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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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I can't sleep because I'm worried/ Thought work at 3am

Here’s a little thought work from my notebook since I couldn’t sleep last night. I hope it helps. By the time I got to the end of the page, I felt better (but it was time to wake up so I didn’t go to sleep):


I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep because my brain is going crazy over things I’m worried about.

What are you worried about?

I’m worried about time management, I’m worried about appearances, about singing a Joni Mitchell song, planning the women’s retreat, organizing Fun Day, making sure I’m responding to emails in a timely fashion, doing what I said I was going to do, the upcoming shows that need promoting, tour, Montreal, money, upcoming recording projects, devoting enough time to my family, fundraisers, fitness, healthy eating, booking and so on.

Why are you worried?

I’m worried that I will not meet expectations. I’m worried about judgment, I’m worried about missing details on the list of things to do.

Why are you worried about judgment, not meeting expectations or missing details?

Because I don’t like thinking about people thinking poorly of me and how I’m not doing a good job.

OK, so what if they do think poorly of you and what if you do a bad job?

Then I’ll be disappointing myself and others.

What if you disappoint yourself and others?

I’ll feel bad and I will have proven their criticism to be true.

What do you gain from feeling bad and being a disappointment to others?

I get to indulge in my habit of self-loathing and feeling sorry for myself. I get to excuse myself from hard work and prove to myself over and again that I don’t do a good job because my self-loathing and depression make it so I do nothing.

And what do you gain if you dismiss worry as counter-productive? What do you gain if you take worrying about other’s approval completely off the table?

Then I get the power I need to complete the job the best way I can and not get frozen in self-doubt. I get the power of working efficiently and productively free from the distraction of judgment and criticism. I get to see this day and this time as a gift to be appreciated instead of a day that needs survival mode. I get to look around and see the good things in abundance that God has blessed me with instead of fixating on the one thing that’s trying to make me believe I’m drowning. Because I’m not drowning. I’m actually totally fine. I’m beloved, I’m free, I’m being invited into a world of wonder. I am not a prisoner.

And this is how struggle doesn’t live here anymore even if I’m up at 3am. I do have quite a bit of work to do, that’s true. But I’m more than capable of doing it. I used to think that being OK was a luxury that no one really ever gets unless they’re on vacation, but it turns out being OK is an option for every damn day. Even on bad days, we can be OK. Even when we can’t sleep, we can turn on the flashlight, dust the corners, find the ghost lurking and tell it to get the hell out.


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Your real self

Does this picture make you want to be your true self? Well, that’s what it’s supposed to be doing. So do it.

Does this picture make you want to be your true self? Well, that’s what it’s supposed to be doing. So do it.

Your real self, my real self, his real self, her real self. Don’t you wish it were just obvious that we were all working within the freedom of our real selves all the time?

When I was younger I had moments of living in my real self and it felt wonderful. I remember particularly this one sunny day in Granada, Spain during the year I lived there in college. I was walking along the street, I was wearing a blue dress, I don’t recall it being a day when I had classes, and in my mind I was just walking enjoying the sunshine. I remember that moment because, in that moment, I remember saying to myself, “This is it. This is you being exactly who you are meant to be. This is a day to remember when you feel great, you love this place, you’re doing the thing.”

I drove to Kansas City yesterday for a gig and listened to podcasts there and back. “The Art School” with Leah Badertscher is one of my favorites. Yesterday, in episode ten, she said,

The truth feels like freedom and lies feel like a cage

I spent lots of time trying to work inside a cage. I still do. I try to please people and make excuses for why I should live in the cage until, like I said in my last post, I freak out and act out and then just blow off steam by not being so cagey. The truth feels so much better.

And it makes me wonder about the people around me. Why is it that we shackle ourselves to stuff we don’t want, jobs we don’t like, routines that don’t let us shine? Why is it that we think our best self, that our real self is somehow not worthy of being revealed? Why do we place a higher value on misery than contentment or a higher value on maintenance versus expansion? It’s like we’re all taking our talents and burying them in the ground in case the end is near.

Jon and I went out to lunch the other day I got the Salad Bar option that included a very nice (still warm) bread pudding for dessert. Afterward, as were driving to Walmart, I got a little teary saying, “Life would be so much easier if I had been created for a nice office job. Life wouldn’t feel so hard if I loved routine and time cards more.”

But would it? I’d just be on the other side of a human experience that’s half wonder and half worry. I’d still be living in the tension of what needs to be done and what I want to get done. That never goes away no matter what gifts and calling you’ve been given. It’s always going to be half winning and half working on the win. We can let a little light in by inviting our real selves to the table and giving them a say as to how this song goes. Hey, how DOES this song go?

You know what the world needs? The world needs your real self to stand up and do what she was designed to do. The world needs you energized and at peace. It doesn’t need another martyr working on leveling up on their suffering badge just to prove how much bullshit they can handle.

The truth tastes like freedom. This world could use more of that. This world could use more of you. Go on and give it to them. Love, Hope

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Let me tell you how much I love Indian Rom Coms and thoughts on mental toughness

I love Indian romantic comedies and romantic dramas. I love them so much. The Indian culture (about which I know practically nothing) brings in a family element to the love stories which makes for a much more complicated but also true to life look at relationships that our love stories love to exclude and maintain the illusion that none of us live in community and that our relationships have nothing to do with our extended family and friends.

And also they always pull in a dance number, the women are gorgeous and India seems like a very beautiful, romantic, complicated, rich place to set a story. So I’ve been watching Indian RomComs like a boss. If that were my job, I’d get a raise I’m that good at watching Indian Romcoms.

Last week was a real doozy. My brain IS my body’s worst enemy and it was really giving me trouble last week. If last week were my very own Indian RomCom it would be perhaps a remake of “The Taming of the Shrew” only set in Mumbai. Or something like that.

I was feeling like it was me against the world last week. My brain was working overtime to inform me that I suck, that I’m making a fool of myself, I have absolutely no business doing any of things I fancy myself free to do and also, you should just quit.

Now this isn’t anything new for me. This used to be the running commentary I had in my brain all the time but I’ve decided I don’t do that anymore. In the past my brain would typically follow this pattern:

****be good, be good, be good, shut up, shut up, shut up, reign it in, reign in, reign it in, FUDGE THIS SUGAR AND THE SUGAR BOWL I RODE IN ON, act out, act out, act out because who cares? who cares? who cares?

Feel better after acting out, feel bad for acting out and then start all over again.****

I don’t do that anymore. That’s not what I’m into. It got me this far, I’ll give it that, but it won’t take me where I want to go so bye bye.

When it showed back up this week I was doing everything I could to make peace with it and leave it alone but something just would not let me shake it.

In my life coaching work I learned lots of ways to resist old thought habits and center myself in new ones. I learned how to journal from a place of abundance and completeness. I am whole and complete. I am not working to make up for the things I lack. I am not trying to earn my way out of some jail by getting a stamp of approval from some power somewhere above me. That’s not a thing. I am living in the mind, body and gifts that were chosen specifically for me and I am invited to love every minute of this day, week, year.

I did that. I still felt crummy.

I said, “This is just a bummer of a day. It’s not a grade your earned for being bad at life. It’s just a day”

No change.

And then, right before my gig on Friday, after days and days of feeling on the outside and so very uncool, I remembered this tool:

I can handle anything. I . can. handle. anything. and I’m like, “YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT I CAN HANDLE ANYTHING!!!! BRING IT ON!!!!

And I felt free. Free again. I’m not afraid of feeling bad feelings. I’m not afraid of bad days. I can friggin’ feel anything and it doesn’t turn me into a troll. Bad feelings don’t put me in chains, they don’t suck away my identity or make me less than anyone else. They’re just bad feelings and I’m going to be just fine.

BUH BLAM!!!

CUE INDIAN DANCE NUMBER AND MAKE SURE THAT WIND MACHINE KICKS MY HAIR UP JUST RIGHT!

Turns out mental toughness isn’t just for NFL players anymore. It’s for all of us. When Bob at the nursing home heckled me during my nursing home happy hour set last week saying, “Don’t quit your day job.” I have the freedom to ingest that information any way I want. I have the power to decide if it’s something I wish to learn from, internalize or let go. I can look at rejection and choose to feel just as powerful and complete after the no as I did before it. And on and on and on. AND I GOT NEWS FOR YOU, NURSING HOME BOB! I ALREADY DID!!

I cried my eyes out at this Indian Romantic Drama called, “Dum Laga Ke Haisha” about an arranged marriage where the husband despised his new wife and everyone else for that matter because life wasn’t going the way he wanted it to. He felt powerless before the choices of his family, his past, and his new wife. It was pretty sad because it felt pretty true. Until the moment he ever so cautiously tried his hand at steering the ship and becoming the hero in his own story.

Turn’s out there’s no fight, there’s no jail, there’s no conflict at all. It was just stuff I got used to thinking to prove my case for smallness. There’s no judgment other than my own. People are pretty great at encouragement and helping. People are cheering you on. Mental mastery consists of thinking through all the thoughts you’ve just naturally adopted as your own and choosing if they get to stay or not. Are they helping you? Are they making you better or keeping you stuck right where you are?

The guy in “Dum Laga Ke Haisha” started letting go because no one gets points for hanging in there. No one earns favor for slogging through it and slapping a smile on your face. No doubt, we will all walk through the valley, no doubt the valley will change us forever, but even so, we get to choose how that trial will tattoo itself upon us. We will live with pain and grief, and still the story belongs to us. And there are no points. For any of it.

And now I’m going to make my list of things to do while watching “Bareilly Ki Barfi” (it stars the same guy from the other one and he’s dreamy). Cue wind machine, cue Indian dance music. Go be amazing.

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Prompt Queens podcast and wanting

Emily Dunbar and I have been talking about how fun it would be to start a podcast for some time and then we finally did. It’s called “Prompt Queens,” you’ll see that my website now has a page devoted to it so you can mosey on over there and click on the link. It’s about songwriting to prompts in order to create some distance between you and your work, explore songwriting as craft and not always heart work. And also, ya know, just writing songs so you learn and get better at writing songs. All this with joking and taking most of it not seriously at all. AND WE DID IT. We made a plan, we did the plan relying heavily on Emily Dunbar’s technological know how and sleuthing to figure it all out. And I was in charge of the Instagram.

We’re meeting up again this weekend to cut three new episodes which means I’m writing three new songs. And it’s hard work, but man, I love it. After a year of really spending lots of time thinking and trying and thinking and writing, it’s like a breath of fresh air to have a word and my own imagination and nothing else. It feels great. I love songwriting, I love Emily, and I love talking about the work and maybe, just maybe, we can help someone else out there who needs a little ridiculous boost to get into a regular writing practice themselves.

So our new goal is to become full time podcast hosts. You can help us by listening to the thing (episode 2 drops tomorrow and is pretty funny, you guys), rating it, reviewing it and sharing it with your friends. If we were full time podcast hosts then we’d really be maximizing our skill set. Talking, laughing, showing off, and songwriting.

And then what else? Here at Hope Dunbar Music HQ I’ve been getting into the groove of full time musician writing the booking emails, writing the booking emails, playing the gigs, writing the booking emails, waking up in the middle of the night to think of more efficient ways to advance my career, and then writing some songs. It’s an interesting and fulfilling day to day made more desperate when some months look leaner than others. But whatever. We’re all out there trying to get it done.

And it’s swimming and light weights and grapefruit. It’s record highs for January, a stack of books by my bed it’s a crockpot full of chicken and a pile of laundry to my knees, thoughts about the next record and the money. Patreon? How is it those poinsettias are still alive in the basement? I’ve literally not touched them at all. Dusting the ceiling fan? Re-painting the bedroom? And no new couch because why? Wanting is weird. You spend all these years training yourself not to do it, to resist it and then someone comes along and says it’s OK to try. So you dip your toe in the feeling of satisfaction just a little- you paint your nails on Tuesday at 4pm just because. You wear clothes that are nicer than what’s considered acceptable and you feel the pressure start lifting from the pressure there was. And that feels good. In fact, you discover you work better and longer and truer just by letting a little want take hold.

And after the nails and the heels and letting want stick around you get the guts up to start wanting big things you never dreamed of confessing. Like a Grammy, like an income, like you’re worth it. Cuz you are.

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Is today "a day" or "The Day"? or "Burn the ships in 2019"

First update on Fat Camp: In desperate need, By my own free will, joining today (in my mind) and they're waiving the registration fee just like I thought they would (there’s no fee, it’s just me deciding to eat better and move more).

Last night I had my friends over for a party/house concert. It’s the third time I’ve ever hosted a house concert. The first was for my first CD release party, the second was for my friend, Katie, and this third one was to celebrate the song commission project completion. We had so much fun. Because there was a party last night, I woke up to a pretty clean and tidy house this morning which makes for a great place to pick up the guitar, look out the window and write a song so I did.

There we were last night: drinking Iowa Wedding Punch, snacking on snacks, talking under the twinkle lights of my ‘youth room-esque’ basement, playing songs, laughing, just having a nice night together for no other reason than because of a group of songs and friendship.

And it got me to thinking. Was last night’s show “a show” or “the show?”

Defining dates in time, delineating between then and now, the life you had before you signed up for Fat Camp (for example) and everything that comes after. Any day we live could be just another day or it could be THE DAY. It just depends on what we’re aiming at and dreaming of.

This is a new idea for me. How could defining one random day as THE DAY be helpful in building a new future? Just like buying that new pair of trainers or joining a new fitness club. We build a new set of habits and new element to our identity by deciding today is the day you step into your new self and start letting go of the old one.

Which takes me back to last night in our basement. It was a wonderful night to celebrate a real labor of love. In the new light of this new morning, part of me thinks that it’s a good place to let go of one identity and practice the stepping into a new version of myself and last night’s concert may have been that “THE SHOW” moment I need to distinguish between what was and what will come to be.

Life Coaching (www.leahbc.com) introduced me to this idea of Before and After delineation. I get to choose my own milestones, I can invent my own important days by which I remember bidding farewell to one things and taking up the banner of something new. Yesterday I was the kind of artist begging to be noticed, getting some notariety and then sinking back into obscurity. Today I’m the artist who knows what she can do and is fearless in the pursuit of doing the best work she can possibly do without apology. Boom.

So last night was THE NIGHT. Don’t worry, I’m not running away from home or never having a party again but last night felt like the place to leave behind a certain artist identity, to close the book on the smallness of my previous aspirations and the perfect night to mark the beginning of the next chapter.

Sometimes you gotta burn the ships so as never to be tempted to go back. 2019 is going to be the best year ever. 75 gigs, writing the best songs out there, co-writing with my friends, collaborating with talented humans and being all in. Just like living in my post-fat camp fit identity before I’ve actually lost the weight, I’m going to live in my Grammy-winning mainstage identity before I’ve any trophy to speak of.

Burn the ship. Mark the day. 2019 is going to be the best year ever.

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Fat Camp sounds so tempting right now

This is me and my friends having a blast at Fat Blast. It’s this whole new thing.

This is me and my friends having a blast at Fat Blast. It’s this whole new thing.

This is the first year where I’ve really felt like the target audience for all those post- Christmas/New Year’s Resolution weight loss campaigns out there. In past years, sure, they were always tempting but this year feels like I’m really in the desired doughy white lady demographic those programs need to meet their sales quotas for January.

I woke up with this urgent feeling of, “'I’m going to clean out my fridge, then go buy all workout gear, then plunk down a ridiculous amount of money for whatever 8-week miracle campaign that promises I’ll be Ally McBeal in my “After” photo. (dated pop culture reference acknowledged)

Yes. I’m going to be the one on the Weekly World News Garth Brooks Juice DIet (“So I married an Axe Murderer” reference) and my whole world is going to change.

This is what I was ranting about as I loaded the washing machine with bath towels this morning when my husband started talking me off the extreme Fat Camp ledge.

And then I remembered what I said I would really be working on in these weeks and months to come and it’s not measuring out my food to become a better me. I’ve been working on my “believe ability” since Life Coaching school. The idea that I’m gearing my thoughts toward my desired identity even if I’m not that identity just yet.

Instead of letting circumstances control how I feel about myself and my chub levels (for example), I’m practicing the belief that I already am all those things I wish to become. I’m practicing daily life as if the 8-week miracle diet already worked and I’m exactly who I’ve always wished to become.

It’s weird. But it’s so cool. Who am I now and who do I think I will be after fat camp?

Who I am now (this is what I may have thought before, but I don’t think it anymore): I’m a mess, I’m in progress, I’m a caterpillar, I’m a “before” picture, I’m not worth it.

Who I will be after fat camp: I like the way I look, I dress up when I feel like it, I take excellent care of myself mentally, emotionally and physically, I wear cute clothes and the world is mine.

So here’s the believe ability part. I’ve decided to just skip fat camp, not wait, and believe that I am already who I will become in the future. If I take excellent care of myself and believe I’m worth it, it’s so much easier to take that walk, put down the cookie, dress up and look cute. I’m not pretending to be worth it, I really am worth it. I believe that I’m all the things I dream of being once I shed the Christmas chub. I’m all those things right now.

Which makes joining the Extreme Fit and Forty club great but not loaded with all this baggage of identity and self-worth and happiness. I can be a chunky monkey and feel awesome. I can also be a triathlete and feel awesome. My awesomeness doesn’t hang on the miracle diet anymore and so now I’m free to just be awesome no matter what and chase after my dreams. If I choose the fat camp route, it just means I can chase them at a quicker pace without getting winded so quickly and, since I’m interested in the work, then maybe the calorie counting might help me become better focused and more energized for the really important stuff of fully inhabiting the calling God has given me.

And now I know all the bots are reading my thoughts and I’ll be flooded with incredible deals on early fat camp registrations. I’ll look into them all after me and my apple watch go for a run (I don’t have an apple watch).

P.S.. This is mostly a songwriting, creative blog. But ya know, ‘tis the season. Also, Friday is my house concert and I’m really excited so now I’m working on editing my last song. Yay!

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The Best Christmas Ever or Struggle doesn't live here anymore

If you’ve been reading this blog through the fall and into winter you might remember that I’ve been doing thought work and heart work and songwriter work and mom work and wife work, but mostly thought work.

One of the things I discovered during my coaching class was that I really love struggle and I really love things that are the opposite of easy or loving or comfortable. For example:

“Oh, it’s my birthday!”

Cue thought cycle that goes like this: “It’s my birthday, I’m old, women aren’t supposed to be old and if they’re old they’re supposed to be super fit and that’s not what’s going on here. It’s a special occasion, I’m allergic to special occasions, I’m the opposite of special, know what I should do? I should have a reckoning as to why I’ve been bad at life for 41 years, I’ll go apologize to my family for sucking it up so bad, fake smile at the cake, blow out the candle. Congratulations, I’ve ruined it for everyone. See? I told you I ruin stuff.”

Pretty bad, right? Now imagine that same thought pattern for things like EVERYTHING.

The coaching class really helped me articulate what kind of sicko habits I had created for myself. And humans love habits. So much. We love following a script- even the bad ones because it doesn’t take much brain power and effort. (Cue plug for a great read: Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit )

I decided I don’t do struggle anymore. I’m not into it and it’s not fun. It’s just a habit I got used to and I don’t want that habit anymore. What do I love about this change? It’s got nothing to do with my identity, nothing to do with my family of origin, nothing to do with anything. It’s just something I got used to and now I’m going to leave it alone.

That’s why this is year is going to be the Best Christmas Ever!

Now, don’t get me wrong. Struggle and sadness are lurking around everything. They get me in the dark and try to woo me back to their team. Sadness and depression won’t leave me, I know, but they won’t be helped along anymore with habits that play in their favor. I can be sad and that’s it. I don’t have to be sad and add a whole list of crap past and present to my sadness to turn it into something bigger and more definitive. So struggle shows up, I fall for it, but then I say:

“Hope, you’re fine. There’s no conflict, this is struggle, remember? And you decided you don’t do that shit anymore.”

And then I remember and I take a few deep breaths and I see what I’m doing and try to let go. But my brain loves this habit so letting go doesn’t feel easy. It’s hard. Thoughts are addictive. I want the hit. I got used to misery and so I crave it. So my thought work is letting go of that thought and picking up a new one. This new one is about the loveliness and ease of everything. BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.

What does the best Christmas ever look like? It looks so easy. I had a good time organizing the youth candlelight service. Most years I’m freaking out and miserable. Not this year. I sat there in the pew and smiled the whole time all those wonderful high schoolers gave their gifts and talents to the service. It was beautiful and I got to be there for it.

I’ve had a good time getting the Sunday School Christmas Eve program together. Most years I lose sleep stressing out over my failings and weaknesses and worried I’m doing more harm than good with my sloppy ways because lining up kids has never been my strength. But this year I’ve loved it. It’s been easy. It’s been a pleasure.

Last night we went to the staff Christmas party and I had so much fun. Today I’m thinking the Dunbars are going to put together an impromptu carolling party for anyone who wants to carol. Trust me, I NEVER would have EVER done that in the past. I still am bad at shopping and gift-giving. That part is still hard, but it’s not struggle.

Wanting Struggle gone from my thoughts was a revelation. Practicing the actual work of identifying it everywhere and getting it gone is harder, but it’s happening and I’m so thankful.

BOTTOM LINE: Life is so much better when you don’t have to try so hard. Life is so much better when you’re not getting graded on everything.

Because you wanna know what? We’re not being graded on any of this. That’s good news. That’s the kind of news that actually reveals how deep our wells are, how strong our arms, how big our hearts so we can go ahead and be us. For me, that’s having the best Christmas Ever.

I hope you have the best Christmas ever as well and I hope it turns into your best year ever after that.

I’m having a song party house concert at my house next Friday to celebrate friendship and songs. Struggle makes me want to worry that no one will come and that it’s a stupid idea. But I want to have a party, I want to celebrate this work so that’s what we’ll do no matter what. I’ll clean the basement, get some beer and sing the songs and it’ll be the best party ever. You should totally come. It’s gonna be awesome.

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"Listen to your heart" or "One song to go and goals"

This is not my workspace. I imagine it would be if I lived in Buenos Aires, perhaps, and me and Borges and Cortazar hung out in the afternoons and were best friends.

This is not my workspace. I imagine it would be if I lived in Buenos Aires, perhaps, and me and Borges and Cortazar hung out in the afternoons and were best friends.

I have one more song to write from the list of comissions I started back in June of 2017. When I first offered this kickstarter reward I believe I said your song would be ready by October of 2017….and fourteen short months after that FIRST deadline, this Sunday is my last deadline. And now I know.

So far we’ve got:

Iowa Wedding Song- based on the true story of a family brawl at a wedding and the subsequent banning of said family from a small town in Iowa forever.

That’s What Love Does- a love song about how love just makes things happen in a lovely, gentle, astonishing type of way

Still the Birds- a song about friendship rooted in music and Texas

My darling dear- An Irish-sounding love song about two lovers separated but to be united again in the future

How Beautiful the Tall Oak Tree- about steadiness and love and dreaming all at the same time

The Story of Us- College friends staying friends forever

You let the LIght in- How a friend can remind us of God’s love and assurance even when we can’t see it ourselves

Don’t Give up- about the dreams we have feeling far off, but that we don’t give up (also, the really big hill between the Hochschule and the S-Bahn stop in Oberursel and how it’s no fun to walk up at the end of the day)

Textbook- the twists and turns of life can bring us from reaching for the stars to changing diapers and raising babies

The house across the street- how we can help each other even in the midst fighting off our own darkness

So is my love for you- (Just completed yesterday) Love song in a minor key for a folk trio I know

***The Untitled Last One***- About my family and yet to be written.????????

The last song is dedicated to my mom, dad and brothers. It’s the hardest one to write. In desperation I’ve even gone to setting the timer and free writing. Heck, I got up early this morning to do morning pages (which actually yielded some stuff so that’s good) and starting forging a path through the confusion. Morning pages. Also, some friends and I are reading and working The Artist’s Way so, full disclosure, I’m supposed to be doing morning pages every day. OK, so day 1 of Morning Pages: DONE.

Now just write the song. Just write it. Just write a bad one, then another one, then don’t worry about it, write something else and then you’ll get it. You’ll get it if you stop thinking about it and start writing stuff down. Stop worrying about the outcome and start the journey.

Oh that sounds good. Stop worrying about the outcome and start the journey. Well, OK.

It’s hard not looking right and left and in front and behind you. It’s hard to remember your goals are different than other peoples goals. It’s good to remember that our purpose in life is ours and unique to us. The work we’ve been given will almost never match up to the work given our neighbors. As it should be. My goals these days are finishing these songs, hosting a house concert, and singing them online. No new record just yet, no crowdfunding, no slick new music video. Just me in my basement doing my thing.

Perhaps you are in your basement doing your own thing. I celebrate it. Keep it up. In the words of that Swedish pop band with that early 90s hit, “Listen to your heart.”

And finally, here at the Home Office, these 12 lucky souls got in at a bargain BASEMENT price (see what I did there?). I’ll start taking new comissions in January if you’re interested starting at $500.

Coming up: Stay tuned for my next blog which is probably gonna be about Cory Branan or Darrell Scott or both.

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