Millie, the Wonder Jeep


Millie and I in our last week as Georgia residents. Happier times.

So, the time has come to put the Jeep Cherokee down. Dave called me with the bad news late Friday afternoon. Blown head gasket. $3,000 to fix. The Jeep is 12 years old. Crap. Crap. Crap. I felt all of that clichéd lump in the back of my throat. I’ve literally been holding the Jeep together with bungee cords and small repairs/maintenance for the last couple of years. New radiator. New thermostat. New alternator. Oil changes. Until the wheels fall off, I’d say. It was pretty sad at our house this weekend. Mackenzie, my 14-year-old daughter, has NEVER been good with change. When she was 4, she lost her MIND when my parents got a new fridge. There was a lot of crying. She didn’t care too much when we had to flush her goldfish, but she REALLY loves the Jeep. We’re each coping in different ways. She’s mad at me because she thinks I moved on too quickly by already talking about getting a new car. She’s grieving for a little of her childhood. But so am I. Since she was a baby, it’s been just the two of us – until we met Dave. She grew up in that car. I watched it in the rearview mirror. For years, she’s planned on driving the Jeep when she turns 16.  

Kenzie in Millie's backseat - how I often saw her in the rearview.

I know it’s just a car, except that it’s not just a car. It’s Millie. Mackenzie, at age 5 or 6, named the Jeep after Madaket Millie, a Nantucket icon and determined old woman (I’m being gentle). And it fit. She became a part of our family to Kenz, just like our pets. I hate to anthropomorphize, but it can’t be helped here. Millie did seem to have a personality. We’re not talking Christine, here. Just personality. She had a knack for not starting the very DAY after you suggested (where she could hear) that she was getting old. We respected the power of the jinx and learned to only talk about Millie in the house with the door shut. If she didn’t like the tires I had put on her, she would (probably deliberately) kick them off. We went through a lot of tires. And a lot of miles – 200,000. She recently became slightly disinterested in first gear and sometimes, reverse on cold mornings. Some days I did a lot of begging. “Pleeeeeeaaaase, Millie, ” I’d say. A lot people would’ve gotten rid of her before now, but I haven’t had a car payment since 1999. And I was hoping to put off letting her go as long as possible. I knew Kenzie would take it pretty hard.

Millie in the background of Mackenzie's childhood

She carried us to the mountains and to the beach. Once, when driving through south Georgia when Kenzie was little, upon request, I climbed on Millie’s roof to reach some Spanish moss because she had never seen it or felt it before. She helped us move to North Carolina in the summer of 2003. She carried us back and forth for an hour on the days we’d go to the ice rink in Pineville. She blew her engine at 4 a.m. one morning on the way to the rink in April 2006. So, we got her a used engine, and she seemed happy again. Later that year, her AC quit working and when I went to pick her up at the shop, ready to pay, she’d managed to persuade a stranger to pay (anonymously) to get it fixed. It was a $900 bill. She knew how to work the charm. 

Kenzie spent all day every Saturday and Sunday on the ice. Millie rarely complained, except for the time she blew the engine.

Millie also gave me writing space. She’s where I wrote or finished many of my songs like “Less Alone,” “See Me Dance” and a new one, “Trying to Get Through to You.” I kept a small recorder in the center console. It’s where Kenzie and I sang along with all of our favorite music because back then we had the same tastes (or I at least had a greater influence): Soul Miner’s Daughter which later became the Jennifer Nettles Band, Patty Griffin, Indigo Girls, The Mollys, Mary Black, Alison Krauss and Union Station, etc. Millie’s space is also where Mackenzie threw some of her best and worst tantrums. It’s where we laughed a lot seeing another driver picking his nose at a stoplight. (Does that ever STOP being funny?) It’s where she used her first cuss word after sleeping over at a friend’s house for the first time in first grade. I heard a quiet but clear “You, bitch” from the backseat. I had to immediately pull over to avoid having a wreck! More recently, it’s where my parents’ newly adopted dog, McGee, PEED and then VOMITED in the backseat on the way to our house, where he would stay a week while my parents were in Guatemala. Good times! And some I’ll miss more than others.

McGee looking deceptively adorable.

So, tomorrow we go gather our things and donate Millie to Habitat for Humanity. Then, I’m set to drive an automatic regularly for the first time since 1995. And eventually, maybe Mackenzie will speak to me again. Also, I’ve gone and lost her cat today. CRAPTASTIC.


No Pink SUVs

So, this past week was National Women Build Week for Habitat for Humanity. It’s rightfully a big deal. We were honored to be invited to play on site for the build crew of the Our Towns Habitat for Humanity affiliate during their Women Build 20th Anniversary Celebration and offer sound reinforcement throughout the day. We set up about 6:30 a.m. Around 7:45 a.m., things kicked off and the volunteers got to work in teams. We performed for them during their breaks. And it must be said, these volunteers were just awesome.

Meanwhile, down the block, there was a Mary Kay consultant doing makeovers for the Mary Kay Challenge. For the rep – I mean consultant who does the most, Mary Kay will donate the full cost of a Habitat house to the Habitat for which the consultant has done the makeovers. $71,000. I was willing to participate in good sport for a good cause, but come on…do I seem like the type? I wear makeup some, but it’s not all that involved. I’m mostly a minimalist. I know certain truths about myself. And so does Dave. And my mother. Oh. My. Mother. The former cheerleader.

“Mer! Go get your makeover! It’s fun! Go be counted!”  × a KABILLION

Gag. SIGH. Gag. But I’m a team player. We want our team to win. Okay. I was only wearing mascara. It was clear when I sat down (being heckled by some and supported by others) that I reeeeeaaaaalllly wasn’t into it. Not at all. That kind of thing makes me feel all self-conscious and WEIRD. Applying anything more serious than lip balm in front of strangers seems so personal because right then is when you realize you forgot to wax your upper lip yesterday. Ugh. (Oh, stop. You know we do it.)

THEN I used the scrubs. And the lotions. And the mineral foundation. And the cream blush. And the lip scrub. And the Satin Lips lotions. And the lip gloss. And the cream eye shadows…and ooooh, the waterproof mascara. You get the idea. Dammit.

I was definitely in some sort of trance. She worked her Mary Kay black magic on me. I succumbed to her charms. I came home with a CATALOG… If I’d had my wallet at the makeover table…it could have been dangerous. THANK GOD it was down the street. And if she had been serving wine, I’d have taken a out a LOAN to pay for all the treasures I wanted to take home. 

And the rest of the afternoon and evening, I was still under the spell. We went to the Verizon store and to dinner at Brixx, and it was all I could do not to point and order the employees to TOUCH MY FACE because it was so SOFT right here. I refrained, but I did make Dave touch my face (we’re partners, so that’s okay but still weird, I know).

So, I was wrong (rarely happens). It was actually fun. Which sounds like an insult, but I don’t mean it to be. I just didn’t grow up doing that sort of thing. But rest assured there are no pink SUVs in my future. Though I did cave and order the scrub and moisturizer. I stand by that. Yes, really. My face was so SOFT!

Find Your Stage

“Toil awhile…endure awhile…believe always…and never turn back.”

That was in my fortune cookie when I cracked it open last night at dinner.  Cool, right? After attending the second installment of The Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute workshop at the Arts & Science Council in Charlotte yesterday, it appropriately summed up our approach to our music.

We initially signed up for the workshop at the fantastic suggestion of our friends, The Cloers, who had taken it a couple of years ago.  While not strictly geared to the performing songwriter, its modules are relevant for all artists.  We’ve got a wonderful and diverse group of talented musicians, painters, photographers, graphic designers, and theatre folks in our class, to name a few, and we’re so excited to be getting to know them and what passion drives them.  We meet one Saturday a month (all day) for three months, and we can’t tell you what it means to your art to be surrounded with so many like-minded people, driven to succeed.

We cover a lot of material during each session, some of it new, but so much of it also reinforces what we’re already trying to do.  Who couldn’t benefit from learning more about improving time management?  We do pretty well at times but then others, not so much. We can and will do better.  Another great concept:  “Share.  Don’t sell.”  And something so simple that maybe not enough artists think about:  “Part of your communications strategy must be to make sure you’re remembered.” 

One striking remark of the day came from a classmate who was encouraging another:  “Find your stage,” she said. 

Love it!  Profound in its simplicity, it’s the kind of succinct statement that encompasses what I think each of us is trying to accomplish for whatever art we’re hardwired to do. 

So, where’s your stage?

Yes, We’re Finally Doing This!

Relax. We’re not engaged. Sheesh.

We are, however, going to keep you more updated with what we’re doing.  Amissville (think AY’-mes-ville). I know, I KNOW it looks like something’s “amiss” but humor me, okay?  There’s a little town in Virginia with that name, and we wanted to name our singer-songwriter duo something that felt like us, sounded like us, and reminded us of a place we love.

How about that CD already? Wait – aren’t you working on TWO?

So, the David Holtzclaw/Meredith Laney household has been under a great deal of stress and pressure (and did I mention STRESS?) while trying to finish our first Amissville CD, Out of Town. The dogs are feeling it. The cat is feeling it. And even the surprisingly resilient goldfish is feeling it. I really thought that little guy would be the first to crack. (Ooops – oh well.)

We were only able to work on the CD on weekends (because we both have full-time weekday jobs). Fun and exhausting at the same time. We worked long and late hours with Erik Christensen, our beloved engineer and dear friend.  And it’s in his hands now.  We have been hermits otherwise. And I tend to get respiratory illnesses if I so much as see someone sneeze on TV. And why have one ear infection when I can have TWO at the same time? So, it’s been slow going. But like a baby, it’ll know when it’s time. We recite this like a mantra.

[And yes, we’re the totally psyched recipients of a Regional Artist Project Grant from the Arts and Science Council, which helps fund our second CD, Take Me Back. Yes, we’re recording it now, too! More on that later. Pinky swear.]

I should say that we are generally a rarely-argue kinda couple and duo. Mostly because Dave is, well, so fantastically Dave about everything. When I’m worrying relentlessly about this or that, he’s totally calm – “Yes, Dear.” He just knows it will all work out in its own way, at its own pace.

That said, we do have a teen living in our midst. My teen. My own precious, witty, beautiful, mostly-responsible, suddenly-constantly-irrational TEEEEEN. “I’m almost 13,” she said defiantly, at 12, while arguing a truly ridiculous position (absolutely contrary to my more rational one). It was only the beginning. I know it’s a scene being played out in households everywhere. And I just want her to recognize that I am actually human. Not an alien who was never 12…or 13. I was, once upon a time, actually in the 8th grade, too.

Her just-being-a-freshly-minted-teenager stress, combined with our just-trying-to-finish-our-CD stress created more than enough stress for one home.  We’re trying to balance it with some humor. After all, the CD is not actually in our hot little hands just yet…but so close.

Some of her more interesting remarks I hope you will appreciate as much as we do:

On having her cell phone taken away:

“I need it to LIVE.”

On having her cell phone taken away again:

“You should give it back because when I get KIDNAPPED today [while at school, under the safe protection of teachers and staff], you’ll feel so bad that I don’t have it.”

On being politely told to please eat her dinner:

“Quit yelling at me.”

On being tired and uncommunicative after coming home from school:

“I’ve had a long day, Mom. You get an hour and a half lunch break at YOUR job.”

You get the idea, right? 

Stay tuned…