In which I learn about the hill

Not long ago I came across the 25 Golden Rules of Running. They’re fabulous, and were immediately pinned. The guys and gals at Runner’s World have hit the nail on the head with many of these, and as I’ve looked to improve my running over the past year (has it really been that long?) I’ve returned to them often.

And on one of those returns, I started thinking about #14, The Up-Beats-Down-Rule. Please go and read the details and the entire piece here, but the rule is this: “Running uphill slows you down more than running downhill speeds you up.”

It’s totally true in running, though I’m prone to forget it. I go up a hill and slow down to 11 min/mile. I reach the crest of the hill and expect that I’ll speed up to 9 min/mile and average 10 min/mile. But that never happens. I only run down that hill at 10:30. Faster than I ran up the hill, but not as fast as I’d have run the entire course flat. It’s a huge realization for me as a parent.

Yeah, I’m onto parenting now. Follow me here.

Three days a week, my youngest daughter is in nursery while my older girls are in school. So that means that three times a week, I get approximately 5-6 hours to myself.

I have this amazingly supportive and helpful husband, but on a few occasions when I need his help with things that he doesn’t want to pitch in with, he’s been known to say, “But you had all day to yourself! How can you be tired?”


It’s the “Running uphill slows you down more than running downhill speeds you up” rule all over again.

My time three children, all in school, is totally running downhill. I get it. I appreciate it. I run child-free errands. I do child-free chores. I have a coffee date with friends or sit down and eat my lunch in peace while watching a television show. I work sometimes, but it’s work on my own terms as a freelance writer and designer, so it’s work that I love. My life when the girls are in school is downhill.

But the mornings and the afternoons and the evenings are uphill. Not always uphill. They aren’t always these steep inclines on cobblestones. But sometimes they are. And when they aren’t, they are these slow ascents, often reaching a crest where I can sometimes hardly catch my breath. I can see that downhill in the distance (in this instance, bedtime). But will it ever be enough to truly recover from the uphill?

I love parenting. I love my girls. But it is, in so many ways, an uphill battle. And those downhills that husbands or friends and family members see aren’t enough to make the entire course flat. That’s why we’re tired. It’s why we need help. It’s why working women don’t have it easier than stay-at-home mothers (that’s a whole different uphill battle that I can’t even tackle in this blog post). It’s why I had a long lunch with friends and still didn’t manage to get dinner on the table on that night after a diving lesson, a piano lesson, and a meeting with someone’s teacher (plus an impromptu play date and spelling lesson). It’s not just true of parenting–it’s why you can have this crazy, mental week at work and don’t feel refreshed after the weekend. Why the night isn’t enough to prepare you for tomorrow. Why a cat nap doesn’t make up for the sleepless night.

I am such a lucky mom to have those downhills. They’re that moment when we can catch our breath and realize how hard the incline was and how proud we are that we made it.

But the parenting route isn’t, never will be, as fast as a flat one.

And that’s probably what makes it great.


In which we “gather up the ones we think we want to perish with!”

Contrary to my numerous humorous conversations over the past few days, I’m actually acutely aware of the fact that I’m never really going to be a celebrity. I’ll never be swarmed by fans or chased down the street by paparazzi. I’ll never be sat at Barnes & Noble doing a book signing of my first novel (which I did write, at least). I’ll never perform an arena gig to 10,000 people and be broadcast around the world.

Strike that. Just that last one.


That’s just one bit of what’s been so amazing about being a part of Hope & Social‘s Band Anyone Can Join.


Don’t get me wrong–it’s a big bit. I still cannot believe that it happened. Two and a half days of rehearsal for a three minute stint on stage supporting my favorite band, launching what is one of the largest sporting events in the world, surrounded by some of the most incredible people that I’ve ever met.


It’s that last part that I really want to, have to, talk about. When I sat down this morning to start to put together this piece, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people that I’ve met and worked with and socialized with (read: drank with) during the course of this project. Really incredible people, with talents and stories and experiences to share. And share them they did. Because of these people and what they shared, I can honestly say that my life will never be the same.


Martin Green, executive producer, rocks. Like, totally rocks my socks off. He’s just so down to earth and had this really kind way about him. He is what parents should be to their kids (and for the purpose of staging this event, we were definitely like kids). He praised at all the right times, encouraged when it was needed, and was incredibly present, accessible, and pleasant. Not only that, but he toasted us at the pub afterwards. In short, he rocked (did I say that already?).


The Grand Old Uke of York have so much talent and they had fun and kept calm all day. For an entire day of rehearsals, these guys and girls stated in full costume and played ukelele. Like, played all day. They kept everyone’s spirits and energy up. What I really loved about them, though, was their collaborative spirit. They weren’t possessive about their music. Every song they played it was, “sing along”, “join us”, “what should we play next?”. They put on special “shows” for the kids, played H&S tunes to keep us all excited, and wanted everyone to be happy. They were amazing.

Of all the volunteers in this little band that the Tour of Infinite Possibility brought together, I think the Spa Town Roller Girls had perhaps the hardest job to do. Skating back and forth across a stage, over three different surfaces, spaced out evenly, not bumping into musicians of instruments, kneeling on stage, and doing some of it while holding bells and singing. You know…just your typical Thursday night. Not once did I see or hear these ladies falter. They took it all in stride. And in the waiting time, they laughed, smiled, talked, and were generally just awesome sauce.

There were more people–Westgate Primary School children who (I kid you not) were the best behaved children I’ve ever seen in my life), a brass band, more ukelele players, and a chorus and the orchestra, too. There were Kate and Craig and Helen who made the event even more amazing with all the work they did behind the scenes in conjunction with the band and with Grassington Festival. There was just so much going on and I could write forever about everyone and what they did.

But I won’t. Because if I don’t start to wind down, I’ll never finish this post. And I still have to talk about two more groups of people that made this day what it was for me.


The Northern Songbirds are the only reason that I was involved with this amazing (I know…I have used that word a lot today) event. If it weren’t for them…well, I’m not sure. These girls have become some of my closest friends in the world. Not only do we sing and dance (ha!) together, but we are there for one another, through thick and thin, the good and the bad. And this was definitely, definitely, the good. I got to stand on stage with some of my best friends, doing something we all love. Is there any better feeling in the world than that?


Finally, I have to talk about Hope & Social (yes, again). These guys are so phenomenal. They are these talented musicians, but they aren’t conceited about it. They have followers and a huge fan base and they make this music that…wow. But they’re so down to earth and approachable and just awesome. They’re friends–to everyone that wants to be friends. They’re Rich sitting at the pub and sharing really inappropriate stories and James telling me about home and Si smiling while he and Rach hug after the gig and Simon surrounded by people but still making time for everyone and Ed on a table at the bar and talking to Gary about his girlfriend and…well…you get the idea. They are more than the music they make. And that’s what makes them great.

This may have been my only arena gig, but it won’t be theirs.


And I’ll say I knew them when. And once upon a time, I was a part of “The Big Wide.”

In the meantime, I’ve done what the boys suggested in “Rolling Sideways.”

“So we’ll gather up our family, gather up our friends,

Gather up the ones we think we want to perish with…”

Thank you. Thank you all for everything.  This entire experience has changed my life for the better.  Thank you isn’t enough.

PS:  Watch this amazing performance by Hope & Social and the Band Anyone Can Join here!  Love the song?  Download it for free here!


Bill Wyman and the Rhythm Kings’ performance serves as a master-class in music at Grassington Festival

To be able to do something you love, and do it well, for decades is a gift many are denied.  But for those lucky few artists, a lifetime of music can delight entire audiences year after year.


Bill Wyman and the Rhythm Kings are among the lucky ones.  Performing in front of a large and energetic audience at Grassington Festival on 25 July, they proved, once again, that talented musicians and good music can stand the test of time.  The former Rolling Stone has gathered around him some of the greatest soul, blues, and rock ‘n roll musicians, creating a fluid group that performs so comfortably with one another that you almost feel that you’ve stumbled upon a jam session in someone’s garage, instead of a packed marquee in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  They’re music, done right.

Seattle-based singer/songwriter Emily Cimber opened the evening on a sunny evening in Grassington.  Her raspy voice, lyrics that are the perfect combination of romantic, dark, and touching, and talent on both guitar and piano set the stage for a great night of music.  Her work is a mix of country and folk, and songs like “Saying Goodbye” had the audience leaning in to one another and asking, “How do you spell ‘Cimber'”?


The lead in to the evening’s headliners was perfectly coordinated, with Wyman taking the stage to a loud chorus of applause and introducing the kings (and queen) that make up the Rhythm Kings.  Highlights of the evening (for me, at least!) were without a doubt Frank Meade’s masterful performances on the harmonica, Bev Skeet’s incredible vocals on “This is a Man’s World,” and the opportunity to hear a range of classics that I haven’t heard in years, with a new twist.


Seeing Bill Wyman and the Rhythm Kings live in concert?  Awesome.

An introduction to Emily Cimber, a new talent who’s right up my alley?  Amazing.

The opportunity to engage in audience participation during “Talk to Me, Baby” with legends of their craft?  Absolutely priceless.



In which music brings us together…

Hope&Social, TIP, Knaresborough
image courtesy of Rachel Auty

One of the greatest things about the Tour of Infinite Possibility was that it brought together people from various walks of life.  No matter your age, your gender, or your nationality, there was room for you up on stage with Hope&Social and in the Band Anyone Can Join.  There was room for you to sing.  There was room for you to dance.  There was room for you to ring bells and play ukeleles or any other instrument that struck your fancy.  And there was most certainly room for you in the audience.  We were all united by the music Hope&Social created and shared with us.  We were all a part of “The Big Wide.”

All, except, for my daughters.

I’ll admit that as the mother of three young ones, it’s nice to have something in my life that’s just for and just about me.  Singing with the Northern Songbirds has been that in a way that many other things haven’t, and have filled a uniquely-shaped hole in my life.  I blogged about it just last week, in fact.  Singing was a way for me to find my voice again.

So I don’t really share much of it with my husband and children.  Sure, they know I sing in a choir.  They know I go to rehearsals and gigs.  They have a vague understanding of the fact that they might be able to see me on stage for half a second during a camera pan at the Tour de France Grand Depart Opening Ceremony.  But really, for my kids especially, my musical talent is a pretty abstract concept.

That was until the Tour of Infinite Possibility.

To be fair, the conversation that I had with my girls on the morning of the Knaresborough gig went something like this:

Me:  “Today you guys are going to get to come hear Mommy sing with Hope & Social.”

Chorus of Girls: “No.  Boring.  It’s too hot outside.  Who are they?  We don’t want to.  We’re not going.”

I might be paraphrasing (or not).  But the general idea is that the girls have no experience with gigs, certainly not one that I’m in, so they had no frame of reference for what this glorious pedal-powered stage and these amazing musicians would entail.  And they weren’t interested.

Of course, being the caring, kind-hearted parent that I am, I whined and complained about their whining and complaining, and my husband forced them into the car despite their protests (which you can still do when they’re relatively little).  Because that’s how we roll.

And the Tour of Infinite Possibility did what I really didn’t think it could do.  It brought my family together in this incredibly new and unique way.  The girls got to see me on stage, a big stage with a real band, singing.  They got to be a part of an engaged and excited audience at a concert, something they’ve never done before.  They got to pedal the bikes and power the stage.  They got free sweets from the amazing crew and event organizers.


They loved every minute of it.

Some direct quotes from the girls after the concert:

“That was awesome!”

“I was singing along.”

“I loved it.”

“I could see you up there!”

I worried that when I sat down to write this blog post, I wouldn’t be able to write anything different than what I wrote about the Harrogate gig.  But the truth is, I’ve had this completely different, but equally amazing experience.  Because before, Hope&Social and the Tour of Infinite Possibility made me feel like I was a part of something special.  And now…now they’ve done it for my entire family.

There aren’t any words that I can find to say “thank you” for that.

So thank you.  Just, thank you.




In which I hate making pancakes

Every time the girls ask me to make pancakes, I smile and point them towards Marcus.  “Daddy does the pancakes!”  It’s become so engrained in them now that they’ve started repeating my lines before I do, “Mommy can’t do pancakes!  Mommy burns pancakes.”  I’d smile if the truth wasn’t so very, very sad.

In fact, I know the way to make a perfect pancake.  I remember many, many a weekend morning at my grandparents’ house with pecan twirls in the freezer and my grandfather detailing the perfect way to make a pancake.  How wet the batter needed to be.  How hot the griddle should be when you flick the water on it.  How many seconds between bubble pops and flips.  The perfect pancake.

Every time I make a pancake, I think of my Poppy.  We lost him in 2012.  He didn’t die, though we’d spent the better part of a year worried that the leukemia would take him.  Instead, we found out that, after forty years with my Nanee, he wasn’t a very good man. And he’s gone now.  There’s so much to the story–but it isn’t mine to tell, and though fancy myself a storyteller, I wouldn’t tell it even if I could.  Or I couldn’t tell it even if I should.  I’m not sure.

But the point is, he’s gone.  And I’ve spent the better part of two years trying to figure out how to make peace with images of the man that taught me to make the perfect pancake and the man that he turned out to be.  And it makes me sad every time I think about it.  About him.

I shouldn’t feel sad.  It’s Father’s Day (well, it was when I started writing this and pondered whether or not I really wanted to put it all “out there”) and I’m blessed with a wonderful father.  I’ve got an amazing husband, who’s the perfect father to my three daughters.  I’ve got uncles and brothers-in-law and godfathers and my granddaddy in heaven watching over me.  My life is filled with blessings.

But maybe one day, I’ll be able to show the girls how to make the perfect pancake without feeling like I might cry.


In which I meet the Queen…

Ha!  I wish!

But, I did see her while experiencing something I’d consider quintessentially British, the Royal Ascot.  My friend Carrie and I joined in with a bus full of other ladies in large hats and fancy dresses and made the trek from Harrogate to London.  We spent several hours at the gorgeous Henley-on-Thames before getting a good night’s sleep and gearing up for the big day (incidentally, Ladies Day).  

It was such fun!  The hats were a massive highlight, in addition to the Royal Procession.  We watched each of the 6 races from a different vantage point, including the grandstand and as close to the track as we could get!  I called my dad and we picked a horse to bet on in the Gold Cup (note: we lost).  I drank (responsibly!).  I laughed and smiled and watched and listened.

And I’ll definitely go back!  



In which I find my voice…

Clearly, this is not a typical problem for me.  I would probably (and I definitely have) talked to myself if a set of ears isn’t available.  But in this instance, I’m not referring to my talking voice.  I’m talking about my singing voice.

Yes.  That’s right.  I sing.

When I was a little girl I loved to sing.  I loved singing (loudly) in my elementary and middle school choruses.  I always sang in the school talent shows (solos or duets).  I vividly remember begging for singing lessons for Christmas and my birthdays. While I never actually thought I’d be the next Madonna, I was pretty sure I sounded exactly like her when I was singing in the shower. 

Sadly, my dreams of dancing and singing on stage with a funnel-shaped bra never panned out.  I left singing far behind when I hit high school and never looked back.

When I arrived in Harrogate last summer, my friend Anne introduced me to her choir, the Northern Songbirds.  “Do you sing?”  she said earnestly.  I hemmed and hawed, my singing days almost two decades behind me.  “No.  I don’t sing.”

But suddenly, I found myself at choir rehearsals and singing at a friend’s 40th birthday party and accompanying a massively popular Yorkshire-based band. 

And my life hasn’t been the same since.  Not only am I surrounded by these amazingly talented women with incredible personalities and these huge hearts, but I get to be one of them.  And among them, with them, I’ve found my voice. I may not always hit every note, and maybe I need to practice reading music a little bit more, but I think I bring something to our little choir and the first sopranos.  It’s phenomenal.

So, that’s all the waxing poetic.  I started this blog post with one (of many) incredible choir experiences to recount.  Before I joined the Northern Songbirds in September, I got to see them perform with Hope & Social (the aforementioned massively popular Yorkshire-based band) during Knaresborough’s feva festival.  Little did I know that that performance would be the beginning of a continuing friendship, both personal and professional, between the Songbirds and H&S, and that I would get to be a part of it.  Lucky me!

Fast-forward to yesterday, where the Yorkshire Festival, in association with the Grassington Festival, brought Hope & Social to Harrogate as part of the Tour of Infinite Possibility.  Of course, the Songbirds were thrilled to be a part of it!  We weren’t the only ones involved–dozens of others came out to sing or play an instrument with the Band Anyone Can Join.  There were roller girls and ukeleles and other choirs and workshops and drinks and laughs and mistakes and smiles and friendships and…magic.  There was magic.

Last night’s performance was amazing.  Sure, I definitely “Bop-bop-bop”-ed at the wrong point, prompting James to laugh at me.  And I *may* have been told off by Simon for chatting between songs (yes–I’m the American…and yes, I only had one pint pre-show!).  But it was incredible.  Singing.  With an amazing band.  In front of a spectacular audience.  Surrounded by my closest friends and choir-mates. 

What more is there?

Just the Opening Ceremonies for the Tour de France Grand Depart, that’s what. 

That’s right.  Hope & Social will be performing “The Big Wide,” the Yorkshire Festival’s theme song, live at the event in the Leeds Arena, and it will be broadcast to 3 million people.  And they asked us, as part of their Band Anyone Can Join, to join them.

After over twenty years, I’ve found my (singing) voice again.  And it feels pretty incredible.