The Red Accordion Diaries

How my mother's grief helped me move forward 

I don't remember my grandmother. I was 4 when she died, and all I have is a flash of dark hair, a yellow dress, some paper dolls and the smell of stale cigarettes. Going through my mom's house has given me a little glimpse here and there (my grandmother lived in the house for 25 years), but it also forces me to acknowledge that my kids won't remember my mother.

I remember the morning my grandmother died. It was Easter Sunday, April 3, 1983. I was in the dining room, hiding with my basket of chocolates when the phone rang and my mother answered. "Mom's not breathing," her brother informed her. We'd celebrated Evelyn's 63rd birthday earlier that week, and then she had not woken up that Sunday, the result of a massive heart attack in her sleep.

The funeral came. I caught chicken pox from my cousin Samantha. The sympathy cards rolled in for my mother. Most were stacked in a pile -- a pile I'm sure I'll find soon as I continue to clean out my my mother's house (she never threw out anything) -- but one, only one, my mom framed.

This was major because framing was a luxury we never really had. We had drawers and drawers and cardboard tubes full of thing she intended to frame, you know, someday when there was disposable income for that sort of thing. But she must have grabbed a cheap document frame from Woolworth's because I remember a single sheet of paper with a poem on it, written by their friend Glenn, whom we knew from such classy establishments such as the Zanzibar and Germantown Cafe:
I'm sorry. Sounds trite, doesn't it?If sugar cookies or balloons or a warm summer day could make your smile, I'd give them to you. Remember your daughter -- her laugh, her zest for life. That's your mother's legacy.
There were a few other lines in the middle, and I think I've invented the part about the "warm summer day," but I remember hiding in the dining room eating through the rest of my Easter basket and staring at this new framed artwork on the wall -- words only, and not even a card, just blank stationery and a ballpoint pen. I read that poem daily for many years and didn't understand much except that mom's friend wanted to bake her cookies (why hadn't he?), and I had something called "zest," which proved a really fun word to say but even the dictionary definition was confusing. And "legacy," was even more of a challenge for a four-year-old to comprehend.

I tried.

One day my mom took it down. I don't know why she did, and I don't know in which drawer the poem ended up, or whether it remains in a frame, replaced by a school photo or newspaper article.

Today my mom's ashes are in a beautiful sparkly urn in my dining room, surrounded by her keys (she loved her keys) and a Harry Potter Quidditch LEGO set, which she guards from baby brother fingers. I see the urn daily, and I think, "How weird, that she is there. Her body is burned, contained, but with us."

I'm not ready to let go, I like knowing she's with us for family dinners or when Graham destroys us in Monopoly. I like the boys to smile and wave to her. Every so often I put a framed photo of her next to the urn, and when I do that, I feel a lot worse. For some reason, the urn alone is okay, but the urn with the photo is too much. Then I put away the photo, but leave the urn. I wonder if my mom took away the poem for the same reason I put away Mom's photo.

Everyone has long said Graham is a miniature of David, but when I look at Graham now, I see the wide grin of my mother. Her smile is Graham's smile. I see a look of skepticism on his face, I see twinkle of mischief in his eyes, and I see a longing to be loved.

I don't need the photo. It reminds me of the past, of completion and of things that will never be. But I hear Graham's laugh, and I remember that poem, and I think I understand this zest for life and this legacy. I suddenly want sugar cookies, and I definitely want warm summer days. And I know they will come, and it will be okay.

Systemic burnout and the indie artist 

I'm recording! Steve and I have set up shop and are focusing on finishing our duo record, which will be a delightful mix of Steve's originals, some old covers and some of my originals. Will you be able to tell which is which? Who knows?!

There is so much going on, and I'm realizing that I need a manager: someone to rail in my crazy ideas, to whittle down my whiteboard list, to help me focus, to create a deadline for me. I'm not asking you to be a manager, so don't fret, I'm just trying to hold myself accountable. I have a difficult time understanding how some people out there manage to homeschool six children, while simultaneously writing and publishing books, hosting popular podcasts and taking gorgeous instagram photos that receive thousands of likes. I can't even keep track of my kids' socks (and I have given up trying).

Have you read that article about systemic burnout? The thing about millennials not being able to go to the post office? I'm not a millennial, though I hate the phone and the post office and I've got 208 unheard voicemails that I just deleted on January 1 because, quite frankly, anyone who needs me knows to text me. Independent workers (like all artists) operate with that same mentality of the millennial who needs to always be available to work, however, because, well, if we aren't working, then we know someone else is, and that person will get the gig. Sigh. It's a battle to stay relevant, constantly have content, but also keep said content interesting and click-worthy. But also, like, pay the mortgage, which -- hang on -- I'm going to go do right now. Okay, all good on the house...

My little printable from last week is helpful, however, in helping me to focus. I'll just keep referring to that!

In the mean time, who else has a way to be organized, accountable and productive? Point me to your printables or your apps. I'm very curious what actually works for people -- not just what apps you installed.

Some dates of note:

  • Fun show on Friday, January 25 at the Bard's Town in Louisville. It's early (doors at 6:30, show at 7) and it's all-seated. It's also all advance ticket sales and is halfway sold-out in the first 24 hours of tickets, so please grab your tickets now:  Please buy tickets, so I can stop fretting about ticket sales and start planning an AMAZING show.
  • Saturday, February 9 at the Holy Trinity Clifton Campus (The Clifton Center) is a taping of Kentucky Homefront, the 30+ year old radio program that began on WFPK with host John Gage. They tape two shows that night, and I'm not one of the musical guests. Instead, I'm HOSTING one of the episodes! Guests to be announced soon, but you'll want to attend.

Free PRINTABLE Weekly Planner 

Happy new year! Who is getting organized? I've been doing some version of bullet journaling my whole life -- with the little codes for tasks, events, etc. But then I started seeing bullet journal photos on Instagram, and I realized it's gotten out of hand, and people seem to be spending all their time using protractors and brush pens instead of completing said activities. Part of me desires very much to be a fancy hand lettering yoga Mom with a calm mind and beautiful list, but I'm forty, and I know myself better than that. I do love a nice pen, and I adore a list, however so ...

As part of my initiative to bring more to this blog than my breakups with yoga (which happened AGAIN this morning -- why do I keep going back??), I'm going to give you some fun free stuff that isn't music. Because, I mean, music is free anyway.

Instead, here is a free printable for a weekly planner. 

I'm working on another one -- a daily one that I find useful -- but here is a link to today's FREE PDF PRINTABLE WEEKLY PLANNER. Whoo hoo!

Now I'm going to get off the blog and maybe actually fill out this weekly planner rather than just posting about it.

Happy January to you all!

ALSO: May my fine blog readers be the first to know about a Burns Night show (it's a Scottish thing, you know how I'm obsessed!) I'm putting on in Louisville on Friday January 25, 6:30-8:30pm. Advance tickets only. This show will sell out. Only 50 tickets available. All seated show.

Lucid Dreaming with my Mother 

Mommy and me, 1979.
I can lucid dream. For most of my life it's been a way to travel -- generally via magic carpet, though occasionally I'll travel via pod like on Singapore Airlines or whatever -- and also to eat whatever I want without fear of hurting my belly or my cholesterol. I can use this power to extract myself from nightmares and turn them into magic, sort of like turning a boggart into something comical.

For the past three months, however, I have been using it to hang out with my mom. Last night I had a really fun time with her. We all went to Scotland, and after arriving via magic carpet, we traveled to the Isle of Mull in a rented Microlini (my newest strange vehicle obsession, see video below).

Sometimes I ask her questions to things I forgot to ask her in real life -- like, "What was your mom's favorite color?" or I'll tell her all about the hilarious things her grandkids are doing.

I'm coping surprisingly well with the grief, but I'm wondering if it's because I still get to see her. I can't command her presence in my dreams, but when she shows up, I'm totally aware that it's a limited-time experience, but it still always involves a hug, a smile, and appreciation of the moment, even though the moment is in a trance. Hoping I can hold onto this part of grief for a little while longer -- pretending she's away on a long trip, or has left the family to go find herself in Paris. It's making life a little easier for now.

Free Sheet Music - Hanukkah song 

Did everyone have a delightful Hanukkah?! 

I didn't force this dandy Hanukkah tune in anyone's face this year, but here it is to spread joy if you need a giggle. Also, I made use of my classical training and created a PDF of a lead sheet for the song, which is available free on my website (along with the mp3s of the songs).

It's free, though of course I won't stop you from donating to the cause of art:

Louisville! Come to hear me and Steve Cooley pick some tunes on Thursday, December 13, from 8-10 at Goodwood Brewing. Goodwood is one of the only small venues in this town with a really good sound system, and that makes playing music and listening to music a DELIGHT.

I'm not going to try to sell you anything this shopping/holiday season, but I would ask that you consider supporting ANY indie artist you know and love. Here are some things you can do that actually help, aside from buying merch:

Follow us on Spotify -- add a song to a playlist if you really want to spread the love!
Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter
Follow us on Instagram

I'm also @BrigidKaelin on Venmo or $BrigidKaelin on Cashme :)

Hosting an Au Pair: how to & why & benefits  

Our amazing au pair has started venturing out into the world a lot more lately, now that she's a lot more confident in her English and navigation skills. She's also encountered something fun out in the wild: other au pairs!

When we first decided to go the au pair route, the local agency coordinator (LCC for local childcare coordinator) told me that there were 11 au pairs in the Kentuckiana area, all but 2 of whom were out in Oldham County/extreme East End (read: rich people) areas. There was 1 in Southern Indiana and 1 in Old Louisville, but none in The Highlands. This kind of surprised me, considering The Highlands is the neighborhood with the independent coffeeshops and pedestrians and diners and exchange students. But au pairs weren't a thing here ... but apparently there are at least 3 who have moved into the neighborhood since spring, and I can't help but hope/wonder that you sneaky au pair family are reading my blog:) Let's meet up!

I've also received no fewer than 20 private messages asking about how the au pair program works, so I thought I'd enlighten you in as succinct a way as possible. Apologies for being verbose, thus far. 

Bonus: sometimes I'm in the photos now because we have
another photographer!
Why hire an au pair?


People have many reasons, but I think the most compelling reason for us is the flexibility it offers. Standard daycare/preschool hours do not work for my family because 1) David travels a lot and 2) my job is usually split shift -- I do admin/writing in the mornings, and then I gig in the evenings. I generally work a lot on weekends, and my schedule changes week to week.


My husband and I are raising two little white boys in a privileged part of the world. It's important to me that they understand the world is bigger than they are. We can't travel the world with them in the way I'd like to (I haven't hit Powerball yet), so we love the idea of them learning about exchange students, immigrants, other cultures, other languages, in a very hands-on way. Our au pair is not an employee to us. There are definitely some families out there who have more of an employee/boss relationship with their au pairs, but that is not what we entered the program wanting or expecting. She is not a nanny; she is a family member. In fact, "au pair," is French for "on par," meaning she is equal. We have beans and rice at least once a week, and we eat them the way she suggests ... beans on the bottom! (Though this is apparently as contentious a discussion as where the clotted cream should go on a Devon scone)


I love having live-in care, not just because of the additional family member aspect, but because she really understands the kids' routines. Last night I scheduled her to work 7:30-10:30, so I could go out to a live music event. I didn't have to explain that Angus had had a crappy nap or that Graham was going to read Harry Potter with a nightlight. I never have to explain bedtime routine, and the kids are incredibly comfortable with her. I love having another adult around for when I've been solo parenting all week. She's amazing and when I lost my patience with wee Angus earlier this week, she swooped in, got him in his pajamas, and let me walk away to take a deep breath. This is above and beyond any sort of contract we have -- it's the mark of a good person who geuninely wants to be part of the family and help out. 

How does this work???

Au pair and baby snuggles.
  1. You must use an agency to find an au pair. They are the only people who are able to sponsor the J1 visa required by the Secretary of State. There is a large agency fee, but we pay it on a credit card in installments.
  2. You scroll through a zillion profiles, find au pairs who intrigue you, do Skype interviews and eventually match with an au pair. It felt weird at first -- sort of like looking for a mail-order bride. We got over that and found several delightful women (we limited it to women, though there are male au pairs. I think next time we will not limit our search, but at the time we felt weird about having another man living in the house. Too many boys already!!!)
  3. The agency will come to your home to make sure you aren't crazy and that you have a proper room for the au pair. They just need a private bedroom, but nothing fancy. We have three small bedrooms on the 2nd floor of our house. Our au pair is in one; my husband and I in another; the boys in the third. We share a bathroom. It's fine!
  4. Au pair arrives and the magic begins!
Family movie date!

What are the rules/limitations/hours, etc?

The most asked question! I love these rules because they are established by the government, and they provide a good template for scheduling. 
  • They can work up to 45 hours a week
  • No more than 10 total hours a day
  • They must have 1.5 consecutive days off each week
  • One full weekend off per month
I try not to schedule the entire 45 hours, though plenty of families do. Our au pair is lovely and pitches in when she can even if she's not technically on-the-clock, so I try to schedule her around 40 to make up for that. 
  • They are not a housekeeper. They are a family member! Ours is lovely and always pitches in to clean up after a meal, or cook dinner for all sometimes -- though that is not at all required. 
  • You can't ask them to clean common areas as part of her job
  • You can ask them to clean anything related to the children
  • Yep, ours does the kids' laundry! It's totally amazing and has been a massive load off my back.
  • You can ask them to cook meals for the kids (but not for you!). Again, our au pair is a delightful human being who loves to cook (and she prefers her own cooking to ours ha ha!), so she'll absolutely whip up rice and beans for the family, just as I'll make dinner for everyone. Again: au pair = on par. 
  • We do not require a driver, but most au pairs have licenses in their own countries. You can have them get a license here, but you have to add them to your insurance, etc. I make sure all our kids' activities are either walkable or on the bus route, so there is no need for a driver. 
She gets free housing and host families buy food. You aren't required to buy special foods, just make sure there is food to eat. We love our au pair so much that we provided her with a credit card (with a limit), so if I haven't been to the grocery that week, she can buy what she likes. 

She also gets $195.75/week stipend (which, yes, she must pay taxes on later). We round up to $200 because I feel like a jerk typing $195.75 in Venmo, and also because she is incredible and worth the rounding-up. Note that this is in addition to the agency fee (which varies from $6000-9000ish), and though that is some sticker shock, it is still less than the cost of daycare for two children. 

Hosting an au pair is still definitely not for everyone. 

We are a family who loved to host Couchsurfers, who AirBnBs, and who hopes to host exchange students when the kids are older. We love having an additional family member, and it so happens that the flexible childcare benefits align with our needs as well. But I totally get that it it's not for everyone! I was a live-in nanny at one point in my life, and I have a wonderful relationship today with the kids I helped raise. I love them like my own, and I'm so thankful that my children will have a similar relationship.

I hope that answers all the questions I've received. I'll respond to comments if you have more questions! Here is a link to the agency we used, which has the largest pool of au pairs to choose from. Ours is from Brazil, but they have au pairs from all the world.  (If you've already signed up, then you can go back and list The Caldwell Family in Louisville as your referral if you want, but no pressure, I swear!)

***Our family does get a credit if you host an au pair and sign up through this link, so just full disclosure. We totally love having an au pair, and I suspect we'll host one for as long as we need the childcare. But if you don't relish the idea of having another housemate, then it's probably not for you. We love having a friend for life though!

New Christmas EP!! Musical Saw Singing Saw Novelty album just for you 

In all the craziness, I managed to throw together a little something for the holiday season. It has been TEN years since I released Here Comes Santa Saws, one of the world's worst puns, but a fun little album. I thought it time to record a few more Christmas songs on the musical saw, this time pairing them with some delightful banjo styling from Santa Claus himself ... I mean, from Steve Cooley. (But have you ever seen the two in the same room together? And they have the same initials? I mean ... who's to say?)

In punny news, I have titled this EP I Saw Three Ships, which isn't quite the same level of wit as Here Comes Santa Saws, but it also features a title track. I had two album cover choices, which I will share here. Drew Zipp reprised his role as cover art master for this album as well, though I wasn't able to use the Boston-inspired spaceship design because I didn't want to jump through the legal hoops that my digital distributor was requiring. I'm still going to post it here because it's HILARIOUS!

I think this is hilarious and that Drew is super duper talented. But the cover art that won out is version 2 ... below!

The cover art we went with in the end is just a beautiful ... and with this fun widget, you can hear the tunes! They are available for free download (or donation if you like) at

Home renovation - builders, plans, stairs, Elton John 

Me, age 12, in the same living room -- same piano.
My mother as a teenager in the living room.

Having never done anything like this before, I feel a little out of my element, wanting to soak up the new knowledge, but also not wanting to be taken advantage of. We have an architect friend who has been helping us with designs and drawings, but we are at the time in the process where we are speaking with builders (or contractors? what's the proper nomenclature?!). It's been interesting to see what comments they have, as each of them has totally different concerns. 

One builder is really bothered by the current stairs (which are 100 years old, so only 32" wide or something) and wants to build a new bigger staircase in the addition,  one thinks they are just fine the way they are and will be fine for our purposes, and another thinks they should be widened, but that it's no big deal to do that. I'm not sure what to think, as I have never lived in a place built after the 1920s. My homes in Louisville, Scotland, and New York, were all antiques, and I actually trip on the stairs in new constructions. I understand "code," or whatever, but I'm not bothered by a 100-year-old staircase.

One contractor says if we want it finished by Memorial Day, they wouldn't need to break ground until February; another says this will be an 8-month renovation minimum. One doesn't want David to do any part of the project himself, while others are totally ok with David jumping in to help with cabinets or flooring. (We have a tight budget, and we want to save money where we can.) We also want to respect the history of the home and respect what my mom would have wanted. More than one builder/architect has told us we'd save big money by knocking down the current structure and starting fresh. (The current house is fine structurally, but needs all new floors, walls, kitchen, electrical, sewer, etc.)

It blows my mind that some people do these home projects for fun! 

Anyway, we are awaiting bids from contractors, and awaiting pulling the trigger on a massive home loan that I'm not super excited about carrying. But we are very excited about being able to live together as a big family. Four adults and two growing boys requires more square footage and some accessibility planning -- not just for my dad, but for when I'm a thousand years old and need a pneumatic elevator to get the groceries inside. 

Back to Pinterest ...

Also, I posted photos of the piano and the living room above partly because this John Lewis commercial has had me WEEPY for days. It's amazing:

*** This 100-year-old home has been in my family for 70 years because my mom bought it from her parents. My mom grew up in it, I grew up in it, and my kids will grow up in it.***

New project - DIY, totally un-music blog! 

Ever since Mom was given a terminal diagnosis in November of 2016, we knew we'd have to move into my parents' home in Louisville. It's only half a mile from our current home, but that half a mile is a chasm when you're talking about caring for a parent.

Dad is probably reading this now and shouting, "I'm not helpless, leave me alone!" I know he's not -- he's perfectly capable, drives, cooks, reads, babysits, etc, and we don't think he's incapable of living alone. But I do know that he raised me to be caring, and somehow I got it in my head that people can do more, be better, be more free, when they live communally. And I don't think it's a good idea to become a widower and have major surgery to remove your own cancer 4 days later, then go home to an empty house at the beginning of winter. Even doctors say that survival rates for single men diagnosed with cancer are lower than those who live with family.

So after much discussion, we are creating the Kaelin Family Commune!

Here comes the fun part. It involves MAJOR renovation, new home design, construction, demolition, and a couple of pianos. Because who doesn't need two pianos?!

This blog, which has been everything from omg it's my first day in Nashville, and I'm on the front page of The Tennessean with my accordion! to omg I just had a baby in Scotland  to omg my mom died and now my dad has cancer too, is now going to morph into a DIY home renovation project.

The cool part is that we are fixing, repairing, revamping the home to accommodate a lot of people, but specifically so that the 4th generation can move into the house. My grandparents bought the house in 1948. My parents bought it from them in 1974. Now the house belongs to my dad, but it's about to house all of us in ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY!

We're trying to give everyone a choice in something in the re-design. So far Graham has requested: "For there to be a tower, like a castle." Grandude wants a bachelor pad in the basement. I want two pianos and a music room and an AGA stove. David wants a shower that sprays you from, like, five different directions. Angus wants a room to put all his dinosaurs. We are clearly not each going to get our hearts' desires, but we are having fun with this design.

So watch this space for commentary on will the greige trend ever fade? And also, will Brigid get to install a fireman's pole to the basement? It's going to be a fun ride!

Photos, weekend recap, etc. 

I played a thousand gigs last week, and here are some of the settings. From Churchill Downs, to Turtle Run Winery, to the Speed Art Museum, and various other private parties, it was a blast making music with many friends. I also sang too much without enough vocal ramp ups, so I'm hoarse this week. But, oh, what fun!!

Only 3 gigs this week, 3 next week, and then I'm taking some time to focus on lessons and recording so I have new product to TOUR in 2019!!

Are you in Scotland? England? Switzerland? Germany? France? The Netherlands? Could you help me think of cities to play? Even house concerts or pubs if you're connected like that? House concerts are a really easy event to put on, so if you're an ex-pat abroad and want to bring a bit of Kentucky music to your new town, send me an email. Let's talk. Maybe I'll come pick some tunes in your living room. It'll be big fun.

This SATURDAY I'm co-hosting KENTUCKY HOMEFRONT. That's a pretty big deal radio show that's been around almost as long as I have. Details here.

Other news? I'm making big plans to renovate my house. This is terrifying, but look for this blog to become DIY and before & after photos for a while. YIKES.

Musician, mother, home-birther, food-crazy, whisk(e)y-lover, car-free, vegetarian with a perpetual case of wanderlust. The Red Accordion Diaries is as eclectic as Brigid's music.


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