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Friday, December 30, 2005

Feeding the Fire

One of my favorite regional/local magazines is Northern Woodlands (another is the surprisingly good State of Vermont mag Vermont Life). As its subheading professes, A New Way of Looking at the Forest, Northern Woodlands isn't quite a trade magazine. It is chock full of advertisements, but also numerous informational nuggets concerning the natural environment. Each issue opens with A Look at the Season's Main Events which describes interesting natural happenings for the upcoming weeks. The big news for the first week of January, specifically Jan 3-4, is the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower. With an early setting mid-evening new moon, it should be quite the show.

The latest issue also has a great article that compares the cost of heating a home with wood vs. oil. I grew up with wood heat, back when a cord of wood cost closer to $70, but my current home runs on oil (by far the primary heating fuel across the State, at 59%). I still get my chopping and stacking fix, though, by helping friends put up their winter supply, which consists of seasoned quality wood costing around $225/cord.

The article, Whittling Down the Fuel Bill, states that the 50% increase in home heating oil in the last year have made firewood, which is seeing price increases at nearly the same level, the better option. ...if you're spending less than $348.18 per cord, you're paying less for the BTUs to heat your house with wood than with oil. At $225 or below, you are paying more than a third less.

Now if I can just find a way to get my parent's old Timberline wood stove up to my house...

Al Green - Light My Fire (links to hypemachine stream of the classic Doors Cover)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Banner "contest"

Not sure if the full picture helps, but here it is:This is Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project in Seattle. I took the photo back in 2002 during a wild adventure through the NW (windsurfing on a dark day in Hood River, OR, threatened by rednecks in Redwoods NP, shopping in a crazy store in Eureka, CA that was filled with carnivorous plants and photographs of human deformities, driving through massive clear-cuts in order to backpack with a party of 8 in the northwestern most part of the Olympic Peninsula, etc). It's a crazy building. We didn't end up going inside, as the tickets were something like 30 bucks each. That was fine, as I was in awe of all the free stuff (like this building).

Good job =A=, you were as close as anyone could be. Stay tuned for the next non-contest (aka nontest).

Jimi Hendrix - Stone Free.mp3 (Hey Joe B-Side)
The Mountain Goats - The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton.mp3 (live)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


After a nice 5 day break I'm back. I was hoping to feel a bit more refreshed, but I'll take what I've got: half-way healthy and a super chill Vermont.

We are currently in the weird lull period between Christmas and New Years. This year Hanukkah happens sit right in between, but as I've been told again and again, "Hanukkah isn't a big deal." Add that with an office where the phone doesn't ring and you've got a great transition from holiday.

But change is here, especially in Central Vermont. I was informed yesterday by a relative in Georgia that a rock slide took place in Montpelier. A quick trip to the internet and I found out that a slide did in fact take place, a most drastic one in deed. Luckily no one was hurt. But our capital city was once again on the national news. I believe it was the first time since the Vermont succession convention back in October. Good old Montpelier.

Most other changes are a bit more subtle. To ring in the new year I've added a new banner to the page (If I had something good to give away I'd run a contest to see if readers can identify the photograph. I don't have anything good, but feel free to put your guess in the comments). The sidebar also has a new music bar, which highlights the top albums that I've played on my work computer from the previous week (via Last.fm) . A host of new links have been added as well, including my father's blog (!) and a photo page from friends up in the great dark cold north.

My ClustrMap indicates that this site has been viewed from across the globe (including the Midway Islands!). I've got faith that Africa and Antarctica will come through.

If change is the only constant, then I hope to remain flexible. But maybe tomorrow, for right now I'm enjoying the downtime.

Crystal Skulls - No Room For Change.mp3

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas

I shouldn't be blogging during the next few days. If I do, then I've got more of a habit then a hobby. So here's a winter wonderland picture (taken last weekend near the house) to tied you over until after the holiday.

Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song.mp3

Thursday, December 22, 2005


For those looking to make a good end of year mix cd, check out shoepal's collection of mp3s that he's collected over the past year (to clarify, there's more then just 2005 stuff on there). The further you go down the list the more likely you'll come across a broken link, but it contains a great number of gems - such as Norfolk & Western's Terrified and The Magnetic Fields' Long Vermont Roads. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Short on Time

Today is the winter solstice - shortest day of the year. Officially the sun was up at 7:23 am and will be down at 4:14 pm (8 hrs and 51 min), but it didn't go above the horizon until after I was at work (7:45 am) and will be below hill out my window by 4 pm. But not like I could see the sun anyway, as the clouds are thick as New England Clam Chowdah.

For the most part, tomorrow's day will be as short and the sun won't start coming up any earlier until halfway through January. But the fact of the matter remains that from here on out the nights are getting shorter. No matter how bone chilling or grey it might get, each day for the next 6 months will be filled with more sunlight. Yeah.

Makes me think of my friends in Iqaluit on Baffin Island (Lat 63.5N). This great "city" just below the Artic Circle was established in 1942 as a US Air Force base and is now the capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, with a population of about 3,000. Today they had 4 hrs and 21 minutes of sunlight (yesterday's high was -15 degrees Fahrenheit). No wonder why Baffin Island is one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world - less then 10,000 people on a landmass one and a half times the size of Germany. Sweet, sweet Nunavut.

Archer Prewitt - Way of the Sun.mp3

Monday, December 19, 2005

Crazy Delicious

This has to be SNL's bestest thing since More Cowbell:

"Call us Aaron Burr the way we're dropping Hamiltons."

The Chronic-*what*-cles of Narnia.wmv (thnx extrawack!)


Options are limited for my family when we have short days (8hrs 51mins of daylight), cold weather (18 degrees right now), and a very active 1.5 year old. So what do we do when he's bounced on every wall in the house? The answer is Playland: more specifically McDonald's Playland (I guess it's actually called Playplace, but since every place is a playplace for a little guy, we call it the land of play, because it is of a different world).

I remember visiting some strange family in "upcountry" South Carolina during my first Easter break from college and ordering cheese on a hamburger bun after being dragged to McDonald's. Having read Fast Food Nation, watched Super Size Me, and being a fan of AdBusters, I would have never seen myself going to McDonald's by choice for my own needs - let alone bring my child there. But parenthood and family is all about compromises. I like like to think it makes me a good father.

But I've found it to be not so dreadful a place. Wearing socks and running through stories of bright plastic tunnels and romper rooms is really fun, especially when my little bundle is having a blast. The reason I'm posting about this isn’t because I think Mickey Dee’s is cool, but because of the conversations I've had/have overheard.

The first time we were there I overheard a woman explain to a man that the reason she like Tennessee (where he was from) so dang much was because "you can sit in a diner and smoke in peace while you eat your eggs." Her nine year old son then went around the restaurant telling all of his friends (it was a birthday party) "you know what? In Tennessee you can smoke while you eat eggs in a diner" and the friends responding "COOL!" The golden arches lived up to the stereotype beyond my expectations.

But then something different happened. Later that evening I started talking to a man whose son was playing with my boy. We talked about his daughter who was starting Peace Corps in Bangladesh and how the world she is experiencing is vastly different. He goes on to tell me that "Americans constitute 5% of the world's population but consume 25% of the world's resources." [Sure I found it a bit ironic that we were talking about over consumptive Americans in a McDonald's, but I decided not to go into that].

This evening I started talking to a fella of the same age with the same first name about God. After a few pleasantries I thought he asked me if I liked fishing, and I responded "no." A few moments later I realized we weren't on the same page and said, "Did you say fishing?" He responded, "No, I said God." Waaah? As is my nature, I decided to jump in and found myself in a conversation covering Martin Luther, his "non-denominational family focused church" that follows "a very literal translation of the Bible," snowshoeing, organic food (again ironic), chiropractic work, tattoos, and a host of other subjects. My son and I sat with him and his family of three children and his (young) wife. They were all in plain full body covered clothing including a head covering for the mother of the group.

Right when I left, after I'd given him my phone number (!!!???), I realized how (at least this) Vermont McDonald’s is the nexus of all that is the Green Mountains. Like high school for those with kids, it's the place where every road leads, no matter if you think eggs and cigarettes are cool, are saddened by the American lifestyle, or believe that Jesus is God in human flesh. And you know what, I really appreciate that mix. Now if I can just keep the kid from those insanely addictive fries.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Rocket Love

They say up here that you will dread the winter if you don't find a way to get out and enjoy it. My biggest winter enjoyment is sledding.

I've been an avid skier for many years. I was logging 50 days on the slopes while in high school, but 7 years in the Southern Appalachians tempered my appetite (yes I did ski plenty in West Virginia, but it really wasn't the same). One of my main motivations in coming back north was the skiing. But recurring foot problems (= boot fitting problems) and a lack of financial resources (Stowe: $76/day and $1,507/season pass) have kept me off the lifts. That's what brought me to sledding. Not the sledding from my youthful days, but Free Sledding/Backcountry Sledding.

Free Sledding involves the use of a highly maneuverable sled where the fun is opened up to more then backyard slopes, but closed roads, and the backcountry. At this point three free sleds are on the market: the Vermont made Hammerhead, the international Airboard, and the Warren, Vermont based Mad River Rocket. All three provide the rider the chance to zip down previously unavailable terrain with incredible speed and control. The first two require the rider to go head first, while the Mad River Rocket sledder sits in a kneeled position ala a kneeboard. The Rocket costs around $90 bucks, while the Hammerhead and Airboard will have you shelling out nearly $300 bones. Needless to say, I've got a Rocket.

There are kids out there doing amazing things with the Rocket. Some up in Underhill are jumping 80 ft gaps (video), corked 540s (video), and massive backflips (video). While I appreciate what they are doing, that just isn't my thing (even though I've got a nice little kicker in the backyard). What I live for is the backcountry: throwing on a pair of snowshoes and spending a good couple hours climbing up a trail and then bombing down it in less then 20 minutes. Well worn trails can make the riding like going down a luge track, although my favorite is riding deep powder through the trees. The steering isn't perfect, but with enough practice turns come easy. The best feeling is floating on top of the snow and swooshing along with minimal spray (can't imagine riding one of the other two sleds in those situations).

While the kids are on the town hill having a blast on the latest toy (like the skurfer, the snow hog, and this worst idea ever), I'll be puffing up through the woods looking for the perfect run (hoping I don't kill myself). Right now I'm loving winter.

Air - Surfing on a Rocket (Juan Maclean Remix).mp3

Thursday, December 15, 2005


The latest addition to the Central Vermont blogger front is Analog Giant written by K. He's a Montpelier resident by way of the Pacific Northwest and has knack for social commentary, is a lover of sports, and has great taste in music. Welcome K., glad to see you're no longer anonymous.

Here's a track that has nothing to do with Analog Giant, but I find pretty dang wonderful:
Feist - Lovers Spit (live Broken Social Scene cover).mp3

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Not Alone

I got to listen to the majority of VPR's Switchboard program that focused on the best music of 2005. The two hosts shared clips of their favorites, emailed suggestions, and had callers provide their picks. As to be expected, the majority of the stuff played was typical public radio fair - easy to listen to, roots based, but polished and radio ready. The exception was Doorbell from the White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan (some may argue it’s their most radio safe album to date). Most of the comments reinforced the easy listening genre - but with more of a focus on local acts (the exception being the woman who was into anime soundtracks and the middle aged fan of Matisyahu). Most, but not all.

The second largest group talked about the indie scene (of the Pitchforkmedia Best New Music variety). Someone called in talking about M.I.A., another about Arcade Fire (yes we all know it was from 2004, no need to get all up in her case), the New Pornographers/AC Newman, and Clap Your Hands & Say Yeah. No too bad at all folks - I'm very impressed. That proves that there are plenty of us out here. The individual recommending the New Pornographers & AC Newman, “Jeff from Montpelier,” even took a few moments to plug the movement to get more indie programming. Too bad the host just dismissed Jeff's comment with "we've heard so many different types of music tonight we wouldn't know what to play." Now that's just dumb.

I've said it here before and I'll say it again, Vermonters are ready for indie rock to come out of their radios. We'll sort of. One look at the list of upcoming acts at our regional music venue, Higher Ground, and you'll realize the dearth of indie shows. If the indie acts aren't supported when they come to town, then doesn't that reinforce current VPR programming?

Speaking up on the radio tonight was a great step. I'm thankful for all that went through the trouble to get your voices heard. Now let's just don't forget to support the live acts.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Iron&Wine/Calexico - Spectrum, Montréal - Full

The show was easy. Almost too easy. Despite a late start, Flatlander and I made it over the boarder without a hitch, grabbed some sweet sushi, got a great parking spot, and walked right into the venue. Le Spectrum de Montréal is a large place - a substantial balcony filled with tables and the periphery of the first floor crammed with the same. It was the largest venue I'd been to in a good number of years.

We walked in a few moments past the hour and were welcomed by rock. And when I say rock, I mean we looked at each other wondering if we were at the right show rock. Calexico were putting on a show, shredding and jamming, sounding much stronger and crisper then the atmospheric post-rock that I'd heard on their records. The large stage was filled with horns, pedal steel, drums, percussion, and at points a small guitar army. They eventually played a few tunes that I recollected from their third disc, The Black Light. Crystalizing the mood were the screen behind them playing classic flora and fauna films of the sort one might find in a neglected drawer in a high school biology classroom and their parting "Tuscan, Arizona."

Salvador Duran (not this yawner) immediately took right-of-center stage and played a handful of beautiful flamenco (or flamencoish, depending on who you ask). It was guttural, it was in Spanish, it had stomping percussion, there were galloping horse noises coming from his mouth, it had fast start-stop guitar, and there was harmonica all delivered with pure conviction, charisma, and passion. So much passion, in fact, that at one point I was surrounded by three couples sucking face. THREE COUPLES bumping in to me with their eyes closed and hormones raging. I was afraid that I accidently walked into some sort of make-out club. Must of been the flamenco.

After a small break and a move to the front, Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) and his sister, Sarah, took the stage. His beard was big and the songs started hushed. But as he went through his cataloge more members of Calexico sat in. The group ebbed and flowed (peaking at 11) along with the music. Most of the tunes started with his normal intimate manner (added by the occasional song restructuring), but they seemed to build and become larger and grander. Never too large, but more realized, as if the album versions were the instructions and the live version was the final product.

After nearly an hour of Iron & Wine the whole group came out for the remainder. They played nearly the entire In the Reins EP and then some, including a cover of The Velvet Underground's All Tomorrow's Parties. They truely did mesh the grandeur of Calexico with the intimacy of Iron & Wine. It was a great experience with three full hours of music. I certainly wasn't the only one who enjoyed the long and late show, for when we left we must of blew past a couple hundred smiling people in the coat check line.

Again, here's the NPR broadcast of their show in DC from 11/30/05. More of my photos from the show are here. For better quality shots, check out Chromwave's photos from the following night in Toronto.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Iron&Wine/Calexico in Monteal - Brief

I've posted pictures from Thursday's show on my flickr account. Click here for a slideshow. They aren't the greatest shots - dang backlighting!Sorry, but I don't have time for a review now. One is coming soon. I'm a bit busy with the inlaws right now.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Favorite Songs of 2005

Keeping with the theme of year end lists, here are my top tracks of the year. I originally was just going to stick with five, but the Gonzalez cover of The Knife's Heartbeats wouldn't quit. So, I've added a different category just for the Hispanic Swede (cause, come on, he is a different category) - best cover. You can call it a bonus.

When putting these tracks together, I came across Sean at Said the Gramophone's My 22 Favourite Songs of 2005 post. I was dumbfounded when I noticed the overlap between our lists. Not like it matters, but I'd like to note that I came up with these as independently as one can in this day and age.

My top 5(+1) songs of 2005:
1) Okkervil River - For Real.mp3
2) Clap Your Hands & Say Yeah - The Skin of My Country Yellow Teeth.mp3
3) Broken Social Scene - Ibi Dreams of Pavement.mp3
4) Imogen Heap - Hide & Seek.mp3
5) Kelly Clarkson - Since U Been Gone.mp3

Cover of 2005 - José González - Heartbeats.mp3 (The Knife)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Favorite Records of 2005

It seems like everyone's got themselves a best music of 2005 list these days. Just look around the internerd and you are bound to find one (or just click on any of these: My Old Kentucky Blog, Gorilla vs Bear, Popsheep, Take Your Medicine, Grey Will Fade, and Information Leafblower).

I wasn't thinking about my best of until our very own Vermont Public Radio came knocking (well they didn't really knock as much as informed a friend who told me. I know, weak.). VPR's Switchboard program is requesting its listeners to share their best albums of 2005 for inclusion in next Tuesday's show (and as a not so added bonus, they will be featuring a list of listener favorites in a future edition of their e-newsletter!). If you're lucky you might even end up on the show.

My top 5 albums of the year are:
1) Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise (Chicago.mp3)
2) Clap Your Hands & Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands & Say Yeah (Upon this Tidal Wave of Young Blood.mp3)
3) Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene (7/4 (Shoreline).mp3)
4) My Morning Jacket - Z (Anytime.mp3)
5) Wolf Parade - Apologize to the Queen Mary (Shine a Light.mp3)

My main motivation in sharing the music that moves me with VPR was to try and influence future programming. Flatlander wrote a great post on this some months back. I'm not thinking radio revolution in the vein of Seattle/Tacoma's KEXP or Minnesota Public Radio's The Current, but do believe that Vermont listeners have a wider palate then just talk and classical.

Switchboard's Best Music of 2005 will air on VPR next Tuesday at 7 pm.

Santa's Vermont Sleigh

I've always been a fan of community happenings. Each week I scour the paper looking for the church spaghetti dinners, craft fairs, book sales, parades, car shows, sock sales, and community dances. I don't go to them all, but I've been told more then once that I've been to more events then people who have lived in the area their whole lives.

That being said, Christmas time for me is, well, uhh...I guess it's like Christmas. Nearly every weekend I drag the family out for one happening or another (and let me tell you, I feel a lot better about it now that I've got a kid to bring along). The number of events that take place during the foliage season barely hold a candle to what takes place during the run up to Christmas. Nearly every community has a tree lighting event (two years ago I was at the lighting of the Statehouse tree, all by my lonesome), there are cookie/candy making demonstrations, and more carolers than you can shake a stick at.

Last night the family and I headed over to the annual lighting of Montpelier's Christmas tree, which is sponsored by the City's downtown association. Among other things, there was a tuba band, ginger bread decorating, and Santa Clause. But Santa wasn't the main attraction (while his plumber's crack was the real distraction). The kids standing in line were only focusing on one thing: the cement truck. A fixture in Central Vermont each holiday season, the S.T. Griswold cement mixing truck is decorated with over 20,000 lights. I remember seeing it driving down the interstate last year, but I wasn't sure what my eyes were telling me. Amidst the diesel fumes and the rumble, the truck sat spinning for all the kids and grown-ups to see.
Two things I wonder:
1) Is this Santa's preferred mode of transportation?
2) How do they keep the lights from getting wrapped around the spinning body?

Now that's Christmas - mystery, amazement, & tradition.

Sufjan Stevens - That Was the Worst Christmas Ever.mp3
Ella Fitzgerald - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.mp3
Bright Eyes - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.mp3

For a great indie christmas mixtape, check out the one that Gorilla vs. Bear has put together.

I apologize for the poor picture quality. My next cell phone will have a much higher grade camera. For much nicer pictures, check out the great downtown Montpelier blog Terrapin-Gardens. This one of Scully is my favorite.