Welcome to Lydia McCauley's Garden of Simples Blog

The highest reward for a person's toil is not what they get from it, but what they become by it. - John Ruskin

Lydia McCauley and Kurt Scherer are owners of STONEHOUSE ARTIFACTS, offering Treasures from Colonial India. Online Here.

Our shop is located in Bellingham, Washington. We welcome you to come and visit our small estate, enjoy the grounds and share a cup of Chai.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Buying Harmoniums in India

Buying harmoniums in India shouldn’t be difficult, after all they are everywhere. Or most places. Well, you see them sometimes.

Our second trip to India was the fulfillment of two and a half months of pure pandemonium. In a good way, of course. We started in at Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu. How we got to Rajastan is anyone’s guess. I can’t remember to save my life.

Oh right, it was the train. We were in a small compartment with several people traveling through the desert. It was very hot and dry, as you can imagine and we sat beside a woman and her shoeless son who was resting. They both had clothing of the deepest sunflower yellow wrapped about them. I noticed the mother carrying a bamboo staff. During the ride the son’s foot kept inching over to my leg and then pulling away. Inch, inch, pull back. Inch, inch. I was a little perturbed and doubly so because I knew it’s considered terribly impolite to touch anyone with your feet in India.

Anywhere else as well. Anyway. He kept his eyes closed and she tried to keep his foot back until it was time for them to get off the train. It was then that I realized that the son was blind. He may have been resting, but indeed he could not open his eyes and never saw me. I felt a bit bad about being so peeved. I watched them go, mother guiding son with staff, walking together in golden robalia.


Bundhi is the first place in Rajastan that we stayed. It’s a tiny town of 88,000 people and perhaps as many pigs, cows, and goats.

There’s a palace hanging from the cliff where one can walk about freely and enjoy 17th century murals in nearly every room. Above the palace is a fort where monkeys abound. Before you go through the elephant gate passageway, someone hands you a big stick to keep the menacing hoodlums at bay. I took it eagerly, but fortunately didn’t need to bonk anyone’s head. Instead we found this group of monkeys simply sitting, watching the sunset in a quite dignified manner.

In the evenings it was our custom to sit atop a hotel whilst having a lukewarm beer. Here's a copy of important information for the hotel customer - we could somehow never comprehend the gist of it. Is it the beer, dear, or is it just me?

At one point we found ourselves in Jodhpur. That's where I first had the idea that I'd be buying harmoniums in India. We wondered into a fancy hotel courtyard and listened to these guys play music. They gave us a mini puppet show and demonstrated how to play the instruments. I was smitten, directed, and now full of purpose.


Sometime before or after that we were in Agra. Oh yes, the Taj Mahal is fantastic. It truly looks exactly like the photos we've always seen. It's entirely magical and it's really cold there. I remember that. We found this pottery statue in a ditch outside of town. I regret not bringing it back with us.

I did some shopping from time to time. There are billions of things to buy in India. We carried what we could and took photos of the rest.

Of course one needs to eat everyday. We enjoyed Tibetan food in Rewalsar Lake.

We made it through the desert in a sand storm. We waited for trains with the locals. I looked down every street for harmoniums. I ask people to help me and they wrote down addresses. I found spices, incense divine, and the most beautifully woven shawls. We went round and round the sub-continent and I kept my eyes open.

That's when I saw the bus. It was such a lucky break. It had a phone number and everything on it.

After that we found the harmonium shop with no trouble at all.

I bought two. We put them in crates and nailed them down. Oh my, hope we missed the keyboard with the nail. I worried about that for a year.

One of the nicest things we did was travel by night coach to The Golden Temple in Amritsar. It's the major pilgrimage site for Sikhs. Stunningly beautiful and truly hospitable, the temple had a group of men playing harmoniums night and day. The music could be heard in and outside of the burnished gold building.


We made it home. It took some months to recover from such a journey. A year after, just as we were embarking on another trip, the harmoniums arrived. In fact they showed up the day we left. Mind you they didn't work. It took a bit of spit and shine to get them going. After four months they suddenly began to play like new.

I'll be bringing one to my event at Village Books next week. It's travelled a long way to get here and is enjoying learning a whole bunch of different songs. : )

Join Lydia McCauley on November 27 at noon for an in-store performance at Village Books in Bellingham, WA. More information at http://lydiamccauley.com/performance/.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New! Garden of Simples Shop

"How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose we know not, though sometimes sense it. But we know from daily life that we exist for other people first of all for whose smiles and well-being our own happiness depends." - Albert Einstein

I am very happy to introduce one of my other passions - Garden of Simples, healthful body enriching soaps and salves.
Somewhere deep inside of me is this yearning to conjure up healing products. My Grandmother Cora McCauley used to tell stories of walking through meadows, collecting plants with her Grandpa Morgan, a pharmacist who lived in Michigan. He was a devout Quaker who spoke in thee's and thou's whilst creating an Apothecary of healing simples and tinctures.

I take great pleasure in growing and collecting herbs, infusing and combining them into salves. There's great joy in hand-pouring a soap that is all natural and scented with essential oil. Then there's the naming of them, and designing a label to wrap them in. Here's the Hellebore Smock that I do my lab work in. All creations are overseen by a gentle doggy guy mask that hangs on the wall.

I welcome your comments and questions. Visit the Garden of Simples shop at Etsy.com
With a $20.00 purchase of Garden of Simples product, you'll receive a complimentary Lydia McCauley CD.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Music of Lydia McCauley, In Retrospect

I am giving a performance tomorrow at Village Books in Fairhaven/Bellingham, WA. I'll be talking about my six recording projects and sharing songs from each. Twelve years have gone by since my first album, Sabbath Day's Journey. Looking back at the project I can see the beginning of patterns that would continue through my music to this day. There are several categories that showed up from the start: Appalachian/British Isles songs that are usually full of sweet sorrow, Medieval songs, Nature songs, Ecstatic prayers, Unity songs, and Relational songs.

At the time of writing the music for Sabbath Day's Journey, I walked most every day around a lake near my home. There is a marvelous stand of Fir trees at one side of the lake. It seemed that the trees became my companions as I often went to visit them. I named them "The Brotherwood". The photo shoot for the liner notes took place there. These solitary walks through the woods and along the shore influenced my writing. I kept journals of my thoughts and eventually they would find their way into songs.

The album starts out with Mother's Heart, which I can put into the Ecstatic prayer and Nature categories. "The morning air is clear/the morning skye is blue/my morning spirit closed/my morning heart a rue." It moves on to a Medieval sounding instrumental that celebrates St. Francis of Assisi and his band of merry men. It includes a piece about my ancestral family leaving Ireland, an Appalachian love-song, Black is the Colour of My True Love's Hair, and the story of my journey from youth to adulthood Apples on the Tree. There are a few more songs, Nature oriented, Relational, and one Unity song that sounds like a hymn, Burning Bush. The album ends with the most encouraging words I had ever heard at the time, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well" from the 14th Century English Mystic Julian of Norwich.

A follow-up release, Entrances, came out the very next year in 1999. The word has two meanings, one being an entrance such as a portal or gate, the other meaning being to fill with wonder. We recorded this one in Vancouver, B.C. by candlelight.

I stepped further into Nature poetry/Ecstatic prayer in Entrances, The Fire, and The Cloister Within. There's a Relational song Ashes and two Appalachian pieces Foggy Dew and Come All Ye Fair. I was reading St. Catherine of Siena, The Carmina Gadelica, and Etty Hillesum's Diaries (Hope Grows) at the time and each of them showed up in the album. Traveling Moorland celebrates our unity as a human race and leaves the listener with a blessing that is used in Scotland, "safe home."

By 2002, I had written several new songs for a project called The Beauty of the Earth.

The Beauty of the Earth, the title song, is both a Relational and Nature song. It weaves meadows, leaves, pears, and the wind around into a love-song. It holds the elements of bread and wine in a communion, and says "come my love and drink with me of the beauty so divine."

I Want to be Free was written in The Brotherwood at the lake. "I heard the wind in my soul, I heard the song of the earth and it's making me whole." Ecstatic prayer I think.

The River of Life was written on December 31, 1999, just at the turn of the new millennium. "Changed, formed and recreated... The sweetness and joy and the sadness and pain, the river of life I float upon."

There's The Lark in the Morn and Burning of the Piper's Hut, both from the British Isles. Aeternitas and Kyrie Eleison are both sung in Latin and are somewhat Medieval in character. Kyrie Eleison was written on September 11, 2001.

When You See is a Unity song inspired by a Jewish Midrash, or illustrated truth. "When you see a soul on the horizon that your heart has never known before, if you embrace the other as your sister or brother then you'll know that dawn is breaking in your heart, and the light has overcome the dark." It's interesting to me that most of the songs that I deem "Unity songs" sound like hymns. They are simply structured that way, not on purpose, but that's how I hear them to begin with as I compose them.

The photos from The Beauty of the Earth were taken in Italy.

We recorded The Moon of Wintertime just after The Beauty of the Earth. I mean, just one hour afterwards. We had been performing the songs for Solstice programs so we were familiar with the material. It was a quick and fun jaunt into the Winter season. There's only one original song on it, Gifts of the Magi, and I suppose we could classify it as the old favorite category Ecstatic, although it's not a prayer. It's Medieval sounding as well and I played it on the Appalachian dulcimer.

The rest of the material ranges from 14th Century Italy, to Medieval England, Scotland, and into the early Appalachian settlements. It's bright and merry with a little bit of mystery. True to form we used photos from The Brotherwood and Italy inside the liner notes.

That brings us to the album ForeignLander, which is a stepping back to my roots kind of recording. This is where a new category slips in: Birds. There are birds in several songs, which is quite normal in Appalachian music. It's full of sweet sorrow. I wrote one original piece for ForeignLander and it is called Swallow's Return. Stella is a Medieval piece and Softly and Tenderly is a hymn.

The liner notes include graphics of maps and boats, a hint of what was coming next...

New territory!
It was four years before I was ready to release another recording. I called it Quieting, because that's what I was doing at the time that the music came forward. It's an all instrumental album, which is new for me. Here's an excerpt from the liner notes:

This music celebrates a deepening connection with the natural world.
It is a place where every bug counts.
Cottonwood seeds hold the potential for one's very breath.
The shape of a mountain is a song in itself.
Frogs become close companions.
Hawthorn trees open the heart.
Pigs can dance. Bees can swing.
Children grow up into beautiful people while adults rediscover the wonder of childhood.
Wishes are granted.
Life and death are honored as one in the same.

Quieting includes several Nature inspired pieces. I lived in the woods at the time of writing them and couldn't help myself. It also opens a new category for me: Bugs! - Every Bug, Every Bee, Every Breath. And Pigs - Porcero Danza - Dance of the Pigs. And Humor - The Busy Bees of Sansepolcro. There is a frog chorus recorded from our own pond. I wrote a piece For My Daughters in remembrance of their childhood years, and one for my cat, Willow, rest her soul.

While contemplating a deeper connection with the natural world, I passed from youth to midlife through a quiet turnstyle. Here's a quote from William Wordsworth - "...with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things."

The imagery for this project comes from Burma. The boat on the cover is from an astonishing place called Inle Lake.

From my journal: May 10, 2007 Thursday

It's simple.
You have what it takes.
Sing your own vision.
Contribute to the river.
The great river winding
round the world.
Everything counts.

What's next? Perhaps a new project full of boats and water, ravens, meadows. I suspect there will be some Ecstatic songs, Relational bits, Appalachian/Medieval stuff and maybe even a prayer. Here's one of the latest in the Unity category.

In the Same Boat

We are in a river
Headed downstream
All of us together
In an earthly dream
Traveling together
But we think we don't
Separate in our vessels
In the same boat
Row, heave ho

Headed for the ocean
In a crooked line
Wending round the boulders
Yours and mine
Looking for an answer
In a simple rhyme
Headed for the ocean
Row, heave ho

Will we live forever
We don't know
No one here can tell us
Exactly where we'll go
But we'll go together
In the same boat
Headed for the ocean
To find our way home
Row, heave ho

Okay, now I guess I'm ready for my talk tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Surprising Things

Summer leaned toward Autumn. Autumn ushered itself in on a full moon. Some of us couldn't sleep for the magnetic pull of the year's tide.

Beans came off the vine in multi-colors. We sat at the table opening the pods, each one a different hue: hand-painted cream, dove grey, lavender speckles, and purple purple. All of the colours came from the same plant. This was truly a wonder.

One morning we woke to hundreds of spider webs. It seemed the little creatures got a cue all at the same time and suddenly started webbing up. These silver strung beads hung from grass to twig, rafter to trellis, on berry and bush. There were gossamer wings on the ground that caught enough dew to quench a thirst.

I was in South Dakota at summer's end and was surprised to see such beautiful haystacks.

A friend and I dyed wool with St. John's Wort this year. We were hoping for a red colour, but here's the golden reward of our efforts. One never knows what will happen with natural dyes.

That's the thing. There's so much to not know about and to see and experience. It's surprising.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

RIVER, a confluence of three composers

A few years ago I invited Nancy Rumbel and Jami Sieber to join me whilst recording my 2008 album release QUIETING. I had been a fan of both of them for some time. As we began the project it seemed that we complemented each other musically, that there was a spirit between us that came forth when our notes combined.

Jami travelled up to our studio for a summer's day session that was recorded by Kurt Scherer and Phil Heaven. I sat in the corner, knitting through every track as Jami seamlessly played song after song on her acoustic cello. I would look up and say, "that was wonderful!" because it was.

We FTP'd the piano tracks to Nancy. She chose two songs upon which to add her Grammy Winning oboe and English horn. She recorded the parts at her own Water Garden Studio and sent them back via the internet. Who knew a few short years ago that one could do such a thing? When we added the tracks into the mix, I looked up and said, "that was wonderful!" because it was.

A few months later we were on stage together during the CD Release of QUIETING. Later that night we sat in my living room in pajamas and talked over Everything. The idea popped in to construct a performance that included all three of us - a confluence of three composers. We would each have an opportunity to share our own music, and be able to accompany each other. After great deliberation we decided to call ourselves RIVER. "Cello, oboe, piano, English horn, vocals, and double wooden ocarinas flow seamlessly into a current of sound that is at once entertaining, soul-rendering and delightful."

July 17, 2010 will mark the first concert performance for RIVER. It's going to be a house concert at Meadow House in the countryside not far from Bellingham, Washington. It promises to be an interesting evening. I am sure that the three of us will enjoy it, because we just do. And it's Sold Out! How wonderful.

To listen to a "Hawthorn" and "Every Bug, Every Bee, Every Breath" from the QUIETING album, click here: http://www.ilike.com/artist/Lydia+McCauley

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Monkey Pete

I've been excited for some time to introduce a delightful little guy named Monkey Pete. Here he is. Monkey Pete.

We first met him in early 2006 just before a trip to Ireland and Italy. Our friends brought him over in his sleeping bag. I stuffed him in my backpack and he got through customs just fine. Off we went. That's how I got to know him and his quiet, sweet ways.

Here he is on Arranmore Island, County Donegal. Hi Monkey Pete!

Monkey Pete came to visit the other night and I was able to interview him with the help of his adopted mother Susan B.

A friend in Boston gave Monkey Pete to Susan B. in 1992. He has since had many adventures and travelled to several countries. He married (Monkey) Suki and has a child named Teeny Pete. They live separately, and I don't know the whole story. Sometimes its better for one not to ask.

These days Monkey Pete spends some time meditating. Here he is in a meditative pose. OM Monkey Padme OM.

He also likes the savasana (resting pose), which is my favorite too.

Monkey Pete is a world traveller. Why, he has journeyed to Turkey two or three times, Italy, Greece, Scotland, had a big trip to Nepal, and has visited Ireland on several occasions. He met the O'Pete's there and I do believe they made quite an impression on him.

One might find him sitting atop the Rialto.

Or helping Kurt gather firewood in Tuscany.

Now, Monkey Pete can get bored. It's only natural. But he finds ways to move forward and he encourages others to do so. That's the marvelous thing about him, he has a positive outlook.

Here are a few facts about him which I will put into a list because this blog entry is getting long:

1. He is very spiritual, and is often on another plane (no pun here) of existence, however - he hates the word - it gives him a stomach ache.

2. He is not a social climber, and is unconcerned with making a lot of money.

3. He is not a name dropper, but he could. Yes, he could. He's had his photo taken with a high Llama in Nepal. At the time of this interview he could not remember the name.

4. He's the subject of a Flip book (limited edition).

5. He is the subject of the book Young Monkeys in Love - Suki and Monkey Pete's Adventures at The Color Shack by Chelan and Susan B.

6. He wrote a memoir entitled Monkey Pete Returns to Ireland.

There's so much more about Monkey Pete. He's in a quiet phase right now, taking each day as it comes. I think that's healthy.
He is well loved by his family and indeed by many others around the planet. He's my favorite monkey, I know that.