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Nashville to New Folk

 Kerrville 2015. Wes Collins, Emily White, Katie Dahl and Hope Dunbar

Kerrville 2015. Wes Collins, Emily White, Katie Dahl and Hope Dunbar

Nashville to New Folk.

First you need the van. Then you need to fill the van with instruments and camping gear and my whole family. You need travel mugs and guitars and books for reading and maybe a wordsearch and gas in the tank.

Then you need a stop at an old friend's house to get started. After a day of driving, you need to arrive to a city that was once your home. You catch up with friends and reacquaint them with your boys. You need to smile at the being together and give thanks for all those years and all those moves and all those things we've all been through and still we're friends and it feels like we were just together but days ago.

And then a little more driving further south until you see that sign that reads "Nashville." And you have to think of all the friends you know live who here, but are on the road, you wonder which ones are in town and which ones are driving elsewhere down a different road than this one. You pray to see a familiar face. You park the car, you stretch your legs. You wonder at the different plants and trees and flowers in the front yards that grow so green. The beads of sweat remind you how far south you are and, in the stillness of the heat, you miss the prairie wind that most days you curse. 

In Nashville you imagine what it would be like to call this place home. There's a buzz, there's something romantic in the air calling dreamers from all over to come here and carve out a space. Nashville. You say, "Maybe. Maybe I could be a part of this place too." And in the next instant you say, "This is where your heart gets broken. This is where dreamers turn into drinkers, so best keep it at arm's distance."

In Nashville there's a little place called "The Bluebird Cafe." You go play the early show. Your family's in the audience. What you chose to wear doesn't ever feel like the right thing to wear, but no matter. You're there to play your songs. You play your songs. 

Then the ride ends and they shuffle you out the door.

And as you drive away, you daydream about being from Nashville. One voice is louder than the other and wouldn't it be lovely?

Then it's Arkansas, a campsite with a Coleman stove and playing catch with a football after a dip in the lake. Then it's westward and onward until the "Welcome to Texas" and then just a little further until the land rolls into hills and the brushy beauty of Kerrville welcomes you home.

New Folk. For the second time. The first time you didn't understand, but now you do. You get a second chance to honor what you had. Now you know. And this time, when Dalis invites you to feel at home, you will. Because this time you know what you been given and you know that it's precious and you know that, no matter if you win or not, the whole darn thing is more than you deserve and you do your freaking best.

Because you never know what'll happen next. Nashville to New Folk.

I'll see you out there.

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Graduation, Spring and Possibility

 MVHS Class of 1995. Billy, Dad, me, Matt, Ryoko (AFS, Japan)

MVHS Class of 1995. Billy, Dad, me, Matt, Ryoko (AFS, Japan)

My kids love graduation weekend. Of course they do. It means a party crawl from one punch bowl to the next, from one roaster of cheesy potatoes to the next with a side of cupcakes and candy and accolades, baby pictures of the graduate and guest books to sign. Where I grew up there was no such thing as the graduation open house. There was just cake and dinner and then you reported to the football field with cap and gown and your 3x5 card with your name clearly printed so the administrator knew who you were amongst the hundreds of other kids. And it was either Michael W. Smith's "My Place in this World" or "Friends are Friends forever" while the seniors cried or wondered why they weren't crying during this last choir anthem of the year.

The sun went down, the pots of marigolds lined the rows of chairs, the parents and friend filled the bleachers and by the time the night sky was up the field filled with well-wishers and moms with cameras and people arm in arm smiling and crying and snapping photos. And it was good.

It was a chilly weekend this time around and I felt for the lovely girls in their thin summer dresses welcoming guests and shaking hands at the edge of their drive ways, garages, social halls and shops repeating over and again which school they were going to and what their summer plans were while the rest of us visited and shook our heads at how time flies. 

Spring is finally here even if it felt more like Cambridge, England than Nebraska over the past few days. The grass is green. The trees are out, the gardens are coming back to life. I walk the grounds anxious to see the bloom of the irises but not yet. They're not here yet.

What is here? The feeling that maybe, just maybe I can pull it off. Maybe just maybe I've got what it takes to slowly inch my toes toward the scary future that part of me is tempted to escape. But no. I think I'm going to go forward and make it happen no matter what. 

That's cryptic. It doesn't have to be. What I mean is that I'm going to produce a big show in Seward, NE. It means I've got to stretch myself and entertain that it's big, but not impossible and it's the thing I need to get to the next place. Standing still just isn't going to cut it. 

It means that I had great conversations over the weekend with friends and mentors who offered encouragement, guidance and wisdom. In this day and age lots of people have great things to say and to offer as far as advice and insight, but also, we live in a "watch it from the car window" type of culture where we can see it, admire it, and easily not let it in. Just stay the same. However, I hear a little voice in my head whisper, "I think you should let it in. I think you should let it challenge you and change you because treading water gets you nowhere."

So there I was. Walking down the dirt road on Mother's Day by myself listening to "The Greatest Showman" soundtrack in my earbuds in my tennis shoes and clearance rack workout pants smiling at the notion of possibility. Like it's possible to make the circle bigger, to manifest inspiration first through crazy ideas, and then through the incremental execution of those ideas until one day you're where you wanted to be all along. 

It feels good. Spring, graduation, possibility. It's the season of newness, of moving forward, of dreaming big. And I know that, for me, that feeling doesn't last. It gets overpowered by darker notions, but in this moment I'm not afraid of the darker notions. I know I can't get rid of them completely, but I can take hold of this lightness and inspiration and try to make it so big and undeniable that the darkness couldn't possibly destroy it once it comes around. 

Right? Right.

 

 

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What does your next best self look like?

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A few weeks ago I walked through the door on a Sunday evening, put my bags down, hugged my family hello and started the turn around from road, to home, to back to work. It's always a quick turn around.

As we were finishing dinner that night, my phone rang and, the conversation that followed was completely out of the blue and full of wonder. It centered around this question,

"What does your next best self look like?"

What does it look like? And what if you were invited to a join a group of change-makers who were going to help you answer that question while giving you access to help and guidance that otherwise would be out of reach?

So there I was, under the gun to get laundry in the wash, unpack, regroup, tidy up and then, there I was pondering where I was in the right here and right now and consider where it is I'd like to go. And not just where I'd like to go by following the days from work to home to work again, but really, where do I want to go and what do I want to look like in 18 months?

Your next best self. Not just your inevitable next self, but your next BEST self. It requires me to assess which parts of my life are intentional and which are more like a treadmill. The treadmill will always be there, but it shouldn't take over. It should be set in its rightful place.

What's working well and what's not working? What do I want more of and what could I do without? 

I thought about it and thought about it. I talked with my family about it, my friends about it and I still think about it while sweeping up at the cafe and refilling the ice machine. And this is one of the realizations I came to:

There wasn't anything keeping me from asking that very question on my own to myself the day before the phone call came. The more I think about it, the less it has to do with a pile of money and more to do with creating a culture close to home that is creative, artistic, encouraging and catching. The funny thing is that I've had permission to pursue my next best self this whole time, I just didn't think I was deserving.

Then a friend calls me up, tells me she wants to include me in a project involving change makers and says we're going to give you some seed money, we're going to meet up occasionally to help each other along and together, we're going to work on our next incarnation of transformation- in all its shapes and sizes. And I'm in.

And you're in too. Think about it. What does your next best self look like? What do you want in your life that's not there yet? What do you want more of and what do you want less of? How would allowing yourself to become the person God called you to be create a chain reaction of inspiration within your community?

That's what I'm thinking about. For me it's got something to do with music, with bringing home that which I now venture out to go find, with challenge and doing scary things. And a podcast, perhaps. 

Now you think about it. Because it can't just be one of us or some of us. We need those called to hospitality, to charity, to bravery. We need people called to activism, to prayer, to adventure, to skill of all sorts. We need real world examples of gospel freedom by those inspired by the love of God. Do it. I'm going to try and do it. In a very imperfect, stumbly bumbly manner. But I'm going to do it.

 

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Now who's the sexist?

I have terribly negative self-talk habits. I've had them since forever and I know that about myself. I am thankful that I'm cognicent of this fact because it helps me fight against such a habit on good days. On bad days habit just takes over.

On good days I think, "Well, I'm gonna work with what I've got and so be it." or "I know I'm terrible, but I'm going to go ahead and do it anyway."

On good days I write songs that I want to write and feel fearless. But because my bad self-talk can sneak in so easily, I've come up with some tricks to get around it. For example, I pretend I'm some other person who is unapologetic of the work they produce and then I write the song.

A few days ago I did this and I love the song I wrote. I pretended to be the lead singer of The Pogues, Shane MacGowan. I know almost nothing about him, but I've watched lots of youtube videos of his live performances and I am struck by his effortless confidence and unapologetic manner. That's what I thought of when I wrote the song.

And then I recorded the song and this is where it gets sexist. I recorded the song and gave a short introduction to the song saying how I imagine a cool male vocalist singing it. Like a Shane MacGowan and then I said something like, "A cool dude who can show us all how it's done."

 

What.

 

What is my problem?!! If you're not clear about what an asshole I am to my own self here's what I'm thinking now that I reflect upon that unrehearsed thought:

 

I WROTE THE SONG!!! I'M SHOWING EVERYONE HOW IT'S DONE!!! WHY DO I NEED SOME 'cool dude' TO SHOW ME HOW IT'S DONE WHEN I ALREADY DID IT?!!!!

WHAT IS MY PROBLEM?!!

Oh I know. I wrote the content, but really I'm just a dumb girl who doesn't have what it takes to make the song really shine. I need to hand it off to some man who can do the job better than I can. Who cares if I actually did the work and made the song kickass. It won't really be kickass until a man sings it. 

Pardon my French, but what an asshole. Me, I mean. I'm the asshole. I'm the sexist. 

So I guess this is a good day. I can see where I went wrong with my self-talk and I feel worthy enough to take the work back. Cory Branan, yes. You'd be so cool singing this song, but not as cool as me. It's mine.

It took me a few times watching the video for it to hit me. Perhaps you heard it and registered the sexism on the first go around. My apologies. Please, go be bigger than you think you deserve to be. Go be better than the boys. I know I am.

Addendum: To all the men, I know you wish me well. Thank you. It's not you, it's me. I don't even wish myself well. But I'm working on it.

Here's the video in question. It's called, "My Darling Dear."

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The road I drove on

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You never know what the road will bring you when you drive on it. I drove west last week. 

When I got there I found my older brother, mom and dad. I found friends from all over all seated in a venue staring up at me while I played songs. 

I found help by the name of Richard who drove all the way back to the venue after the gig was over and all was locked up when I realized I had left my luggage in the green room.

We found mountains and sky and music in the form of I'm With Her with a sold out crowd but even so Richard found us some tickets and we enjoyed a great evening of music on a stage I had been on once. This time I was in the audience and it made me happy to be there.

We found a theatre in Arvada still playing "The Greatest Showman" that I really wanted to see on the big screen. If I had been on my own I would have cried a lot more. I loved it.

Even more I loved walking out into the daylight to find well wishes from friends upon the news being a New Folk finalist for Kerrville.

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There was a visit to Red Rocks, there was a stroll in downtown Golden, there was an amazing show in Boulder featuring some incredible artists that made me think that coffee shops of America are holding treasures unseen and that if you want to find gold, go listen to an artist you've never heard of before and feel what it's like to be astounded. And I'm not talking about the $20 cover coffee shop artists. I'm talking about the playing for tips with their hearts on their sleeves songwriters so hungry you feel the impact of every word and every chord. 

As much as I loved I'm With Her and their perfect songcrafting, they would be wise to get themselves to a coffee shop and see how hungry those folks are back in the corner of crowded room and killing it no matter who is watching or how much they're making. Shanna in a dress, Paul Kimbiris and Andrew Sturtz. So so so good. I was not expecting that kind of music and I'm so glad I found it.

And then we drove home. We made it back to Nebraska and Cinderella went back to the cafe on Monday morning.

There's something else that happened on Sunday night but I'll tell you in the next post. Let's just say, we live in a world of wonder and it, for some reason, smiled on me. The funny thing is that it's smiling on you too no matter if Ed McMahon shows up with a huge fake check or not. Trust me. It's smiling on you.

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Run a bath and listen to some Enya

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Enya holds a real special place in my heart. I don't remember buying the Orinoco Flow cassette, but I remember having it and playing it over and over again. First, because I couldn't understand the words "Let me sail, let me sail let the Orinoco flow"- I got that part, but seriously, I couldn't understand the next three lines at all and I was pretty sure it was in another language. And second, I couldn't figure out how she made it sound like that. My 5th grade self had zero knowledge of recording anything other than pressing play on my own cassette player when my favorite song came on the radio ensuring that my kickass mix tape never included the first 5 seconds of any song back in the day, but that's it. That's all I knew of recording.

How did her voice sound like that? How many layers did she use? What instruments was I hearing? The vocal was so mesmerizing to me that I couldn't hear all the other stuff filling out the recording.

And then fast forward to freshman year in college in Indiana with a new roommate. The sting of being far from home is lessened considerably when she likes falling asleep to Enya just like you do. And she did. We'd fall asleep to Enya or Laura Pausini. Those are the ones I remember most, but there were probably more in the rotation.

And then fast forward to being a grown up and trying to make it all work. Make the work work, make the relationships work, make the schedule work, make the list work, make the food and body and spirit and small appliances and vehicles work work work. 

And that's when it hit me. My new pep talk is "Run a bath and listen to some Enya." 

It's like a trigger. How does Enya make me feel? It makes me feel like it's bedtime in college in my dorm room with my best friend. It makes me think of how I listened to her when I was twelve and soaked it all in with my eyes closed. Will I really play some Enya? Probably not unless it's a real shitstorm, but mostly the idea makes me feel peaceful.

Will I really run a bath? No, probably not. But the idea of running a bath makes me feel at ease like it's OK to step out of the work for a moment and close my eyes. Stretch goal: get one of those big bathrooms with a big bathtub like in the movies where someone went to all that trouble to light all those candles and then get in the tub. Stretch goal #2: GET A HOT TUB!!!!!

Life is hard. I'm not great at it. I look around and feel like I'm behind the eight ball most days. It's like triumph and defeat depending on when you ask me. Remember the half wall? Remember the half wall between my kitchen and living room I've been compaining about for so long? Well, we removed it last weekend. After eight years we finally got rid of it. 

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That's a win. And then the days keep going and you wanna know what? I finally put out that fire, but it didn't snuff out all the other stuff. It didn't all of a sudden check all the stuff off my list. Go figure. You get a win one day, but you've gotta keep on going all the days after that.

And that's what I'm doing. That's what we're all doing. One moment at a time, one conversation and decision at a time. And when it gets hard in an instant, I'll think of Enya and running water. "Let me sail, let me sail, let the Orinoco Flow."

 

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The tour, the time, the trip to Denver

I know I've been delayed in recapping for you the tour I went on the the upper midwest with the incomparable Emily White and Katie Dahl. In a word: magical. I loved it so much. 

Nine days, nine shows, three musicians, three guitars, one uke, merch and luggage all in one Prius and it was so wonderful. The shows were so unique and beautiful all in their own ways. We got up on that stage every night and played our hearts out, harmonized the chorus, joked about our adventures and practiced true friendship and team work throughout it all. We laughed, we cried, we told our stories on the long drive between Minneapolis and Chicago and, when we finally had to bid farewell to one another in a church parking lot in Milwaukee, we promised that we'd do it again. If I had my way, we'd go right now. But we've all got stuff. 

Like Holy Week. After a very busy week I am so eager to enter quietly into the sanctuary and bow my head and listen to the words read at the lecturn and approach the table of our Lord. I need it. I long for it. Lent escaped me this year, I'm afraid. I don't want to let the passion escape me too.

I've really been digging in to the commission songs for the past two weeks. I completed two right before tour and turned one just last weekend. I'm currently wrestling a new alligator and it's hard and interesting and wonderful like only songwriting can be.

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Hard before I don't know how to write it. I've filled up three pages so far and maybe 1/5 of it is worth keeping. I know I'm getting closer, but it's taking time and patience. It's hard because part of me really wants to walk away because it isn't just falling out of the sky. 

But it's interesting because of those very same reasons. I don't know what it's supposed to look like so it feels like digging up a dinosaur. Is this a verse or a chorus? Is this the beginning of the song for the end of the song? Who knows? The only way I can be sure is to keep writing and find the structure through the practice.

Wonderful. It feels wonderful to create. Yesterday I wrote a song that wasn't a commission it was just trying to put something down on paper to get the wheels turning. I like what it is. I love the idea of getting back into a regular writing practice which I held for so long. I like to think I can do it again and these commissions are great challenges for me to explore genre, style and attempt to work on things I know are my weakness. Like variety in vocabulary. I know I need better words. More ABAB rhyme schemes and quit it with the couplets, ya know?

But there are eggs to dye and records to promote and Holy Week to observe and family to host. In it all I'm thinking and trying to keep my creative brain going. Just this afternoon I smiled to myself while scraping plates and doing the dishes after lunch rush grateful for this day job. Without it I wouldn't have met people I've put into songs. Without it I wouldn't have had hours of sweeping floors to rewrite choruses and verses. A day job is a good thing.

 This has nothing to do with anything except for that one time Amanda Shires listened to me sing her song thanks to a spot in an online magazine. 

This has nothing to do with anything except for that one time Amanda Shires listened to me sing her song thanks to a spot in an online magazine. 

Finally. Coming up is Denver and Boulder on the 12th and 14th of April. I'm going to pack up the car and meet my brother and parents and spend a couple of days together. I'm so excited for the shows and for the family reunion. Hopefully, by then, I'll have finished a few more commissions. Thanks everybody. I'm grateful for your support and for following this blog. It means so much to me.

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Before I go

The week opened with a bitter wind that would not let up. The howling kept me up at night as I heard the rafters creeking. The howling woke up me by the dawn's early light and kept up from here to the cafe and back again. The wind blew what little snow there was at a barreling sideways trajectory and,  by Tuesday night, I was not at my best. The grating of the howling hurt me. 

But Wednesday awoke to breezey and, having slept the night before, I made peace with the elements and thanked God for the day. 

Rewind to last week.

In a moment of bravery and foward motion, I booked a couple of career coaching sessions with a highly-esteemed artist who I already knew to be an excellent teacher. Last week, after feeling helpless and lost, I thought, "Make a move to show you're lost, but you're trying. You're confused, but you're willing to get some help to figure out how to move forward." So I did.

Because this is what I know about myself: 1. Accountability is really important to my following through trends. 2. I don't like letting people down so if someone asks me to do something (like homework assignments), I will definitely do it. It stems from my years of people pleasing. 3. A financial investment for professional development takes it out of the "hobby/when you get a minute" category and places it squarely into "this is my job and I wish to improve" category. 

So I met with my mentor, I started working on the assignments I was given. And I'm so thankful that I saw the Facebook post, clicked on the contact button and booked the appointments. 

Why? Because (and you know this, but I'm just reminding you) a third party objective view helps us see the things we can't see. Because, if we want to move forward, then we need to reach up to someone who has already been there and learn from them. Because, in the midst of trying to do it all, we get scattered and disjointed and it's hard to figure out where to put our energy. A third party can walk into your living room and see the possibilities behind the clutter and maybe even get you to knock down the half wall (some of you know the wall of which I speak).

I've repeatedly lamented to my songwriter friends that I need help, but was unsure where to find it. Yesterday, after our coaching session, I realized I'd found it. Or it found me. A combination of both and I can't tell you how empowering it felt to not feel so muddled, like peppermint at the bottom of a mojito. You do not have to be mashed up at the bottom of glass either. You can be the orange slice hanging off the side, you can be the umbrella, whatever. THis image is falling apart. But you don't have to.  That's the point.

Tomorrow I drive to Wisconsin to sing songs with Katie Dahl and Emily White. I get to do what I love with my friends. I get to drive all day.

 This is a picture of us, with Pino and Anke, on a bike trip in the South of France 15 years and 4 months ago. About a week or so later I would get back to Germany, go to my first OB appt. and find out I was 20 weeks pregnant with our first son. It's crazy when, at your first appt., they take you back to look at the ultrasound and see your baby. Crazy. But true.

This is a picture of us, with Pino and Anke, on a bike trip in the South of France 15 years and 4 months ago. About a week or so later I would get back to Germany, go to my first OB appt. and find out I was 20 weeks pregnant with our first son. It's crazy when, at your first appt., they take you back to look at the ultrasound and see your baby. Crazy. But true.

Also, my son turned 15 this week, I'm thinking about doing the Keto Diet, I started using eye cream at night and my world turned around, and there's a skate party tonight and I don't know if I have the gut anymore to put on roller skates. Have a good one. 

Be brave.

 

 

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What if I didn't let me listen to me?

What if I didn't let me listen to me?

I was walking with my head down yesterday when the temperature pushed upwards of 40 degrees and I spyed the tread of my front left tire and I saw the grit from the dirt road that had thawed and plastered itself onto the black of the wheel and I wondered if I put a penny into the tread how much of Lincoln's head would still be showing. Most of it probably.

And looking at that tread I heard myself whisper to myself, "What if I stopped asking for permission or worrying about the looks I get?  What if I stopped thinking about the fadingness of my face and human and just did what I was yearning to do? What if I tried being Hope instead of desperately striving to be harmless? What would that feel like?"

Hell, anything's better than constantly reviewing your language and words and actions and seeing all their faults. Anything's better than waiting for a gold star from a school marm who isn't there. 

I've was reading this book on habit and then abandoned it for brooding. But I was white knuckling my drive home on worn down tread after work yesterday when I remembered the part on will power. Will power can only get you so far before you crack. Will power works until the moment your mind and body find it so taxing that they light a match and set things on fire that others, who aren't running on will power, would never destroy. (Think big time powerful guys who have affairs with their secretaries- they exercise so much restraint and control in their professional lives that they end up flipping out in their personal lives)

In an effort to behave myself and remind myself that all my natural impulses are in error, I've reached the place where setting shit on fire seems like the best approach.

And that's bad. 

So what if I didn't let me listen to me? I'm my own worst enemy. 

If I didn't listen to me, I'd pick up my guitar and not care whether or not my family didn't like it. I'd write songs instead of escape into laundry and Netflix. I'd let myself just be myself instead of some harmless version of this terrible person I'm wishing I weren't. It's exhausting. I'm exhausted.

In conclusion, I had a friend remind me that we keep showing up every day. She reminded me that I have a brave version of myself somewhere in me and I told her I wished she'd show up and get this cowering fool out of the way. She reminded me spring was coming and it is. Spring is coming. New birth, new life, resurrection spelled out in Easter lillies and daffodils. 

Because the thing is that trying to be harmless isn't doing anything for anybody. It's not making my relationships better, it's not making me a better mom or wife, it's not living in gospel freedom, it's living in lawful damnation and that's a total lie. That I convinced myself to be true but am now going to set on fire.

I'm not going to listen to the coward anymore. I'm going to listen to the crazy one. Don't listen to your weakest self, listen to the strongest. That's the one who was so fearfully and wonderfully made to help the world along, to write the song, to be brave so that others see your bravery and try it out for themselves - scars and all. Do it. I'm going to do it.

Love, Hope

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Folk Alliance 2018 recap (before I forget or fall asleep)

 Peter Mulvey, Kyshona and Mary Bragg in The Minnesota Room

Peter Mulvey, Kyshona and Mary Bragg in The Minnesota Room

We said farewell to Kansas City at the end of the conference. Next year the folk show travels up to Montreal and maybe that's why it felt urgent and frenzied and full to the brim with creativity, promise and inspiration.

It was coffee and beer and quick and hellos and goodbyes in the Century Lobby. It was taking the stairs at 2am first up to the rooftop, along the edge of the building, past the smokers and then two more flights up to the music. It was upright basses and posters hung with painters tape covering up the hotel wallpaper to create its own hippies/hipster patchwork quilt for the weekend decorations.

It was magic whiddled together with chorus and verse and boy, were there some doozies! I'm a songwriter in love with songwriters. It means I gravitate to the lone wolves getting it done with a voice and guitar. There were amazing ensemble acts bringing high enery high jinks and magnificent examples of arrangement, harmony and mood, but man, gimme the human with the words and the guitar. I need it.

Here are my humans from FAI 2018:

Bob Hillman- I kept telling everyone how much I loved his word choice. He's using a whole other vocab and set of imagery than I am and it really was inspiring and so beautiful. He's great. Lost Soul is the record from 2016. You should get it.

Kyshona- My roommate and new friend bringing powerhouse vocals oozing with heart and soul singing songs that bring people together in the best way possible so we're singing the chorus and feeling the moment as one. She sings the kind of songs that make you feel strong, that make you feel like you might just have what it takes to change the world and it's contagious. That's priceless and I loved it.

Ben Hanna- He's doing something completely his own and when you hear his songs you are torn between laughing and crying all in the same line. He's fearless and where it's at. He's funny and singular. I love his work and I hope he keeps writing 'em.

 Ben Hanna in the Rocky Mountain, Conscious Alliance Suite

Ben Hanna in the Rocky Mountain, Conscious Alliance Suite

Jana Pochop- Oh my goodness. I got to hear her live. I got to sit on the bed while she sang her songs. She did her epic folk rap and sang it out as an anthem for all of us and it made me cry. It was so wonderful. I'm so grateful to have been there.  She is a wordsmith, she is fearless, she is doing the thing no matter what and I love her for it.

Todd Adelman- he's country. He usually plays with a band, but I heard him solo. And I think he should play solo more often. His work is gritty and true and beautiful.

Sam Baker- forget about it. (Meaning I don't even know where to begin, his work is so stunningly beautiful in the starkness of it's clear, perfect language...and I finally got up the guts to talk to him)

Gretchen Peters- I was so looking forward to hearing her again. She taught at the Song School a few years back and I fell in love with her writing. I was sitting up in the front row when she sang "The Matador" this weekend and got teary-eyed. She's a gem.

Matt the Electrician- he's a Texan that I try never to miss at FAI because that's the only time I get to hear him. He's another one whose brain is so different than mine that I love to hear what he writes.

And then there are the friends, the dear ones who are doing it and fighting for it and we cheer each other on as we go: Katie Dahl, Emily White, Mary Bragg (Official Showcase for FAI 2018), Jane Godfrey, Sue Fink, Heather Styka, Sarah Sample, Mare Wakefield and Nomad, Cat Terrones, Ben Shannon, Shanna in a dress, Korby Lenker, Mike Semrad and more more more.

 Katie Dahl, Hope Dunbar, Emily White (we go on tour together in a few weeks!

Katie Dahl, Hope Dunbar, Emily White (we go on tour together in a few weeks!

It was talking in the hallways, walking more than I ever imagined, volunteer shifts in the early morning after a very late night, scavenging for food, taking the free streetcar downtown, a KC sunset, talking with the roommates at 3am, heart to hearts at just the right moment with just the right person like it was planned for me or something, rethinking my footwear, singing my guts out, laughing with the Conscious Alliance guys (the funniest moment of FAI), putting on a dress and trying to be present for all of it, Sue Fink telling that story about her first EP, watching Mary kill it on stage, meeting up with Kerrville family here and there and everywhere, finally seeing Union Station (who knew?!), free beer, shots of tequila, learning new abbreviations for things that made me clutch my pearls and all the things. So great.

And now I'm back. Just like that, Cinderella is back to the grind, helping with the science project, folding laundry and trying to think of what to make for dinner. I'm grateful for all of it. I love being a musician, but I love it when I take the cape off and become just me over here in Utica doing the deal.

Are you entertaining ideas of grandeur? Are you thinking you're the only adult still wishing on stars? You aren't. I just came back from a meeting of the dreamers and the wishers and the misfit toys. If you're wondering whether or not you have permission to do what feels scary or do what your heart is begging for you to do, well, go right ahead, my friend. You are not alone.

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The bleak midwinter

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I'm working out as many days as I can in an empty old gym that everyone around here calls, "the old gym." I put my tunes on and then do a series of nerdy, sweaty exercises to make me feel strong and also sweaty. 20 something days into this new plan my back hurts and my arm hurts and now what am I supposed to do? 

Ignore it and keep going.

I'm listening to masters of our (Emily Dunbar and my) soon to be released Bluestem Psalter:Volume 1. We did it ourselves, we tried our best and I love it because it sounds like us and it's the truth. You can't ask for much more. In my book, that feels like winning.

Presently, while I listen to these tunes on headphones, I'm drinking this beer and the boys are playing Settlers of Catan in the living room. There's no school tomorrow, there's snow on the ground and they're talking about more snow for tomorrow. The wind isn't blowing, the temperatures are staying cold cold and this week there were parent teacher conferences. If that's not the bleak midwinter, then I don't know what is.

Tomorrow I'll be on the radio in the morning (tune in at 9am to NET radio for Friday Live!!), I'll drop off the sound equipment in Seward before coming home, rehearsing, packing and heading over to Grand Island for the Pastors Wives Retreat. I think I heard the hotel has a hot tub so that's great.

It is the bleak midwinter. It's too reflective for its own good. The snow's too white, the world's too still, the air's too cold and the wind doesn't even blow. I'm wondering what the world will look like once spring comes. I hope it looks better than it does right now. 

I wonder what I'll be like once spring comes. Same, but different. Better, but worse. Stronger in some ways, weaker in others and we all float on alright. The midwinter will soon pass away into melting and then warming and then shining and then buds on the trees. I'm ready.

 

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I can't find the woodshed

I can't find the woodshed. I keep getting turned around and distracted. It was here, I swear, it hasn't been that long. And I got a list a mile long of things I must do. I got songs I have to write, I'm way behind on the truth, but I can't find the woodshed and I'm afraid of my guitar. I'm afraid of mistakes and not knowing what they are.

So today I cracked the notebook, I got a pick and a tune. I wrote some crap in hopes of finding a way  that I could get through. Because I know I've got work, I know it's still there, but I can't find the woodshed and I feel too exposed, I'm feeling too bare.

So if you read this, I'm trying. I'm trying to find my way back, but I can't find the woodshed and and I can't find the track that I took on the way the last time I went. I'm trying to find the woodshed, but this is as close as I can get. 

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"Pay attention" or "It's all up in my head"

 I thought about searching for a cool image but I drew this on the back of a piece of mail instead.

I thought about searching for a cool image but I drew this on the back of a piece of mail instead.

I like to find connections. I like to see a thread clothes-pinning one thing and then another down the washline, like bread crumbs down a trail leading to somewhere I don't see just yet. I say "yes" a lot just to see where the "yes" might lead thinking that if the offer appeared then maybe there's something behid the offer that needs exploring. So these days I like paying attention to who's saying what and if there's any connections anywhere.

Yesterday here's the run down of what happened that had me thinking about it for the rest of the day:

1. My husband and I had a disagreement about dreams of home improvement. We have this half wall that's turned into a joke because we always talk about removing it, but who are we kidding? It's not going anywhere. The conversation started with home improvement but ended with a bigger issue.  The fundamental question came down to: are you OK with things staying the same? In tears, I confessed, "I just don't want to feel like all we're doing is treading water." And then Jon went to work.

2. I finished this documentary I had started the night before about Misty Copeland the first black female principal ballet dancer of a major American Ballet Company. She's the bomb. Her story is great, the documentary isn't as great as she is.

3. Feeling brave because of Misty,  I wrote two crazy emails: 1. asking to open for Glen Hansard and 2. pleading my case to American Songwriter Magazine for why my album is worth of a review. Because why not? 

4. I go to work and there I meet one guy who tells me a mutual friend has taken a salaried job and left farming. You don't hear that one every day around here. It was a surprising bit of news. And I think, "He's not treading water. He's making a huge change because that's what you have to do sometimes."

5. The cafe lunch rush is slow and I stand behind the bar thinking about me and my husband and how we need to spend more time together. I think about the Misty Copeland documentary and how my husband has never been to the ballet and I think, "we should go to the ballet together." So I look up the Lied Center on my phone to see if they have any ballet on their schedule and MISTY COPELAND IS PERFORMING THE FIREBIRD IN LINCOLN IN FEBRUARY! That's crazy. 

6. Eventually another table walks in the door and I know them because they are church workers from another congregation having a staff meeting over lunch and, as this pastor comes up to the bar to pay the check, I ask him how he's doing and he tells me he's taking a restorative sabbatical starting in September. He then proceeds to tell me that includes a trip to Italy, an intense marriage retreat for three weeks, and a faith retreat on his own among other things. And I think, "He sees that treading water won't be enough to keep him going in his ministry forever. That's awesome." 

And I can't stop thinking about this string of events which happened mostly in my mind and I wonder, "What's the message? What am I supposed to learn from this?"

Here's the good news: I don't have to know the answer. And there's no right or wrong on this one. I can forget the whole thing and be just fine. However.....there's this laundry line I see and one by one there are clothepins leading to what might be the best pair of jeans I've ever had in my life if I keep my eyes open and see what is possible for the future. And so presently I ponder. I wonder. 

I'm inclined to think that the message is a subtle one. It's to remind me there are slight shifts and changes happening in our lives all the time- not necessarily to us, but to our neighbors and while at a glance it may look like things stay the same, they never really do. People around us are falling in and out of love and then back into love again. They are writing and re-writing their resumes and going on interviews on their lunch breaks without us ever knowing. They're taking classes online, they're working a second job. They are making counselling appointments and breaking counselling appointments and wrestling with their relationships with their children who are ever changing and entering new stages. 

We can't see any of that and so we don't think of it. We think we're all just humming along, but underneath, if we know our own struggles, then it would be wise to remember our neighbors aren't any different. They're watching the tide just like us. They're thinking about making their move just like we are. 

It can be hard to get those wheels in motion. It can be hard to start turning the boat around, but it's possible and it's happening all over the place even if we can't see it. Make your move. Little or big, visible or invisible, make the move. You never know. The best jeans you've ever had in your whole life might be at the end of it all. 

 

 

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2018 so far

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2018, so far, has been pretty good. We started it in Southern California and, on January first, we were at the beach watching dolphins diving in the water off the coast while we played catch with a football, buried ourselves in sand, looked for shells and found hermit crabs in the surf while the tide went out. It was pretty great.

We stayed with my mom and dad, we spent time with my brothers and their families sharing a meal together at the end of most days. It was so great. We went out to dinner, drove up to L.A. to visit The Getty Center, we played the game of Life both to the joy and defeat of one another as we made money then lost it. Life is hard.

The temperatures here in Nebraska have been frigid. There is snow on the ground. The warning lights on the car keep going off for mostly harmless reasons....I'm pretty sure they're harmless.

On Friday Star Belle packed up the van and drove over to Lincoln to play a show at the Crescent Moon and it was so great. As always, we got set up, we took to the mics and then we enjoyed the ride singing our songs and cracking each other up by being ridiculous. It was so great. We had a listening crowd on a Friday night in a frozen world. The cold couldn't keep up from having another magical night of song.  And then we sealed the deal by going for sushi afterward braving the two block walk from the venue to the restaurant. It was awesome. I love playing shows with the girls. I just wish we could do it more often. 

 Photo by Megan Launchbaugh

Photo by Megan Launchbaugh

2018 feels like a year of transition, but I just don't know to what end. Some days I think it's to an office job and a steady paycheck. Some days I actually entertain the idea of more gigs and more music. My "office" is a mess. I started cleaning it up on Saturday. What do I do? Hit "reset" and keep on keeping on or do I shift the space into something else? 

And I hear this little voice whispering to me again, "If nobody buys your cookies then maybe you should get out of the cookie baking business." 

2018 so far has me not letting go just yet. I'm looking around and wondering what I should do feeling slightly overwhelmed by an office that has become a disaster. I used to know (kinda) where I wanted to go, but now I don't. That's the question for 2018. Where to go from here. 

Thank God it's only January. Thank God there's still time. 

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2017 in Review

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Well it's been a real barn burner. This year has really been something else. My friends and I used the theme of "Balls to the Wall" for the year and I think we did a pretty good job of sticking to that mantra. 

I made three records and released one of them. It's called "Three Black Crows" and I like it a lot. Since writing songs I've been desperately seeking good work and I think I finally found some songs worthy of releasing so I did. I couldn't have done it without the help of my friends and colleagues in music. Behind the scenes there was self-doubt, fear, self-doubt, quitting, starting again, fear and more self-doubt, but we pushed through it all and did it and I've got the debt (and record) to prove to it.

I didn't write songs that much, but I was busy doing other stuff. I looked through my notes and I think I wrote 12 songs, two of which made it on to the album so that's cool. One for each month.

In 2016 I played 38 shows and thought I was going to die. When I told my husband at this time last year that I wanted to try and play 50 shows he looked at me like I had just admitted wanting to walk to Japan. With a family and a job and volunteering as Sunday School music lady, cub scouts, choir driver, breakfast lady, and all the other stuff, adding 38 shows to the mix makes life kinda crazy.

Drum roll. In 2017 I played 52 shows. Other artists are doing double that amount, but it feels like a HUGE accomplishment for me. Woohooo!! And this year was great, but also really hard. It was the first time I cried when I had to pack and go back out after just getting home. Todd Snider said "The show's free it's the travel you're paying me for." And that line gets truer all the time. The show's always free. It makes me feel so real when I get to sing for people. The hard part is the time away. 

2017 was growing pains. So many growing pains. Growing pains about recording and music business, growing pains to see how much love and support people were willing to give me on the Kickstarter, growing pains trying to balance music, work and family responsibility and not getting it right. It was growing and taking chances I've never taken before and growing pains having to make choices to figure out how best to use what I've been given to help others.  I would succeed in some ways and fail in others and have to rethink where I put my energy. 

So I will confess that on social media I tried to make 2017 look amazing. Because it really was. It really was amazing. But in real life there was an equal share of desperation and fear and frustration and super guilt. But no one wants to hear any of that crap in 140 characters. 

So is the price for all the good things an equal share of hard things? Maybe. My friends and I all say that we all have to eat shit. It just depends on how you want your shit served to you. What are you willing to suffer in order to achieve what you've been trying to do? That's the question. We can't have everything so what's the thing you really want and where do have to take the hit in order to find it? 

I've been longing for music and for being heard for so so so long. I've been longing for that good work that I've been trying to achieve for so long. This record is it. To get it I've had to give up other stuff and 2017 made me feel those choices acutely in both good and hard ways. 

Thank you for sticking with this older, braver, sadder version of myself. Thank you for seeing the value in what I do and know that I think of you all when times get tough. 

We've already come up with a theme for 2018 and it's "Eat the Elephant." Because how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That's all we can really do. We do what's next, we take the next step, the next bite and keep moving the ball slowly but surely down the field. I hope you feel inspired to do the same knowing there's some 40 year old part-time waitress, mother of three who thinks she's allowed to pursue a music career. I mean, that's crazy. So I hope it's the green light you need to go out and get what you're longing for.

Merry Christmas and thank you for a beautiful year.

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Things I don't do

I don't sit down and spend the afternoon writing because I'm afraid and also because the housework and the things that are practical work jobs always take precedent. I want to spend the afternoon writing today, but I know there's dusting and decorating and shopping and work to do so even though the idea of writing songs during a free afternoon sounds awesome, I don't do it.

I don't go to a quiet place and pray. One day a year at church we hold a vigil and we all sign up for hours and half hours to fill a day with prayer and lift up all the things on our hearts. I feel like that one hour of silence is the best thing in the whole world and I long for it every other day in the year. You'd think I'd just go over to the sanctuary, take off my shoes, breathe deeply and spend time with God, but I don't. I tell myself I just can't be so indulgent as to take time in quiet and conversation with the Father. 

I don't call up friends to come over for dinner or go out to dinner or go to the movies or do anything really. I never call up friends and ask to do something. I don't do this because I'm afraid and also because the message is always to never treat yourself except for Netflix by yourself at the end of the day. All other fun things feel like they're against the rules. Like life is supposed to be mostly shitty and sometimes there's a ray of light and you hang on to that ray of light for as long as it'll brighten up the schedule, and then maybe you'll get by in the brief conversations you get  with friends and neighbors in the comings and goings of life.

And you know what I'm doing when I don't do any of this? I'm believing some weird lie about what life is supposed to be. I buy into the idea that adulthood is a drag or that life is only responsible and noble if we make sure we're not having fun. I treat peace as a luxury, as relationships as above my pay scale. I treat myself as a prisoner and as though freedom is out of reach.

And then I think about boys and how I never want them to think peace is only allowed if you get your work done and how feeling locked up is what it means to be an adult. I don't want them to think friendships end in childhood. 

If you're like me and not doing something, ask yourself why? Is it because of a rule you made up? I would dare to say you've drawn lines in the sand you don't cross simply because at some point you decided you don't cross them. 

Consider how all those NO signs in your mind and those actions you don't take are being broadcast to the world. 

Because I've been thinking about what I don't do, I've been thinking about how to change. Because I know that life is going to change in the next year, I've been thinking about what I want it to look like in the future. I don't want to be the one that teaches invisible NOs to my kids. I want to be the person who teaches them how big this freedom really is. 

And that's what I want to do. What do you want to do?

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My phone might be getting in the way

I think maybe my phone is getting in the way of my plans for world domination.

I think perhaps my desire to get up to the minute news and social check-ins is keeping me from realizing my utmost artistic potential. It might be that my phone is getting in the way.

And ain't nobody got time for that.

I'm on Day 2 of an 18 day challenge. I've joined Jon Acuff (the writer of this book I'm reading called, "FInish") online to work on one goal for 18 days and apply some of the principles from the book to real life. I chose "Working on radio promo and Europe tour" as my goal. See, lots of times I try to make a list of goals or prioritize my list of responsibilities, but this challenge made me choose one thing.

In the running were such things as: Exercise every day, write song commissions, work on Youth Music, prep for Christmas Eve Program, organize house, do something to prepare for Christmas OR work on music career. I chose the music career one.

Why? Because I had to choose one. But having to choose one out of a list of high priority responsibilities reminded me that perhaps I have too much on my plate. And if I'm going to have a snowball's chance in hell to accomplish any of it, then I'm gonna have to put my phone away and get to work.So here I go. The chub will have to wait. I'm sending out radio promo materials and praying I can climb those Folk DJ charts a little higher.

In other news, I went to St. Louis last weekend and played some amazing shows, saw friends, spent time in a city I loved and, oh yeah, got kinda sick and layed in bed all day one day. 

 The Songbird Cafe at The Focal Point L-R: Bill Chambers, Bill Poss, Anna, Steve St Cyr, Hope, Myla, and Dale the sound guy

The Songbird Cafe at The Focal Point L-R: Bill Chambers, Bill Poss, Anna, Steve St Cyr, Hope, Myla, and Dale the sound guy

I played the Songbird Cafe with Myla Smith, Bill Poss and Australia's Bill Chambers (Kasey's dad). It was the best. I love that venue and playing that series and not only that, I looked out into the audience and saw old friends and new friends and so many familiar faces that it felt triumphant for this small town songwriter.

Bill Chambers was amazing. We're friends now. He told stories about hunting foxes on the Nullabor and I just about died from wonder and happiness.

Hey you guys, don't let your phone get in the way of your destiny. Don't let fear direct you to Facebook instead of the blank page. Give fear the finger and call up your friend or your mom or do that scary thing you've been avoiding. That's what I'm gonna try and do. 

Go be awesome like I know you are. Someone out there needs it. Love, Hope

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Songs, Thanksgiving, Advent, Passion and the future

 Stuffy say, "Happy Thanksgiving!"

Stuffy say, "Happy Thanksgiving!"

I think I did it. I think I've got the first draft of one of my commission songs ready to go. I finished it yesterday after working on it for at least three weeks. 

Things I learned: 

  • I like inserting myself into the story (as a first person narrator, not really me) but if you're hired to tell someone else's story, you have to challenge yourself to take the harder road and consider whether first person is the right choice. (I did choose first person for this one)
  • When the story doesn't match up with your own reality, you need to stop talking and start listening and observing. Be the shape shifter. Get out of your own head and spend some time in someone else's. I learned "write what you don't know" means having to work for it. Be the actor. Go method (that's a phrase I heard in a movie once- namely, "Kate & Leopold").

Also I learned I am out of practice. It's time for songwriting boot camp. Hopie lazy. Hopie need to write more songs.

Thanksgiving. We missed it last year. This year we're headed up to Camp Luther after evening services tomorrow night and I can't wait. I'm in charge of the bird. Other people get dressed up and bring out the fancy china. The Dunbars go the opposite direction and wear warm camping clothes, sleep in sleeping bags and bum around on Thanksgiving. It's the best retreat ever and I know I need it. Songwriting boot camp is going to take place there. So will walks, puzzles, games, fires, and hymn sings. I'm reading this book called, "Finish" and it talks about secret rules we all have that keep us from getting where we really want to go. For example, I have a secret rule that Christmas time is a holiday for everyone else but not me so I have to be Cinderella and work my ass off because I don't deserve to have a nice holiday. I've decided to break that rule this year. Secret rules. We all have them. Maybe you have a secret rule about working out like you're not allowed to be goofy or have fun if you exercise. You've invented the rule that exercise is supposed to suck- so you don't do it because who wants to change shoes and put on a sports bra for something that sucks?

You might have a secret rule that Thanksgiving can only be Thanksgiving if it looks a certain way. That's rubbish. Going to Camp Luther was an impulse one year that became a tradition and helped me learn that "breaking" the rules and finding the rest you really need is possible for all of us. Secret rules are just the devil's way of keeping you chained up. Don't let him win, man. He's THE WORST.

Advent. It's on. The meetings, the program, the songs, the practices. It's starting. If I could quite my day job and hang out at church for a few hours each day, that'd be cool. I could shape it all, make the calls, do the rehearsals. Instead, it's early mornings and late at nights and when I get a few hours here and there.  It's still cool.  But not as cool as Emily's Christmas program for this year that she wrote herself titled, "Highway to the Manger Zone." It's incredible and magnificent.

Passion. My passion is music. You might know I've got this record that just came out. It's getting airplay from people I don't personally know in places in the U.S. I've never been. That's a big step forward for me. I've got friends and new friends who are helping to get the songs heard and I am in amazement. On a side note, I've quit my day job three times in the last 4 years and I've asked for it back every time. I beg for it back because I need the money. Ya know, for groceries and tennis shoes and haircuts. Some might say it's safety. Some might say it's a hiding place. 

So what is it? Is it the responsible thing to do or is it the thing keeping me from upping my hustle and working harder at the gigging? It definitely keeps me from doing the real work I wish to do all the time. But it also makes it so that I'm not gone every weekend.

So the future looks confusing. Yes, I want to gig gig gig. I love it. It feels like me. And also I want to be present here at home and have money for my kids college. I'm confused. I don't know what to do. One day I'm resolved to retire and the next I get offers to play gigs and I impulsively say YES. 

For now I'm thankful for a finished (almost) song, a long weekend, a trip to State Football for our Centennial Broncos, daring to break the rules, passion that has purpose and knowing I'm not alone even if the future is scary. I'm thankful for your reading this. Be encouraged. Know that you encourage me. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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You wanna be inspired?

 The Scale House.

The Scale House.

We met at the Scale House yesterday morning to talk about family. I sat in the chair where Orville used to sit drinking coffee with a plaque on the wall honoring his dedication to York County Agriculture. I took notes with a view of the home place out the window and the feed lot to the north. I'm writing a song for their family and wanted to meet to hear some stories from Mike and Jan. At the end of it, Mike and I got in the feed truck and he let me ride along while we filled the thing with 13,000 pounds of a cattle "muesli." 

 The feed truck.

The feed truck.

I learned things about cattle, about Orville and Ruth and the home they built for their kids. And then I learned about their kids honoring their folks with their own families and lives. If you want to be inspired, start talking to people about where they came from and the legacy they love. If you want to be inspired, clear your schedule, pour yourself a cup of coffee and just have a conversation for the sheer pleasure of hearing someone's story and being reminded of how beautiful the little things in life are. Feed truck optional.

Then it was the lunch crowd at Chez Bubba Cafe, just like most days. Only the crowd didn't make it for lunch. I swept the floor, rolled the silverware, refilled BBQ sauces and waited a few tables before heading over to Lincoln to meet up with my buddy, Mike Semrad, and shoot a music video.

 The set 11/9/17

The set 11/9/17

We met up and set up and recorded a cover song, "Pale Fire" by Amanda Shires. Hopefully it gets a placement on TheBoot.com sooner than later. Stay tuned for more. We spent the afternoon talking shop and rehearsing before cutting the tune. It was so fun. Lately I've been collaborating with instrumental artists and am loving these new musical conversations. We don't really know each other very well, but we start playing songs and speaking the same language and it is magical. You wanna be inspired? Call up a friend, get out your instruments and start playing. Sing together on the chorus and remember how great it is to send some harmony up into the heavens on a weekday afternoon. Forget about all that stuff you've gotta do and make time for something that will fill you up and remind you what you're here for. 

You wanna be inspired? Don't wait for magic to find you while you're busy doing something else. Instead, make yourself available in a space where magic just bubbles up into your living room. It happens when we set aside the clutter (the phone) and create an opportunity for listening and responding, and for curiosity. Magic loves curiosity. 

This week has been filled with it. You know what Star Belle did the night before? We taught a ukulele class at a Brewery. You know what that was?  It was 20 people coming together, stopping all the other stuff in their lives and giving themselves the gift of music, of curiosity, of togetherness and good beer. We all walked away happy and a little lighter than before.

You wanna be inspired? 

Think about it.

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Life in the time of Gratitude

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When I was a teenager I remember my dad telling me that I needed to learn how to say, "Thank you."

 I am still learning. When people give me complements, my initial reaction is to make a joke or explain it away. It can be hard to take a complement (especially if you suffer from a self-worth problem like I do). And then I remember my dad's words and how he told me that it takes effort and care and thoughtfulness and sincerity to seek someone out and pay them a complement. We all think nice things. Some folks are brave enough to walk up to the person and say the words. My job is to hear the complement, remember the heart it takes to express it, and respond with gratitude. 

I'm so thankful he gave me that lecture when I was young. I think I remember trying to ignore him when he did it, but I heard him. And I'm still working on it. Some days I'm better at it than others. 

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. At our church, people are great at showing their appreciation. We get gift cards, meat. baked goods, beer, invitations to dinner, greeting cards, kind words and continued prayers. It's awesome and it's overwhelming and each year I ask my husband if we can quietly faze out the practice and he confidently tells me "No."

Life in the time of Gratitude. It is wonderful and it is humbling. There I am, standing at the doorway with a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls and suddenly I'm thinking about all the ways we don't work hard enough, where we miss the mark, and where we are undeserving of the kindness people show us. You wouldn't think warm baked goods would make you question everything you do on a day to day basis, but so it goes. And I confess that gifts can be hard. I confess love can be hard to receive. And I remember what my dad told me and I spend time thinking about why Pastor Appreciation Month must stand.

Let people love you. With muffins and cash and meat from their own butchering. Let people appreciate you precisely because it can feel uncomfortable to open up, to let love happen, to entertain the idea that we are worthy of the generosity. 

And don't squash the practice. Don't ever give the impression that generosity is foolish or unnecessary. Like we're so self-sustaining that we don't need the gift card to Barnes & Noble. The truth is we need it.  We need it to crack us open and consider how we can add to the pile of gratitude.  The whole world needs it in any way shape or form it comes by. 

And say thank you. And let the love sink in. And give thanks for life in the time of Gratitude. It's a work in progress and I am in wonder at how it gets to me and loves me and helps me grow. Thank you.

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