As soon as she asks me the question, our conversation dies. Sitting at the side of the pool, swirling our feet in the water, she says, “Tell me about your your life. What’s new?”

I wrack my brain but quickly realize I have nothing to say. What could I say? My life, in comparison to hers, is so normal. With three well-adjusted kids, a good husband, and a comfortable home I feel, well… boring. Grasping for something that might sound engaging I blurt,”I taught struggling readers a year ago!” Does that count? What else? Should I tell her I read interesting books*? That even though I don’t appear interesting myself, I’ve read about interesting people?

“Do you guys live in the country?” She tries again–we’d been talking about permaculture and the crater garden she recently built on her farm.

“Uh, no” I answer lamely. I launch into a spiel about how no rural properties had been available when we were looking, when Vivian interrupts us before I finish.

“You should tell her about our garden. And the park behind our house,” Belén whispers to me. But by then, our conversation is over.

I met Barb when we came to fiddle camp two years earlier. Now we were back again, reacquainting ourselves with old faces and meeting new ones. Before the pool conversation I’d seen Barb at her trailer, her silvery hair pulled back into a low pony tail, feeding their adopted crow. They found the crow with a broken leg weeks before camp and even though she had 6 of her own children to pack up, she knew she couldn’t leave the bird on its own.

“Of course!” I joke when she tells me about bringing the bird, “You need more to do.” But as far as I can tell, nothing seems too overwhelming for her. As a single mother, raising permanent foster children, she also runs an organic farm, home schools the kids, and makes sure they are steeped in music. While passing bread crumbs to the crow with one hand, and carding raw wool with the other, she explains how music affects the brain and why she thinks it has something to do with the reason her children don’t exhibit the typical symptoms of FAS, even though they were exposed to drugs and alcohol in utero. Later in the day, after supper, I see her spinning wool with a drop spindle. And why not? Why not spin your own wool after making a bonfire, roasting wieners, and kayaking with a pack of children?

She’s not the only one at camp I want to find more about. While Michael designs my latte with steamed milk, he tells me he used to preach, instead of grind coffee, for a living. “Owning a coffee shop is a lot like being a professional Christian.” I look confused so he explains, “Professional Christian? Oh, that’s just what I call being a pastor.” He goes on, “I talk to a lot of people every day. You know, planning funerals, marital counseling… I do it all over drinks. I guess if anyone wanted to hire me as a professional Christian again I’d ask them if I could just go ahead and keep baking. Keep making coffee. Keep doing what I’m doing.”

Then there’s Easton, a twenty-something from Florida who just spent a month at a Zen monastery in New York, decided to wwoof in Canada, and landed up here at the Kitchen Party to learn the banjo. I also meet Anna; she tells me about living in Ecuador with her children and the ten-day canoe trips they take every year. One evening, during an outdoor concert, I share a picnic bench with one of the instructors. Cara Luft, singer-songwriter, banjo and guitar player extraordinaire (also founding member of the Wailin’ Jennys), tells me about life in the music business. “I live in Winnipeg but I’m not there much.” She travels across the globe, as do many of the musicians who instruct at this camp, and I feel a little star-struck. We listen to the band playing on stage and between songs and I ask her as many questions as I can. I’m curious about what it must be like to be her; famous, talented, and so very… interesting. Then she asks me a question.

“Are you here with anyone, or just your kids?”

“Oh, yeah… I mean, no. I have a husband, but he’s not here. He’ll come for the concert on Friday night.”

She nods in my direction and I look at the smile lines around her mouth. She must be around my age. Maybe forty?

“And You?”

“Nope, I’m all alone.” She fakes sobbing, her eyes still twinkling, and I laugh but suddenly I’m less star-struck.

The band on stage is introducing their next tune–something about performing it in Tasmania this winter. Then the blue-eyed fiddler starts singing his heart-breaking song, and when all the teen-age girls swoon I think about the people around me: the woman who invests herself in her foster children, the pastor-turned-barista, the canoeing family, and all the traveling musicians. There are many ways to live. So many ways to be.  Famous, single, married, musical, generous, rich, poor…

Stan comes on the last evening like I said he would. He leans forward and watches our daughters with a wide grin as they perform what they’ve learned this week. When Vivian gets tired I leave the crowd and stroll her under starlight while string music floats on the warm wind. Soon camp will be over; there will be goodbyes and promises for next year; musicians will pack up instruments and head for the road. We will too; but we’ll be going home, back to our own life. And I’m so glad it’s ours, boring as ever.




*This well-written memoir by Alabama lawyer, Bryan Stevenson angered, shocked, and inspired me all at the same time. I’d be curious to hear how a Canadian lawyer with experience in our criminal justice system might respond to his stories. Hint, hint 🙂



What do energy consumption, a school classroom, and fiddle camp have in common?

Isn’t it weird when you hear the same message from several different sources? Like when every book you read seems to point to a similar truth, or random people talk to you about a certain issue. Lately it’s been that way for me as I learn about the power people have over other people–otherwise known as community. In the last month, I’ve heard the same message from a behavioural scientist, an elementary school teacher, and a fiddle intsructor: positive change and growth happens with other people. I guess it’s not that earth shattering–I learned about peer pressure in junior high health class and we know, intuitively, that humans are social creatures–but it still fascinates me.DSCN5850_

Alex Laskey shares (on TEDtalks) about the best way to encourage homeowners to consume less energy. He’s found that residents don’t respond to moral pleas (help save our planet) or even financial incentives (energy efficient fixtures save you money). What really works is social pressure; letting people know how much energy they use compared to their neighbours. Once people find out the Jones’ energy bill is a fraction of their own, only then are they motivated to make lifestyle changes.


Belén, at a the nightly circle jam where 80 musicians sat in a big circle and played/improvised the same tune. Instruction in fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo and keyboard was offered during the day.

During the last month of school I visited my friend’s fifth grade classroom to observe how she motivates her students. The moment I stepped through the doorway I recognized one of her top priorities: to foster a community of readers. There were couches, chairs, even a fireplace! and baskets of books everywhere. When it was time for individual reading the students scuttled away with their books like cockroaches, trying to find a corner to settle into. Later, my friend gathered the students into a circle to talk about what they’d been reading and make recommendations for the summer. From the tone of their voices I might have thought they were discussing their summer plans or a vacation at Disneyland, when they were actually suggesting the next title their friends should get their hands on.

The atmosphere in the classroom didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t a random phenomenon. My teacher friend is passionate about turning ho-hum readers into voracious consumers of literature, and she does this through community; intentionally making her classroom a place where every student ups the ante, talking about the books they love and hate. By the end of the year they all experience the explosive nature of community… and they’ve all read more books than they would’ve imagined possible.


This was after a day of workshops. I was really tired and intended to take a nap, but then Susanna started playing “Pelican Reel” and I had to pick up my fiddle to learn it.

As you can tell from the pictures, we were making music last week… in community.

I heard Susanna’s instructor, Gordon Stobbe, comment, “The fiddle is a social instrument… you don’t play it alone in your basement to get better. It comes alive with other instruments.” And after a week of playing with other people, I think he’s right. In four days we learned more tunes and technique than months of weekly lessons/practise.


Susanna’s class. They had Gordon Stobbe all to themselves for the week!


Susanna, at age six, was the second youngest camper, but she wasn’t in the beginners class. In her place, was a seventy-four-year-old man who wanted to learn how to play the violin. When I congratulated him on taking the initiative to come to camp, he grinned and said, “Aw, I shoulda’ started thirty years ago.”

“But you’re here now,” I reminded him. “I hope I remember you when I’m seventy-four and think it’s too late to learn something new.”

Most evenings there were square dances and also old-time dances. There’s something about do-si-doing with teenagers and octogenarians that makes the world seem like a better place.


My mom came along for part of the week. She didn’t take any classes but joined in on the dancing, food, and concerts.


… she also joined us in our cozy tent.


Street signs around town are named after popular fiddle tunes.



one of the workshop venues: an old orthodox church


playing inside the church



Saying goodbye to new friends…

One of the best resources for tapping into growth and transformation is all around us: the people we connect with. They can reduce our energy consumption, turn us into readers and make our fiddles sing!

Wishing you great connections today,