The Red Accordion Diaries

Death parties and stuff 

My mother died last week. That is maybe craziest sentence I've ever had to write, and I am still in that numb, weird part of grief. It's extra weird because the initial gut punch came with her diagnosis in November 2016. We knew it was a terminal sentence from day one, so I went through all the phases many times over. Now, along with the obvious relief that I have learned is common with these long, painful, drawn-out deaths, I am also wondering when I will re-live the grief. It comes in waves of sadness, but I'm also purposefully postponing the weeping when I can because there is so much else going on.

I'm writing this from University Hospital, where my dad is having surgery to remove his own cancer. He's been back about an hour, and I'm using this time to reflect and also catch up on business (hello, blog, how have you been?!).

To catch you all up on the beauty that was my mom's memorial celebration, have a look at these glorious photos. We had a block party, a stage, wonderful musician friends, and great food. It was so much fun that we're going to just have to make PatsyFest an annual event.

My mother's obituary is here:

Now to throw myself into my career and my music and my writing and my touring and my music and everything my mother wanted me to be.

Big love to all who've taken care of us along this icky road of pancreatic cancer.

Painting your own house.  

The photo above is of my parents' dining room, and it encompasses everything I adore about my mother. This was my normal. I never heard the concept "everything has a place," until spending time with David's family, who keeps a beautiful home, complete with a closet entirely for tablecloths, pressed and perfectly hung. As you can see, my mother's preference is, um, scattered, but she's always had the ability to tell you exactly where anything is. "Mom, where are the scissors?" "Bedside table, next to the purple earrings and underneath the stack of bracelets."

There were times in my life when I was embarrassed to have friends over, but that wasn't until sometime in middle school, when I realized my friends had a lot more money than I did. For a while, I didn't think that mattered. All the books and movies had taught me that money wasn't important. But one time a friend told me she was no longer allowed at my house because she'd told her mom there was a roach, and suddenly I was embarrassed about every little thing -- that my parents worked multiple jobs, that I never got Tretorns, that I had to color a little blue rectangle on the back of my generic white shoes to make it look like they were Keds, that I'd never been out of the country, that our house wasn't spotless. My head knew that was ridiculous, that love was more important than vacuuming, and that I had more love than any household I knew.

Teenage Patsy in her perfect 1960s living room.
Note the furniture coverings.
My parents have never kept a perfect home. My grandparents, I am told, did. When my mother purchased the Speevack family home in 1974 from her parents, who had lived there for 25 years, she made the home hers. The furniture from her parents remained, but the walls would take on new lives for the next 44 years. An obvious act of rebellion (she was only 22, after all),  she literally wallpapered the living room with an Old Fitzgerald billboard. As the years rolled on, she stripped other wallpaper and painted the walls outrageous colors. My wonderful dad never commented, at least not out loud.

Same living room in the 1970s, owned by my parents.
My adorable daddy + Old Fitz billboard wallpaper.

The past couple of weeks I've slept in the dining room of my family home -- a home that was last on the market in 1948. That stone elephant I'm staring at? It's been in this room for 70 years.

We moved some furniture out to make room for a hospital bed, only to discover that when Mom painted the dining room about 3 years ago, she painted around the furniture. She also purposefully chose a 2-color theme for the dining room: a mint green and light sky blue. Rather than having different colors for below and above the chair-rail, Mom instead divided the room vertically -- and freehand with a paintbrush (i.e. crooked) at that.
Patsy, Graham, Angus, Kenny, Brigid. Last week.

She was so proud of this brazen design choice, and I love her for it. Because, while I know nothing about interior design, I do know that your home should make you happy. A wall that is half mint green and have light blue has made my mother happy, and I love that she now opens her eyes to this design every day -- a reminder that she always did exactly what she wanted.

She wears socks with her Birkenstocks, and floral skirts with paisley shirts, and dangly earrings like a Spanish teacher, and her living room is purple, and her kitchen is turquoise, and the living room is half-blue, half-mint green, partially hunter green, partially beige, and her bedroom was coral and teal for 20 years, but recently went bright lavender, and the sunroom is bright red, there's a half-finished mural of flowers in the kitchen, which Mom won't paint over even though the plaster is falling down because I painted it when I was a teenager. The house is a realtor's nightmare, and I know my grandmother would be mortified, but it sure does make my mother happy.

My mother never turned down an invitation, was always the first to arrive at every party, knew every word to every song she heard (though she could never clap along on the beat), loved her family and friends fiercely, and didn't give a crap about dust on the fireplace or that her daughter was using her fancy NYU degree to sing pub songs. It is priorities well-placed, I believe.

Last week.
I'm sitting in this blue, green, and beige dining room right now typing by my mom and noticing I'm using past tense, which makes me sad. She's still breathing. I'm one foot away from her right now, while she sleeps peacefully, out of the awful pain she's been in. I'm not so able to sit still because I look around and see so much to do. I've been throwing away a lot of things (old pens, not old photographs), and dusting and scrubbing and trying to distract myself from what is happening. I know, however, that I should stop cleaning and planning and just hold my mother's hand. I mean, if she taught me anything, it's that it you should slow down, hold hands, and paint your house whatever color you want to live with -- not what the realtor says is popular.


more boring cancer stuff at (i'm trying not to be too dreary on the ol' Red Accordion Diaries)

A little preoccupied 

I've tried to keep this blog from becoming a both-my-parents-have-cancer sobfest. I have jolly good vlogs and blogs from Bavaria to share! But my mind has been focused on my mother lately, so if you need updates and musings or know my Mom and want to know what's going on, head over to where I overshare deeply personal HIPAA information (with permission).

40th Birthday & Surprise France-in-Kentucky Trip! 

Oooooh, I'm BURSTING with blog posts to share now that I unclogged the writing pipe a little. First let's focus on a BIG CHANGE in my life that was overshadowed by significantly more important things: I turned 40!

Most of my friends have been 40 for a while, so this isn't, like, a huge surprise or feeling. I think I've been accidentally telling people I'm 40 for years now. But it's official, and the day went by without much excitement. My husband flew into town at 5:30pm on my actual birthday, and our family went to Sapporo for hibachi dinner. That felt festive, even though wee Angus was terrified of the onion volcano and clung to me for dear life when the flames shot to the range hood.

The fun-for-the-blog part!

Because I wasn't having a party or anything, my husband conspired with my dear friend Tyra to give me some sort of extravagant birthday day -- a time out from stress and a day of relaxation. He arranged 24 hours of childcare, and Tyra kidnapped me at 10am the day before my birthday. I knew to pack an overnight bag, but that my passport was not required (I had to ask because you never know with Tyra!). I said goodbye to the kids and ran to Tyra's car, not really caring if my 24-hour escape meant a sleeping bag at her house. She gave me this beautiful card, which hinted at Paris, but I had definitely not brought my passport. Minor panic, but then the inside said, "I wish I could fly you to Paris,"  etc etc etc.

Again, I didn't care, but we did hit I-64 east and got out somewhere in Lexington where we had brunch reservations at Shakespeare & Co, a Dubai-based chain that was like a Parisian cafe, but with much more space (no sharing tables with your neighbors!) and less dust. The menu was expansive and delightful, offering crepes, breakfast and lunches too. We had Bellinis and relaxed.

Then we headed for a fantastic MASSAGE!! No photos because I was naked.

But the biggest surprise of all ... which I sort of suspected once I was in on the Parisian theme was when we drove off to Versailles (that's pronounced Ver-SAYLES in Kentucky, y'all -- seriously. I mean it's not surprising considering we pronounce the "S" in Paris even though it's supposed to be Par-EE, but I digress) and pulled into THE KENTUCKY CASTLE!!

If you're not from around these parts, you likely don't know what I'm talking about. During child road trips to Lexington, my family would drive on Versailles Road and on top of a small hill sat this strange and abandoned castle. It was the first castle I ever saw, and you know how I love castles. The story was that a husband built it for his wife after a trip to Germany, but before it was finished, the couple divorced. This was sometime in the 1970s, and I guess it sat empty for years. More on the Wiki page here.

Well, it turns out that the castle has been renovated and is now an operating 5-star-hotel called The Kentucky Castle, and Tyra had booked a room for us for the night, along with a reservation at the Murder Mystery dinner show that was happening at the Castle. She also hadn't booked just any room -- but literally the best room in the hotel, one of the corner turrets that is its own little villa.

The room was great. It had two stories and two Juliet balconies, a little kitchenette and great views. The garden was delightful, and there was a small pool. We tried to sit in the garden and drink wine, but the bar and kitchen and restaurant were closed because of some power outage issues they'd had the weekend before.

I'm not sure why no one had been to the grocery since the power returned, but they seemed mystified when we asked if we could have a glass of wine. "Yeah, there's a Kroger about 3 miles down the road. Annoyed, but not to be deterred, we drove to Kroger, bought cheese, crackers, wine, and margarita fixins for the Murder Mystery (we were warned the bar would be closed), returned to our villa and relaxed and relaxed and talked about everything from taxes to baby toes. It was a delightful distraction, I slept great, and only the sun woke me.


Writing, mortality, cancer & dancing in Salzburg. 

I went back to yoga this morning. I'm trying to hang on to self-care because people keep telling me it's important -- the ol' "put your own oxygen mask on before you help others" scenario (which mystifies me every time I fly because I'll be damned if I'm not putting my kid's mask on first) -- but today I just felt guilty the entire yoga class because I felt I should have been with my parents. I pretty much spent the entire class either holding back tears or engulfed in them, then focusing on not being distracting to other yogis and also remembering that my mom asked me last week not to cry.

You see, today I'm thinking about mortality ... and not my own: my parents'. Some say that dying parents affects us so much because it reminds is that we, too, will die one day. Today I reject that and say that, no, I'm affected and upset because I love my parents and want them to be around forever.
One of the more challenging things for me as a writer is how to write what's on my mind -- how to share family stories, references, jokes, without compromising privacy. I have kept some of my better stories to myself, often to a fault or to the point that it wears on me and I feel like I'll implode if I don't get them out.
 Imagine a clogged pipe with a few untold stories preventing all the stories behind it from coming out. 

You may know that my mother has pancreatic cancer, a diagnosis she's lived with for 22 months today.

I am guessing that part of what upsets my mom about her cancer is a sense of not being finished. Of incompleteness. Of not being able to finish Ulysses (she told me this week that my dad was reading Ulysses when she met him, which is completely unsurprising of my dad, but also could have been just a really great pick-up line). Of not being able to hear all of the songs I will write or not being able to read all of the blogs I will post. 

Because one day, she will cease to be, but I will continue to write. 

And I will hate -- I will hate to push "publish" even on the silliest of blogs. Even if it's a meaningless post of an latergram vacation photo, or a recipe that a relative with an AOL address forwarded me from Southern Living ... at some point I will hit "publish" on the first thing I know my mother will never read. 

This makes me sad because she loves to read. She even figured out (or more likely, had my dad set her phone) how to get notifications every time I tweet. She looks at my website and gets my gig information from there and loves to complain to her friends that I never tell her anything and that she hears about my gigs from my mailing list too. Sometimes it's been a fun game -- purposefully not telling her of a cool gig (like this one) because I know she'll see it for herself on my website, even though I always set aside tickets for her and my dad.

Speaking of my dad: he has cancer too. 

How *$%ing insane is that? How *$%ing wrong? I know -- I know it could be worse, and for someone living with anxiety, believe me, I've thought of all the cases in which it could, in fact, be worse.

That's part of why my blogs this summer have been so inconsistent. It's less about time spent in hospitals or chemo lounges and more about feeling like I need to get this particular update out of the clogged pipe so that other posts might flow. 

Already I'm feeling guilty and wondering if I should even hit publish on this blog because, truthfully, it's my dad's news to share (Please don't flood his inbox!). He's a private person, and he deals with everything beautifully and rationally and without flare. His only Facebook posts remain reviews of tomes on GoodReads and check-ins to the Great Flood Brewery, where somehow, despite 5 weeks of daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy, he has managed to not give up his barstool. 

Anyway, this year has been surreal and unfair, and it's not right that my dad should have to care for his ailing wife while he undergoes radical treatment. It's equally unfair that my mother should be overcome with guilt that she can't take him to every doctor appointment, as he did for her, both throughout this cancer and a previous cancer 18 years ago. It's unfair that they can't walk Graham to the bus stop for his first day of Kindergarten or pick him up after school and sneak him a cookie.

So forgive my lack of posts. Forgive my inability to answer a "How are you" with a simple "Fine, thanks, and you." Forgive my prancing-about-Europe-to-distract-myself Facebook posts. Forgive any boastful-yoga-pose posts that may appear on Instagram if my anti-anxiety meds ever kick in. I'm just trying my best to remember my oxygen mask, though you'd better believe I'd give it to my parents first if I could. I'm also thinking of their oxygen masks and how they've been instructed on flights to take care of themselves first. That's now how they raised me, so we'll just continue to be the stubborn Kaelin clan taking care of each other. I mean, that's what families do, right?

Unrelated, here's a happy and distracted vertically-shot video from Salzburg that might cheer you up after a woeful blog: 

New band merch: re-usable straws! 

Confession: I don't own a CD player.

That said, I still buy CDs at live shows. I always support bands' PledgeMusic or Kickstarter campaigns, etc, but when that CD arrives, it goes into a box of mostly unopened CDs. I'm semi-ashamed of this, but not really. I mean, it's 2018. I'm all for technology and advancements and a wider ability to share art. I totally understand that some people are nostalgic for liner notes and jewel cases, but there are lots of things people are nostalgic for that society has moved away from. Change is -- overall -- good. (Seedless watermelons, however, are bad.)

BUT in light of 2018, etc, musicians have turned to the merch table as income generators for those who don't have Hollywood connections to music supervisors.

Here's an idea I'd been toying around with for months, but didn't try out until last night:

Band Straws

Metal straws with the band name laser engraved on them! It's a great and inexpensive souvenir that provides extra dollars for the artist -- and constant advertising in an environmentally friendly way that doesn't take up closet space. I think every band should have them at the merch table, and every music fan starts a straw collection. You'll forever have a reminder of the great band show you saw, and you'll establish a nice collection of straws that are USEFUL and great conversation starters and good for the world too! I'm full of great ideas, and if I wanted to make a quick million, I'd start a company specifically set up to engrave band logos on metal straws. But, honestly, I can't spend my time doing that because I have songs to write and people to entertain. Someone else, feel free to start that company. I'll be out traveling the world trying to make people smile. 
Stainless steel reusable straws have been all the rage ever since that sea turtle video  appeared a couple of years ago. I admit that video did me in, and I immediately purchased silicon and stainless steel straws for the entire family -- both for our homes and our swim bags and purses. (I know, I know, we could just not use a straw, but I'm a clumsy drinker who always spills. Sometimes my teeth are sensitive, and a straw is really useful. Also, ever since I had Bells Palsy with my first pregnancy and lived with half my face paralyzed for a few weeks, I've just needed to use a straw.)

I did a short-run print of laser-engraved straws to see if they would sell at shows, and guess what ... more than half of the attendees at last night's sold-out show purchased a straw! Time for me to order more...

Mine are $5/each. Like I said -- it's a cheap and fantastic souvenir and a quick way to support a local artist. I haven't seen anyone else doing it yet on the google, but I sure do hope it catches on. Because I don't like drinking out of a straw with my name on it (sort of like wearing your own band t-shirt). It feels like I'm at camp and my mom had to write my name on everything. But I'd love for you to drink out of a Brigid Kaelin straw the next time you're at a live show!

Next public shows:
Einsiedeln, Switzerland: August 3, Musik Festival
Louisville, KY: August 23, Wick's on Baxter

Here's a photo I just adore of some one who purchased Brigid Kaelin straws for her grandkids at last night's show:

Rejecting single stories and singing to the future. 

Ah, a theatre full of brilliant teenagers -- maybe my favorite kind audience! Last night I played at Northern Kentucky University to a full house in their Greaves Concert Hall. The crowd was the Governor's Scholars Program, and I was their last "Convocation" of the summer. A convocation is a few steps above being a concert. 

If you've ever seen me live, you know I like to talk. But being given a platform to speak about my trajectory, ups and downs, other careers, family and work balance, etc., as well as an audience that asks the smart questions, always makes the evening a bit more well-rounded. I could have just played a concert, but I feel like it's important to talk about choices and things that got me to where I am. Also, I mentioned breastfeeding, and, like, 90% of the boys in the crowd freaked out and groaned, and I totally called them out for being ridiculous.

It also made me wish I was finished with a theatre project that I've been working on for a few years because I would like to be traveling the countryside delivering songs and messages to audiences like that. Sidenote: I rented a car and drove solo, and it was so nice to have alone time!

Playing Greaves Hall was funny because I'd played the stage at least 5 times previously, but always as a sideman -- usually playing piano or guitar while other students sang in the summer program "Showcase" nights when I was a Governor's Scholar there in 1995. I was the perpetual sideman, and it was liberating to be front and center with something to say.

Also, the scholars asked the most brilliant questions, and we talked and talked about what it meant to be an artist and a businesswoman and a writer and to want to do more than one thing with your life.

The theme of their summer was Reject the Single Story, which fit right in with my talk ... so I'm leaving you with this Ted Talk:

Accordion Fun with Love Jones 

I have 6 tickets left to my send-off show. Buy your tickets here! It's early and will be over by 9pm, and you'll be able to order off the Bard's Town dinner menu, you'll have a seat, and you'll have a good time. Thurs 7/26. #therewillbebirthdaycake

What else is happening?

I have been boycotting shows that have all-male lineups because it's ABSURD to have no women on an entire bill in 2018. I realize that it all goes back to basic sexism from record labels and angel investors -- those people who throw money and publicists and booking agents at male artists. From there it means more male artists on the radio, more male artists at festivals, more male artists at live shows. It's not always the venue's fault either because often it's a promoter who puts on shows at music venues. It's always not always the fault of the particular band who is playing, but men-who-play-in-bands, I BEG OF YOU: please point out to venues/promoters/whoever-was-in-charge when there is a deep inequity of the sexes.

You see, when I call that kind of thing out, people just assume it's sour grapes that I wasn't on the bill or something. It's me being the whiney feminist again, and it's infuriating. You need to step up and point out that the bill is 90% men. (Or let's face it: 100% men.)

I ran into a problem a few weeks ago when I was unexpectedly going to be in town, and a favorite band of mine that only plays Louisville once every 5 years or so, was playing. BUT THE LINEUP WAS ALL MEN! I am not sure if anyone noticed, other than the few band members I complained to, and I'm hoping I haven't ostracized myself from them because I absolutely adore every single member of this band as a human being and not just a band.

I wanted to go to the show... but my boycott!!

I invented a loophole: what if I asked to play accordion in the band? I mean, to be fair, the band actually did ask me to sit in on accordion, but I declined because I was supposed to be out of town. So they were clearly trying to correct the gender problem by asking ...

Anyway, Love Jones is an amazing band full of the best energy and performers I've seen. Everyone should take notes on stage presence, banter and putting on a show. Thank you for letting me play accordion with you all -- can we do it again sometime, please? #bookmorewomen !

Road trip adventures & a send-off show! 

It's been 2 weeks! We've had some adventures in that time -- some amazingly fun and some not so fun (tell you about that another time). Kansas City called, and we enjoyed a few days in a very fancy hotel there -- mostly spent at the pool. The little guys and I drove and met David in KC, so we took our time and spent a night in St. Louis along the way. We rolled in just in time to go to the City Museum, a place I can't wait to take them back to when they're older. There was plenty to do for the littles, but WOW would they have a blast when they're old enough to explore without fear of getting lost.

The kids and David and our amazing au pair went on to Texas to spend some time with D's family in Lubbock, but I flew back to work and help out my parents with some things.

I'm also obsessing over our upcoming trip to Switzerland and the festival show I'll be playing while I'm there. We'll also be in Salzburg during the Salzburg Festival, which, if you'll recall, is the festival where the Von Trapp family sang "So Long, Farewell," and then missed their curtain call because they were running away from the Nazis!

Get tickets here!
Also, and I know in show business you're supposed to lie about your age, but I never have (so people probably think I'm older than I am because they assume I'm lying, hmmmmm) ... I turn FORTY just before the trip! Yee haw -- I can't wait.

I'm bringing a new trio (a guitarist + a harmony singer/percussionist + me!) to play the festival in Switzerland, and you've never seen this lineup before.

We are doing a send-off show -- a dress rehearsal for the big festival, if you will -- on Thursday, July 26, at the Bard's Town. It's an early show, and it's almost sold-out. Please get tickets in advance! I suspect there will be birthday cake.



Updates on life with an au pair. 

Update on life with an au pair. It's fantastic, and after having joined a Facebook group for host families, I am now well-aware that there are terrible au pairs out there who make their families' lives more difficult. To be fair, I've also noticed there are terrible host families who are demanding and unappreciative and who clearly have a Hobbesian view of life, assuming that their au pair must "earn their trust" before being granted privileges, like, a curfew beyond 11pm or, say, not being watched on a nanny-cam the entire time.

Maybe I'm too trusting, but I think we just matched perfectly with a mature and wise woman who is full of love and common sense and just the right amount of anxiety to make me feel at east when she's got the kids. Like, I have started running upstairs to use the bathroom alone on occasion -- but she would never dare leave them unattended.

The biggest reason we went the au pair route is because regular childcare -- or even a full-time nanny -- would not work for my challenging and ever-changing work schedule. It's too unpredictable, and with David's travel schedule (he travels 80% of the week), it was no good and also a little lonely being the only adult in the house.

It's also great for last-minute surprises. This morning, for example, when he was at the airport at 6am and realized he forgot something, he called (and bless *aupair for answering her phone because I was zonked out and didn't hear mine) and I was able to run out to the airport without dragging the kids along with me.

Other bonuses to #aupairlife:

  • My 2-year-old occasionally counts his Hot Wheels in Portuguese.
  • She loves to bake, so sometimes there is surprise cake!
  • We are looooooving rice and beans in a way we never did before.
  • David and I had date nights twice this weekend (we don't always schedule her on weekends, but D and I hadn't seen each other in ages because I've had so many weekend gigs), and we didn't have to explain bedtime routines or what the day had been like and why G was so tired. We just walked out of the house!
  • We've had incredible cultural exchange conversations that have led to smart and eye-opening chats about feminism and country differences. I love creating this normal for my kids.
  • There is always someone to hug.
  • There is always someone to remind me to relax and appreciate my amazing children.
  • There is always someone to remind me that I don't have to do everything.
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.comHere's a link to our au pair agency. (If you sign up and host, we both get a wee discount. If the registration fee isn't waived for you, email me, and I'll send the code.)

I'm working on an entire blog to explain exactly what an au pair is and what she can and cannot do -- there are restrictions to keep both au pairs and families on the same page and both treated humanely. It's hard to explain, but I'm loving it!

*I still haven't come up with a good code name for her, so I don't blow her google-ability privacy to the world. Oops. (She has said photos are okay.)

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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