A very special five year anniversary.


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Five years ago today, I finally summoned the courage to leave an abusive relationship.  I’d been with him for seven years.

“Why don’t they just leave?” I used to say of women who stayed with abusive partners. I thought I was too smart to fall into that trap.

I learned the hard way how wrong I was.

He was older and seemingly wiser.   His charms slowly tarnished over time, until words that I’d once used to describe him – like smart, quick-witted, observant, attentive – became what they really were: sarcastic, harsh, cynical, obsessive.   Throughout our relationship, I felt my identity slowly slip away from me, until I was merely a means to his end.  I was not as important.  He made that clear.  I stopped caring about myself sufficiently and considered only him and his opinions, his feelings, his plans.  I believed that he was the most important person in my world, and that I was secondary.

There were no telltale bruises, marks, or scars.  All of my wounds were on the inside.  Words were his weapon of choice, and he was a master of manipulation.

Even with my two closest friends beseeching me to leave him, I stayed. “I can’t leave him — it would devastate him,” I would say, giving very little consideration to how terribly depressed and unfulfilled I was.

One day — five years ago today — with the help of a friend in whom I’d confided my fear, I did finally leave, knowing that it was necessary to preserve my sanity, but feeling terrified that I was making a mistake.

It was no mistake — it was the wisest choice I’ve ever made in my life.

Since February 26, 2010, I’ve accomplished some pretty awesome things.  It’s a long list, but here are some highlights:

I’ve recorded and released 4 CDs of my music.  I’ve toured all over the US in a Winnebago with my bandmates and closest friends.  I’ve learned to how to ride a motorcycle.  I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon.  I’ve been brought to tears by the wonders of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  I’ve watched the sun set on the Pacific Ocean.  I’ve played jazz on Bourbon Street.  And I fell in love and built an amazing life with my best friend, someone who encourages me everyday to be me.

Every single one of these things was a lifelong dream of mine, and every single one was unthinkable in my old life.

Take it from someone who usually learns things the hard way – don’t ever let anyone tell you that your dreams aren’t worth following or that you are selfish for even wanting to do so.  Such sentiment is a poison.  Those admonitions still occasionally haunt me, and yet I wake up every morning feeling grateful for another opportunity to continue living life in full pursuit of such dreams.

Life is beautiful and tragic and, most strikingly of all, it’s far too short.  Get out there and live your life! — because when you do, you smile, and then everyone around you will start smiling too.

Why I stopped celebrating Christmas.


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Sometime in the month of December 1998, I was standing in a very long, slowly-moving line at Borders in South Portland, ME.   I was clutching a couple of books in my hands — one for my mom and another for my boyfriend Scott — that I intended to give as Christmas gifts.

I’ll never forget how severely depressed I was in that moment.  My father had just died of cancer in November.  My mother was, of course, a wreck, and my job of consoling her was impossible.  And in those days, I was living on my own (mostly) in a rathole of an apartment in Lewiston, working in retail (which meant, in December, working nearly every waking moment of every day), and struggling to pay my bills.

I could barely afford the books I was holding in my hand.  I could barely stand there and endure the holiday music that blared incessantly from the wall-mounted speakers.  I did, however, manage to gaze around me at the dozens of tables of last-minute impulse buys and brightly colored bargain books around which we in line were all snaking our way toward the registers, and I did also manage to notice the looks on the faces of nearly everyone else in that line — unsmiling, unfriendly, exhausted.  “Let’s just get this over with,” we all seemed to be thinking.

And then, I had an idea.  I will get this over with.  I stepped out of my place in line, placed the two books back where I found them, and walked out of the store with an incredible sense of relief.

It was at that moment that I pretty much dropped out of Christmas.

The one thing I wanted — and that my mother wanted — more than anything was to have my father back.   How was a stupid book about cats going to assuage that?

She and I didn’t exchange gifts that year.  It seemed pointless.  It was pointless.

There have been a few exceptions over the last fifteen years — including a gift or two for my mother before her death in 2007 — but very few.

As the old cliche goes, the best things in life aren’t things.  Yes, things are nice.  Some things are even necessary.  But I find the idea of compulsory gift-giving to be a grotesque one.  The giving of gifts should be a joy in and of itself, not a stress-filled obligation.

Many do agree with this sentiment.  Others point to the religious origins of the holiday as a respite.  I am not a religious person, so I find no consolation in these various myths.

But there is music.

For the last four Christmas seasons, I’ve been a part of a tradition of sharing the music of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas in a live concert setting.   The message of the original TV special was that of that same exasperation that I felt standing in that long line at Borders all those years ago — commercialism run amok.  I’ve heard many folks say to me that it has made their whole holiday season, that it has brought the true spirit of Christmas back into their lives.  Music has the power — and, indeed, the tendency — to do just that.

So, I won’t be giving any store-bought gifts tomorrow.  Hopefully, I won’t be receiving any either.  The only gift I want — tomorrow and every day — is the loving presence of dear friends and loved ones.  That should be enough for anyone!  It’s certainly more than enough for me.

Halloween 2014


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Regular hotel night tonight.  A quiet Halloween night, which has its own eerie quality.  I overheard a man, who had been applauding me all through dinner, say as he and his wife walked away from tipping me:

“What is she doing playing here?”

I know what they mean when folks say things like this.  They were both very sweet.

I kinda wish he’d asked me that question directly.  I would’ve said, “Playing for folks like you who listen and appreciate it.”

That man and his wife only want what’s best for me, of this I’m sure.  And once I figure out what that is, I’ll go after it, too.

And even though I’m quickly approaching forty, I still feel like my life is brand new.  In a lot of ways, at least in the last five years, it is brand new.  A whole new set of circumstances and goals.  Sure, I’m happy, and things are moving onward and upward, and sure, I get sad and blue as hell sometimes, and I’m working on that stuff.  Trying, anyway.   And sure, everything feels uncertain and downright scary sometimes, even when things are going well.

I’m finding that both the bitter and the sweet stuff is in the searching.  That old saw about the journey, and not the destination, blah blah.

And all the while, the clock is ticking, and friends and strangers alike are cheering me on.

Who knows how and why we end up where we do, doing the things we do.  Some people have strong convictions about that sort of thing.  Some have faith, others don’t.  Everything from “It’s all pre-determined” to “It’s all a crap shoot.”

Me?  I don’t really know a damn thing, except that I intend to get up tomorrow morning and keep trying to figure it out.  Of that, I’m as certain as I can be.

So, on this spookiest of nights, when it’s okay to be scared and uncertain about what’s lurking behind the corner, I admit that I am – and I’m smiling about it.  Happy Halloween.



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When I was ten and eleven years old, I wanted – or so I thought at the time – to be a stand-up comedian.  In the privacy of my bedroom, I would arrange every stuffed animal I’d ever snuggled or otherwise kept close in rows on my bed to face me as I stood, with hair-brush-microphone in my hand, reciting, word for word, the routines from my two favorite albums at that time: Bill Cosby: Himself and Robin Williams: A Night At The Met.

I knew every single syllable of these recordings and I never tired of repeating them, word for word, before my beady-eyed, non-responsive audience.

Bill’s rhythms were slow, steady.  They would build, and then they would relax, and then they would build again.  Himself felt safe, warm, friendly.

A Night At The Met, however, exploded like a bolt of lightning, even after thousands of repeated listenings.  The rapid-fire frenzy of Robin’s routines were, to me, absolutely heart-stopping genius.

I’d loved Robin since I was a young child, when I, too, had a pair of rainbow-striped suspenders and would chant “nanu nanu” and “Earth to Orson!”  We even had two cats named Mork and Mindy.

I amused friends – and, I’m sure, often drove them crazy – with my incessant quotes of Robin’s material, both from his stand-up and from his movies.  I really wanted to BE him – to be able to create so effortlessly (or so it seemed) – and to somehow bring electrifying, manic, child-like joy into the world.

Eventually, my obsession with Robin faded, but I never lost my reverence for his genius. Oh, and how deeply I imbibed Dead Poets Society from my seat in that dark, crowded movie theater where I first saw it.

And to think that a man who brought that much happiness and laughter and light into the dark world couldn’t hold onto enough of it for himself to see him through.

When I first heard the news about Robin’s suicide, I couldn’t hold back the tears.  Is there really a world in which he no longer exists?  Unthinkable.

And then… I started to get very angry.  How could he do this to his family, to all of us?

It’s always the ones you wouldn’t suspect.

Though he rarely spoke of it, my father was completely devastated by his brother Roger’s suicide on New Year’s Eve of 1981.  Dad was so angry that he refused to attend the funeral services.  He simply bottled up those feelings and never brought them out again.

Roger was a brilliant musician, a father, full of that same manic joy — and yet he fell prey, quite surprisingly, to the same demons of drug addiction and despair.

And those same poisons taint my blood, too.

Life really sucks sometimes, you know?  It’s hard friggin’ work.  I know exactly what it feels like to despair, to lose hope – to feel like, “You know, I just can’t do this business of waking up every morning anymore.”  I really do.

The sun sets and then it’s dark – too dark for some.

Poor Robin.  His poor family.

I’m not angry anymore – just devastated by the loss.  Aren’t we all – all of us who felt like Robin was in our close circle of friends, who were immeasurably and irrevocably shaped by his influence?  He was one of us – one of so many beautiful, mournful, lovely people trying to get along in a big, crazy world.

Yes, there is more darkness than light when you look up at the night sky – but it’s the stars, the givers of light, that persist.

So, for as long as we can stand to do it, let’s choose to remember the light and the joy.

So long, Robin.

Saturday Morning Musings – Forever returning.


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Hello!  I’m back.  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Where to begin?  I’ll be very brief.  A successful SERFA conference in May with Shawn and Davy.  Six wonderful weeks in New Orleans.  Four years and counting with my sweetheart.  More traveling to more shows all over the country.  A new record in the works.  So much excitement and joy!

It’s incredible to think of how unhappy I used to be a lot of the time and how, unfortunately, the residue of those unhappy times had indelibly stained much of the rest of my life.

But that stain is slowly fading — I see it in photos, in the mirror, in my improving posture.

I’m smiling more than I ever used to.  I’m growing more confident.

Wynton Marsalis once said, “In jazz, every moment is a crisis and you bring all your skill to bear on the crisis.”  Life can be a crisis too, can’t it?  Hard work for sure.

I feel like I’m forever returning — to the piano, to melody and harmony, to the blank page, to here and now — and when I arrive, all I can do is just try to figure out what needs to be done next.

In the meantime — which is also here and now — I hope to continue to hone my skills and bring them to bear as wisely as I can.

And keep smiling!  🙂

Saturday Morning Musings – Farewell, for now.


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Have you ever tried to prepare your own self and a 31 foot Winnebago for an eight-week long adventure?  Let’s just say, it’s been a really hectic week.

This Monday, Shawn and I are headed on another adventure.  Along with Davy, with our instruments in tow, we will be setting sail on Miss Winnie!


We will arrive in Montreat, NC next Wednesday for the SERFA conference where, in addition to presenting an official showcase on Friday night, we will be meeting up with old friends, making new ones, sharing our songs, stories, and selves with presenters, radio folks, venue owners, and fellow artists from all over the globe.  This is a fantastic opportunity for us!

We’ll be in North Carolina until Sunday-ish – then we bring what we do to Eddie’s Attic open mic in Decatur, GA on the evening of the 19th!  That’ll be fun.

Davy flies home from Atlanta on the 20th, and then Shawn and I mosey on down through the deep south to New Orleans (arriving on the 23rd) where we will be camped out until the end of June.

I.  Can’t.  WAIT!

Nearly a year ago, I set out to post every Saturday morning to this blog, and for nearly a year I have done so.  I’ve shared stories, lyrics, sometimes deeply personal, other times light-hearted, always honest.

It’s time now for me to take a break.

Believe me, I’ve still got plenty to say.  I am just feeling a need to write a little less often, to ease up on my pace.

“It ain’t a race, kid,” my dad used to say.

If you’re so inclined, you can certainly follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter (links in the sidebar).  I’ll be posting at least one photo and/or a short video every day of our eight-week-long adventure.

Writing has always been and will continue to be a deep passion of mine.  Though I won’t be posting every single Saturday morning as I have for the last year, I will still on occasion and as the muse strikes be sharing my thoughts here.

So… farewell, for now, friends!  I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated you taking the time to read my musings all this time.

Stay tuned!  And much love to you.

And off we go…!

Saturday Morning Musings – An unexpected thaw.


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Memories are quite puzzling things.  Think of it – in the time it takes to blink an eye, a memory can arise into consciousness from its hibernation – quite often unbidden – and carry with it all of the attendant emotions.  Encapsulated within that memory, one can find a range of time from moments to years: a first kiss; a concert; a friendship.

The brain is amazing!  And yes, I do believe that everything about our conscious experience can — and will someday — be entirely understood at the level of the brain, the most incredible supercomputer on offer.

“We are a way for the cosmos to know itself,” said Carl Sagan.

Sometimes, though, a memory can take hold and not let go.  That inability to let go can turn ugly — sadness, despair, anger, resentment — or it can be transcendent — love, joy, peace, contentment.

Sometimes… it’s hard to tell.

Like, thinking about an old flame.  Sure, that might be fun, even inspiring, but ultimately it’s a frustration that cannot — and likely should not — lead anywhere.

Or when gazing into the photographed eyes of a long-deceased parent — what an alien mixture of joyful longing and heartbreaking acceptance of fact.

What about pondering the demise of a friendship that ended abruptly in unexpectedly bitter words and anger?

When is it time to forgive?

In that moment — when cheeks are flushed, earlobes are hot, heart is throbbing with adrenaline and sadness, throat is raw from forcing out the vitriol — it seems that nothing could ever repair that ashen bridge.

But perhaps all is not lost.

There is nothing left here for me
Nothing for as far as my crying eyes can see
There is nothing left for me here
Nothing that’s worth me shedding another tear

Those lyrics were written while adrift in an emotional cyclone, mourning the loss of a friendship that gone painfully awry.  Every time I sing them, I still feel the sting of their genesis.

A phone call and email this week from the friend for whom the song was written reminded me: ice hasn’t always been so.  It was once water, flowing freely, refreshing and clear.  Sure, that water might be damned cold at times and not at all inviting, but as long as it’s moving, there is an opportunity to move along with it.

So, spring has finally sprung here in the White Mountains — and the thaw feels good.  I still have an eye on the snow that still persists at the shady end of the lawn, but it, too, will eventually have no choice but to succumb to the warmth.

My heart, I am sure, will do likewise.

Saturday Morning Musings – To move the heart of a child.


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For the past week, an elementary school in Wisconsin has been faithfully rehearsing one of my songs – “We All Have A Song” – for their spring concert. Under the guidance of a one Ms. G, these kids are lending their voices to the following words:

We all have a rhythm
And we all have a pulse
And we all have a song to sing
So find your heartsong
Your heart is the drumbeat
You are as strong
As the earth beneath your feet

It’s amazing to me how this came about.  I received an email a couple of weeks ago from Ms. G (an elementary school music teacher) asking for my permission to teach the song to her students.  “Of course!” I replied.

She learned the song several years ago from a music therapist in Michigan.  That in itself is pretty cool.

Then, on Tuesday, I received this message from her: “[o]ne of my favorite reactions was from one of my third graders. He is such a sweetheart and tries very hard, but doesn’t always succeed. As we were lining up while singing to the end of We All Have A Song, he looked super excited. When the song ended, he exclaimed, ‘Ms. G, I’ve never sang that good before! I love this song!’ Thank you for inspiring my kiddos.”

Wow.  How can I get an email like that and not cry?  So humbling and inspiring.

Last night was a regular night at the hotel, solo piano, six to ten.  I’ve been playing there for nearly eleven years now – holy smokes – and my favorite moments are always the ones that involve children.   Over this past decade, I’ve had many kids come up and sit at the bench with me, talk with me, ask questions, request “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the like, their little legs swinging in the air under the bench.

Then, there are the ones like the little girl who sat at the table directly next to me last night… who kneel on their chairs while they eat, so that they can better see my fingers and then absent-mindedly put down their forks and move their finger tips on the table top, pretending, who blush when I look their way, too shy to come up and say hello.

So precious.

In my six years as a children’s librarian, I read stories, worked on craft projects, sang songs, banged on plastic tambourines, helped with homework, checked out books, collected hugs.   After much soul searching, I left that job nearly four years ago in order to go after the musical golden ring.  It was certainly the right thing to do, but I really miss working with young kids every day.  Luckily, Shawn and I live downstairs from an amazing family with three young daughters, so I get my kid fix somewhat regularly.

Those moments, when you can witness, in real time, the demonstrable positive effects of your actions in the life of a young child – is there anything better or more worthwhile than that?

I admit – as much as I love children, I’ve always been a little too frightened of the awesome responsibility of bringing a new life into the world.  And yes, I realize I’m not getting any younger, either – but I’ve never had a sense of that ticking clock about which many other women speak.  Maybe my clock was never wound up.  Maybe that sense of urgency just isn’t wired into my DNA.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this… with these words and thoughts, or intentions, or lack thereof.   All I know is that whenever I’ve touched the life of a child in some meaningful way, there is simply no better feeling.

To move the heart of a child?  That is the definition of success.

Now, if only I could be in Wisconsin to hear those kids sing my song…



Saturday Morning Musings – How to put together a homeless backpack.



So, I finally finished something yesterday that I’ve been wanting to finish for a while and I’m excited to share the idea with all y’all, in hopes that others might want to do the same thing.

A while back I saw a video on wimp.com about a couple that puts together and distributes backpacks to the homeless and I was inspired to do the same.  (I blogged about it, too, which you can read here if you missed it.)

I found two backpacks for a buck fifty each at the Conway Humane Society thrift shop.  I filled them with the following items that I purchased at the following prices at Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and Christmas Tree Shop:


1 bar of soap – 33¢
1 travel size first aid kit – $1
1 1oz bottle of hand sanitizer – 53¢
1 1oz deodorant – $1
1 roll of toilet paper – 25¢
1 toothbrush – $1
1 6oz toothpaste – $1
2 16.9oz bottles of spring water – 33¢
1 travel size pack of hand wipes – 33¢
1 comb – 8¢
1 microfiber wash cloth – 33¢
1 pair of mens socks – 33¢


1 stainless steel dinner spoon – 50¢
2 granola bars – 50¢
2 fruit snack pouches – 40¢
1 4.75oz can of Vienna sausages – 50¢
1 10oz plastic jar of peanut butter – $1
1 package of peanut butter crackers – $1
1 travel pack of Kleenex – 19¢
1 knit scarf – donated from me (I didn’t need so many scarves)


1 4oz bottle of bubbles (I couldn’t resist adding a little fun) – 42¢


All this, plus the backpack, totals $12.52 for one backpack that could turn someone’s life around, or at least get them over the hump maybe?


I have a bunch of things left over to start future backpacks. Right now, I have two complete packs. For now, I plan to keep one of these backpacks in the car until I see someone that needs one. I do a lot traveling, and I’ve certainly met people who could’ve benefited from something like this. Next time I’ll be ready.


I hope this inspires others to do the same or, at the very least, to pass this idea along.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday Morning Musings – One jelly bean at a time.


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This week, I read an astonishing book – I Am Malala – about (and by) the young Pakistani girl who spoke up for the right of girls to go to school – and was shot for it.  She and her father (an educator himself) had received numerous threats, and still they raised their voices from the Swat Valley against the misogyny of the Taliban, nearly paying the dearest price for their convictions.  The story of the attack on her life in the fall of 2012 captivated the entire world.

For what would I be willing to risk my life?

It’s a hell of a question.

In her book, Malala speaks with such passion about her studies, her competitive nature come exam time, about her love of science, her voracious appetite for reading.

She also expresses her sadness about how many young girls and women in her country – and, indeed, around the world – are uneducated and illiterate, regarded as unequal to men and boys and not deserving of the same access to education and information.

It’s amazing what one takes for granted.

As much as I also loved (and still love) learning and reading, I really didn’t like school much beyond third grade.  I was always shy, awkward, probably seemed aloof a lot of the time.  I was so uncomfortable at school, more so as I got older.  Naturally introverted, I shied away from most things social.  I didn’t have a lot of confidence.  I didn’t really like myself too much.  I couldn’t wait to graduate and get the hell out of there.

On the heels of all this, there was a very moving video on wimp.com the other day, in which each day of one’s life is represented by jelly beans:


As the original pile of 28,835 jelly beans (representing an average lifespan) is whittled away to account for school, work, sleep, eating, commuting, watching TV, chores, errands, bathing and grooming, down to an unthinkable 2,740, the narrator asks a few stirring questions, including this one:

How much time have you already spent worrying instead of doing something that you love?

Boy, I do have a worry wart streak in me.  I get it from my mother.  I even worry sometimes that I worry too much.

Davy said something to me a while back that rings true.  He observed that I wear the world as a tight garment.

I know what he means, and he’s right.  I get up into my head a lot.  I do hold the world close.  It’s miraculous and maddening, inspiring and infuriating.

I think of all that time I spent worrying as a kid, too.  Didn’t we all?  Worrying about where I stood, how I seemed, what kind of mood Mom would be in when I got home, about doing okay in school.

About feeling safe and okay.

Nowadays, I worry that I might miss out on something, that some opportunity might pass me by because I’m not prepared for it, that I’ll have a dream about the most amazing song that would be a smash hit and then forget the whole damn thing as soon as I wake up.

Then, I read Malala’s book and I think, “What the hell do have to complain about?”

In the grand scheme of things?  Nothing at all.  She is a champion, a hero – and I’m a hobbyist, living a charmed life.

Time to let all that tension out of my shoulders, contemplate and appreciate that finite supply of jelly beans, and savor their sweetness.