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"Will the Real Hope Dunbar please stand up?"

“Will the Real Hope Dunbar please stand up?”

THat’s what I’m calling my kickstarter campaign. Earlier this summer I had that day I had heard people talk about over the past year. I had that day when I could feel the future and I could see the door and I had to choose whether I was going to hang on to the past or start really living as who I was meant to be. I hadn’t seen that day coming but when I was living it, it was so clear to me who I was meant to be and how I was supposed to live that it was the line in the sand. It was the part in the story when the narrator says, “…and ever since that day…”

The Real Hope Dunbar feels electric and a hundred feet tall. She donkey kicks the heck out of life. She is the cool girl with the shades on who doesn’t look behind her as the abandoned warehouse explodes into a firestorm. She just slo-mo walks away like a boss.

But it’s Wednesday morning at 5am and I can’t sleep and I don’t feel a hundred feet tall or electric and I sure hope nothing goes up in flames on my watch because none of us need that kind of headache. Instead of an abandoned warehouse exploding, how ‘bout I slo-mo walk away from the Seward Public Library after returning my overdue library books? Is that cool? Or what if I kept my shades on like a boss as I load my grocery cart with liquid hand soap and travel size hairspray? That’s cool. That’s real. And I’m Hope Dunbar. So that makes for a Real Hope Dunbar.

Meow meow meow I know what you’re thinking.

“Hope, this is lame. You’re supposed to be donkey-kicking the hell out of life from the moment you wake up.”

And meow meow meow I totally agree with you.

Where did she go? She was seriously right here just a minute ago. Why can’t I just snap my fingers, feel electric, a hundred feet tall and give this thing a round house kick to the bread basket and show ‘em whose boss?

The Real Hope Dunbar. She’s here. I know she is, but I’ve got these thoughts that can be a royal bunch of jerks. Also, I wake up sometimes like Goldie Hawn in “Overboard” having been pulled out of the ocean by a trash barge without a notion of who I was the day before.

That’s cool too. I got this. I got this and it’s VERY REAL. So real that the camera keeps rolling after the electricity starts to flicker. So real that the lighting is kinda bad and my makeup’s come off. Sure, I like living the cool days when I feel kickass. Who doesn’t love feeling on fire (this time you’re on fire-in a good way- and the warehouse still stands)? But you know what? I’m not shaken by the days when life feels less shiny. I’m getting there.

To remind myself of my brightest version, I’m wearing red Converse sneakers every day for the duration of my Kickstarter campaign. It’s a nod to who I really am. To the REAL HOPE DUNBAR. So that, when she kicks down the door and karate chops the bad guy, I’ll be dressed appropriately.

What’s your true self look like? What’s your true self wear? Love? Do? Is your true self more a donkey kicker or round houser? I’d love to know.

Here’s a link to my kickstarter (KICK-starter) if you’re curious. Love, Hope

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1029799242/will-the-real-hope-dunbar-please-stand-up?ref=user_menu

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The New American Prairie Sound for 2020

“The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers was playing on the record player that day. Appropriate. Also, just a week or so later I would leave that guitar stand in Wisconsin.

“The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers was playing on the record player that day. Appropriate. Also, just a week or so later I would leave that guitar stand in Wisconsin.

I’m part of the New American Prairie style of singer-songwriter. If anyone asks, tell them I’m no folksinger, I’m a New American Prairie singer.

Upon the release of my last album, “Three Black Crows,” I said New American Prairie was filled with resilience, quietness, the routine of daily life and the transcending spirit of faithfulness that keeps us hanging in there. Or something like that.

I’m about to set the plan in motion for two new collections of songs. Both in the New American Prairie style, because that’s my thing. Only now, three years later, the clouds have lifted, it was a good year for rain, the crop is coming in easy and the skies are bluer than they’ve ever been.

Instead of fighting with the land, there’s peace in the land. I hope you’ll notice the feeling of openness. You’ll still hear the howl of the wind across the plains, but it’s sweeter. It’s the Sweetheartland.

It is the Sweetheartland. I’m not saying there’s no struggle, or that everything is perfect. We were never going for perfect. In fact, we were never going for happy all the time with nothing to do.

Over here we’re going for wholeness. The whole complete human experience with joy and laughter, frustration and stumbling from a heart where all the pieces are knit together as they should be. You got pieces of your heart floating somewhere outside where they belong? Take them back. They’re your’s. They belong together, all knit as one, no matter what they’ve been through. Take them back.

I think the New American Prairie sound was “shouting at the north wind” the last time we were heard about it. This time she’s standing in the north wind and calling a truce. Fighting looks great on camera, but it’s rubbish for daily life. For me, the battle proved futile about a year ago and ever since I stopped fighting (with myself mostly) life has gotten so much better.

Yes, I still cry in sadness, yes I still get scared facing the unknown, yes, I make mistakes and seek forgiveness and it is all one glorious exercise in feeling everything, walking through everything and giving myself the grace and love and permission I never had before to live in the moment.

Being nice to yourself is the sound of the New American Prairie. An unapologetic celebration of life filled with joy and sorrow, triumph and failure is the what the New American Prairie sounds like. It took me so long to hear it, but I do now.

Hopefully, if all goes well, I’ll be launching a new Kickstarter campaign on Friday. From the REAL HOPE DUNBAR. The one who sings the New American Prairie songs, who quit fighting and started really living, who is unafraid of brokenness, who is unafraid of pure joy and deep love, unafraid. Unafraid. That would be a good way to describe the New American Prairie sound of 2020.

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Wait for the corndog of confidence to ding you back into your true identity

It feels good to quit something that’s hard for about 10 minutes and then, especially if it’s something you really want, it feels bad every minute after that.

Tuesday felt like Quitsville for me. My brain was shouting loudly in my ear for most of the day with all the reasons why all my life goals are the dumbest goals anyone has ever thought up in the history of the world. And, dear reader, you might know the situation of which I speak because you too have spent a day with your brain bad-mouthing you.

I didn’t like it. It made me sad. I thought, “This is ridiculous. If I wave the white flag then maybe my brain will let me go home in peace and I’ll go back to hiding and behaving myself in quiet desperation and my brain will shut up because it finally got me to do what it wanted me to do.”

Seriously. Not my favorite day.

By around 4pm I was imagining myself asking for my old job back, cancelling all my future plans and boiling up some sweet corn to go with my microwaveable corndog (no one else was home for dinner that’s just where I was at, OK?).

And maybe I owe it all to the sweet corn.

Maybe I owe it all to the corndog.

Because as the water got to boiling and the corndog got to rotating on the glass plate behind the window of the microwave oven, I considered the implications of quitting.

Quitting only punishes me in this situation. Quitting marks the day Hope chose not to finish the story, the day she put the pen down, picked up her toys and walked back home. There was a time when the comment, “Quitting only lets yourself down.” made me feel sad. Why just me? Shouldn’t people who are cheering for me also feel sad when I choose to quit? That’s what I used to think.

Now I think I know what this human experience is like well enough to know that even my biggest fan and most beloved humans have so much on their own plates that it’s hard to extend that kind of mourning to another person.

Especially when the quit was voluntary. On a Tuesday. When I had enough to eat, a loving family, a corndog counting down to delicious in just 45 seconds and a bag full of sweet corn I didn’t have to share with anybody.

It’s true. If I quit, I’m only hurting myself. If I quit it’s because I wanted the quick fix of giving up more than I wanted the deliberate march to the sea- even if everything I touch turns to crap.

As I started buttering the first ear of corn, then salting and peppering that golden spear of sweet, crunchy possibility, I turned the corner. I was back online. Dudes, I’m not quitting until I have succeeded in making a royal fool out of myself and I am just getting started!

The notion of quitting was indulgent and stupid. About a year ago I came up with some goals that I wanted to achieve and I have been working toward them for months. I’ve noticed that when there’s a new border to cross, a new challenge to engage, the quitting voice inside my brain gets really really loud. I know it well. It knows me well. It knows exactly how to push my buttons and get me to lay down my sword (probably because the voice is me, you guys).

That’s what was going on on Tuesday pre-corn/corndog. By the time the corn was done and buttered I was mounting my defense. I was proudly remembering that, yes, I decide when the story is over and it’s not over yet. I’ve had a plan in my head for almost a year about how this thing is going down and I’ve decided I’m following it to the end even if the end is total disaster. And you know what? If I succeed or if I am grossly mistaken in following the plan, I am going to be so proud of myself because I didn’t quit. I might be working at the factory in the next town over for years to come in order to clean up my mess, but I’ll always say I saw my goals through to the very end and, even if other people see my dream as a failure, I’ll always see it as a triumph. So I’m not quitting.

You know what you need? You need some sweet corn, maybe a good old-fashioned walk around the block and a fellow traveler to tell you that the journey isn’t all butterflies and rainbows. You’re not any less worthy or capable just because you get frozen now and again by fear, worry and self-doubt. It happens to the best of us. The cool thing is that worry and self-doubt are always neon signs flashing to a brain desperately trying to keep you safe and keep you in the same place. Stepping out into new territory triggers that stupid brain voice, so consider yourself brave when the voices get louder. Consider yourself in motion because brains hate motion and give yourself a lackluster high-five, be patient, wait for the corndog of confidence to ding you back into your true identity and go do what you were called to do. We’re doing this. We’re totally doing this.

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Let me tell you about my dream (so you can tell me what it means)

I’ve been living like a shining star and I’ve been sleeping like garbage. Seriously. My waking hours are full of awesomeness coming at me from everywhere. I’m loving everything and I’m really improving my ability to schedule work time and free time much better than I ever have.

But I’ve also been helping my 13 year old son catch the bus for detasseling every morning which requires a 4:45am wake up call. Detasseling is field work typically done by junior high and high school kids for about 3 weeks in the summer here in the rural midwest. It’s a rite of passage. It’s pre-dawn wake ups, a weird outfit, a sack lunch and a jug of water and mud everywhere. They stumble home around 1-2pm, lay motionless for the rest of the day before doing it again the next day. At least that’s pretty much how it goes over here.

So I’m limited in sleeping time. I’m also not able to turn my brain off and it is getting crazy. Very little sleep from night to night. The set up is that a couple nights ago I invited some dreamers over to talk about big ideas and how we can start bringing ourselves more peace, more inspiration, more love into our lives.

And then I had this dream.

The dream starts with my laying in bed after having bid my guests farewell. I had changed into my pajamas and was beside Jon thinking we’d have a little time to talk before going to sleep and then there was a knock at the door.

Jon gets up to open the door, then comes back to tell me there are people here for a meeting. I think, “Didn’t the meeting just get over? But time had jumped to the next evening, I had no recollection of time passing and a whole new group of people were here for another meeting I had forgotten I had planned. And people just kept streaming in. Kids with sleeping bags, people I didn’t know, so many people and so I just went with it. In a mounting chaos I try to lead this meeting on dreams and goals but we’re not all in the same room and I’m trying to walk around and be heard by all these people. THere’s music playing, there’s a window unit AC that’s blowing air and it’s so hard to cut through either. Then, in the next room, after the meeting has been going on and I’m losing ground, a musical theatre group is performing a big scene and asking me to give them feedback and, once again, I’m trying frantically to come up with thoughts in the midst of total confusion and not prepared at all.

The musical group is performing and I’m standing in the dark by the back door when Prince comes in at the side door and leans over to me to tell me he wants to watch the performance but doesn’t want to draw attention to himself. Which is crazy. He and I are standing so close to one another but we don’t talk, but it feels special until someone does notice him and there's a buzz that he’s there and he senses it’s about to get a little nuts so he bolts out the door.

I’m back to managing this weird low hum of people everywhere in my house when I notice there’s a little tiny frog in a water filter as I’m filling it up, like a Brita. There’s a girl in a swimsuit who has been hanging out with other kids who are around and I ask her to take the filter outside, tip it over and let the frog go free.

From inside I see her doing precisely that, but when she tips the thing over and shakes the frog out, the frog is suddenly much bigger than we both thought it was and when she tips it over the frog crashes down onto the ground in a way that he’s hurt really bad. And all of a sudden this injured frog is flipping out and writhing in pain and the little girl is stunned that she has unintentionally inflicted pain on this creature and she’s starting to flip out and cry uncontrollably. Which makes me feel horrible that I set into motion these terrible things. And so from where I’m at in a sea of randos in my vicinity I start searching for a man who looks like a farmer or laborer in order to plead with him to go and kill the frog to put it out of its misery because I can’t do it myself.

Then I’m out on a dirt road and the cops are there and I can see Prince running into the wetlands with a couple of guys trying to escape the police. I sense the police are coming for me also and so I have to get away. There is a river beside the road with a good current and I decide in that moment to jump in. The river takes me into the current and I round the bend away from the police and I’m floating in the river until I come up to a dam/hydro-electric substation looking thing. I climb out of the river using a metal ladder that puts me onto a platform of the substation. I see a manhole (like a hole from an upper level to a lower level like what a firemen’s pole might have) and beneath me is a room where there looks to be a house church gathering of people worshipping.

When I climb down into the room I see a group of very diverse people- diverse in age, culture and ethnicity being lead by a woman in priestly garb who is guiding them in a worship liturgy and helping them remove all the God and Jesus language to praise and worship human and earthly things.

And that was my dream and I was shaken by pretty much all of it. High anxiety, high emotion, high bewilderment.

I don’t dream- or at least I never remember them. This one feels seared into my brain. This one feels like there’s a message in it. Does that make me crazy? Maybe. Perhaps the message is: you should get more sleep. Or “You’re not telling yourself the truth about how very frightened you are.”

Let the dream interpretation begin. Someone get Old Testament Daniel on the phone. Love, Hope

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Blanket Forts, the back half of summer and battling the inner voice

So far we’ve had the end of school, the Memorial Day, the Vacation Bible School, The Nebraska Folk and Roots festival the family vacation in Arkansas, the Boy Scout Camp, the National Youth Gathering and now into the fields for some good old fashioned detasseling before it’s time for school cleaning day (next week), back to school shopping and then the machine gets fired up all over again. But first Darrell Scott and Band of Horses!!!

There was a glimmer of couples tennis every day after work last week right up until Jon got injured and now there’s no more tennis. Heck, for Jon, there’s no more unassisted walking and no more right leg until he heals from his injury so that will help us to remember summer 2019 forever and always.

Mostly I’ve been thinking about my future, thinking about the past, trying to improve my run times, understanding the story I’ve been telling myself around money and learning how to use my new recording rig. I wake up some mornings feeling like it’s time to start conquering the world. I wake up some mornings thinking I have enough blankets in the closet and clothespins in the pantry to make a pretty sizeable blanket fort where I can hide from now on and no one will ever find me.

Yesterday was a blanket fort day. I worked on a song, I worked on some tracking but mostly I hid behind some Netflix and didn’t succeed in fending off the voices in my head.

They are so loud, you guys. So loud. They say, “You are making a fool of yourself. You could cut and run right now and still maybe get hired on at the Tenneco plant if you play your cards right. You know what your problem is? You write too many middle of the road songs and that means no one even knows what you’re about because your work sucks. What kind of loser mother of three throws her life away on something that doesn’t keep the lights on or solve world hunger? Come on.”

And you know what sucks even more? I know those voices really well. I’ve spent lots of time with them. They are terrible and comfortable at the same time. They’re just trying to tell me the truth and protect me from my own dumb ideas and notions. But are they though? Are they protecting me? Like aluminum foil on my windows and a fort made from bedding?

Some of you know I’ve spent almost one year working with a life coach. Life coaches are amazing. Essentially my life coach helped me learn how important it is to change my thoughts in order to change my emotional inner landscape and thus change how I live and act in the world.

It’s pretty incredible. On non-blanket fort days the dialogue goes more like:

“I am changing my thoughts around money and redefining my relationship with it. I have all the tools I need to learn, grow, take risks and move the ball down the court. I’m not wasting time, I’m doing the work I was created to do by my Heavenly Father. I don’t look to the past to inform how I want to live in the future.”

And all the while the purple cone flowers are blooming, the bind weed won’t quit it, the grapes grow in bunches, the bug spray is ever present and I can’t figure out how to string these vintage outdoor lights up in my backyard. I have funding for this season’s concert series, we enjoyed the Potato Bake at the Senior Center after church last Sunday, I played two shows last weekend for my superfans, my people who have been showing up to my gigs for years now like champions, I’ve almost reached my goal for 75 gigs in 2019 (I need 8 more, check out my booking page and let’s talk), someone is gifting us A HYBRID CAR, I bit the bullet and bought the gear that will help me do my job better, the boys are growing up before my eyes and I am in wonder of their beauty, and Mike- in perfect Mike fashion- knocked on my door to let me know he was mowing my lawn since Jon can’t do it for the next 6 weeks or so.

I crave the blanket fort when I think that all my ideas will tangle me up. There’s so much I want to do and I won’t be able to keep it all straight and organized so best not move, get a flashlight and some Netflix. What if what I want to come true actually does start happening but it throws me head first into more stuff I don’t know how to do? What happens then?

I guess I climb the trellis. I guess I ask for help. I suppose I pack a lunch and set out for the field before the sun is up. I’ve done hard things before. I can do hard things again. So far I have survived all the scary things: airplanes, college, marriage, child-bearing, child-rearing, rollercoasters, open Mics, Excel spreadsheets (just barely), scary movies, foreign languages, the DMV, all of it. Still standing. Still paying off that college loan and not beating myself up about it.

The days are still long. I don’t have to put on a coat to go outside. The pool’s still open and so are these summer days. Let’s go find some water and jump in. Let’s go find some adventure, get exhausted, get invigorated, get inspired and leave the blankets at home.

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Songland: the heart wants what the heart wants

Dear Songland,

I don’t want to love you. I don’t want to want to watch the next episode full of catchy hooks and new songs. I don’t want to cheer for the artist, the super mega producers nor the 18 year olds bringing their first song to a fancy pitch session where everyone is wearing nice clothes.

Dear Songland,

I don’t want to love you, but the heart wants what the heart wants. And I can’t quit you.

Dangit! I want to not like it! I want to watch it and rip on it, but God Bless it, I just can’t. Because to watch people hear new music for the first time, to watch people get excited about making music and making music better, to see the small small changes and tweaks it might take to bring a song from really good to WOW is so fascinating. And so full of energy.

I’ve watched two episodes so far. So I’m not even a pro because I haven’t seen it all yet, but goodness, to watch Will.i.am get so excited about new songs that he just has to start playing around with the material is the coolest. I thought he was a dope, aloof, super cool dude. Turns out he’s a music nerd just like me.

The Jonas Brothers wanting to sing along, wanting to riff on this new piece they’re hearing for the first time? The best.

And it’s the best because I know how that feels. I know how awesome it is to create new stuff and then invite a new set of ears and a new brain into the conversation is the coolest. So dear Songland, Keep it coming.

And then my second thought is about how my kids will never have the relationship with songs that I did when I was their age. When I was a kid in the summer time I spent so many hours listening at the radio for my favorite songs with my blank tape cued up and my fingers at the record/play button ready. “Personal Jesus”, “Out of the Blue”, “I think we’re alone now”, “Black Velvet”. “Nothing Compares 2 U”, “The Humpty Dance”, “Enjoy the Silence” and so so many more.

This stock photo is to imply kids hanging out in the summer time and that they listen to the same music and have a deep relationship with Casey Kasem’s Top 40 Countdown.

This stock photo is to imply kids hanging out in the summer time and that they listen to the same music and have a deep relationship with Casey Kasem’s Top 40 Countdown.

Songs were hard to come by when I was 13. They were not everywhere. They were at Sam Goodie for $4.99 a single and $13.99 (at least) for the record and I didn’t have that kinda money. I sat by the radio and waited for the song. And we were all doing that. All of us were in love with the “Cocktail” soundtrack at the same time because the market was pretty limited as far as what you could hear. So when I hear those songs now I remember where I was- playing foosball on the deck of the Dean Club Pool, spending the night at my friend Megan’s house (she and her sister had a good collection of 45s so it was super cool), buying the piano music of “RIght Here Waiting for you” so I could play the song as much as I wanted.

We all loved those songs. They shaped us. Now music is mostly background music. It’s for getting fired up during the warm ups before the game. It’s not trying to catch MTV news for more or wanting to know every ounce of very curated information about the artist published in Teen Beat magazine like what they like to eat for breakfast.

These days music is everywhere and you can find anything, but music doesn’t play into the storyline of a lifetime like it once did. They won’t tell stories to one another about what the song meant to them or how it played into their lives in different ways like it did for us. Oh, here’s me sounding all old and nostalgic. Excuse me while I go yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

The first time I heard “Graceland”, the first time I heard “Queen” on a family vacation with Katerina, the first time I heard “Santeria” and was like, “WAIT, WHAT?” I’ll never forget coming home from Paraguay and going for a drive with my friend Greg in his white Nissan Sentra (was that it?) with the windows down listening to Cranberries “Linger.” I can see it perfectly in my mind’s eye. Or being lovesick for the first time in high school sitting in my car by the beach in the dark listening to “Night Swimming” over and over again because it was the only thing that would help.

Songs, man. The heart wants what the heart wants and typically there’s music behind it. Love, Hope

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And suddenly you're seeing it

A little over a year ago I was invited to join a group of twelve women charged with discovering their next best selves. I said yes. About a year ago we met in a conference room for the first time to learn the plan, build a schedule and get going.

The abbreviated version is that I was tired, more than a little lost and not sure how to move forward. I had received some coaching from a more established musician in an effort to gain some guidance toward planning my next moves but still it was all a jumble. I remember going into that first meeting in that cold conference room somewhere near Columbus and thinking, “I might not grow, but I can support everyone else in their growth and that’s not nothing.”

A year ago I was scared and lost and feeling like a royal mess. I knew I was chasing approval from everywhere- my friends, my neighbors, the music community, radio guys, venue hosts, church members, everybody. I was waiting around for that one stamp of approval that would put all my doubts and fears to bed once and for all so that I knew what I was doing was the right way to go.

Then we met again. New town, new conference room, new blank sheet of paper. It was August, the summer had been crazy awesome and still, I was feeling lost and shaky.

We each took a big 3M giant post-it sheet of paper, some crayola markers and an empty space of conference table and got to the job of brainstorming and dreaming. Then we each took turns sharing our thoughts and visions.

Have you ever been invited to join a group of women charged with discovering their next best selves? Have you ever been given space and time to ponder the questions, “Where are you?” and “Where do you want to be?” When was the last time you were asked to actually answer the question, “What do you want?”

A year ago I had given little thought to any of it. I was just trying to get by from day to day and fake my way to the next thing.

After a tearful 3M post-it paper presentation and a chicken cordon bleu with mashed potatoes meal, I drove home fearful and worried like maybe I just didn’t have a next best self. Maybe this self was the only self there was.

And then lightning and then thinking and then writing in my journal. Then coaching, then friendship and camping and playing more shows. Then declaring, then forgetting, then declaring my intentions again. Then one step and another, then one more and now it’s been a year.

Chasing that stamp of approval is a hard habit to break, getting sad and quitting still shows up from time to time. Wondering where I’m going is still there but not in the same way as it was.

Have you ever gotten together with a group of strangers and become friends? Have you ever given yourself the gift of really seeing what parts of your daily routine are helping you and which parts are keeping you sad or stuck or worried or anxious? Have you ever spent time thinking about how to take care of yourself better? And I’m not talking about carbs and treadmills. I’m talking about how to really care for yourself as a precious, irreplaceable, beautiful child of God put here in this earth to use your gifts and talents the best you can from the healthiest, most peaceful state of mind possible.

Now it’s a year later. I’m not afraid of bad days. I don’t think my worth is shaken because I’m depressed. I don’t worry so much. I don’t get overwhelmed as much. I’m not that woman crumbling into tears and doubt beside a 3M post-it paper. And thank God for that.

And it has to do with finally seeing myself as God sees me. It has to do with giving myself permission to feel everything because the human experience is about feeling everything. It’s not about erasing negative emotions from your life. It’s about finally knowing what helps me feel strong and clear-eyed. Because you know what? If you don’t think about it, then you’ll never know the answer.

Do you love carbs and hate the treadmill? Do you love Netflix and nachos? That’s fine. But do you love something even more that you’re refusing to give yourself? Are you doing whatever it takes to escape the tougher quest which is stepping into your true identity?

Here’s the thing I’ve learned: when you finally surrender to your heart’s calling, your life’s vocation, then you don’t need the Netflix as much. When you finally discover what it is you were built for, you tap into energy you never thought you’d have, you find bravery and urgency and drive that makes the white wine or the Netflix or the treadmill not nearly as important because you’re finally becoming who you were always meant to be. And you find that you can feel whatever you need to feel, you can let yourself be special, you can take up some mother fudging space and suddenly, you’re seeing it.

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So much ground to cover

There’s so much ground to cover since I was here last. My last blog post was from May 6th. The day after Jon’s birthday.

Since then I went on tour with my friends, Emily White and Katie Dahl to Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, we drove and carpooled and sang songs and drank lots of coffee, went to the YMCA in Door County, laughed, talked, laughed and talked perhaps too much thus tiring our voices before we even got to the show, ate amazing food, had a flight of mimosas (a first), I saw a dear childhood friend, we walked in the beautiful weather of the Twin Cities through a garden by a lake and so much more.

I came home long enough to do my laundry, say hello to my family where we all went around the table and said our names and our astrological signs (no we didn’t) before packing it all up and heading down to Kerrville, Texas for the Kerrville Folk Festival and, specifically, the Grassy Hill New Folk competition. Which I did not win.

This year Emily Dunbar joined me at the festival and it was so fun. We danced in the dance pit, we drank lots of free beer, we had great, fascinating, beautifully unexpected conversations with new friends, took in all the music and folk stars everywhere in the most lovely Texas hill country weather I have yet to experience. You know what Texas loves? Texas loves them a songwriter, God Bless ‘em.

That first night arriving to camp was the best Welcome Home so far. Everywhere I went there was a friend to reconnect with. Everywhere I turned there were hugs and hellos and the sheer joy of being in the same place at the same time after months, years, perhaps exactly one year apart. What a gift.

And the gift was Kerrville, the campground, the festival ground, the music, Sparkle Joe, Rouse House New Folk Camp, The really big coffee pots, the sleeping in the tents and the showering in the shower house that has no roof, the gathering at the tree of sorrows after the competition had ended hoping they might call my name. It was the elements, the rocks underfoot, the song circles and late night walks through the camp listening for that siren song rising up through the dark and the quiet.

Photo by Jim Kam. This isn’t what I actually look like, but it’s my dreamscape version of what I look like. Thanks, Jim!!

Photo by Jim Kam. This isn’t what I actually look like, but it’s my dreamscape version of what I look like. Thanks, Jim!!

I did not win. I am okay. I decided to retire from the New Folk this year. The next time I go back to Kerrville will be in a strictly cheerleading/friendship capacity. Heck, maybe I’ll just play the festival and skip the contest altogether (bold statement).

I stayed for the song school. I left early because it was time to go home. I had the drive back through all that Texas to think about what I really want and how to get it. I want two records, I want to produce this concert series successfully, I want to do a kickstarter campaign, sell these tshirts, play with my Hope Dunbar Band, keep doing the Prompt Queens podcast and connect with people. I want to make the circle wider. I want to start the dreamers club, I want to take the plunge and start doing retreats both songwriter retreats and Bluestem retreats. I want to put together a Women in Music summit along with a mini-festival, I want to put together a women’s leadership summit. Not somewhere far far away, but right here.

There’s so much ground to cover- not just to tell you what’s up but also looking forward toward what I hope to accomplish. And I have you to thank. I think about you a lot when I consider what I’ve done and where the future leads. You’re there. You’re the inspiration behind so much of this.

When I was at song school I helped a guy write his first song. He’d never completed any of the pieces he had ever started in 30 years. You might say I decided he was going to write a song that day. It was the best. He wrote a great song. All I did was encourage him to keep going and help him shape ideas he already had in mind. Those are moments when I think of you. How you’ve encouraged me to keep going, how you’ve championed my work and heard me when I thought no one in the whole wide world was listening. You’ve bought my records, come to my shows, shared my events, encouraged your friends and family to come to my shows, you’ve watched my concertwindows, commented on my facebook videos, read this blog. You’ve taken the time to reach out to me with words of inspiration and love over and again.

So much ground to cover. So much more to do, but thankfully I’m not on my own. I’ve got you guys. You’re the engine, cue “Wind Beneath my Wings”, cue Vacation Bible School jingle, a couple of Prompt Queens songs, maybe a quesadilla, a goofy living room dance party and seeing every day as a friggin’ open invitation to really give it a go. Because isn’t there so much ground to cover?


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The list, the story, the tour

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THE LIST.

I listen to life coaching podcasts and find them to be really helpful, really informative, inspiring and fresh full of ideas that I, myself, have never considered before. Lately, I heard an episode by Brooke Castillo about getting rid of your ‘To Do’ list as a source of distraction and burden weighing down your thoughts.

Some people (like my husband) love a ‘To Do’ List. I would say I’m pretty neutral. I consider it a necessary evil. But whatever, this is what she had to say in her podcast about ‘to do’ lists:

To Do Lists take up mental energy. They linger in your thoughts, they take up space in your mind that could be used for way more interesting thinking, creating and productive planning. She suggests that, instead of a list, you take a moment to write down absolutely everything you have to do, from the most pressing important things to the minutiae you put off and put off because it’s not that important to sort the silverware drawer. All of it. Write it all down.

So I did: Weed the garden, work on concert series funding, schedule a meeting with XXX, finalize tshirt design, clean the kitchen, bathroom, vacuum living room, change guitar strings, buy milk, write three songs, schedule storytime, order shoes, go to the garden shop, get merch ready for tour, take a walk, follow up emails on booking, finalize concert schedule, make empanadas, follow up on recording dates to schedule, write that letter, paint Joey’s room, clean office space, throw out dead easter lillies, etc., etc., etc.,…

Then, go to your calendar and schedule every last piece of list content. Choose a date and time for each and every activity. Schedule it today, tomorrow, next week, the week after that, and into the future knowing when and how you’ll get it done and honor the schedule.

What happens is you’ve now transferred all that thought real estate to days and times and you are no longer nagged by incomplete lingering projects and jobs that keep you from thinking forward into the next best idea or daydream.

Truth: I’ve only done this a couple of times, but have seen how helpful it is to honor the schedule, complete tasks and create forward motion- even in the smallest things. Forward momentum makes the pending stuff feel not so impossible and huge. Maybe that helps. It’s helping me.

THE STORY.

Wow, guys. Stories are crazy. Stories have power. Stories aren’t always true just because you’ve lived with them for a long time. Stories are habits just like biting your nails or sleeping with the hall light on.

My mom never thought I was good enough./I’m bad at relationships./ I’m unlovable./ This is as good as it’ll ever get./ I just don’t belong here.

(For the record, I’m guilty of all those stories)

What a bunch of garbage. All those stories do nothing but lock us into repeating crap we’ve already done, and sadness we’ve already experienced. In life, my mom never told me I wasn’t good enough, no one ever looked me in the face and said I was bad at relationships, nobody ever labeled me as unlovable, I’ve never been told this is as good as it’s going to get and I’ve never been told by anyone that I don’t belong here.

I made up a story. I made it up from my own mind and decided it was true until the day I decided that story wasn’t working for me anymore.

It’s surprising to think how many negative thoughts and stories become as important to us as lights on in the hallway to make us feel comfortable.

Who cares if it’s true or not? Rewrite the friggin’ story:

TRUTH: My mom loves me no matter what. We don’t see the world in the same way, our priorities are different, but she loves me so so much. //TRUTH: I’ve made a lot of mistakes in past relationships just like everybody else and I’m not afraid to ask questions about why things went down the way they did so I can love more fully, be more fully myself for others and trust that God is using me in how I love others. //TRUTH: I’ve felt isolated and broken but brokeness does not define me. From brokeness and hurt come empathy and compassion and maybe I’m able to love people in a way so unique and honest that I’ve been called to show up in a special way for exactly the right people I meet. My love story is not over yet. //TRUTH: Who says this is as good as it gets? Is this as good as I want it to get? Maybe not. Maybe it’s time to start confessing what I really want out loud and give myself permission to dream. My new story is believing that I am the author of my days and years.// TRUTH: I belong here. I am meant to be here. I have gifts and talents my community needs and there’s no problem at all if I don’t always fit in with my neighbors. We’re not called to be the same. I’m here to help someone with the gifts I’ve been given and my neighbor is here to teach me a thing or two. Thank God for that! There’s beauty in difference.//

Rewrite the story and find evidence that proves it. Rewrite the story just to claim some power back. You’re the main character. This is your story. No one gets a gold star for suffering in silence and never trying to steer the ship. No one can say, “But look Lord, I never asked for anything, I never spoke up, I never fought for what I wanted. Aren’t you proud of me?”

I think the Lord would say, “I gave you this one life so you’d enjoy all the gifts I wanted to give you- family, friends, creation, love and every new day. I gave you this life so you could become as big and bright and beautiful as I’ve always known you to be. There are no gold stars for sadness or resignation or never raising your hand, you guys.”

LIfe is crazy. Lots of it is out of our control. How we narrate day to day to day to day IS within our control. The story we write about the good stuff and bad stuff is completely our’s so take it seriously. Think about it. Think about how you want to feel and how you want your story to be told, then rewrite those parts that keep you frozen or keep you sad or keep you locked up inside a box you were never meant to be in in the first place.

THE TOUR

The story for tour is: I am so blessed to be in such beautiful musical community that I get the chance to go on the road with two amazing artists (and friends) and spend all those nights listening to their songwriting and laughing along the way.

The story used to be something like; “You suck, get off the stage, the best thing you can do is bow out so the girls aren’t burdened by your presence for ten days.”

And now I have to say a prayer and go look in my basement for Cds I really really hope are down there because I go on tour come Thursday. With two of my very best friends- who are way more organized than I am. I tell myself- just get your ass to the first show and then they’ll tell you where to go from there. Again, I get by with LOTS of help from my friends.

So now, go schedule that walk and that hair appointment and when you’re going to call your mom to say hi, decide this is a great day full of wonder and possibility and GO KICK SOME SERIOUS ASS (in a loving, supportive kind of way). Love, Hope

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Reflections at the end of a concert series season

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You might know (you might not) that I produce a small concert series in the town of Seward, NE. It is called, very uncreatively, the Seward Songwriter Series.

We just finished our 4th season. I think it’s probably our second real offical season. Our last concert was on Friday night when we hosted Sarah Sample and Edie Carey. They were amazing and the crowd loved them. I love them. I was so excited to share my friends with the listening audience of Seward.

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Emily Dunbar opened the show with her wit and charm and her effortless storytelling. I loved to hear the audience reaction to “Chlorine” and “Big Nebraska Sky.” Sarah and Edie then took the stage with their Lullabies collaboration, ethereal harmonies and then traded off playing their own songs. I told them afterward how great it was to finally see the whole show since usually I only get to see them in Colorado when they play an abbreviated set in the Wildflower pavilion. If you get a chance to see the whole show- DO IT.

Hosting a concert series is both magical and also the most stressful scary venture ever. It’s making posters, hanging up the posters, trying my best to publicize the shows, go on the radio early in the morning, write press releases, invite people, get the word out, find sponsorship and financial support, make dinner, set up the sound, most of the time I’m the opener and then the doors open and I pray to the Father in heaven that people come.

And then, no matter what, the lights go down, the music starts and the evening is magical. It’s exactly what I was hoping to give to the wonderful people in attendance- a peek into the world of songwriters, into music full of heart and soul and story and by the end of the night, hopefully, people walk away feeling inspired, lifted up, like they got to see the magic show first hand and they’re better for it.

This season we hosted Emily Scott Robinson, Moors and McCumber, Tim Grimm and Jackson Grimm, Dan Weber and, finally, Sarah Sample and Edie Carey. Past shows include Mare Wakefield and Nomad, Beth Wood and David Stoddard, Katie Dahl, Laurie McClain and Andy Miller. And more who don’t come to mind at present.

This season has been so great. I think we’ve got a following and that feels so so good. The other night someone said, “I’m obsessed with the Songwriter Series. I can’t wait for the next one!”

Someone else said, “I can’t believe not everyone is here for every show. This is the best.”

It took four seasons to get a core group of people showing up time and again and, man, I can’t tell you how awesome that is. Seward is new to songwriters. Seward is being introduced to this whole world of amazing artists touring the country and singing their guts out and it feels like an honor to be the one who gets to open that magical door time and again to something so wonderful.

And we do it with the help of our friends and neighbors- Red Path Gallery and Tasting Room, U.S. Cellular, Zabka-Purdue Funeral Home, Jones Bank, La Ruche Bed and Breakfast, and now Triple E Equine Bunkhouse.

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All this is to say- are you thinking about growing something? Are you thinking about building something new? Are you fearful of the risk or the biggness or that you don’t know what you’re doing?

Me too. Same. Recently I heard someone say that staying stuck feels uncomfortable and so does moving forward. If you know you’re going to feel discomfort either way, why not put it toward something new instead of letting it fester while remaining in the same place?

Be sure that I will stress out over future concerts, over asking for sponsorship and ticket sales and all that crap, but I won’t die from any of it. I’ll keep building and moving and learning and, hopefully, growing into the more realized version of who the Good Lord created me to be in the first place.

Have a great day. Go be amazing. Love, Hope. And stay tuned for the incredible upcoming line up at the Seward Songwriter Series to come!!

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I don't know the things I should know but maybe I do

I don’t know the things I should know, but maybe I do. Maybe we all know what we need to know to move forward and the only thing keeping us from a plan is the courage to answer the questions truthfully while listening to our inmost voice. So I say:

“I don’t know what to do next.”

And then I sit with it. I genuinely feel like there’s a big question mark hanging over my head. I walk with it, I sit it with, I mill it around while walking to the store. I say again, “I don’t know what to do next.”

I say it right up until the moment when another thought comes to me, “I think you do know what to do next.”

Here’s the thing. “I don’t know” can feel really safe. It asks nothing of us. It allows life to happen and all we have to do it react and throw our hands up, feel powerless and point to the things making life hard.

The harder thing, but also the good thing would be to take a walk with the notion that, yes, indeed, I do know what to do. I just need the guts to admit it. To admit that I know what to do means I admit to knowing how to move forward. To admit I can see how to move forward means I’ve chosen things that are precious and things that I will release, it means I make decisions as far as what I want instead of taking the temperature of everything around me to test if things are going well or not.

Be the thermostat, not the thermometer.

Set it to where you want it. Don’t test the weather and decide how you feel.

So. I do know what’s next. Turns out, I actually do know.

I get the Kickstarter ready, I reach out to people and ask about playing shows in their area, I order the Hope Dunbar Band t-shirts, I let my people know their are t-shirts for sale, I schedule band practice, I call that guy back, I schedule recording dates once I have a better idea about the money.

I don’t sweat falling off the cliff. I take a minute, I slowly get back up, I dust off and I start climbing back up to the ledge. When I get there, I don’t beat myself up for having fallen off, instead, I celebrate getting back up.

I know what to do next, you guys. High five.

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See you tomorrow, Nashville

I’ll be there tomorrow. I’m leaving today.

I’m waiting for the dryer cycle to finish, for that one last trip to the bank, then the gas station, one more walk down an empty road, then I’ll load up the van and I’ll go.

I like long drives. I like the road. I like returning to the places I like to stop, the parks to walk around for a little break, the question, “How long can I resist the Diet Coke’s siren song?” which then morphs into, “Why am I resisting the Diet Coke’s siren song? Whatever it takes to get to where you’re going is just fine, Hopie.”

I always start in that one place and end in the other.

See you tomorrow, Nashville.

Every time I go there I have this sinking feeling in my stomach about hopes and dreams and waking up to the present day. (This is not to be confessed because I’m working on actually believing I can be better than where I’m at right now, but the truth is that first I combat what I’m used to thinking and feeling and then I work on my new script). My husband was reminding me of all the great artists who lived in poverty and obscurity their whole lives and it made me feel better while I unloaded the dishwasher last night after dinner. We’re not impoverished yet, which is great, and the sun is shining on a new day and I love that too. So here we go.

The good news is that this time I’m going just to write some songs and I love writing songs. I’m going in hopes of seeing the trees in bloom, the dogwood and the magnolia and I’m going in hopes that it’s steamier than it is here in Nebraska. I always think humidity will do wonders for my skin- even in small doses.

This is the story of the Nebraska to Nashville pipeline you’ve all read about in the magazines (you haven’t read about that) and how the two places are really experiencing a symbiosis of talent and energy.

Which is why I’m waiting for the dryer cycle, which is why I’m packing up the car, which is why I’m willing to log the miles and practice new thoughts and new ideas and put them on paper.

See you tomorrow, Nashville.

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Painting a room, baking a batch of cookies


First you remove all the stuff that’s getting in the way. You dust, you clean, you vacuum and give attention to the corners after years of neglect behind bookcases and headboards and random stacks of coffee table books that you meant to move months and months ago and never did.

You tape the edges, you lay down plastic, you open a window after removing all its coverings. You’re in an empty room except for the table of legos, like an island with a laundry basket of books beneath it.

You turn on the record player, pour the paint, your favorite brush in hand and begin with the edges. That’s how I do it, anyway. I primed, I painted, I removed the tape. Then I primed, I painted. Today I’ll remove the tape.

And then, by tomorrow, I’ll begin the slow process of putting everything back in its place. The bed, the bookcase, the dresser, the lego table, the clutter won’t come back (yes it will).

And all the time I’m moving the brush and looking in close and listening to tunes and all the time I’m thinking about the goals I’ve set, the unfinished list of things to do, the things I’m afraid of, the things I might never get. I think about all those musicians out there who are killing it. They’re releasing kickass albums and playing shows, they’re doing the thing and they’re running the race.

And there I was painting the room, close to broke, six months after quitting my waitressing job, realizing I have no skills, no piece of paper to prove I’m qualified for anything, feeling like my swan song(s) is going to be these last two albums, going into serious debt to make them and then getting a job as a housekeeper to pay them off over 18 months.

Someone explained a music career to me once like baking cookies. You can bake cookies. Your friends and your mom will tell you the cookies taste pretty good, but if no one ever lines up for your cookies then maybe it’s a sign you should start baking something else. There are some great bakers out there. Their cookies taste amazing. Of course people are standing in line for their cookies. At any bake off there are star bakers and there are participation ribbons. And as the hall clears out and people start packing up their display tables and their leftovers, you take a cookie from off one of your piles, and, when no one’s looking, you take a bite and ask yourself, “Does this taste good? Do I like this taste?” And, oddly enough, you like it. You like the cookies you baked. You’re proud of them, you’re not embarrassed. You whisper to yourself, “I’m proud of this work. I think I did a good job. This is exactly how I wanted my cookies to taste.” And you imagine yourself years from now, clocking out at 5pm and when no one’s home and no one can see, you let yourself bake cookies and think, “If the right person had been there that day, they would’ve loved this cookie.”

And cue Darrell Scotts, “Heartbreak Town” and paint the last wall.


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Spring dream urgency

She asked me if I wanted to run away and I said yes and so we both packed up some things and some wine and went to a cabin in the woods where we drank in the silence and the birdsongs, the frosty morning and the thawing pond and we built a fire that we sat beside it drinking coffee, writing words, looking up, then closing our eyes to feel the sunshine hit us gently.

We braved the mud of the trail that lead to a waterfall on the first day of spring and searched beneath rock ledges and a thick matte of wet leaves for snail shells and acorn shells and the water fell muddy over the rocks into the pool and down the stream.

I’d say we were gone 28 hours. 28 hours of quiet reflection, dreaming, scheming, laughing, walking, listening and getting our plan straight in our heads before heading back home to the onslaught.

I told my friend all about it yesterday as we walked in the afternoon sun of a world that might just be waking up. We walked past the park and the school, over the train tracks and up past the bank, the post office, the bowling alley, the grocery store, the beauty parlor and then back around toward home again.

After that I started breaking down the broken bed, removing the mountain of stuffed animals and stacks of books from the room that needs cleaned and painted before the new bed arrives. He was gone all afternoon and into evening for a school band competition. He wore his dad’s dress clothes for the occasion. He likes staying up late reading books and playing with legos. When I woke up this morning to look in on the empty room, there was a whole shelf staged with lego creations. He must have done it some time after 10pm. That’s how he rolls.

By the time I was in bed about to fall asleep, all these great ideas and plans I had fixed my eyes upon were starting to melt like an ice sculpture on the fourth of July. Why do you have to make two records back to back? Because I feel like I’m running out of time. Why do you feel like you’re running out of time? Because we all know how this is going to end. How is this going to end? I’m going to be slammed with debt and have to get a job to pay off the records. So why don’t you wait? Because I can’t abide by some artificial timeline that won’t do a darn thing for me. What will do a darn thing for you? I think me. Is it loser talk to imagine the end of the story being an Admin. Asst. position somewhere in the next 36 months? I don’t know anymore.

In the light of day I feel committed to my plan of urgency. My plan of total financial ruin that I’ll pay for for years to come. That sounds like something I’d do. I can do that.

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This time next year

Dudes. Of course I’m not posting an actual picture of myself! I’m 42!

Dudes. Of course I’m not posting an actual picture of myself! I’m 42!

This time next year I’ll be another year older. This time last year was pretty awesome. The year before that was super cool too.

In 2018 I did lots of cool things- I toured with my closest friends, I went on a roadtrip to Texas with my family, I baked in the hot Texas sun, I went on tour to Germany with my oldest son, I took a group of high school kids to New York City, I took my sons to see Dawes in concert-their first real rock and roll show, I drove to Chicago just to see Cory Branan play for 45 minutes (worth it), I lead music at Vacation Bible School, I went swimming and went to California to visit my family and my friend and I had lunch in Laguna Beach as is our new tradition when I go back home.

I was invited to join a catalyst group of “Change makers” filled with artists, writers and dreamers and, from that group, started Life Coaching with Leah Badertscher in The Art School (leahcb.com) filled with more artists, writers, dreamers and innovators. Mind blown.

By December I finished all twelve comission songs, I directed the Christmas eve Sunday school pageant at church, and, by February I was enrolled in a Peter Himmelman online songwriting workshop (and you should be too) and second round of The Art School for more coaching.

Now it’s March. Since the start of 2019, Emily Dunbar and I have launched and continue to produce our podcast, Prompt Queens, I’ve toured Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas with Tim Grimm, I flew to Montreal for Folk Alliance International, hung out with friends, came home, survived snow and ice and more snow and ice, facilitated a womens retreat, I’ve written at least 18 songs and last weekend I went and recorded demo recordings for one of two upcoming albums.

This year: 75 gigs, two records, and world domination.

Please don’t read that there weren’t any troubles or hardships, sleepless nights or adulting that sucked over the past 12 months. There was plenty of the hard stuff. But oh my goodness! There was so much abundance, so much love and friendship and wonder and discovery too. I am so thankful.

And this time next year, I’ll look back and see how I crushed my goals and came up with new ones. Or maybe I won’t have crushed them. Maybe life will throw some curveballs and I’ll be asked to get real creative. That’s OK too.

It’s taken me forty one years to look in the mirror and think I can do it. Forty one years to not be so disappointed in myself or feel like I can only create things “in the margins of the junk mail.” No more margins. I’m taking up the whole page from now on. And I’m going to celebrate all the good things like I never let myself celebrate the good things before.

Thanks for being there and reading this. Thanks for helping me just by letting me know you see this. I hope it helps you too. Now let’s go kick some ass. Love,

Hope

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Week six of songwriting class and adventures in time travel

Guys. This past week I wrote a song about a movie, a theme song for our podcast, “Prompt Queens” (you’re listening to “Prompt Queens”), a song about summer and a song that would inspire Earth, Wind and Fire to cover it. The Earth, Wind and Fire song was the last song and, this isn’t an excuse, but I was running on fumes and that’s what it sounds like on playback this morning. It sounds like disco fumes after Studio 54 closed for the night and everyone went home.

I spent three ridiculous hours practicing what I would call “disco strumming”, recording one verse/line at a time, listening to playback and then writing some more. By the time I looked up it had been four hours of playing and working and playing and working and my fingers hurt. (“Well, your back is going to to hurt now because you just pulled landscaping duty” -Happy Gilmore. Watch it)

I was so tired that I posted it on the songwriting forum. And I regret that in the light of a new day. But, ya know what? I learned something. Sleep on it. No need to succumb to some weird time constraint you’ve given yourself. Sit back, think about it, then realize how stupid the song was and work on it. But also, don’t stress so much about showing off in your songwriting class that you can’t honestly show up with half-baked work on the day you’re tired and your fingers hurt.

Other adventures include: getting to talk to a class of college kids today and try to impart some wisdom, recording more podcast episodes and battling through tech problems, rehearsing for an upcoming recording date on Friday, planning a trip to Nashville (!!!), finally getting those lingering home repairs completed and buying my son his first guitar.

His guitar is so cool that I want one now.

Life is good. Life is grand. Life is full of helpers and cheerleaders, dreamers and doers and children flying off to foreign lands as you stand in wonder at how Time waves its magic wand and poof, you’re suddenly in a place you’ve never seen before. LIfe is junior high Sunday school, the potato bake at the senior center, the house like a rehearsal space where he’s playing guitar all. day. long. It’s a glimpse of sun after days of shadow, it’s the melting of the mounds of snow you never thought would vanish, it’s the books of the Bible Q&A and the passing around of lemon bars Meg made for us. It’s sitting beside a couple you adore and remembering that, when you first got here, they weren’t a couple at all. They were strangers and now, eight years later, they are expecting baby number three.

And you look around and, poof, you’re in a place you’ve never seen before. And, poof, the magic wand is still glowing, and, poof, she asks you what you wish for and suddenly, years later, you’re in a place you’ve never dreamed.

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Peter Himmelman's Online Songwriting Workshop

First, there’s so much to say. There’s so much to tell. I want to tell you everything, but I think I should make it quick. Here’s the highlight reel, then we’ll get into the topic of today’s bloggy blog. (Blog E. Blog):

Fear, coffee, San Pellegrino, vacation home, snow, subzero temps, dance party, change of plans, meeting of the minds, TLC, Salt ‘n Peppa, Asti Spumonte, co-write, songwriting, crisis of confidence, weight watchers points, your next best self, my next best self, Pakistani drama, receipts, Radon, Nashville, emails, kitchen table, space heater, motherhood, money, pancakes, bedhead, haircuts, pool cue, birthday prep, and a trip to the post office.

Now that’s out of the way: Peter Himmelman’s online Songwriting course Winter Session 2019.

I can’t remember when I finished my first life coaching session (The Art School- amazing). I just know that it was my first step into finding the next path I should be on. I love songwriting and I love the idea of songwriting in a group. What motivates me? A stage and a deadline. Because I’m a show off and a recovering late submission student (with an automatic 10% off my grade). I don’t miss deadlines too much anymore.

First my friend Bob mentioned it, then my friend Simeon mentioned it and then I signed up for the class. I already knew I loved me some Himmelman. I admire his spirit, his honesty, his vulnerability that, to me, looks like fearlessness. I don’t know if it feels like fearlessness for him, but that’s what it looks like from here.

I joined. Six weeks of songwriting. Six weeks of prompts. Oh wait, I’m already writing a bunch of songs from prompts for my podcast, Prompt Queens. No big whoop.

I didn’t know what to expect from the course, but wow, it’s been so great. Last night I wrote and turned in week 5 song. Next week is our last song. Himmelman’s feedback is so valuable as is the feedback from fellow students. What I was not expecting was how interesting and diverse and different the other writers in the class would be and how it felt like a different gathering of voices, a different artfulness than the one to which I’ve become accustomed.

Did I say that already? Maybe I’ve said this already. Doesn’t matter. It’s worth saying again. So here are the songs I’ve written for 5 weeks:

  1. Tickets to Springsteen- this week was crazy so I submitted a song I had written over a year ago around the time Stephen from the cafe suddenly died. I haven’t done anything with it so it was an opportunity to get some feedback and dust it off, re-write some stuff.

  2. Stuck in Time- I wrote this song for the podcast the same week as I needed to write for this class so I thought it counted. I like it. It’s a slow, reflective, first person narrative about being stuck in time because of a big big thing you did once when you were young and that’s how people know you.

  3. Aquamarine- I did not follow the prompt. I wrote it at Folk Alliance and on the plane flight home. It’s first person narrative musing on the beauty of someone else. I like the idea of muse and inspiration. I like the idea of people inspiring art with their art. THat’s what it’s about.

  4. The Road Is- After three weeks of first person I was sick of myself so I wrote a song with the intention of not being anywhere in it. I did not write to the prompt because Himmelman gives hard ones that make me feel scared and exposed and you’d think I’d be cool with that, but dude, it was informative to see the places I do not want to go. Turns out there are quite a few.

  5. A breakthrough’s gonna come- I wrote it last night. I wrote it to the prompt: Stages of Birth. I find it interesting there are only two women in this class. I thought to myself, “If I don’t find a way to actually talk about this thing that I actually have first hand knowledge of, then I’m a total coward.” I like what I wrote. It’s not as close to the flame as I would desire, but it’s not that far off. Birth, childbirth, pain and power at the same time? Not easy song topics. Challenge accepted.

  6. YET TO BE WRITTEN. But you know what he did? He gave us each individual song prompts. Here’s mine: Hope- write a song that Earth, Wind and Fire would be dying to cover.

Oh Peter. I love how much faith you have in my abilities. I love that you think I can actually do this. I don’t want to let you down. I do not want to throw away my shot.

All this to say, once again, I’m staring at a group of songs I never thought I’d write. Some of those songs are pretty good, actually. They are making me want to change my recording schedule and put them in the line up (don’t worry, I won’t do that). Once again I looked around, I listened and I think the Good Lord took me by the hand to show me something beautiful he thought I’d like. And I do like it. And this is a world of Wonder and my listening skills are improving and I’m curious to find.

So thank you, Bob. Thank you, Simeon. Thank you, Peter. Thank you, Hope, for working in the best interests of the Hope Dunbar Corporation.

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The Road Is/ Make less sense, let loose more.

What’s there for you when you’ve come undone? And will not judge when it’s time to run? What’s there when life feels limitless?

The Road is.

The road is presently covered in snow and ice. The road will take you to school and back and the Costco to buy supplies for the retreat this weekend. The road is looking easier than staying because, man, you suck at this.

The Road is.

I wrote a new song on Sunday night into early Monday sitting at the kitchen table playing really soft so as not to wake anyone up. I had been fishing and trying and fishing and trying all weekend until it hit me. Do you know how good that feels? In a world where I’m bad at keeping house and raising kids and being a good friend and volunteer and wife and church lady, the hitting upon a new song is like plunging into one of those tropical Hawaiian secret lagoons with a waterfall like you see in the movies. One tiny moment of bliss and respite before going back into the salt mines.

I liked it so much that I turned it in to Kerrville New Folk on a whim after frantically trying to edit the darn thing over the past three days. I even took my thesaurus and synonym/antonym book with me to breakfast duty yesterday morning in search of the right word.

Dudes. I never use helps and also, it’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to really roll up my sleeves and edit.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been living in a song factory and I love it. I’ve been writing for the podcast (Hey check out “Prompt Queens!”) and I’ve been writing for an online class I’m talking with Peter Himmelman. He’s the best. He’s fearless. His eyes focus in on the things I love and also the things I understand. I’ve been taught wonderful lessons by many different teachers. The lessons that really sink in are the ones coming from the teachers who instinctively understand the writers voices of their students. That’s a fancy way of saying HImmelman’s so good because it feels like he gets me. And I would predict every one of his students would say the same things. His creative eyes are wide open even in the responses he offers to songs he hears. Do you know how unique that is? An instructor who does not abandon wonder and curiosity when he has to put on his coveralls and go to work? That’s awesome. To me, it’s exceptional.

And I love fearlessness and I love abandon and I love that guy. (And Jon knows. Jon listens kindly while I gush on Himmelman, Scott, Branan, Hillman, all those guys)

His advice to me that I’ve been thinking about? “Make less sense. Let loose some more.”

I understand what he means. I do not understand how to do it.

Isn’t “Make less sense and let loose more” pretty much the opposite of everything everyone is telling us all the time? Do a job that makes sense, order your life sensibly, keep it together, button it up, salt mines, salt mines, salt mines. Dollar dollar bills, y’all.

The road is not far off. You’re on it right now. Does it feel free or taxing? Does it feel heavy or light? I can say this week it has felt effing hard but then I plunged into a tropical lagoon with a new song, I remembered how much I love writing and how I love my sons and husband (who is contractually obligated to love me forever even when he doesn’t want to). Make less sense, let loose some more. Himmelman is a good teacher. I’m going to give it a go.

You know who makes the road effing hard? Not the road. I do. I make it hard. I make it mean hard things. I make it become a test of wit and skill and it isn’t. Here’s the thing. The road is just the road. My brain is choosing to define it in a way that feels safe and comfortable. My brain likes what it likes and if I’m used to calling the road a real pain in my ass then that’s exactly what it will always be until the day I wake up and say, “That’s not working for me anymore.”

I’ve awoken many times with that feeling. “This ain’t working for me anymore.”

Then I forget and have to remember all over again.

Today I feel like deciding that the road can make less sense. I think I’m going to pretend like the road can be free and loose until I’m not pretending anymore because it really is. Stay amazing and go show ‘em what you’ve got. Love,

Hope

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Folk Alliance and Continuing Ed

Classic folk alliance, you guys. Mr. Todd Adelman singing his guts out at 2am and looking so cool while he does it.

Classic folk alliance, you guys. Mr. Todd Adelman singing his guts out at 2am and looking so cool while he does it.

Last week from Wednesday to Sunday I was in Montreal, Quebec for the annual Folk Alliance conference. As always a bunch of musical friends and strangers from all over the world descended upon one 5 star hotel silly enough to think they could keep hippies and folky vampires from drinking beers in the hallway at 2am. That’s hilarious.

But mostly it was songs and talking and making friends and working at the Info Booth to help people find the restrooms or where Buffy St. Marie was giving her talk. It was great. The food was great. Montreal gets high marks from me. Folk Allliance gets high marks from me.

This is a picture of Jeff and I meeting in human life after being online friends ever since Real Women Real Songs Season 2. Pretty great.

This is a picture of Jeff and I meeting in human life after being online friends ever since Real Women Real Songs Season 2. Pretty great.

Highlights include: The pool, the pool with Heather and Sarah, getting to sing with Bob, hearing Bob’s songs, sharing an ITR with Scott and Hayley, singing in Lou’s room, talking music and transcendance with Jeff, the Access Alliance guys and getting to hear them play, going out for dinner and having a wonderful conversation with Emily and Mike and Todd and Claudia, being at dinner with everyone when Banker gets the phone call that his daughter had just become engaged (cue happy tears), making friends at the Info Booth, hearing Glen Phillips sing Toad the Wet Sprocket songs, Sean McConnell, having a pep talk lunch with Chris, eating croissants with Rick on a bench in the train station, and getting a song start while working in the volunteer room. All good things.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Bob Hillman. He’s so great at his job. His songwriting is exceptionally outstanding (stay tuned for his new record coming soon).

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Bob Hillman. He’s so great at his job. His songwriting is exceptionally outstanding (stay tuned for his new record coming soon).

Of course, by Sunday night I was tired and slipping down down down into self-doubt and fear, self-doubt and fear, self-doubt and fear. In the hallway I cried out, “I need the stamp! I need the stamp of approval so bad!” At my best things can be pretty fun. At my best I want to be the tide that raises all boat. At my worst I’m crumbling.

Both of those girls were present at Folk Alliance.

I love songs. I love talking songs, writing songs, admiring songs I love, falling in love with new songs and voices and Folk Alliance is a playground and the monkey bars are free and you can jump up and swing upside down and close you eyes so I did. (before the crumbling self-doubt part)

It was a memorable year and I’m glad I went. Different than past years, in ways slightly harder but good. I’m better at my job than I was before and people were kind enough to tell me so. That’s awesome.

In the midst of it I’m currently in an online songwriting workshop AND an online life coaching class. It’s all personal growth and stepping into my next best self over here. I wrote a song half in the volunteer room shift in Montreal and half on the plane flight back home the next day. I skipped out on life coaching sessions because I was talking and singing in Canada so this week has been catching up on all that. And writing another song (haven’t started).

I woke up early this morning after a bad dream where I was in a bar after hours and was playing guitar by myself when a group of men walk through the door, demand booze, I tell them the place is closed, they smash stuff and steal cups and I call 911 only I can’t read the street signs from inside the bar so I can’t tell the dispatcher my location and I’m crying.

I don’t know what it means, but I think it means trying to keep going even when things are getting smashed. I think it means you should check to see if the door is locked before you assume you can play your guitar by yourself in a bar in the middle of the night. I think it means that discomfort is part of the equation if you’ve got your eyes set on something further down the road. In this filtered Insta- world of ours we don’t like to talk about the smashing and the first draft that’s not all there yet. We like the before and the after picture but not the six months in between.

My friends, I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure I’m living in the in between. Guys, I’m not 100% on this, but I think we all might be living in the in between. That’s why there’s laughing and crying, there’s falling and flying, and every day we’re walking toward who we were called to be. Really she’s already there but she gets lost sometimes. Even when she steps into her more fully realized calling, she’ll still get lost and that’s OK. Thank God for music, thank God for folk friends, for continuing ed, for togetherness in the in between. I’m glad we’re doing it together. NOW GO WRITE THE SONG!!! (or whatever it is you feel called to create)

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Folk life, folk art


Folk life. I just got home yesterday from playing a string of shows with Tim Grimm and Jackson Grimm from Indiana (TIm) and Asheville, N.C., (Jackson). For a minute there, in the midst of a February freeze, we arrived in Fort Collins to full sun and sixty degree temps. We played a midday show on Super Bowl Sunday and then took a quick hike as the sun went down. It felt glorious. The next day, less than 12 hours later, a jogger would be attacked by a mountain lion on that very trail we walked breathing deep into the Colorado clear blue sky turned dark. That’s crazy.

We tried the beers. I tried the sour beer which sounded gross, but then I tasted it and I liked it. Fine. I like hipster trendy beer. There, I said it. You should try it too.

We wrote songs and Tim joined me and Emily for a special podcast episode. We all wrote to the prompt “Staying in Love.” We’re still new to the podcast game, but having a special guest was so cool. To hear another voice, to get another perspective. Are you stuck? Do you feel bored with your own style? Then call up someone and ask them to come over and play you some songs. For me, it’s the perfect way to get out of my own head. Sometimes you have to find someone else’s head and listen to their thoughts. I’m so thankful for that.

I got to play songs for my friends in Olathe. I got to make new friends in Omaha and Fort Collins and Denver. I loved playing in the round in Boulder the Goat and seeing familiar faces in the crowd. Music will make all the towns your hometown. Music will help make it so that you’ve got a little hand print you’ve left in the wet cement outside that place you played once, outside that little diner you discovered or that micro-brew you remember trying with new friends the last time you came through.

And then I pulled into the garage yesterday morning after a white knuckling drive back home just to turn around and drive back to Lincoln for Joey’s basketball. Then youth group, then the Read THrough the Bible Book Club meeting last night.

There’s so much to tell. I love what I’m doing. I have a list of songs to write, challenges I’ve accepted, thought work to journal, rehearsals to schedule and also basketball games for the boys and Fun Day emails to write. Folk life is half wonderful and half hard just like everything else. I got lots of wonderful last week and I know I’ll get it again with the hard parts mixed in there because life is always going to be half great and half hard. I’m cool with that. And I’m thankful for the joy and satisfaction that keep showing up in the small moments and big ones.

My new thing is discovering the expansive love of God inviting us to consider how big life can become. There’s no need to keep things small and quiet and hidden. We’re not safer or happier behind closed curtains where no one can touch us. We’re not safer or happier going for broke either- it’s just a different kind of world. A bigger one with different challenges. I find that so comforting. If life will always be half great and half bad no matter what, then what’s keeping you from going crazy BIG? The plot changes, the good and bad change, but things get super interesting and BIG. Real big. The folk life is a beautiful one because life is beautiful.

LIfe is beautiful because Life is inviting you to be a part of it. You’re here with lovely amazing unique things to contribute. That’s not a burden, that’s an invitation. Today is one of those days I’m very gladly accepting that invite and planning what I should wear. High five.

AND then SCHOOL GETS CANCELLED AND I HAVE TO REMIND MYSELF of the roses and tulips.

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