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.