Monthly Archives: April 2014

My Head in the Cool Blue North

Born: May 17, 1944, Bossier City, La.

Died: April 11. 2014, Charlottesville, Va.
When the news came of the death of Jesse Winchester, we were both shocked and saddened at our house. When we were in our salad days, we had the privilege of meeting him when he preformed in Aspen, Co., in 1977. His quiet but gentlemanly manner made a big impression on me and he gained my husband’s admiration, as well.
As I worked in a club where he played, I heard his music night after night. It never grew tedious in the slightest. The crowds swelled and by the end of that week, the likes of John Denver, Hunter S. Thompson and gasp, Willie Nelson, came in to hear Jesse.
This week, as tributes poured in from cities far and wide, colleagues and peers heaped praise on the body of work created by Jesse Winchester.
Along with his personal achievements, it is pleasing to note that his songs have been sung and recorded by a host of great people: Patti Page, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffet, Joan Baez, and Emmylou Harris to name a few.
He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the America Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2007. The Commercial Appeal in Memphis where his family was originally from eulogizes Jesse as, “One of music’s sweetest voices and most incisive songwriters.”
From those of us from the “cool blue north,” Jesse, we are honored that you came to be with us for a time.

Nothing But a Breeze

Life is much too short for some folks
For other folks it just drags on
Some folks like the taste of smokey whiskey
Others figure tea is too strong
I’m the type of guy who likes it right down the middle
I don’t like all this bouncing back and forth
Me, I want to live with my feet in Dixie
And my head in the cool blue North
And there we’ll do just as we please
It ain’t nothing but a breeze
In a small suburban garden
Not a single neighbor knows our name
I know the woman wishes we would move somewhere
Where the houses aren’t all the same
Jesse, I wish you would take me
Where the grass is greener
I really couldn’t say where it may be
Somewhere up on a mountain top
Or down by the deep blue sea
And there we’ll do just as we please
It ain’t nothing but a breeze
One day I’ll be old gray grandpa
All the pretty girls will call me “sir,”
Now, where they’re asking me how things are
Soon they’ll ask me how things were
Well, I don’t mind being an old gray grandpa
If you’ll be my gray grandma
But I suggest we go have our milk and cookies
In the shade of the old paw-paw
And there we’ll do just as we please
It ain’t nothing but a breeze
©1977 Jesse Winchester
From the LP “Nothing But A Breeze”

Fare Thee Well, Coldwater Creek


Elizabeth S.

Every company has a story. If it is a good one, people will be attracted to it.
The story of Coldwater Creek has come to the last page. Bankrupt and closing its doors, many analysts cite reasons, but for those of us who think of it as a living breathing entity, this is a sorry state of affairs.
Started in a ski condo, in 1984 by Denis and Ann Pence, it had an unlikely beginning. After moving to Sandpoint and saying goodbye to their corporate jobs, they decided to launch a catalog business. Their first attempts when, described by Dennis, were funny. A whale watching instrument which ostensibly one could play on the coast and illicit a response, yielded but one sale. It was later returned. One day a package arrived, unbidden. A stunning silver buckle with a native theme became the product that launched the company. Ann came up with the name as they walked along the shores of Lake Pend Oreille. A former copywriter, she played a huge part in creating a national brand selling women’s fashion over three channels: catalog, web and retail. It was not long before they became a Fortune 500 company.
It was 1999 when I answered an add in the paper and began a new chapter in my life. As a hands on Mom at home, my previous place of employment had been a ski lodge and nightclub in Aspen, Co, back in the late seventies.  After agonizing over my resume, I went down to the call center and sat in the lobby for about twenty minutes. I wanted to get a sense of the people and know the feel of the place before I tossed my hat in the ring. A woman walked by with a pail. Thinking it looked a bit odd, she responded to my quizzical expression by telling me that she was going out to feed the birds. That was the clincher for me. The fact that she took the time to speak to me, a stranger sitting there as if waiting for something. Feeling that it would be a friendly, welcoming place, I took the leap. Initially hired to be on the ‘phones as part of the rank and file, we were told in training class that if we could write a letter, we should apply for the web team. While the title sounded daunting, we were informed that live chat was just around the corner and they needed people to man it. 1999 was the year America discovered online shopping. Oh, how we had to coax people to pull out their credit cards. Business went through the roof and the intrepid little web team worked at breakneck speed. We would be up to five written conversations going on simultaneously, while answering email. Not only did we manage, this small team of fourteen people won an award for best Internet Customer Service and we were written up in the Wall Street Journal.
After that, I went on to become a Product Trainer. Teaching agents in both Coeur d’ Alene, and by video teleconference, West Virginia, we enjoyed continued success. Something strange began to happen when the customers would call in: they began professing their love for us. We were given an ethic of customer service and we were empowered to make our customers happy. If they complained about shipping costs we were allowed to erase it from their account. We took any return; we bent over backwards to make sure that they were pleased with their purchases. We knew their figure problems, their life problems, their weight gains and losses. We were allowed to talk, off script, within reason of course, but we enjoyed those relationships. Through it all, it seemed unlikely that such an endeavor could spring from a small town like Sandpoint.
The company grew and expanded. Denis Pence had the essence of a true entrepreneure. He tried new things. He scrapped ideas that didn’t work. He knew every product. He would come and talk to us, meet with all his agents, and hear their concerns. We didn’t sit in those meetings mute with fear: we spoke up and told him what were hearing from customers. They wanted long tops, we told him. The wanted to be comfortable. They wanted to get out of sweat pants, look nice, but still be able to move and bend. They had a hard time finding pants that fit. We all got on the ‘phones at Christmas. Men would call beseeching us for help. We gave them a set of steps. Go to her closet. Find something she wears all the time. Get a tape measure and give us the statistics. It used to make me laugh to hear them go to their toolbox and get out the metal one used on fix it projects and carpentry, but they were so happy to have a plan in place.
Training manuals, letters, live chat, and interpreting the copy, all fell under my jurisdiction. It became a job of both writing and speaking. Defining the brand became an interesting challenge, especially as it grew and changed. I relished the chance to be writing, in whatever form, and I thanked my lucky stars that my love of fashion and writing had come together in this form. Having gone to a girl’s school and a women’s college, the best part of punching a time clock every day for me, came in the form of a work place full of kind and caring women. We had nice guys there too, but they were greatly outnumbered.
Any company is so much more than the products on the shelves, or the ebb and flow of dollars out and in. It is a complex set of relationships. It is also a story. The garments in my closet still hold the Coldwater Creek label. For most people, it will be nothing but a memory soon. Yet it will be something different for me. A lesson learned, a collective of people of good faith, and a never ending sense of gratitude for all the great souls I met along the way.








Keep it simple, stupid.



It is never nice to call someone stupid. The only person you may use this word on is yourself. Too much negative self talk may be crippling, but in terms of writing, this is a useful phrase. While living in the small town of Winters, California, I used to read the San Francisco Chronicle, delivered to my door every day. Under the delicious scent wafting from my orange trees and wisteria vines, I read the columnist, Herb Caen. It was he who informed me of the concept of K.I.S.S. American writers I admired, excelled at a spare, literary style which I loved. This concept, written on an index card on my desk, sits as a constant reminder to hone in on one theme.



Herb Caen wrote a daily column from 1938-1977. He walked through the streets of his adopted town. He popped into out of the way places. He drank in Irish bars and with his words, he showed me around his city, his dearly beloved, San Francisco. I learned from him. If you see white shoes in San Francisco, they are on the feet of a tourist. If you see a tweed jacket in July, it is on the back of a native.



From one of his columns:



“Pondering the imponderables, I walk along 11th street. It is twilight, my favorite time, dry with a hint of vermouth. I am in love with the city all over again.”



Simplicity eludes us all, from the clutter in our homes, to distractions of the mind. What is your novel about? You better have a very clear, and simple answer. While the temptation to launch into a long explanation of characters and what happens to them, you are better off narrowing the field to one word. Competition. That is the answer. Competition. That is what my novel in progress is about. Where does it take place? Toronto. It is the story of a young dreamer coming of age in a Canadian hockey family, defined by winning and losing.



In depicting the story of my early life, I focus on the highs and lows. I strive to keep it simple, and I describe my city, Toronto, emerging from stalwart bricks and stockyards, to a cosmopolitan center teeming with new citizens from every corner of the globe. It is a place so rich in restaurants, you could dine out every night of the year, never plumbing the depths. Yet in the days of my girlhood, it was a stretch to eat spaghetti with garlic bread. While I envied Herb Caen’s love of San Francisco, time, distance and geography have led to a nostalgic fondness for the cobblestone streets and Tudor houses of my youth. Thanks to a mayor who is a bumbling, laughing stock, Toronto has hit the world stage. Yet for the first time in my conscious memory, it is not described as Toronto, Canada. It is now Toronto, plain and simple. My city, while it may never have quite the cachet of San Francisco, has come of age at last.



Strip away, strip away, scrape and sculpt, and then pad the bare spots. That is my formula for revision.



Strip away the trappings and you may find God’s truth. The old Shaker hymn tells us that it is, “a gift to be simple, a gift to be free, a gift to come down where we ought to be.”K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, smarty.