About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
Born in Illinois, I grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. I am married, for the 2nd time now, to Butch & got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me grandmother 25 times over & great-grandmother to over 20!. After many years working in industry, I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication, & was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 & returned to school & got my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore & genealogy - & add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/author/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play many folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I write the "Aunty Jeff" column for the Informer, newsletter of the Jefferson County NY Gen. Soc. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega & Sara Cochran as Genealogy Journeys® where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that: genaandjean.blogspot.com. More on our podcasts: genjourneys.podbean.com. More about my own projects: Circlemending.org.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Sunday Singalong - Remembering, Never to Forget


Memorial Day, of course, is when we remember those who died in service to their country (talking the US here), but has been expanded to those US service men & women who are no longer with us. However, because we do not want to miss a time we might "recognize" anyone in the military, current or veteran, alive or dead, to express appreciation, we consider them as well. And I've been seeing that some organizations are also recognizing first responders in other walks of life (police, fire, ambulance, etc.) as well. As one who has called 911 more than once and who is a Navy veteran's widow, I have appreciated the different categories of folks who give their life and time for the good of folks, many of whom they haven't and won't ever meet. 

What about songs that are designed to honor the many who have risked and even given their lives for the well-being of others? Of  course, in the US, most of us don't see the horrifying, every-day reality of death and destruction in front of us, as part of our lives (thinking of the unimaginable lives lived by the Ukrainians). But many, if not most, of us experience one, or even more, events where we were "saved" or positively assisted at a time when we did not expect to emerge unscathed, by a first responder, or even a second, third, etc. responder, but whose intervention was life changing, or life saving. Probably the event that immediately comes to mind is the terrorist attack on the US on 9/11/01. With that in mind, my selection of a song is one that expresses appreciation, thanks, and more for those who went in to rescue the folks trying to escape the burning towers in New York, as the last act in their lives.

So many songs deal with brave men and women who put everything on the line to help or save others. So today I offer the song, "The Bravest," in recognition of the bravest in NY on that day when the world changed for so many.

"The Bravest," by Tom Paxton © 2001, recorded live in Aug., 2011 for the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Video is horrible, but sound is good.

"The Bravest," by Tom Paxton © 2001, recorded live in July 2015 at Morristown Green. Video is great, but volume is horrible.

Is there a song that comes to mind for you, one that recognizes, tells a story, or expresses emotion that connects to those who live (and often die) their lives for others?

Monday, May 22, 2023

Sunday . . . er, Monday Singalong - Cut the Cake

 It's been a long day following a longer day that followed still a longer day . . . but, with a few naps under my belt (or head), I am ready to write up my Sunday Singalong. Well, I would have been, 24 or more hours ago. However, my topic today is inspired by an upcoming date that, for some reason, is looming larger than ones in years past. So, I turn 72 on May 25. When I think of that date, I immediately think of my brother, 6 years my senior, who was born on July 4 (we are a patriotic family . . . there have been rare times when my birthday fell on the day we now recognize as Memorial Day). Anyway, dealing with the summer heat & humidity of Chicago had to have been difficult for my mom, but she still went ahead to have her much wanted second child (actually, she tried to show up a couple of years earlier, but that was not to be, so it became my turn). But having me in May meant that Mom was not to suffer pregnancy and hot/humid summer weeks at the same time (at just less than 3 months before she would turn 40 years old). So I show up, with much fanfare. OK, Mom said her first utterance when she was shown her hoped for daughter was "ugh." Actually, that was much better than some things I'm fairly certain she would have wanted to say to or about me as I battled with those glorious years between about 13 and 18. 

Anyway, the obvious song that comes to mind with the topic of birthdays is that horrible, allegedly most famous of all songs, that people insist on singing (so often off key) when the cake comes out. I heard it more than enough. When I was a kid, until 1968, my grandfather (whose birthday was May 20th) and I had a joint family celebration at the Sunday dinner between our two birthdays. Sadly, on our last (1967) birthday dinner, for reasons I didn't understand at the time, the family celebrated my grandfather's natal day separate from mine. I was terribly upset as that was something he and I had always shared. He died on April 4, 1968, so there was no opportunity to right that wrong. But I think of him, every May (and April . . . and March . . . well, he's never far from my mind . . . we were close).

So, what songs are sung to recognize the birthdays in your family? We have been partial to John McCutcheon's performances of Tina Liza Jones's "Cut the Cake." What, don't know it? Oh, dear. Well, give a listen:

Cut the Cake, Live recording, 2016, on YouTube, John McCutcheon

Your turn . . . songs about birthdays??

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Sunday Singalong - Mom, miss you


My mother will be gone 29 years next month (June) and I still miss her every day. That's no surprise; I expected that. In the weeks that followed her passing, I was unable to sing, or even listen to, some of my favorite songs dealing with mothers. But over time (and it doesn't "get better with time," at least, not for me . . . it becomes more controllable - I have some control over when and to what degree I want to let my feeling of her absence govern my thoughts. However, on Mothers Day I am often plunged into sadness by conversations or TV programs or just out of the blue - when I can't sidestep that type of loneliness. I tend to put myself into less mother-intense situations in an effort to manage my own emotions. That may or may not be a good idea, but either way, it's helped me over the last almost 29 years. After all, I think of my mother daily and am ever grateful for how she elected to raise me and teach me those things mothers tend to insist on teaching their kids, even if they don't want the lessons.

So, I guess I dedicate this little post to the mothers who painstakingly teach their children how to tie their shoes; be able to cook basic meals; not mix colors & whites in the laundry; how to diagram sentences; how to properly use utensils; why not to run with scissors, touch hot irons, or cross the street without checking both ways; how to properly word a thank you note (and send it in an appropriate time frame); who to call for help and how to know which first responder to contact for what emergency; when to go to bed in order to get enough sleep for the next day; and so many other things . . . we all have out lists, right? 

This song is a perfect example of a situation where motherhood is more than a birthing process. While this isn't my story, I know so many for whom this is reality. Please listen to the end, and keep tissues handy. As I often do, I've pulled this song from the repertoire of Tom Paxton, who, I believe, has a song for every occasion. It was written in the 1980s and is as pertinent today as it ever was.

Happy Mothers Day, in whatever form that works best for you. 

"Mother," by Tom Paxton, (c) 1982

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Sunday Singalong - Tell me a Story


Yesterday I attended a "story swap" and a storytelling event (local) and got to meet some storytellers I haven't actually met, though I've "met" them via Zoom. One is local to me - the Inland Valley Storytellers - and the other's home is in San Diego - the Storytellers of San Diego. I've been acquainted with many of the folks from years past and, since I've started attending the online meetings, it's been good to get re-acquainted. I've been out of the "formal" storytelling groups for a number of years and it's good to be back. 

Of course, story songs - ballads - are a primary method of "teaching" or informing folks of various events in history or in a family. I took an incredible class in American Folk Song & Ballad back in 1987 at Cal. State Fullerton, taught by Bill Koon, and it was incredible (well, maybe you'd need to be there). Our text book was Lomax's American Ballads and Folk Songs and it's still available at a reasonable price, plus can be purchased for Kindle. Maybe I should get another hard copy since mine is in pieces. Anyway, what story song should I share tonight? That's a tough one, but I'm drawn to the first song I recall learning in its entirety (as far as our copy and version is concerned) - I was about 4. Dad played piano and I sang it with gusto! That a frog was courting a mouse, whose uncle was a rat, was not something that concerned me at that age, after all, many of my storybooks included talking and inter-species relationships of animals, but all the mice I'd ever seen in person were rather quiet (perhaps because they were in traps and already decidedly dead?). I wasn't that familiar with frogs, but my brother and I often went toad hunting at the family's Wisconsin cottage (don't despair: no killing was involved . . . we'd keep them in a bucket overnight and send them on their way in the morning). Those creatures didn't talk, either, but they did make some funny noises. All of that is off-topic. By the time anyone reads this, it will surely be long past Sunday, but have you a story song to share?

Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frog_Went_a-Courting

I have collected a large number of versions of the song, but, sadly, don't find the version Dad taught me very easily ("A Frog He Would a-Wooing Go"), so a recording is not included here. Like the last verse of the version I learned: "If you want any more you can sing (or Google) it yourself."