we had so little time there. We hit it off so well that I’m scheming as to how I could maybe stay there again next summer (if I’m healthy enough…).

Yes, they have peacocks, and turkeys, and chickens that like to listen to Prince, and emus…. Amazing place!

So then, Studmuffin had to travel for work the whole next week, so he flew out of Pittsburgh to Southern California. He loves his work deeply, so this was wonderful that the timing all worked out. After dropping him at the airport, I headed back down to Elkins, back to my mother-in-love’s house and time to start Blues & Swing week at Augusta!

So what is Augusta? Augusta is what the Elkins area used be called before it was Elkins. Back in the early 70’s folks were noticing that the old ways of the country people were dying out, so they started the Augusta Festival to celebrate these ways and then started doing classes. Things like weaving and blacksmithing and making pottery and old-time music with dulcimers and dancing and so on. It takes place on the very hilly campus of Davis & Elkins College. I got involved a little over 20 years ago because I was having a fairly difficult pregnancy and we knew we would be in Elkins to visit his parents and grandmother in August and have them meet the baby who would be about 3 months old at that time. Studmuffin insisted that I go to Augusta for Vocal Week – he possibly may regret his insistance ….. Anyway, I went and really learned some things and stayed up late, late, late jamming with others and took a gospel singing class that changed my life permanently. The community that is built for the week at Augusta is equally important as the classes you take. It can be hard for first-timers to make their way in – it can seem like everyone already knows each other though that isn’t really true. I always try to seek out the new ones and encourage them to keep on introducing themselves and hanging out.

So I met up with friends from years before and I have a particular affinity for the dance troupe that comes (Urban Artistry). I cannot dance the way I used to (too many joint issues) but I can still dance some, and the dancers know I love them! Here I am with Russell and Mike – simply wonderful human beings and stone cold dancers!!!

This was at the outdoor concert that week. Wish I’d gotten a photo of Hubby Jenkins playing badminton….
Mike dancing just a few steps with me. My dream is to regenerate my joints to the point I could take a week of dance at Augusta. Unlikely to happen but I can dream can’t i?
Of course we gotta do the silly faces!

I took classes in guitar and voice. I think I can finally (after decades of no success) do an alternating thumb bass on the guitar. Course I haven’t practiced much since I got home. I also got some lessons on bones, gave away a pair and bought a new pair. Definitely gonna have to make time to practice the bones – they make such a satisfying clacking sound….

Augusta is good medicine for me and I didn’t stay out very late (for me) all week. I am very grateful that my oncologist encouraged me to take this time, this vacation. Studmuffin flew black to Pittsburgh on Friday and my sister-in-law was so good to go get him so I could stay at Augusta every last minute. I even wangled time to get a massage. All good!

Then we drove down to Roanoke to spend a little time with my parents. We had a little dinner party with friends we’ve had so long they are family now. Truly a beautiful time we had. I’m so grateful. So much music, nature, good food, laughter, conversation, meeting new folks….tremendous!

Then we went home. We were gone for nearly 3 weeks and it’s great to go, but great to come home and sleep in our own bed and of course see the doggies and cats.

Hope we can go and do something like this again.


  1. Helen.
    I love that you plan to start a community sing. Music and singing has always been where I find my deepest spirituality and the most enjoyable people! Good luck with your next round of chemo – so glad you had the opportunity to enjoy such a fun and relaxing vacation. Keep the blogs coming.

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