The Red Accordion Diaries

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.

Reflection and a thousand gigs 

This is the week of THIRTEEN GIGS! Fall is a gloriously busy season for musicians like me in this area -- events galore and musicians like me just looooooove to sit in a corner and entertain (or sometimes even be the main attraction if that's your thing).

I've been a little distracted in my head lately, as you perhaps can imagine. Losing my mother is still pretty unreal, and I'm sure I'm in the denial phase of things. Last night I saw an adorable photo of my boys in Halloween costumes, and my first instinct was to text it to my mom. Things like that make me sad. My dad was over at our house to watch the boys get dressed, though, so that was sweet.

This weekend I'll be playing 5 private events and 3 public ones. The ones you could attend are:

  • Friday morning at Churchill Downs from 10a-11
  • Saturday morning at Churchill Downs from 9a-10a
  • Saturday afternoon at Turtle Run Winery from 12p-4p

It's highly possible that I'll be in the band at one of the swanky events you're attending this weekend, however, so pay attention to the musical entertainment. If you see me, say hello. If you don't see me, then smile at the band anyway because know that they loaded in a LOT of gear and arrived hours before the event and will be loading out hours after you leave. They work hard, those crazy musicians!

My goal for this blog over the coming weeks is to regale you with amazing photos from my Switzerland and Austria trip this summer. That trip was kind of overshadowed by my mother's death, so I haven't uploaded photos or told you the incredible story of visiting the home where my great-great-grandparents lived in rural Switzerland.

Deep thoughts on Telluride conference 

This blog has suffered because I've had life going on -- something I understand never goes away (well, until it goes away permanently). Living in the present hasn't been the best advice, somehow, because the present wasn't wonderful. Also, there's something odd about purposefully trying to savor the moment or make a memory because it then leaves that memory always slightly tainted, akin to the old psychology Hawthorne Effect, but about memories instead. Still, I have tried to embrace the positive. It just doesn't really change feelings in the way I was promised. I'm glad I snuggled my mommy until her last breath, but those moments were still absolutely awful.

Telluride was a nice escape, a chance to delve into a different part of my brain -- less emotional, and more intellectual. It was a chance to sit around with brilliant creatives, and each either had a fascinating story to tell or had such confidence that they believed their story to be important, thus making it so. That sounded wrong -- each story was important, but I suffer from Imposter Syndrome, thus often keeping quiet because I assume everyone already knows whatever it is I've discovered.

Anyway, I do wish I had the confidence of a white man, but so does every woman I know.

The Original Thinkers festival/conference/magic was a beautiful weekend, not just in setting but in camaraderie. There were films, performances, talks, lunch meetings, cocktail hours, ping-pong parties, gondola rides, brunches, random conversations on 8-seater plans that made me swoon with the possibilities. It was the most diverse lineup I've ever attended, and it's obvious that the curators worked intentionally to not have white male panels. The women made the conference, taking the stage with power and PowerPoint to share stories of not just the underprivileged, but the completely disempowered -- people living in wartorn countries, campsites in Africa, downtrodden but not downhearted.

I particularly enjoyed meeting Jane FergusonYael Lavie, and Roopa Gogineni (whose new film is playing in LA today if you are around the area), who are brilliant minds going into dangerous places to tell the stories of real people.

Also, HUGE kudos to the festival organizers, who absolutely nailed it. I've been to many a conference/festival, and this one was incredibly well-planned and executed -- from everything to swag bags to event times and, of course, event quality. Thank you for including me. It was a huge honor!

And now some random photos of the weekend:

The Wee Boy's Commercial 

I don't normally advertise for other companies, but the folks at Republic Bank have always been kind and easy to work with and I love a local business. Also, look how adorable my wee boy is!



First visit to Telluride - Original Thinkers 

Greetings from Telluride, Colorado! Though I’ve been to many other mountain towns in this beautiful state, I’ve never been here before, though I’ve never visited Telluride. I’m here this weekend to be a part of and perform at the Original Thinkers Festival, the brainchild of David Holbrooke (formerly of MountainFilm). I’m beyond thrilled to be here, but the timing is particularly poignant for me, being less than a month after my mother died.

I haven’t grieved properly. I type that, and yet I know it’s wrong to say. There is no “normal” way to grieve, or rather, everything is normal, right? It comes in waves, it comes not at all, then it comes in a tidal wave of guilt because I hadn’t thought about it for a bit. I’ve got the rest of my life to grieve, however, so I’m trying to throw myself into my passions for the time being.

Travel is passion, and obviously so is music. So is meeting new people, talking big ideas, and trying to generally be a better person. Colorado seems to hold all of those things. No one looks at you strangely when you bring your own straw or bamboo cutlery set. The expectation is to walk rather than drive. Rather than get a plastic takeaway bag, you ask for a basket and promise you’ll bring it back. And you do. People use cloth napkins and they recycle — as a norm, not as the weirdo on the block. Electric bikes, scooters, and, yes, a Tesla or two because it is a fancy part of Colorado after all, are not there for bragging rights, but because it’s a way to do our part.

I like it here.

Last night I flew into the wee Telluride airport on an 8-seater prop plane. I used the barf bag. I felt like hell. Then I walked out and was picked up and chauffeured to my housing in a brand new Tesla Model X (the kind with the Delorean doors!). I chugged a few glasses of water and continued to feel like death until my hosts force fed me a bowl of rice after which I perked up enough to get excited about punctuation.

I then followed orders to drink a few glasses of water and go to bed — and despite waking up thrice in the night to pee, I felt great when I woke up. Refreshed and ready to walk three dogs in the mountains.

I’m finishing up this blog after an evening at a hideaway fancy restaurant somewhere you can only access by either skis or the Knight Bus (I took the Knight Bus). There was a bluegrass band playing when I got off the shuttle, and several servers holding trays of wine. I immediately felt guilty that I wasn’t in the band — that I was instead part of the mysterious Beautiful People Whose Event Required Live Music. I clapped at awkward moments for the band, while over sharing to a new friend about my parents’ cancers. I met new people. I enjoyed the mountain sunset, and I talked to so many interesting people.

As a matter of endorsement, might I also recommend a Woodford Reserve Manhattan at 10,400 ft? It’s more potent than you would imagine. On that note and on a delicious dinner (where vegetarians were not ignored), I sign off. I rode the gondola back to Telluride alone, soaking up the darkness, and walked from the gondola to my crash pad off the Main Street in Telluride. At the last moment, I thought maybe I should turn my phone light off to scare away the bears (there had been a bear sighting this morning). Just as I turned it on, the motion-detector light of the garage came on anyway.

Goodnight, friends. I see why you like the mountains now.

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).

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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