Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas in North Carolina

Hankins family Christmas -- apple pie with my hand cut pastry stars, the quilt I made for my Dad (Greg), making pie with Mom (Marcella), a new midi keyboard for Billy, and getting to see my lovely sister, Sarah, for the first time in a year! 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

Rockabilly Jingle Bells

A Rockabilly Jingle Bells
from Jeni & Billy! 

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Bright New Year

to All of Our Wonderful Friends!!!


To celebrate the season, Billy and I dug out this old recording of Jingle Bells we made just after we moved into our new house in East Nashville back in 2011. We can't remember why we were inclined to noodle around with this holiday favorite, but here it is fresh from the dusty trunk of unreleased Jeni & Billy musical doodles.

Thank you for a wonderful year of touring and music-making - our best yet! We are ever so grateful to so many of you for being bright stars along our journey. 


We send you love and hugs.


Peace and happiness, 


Jeni & Billy too


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chloe Dreams

Just finished up this pillow for one of our tiny human fans. Her Dad did a lovely thing for us and this is our thank you. I call it Chloe Dreams and it has a bunch of her favorite things like a fish, a princess, & a banjo in the dream while she sleeps. It also makes a good tooth fairy pillow since it has a pocket. I had so much fun sewing on my vintage Singer 201 again! And now, I'd better get back to sewing up one last Christmas gift. Love to you, friends. I hope you are having a sweet weekend. Don't forget to treat yourselves to a piece of dark chocolate or a cup of tea or some such delight!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Ticket Special for Jeni & Billy + King Courgette at Filey Folk Festival

Friends in Britain, a little bird just told me that there is a Special Christmas and New Year offer for Jeni & Billy + King Courgette fans for our Sunday, May 3, appearance at the Filey Folk Festival. Any two tickets are £12 and and 4 for £22 for a limited time only. Concert starts at 7:30. Interested parties can ring Chris Lee at 07808871118 or email him at christopherlee218@yahoo.co.uk. Woohooooo! Can't wait to see everyone over in Britain this May, June, and July. Oh My! We are going for a while. Better scare up some more gigs. Excellent photo of Jeni & Billy + King Courgette at Mind the Gap in Bradford by Sarah Jackson.

Sending LOVE

Sending LOVE to all of our friends for the busy weekend ahead!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sending love and light

Love and Light to our friends at Hanukkah! How lovely to receive this robin brooch made by my talented sewing friend, Sarah, all the way from York, England. This is light and love right on my lapel in the form of friendship and tremendous thoughtfulness. Thank you, friend.

Some of our Facebook friends have been talking about the grey weather and I do know how you feel. I find this is the hardest time of year for me to maintain my sunny disposition and that I have to reach far far into myself and far far outside myself for all of the light I can find.

People often ask me who books our tours, and the answer is that I do. And they wonder how we decided where we go and when. The answer to that is that I try to follow the warm weather! But sometimes, we encounter the cold and grey and for me that is a true test. Just like my accent starts to sound a bit British while we are in Britain, my mood can become a bit grey when the sky is grey.

So, may I ask that if you have any reserves of light and love and you wouldn't mind sharing a bit with me today, I would be most grateful. And I will do my utmost to draw the light out, too, and send some to you and that will be very good for us both, and many, and all. I'm already doing it this minute and starting to feel better! LOVE. LOVE. and LOVE.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tie-dye cheer

Yesterday, Billy helped me hang the tie-dye banner that I made with my lovely friend Deborah and her son, Nathan, out in California. I always wanted something festive for the bare spot above our kitchen cabinets. And it was a great way to celebrate paying one fourth of what we were paying for healthcare! Feeling very grateful. Sending love out there in the world.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Healthcare within the reach of artists, too

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act,
I finally have health insurance that I can afford.
Until today, health insurance was the single greatest expense in my monthly budget after food. Sometimes, I worried that I might be forced to go without healthcare to keep making art, or give up my dream and get a more traditional job in order to pay for healthcare.
Today, when I signed up, I discovered that I no longer have to face that choice.
I can still pursue my dreams
AND have healthcare, too. I am so happy I could cry!
Thank you, Mr President, and
all of those whose votes will change my life for the better.
Go sign up by December 15 if you want your coverage to begin on January 1. You may be just as surprised as I was that affordable health care is within your reach!!!

Placemat Hijinks

Report from JeniandBillyLand in Nashville, Tennesse: Even our placemats are feeling creative today. This one bloomed two eyes and a smile -- a happy accident.

First Collection of Tour Reports

Thanks to all of the folks who have pre-ordered or reserved a copy of my VERY FIRST COLLECTION OF TOUR REPORTS! I am hard at work going over the reports and choosing additional photos for the book version. I have always wanted to make a book of my writing and photos, so I am ecstatic that this is going forward. If you'd like to reserve a copy and pay later or HELP OFFSET the costs of the initial printing by pre-ordering, read on!

Here's the scoop!


I am going to publish the reports from our Way Out West Tour in a beautiful boutique magazine format as well as in PDF format. The magazine will include all of the reports and photos as well as additional musings and photos from the tour. Some of you have expressed an interest in seeing this come to fruition. Thank you!

The printed version will cost $22.50 with USA shipping. The PDF will cost $15. International costs below.

ALL print orders will also come with the PDF version to read on computers or tablets.

If you could LET ME KNOW if you would be interested in either format by COMMENT or DIRECT MESSAGE, I would be glad. Then I can get an idea of the interest out there, and decide on my print run. Or if you want to pre-order and HELP OFFSET the up front cost of printing, you can send the money to jeniandbilly@gmail.com via Paypal. Just got to www.paypal.com, choose "send money," and type in our email address.

Shipping to Canada would be $8, so the cost is $28. Shipping to the rest of the world outside the USA & Canada will be $10, so the total cost is $30. PDF version is $15 no matter where you are. Special offer to those in Britain: I can bring your print copy with me across the pond in May and send you the PDF until then to save on shipping, if you like. So that would make your cost a flat $20.

Expected delivery time is the end of January!


Friday, December 12, 2014

Tracks by Anne Hills

Been unpacking and getting the laundry train rolling to the sweet sounds of Anne Hills, my musical mentor and friend! She has a new record called "Tracks" which is full to the brim with superb train songs. It's hard to choose a favorite, but so far Like a Train, Pullman Porter Christmas, Winter Vigil (Eight & Sand), and I Rode 'Em All, Man are coming out favorites, but tomorrow it will be four different ones. That's how it is with Anne Hills records. So good to hear Anne sing "Rider on an Orphan Train" by David Massengill -- one of my favorite songs every written. All in all the first day home has chugged along pleasantly due to this sweet soundtrack. If you want to get a friend some folk music for Christmas or if you have a train enthusiast in your family, you are in luck, you can get the CD right here: http://www.annehills.com/recordings/tracks/

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Last tour report from Memphis. Order the book!

Last tour report from Memphis, Tennessee, PLUS how to order the beautiful book of these reports: In Las Cruces, New Mexico, in 7th grade I sewed a dress to get into a special writing program for 8th grade. I'm not sure how my sewing proved I was qualified as a poet, but seemingly my jury was as sideways-thinking as I was and I got in. Armed with my new cowgirl dress, I was ready to write poetry. I had decided I was a shoo-in because I had dutifully copied down all of the lyrics from Mom and Dad's Simon & Garfunkel Bookends record. What more training did I really need? I'd been writing stories in the blue notebook that my dad got me and I had memorized all of the lyrics to Jose Quervo with Shelly West as my mentor. Plus, I had gone a step further and created an interpretive dance illustrating the finer points of that song. I was on my way as a writer.

Due to an over-indulgence in Nilsson, the Rolling Stones' Greatest Hits, and Simon & Garfunkel and the pressure my southern gothic heritage, my poems tended to focus a little too much on mental institutions. But Madonna and Cyndi Lauper made sure I didn't neglect love poetry as well. God bless the people who bought my poetry collection at the Las Cruces Mall one Sunday when I set up shop in front of the Hallmark store. 

But everyone starts somewhere, even champion ping pong players.

I started these tour reports by accident two months ago with a report on giving a tour of the Airstream in Arkansas to a group of women in pink track suits. It has been a happy accident because I have enjoyed writing them and I have especially loved your responses. The reports have made me put on my writer's hat nearly every day and because of that I have felt more of a writer than ever which is a ecstatic state of being for me.

This has been a marvelous tour which is not to say it hasn't had it's challenges. The oil light in the Jeep has a mind of it's own popping on whenever it wants. The coolant had to be topped off every 800 miles. The Airstream fridge stopped working a week ago. Last night the tread blew off an airstream tire and took out part of the septic system with it. The check engine light has been on for the last five days and there's a very squeaky sound coming from the engine. And Billy broke a tooth on a hard tortilla chip! But all of this can be fixed and it's part of the territory that comes with being on tour for two months. It's good to keep in mind if you are thinking of being a wayfarer yourself. It's not all sunsets and big nights of music.

But our experience over these 8500 miles has certainly exceeded all of our imaginings and we've made new friends and drawn closer to our old ones. We are very grateful to all who have housed us, made meals, or looked after us in your own particular way. We are thankful for the prayers and positivity. 

I am truly thrilled that you all have traveled with us through my reports. Thank you for reading and for liking and commenting. You have brought me so much happiness.


I am going to publish these reports in a beautiful boutique magazine format as well as a PDF of that magazine. It will include all of the reports and photos as well as additional musings and photos from the tour. Some of you have expressed an interest in seeing this come to fruition. If I can see that I have at least 10 people interested in a copy of the printed book, that will reduce my cost. The print magazine will cost $22.50 with USA shipping ($10 for printing, $10 for my writings & time to design it, $2.50 for shipping), the PDF will cost $15. International costs below.

I've done a lot of research on this and $10 is the very best price I can get for printing a full color book. 

If you could let me know if you would be interested in either format by comment or direct message, I would be glad, then I can get an idea of the interest out there and decide on my print run. Or if you want to pre-order and HELP OFFSET the up front cost of printing, you can send the money to jeniandbilly@gmail.com via Paypal.

Shipping to Canada would be $8, so the cost is $28, shipping to the rest of the world outside the USA & Canada will be $10, so the total cost is $30. PDF version is $15 no matter where you are. All print orders will also come with the PDF version to read on computers or tablets. Special offer to those in Britain: I can bring your print copy with me across the pond in May and send you the PDF until then to save on shipping, if you like. EXPECTED delivery time is the end of January!

Crossing fingers!

I would LOVE to do this.

Photo from Old Mesilla in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Thanks to Fur Dixon for the lovely dress!

Obligatory Flat Tire near Little Rock

Tour report from somewhere on I-30 south of Little Rock, Arkansas: Obligatory flat tire has occurred only a day away from Nashville. And here we thought we'd been ignored by the Poseidon of flat tires who looks like the Michelin Man, but carries a spear for tire puncturing. See, now we've really "toured" as a musical group for the last two months! This cements it. As the sign recommends on the Motorways of Britain, we "await rescue" from Good Sam's emissary.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Attitude is Altitude

Report from a Flying J Truck Stop on I-20 in Dallas, Texas: Curtis dreams of having an Airstream one day. The one he wants is 23 feet and the down payment is $4000. He saw a documentary on tiny houses, like the one our friend Jan inhabits and he says that's the way of life for him. 

Right now he lives in a very tiny house - his Jeep Cherokee. He said for us not to feel down about it because "Attitude is Altitude" and he could see we were happy people just like him. We all spent the night in the parking lot of the Flying J truck stop. The other day, my Dad said I should have an honorary degree from Flying J. They have a handy guide that shows which Flying J's have lanes for RV's to park overnight -- I take notes in it. We just got a new one, which I was excited about in a way I could not have imagined when I sat in Gail Gibson's class on Women, Mysticism, and Authority at Davidson College or when I was living in Paris studying saints.

Curtis likes the Flying J, too. The staff seem to understand that people just want to sleep, use the restrooms, and buy some tic-tacs or peanut butter crackers and keep moving on down the line. Curtis hadn't planned on a nomadic life either. He worked in the oil and gas industry for 30 years in seismic technology, then he and his wife of 19 years got divorced and Curtis became homeless except for his Jeep Cherokee. I wonder if car makers ever imagine the people who will live in their cars and how they can be better temporary homes?

Curtis was one of the most positive people I've ever met, ever, truly. He had a great smile and a big laugh. He said living in the Jeep Cherokee gave him time to think. He says he feels tranquil without a 3000 square foot house, two cars, and the stress that came with that and the constant tension between him and his wife. 

Curtis is worried about where we are headed as a nation. Catching the seriousness of his concern I asked, "Rome at the fall of the Empire?" He said, "Babylon." But he was optimistic, too, especially for us. "Your light will protect you," he said in benediction.

He was thrilled to visit the Airstream -- said he saw it when he pulled in last night. He went to sleep hoping we'd still be there in the morning. And we were. He didn't want to alarm us by knocking on the door, so he waited until he saw Billy checking the tires and then asked about our Airstream. He said he was just hoping for a quick chat, he didn't expect to get a tour of the inside, make friends, and take some music back to his Jeep. He said this is a very good day for him. It is for us, too, and it's only 3pm!

Curtis is picking up the pieces and starting again at age 61, and he feels really good about it. He's looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds. "I have walked through fire, but I didn't get burnt," he said. He said he's not alone and that God is walking with him, keeping him company. He put me in mind of these words of Julian of Norwich, one of the mystics I studied with Gail, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." This was Curtis's mantra and he sang it in laughter, hugs, and smiles. He sang it with us and we are the brighter for it.

Curtis as the sun disguised for social media and Billy doubled over with laughter about something Curtis said.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Found words from oil country

Report from West Texas oil country between Odessa and Midland, Texas: Found words: Drilling, energy, fracturing, pioneer, petroleum basin, resource, diesel, convoy, Midland, torque, stay back 200 feet, pumping, cranes, fuel, wells, swift, ice, technologies, construction zone, chemplex, tools, wellhead, roustabout, pulling unit, refinery, Oil! TEXAS.

Arizona sunset makes Narcie's poinsettia

Short report from Pecos, Texas: This Arizona sunset in December reminded me of the pink poinsettias my great grandmother, Narcie, favored. Christmas songs in Spanish completed the circle perfectly.

Black lung ain't gone away

Special report for National Miners Day from I-10 in West Texas: Black lung is called pneumoconiosis by doctors and what it means is that your lungs get so clogged with coal dust you can't breath anymore. Your lungs are like a kitchen sponge soaked in motor oil. Every breath becomes a struggle and a victory until their are no more victories. When there are no more victories, there's a widow and four children who are stunned to lose their husband and father at such a young age. The wife will take in wash, the son, when he gets old enough, will start sweeping floors at the local newspaper. The coal miner will not live to see his son buy that newspaper, to see his grandson graduate from Harvard, or to hear any of the songs his great granddaughter writes about black lung.

Sutherland Hankins died of black lung at the age of 46. He was my great grandfather. That is his story and I know very little more of it because I never met him. His children, who were toddlers when he died, barely remembered him, and there is no one left to tell me his story. This is hard for me to accept -- this missing story and no way to find it.

Sometimes I have conversations with him in mind and he asks me, "Why do you write songs about black lung, because of me?"

And I answer, "Yes, because of you and because it got better for a while, but now it's as bad as when I was born."

I ask him to look in a coal mine today and tell me what he thinks.

He says, "You put a man on the moon, you talk to each other through waves in the air, and this is your coal mine? This ain't much better than Jewell Valley in 1931." 

Then he walks away shaking his head. 

Yesterday was National Miners Day.

I dream of the day we tell the story of black lung because it's something that never happens anymore. I dream of the day when no miner has to live like he's drowning. I dream of the day when the safety and health of workers is the first concern before any other decision is made in every industry.

In honor of Sutherland Hankins, coal miner, Jewell Valley, Virginia, 1931. Top left, standing.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bagels after Presbyterian church

Special Advent & Hanukkah Tour Report from east of Tucson, Arizona on I-10: When I was a kid, we ate bagels after going to Presbyterian Church. We got them from Kupel's Bakery down Harvard street from Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Massachusetts. After a while -- probably after going over to a friend's house in elementary school -- I learned that bagels were a Jewish food and the neighborhood where we went to get them was a Jewish neighborhood.

I didn't think of Jewish people as much different than Presbyterians. I just understood that my Jewish friends had, what in my mind, was a longer Christmas called Hanukkah which featured dreidels which were better than regular spinning tops because they had an official song -- a song I learned at a Hanukkah party at our local library. I was invited to the party by my Jewish friend who didn't think my Presbyterianism was a drawback where making menorahs was concerned. I was well known for being a good crafting partner.

And that brings me to Vacation Bible school crafts which is something that has come up a lot in our concerts recently. There are no Jewish people on Jewell Ridge in Southwest Virginia and no bagels, either. One summer, while going to one of the four or five Vacation Bible Schools I went to with my sister every year, I mentioned making a menorah and learning the dreidel song to my craft partner while we made our own Jonah and the whale spoon rests. 

He looked at me with shock and, as though he were a Biblical scholar, said in a huffy voice, "Don't you know they killed Jesus?" 

I decided that was a great time to break into a Bible song and that I'd wait to talk with my Dad, who was an actual Biblical scholar, about that indictment later.

From then on, things seemed to get more complicated as far as religion was concerned, right down to my third grade friend, Katherine, who was a Jehovah's Witness, being picked on for not saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

Perhaps I mention all of this because we just spent nine days in the desert which was also a big moment in the Bible -- though John the Baptist didn't have an Airstream travel trailer and a banjo, so the mere idea of being in the desert will have to be the extent of the comparison.

But we came out of the desert on a Friday and, if it were another Friday in months past, you many have found me at Shabbat welcoming the beloved in song with my Jewish friends. And on the following Sunday, you may have found me seeking the light at a Friends meeting, or singing up grace at the Friendly Chapel Church on Smith Ridge. Last Sunday, as Advent began, I welcomed much needed rain from under the awning of the Airstream while staring at Joshua Trees and volcanic rocks.

The greatest lesson that I hold from the First Presbyterian Church of Brookline, from the Friendly Chapel, and Oseh Shalom is the enduring gifts of love and kindness, and the call to celebrate the goodness of others. It all sounds so simple, but of course it's not in a world that often wants to push you to hold fast to certain beliefs at the cost of kindness and friendship.

The desert teaches kindness, too -- from the tiny bacteria that form a protective, life-giving, crust across thousands of acres of sand to the thirsty coyote who howls alone at night, from the tiny electric yellow lichen to the glorious Joshua Tree -- each being has it's vital place in the delicate patchwork of the desert wonderland. If any one piece was lost, the desert would suffer dearly.

In this expectant season of Advent, I find that my enjoyment of the wait is deepened because I have sung with my Jewish friends who await the arrival of the beloved every Shabbat, and because I have prayed with my Catholic friends whose saints awaited their own union with the beloved.

I, too, have been waiting expectantly during this season of Advent, waiting for repose after a long and busy tour, waiting for inspiration for my art, and waiting for renewal of spirit for the work to come. Each day in the desert, I was rewarded with a solo butterfly, a quintet of chipmunks, a duet of kangaroo rats, a quartet of yipping coyotes, and a solitary shooting star.

One night, I sat in the cold for half an hour in three layers of summer clothes to look at a perfect circle in the atmosphere around the moon which I had never seen in all my life. The haloed moon reminded me of singing carols -- "Star of wonder, star of night" -- with the Presbyterians in Brookline, Massachusetts. Many of them have passed on now, but I love them for being the people with whom I worshiped and wondered nearly every Sunday for seven years when I was a kid -- which was also seven beautiful years of Sundays going to the Jewish neighborhood to buy soft, warm, unforgettable, salt bagels at Kupel's Bakery.

Wishing our friends joy, understanding, and kindness during this season of Advent and very soon for Hanukkah as well!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Middle Creek – a Novel by Jeni Hankins, first listen

Thanks so much to you all for encouraging me as I wrote my novel this month as part of National Novel Writing Month and thank you for all of the congratulations. I have plenty of revising to do to get the book ready to sell on our tours, but I am happy to share the first chapter with you! You can read it below or listen as I read aloud to you on Soundcloud by following the link below.
Just to answer a question from the last batch of Facebook comments: I don't have a publisher and right now my plan is to the sell the novel at our shows to our fans and friends who already enjoy the songs of Jewell Ridge and stories set in Southwest Virginia. But, this troubadour life has shown me that anything can happen and that surprises are always around the corner . . . Many thanks, again, for all of the positivity! Love and Happiness to you, friends. Jeni
Middle Creek - a novel by Jeni Hankins
Chapter 1
© 2014 by Jeni Hankins, for text, recording, and photo
I didn’t think they’d sell the baby. But that’s just what they did. I tried to look after him, because I knew his fussing would wear them down to their last nerve. He couldn’t help being colicky and covered with snot most of the time. That’s just how some babies are. But I knew it was a bad sign when they never named him, named him proper, I mean. They told the midwife at Doran that they were going to wait to get a line on his character, and then they would name him. Told her they would mail in the birth certificate and do everything to a T.
They were good at turning up in strange places where no one knew them and looking fresh and normal. They’d threaten us kids, how ever many of us there were at the time, within an inch of our lives, tell us to straighten up, scrub our faces, arms, and legs, with water from the window cleaning bucket at the filling station, and park us on the front porch of the midwife’s house until the birth was over.
I was somewhere in the middle. Vicey, Curry, Donut, and Sam came before me. Paul, Bit, and the baby came after. I don’t expect you to remember all of their names. All of the older ones are gone now and I don’t reckon I’ll see them again myself. And I don’t imagine Donut’s new family is calling him Donut now, anyhow. They’ve probably all got new names and I don’t blame them or the families for that. I expect they don’t want no part of who they came from and, if that includes us younger ones, that’s just the way the wind blows.
That’s what Charlene said all the time, like when they sold the baby, and I was biting my fist to keep from crying. Charlene just turned around from the front seat of the Monte Carlo, looked me straight in the eye and said, “That’s just the way the wind blew, Chip. You know better than to be tetched about it.” Charlene is our mother, but she doesn’t have any truck with being called “Momma” or anything like that. She said it’s like giving cows or pig names. It just makes it all the harder come slaughtering time.
But I named the baby; I named him to myself. I called him George after the monkey in the story book that the lady at a filling station gave me. I have read it so many times and I’m allowed to keep it in my box. Sarge said I could keep it as long as I kept my nose clean. Sarge is our father, but we call him Sarge for the same cow and pig reason we don’t call Charlene Momma.
I don’t know why we children got born to Sarge and Charlene instead of the nice lady with the clean apron with blue and white flowers behind the counter of the filling station. I don’t know why we live in our car and, sometimes, the trailer park instead of a real house made of bricks or wood. The back seat fits three and the baby was four. I am sure that I was supposed to be next, but the men didn’t want a kid after they saw the baby.
I knew I was pushing it when I asked why two men would want a baby. Sarge said, “You’re not too clever there, Chip. Those men don’t want nothing to do with a baby. They only want to sell him upstream. We are just one link in a long chain, Chip. And you’d be wise to remember that for the future.”
That’s when I got a vision of George being put on the back of one animal after another, first a camel, then an elephant, then a zebra. He was going across a desert and then through the jungle and back to the desert again. He was held high up in the air by the great creatures of the earth until a kindly ape laid him in a basket just like baby Moses and he was discovered by the woman at the end of the chain. I suppose we were all looking for that woman at the end of the chain.
“I am talking to you,” said Charlene in an unmistakable tone. We were all hungry and I could hear the edge in Charlene’s voice. “Take this and get us a box of oatmeal, a loaf of bread, and some butter.”
I was always going into the store. Charlene said I was the most presentable because Paul and Bit were always eating dirt and sticking their fingers in their noses. They had colds more than they didn’t and Bit talked like a woman who had been smoking for sixty years. She was 7, but on account of the walking pneumonia, she sounded eighty. And Paul barely spoke at all. He’d talk to me in my ear, but he wasn’t about to go in a grocery store and chat up a bunch of adults. He had no use for adults at all and I can’t say I blamed him. We’d been pretty much let down by that lot.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Special Birthday report from just outside Joshua Tree National Park, California: Happy Birthday to my mother, Marcella Hankins. My mother solves problems in the night. We can be puzzling over a quilt pattern or how to build a new wall for my laundry room and, in the morning, she has the answer. She remembers all kinds of names of people and places. Her brain is buzzing all of the time with encyclopedic knowledge of everything from where I accidentally hid my rotary cutter from myself 400 miles away in Nashville to complex multi-step stain removal.

When I was working on my novel a few weeks ago, I was speaking to her about my characters' nicknames and she came up with perfect Christian names for them and a couple of plot points as well. She did that in the middle of talking about the next animated movie that was coming out that she wanted to see with my Dad and talking about my dress for the Big Picnic Band Concert.

We sometimes call my mom, Martha Junior, because she knows as much about crafts and decorating as Martha Stewart, but she's way funnier. My mom laughs and laughs just like her mom. The biggest bone in her body is her funny bone.

When I was a kid, my mom could make a coloring book page into a true work of art. She was the master of the coloring book in our house. She brought the scarecrow and Dorothy to life --even coloring Toto seven different colors of brown, black, and grey until he was ready to sit down on the page and bark.

My mom can pack a suitcase better than a salesman who flies five days a week. It's down to my mom's training that I was able to fly a hand crank sewing machine home from England and make the flight attendants reminisce about their mums sewing clothes for them when they were toddlers rather than fretting over my baggage weight. My mother has never surrendered a souvenir of foreign or domestic travel at the hands of a ticketing agent and I am determined to follow in her footsteps.

People ask me how I learned to tell stories and I can only explain that I come from a colorful family which makes for an endless supply of material, but that I also have a mother who read to me, who taught reading to other children, and who treasures books, especially children's books, like other people treasure gold or fresh air.

My mom is a quilter, a newspaper publisher, a photographer, a comedian, a master of pies, a vanquisher of stains, a house painter, a gardener, a movie nut, and, with my sister, my best girl friend. She has been cracking me up for a long time now and I expect there are many more hijinks, quilts, and pies up her sleeve.

To Marcella Hankins, Happy Birthday, long may you laugh. I love you, Mom.

Photo of Mom and me having a deep consultation about millinery at Davidson College. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

To be an artist, you have to fill your own shoes

Report on the occasion of leaving Los Angeles, California: When your cup runneth over with joy, sometimes you need to go stare at big old rocks. As our friend, Joseph, says, it's time for us to "be light and be salt." So, that's where we are headed today and for Thanksgiving -- to the land of big old rocks, Joshua Tree National Park. 

In some ways, we'll be coming full circle by driving back into that particular desert, because we were coming out of it two Mays ago when Dillon O'Brian called and invited us to the Malibu Inn to hear Moonalice. The terrible waitress at the Malibu Inn meant that Dave Way and Billy had to go find our drinks (even our austere water) and then they hatched the plan to have a recording session on my birthday. Billy doesn't generally remember about presents and holidays, but when he does, I get something like a whole recording session! Maybe I should send that waitress a thank you card.

I have always been a Jill of all trades. I have been a poet, beekeeper, painter, singer, sewist, booking agent, tour manager, journalist, graphic designer, travel agent, and accountant. When I was a kid, I was on math team, but also a ballerina. I went to a brainiac summer school for astronomy and sold my own book of poetry in the mall when I was 13. When I grew up, I was unwilling to give up any of these things. And with the encouragement of my parents, I found the one job that allowed me to combine all of the things I love. And shortly after I decided to be a performing songwriter, Billy appeared in my life. 

In the last year, and especially in the course of this Way Out West tour, I have, for the first time in my life, felt like a true working artist. Because there isn't really such a thing as singer-songwriter and storytelling school, I have always felt a bit unsure if I was qualified for my job. If I had wanted to be a nurse, gone to nursing school, and was now an RN, I wouldn't hesitate to think of myself as a Nurse. My schools were not only colleges and universities, but also children's theaters, football fields, symphonic halls, ballet bars, church choirs, and hard pews. But no one ever handed me a piece of paper that said I was officially a performing artist. So, I have been trying to grow into my own vision of what that calling would look like.

After hundreds of shows and 250,000 miles, five records and five quilt backdrops, something began to shift in me. I began to own my vocation right down to my red dancing shoes. 

And all of you have helped because you believe I am an artist and talk to me just as if I am. So thank you! Your friendship is one of the great joys of my life and so very nourishing.

Billy and I will be in the desert a few hours from now until Saturday, so we wish you a beautiful Thanksgiving and we send our friends in Canada and Britain love and warmth as well. 

Thank you to each and every one of our friends for being our light and salt. We love you. 

Photo by the wonderful, Amber Cross.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Paradise Pickers in LA

Report from Van Nuys, California: I have been in a bar about three times in my life, all within the last nine years. Bars make me nervous --  maybe because they are generally loud and I'm very sensitive to loud noises and loud places.

But, Wednesday night, our friend Dillon invited us to hear some friends of his play at Irelands 32 in Van Nuys. When people in Los Angeles invite you to hear their friends play, don't be surprised if their friend turns out to be Merle Haggard's bassist. Just act casual, like it happens every day.

At some point, the band invited Dillon up to play and sing and then the late Etta James's guitarist offered Billy his guitar. It seemed like a casual enough act, but then he sat down beside me and said, "I never let anyone play that guitar, but I know there's some history there." He closed his eyes and listened with a smile.

And so for the first time in 32 years, Dillon and Billy played country blues together. And for the first time in nine years Billy played electric guitar. 

After a lifetime of playing and producing country, blues, rock, Eastern Indian, and folk music, touring on spiffy buses, and performing at the Grand Ole Opry, Billy heard my songs and offered to go out on the road with this unknown Appalachian storyteller and songwriter. He believed in me completely and has stood there on my left through hundreds of concerts over the last nine years. And I am ever mindful of the deep love he has for music and the lifetime of performance he brought to our leap into Jeni & Billy.

Here's to Billy, my true love, and here's to Dillon O'Brian, our true blue friend. It was pure joy to hear you Baltimore Boys together again.

Friday, November 21, 2014

California Dreaming at Caltech

Short report from Pasadena, California:

When your dreams come true,

sing a new old tune,

wear a yellow dress,

bring your friends,

so they can dream with you.

When dreams comes true,

have your true love by your side,

wear a yellow dress,

and have your heart open wide.

The Big Picnic Band at Caltech on November 15, 2014 -- including fellow dreamers, Craig Eastman, Dave Way, Dillon O'Brian & Denny Weston Jr. (special guest Carolyn Baker not pictured here). Also not pictured, dreamer Alison Moynihan-Eastman, right hand woman, and dreamer Patricia VanOver, Filming guru.

Photo by dreamer and songstress, Fur Dixon.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Birthday Tour Report from Los Angeles, California: Happy Birthday to my Dad, Greg Hankins!

When I was seven, my Dad took me to a graduate seminar in religion at Harvard, where he was a student. I played with my Raggedy Ann doll and colored in the corner of the room. I was home sick from elementary school, my mom was at work, and there were no sitters available, so I went to Harvard for the day. 

I saw how serious the students were and I listened to my Dad talk with a voice that has always sounded kind and tree-like to me. I couldn't easily understand what they were speaking about, but I loved the music of their discussion. I also noticed they were all writing things down. Their paper was not grey with big lines like mine, but white with skinny lines and all bound together. I had discovered the notebook.

After class, I asked my Dad for a notebook and he took me to The Coop in Harvard Square. When we got home, I asked him what I should write in it. He said, "Write me a story." So, I wrote about Will and Dill, two pickles who were forgotten in the back of the fridge. My next story was about kumquats. And so it began, my life of finding the best words.

Here's to my Dad who taught me to write and to play music, who sang to me, and sang with me -- to my Dad who took me to concerts and festivals, plays and museums. When I sat with my Dad in the Old-time tent at Merlefest, I had an epiphany about poetry, art, and music, and found my calling -- this calling.

The other day I was trying to tell my Dad this without making him feel too sheepish and he said, "Well, I took you to NASCAR, too, so you could have gone in a whole nother direction." 

That's my Dad!

Photo: Starting my education early at Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, at my Dad's graduation. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Big Picnic Band

Short Report from Sherman Oaks, California: The Big Picnic Band! Thrilled to pieces, chuffed to bits! Photo by Alison Moynihan-Eastman!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Rehearsal time

Short Report from Los Angeles, California: On our way to rehearse with the Big Picnic Band! Concert tomorrow, Sat Nov 15, Pasadena Folk Music Society at Caltech. 8pm start. http://folkmusic.caltech.edu

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Grandaddy Long Legs

Report from Burbank, California: Grandaddy would only listen to Roger Miller or Willie Nelson. For him, you could find all you needed in Roger and Willie and all other music was superfluous. I distinctly remember a Thanksgiving shortly before he crossed over when he held my hand as we stood in the doorway of Mom and Dad's kitchen and he sang "England swings like a pendulum do, Bobbies on bicycles, two by two, Westminster Abbey, the tower of Big Ben, the rosy red cheeks of the little children."

He could remember Roger Miller, but I wasn't sure if he remembered me because he had Alzheimer's by then. It didn't matter in the grand scheme of things, though, because I was happy to be standing with my grandfather, hand in hand, listening to him sing through his big Hankins gap-toothed smile.

He was in the Navy and didn't like it much, but he served his time when called. He spent the whole time in dry dock in Norfolk, Virginia, chipping paint and editing the ship's newspaper. He got out and became a newspaper man after having having made his start as a kid sweeping the floors of the Richlands News Progress when his own Dad died of black lung at the age of thirty-three.

I didn't know him so well growing up, since he and my grandmother divorced when my Dad was a kid. But our paths crossed now and again in my childhood and then more so when I got to college. I lived with him for a summer while I was in college. He let me work at his newspaper in Troy, North Carolina, where I did weddings and obituaries, and manned the front desk and the main telephone line. He assigned me two feature stories and one got picked up by the Catholic Reporter. He ate a pack of nabs (peanut butter on cheese crackers) and drank a coke for lunch each day. I rode with him to and from work and the tenor of his conversation was about how I needed to get a job after graduation and think big. And he continued in this vein all through our steamed vegetable dinners at night.

I think his itchy feet must have been passed on to this hobo girl who does her own kind of reporting in songs and stories. I began these tour reports on a whim, but as the weeks have worn on, I have felt a true resonance with Grandaddy and my own father and mother who publish a local newspaper in North Carolina. It's good to be in the family business.

Thanks, R. Guy, for the gap in my teeth that followed me through school pictures, for the solar calculator I still have in my desk drawer, for the way I squint my right eye in photos, for the white teddy bear I named Poltergeist, for always carrying tic-tacs, for your big barrel laugh, and for being our very own Grandaddy Long Legs. 

Robert Guy Hankins 1930-2002

"The river flows on like a breath
In between our life and death.
Tell me who's the next to cross the borderline."
– Ry Cooder, Jim Dickinson, John Hiatt (as sung by Willie Nelson)

Monday, November 10, 2014

A song for love by Jeni Hankins

Report from Studio City, California: A song for love by Jeni Hankins inspired by Love found on a haystack on Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
Love travels with us wherever we go. Love is tin cans trailing from the back of our car. Love is the song we sing. Love is the story we tell. Love takes us everywhere and we find love when we get there. Love wakes us up and love sings to us at night. Love holds us gently in the ever-growing light. And we all, dear friends, are love's messengers. Let's go and be love.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Shop girl

Short Report from Sun City, California:

Shop girl, shop girl,
Carries her shop around.
Quilts, songs, and stories
for your dollars or your pounds.

When I was a kid, I always wanted to have my own mercantile and now I do! 

Jeni & Billy at McCabe's Guitar Shop!

Report from McCabe's Guitar Shop, California: I kept it under my hat that I had some butterflies last night. It's not normal for me. I've been performing since I was four. But McCabe's is one of the most famous venues in the USA, thus the butterflies. 

At the very beginning, I knew things were going to be alright because they laughed. God bless the laughing crowds, they give my stories wings and inspire me to create new ones on the spot. God bless the woman who nearly fell out of her chair she was so touched in the funny bone. And bless the people who came out after and said they wanted the CD with the stories.

One of those folks was one of my TV heroes, Dann Florek, who played on Law & Order for years! Oh my goodness. And it's always a terrific honor to have a fellow songwriter come to see us which the brilliant Ernest Troost did. And his beautiful wife, Louise, who looks as though she just popped out of a storybook, brought me fabric that belonged to her mother.

There aren't enough thanks for Susie Glaze & her Hilonesome Band who have adopted us as their own ever since our first trip out here to California. They could have had the whole night to themselves, but they chose very generously to insist that we open for them.

And so a very special performing dream came true for us last night and it was a barrel of fun and, best of all, the folks at McCabe's want us back. Ta-da! Woooohooo!

Photo of us from the top of the stairs by the fabulous fiddling Mark Indictor. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

From Jewell Ridge to Burbank and back again

Report from Jewell Ridge, Virginia and Burbank, California: "What do the people up on Jewell Ridge think about what you're doing?" I get that question from time to time after our concerts. 

For one thing, they probably think it's a bit funny how I have become the Jewell Ridge Girl, but I actually grew up on Smith Ridge, which is named after my great great great grandmother whose parents owned the ridge. The coal company was called the Jewell Coal Company, thus Jewell Ridge, thus the song "Jewell Ridge Coal." But Smith Ridge is in the Jewell Ridge zip code as are a lot of obscure hills and hollers up on that mountain. In fact, where Chicken Ridge is now was the original Jewell Ridge, but when the coal company built their rows of coal camp houses on over from the originialJewell Ridge, they did not pause to call the new community Jewell Ridge and rename the old Jewell Ridge, Chicken Ridge.

I have a lot of cousins in southwest Virginia, Florida, and east Tennessee. We don't see much of each other though we share the common experience of watching Days of Our Lives or Another World with our grandparents and hearing the obituaries read out on WRIC in Richlands. We went to the rec park to swim and we at Fruity Pebbles for dinner if we wanted.

Facebook keeps all of us cousins in touch with each others lives – the babies, the fireworks, the day in and day out – and when they comment on our travels or our music, I feel a sense of elation because they are, in some ways, the people who know most whether I am telling the truth of where we come from. We all had our different raisings (Facebook doesn't think that's a word, but I will argue for it), but there's no getting around that these are real people and real places I've chosen to share with our listeners from Los Angeles, California, to Scarborough, England. I am a storyteller, but the stories have roots in flesh and blood, dirt and coal.

When I wrote about the Little Drum Majorette for a week, my cousin Camie wrote me back to say that her older boy had been reading the stories to her younger boy every day. This, my friends, was one of the greatest compliments I have ever received. She said they had all kinds of questions they wanted to ask the Little Drum Majorette about the parade and her life! 

And now, Camie and her sister Annie helped their children, James, Blake, Briar, and Sadie, make birthday cards for Don, the World War II vet I posted about. Camie said that this was an important opportunity to teach them a life lesson about Veterans and the meaning of Veterans day.

So, when people ask me what my travels and songs about Jewell Ridge mean to the people up on Jewell Ridge, and, in particular, my family, I think about James, Blake, Briar, Sadie, Camie, and Annie and I feel like they are proud of me, their wandering cousin, because they know that I take them and all of my family and the spirit of our mountain wherever I go. 

Cards by James, Blake, Briar, and Sadie. Photo of Jeni by Billy Kemp.


Report from Burbank, California: You know you are writing a southern novel when you have to verify the spelling of hebejebe. And you feel you've arrived as a southerner, when you see that you've spelled it right.

This is a photo from my great-grandmother's photo box which furnished most of the pictures for our CD covers and booklets. I've always loved this lady, but her name is not on the back of the photo and no one in my family seems to know who she is. 

But for right now, she's standing in for Charlene, the mother in my novel. That's the great joy of making things up.

Time for bed!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

NaNoWriMo, time to write a novel

Report from Atascadero, California: Call me crazy, but I have started a new novel even though I didn't finish the first one, yet! It's national novel writing month. Yes, there is such a thing! And though I was tempted to revise and complete the novel that I started last November, I just had the faintest idea for a new one and decided to go for it. 

So, even though we are on tour, and my days are wild already, I am going to do this thing because I am already enjoying it. 

NaNoWriMo, the folks that put these strange novel-writing notions into the heads of thousands of people each year, has a term for people like me. I am a "pantser." This means that I am writing the novel by the seat of my pants. Well, I am literally, because novel writing involves a lot of sitting still and concentrating on one task - not checking facebook, not checking email, not making a tea, not wandering into the kitchen for a lovely piece of Irish soda bread made by Anet . . . no, no, no (to quote Ringo Starr). Pantsers made no plans, did no research, outlines, flow charts, before November 1. We just sat down and wrote the first sentence and then, like someone pacing off for a duel, we put another sentence after the first and prayed that we would not be vanquished by the third sentence, and so on. 

Even though we had two concerts this past weekend, I have managed to eek out 2007 words of the 50,000 word goal which means I am behind, but not desperately so. 

As a pantser, I find great solace in this quote by E.L. Doctorow: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I once had to do this kind of driving for my Mawmaw Ann up on Smith Ridge. She has a large buick; we did not go off a cliff; we got home and ate some sherbet cake to calm our nerves.

This gives me courage to keep on going and see where Chip leads me. Chip is the name of my protagonist and she will be my companion for the next month. 

Winnie-the-Pooh has also agreed to help out. He's very quiet and doesn't mind when I talk to myself.

It's not too late to go ahead and sign up to write a novel, too. We can be writing buddies! I know you'll write something wonderful, come along!