The Music Mom: Eileen Carey

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Today is the big day. Your kids have their costumes ready to go, your house is fully stocked with all sorts of delicious treats, and now you’re hoping and praying for nice weather. Before your kids venture out on their pursuit of sugary loot, here are 7 tips to guarantee that your children have a safe Halloween:

1. Children should wear bright costumes that allow for easy mobility. Don’t allow them to wear clothes that could cause them to trip and fall. 

2. Young children should ALWAYS be accompanied by an adult or older sibling – no exceptions!

3. Older kids who go trick-or-treating without adult supervision should walk with friends or in groups. They should also be given a set time to return home.

4. Children should stay off their phones and other electronic devices while walking, always being sure to look both ways when crossing streets. Remind kids to never run out into the street without first checking for traffic. 

5. Make sure kids carry glow sticks, flashlights, or some other device that allows them to see and be seen by cars and other trick-or-treaters. Things that go bump in the night are NOT fun when they are our kids running into unexpected objects or people. 

6. This one is so important. Children should NEVER enter the home of a stranger. It’s common sense to us, but remember that kids don’t always see things quite so rationally – especially when there is the promise of candy. By the way, this “no stranger” policy should also apply to cars. Surround your kids with people you know, and this should not be an issue. 

7. Immediately dispose of any candy or treats that appear to have been tampered with or already opened. Trust your instinct on this one. If it looks shady, ditch it.

I hope you and your kids have a memorable, fun, and safe Halloween!

I have a friend who very recently underwent a painful procedure on her spine. Already aware of the agony that was headed her way due to previous surgeries, she listened to an iPod’s worth of relaxing classical and folk music before and after her surgery. The result? While she was not completely without pain, she did confirm that she felt significantly less pain following this procedure than after her previous ones.  

To be fair, I cannot prove that my friend’s decreased post-surgery pain was due entirely to music. But hers is not the lone story of someone using music to improve their physical condition. It is now so common, in fact, that researchers have begun looking for applications in healthcare. One example is their attempt to help patients during post-surgery recovery or improving outcomes for Alzheimer’s patients. In certain instances, music’s positive impact on health have been more potent than medication.

Neuroscientists now know that listening to music increases positive emotions which stimulate spurts of dopamine. These spurts can make us feel good, and sometimes even euphoric, so it’s no surprise that music is an increasingly valuable tool in the fight for good physical and mental health. 

Here are three ways that music seems to impact our overall health and wellbeing:

Music reduces pain.

As in the case of my friend who found relief in her iPod, music has the ability to help with pain management. Scientists have yet to determine exactly why music can reduce pain. There is, however, a good chance that it has something to do with music’s tendency to release dopamine.

As you’ve likely discovered, stress and pain tend to go hand in hand, so music’s unique ability to sometimes reduce stress may also partly explain its pain-relieving effects.

Music decreases stress and anxiety.

Research has shown that listening to certain types of music can relax people, even during times of extreme stress and pain. Researchers discovered that the patients receiving surgery to fix their hernia who listened to music after surgery experienced decreased plasma cortisol levels and required significantly less morphine to manage their pain than those patients who did not.

In a separate study focused on patients who had undergone surgery, the stress-decreasing effects of music were more powerful than those of a particularly potent anxiolytic drug. Turns out that certain types of music can be quite the cure for the things that are stressin’ us. Good news, eh?

Music motivates us to exercise.

If you’re like me, you pretty much always need some form of music blasting in your ears as you attempt to exercise. It’s so tough to get the engine started, and the right type of energetic rock, pop, or country can work wonders. This is not an accident, by the way, as research has shown that music really does help us get going when it comes time to burn calories. 

According to one study, researchers in the United Kingdom convinced thirty participants to listen to either up-tempo (or “feel-good”) music, low-tempo music, or no music at all while they exercised on a treadmill. The data of the experiment revealed that the two music conditions increased the length of time those participants worked out, seemingly giving them more energy. Those who listened to the uplifting music added that they felt better during their workout than those with slower and no music. 

In what ways does music help your physical and mental health? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

 

One of my favorite things to do during the Halloween season is to sit down with my entire family to watch a scary movie. I obviously need to be careful when deciding what is appropriately “scary,” as the last thing I want is for my kids to have trouble sleeping after we watch our movie. With that in mind, the horror and suspense movies I’ve listed below are acceptable for family viewing. They were not necessarily created for kids, but graphic violence, profanity, and sexuality are all kept to a minimum. FYI: most of these films are rated PG-13, so there might be some mild naughtiness. 

I hope you enjoy the sights, sounds, and scares!

Arachnophobia (1990)

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Steven Spielberg’s Arachnophobia is filled with the family-friendly fun of his earlier films such as Goonies and E.T. It also includes lots of creepy-crawly suspense that will make you think twice before you put on your slippers, take a shower, or eat cereal straight from the box.

Beautiful Creatures (2013)

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Unfortunately, Beautiful Creatures completely flopped at the box office. That shouldn’t keep you from checking out this smart, well-acted, and romantic film.

The Birds (1963)

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The Birds is easily Alfred Hitchcock’s most kid-friendly films. The simple storyline of birds attacking a town for no apparent reason is easy for children to follow.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Twilight Zone: The Movie

Another Steven Spielberg film, “Twilight Zone: The Movie” tells four short stories that not only provide sufficient scares, but they also teach lessons about selflessness and tolerance. It’s a fast-paced production that will hold the attention of even your most easily distracted child.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

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This on-screen adaptation of the Ray Bradbury book of the same name tells the story of a devilish carnival owner who grants wishes at a price. Your kids will find the two 13-year-old lead characters easy to connect with and their adventures intriguing, but not overly spooky.

Poltergeist (1982)

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Poltergeist might be the scariest film on this list. It tells the story of a typical family who confronts a very supernatural presence. While Poltergeist does feed off of childhood fears of under-the-bed monsters, Spielberg provides enough playfulness to make it worth your family’s time.

Gremlins (1984)

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Gremlins is a lighthearted monster movie that tells the story of a teenage boy whose father gives him a cute creature called a mogwai as a Christmas present. The twist? That oh so adorable creature eventually spawns into several not-so-sweet gremlins. Your kids are guaranteed to coo over the mogwai and scream while the gremlins wreak their unique brand of mischief.

 

 

As a strong believer that the arts fit perfectly within the realm of education, I was thrilled to discover this story about Chicago-area high school students getting their chance to watch and participate in the award-winning musical Hamilton. From ABC 7 Eyewitness News in Chicago:

“Some high school students turned a history lesson into rap and poetry performances and got to perform their material for the cast of the Broadway hit Hamilton. They’re telling America’s history in their own way and in their own words. Students from the 27 participating schools packed the CIBC theatre for the special field trip. The young performers spent several weeks studying one of the country’s founding fathers only to create an original work which was debuted on the musical’s stage.”

I love this for a number of reasons:

First, it encourages young people to express their creativity. Too often we stifle kids by telling them (directly and indirectly) that their thoughts and talents don’t matter. Getting kids up on a stage where they can show off their skills encourages them and their peers to pursue their inner voice. 

Next, students had to become familiar with the story of Hamilton and our nation’s founding in order to create a piece deserving of the stage. Ours is a complicated and often disturbing history. The more our kids know the truth regarding our roots, the more likely they are to learn from our past. Our hope should be that each generation does better than the previous one. 

Finally, students encountered a learning experience that transcends almost any other they’ll face in high school – and possibly beyond. This was a hands-on, all-encompassing activity that not only taught young people about the past, but also prepared them for life by teaching them about themselves. 

To the Chicago-area schools and the fine folks at Hamilton who made all this happen, there’s really only one thing to say about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you’ve given so many students: bravo!

It’s been a crazy week, filled with lots of ups and downs. One of the most impactful and somber events was the untimely death of Tom Petty this past Monday. I’ve always been such a big fan of his songwriting, style, and attitude. When I think of iconic American songwriters, Petty is pretty much at the top of the list. His heartfelt delivery and unique ability to pack more punch by saying substantially less than his peers made him a favorite of mine from day one.

As you can imagine, choosing 5 tracks that best represent what Petty means to me is beyond challenging. There are dozens from which to choose, but when I hear these 5 songs, I’m immediately filled with very specific emotions that are tied to very specific times and places. I refuse to number these songs, by the way, as that would imply some are better than others. I believe you should turn them all up as loud as you can as you celebrate Tom Petty and his musical genius.

“Refugee”

 Refugee” from Petty’s 1979 classic Damn the Torpedoes was originally written as a spirited rant against the fickle music industry. But we can all attest to it being an anthem of independence against whatever (or whoever) seeks to keep us trapped.

“I Won’t Back Down”

Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” is from his first solo album, 1989’s Full Moon Fever. While its straightforward and punchy beat is catchy, “I Won’t Back Down” is most revered for its stone-faced defiance against the forces of this world that try and try to knock us down and out.  

“Free Fallin’”

Thirty minutes. That’s how long it took Petty to write “Free Fallin’,” his 1989 hit. I’ll let you ponder that as you do whatever you’re going to do over the next half hour. 

“The Waiting”

Petty wrote more than his share of singalong tunes, but perhaps none are as infectious as “The Waiting.” With its “yeah-yeah” pre-chorus and its even bigger chorus, “The Waiting” is a universal lamentation for those of us who want something right this second, but just can’t get it.

“American Girl”

If we’re ranking Petty songs based purely on their feel-good vibe, “American Girl” easily takes the cake. Adored by fans and Hollywood alike, “American Girl” paints a somewhat somber picture of the ever elusive American dream. More importantly, this line perfectly captures the longing that I will always associate with Tom Petty’s music:

God, it’s so painful when something that’s so close, is still so far out of reach

Hey, Cali friends! Join me this Saturday, September 30 as I celebrate family and good health at Kidd Park in Long Beach during the second annual Family Health Festival. Presented by the great people at FX3 Events and Partners HealthCare, the Family Health Festival will be free, all ages, and right on the water. 

So, what can you expect? In addition to an absolutely gorgeous seaside view, there will be free health exams and tons of people. The blend of family, health, and music is right up my alley, so I am beyond excited to headline this event. I look forward to seeing you all there.  

Stay happy, healthy, and well!

Eileen

With the school year now fully upon us, we are once again confronted with treats that can be easily packed in a lunchbox or grabbed by our kids when they get home from school. The potential for unhealthy eating is definitely there, but by filling your kitchen with healthy snacks, a quick treat can be something that positively impacts your child’s growing brain and body.

Do you need ideas for how to fuel the little people in your life? If so, I highly recommend preparing these 5 healthy – and delicious – kid-friendly snacks.

1. Freeze-dried produce

Freeze-dried raspberries

Let’s be honest. Raw fruits and vegetables can get boring. Freeze-dried produce is a lovely alternative that usually contains minimal sugar. So which items typically go over best? I have found that broccoli, beets, and kale are popular vegetables, while raspberries, blueberries, and bananas are favorite fruits.

2. Whole grain breakfast cereal

Chocolate-Cherry Snack Bars

Whole grain cereals are great because they provide your kids with all types of complex carbohydrates that energize active muscles – including the brain! Be sure to select an iron-fortified cereal that contains 7 grams or less of sugar. Oh, and ignore anything that does not list whole grains as the first ingredient.

3. Whole grain muffins

Peach Crumble Muffins

One of my favorite family cooking activities is to make muffins from scratch. Doing this guarantees a whole grain, veggie-filled snack that you can keep for use throughout the week. The ingredient options are practically unlimited: sweet potatoes, zucchini, blueberries, and bananas are only some of the vegetables and fruits you can include in your muffins.

4. Whole grain waffles

Strawberry-Ricotta Waffle Sandwich

Known mainly as a breakfast tradition, whole grain waffles can also function as a delicious snack on the go. Nab them from out of the freezer and drop them in the toaster. Next, smear them with any assortment of scrumptious blended toppings, including, but not limited to, peanut butter/banana and almond butter/blueberries. My mouth waters at the thought of these treats.

5. Nut butter

Apple with Cinnamon Almond Butter

With options that include peanut, almond, and sunflower, nut butters are a great choice if you are looking for fats that are kid-friendly and good for them. How you use nut butter is entirely up to you. You can spread it on apple slices, blend it into a smoothie, or match it up with your favorite yogurt.

One of my favorite seasons is finally upon us. Autumn is when the days get shorter and the weather turns cooler. I always consider the fall a time of reflection, as it often represents the sharpest contrast between seasons. Much like life, things change drastically during the fall.

In addition to the sound of rain falling on your windows, there are some other sounds that you will definitely find appealing. This mysteriously moody season has inspired songwriters to write some of my favorite tunes. Below are 7 songs as brilliant as the autumn leaves. Which one is your favorite?

Green Day – “Wake Me Up When September Ends”

Van Morrison – “Golden Autumn”

Moody Blues – “Forever Autumn”

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – “Autumn in New York”

Willie Nelson – “September Song”

Earth, Wind and Fire – “September”

The Kinks – “Autumn Almanac”

 

Have you ever wondered why some people are healthy eaters and others are not? Research shows that the eating habits we have as adults are typically established when we are children. This is incredibly important information, as it lends a special gravity to how and what we feed our kids.

Although there is plenty of focus on kids’ nutrition (including obesity prevention programs, healthy school lunches, and nutrition education), research consistently reveals that a child’s home environment is, in the end, their biggest food influence.

So where should parents turn for the right answers regarding their children’s eating habits? While that might seem like a complicated question, the good news is that all families – including yours – can develop healthy eating habits that are sure to guarantee good health and a lifetime of happiness.

To prove this point, I’ve compiled 5 healthy habits that your family can start following today. It won’t take long for you to notice drastic changes in your mental and physical health and well-being.

Habit #1: Eat together often.

While it’s all too common for individual members of families to eat separate meals, healthy families eat together as often possible. Need an incentive to gather around the table as a family? A 2011 report published in Pediatrics found that families that shared three or more meals per week were 12% less likely to be overweight, 20% less likely to eat unhealthy foods, and 35% less likely to have disordered eating.

Habit #2: Make mealtime an overall pleasant experience.

Mealtime in the homes of healthy families looks and sounds different. Absent are the patience-testing battles between parent and child. The adults serve meals family style, often with individual members passing plates. Mealtime in a healthy family’s house is a sacred time during which members take turns talking and listening to each other. It is a form of communion in which conversation and a genuine interest in each other are prevalent. 

Habit #3: Eat a wide variety of food. 

Ever feel like you and your family are stuck in the rut of eating the same old food every day? Well, healthy families meet all their nutritional needs by cooking a wide variety of food. Main meals typically have 3-5 food groups and snacks have 2-3. Processed food is typically replaced by real food options such as fruit, veggies, and whole grains. Sweet treats are usually enjoyed without guilt because they are rarely consumed. 

Habit #4: Eat with intention. 

Healthy families avoid mindless eating. This means that they avoid random snacking while watching TV or spending time on the computer. They eat with intention. They plan their meals and gather around the table as often as possible. Attention is paid to the messages their bodies send them. When they are full, they stop eating. This prevents the type of overeating seen in unhealthy families. 

Habit #5: Avoid diets and negative body talk. 

You might think that healthy families live sullen lives of denial and sacrifice. The reality is that healthy families don’t diet, restrict their food intake, or think negatively of their body. Weight is never a focus. Rather, good health, self-care, and a high quality of life are emphasized by parents and children alike. Because they care about the holistic health of their children, parents guide their young people towards a skepticism of the type of idealized body shapes seen in Hollywood and social media. 

Which of these habits are you already doing and which ones do you need to work on? Feel free to share your successes and your challenges in the comments section. 

We are only two weeks away from the second annual Family Health Festival at Kidd Park, taking place on Saturday, September 30 in Long Beach, CA. I am so incredibly excited to be a part of this fun celebration of family and health.

In anticipation of what is sure to be an exciting event, I’ve compiled a list of 7 calorie-burning activities for your entire family. In addition to being fun and easy to facilitate, each activity encourages the type of interaction that will strengthen the bond between you and your family. 

1. Go for post-dinner walks.

Building a walk into your daily schedule guarantees that it won’t get put off. You really don’t have to travel far. A simple walk around the block is enough to burn some of the calories from your dinner. This early evening stroll will also give you plenty of time to talk with your favorite people. 

2. Boogie down as you crank up the music.

One of our favorite family activities is to move our furniture to the side of the room, hook up the CD or record player with upbeat dance tunes, and let everyone do their thing. It’s amazing how much joy a little song and dance can bring. 

3. Turn household chores into a game.

Here’s one example of the type of game you can create from a simple household chore: Pretend that dust creatures are invading our dear planet and it is up to Captain [insert child’s name] to save the day by capturing them with his broom. This goes to show you how far a little creativity will go – especially when convincing your young ones to help clean up.

4. Exercise for charity.

Teaming up with your children for a fund-raising race allows you to model good health and the fine art of giving back to society. The best part is that it doesn’t really matter what you do. You can walk, or you can run. With this option, the actual physical activity you do matters less than the cause. 

5. Put your kids to work in the yard.

Autumn offers the perfect opportunity to play catch – if you think outside the box. Fetch your kids after the falling leaves, and you will see them having more fun than you thought possible. You can make it competitive by seeing who can catch the most yellow, orange, or red leaves. Next, tell your kids to rake them into piles and have fun jumping in them. This never gets old. 

6. Grow your kids into gardeners.

Kids are experts at digging up dirt (and, as we know, wearing it on their clothes), so let them turn over the soil and help you grow something new. Recent research reveals that gardening is as good as weight training, so there’s an immediate health benefit. Another benefit is that if you’re planting vegetables, your children will likely be more connected to the veggies. Why does this matter? Well, it should make them much more likely to actually eat their greens. 

7. Walk the dog.

It should come as no surprise that recent research from the North American Association on the Study of Obesity shows that dog owners had more fun losing weight and were able to keep it off longer than those who are not dog owners. Those of us who have a pooch can attest to the fact that our canine friends are always ready and willing to join us, should we hit the open road for a walk around the neighborhood. 

What are some of your favorite healthy family activities? Add them to the comments below. 

Everyone who knows me knows that I am all about a healthy lifestyle. That’s one reason why I’m so excited to be headlining the second annual Family Health Festival at Kidd Park on September 30 in Long Beach, CA. I can’t wait to help celebrate healthy living and family fun.

One of the most important elements of a healthy lifestyle is breakfast. It can make or break the rest of your day. The question of what makes a healthy breakfast is one I consistently get from friends and family.

While it depends on what your morning routine looks like, I think it’s safe to assume that for most of us parents, mornings are typically quite the whirlwind. Things are crazy, and sometimes it’s much too easy to dump some sugary goodness badness into our kids’ bowls. This might be convenient, but it’s not the way we want to fuel our kids’ engines as they start their day.

In addition to the inevitable comedown from their sugar high they’ll feel just a few short hours later, tons of research tells us that ingesting too much sugar as a child is a recipe for future disaster. That is the exact opposite of what we want for our loved ones, so it is well worth it to find healthy alternatives to the overly sweet and salty cereals and “fruit” bars that have unfortunately become the breakfast norm. 

On that note, below are 5 of my all-time favorite breakfast meals. They are easy to make, delicious, and good for you and your entire family. Enjoy! 

Gorgeous granola

There are three reasons why I love granola as a breakfast treat. First, there are seemingly endless combinations for us to explore. This is probably why it’s nearly impossible to get tired of the stuff. Second, homemade granola tastes infinitely better than the stuff you buy from a store. The freshness makes all the difference in the world. Finally, homemade granola is so much cheaper than store-bought granola. Dive into the world of granola and you’ll be happy with what you discover.

Perfectly planned porridge 

If you want to fuel up in the morning, oatmeal is a great way to do it. It’s high in whole-grain fiber and protein and low in calories. Oatmeal is a type of porridge, and the two terms are often used interchangeably, but not all porridge is made from oats. A porridge is a hot cereal that can be made from a variety of grains and vegetables. It’s typically boiled in water or milk until it is nice and mushy. Best of all, it is absolutely delicious. 

Exceptionally excellent eggs

Eggs are a tried and true favorite. The best part is that when scrambled, they can pretty much be paired with anything. Some of my faves are tomatoes, feta cheese, broccoli, and pesto. You and your kids will love bringing something new to an old and reliable breakfast classic. 

Beautiful banana bread

banana-bread

There is something so incredibly comforting about the smell of baked banana bread. And then once you get the warm bread in your hand? Forget about it. This is easily one of my favorite breakfast items. If you prepare the ingredients the night before, it really doesn’t take long to make.   

Yummy yogurt and grapes or berries

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This sweet treat is healthy and ridiculously easy to make. Pretty much any fruit you have in your kitchen will go well with yogurt. The sweetness, meaty flesh, and softness of the fruit contrast perfectly with the crunchy granola. I can’t get enough of it. In fact, our entire family is addicted!

What are some of your favorite breakfast meals? I’d love to hear more ideas as we continue pursuing a healthy and happy lifestyle. 

Hello, friends! I have some news that I’ve been itching to share with you. I am super excited to be headlining the second annual Family Health Festival At Kidd Park, happening on Sept. 30 (2:30 PM) in Long Beach, CA. Consider this post an official invite. 

In anticipation of the big event, I’ll spend the next few weeks posting a bunch about health, fitness, fun, family, and music. ALL of those things are so incredibly important to me, so this is going to be a really exciting time for me. 

Oh, and more thing: if you’ve yet to follow me on Facebook, check out my official Facebook page. I’ll be spreading the word about the details of the Family Health Festival. Plus, I’m always sharing interesting articles, posts, and other tidbits of information that I hope you’ll find helpful, so drop by and give me a “like.” 

Thanks for all your continued support!

Eileen

Have you ever gotten chills from an exceptionally emotional song? Some new research suggests that it might be you – and not the music you’re listening to – that helps create these good vibes. Called frisson, a French word meaning “aesthetic chills,” these seemingly random sensations are completely natural, but not everyone is fortunate enough to experience them.

Better yet, there’s also a good chance you might be more emotionally intelligent than someone who doesn’t get these musically-induced goosebumps. An intriguing new study suggested that those of us who get goosebumps from listening to music just might be a little bit extraordinary:

The findings have come from University of Southern California PhD student Matthew Sachs, whose paper on the subject – ‘Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to music’ – has been published in the Oxford Academic. Sachs argues that those who get goosebumps when listening to music have structural differences in the brain, with those individuals possessing “a higher volume of fibers that connects their auditory cortex to the areas associated with emotional processing, which means the two areas communicate better.”

In other words, if you’re the type of music listener who gets chills while listening to a particularly nostalgic song or an exceptionally moving part of a song (think the epic rising tide of sound at the end of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” or the inspired sax solo in Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland”), you are very likely tuned into your emotions in a way that others are not.

Now that I know the source of these chills, I’m off to a find some music that will get me some new ones. Call it a mission to free my frisson!

 

 

Neo-Nazis and the KKK are marching in our streets. North Korea just detonated a nuclear bomb that they claim is small enough to attach to a missile. Houston is still under water from Hurricane Harvey, while Los Angeles is hot as hades due to its largest ever wildfire. If ever there was a time for finding your place of perfect peace, now is it.

I know quite well where I find my place of perfect peace. Give me a guitar, a notebook, and just a little bit of room, and I’ll dive right in to my personal refuge. It is here that I make sense of the world, even as it seems to spiral deeper and deeper into an illogical and fearful mess.

Music is, as it has always been for me, a sanctuary, a safe space from all the troubles of the world. Whether I’m listening to it or creating it, music is my absolute favorite hiding place. The peace that comes from discovering hidden melodies and writing expressive new lyrics is not everlasting, but it’s darn close. Tapping into my creativity is a surefire way to temporarily look beyond all that is ailing our world.

When I can’t write my own music, nothing can top the comfort I feel from listening to The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac, and the rest of my all time faves. They inspire in me the type of emotions that reignite my faith in humanity, all the while providing assurance that everything will, in the end, be okay. I can’t imagine life without these saints of sonic sanctuary. 

What is your place of perfect peace? To where do you run when you seek shelter from today’s craziness? Share in the comments section the things that provide you refuge. 

The devastation from Hurricane Harvey has had me thinking about the countless obstacles our friends and family members in Texas are facing. It has also forced me to think of the many ways by which we overcome such obstacles. Music is often the answer, as it has an uncanny knack for lifting us up when things are at their worst. 

Whether it’s the complete destruction caused by a hurricane, the conflict of racism, or the countless personal struggles we must all endure, songs of survival inspire us to persevere. Here’s a playlist for when you need to fight through your own struggles. I hope these songs help you endure. 

1. “Lean on Me” – Bill Withers

2. “Don’t Stop Believin'” – Journey

3. “Don’t Stop” – Fleetwood Mac

4. “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” – Pat Benatar

5. “I Won’t Back Down” – Tom Petty

6. “No Surrender” – Bruce Springsteen

7. “Heroes” – David Bowie

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Even as someone who uses words to make a living, it is difficult to find the right words to describe the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. It is even tougher to express how it all makes me feel. In addition to a guttural sadness and sympathy for the people of Texas, I am often overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness. I feel so incredibly removed from their unfortunate situation because, well, I am.

It is at times like these that I am reminded of the one thing that brings me comfort. That one beacon of hope for me (and more importantly, for the devastated people of Texas) is that we, as Americans, have a tried and true history of supporting each other in the most challenging of times. 

If you look through our storied history, you’ll find countless examples of Americans uniting during both natural and man-made tragedies. You’ll discover thousands of stories of individuals and groups rising above their circumstances to help each other. Empathy, courage, and compassion abound. All this despite the distinct political and cultural differences that often separate us.

It is this last point that stands out to me. We are constantly referring to ourself as a divided nation. Given the current political climate, I believe that is an accurate statement. While there’s no need to rehash our many differences in this post, it is important to acknowledge that they exist. 

Despite these differences, Americans have a seemingly endless reservoir of willingness to rise above and do what is necessary to help those who so desperately need it. We see it in the countless makeshift shelters in Texas. We see it in the tweets and Facebook posts of those who speak on behalf of others who cannot call out for help on their own. We see it in the urgency of the New York City firefighters who hop in their trucks and make their way to Texas. 

These are just a few examples of the compassion, kindness, and goodwill that are aimed at Texas. Buildings, entire neighborhoods, and dozens of lives have been lost, but hope has not. As long as Americans continue to help each other, hope remains. 

 

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One of the most recently discussed topics on social media has been the unfortunate trend of mom-shaming. If you’re not familiar with it, mom-shaming is when one mother publicly criticizes the parenting skills of another mother. It is impossible to overestimate the impact of social media on the rise of mom-shaming, as it has become ridiculously easy to make disparaging comments on forums such as Facebook and Instagram.

I feel strongly that, aside from calling out blatantly inappropriate parenting practices, we should support each other as mothers. We have the toughest job in the world, and the truth is that none of us are perfect parents.

I want to suggest some ways by which we can lift up our fellow moms. Taking these steps will ensure that we don’t undermine each other as we continue doing the most important job of our lives.

1. Instead of spreading more online negativity, focus on the positive when commenting on social media.

It is so incredibly easy to find fault in every little thing our fellow moms do. Instead of making a comment about a mom who constantly lets her kids stay up too late, share an article on the benefits of our kids getting a good night’s sleep. You obviously don’t want to share it in the comments section of the post that brought the issue to your attention. Neither should you tag the offending mom, as that it is extremely passive aggressive. Wait for the right time. You’ll be spreading some good parenting advice into the world without stepping on the toes of a fellow mom.

2. Instead of judging the way moms dress their kids, share cool ideas and great sales for kids clothing.

Instead of gossiping about how a mom dresses her kids, why not share with the world the fashion tips that make your kids so stylish? Since you can’t know why a mom dresses her child the way she does (perhaps her family is experiencing financial difficulties), it is never appropriate to publicly judge a child and mother in this way. Plus, we all want to be known as parents who value people for things other than their physical appearance, so I suggest making fashion a source of goodwill and fun.

3. Instead of criticizing the actions of other kids, consistently model for your children the proper way to act and talk.

Rather than publicly insulting a mom for something her son or daughter said in school or on the playground, be a shining example of how your kids should interact with others. Keep in mind that your actions and words are being constantly observed. You have an opportunity to do much more good by treating all people with respect than by calling out the inappropriate behaviors of someone else’s child. 

4. Instead of making a judgment regarding whether or not a mother breastfeeds her baby, assume that all moms are doing what they believe is best for their children.

This is one of the biggest issues facing mothers as they try to raise a healthy child. Over the past few decades, it has become more and more taboo to feed babies via formula. While we all know that there are inherent health benefits to breastfeeding, it is impossible to know why a mother has chosen to do otherwise. There are multiple health reasons for why a mom might use a bottle, so keep an open mind. This is one instance in which it is always better to mind your own business. 

We moms know what is best for our kids. Parenting is tough enough without facing random and unwanted critiques, so be a supportive woman and do what you can to make sure you’re not shaming moms. After all, we all want the same thing: to raise healthy, happy, and well-adjusted children who love us with all their hearts. 

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You’ve probably heard the saying “if mom is happy, everyone is happy.” My experience has definitely shown this to be true. Often, though, we forget the many varied ways by which we can find happiness. We are taught from day one of motherhood that our happiness and contentment must come solely from our kids – and that choosing to spend time away from them for any reason is a sign that we don’t care about them as much as other moms care for their kids. Unfortunately, many of us believe this lie. 

Being a mother is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It’s also the most rewarding. Due to the wonder and joy it brings, I wouldn’t trade being a mother for anything. Yet, I still find it very necessary to pursue my talents, my dreams, and my favorite activities. Here’s why I suggest you pursue some quality alone time for the purpose of chasing that career you’ve always wanted or that hobby you’ve always dreamed of. 

You are, believe it or not, your very own person!

It really seems as though sometimes folks forget this. While we are, as moms, 100% responsible for our children’s wellbeing, that shouldn’t mean that we neglect our own mental and physical wellness. So often we allow ourselves to exist solely for others, thus leading to a life that is only half as fulfilling as it could be. It is so important to rediscover the things we love – and then to find time to do them. Demand from yourself and from others permission to focus on yourself. By doing so, you will soon see that your self-awareness and self-care cause you to be a better mother. 

Give yourself some time and distance from your kids, knowing that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

This one is tough. Modern mothers are essentially forced into feeling guilty if they spend even one minute away from their kiddies. You must reject the social (and often self-imposed) pressure that comes with that mentality. Like all people and things that you love, spending a little bit of time apart from your kids will inevitably lead to a greater sense of enjoyment when you finally reunite. You will also feel incredibly refreshed, filled with more energy and patience than you ever imagined. Yes, you adore your child. None of us here doubt that. So do what is best for him and you by getting away for an hour, an afternoon, or even a day, if time allows. Both of you will be better for it in the long run.

You want to make your children proud of you and your gifts and skills, so spend time working on them.

Do your kids know what your hobbies, passions, and interests are? If not, they should. Share them and then take some time to develop your talents. You will very quickly discover that your children are impressed with you for having such interesting skills that they never even knew of. Nothing beats overhearing your kids telling their friends about your unique skills. Not only is it cool to hear them bragging about you, but you will also do them a great service by teaching them the values of practice, hard work, and belief in one’s self. 

Eventually your kids will grow older and move on, so be the best you possible. 

I don’t need to remind you that one day your kids are going to be out of your house. The realization that the time you have with them is not infinite should inspire you to make the most of the here and now. One effective way to do this is to be the best you possible. This requires you taking care of your mental and physical shape. Don’t lose sight of yourself and your needs. Finding alone time and pursuing your interests are two ways by which you can be the best mom possible. 

 

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As much as we might want to prevent it, our kids will eventually discover the ugly truth about events like Charlottesville. If we could eternally shield them from the ignorance, hatred, racism, and violence associated with groups such as neo-Nazis, the KKK, and the alt-right, we would. But we can’t. It’s out there, and with the ever-increasing reach of social media and technology, it’s more accessible than ever.

With that in mind, I was relieved to discover this article from The Los Angeles Times. Entitled “How to talk to your kids about the violence in Charlottesville,” it begins by setting the stage for why we, as parents, currently face this particular challenge:

“As violence erupted in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, with three killed and dozens injured at one of the largest white nationalist rallies in a decade, TV screens and news feeds across America were filled with images of chaos and terror. While politicians including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Senator Dianne Feinstein reacted by condemning the attacks, calling for “hope and prayers for peace” and reminders that “violent acts of hate and bigotry have no place in America,” parents seeing the news were faced with a dilemma that’s becoming an increasing concern for American families: if, and how, to talk about violence and racism with their children.”

The article goes on to list nine extremely helpful tips (all highly recommended by mental health experts and parents) for talking to your kids about what happened this weekend in Virginia. There is plenty of information to digest within the article, so they went ahead and broke it down to a few bullet points:  

How to talk to children of different ages

Elementary school age

  • Relate the issue to their world — make sure they know who they can go to if they ever feel unsafe.
  • Tell them that if they see people being picked on at school, to always tell an adult, and to treat others with respect.
  • Use age-appropriate language.

Teenagers

  • Watch/read the news with them, then ask how they feel and what they think.
  • Share your experiences.
  • Help them discover what actions they can take to educate themselves and effect change.
  • Remind them that you’re there, even if they don’t want to talk.

I hope this information helps you as you try to explain to your kids the type of things I never thought we’d need to explain in 2017. 

Love and care for each other. 

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That voice. That guitar playing. And those songs. Geez, I am really going to miss Glen Campbell. He was a huge influence on me and pretty much every other country musician who has strummed a guitar and sung their heart out during the past five decades.

Campbell’s God-given talents made him one of the most successful and influential country pop singers in music history. In some ways, he was the face of mainstream country music, the guy who casual country fans and suburbanites instantly recognized. His songs were gorgeous tales filled with evocative imagery, unforgettable odes capable of lifting listeners to another time and place. Absolute brilliance.  

As you probably know, Campbell endured an extremely difficult last few years due to Alzheimer’s disease. Because of that, I am glad that his suffering is over. Now we are left with his music and the impact it’s made on countless fans, musicians, and critics. 

Here are 5 songs that I feel best represent what Glen Campbell means to me. As you listen, spend a moment being grateful that we were blessed by a talent and soul such as his.

5. “Gentle on My Mind”

“Gentle on My Mind” became an early signature song for Campbell. Slightly older fans will remember it as the focal point of his 1969-1972 CBS television series The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.

4. “Still Within the Sound of My Voice”

Easily the best single of Campbell’s later work from his time in Nashville, this late 1980s top 10 hit definitely sounded familiar to fans. The song’s arrangement had that same dramatic sound as many of Campbell’s earliest works.

3. “Southern Nights”

Allen Toussaint wrote “Southern Nights” about his memories of trips to rural Louisiana. Campbell instantly thought of his childhood in Delight, Arkansas. Campbell’s version is noteworthy because it includes one of the most memorable melodies in country or pop music history.

2. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” 

A double Grammy winner for Campbell in 1968, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” is often considered the best example of the Glen Campbell sound. The lyrics tell the story of a man who has made the agonizing decision to break away from his lover – despite knowing that it’s the last thing she would ever expect.

1. “Rhinestone Cowboy”

This iconic ode to big dreams became Campbell’s first country chart-topper in six years, and his first to top the Hot 100. It is the very definition of a classic, an instantly recognizable and catchy tune that inspires musicians to never give up on their dream of making it to the big time. 

 

 

NPR recently premiered in their Songs We Love segment a powerful piece of protest pop, the creative video for Jenny O.’s “People.” Here’s how they describe the song:

“Jenny O.’s “People,” from her album Peace And Information, is a song written in the midst of a cultural shift that has thrown the Western world into a state of panic. How did this happen? What world are we living in? “People” goes back to the basics with a core message that those in power so quickly and easily forget that they are not superior to those over whom they have power. It is a breath after a crash, a memory test to reorient ourselves.”

Jenny O. breaks down the song’s message like this: “The song is about equality. I was trying to write about racism, authority — how can anyone feel superior to anyone else? When people are protesting for their lives, listen to them. ” Her final point is a poignant one: “Change is a long game, but it begins with dissent and compassion.”

As for the video, NPR paints a pretty accurate picture of what’s going on both sonically and visually: “Animated by Brazilian artist Caco Neves, “People” takes on the style of a classic propaganda film in collage. Jenny O.’s voice floats over warm ’70s mid-tones while photographs from different eras of oppression are cut out and played with, interacting and telling a zoomed-out story of a world desperately clinging to the arc of justice, trying not to fall off.”

The video for “People” is as intriguing as the song is relevant, so check it out. 

 

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In my last post, I suggested that you sneak in at least one road trip before summer ends. August is already here, so now is the time to gather your family and hit the open road.

Of course, if you’re going on a great escape, the music you listen to on your voyage matters almost as much as your destination. 

With that in mind, I’ve hunted down several playlists for your ultimate summer road trip. The Internet affords the luxury of choice, and when it comes to summer songs, there are some really amazing playlists out there. 

First up is this list of top tunes from our friends at Alpha Mom. It includes tracks from Johnny Cash, Rascal Flatts, Van Halen, and Queen, so it’s right up my alley. There’s nothing better than a diverse blend of genres and catchy hits, so I highly recommend this one. 

Meanwhile, TakeLessons.com took the time to compile what they call “97 perfect road trip songs the whole family will love.” That’s literally the title, so you know they mean it. And after browsing the list, I have to hand it to them: they have compiled quite an eclectic collection of hits. Turns out that was on purpose, as they so eloquently explain:

“It can be difficult to make everyone happy at all times — but we’ve got you covered, with our top picks for country lovers, pop fanatics, and oldies-rockers alike.” 

Cafe Mom included some of my favorite artists of all time in their family road trip playlist, including Blondie, John Denver, REM, and The Rolling Stones. This playlist features so many catchy tunes that I actually planned a day trip after stumbling upon it. That’s how good it is!

Fatherly.com has compiled a fun-filled list that is intended specifically for your kids. If you are traveling with little ones, you’ll definitely have to check out this list. It includes talking animals, tons of sound effects, and lots of other fun stuff that is guaranteed to prevent your kids from asking the always dreaded “are we there yet?” question.

Popular blog 3 Boys and a Dog created an awesome soundtrack for your family’s summer adventure. This one is easily one of my faves, as it includes a ton of country classics, including Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” Rascal Flatts’ “Life Is a Highway,” and Brooks & Dunn’s “Red Dirt Road.” There’s also a healthy dose of rock and pop, so there’s a little bit of something for everyone.

I hope these playlists provide you and your family countless hours of fun and quality time together as you make the most of your next summer road trip. Enjoy!

 

The calendar has turned to August, and with it comes the sad realization that the end of summer is a mere month away. With that in mind, I suddenly feel the need to do all things summer – and to do them fast.

As a result, I have compiled a bucket list of must-do summer activities for us to enjoy during these here dog days of August. I hope you dive right in and get the most out of the rest of your summer. 

1. Hit the road for the ultimate road trip.

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The open road and summer make for an irresistible pair. The best part is that you don’t even need a specific destination. Just some gorgeous weather and good travelin’ company and you’ll be ready to for an unforgettable road trip. 

2. Eat some incredibly unhealthy (but scrumptious!) food at a state fair.

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Fruits and veggies are typically not on the menu at state fairs, so get your share of the sweet and salty stuff when you visit these 5 best state fairs.

3. Plan a barbecue with your friends and family.

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This is one of those rare activities that you will not be able to do in a few months – at least not comfortably. What could you possibly be waiting for? Check out these delicious recipes, and then fire up the grill and invite your favorite folks over for one of the trademarks of summer. 

4. Watch a movie at a drive-in theater. 

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This is one of the classic summer things to do. According to our friends at Mental Floss, there are currently only 336 drive-in theaters throughout the United States. Hunt one down and enjoy a truly unique cinematic experience while you still can. 

5. Take a short hike and watch a long sunset. 

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Views like these will soon be a distant memory, so get to a point of high altitude and watch our favorite star in all its glory. It is the perfect way to end a summer day. 

6. Dive into a local swimming hole.

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This is most definitely one activity that you will not be able to enjoy in a few months. The dog days of August are known as the hottest weeks of summer, so enjoy all the perks of your local swimming hole while you still can. 

7. Read your favorite book outside. 

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Picture you and your favorite book on your favorite grassy knoll. If this sounds like a fantasy, it doesn’t have to be. Summer is the perfect time to combine literacy and lounging, so get outside and recline, read, and relax to your heart’s content. 

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Today is the big day. As we spend time celebrating Mother’s Day and reflecting on what our moms mean to us,  I thought it’d be fitting (and fun) to look at 10 quotes that perfectly express the love and gratitude we are all feeling today. From Abraham Lincoln to Stevie Wonder, there are definitely some gems here. 

Once you’re done with the day’s celebratory meals, coffee, wine, gifts, and laughs, share these powerful words of wisdom with your favorite woman in the entire world: 

1. “God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.” – Jewish proverb

2. “A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dates all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.” – Agatha Christie

3. “I will look after you and I will look after anybody you say needs to be looked after, any way you say. I am here. I brought my whole self to you. I am your mother.” – Maya Angelou

4. “Mama was my greatest teacher, a teacher of compassion, love and fearlessness. If love is sweet as a flower, then my mother is that sweet flower of love.” – Stevie Wonder
 

5. “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” – Abraham Lincoln

6. “Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.” – unknown

7. “A father may turn his back on his child, brothers and sisters may become inveterate enemies, husbands may desert their wives, wives their husbands. But a mother’s love endures through all.” – Washington Irving

8. “I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.” – Mitch Albom
 
9. “Youth fades; love droops; the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’s secret hope outlives them all.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
 
10. “Motherhood: All love begins and ends there.” – Robert Browning

Much like our favorite songs, mothers inspire us and are always there to provide comfort. With that in mind, I’ve gathered eight songs that represent the sweetest elements of motherhood. Mother’s Day is right around the corner, so feel free to share this playlist with your favorite person in the world: mom.

1. “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted” by Carrie Underwood

This touching ballad finds Underwood paying tribute to her husband Mike and son Isaiah. With lyrics like “Never pictured myself singing lullabies / Sitting in a rocking chair in the middle of the night / In the quiet, in the dark / You’re stealing every bit of my heart with your daddy’s eyes,” “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted” is a wonderful ode to motherhood.  

2. “This Angel” by Jennifer Nettles

Jennifer Nettles wrote “This Angel” following the birth of her child. It is a testament to the enriching and transformative experience of becoming a mother.

3. “In My Daughter’s Eyes” by Martina McBride

Martina McBride’s “In My Daughter’s Eyes” is an exceptionally poignant song. In it, she describes the world as it is seen through her daughter’s eyes. Best of all, McBride then expresses her desire to see things exactly how her daughter does. 

4. “Lullaby for Wyatt” by Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow’s tender “Lullaby for Wyatt” is dedicated to her son, whom she adopted in 2007.

5. “Gabriel and Me” by Joan Baez

Folk singer Joan Baez wrote “Gabriel and Me” when her son was little. Today, he is all grown up and playing drums with his mom’s band. Such is the mother-child bond that can form through music. 

6. “To Zion” by Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill’s “To Zion” is definitely the most controversial song on this list. It is about Hill’s decision to have her son despite the urging of her music industry peers to have an abortion. Hill’s decision speaks to the complexity – and the joy – of motherhood. 

7. “Lullaby” by The Dixie Chicks

The Dixie Chicks wrote the ultimate sleepy time song with their sugary sweet “Lullaby.” The lyrics are incredibly touching, asking every mom’s favorite questions, “How long do you wanna be loved? Is forever enough?”

8. “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack

Lee Ann Womack’s hit “I Hope You Dance” was written by Tia Sillers and Mark Sanders. When Womack heard it, she immediately knew her experience as a mother would allow her to make it entirely her own:  “The song made me think about my daughters and the different times in their lives. As a parent, you just hope those are the kinds of things you will make your children think of.”

With us now just under two weeks away from this year’s Mother’s Day (May 14), it is the perfect time to begin pondering creative new gift ideas for our favorite person in the entire world. After all, a sign of truly caring for someone the way we care for mom is giving them a thoughtful gift.

The truth is that selecting the perfect gift for someone you love can be a stressful task – especially if it’s the woman who lovingly raised you. Finding a thoughtful Mother’s Day gift that shows what she means to you while also being something that you know she’ll love might seem like a tall order, but it’s more doable than you think. Plus, one of the great things about moms is that you can pretty much guarantee they’re going to love whatever gifts you give them.

Whether she loves to squeeze in an early morning workout or spend the afternoon curled up with a good book, there is definitely a thoughtful gift out there just waiting for your mom’s unique personality. The best part is that you don’t really have to spend a fortune to show your mother how much you care.

With prices ranging from $10 to $100, you can easily find the perfect gift to celebrate the woman who changed your diapers, taught you to read, and hauled you and your friends all around town before you could drive on your own. Here are 5 thoughtful gift ideas guaranteed to make Mom happy on her special day. 

1. For the chef at heart

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Rather than taking your chances by buying a kitchen gadget that your mom may or may not want or need, you should sign the two of you up for a cooking class. You are often able to choose between a demonstration class in which the chef does all the cooking and a hands-on class that is pretty much all you. Either way, every time she makes that very special meal, she’ll think of you and the quality time you spent together.

2. For the bookworm

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If your mom is like mine, she loves nothing more than diving into a good book. With countless genres of books by a plethora of acclaimed authors, a subscription to Book of the Month just might be the perfect gift for your favorite bookworm. Subscriptions are now more affordable than ever before, with prices ranging from $45 for three months to $144 for a year. If you want to invest in spending more time together, you could also buy the same books for yourself for the purpose of starting a mini book club.

3. For the fitness guru

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It seems that everyone nowadays is obsessed with physical fitness, and moms are no exception. Help your mom pursue a healthier and happier life by buying her a fitness gift card that will encourage her to engage in her tried and true exercises or venture into a new method of getting healthy. Fitness options abound, with yoga and meditation classes currently all the rage. If you have a higher budget, perhaps finding your mother her own personal trainer is the best idea.

4. For the wine connoisseur

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I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s pretty much a universal thing that moms love wine. After all, they had to deal with us as kids, right? Whether she likes red or white, you might be shocked at how much she will appreciate you buying her a bottle of her favorite wine. Not only can you buy her a bottle of wine, but you can also take things to the next level by combining her favorite wine with a set of simple wine glasses and a few carefully selected food items.

5. For the green thumb

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When I think of gorgeous green gardens, I think of moms. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother planting flowers, fruits, and vegetables. I miss those days. Luckily, there are a ton of options for those moms who own a green thumb. A gardener’s apron, rolling garden seat, or garden clogs are just some of the thoughtful gift ideas for those mothers who find peace and pleasure in their garden.

Kinetic Kickstarters: 6 Kickin’ Songs to Jumpstart Your Exercise Routine

In my last post, I sang the the praises of listening to music while exercising:

First, because music distracts you, you are less likely to focus on the difficult work your body is doing. As a result, you are much more likely to have a longer workout. Another benefit of playing music during your workout is that the right kind of songs, the ones that offer an inspiring message (think “Eye of the Tiger” or “Walking on Sunshine”), can keep you in a positive mindset. Uplifting tunes can cause you to push harder during a workout by reducing your perceived exertion during the most challenging/exhausting/painful moments of your session.

So, lucky for us, the end result is less perceived pain and a longer workout. Dr. Costas Karageorghis of London’s Brunel University told TIME Magazine that listening to music while working out can improve endurance by close to 20 percent.

Karageorghis also explained how to choose the best workout music. You should choose a song that builds to the same beats per minute (BPM) as your target heart rate, with the target rate being somewhere between 120-140 BPM. 

I have put together a list of 6 pop and country songs that I think are perfect for working out. I hope they provide you with tons of inspiration and energy as you try to build a better you. 

“Shake It Off” – Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s feel-good hit “Shake It Off” not only told off the haters of the world, it also completed the young singer’s metamorphosis from country darling to pop superstar. Keep that radical transformation in mind as you look to change your physical health and appearance. 

“Dancing in the Dark” – Bruce Springsteen

If you’ve ever spent your time on a treadmill imagining yourself in a music video, you’ve probably pictured a scenario similar to the video for Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” In it the Boss pulls out of the audience a young lady who is fortunate enough to join Bruce onstage. Couple the fantasy of such an experience with the song’s heightened sense of urgency (“I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face!”), and you have the ultimate workout song. 

“One Way or Another” – Blondie

Blondie’s “One Way or Another” is a catchy and energetic song that possesses the perfect amount of hook and attitude. Debbie Harry and her band of hip new wavers demonstrate the type of indomitable spirit and personal resolve that should inspire you to work out harder and longer. 

“Let Your Love Flow” – The Bellamy Brothers

The Bellamy Brothers may not have known it when they were writing it, but their hit “Let Your Love Flow” does wonders for the soul in need of a quick pick-me-up. With lyrics like these, how can you not feel inspired?

There’s a reason for the sunshine sky
And there’s a reason why I’m feelin’ so high
Must be the season when that love light shines
All around us

“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” – Queen

What could possibly be more uplifting than Queen’s Freddie Mercury channeling the swagger of Elvis Presley? Well, that’s exactly what you get with Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” This is perhaps the most feel-good song on my list, as its infectious beat and rockabilly sound are sure to provide you with all the positive vibes you’ll need to make your way through even the most difficult workout. 

“Maniac” – Michael Sembello

Michael Sembello’s 1983 hit “Maniac” is an intense, synth-drenched kick in the pants from the hugely popular soundtrack to Flashdance. It is virtually impossible to listen to “Maniac” and not want to get off your behind and burn some calories. If you’re a fan of ’80s movies like I am, the sweet nostalgia of Flashdance and “Maniac” will only add to your enjoyment as you sweat to what is now, somehow, an oldie. 

Healthy Hymns: How Music Helps Your Mind and Body During Exercise

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Are you one of those people who can’t wait to go to the gym? Or are you the type of person who can’t wait to leave the gym? Regardless of your feelings on exercise, it is more obvious than ever that music and exercise are pretty much a perfect fit. In fact, including music into your routine has been proven to increase the efficiency of your workout.

There are some folks who can seemingly run for hours in complete silence. I am most definitely not one of them. If you’re like me, you probably can’t even begin working out without blasting some tunes. I need a sonic distraction, something upbeat to take my mind off the repetitive and sometimes painful nature of exercise.

I used to think that the exercisers who preferred silence were kind of crazy, but it turns out that this is because there are actually two distinct kinds of workout personalities.

The first type, associators, turn all of their attention inward while they are exercising. They prefer to focus on things like their form, heart rate, and breathing.

Dissociators, meanwhile, turn their focus to anything that can distract them from the hard work their body is doing, be it a book, television, or in my case, a steady stream of music.

If you think you might be a dissociator, welcome to the club. There are several reasons why music might be your best choice for a better workout.  

First, because music distracts you, you are less likely to focus on the difficult (and sometimes tortuous) work your body is doing. As a result, you are much more likely to have a longer workout. My preference is music with high beats per minute, or BPM. This will help you as you try to maintain a more rigorous workout by keeping a faster pace.

Another benefit of playing music during your workout is that the right kind of songs, the ones that offer an inspiring message (think “Eye of the Tiger” or “Walking on Sunshine”), can keep you in a positive mindset.

It is scientifically proven that uplifting tunes can cause you to push harder during a workout by reducing your perceived exertion during the most challenging/exhausting/painful moments of your session.

In short, the right songs can make you not physically feel all the negative things you might associate with working out, thus allowing you to last longer. 

Less perceived pain AND a longer workout? That is all I need to know to convince me that my iPod will always be joining me as I prepare to exercise.

Stay tuned for my next post, in which I’ll discuss some of my favorite workout songs. 

Never Too Soon: 5 Budget-Friendly Tips for Planning Your Summer Vacation

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I know it’s only early March, but I can’t stop thinking about the upcoming summer. Based on my personal experience, it is never too early to begin planning your summer family vacation.

If you’re like me, the two most important things to keep in mind while mapping out all the madness are fun and affordability.

The best way to make sure you plan a memorable vacation for everyone that won’t break the bank is to begin planning NOW! Below are 5 helpful tips for mapping out the perfect summer vacation that will, thankfully, be here before you know it. 

1. Research potential destinations with your kids.

This process can be quite enjoyable. All you need to do is spend a few hours online with your children as you investigate possible destinations. They can scout out places that pique their interest, and you keep an eye out for the best deals. 

2. Book everything NOW!

Whether it is a hotel, flight, or rental car, get the best deal possible by booking it now. It’s possible to get a great deal by booking at the last minute, but is it really worth the stress? 

Right now is the time to book the lodging you’ve been eyeing. Ask for a discount before you lock in your reservation. Simply call or email and ask if there are any discounts for special memberships such as AAA or for folks who want to book several days. 

3. Plan your meals.

Try to stay someplace with a kitchen or a fridge. If that is not an option, try to stay somewhere that offers a free breakfast. The last thing you want to do is waste time and money having to eat all your meals in a restaurant every day of your vacation. 

Have a picnic for lunch when you can. Bring your own sandwiches to the park or the beach. Remember: kids typically don’t like waiting in restaurants anyway, so try to avoid them. 

4. Resist impulse purchases by researching specific mementos.

Heading to a cool science museum? Browse the museum’s online gift shop to see which specific items you and your family are interested in. Knowing what you are looking for will help you avoid the whole “kid in a candy store” thing that often leads to spending too much money.

Encourage your kids to start a collection based on your vacation. This could include patches, stickers, or postcards. Do a little bit of hunting beforehand so that you have an idea of what to look for as you and your family begin your adventure. 

5. Replace pricey attractions with those that are free (or nearly free).

This one is sometimes easier than done. A good example of opting for a less expensive alternative is attending a minor league baseball game instead of a major league game. You will save possibly hundreds of dollars, and unless you or your family are beholden to a specific major league team, you will have the same pleasure of watching America’s pastime during the warm summer months. You might even find it a more charming experience. 

What are some tips you’d suggest for planning the most fun and affordable summer vacation ever? Feel free to share in the comments section.  

 

Country Classics: 6 Must-See Destinations for Country Music Fans

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5 Steps to Living a Balanced Life

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I am currently on the road in Nashville, and loving every second of it. I’ve met so many talented artists and incredible people, all the while getting the chance to perform in front of new fans and friends. All of it makes Music City feel like a second home to me.

While things are getting really busy with my music, I do find myself being pulled in many directions at the same time. Don’t get me wrong: I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to play my songs in front of more and more people. But I am also increasingly aware that I must balance my music career with my family life and other personal relationships.

Living a balanced life is absolutely essential for achieving peak physical health, peace of mind, and personal and professional effectiveness. Whether we work, attend school, raise a family, or do some combination of the three, we all have responsibilities.

The challenge in life is to properly balance the things we must do with those things we want to do. Failure to reach a balance can cause unnecessary – and unhealthy – stress, some of which can have long-lasting effects on us and our personal relationships.

I’ve put together a list of 5 helpful steps we can take to ensure a more balanced life. I hope these simple, yet effective, steps lead you to the happiness, peace of mind, and good physical health you deserve.

1. Take care of yourself.

A balanced lifestyle is nearly impossible to attain if you are constantly unhealthy. Make sure that you are getting plenty of quality rest, exercise, and nutrition. So often we think we can eat junky food and put off exercise and still accomplish everything we want. We are usually dead wrong.

Our bodies (and our minds) are finely tuned machines that need to be maintained on a daily basis. If we neglect our physical and mental health, we are practically begging for these machines to break down. If that happens, it becomes nearly impossible to get done the things we need and want to.

The best way to ensure your physical and mental health is to set aside time each day for an activity that you enjoy, such as walking, dancing, or working out. Find a quiet place where you can truly relax, and then commit to going there at least once every few days.

2. Prioritize your priorities.

Remember: Balance does not mean that we should try to cram in every possible activity. I strongly believe in focusing on the quality of our tasks more than the quantity. Trying to do every single thing that you are able to do is a foolproof way to do none of them well. Examine your activities, and decide what is important to you.

Think of it like this: is it really more important that you skim through your email for the tenth time today instead of calling your grandmother? In the big picture, which one of those two activities is going to most enrich your life and, more importantly, hers?

After you have decided which things are most important to you and the success of your relationships, prioritize them. Figure out which ones need more of your time and attention, and act accordingly. Again, don’t try to do everything. It’s more than okay if you can’t do every single thing, every single time.

3. Embrace an organized lifestyle.

An organized life is most often a balanced life. While there are times when it is best to have nothing planned (lazy Sunday afternoons come to mind), mapping out your weekly, and even your daily, activities can only help as you seek a balanced life.

Take time at the beginning of each week to assess what needs to be done. Focus on the must-do things. Get them scheduled first. Fill up your planner or calendar with your week’s appointments, meetings, and calls. Then, knowing that all work and no play is no good at all, plan the fun stuff that you and your family want to do.

Keep in mind that these are the most important items on your calendar, as they will allow you to bond with the people who are most important to you. Don’t just plan to “spend time with little Johnny this week.” Set aside a specific time and place on your calendar for Johnny. Both of you will be better for it.

4. Expect the unexpected.

As John Lennon wisely said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” There will always be unexpected events, both good and bad. Rather than getting stressed about them, learn to roll with them. An early morning traffic jam, a random computer crash, or a suddenly sick child will throw a monkey wrench in your immediate schedule, but they should not drastically alter your big agenda.

Once you accept that anything can happen at any time (and most likely will), you will be better mentally prepared when it does. You have a game plan, so expecting the unexpected will allow you to adjust your game plan.

Don’t forget that there are certain unexpected crises that will make a balanced life impossible. A sudden death or injury to a loved one will become an all-consuming event, demanding your immediate and undivided attention. Don’t be afraid to give that situation the time and energy it deserves. Rest assured that life will, however improbable it seems, eventually return to normal.

5. Stay positive.

This one is sometimes easier said than done. The trials and tribulations of life can make it extremely difficult to stay positive. But I can attest to the benefits of starting each day with a positive approach to life.

Things may not always go as planned, but you’ll soon find that contentment and happiness are a state of mind. We often wait for good things to happen before we can discover happiness.

The reality is that once we take on a positive mindset and actively choose to focus on the brighter side of life, we will feel happier and more content. Learning to savor each and every moment is a conscious decision, and it is one that will help lead to the well-balanced life you so desperately want and need.

There’s Something Happening Here: 7 Classic Protest Songs to Inspire Change

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Unless you were hibernating with the bears during their extended winter slumber, you probably heard about last month’s massive Women’s March on Washington and other U.S. cities, as well as a plethora of spirited protests against President Trump’s Muslim ban. A widespread refusal to tolerate the status quo is growing by the day. Change is most definitely in the air. 

It is in that spirit that I’ve compiled a list of seven of the most important protest songs from the past few decades. I hope these songs move you and motivate you to speak out against the many injustices facing our sisters and brothers from around the world. 

7. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – U2

In a decades long catalogue of epic political statements, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” might very well be U2’s most powerful protest. The song reveals the terror and desperation felt by an observer of the terrible day in Derry, Ireland when British troops fired on unarmed civil rights protesters. Their crime? They had simply gathered to bring awareness to what they described as the inhuman internment of anyone even remotely associated with the IRA. 

6. “Another Brick in the Wall” – Pink Floyd

Despite what many music fans think, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” was not a protest song about the Berlin Wall. While it was eventually adopted as an anthem for the movement to end communism in Berlin, the song was actually about the rigid schooling and abusive teachers experienced by many students who attended England’s overly restrictive boarding schools. Singing about the welfare of children is definitely a cause I can get behind. 

5. “Fortunate Son” – Creedence Clearwater Revival

John Fogerty knew that which he spoke of in “Fortunate Son.” Having served in the Army Reserves, Fogerty witnessed firsthand the unfairness of America’s wealthier citizens being able to prevent their children from being shipped off to Vietnam. This is a powerful protest song that touches on socio-economic status and the injustice of the deep disparity between the rich and the poor in American society. The fact that “Fortunate Son” is still relevant today shows how in tune Fogerty was with the issues that consistently plague America.  

4. “Blowin’ in the Wind” – Bob Dylan

A song made famous by folk heroes Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan’s 1962 hit “Blowin’ in the Wind” is perhaps the song most identified with a particular decade. Evidence of the song’s popularity is the fact that it’s been translated into more than a dozen languages, featured in numerous movies, and played live more than 1,000 times by Dylan. Dylan’s method of asking some of the deeper questions in life to get his message across is indicative of the wordsmith’s knack for tackling meaningful issues within a catchy tune. 

3. “For What It’s Worth” – Buffalo Springfield

Contrary to what most fans think, Stephen Stills did not write “For What It’s Worth” about America’s involvement in Vietnam. He wrote the song in 1966 to show support for a group of Los Angeles hippies who were engaged in a battle with the police over a pending curfew. The song immediately thrust Buffalo Springfield onto the national stage, thus launching the careers of Stills and Neil Young.

2. “Eve of Destruction” – Barry McGuire

By 1965, Bob Dylan was pretty much done writing protest songs. Barry McGuire was more than willing to fill the void left by Dylan. His cover of P.F. Sloan’s “Eve of Destruction” became a #1 hit. The reason for the song’s success was the tangible fear felt by many who fully expected a nuclear war to break out at any moment. With the Cold War in full effect and the tense Cuban Missile Crisis a very recent memory, McGuire’s apocalyptic “Eve of Destruction” touched a nerve in a way that other protests could only hope to. 

1. “Ohio” – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Ohio” is perhaps the most poignantly powerful protest song of them all. Days after the Kent State massacre, Neil Young saw the disturbing photo of teenager Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the dead body of college student Jeffrey Miller. Ever the sensitive and tuned in young man, Young transferred his all-consuming anger and sorrow into “Ohio.” One day later, the entire band had recorded the song and the rest of the world was on the verge of hearing about the tragedy at Kent State. 

Perfectly Presidential Playlist: 5 Songs for Presidents’ Day

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Happy Presidents’ Day weekend! Many of us will get the day off this Monday as we celebrate the commanders-in-chief of our past. What better way to reflect on the men who have greatly impacted the United States – for better or for worse – than to create a perfectly presidential playlist? I hope you enjoy these tunes that tell the tales of some of the executive legends, as well as some of the unknowns, from American history.

5. “He Was a Friend of Mine” – The Byrds

Originally written by Bob Dylan in 1962, “He Was a Friend of Mine” soon turned into The Byrds’ somber reflection on the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. The song features all the trademarks that made The Byrds one of the most popular bands of the 1960s: glorious harmonies, jangly guitars, and powerfully poignant lyrics. Perhaps most importantly, “He Was a Friend of Mine” paints a picture of a national leader who was truly respected and revered, a man adored by those who never met him.

4. “Abraham, Martin and John” – Emmylou Harris

Originally recorded by Dion in 1968, “Abraham, Martin and John” is a tribute to four assassinated American icons of social change, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. Emmylou Harris covered the classic tune in 1992, and her live version on PBS captured the gentle, reflective nature of the original. Backed by her live band, The Nash Ramblers, Harris delivers a touching ode to these four heroes from America’s past.

3. “James K. Polk” – They Might Be Giants

This tuneful history lesson by They Might Be Giants is a fun, rollicking tribute to James K. Polk, winner of the 1844 U.S. election. “James K. Polk” is a U.S. History teacher’s dream come true, with references to abolition, Manifest Destiny, and the Oregon Territory all carefully weaved into the tune. The clever gentlemen in TMBG also manage to sneak in Polk’s nickname, “The Napoleon of the Stump,” given to the eleventh president of the U.S. because “his oratory filled his foes with fear.”

2. “Young Abe Lincoln (Make A Tall, Tall Man)” – Johnny Horton

Johnny Horton’s 1960 hit “Young Abe Lincoln (Make A Tall, Tall Man)” is a great example of storytelling through song. Horton’s ditty is a charming stroll through both the factual and fabled life of our most famous president. From his humble upbringing (“he lived in a cabin way down by the creek, he ran through the dust in his bare feet”) to the Civil War crisis that consumed Lincoln’s presidency (“he heard both sides of the battle of rights, he hated to see those soldiers die”), “Young Abe Lincoln (Make A Tall, Tall Man)” covers all the major events of Lincoln’s storied life.

1. “Mr. Garfield” – Johnny Cash

“Mr. Garfield” was first recorded by Bascom Lamar Lunsford in March of 1949. The folk song is an epic narrative of the events and emotions surrounding the assassination of James Garfield, who was shot by a deranged man who grew increasingly frustrated with Garfield’s refusal to give him a cushy government job. Johnny Cash’s version of “Mr. Garfield” is an even more intriguing blend of country and folk music, sung with all the charisma Cash was known for.

Do you have any presidential tunes that you enjoy? If so, share in the comments.

Winter’s Wisdom: 4 Life Lessons Learned From Our Coldest Season

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One look out the window confirms what the calendar has been telling us for weeks: we are smack dab in the middle of winter. The days are short, the air is cold, and the sky is all too often gray.

While these few months can feel like an eternity to those of us who prefer the splendid surf, sun, and soirees of summer, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from winter. Here are 4 things this cold, hard season has taught me:

1. The sun will come out tomorrow – or maybe the next day. But it will come out. It is scientifically proven that a lack of sunshine can negatively impact your mental and emotional state. If you find yourself down in the dumps during the winter months, you are certainly not alone.

The good news is that at some point, the sun will return. It might not be as warm as its July version, but its mere presence can do wonders for the soul. Plus, don’t you appreciate the sun even more when it’s peeking through the clouds on the coldest, grayest of winter days? Yeah, me too.

2. Take things slow. Winter’s dreaded mix of snow and ice can be lethal if you decide to take things too quickly. I am certainly guilty of rushing to get out the door, only to slip and fall flat on my back due to the sheet of ice awaiting me on my steps. Lesson learned. The advantage to the often inclement weather is that we get tons of practice taking our time.

Moving more slowly is not just something we should try to do during winter. In a fast-paced world in which information comes constantly darting at us from all directions, perhaps it is best to take a careful and cautious winter’s approach to life all year long.

3. Expect the unexpected – and then roll with it. Winter is sure to cause some unexpected delays. Whether it’s a deeper than expected snowfall that leads to you running late for work, or a stressful flight delay caused by a blizzard in your city of arrival, you can rest assured that winter will bring its share of headaches.

But if you remember that your health and happiness are more important than things always running smoothly, you will be grateful for the chance to enjoy winter and all its madness. You’ll eventually get where you want to go, so relax and enjoy life as it is – even if it’s not exactly as you planned it.

4. Beauty exists in all things. That’s right. Even during the slushy, muddy, and chill-inducing winter, you don’t have to look hard to find a season’s worth of beauty. Have you ever really examined the incredible complexity of a snowflake? Or the frozen magic of a 3-foot long icicle?

Sure, those things can be nuisances that make life difficult, but they also contain an equal amount of beauty and wonder. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the intense winter sun as it breaks through gray clouds to reveal a crystal clear blue sky. It’s almost enough to make you feel okay that summer is still five months away.

I hope that you stay safe and warm and enjoy the season that you are in at the moment. It might be cold, gray, and inconvenient at times. But before you know it, all that brilliantly bright snow will melt and be gone until next year.

2017: Living Simply in the Here and Now

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Happy new year, friends! I hope 2017 is off to a great start for you. I haven’t written yet this year because 2017 has gotten off to a crazy busy start. I am not at all complaining, though, as there are few things I love more than playing big shows with talented musicians and sharing my songs with listeners. It’s been a whirlwind few weeks, and in this industry, whirlwinds are a sign that things are going well. I feel quite blessed to be able to say that yes, things are going better than well.

I added the picture above because it represents two approaches to life that I plan to take in 2017. I hope you will too. You’ll notice that there isn’t a whole lot of “stuff” in the picture. This was on purpose. This year, I want to live a simplified life.

I am intent on getting rid of the things that are not absolutely necessary to the happiness, success, and wellbeing of me, my loved ones, and my career. I am convinced that we spend so much time and energy on the things that simply do not matter, often at the expense of the things and people that do.

This desire to get rid of excess not only applies to material things, it also pertains to some of the heavy mental baggage that can weigh us down and keep us from moving forward. That brings me to the second element of the image that I want to focus on. I am particularly fond of this picture because I am looking ahead.

One of my big goals for 2017 is to stop dwelling on the past. What’s done is done, and all we have left is today and whatever future we’re fortunate enough to enjoy. Onward and upward, as they say.

There’s a lot to learn from the past, but sometimes we get stuck in it. This year, I want to positively impact my future by fully embracing today. If there’s one thing the past has taught me, it is that our futures are shaped by the decisions we make today. Right now is a product of way back when – for better or for worse. That is both an incredibly sobering and inspiring thought.

With an eye toward the future and a big, warm embrace of who and what is important in the here and now, I hope you’ll join me as we make 2017 our best year yet.

The Sounds of Solace: How Music Can Get You Through Times Like These

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Lately it has felt as though the world is falling apart at its seams. Current events have caused such anger, frustration, and bitterness – and it’s all right there on television and social media, seemingly overwhelming us at every turn. The good news is that whenever I’m torn between wanting to scream and needing to cry, I have something that comforts me: music.

The warm embrace of my favorite song, or better yet, my favorite album, can do wonders for my soul. My most cherished sounds of country, pop, and rock n’ roll have the uncanny ability to instantly bring me unbridled joy and optimism, as well as a sense of refuge that often feels worlds away. They can take me to another place, somewhere I can forget the harsh and divisive rhetoric of today.

Escapism is not the only reason why I love listening to music when I feel the stress of days like these. There is an entire catalogue of songs from the past that provide a sense of perspective, something that feels much needed nowadays. Certain songs and artists have a way of reassuring me that everything is going to be, in due time, okay.

Our country – our world, in fact – has been this divided before. Difficult social and political issues are deeply embedded within our history. We are hardly the first generation to deal with explosive topics such as immigration, racism, and gender inequality.

I take solace in knowing that we have survived and, more importantly, come together, during other turbulent times in our past. The songs of yesterday are a sort of soundtrack to these struggles, as well as an anthem of our eventual reconciliation and progress.

If you’re struggling with the anxiety, bitterness, or frustration that often festers in times like these, I strongly recommend that you dive into your favorite music. It can provide enough healing, refuge, and perspective to get you through it all. I hope you enjoy your special sounds of solace!

In the meantime, check out this feel-good Spotify playlist filled with country classics that have gotten me through the toughest of times:

 

Never Tear Us Apart: Comforting Words on Election Eve

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Tomorrow is the day. Finally. The longest, most excruciating election season in memory will end as those of us who have yet to vote will head to the polls to have our say. And with Election Day 2016 now upon us, I thought I’d provide some comforting words for those of us who fear the worst for a nation plagued with the type of hateful and divisive attitudes, behavior, and rhetoric so common in modern American politics.

When it’s all said and done and the election has been decided, there will be much frustration and anger on one side, if not both. The harsh words and the argumentative tone of the past year will not suddenly disappear once the news networks dramatically reveal the 45th president of these United States. Acknowledging the fact that there will still be intense feelings of resentment is, I believe, an important step in starting to heal the wounds of such a divisive election season.

It is what we do with these feelings of bitterness and hurt that will determine how well we move on as a country. Recognizing that ideological and political differences are actually an important and necessary hallmark of a successful democracy, I hope that we try to understand and actively address the complicated beliefs and opinions of those with whom me may disagree.

It is always easy to get along with those who share our views. It is how we engage and interact with those of differing views that matters most. Getting to know and fully grasp the ideals and values of others is a significant step in moving forward.

With that said, while I do believe it’s important to show tolerance and appreciation for the views of others, I don’t think we should tolerate implicit or blatant words and acts of hatred. In fact, quite the opposite.

I consider it our civic and moral duty to push for what is right, to counter the type of ignorant and destructive behavior we have witnessed in recent months. When intolerance and disdain for other beliefs, cultures, and races are present, we must speak out against them. It has been proven time and time again that history is on the side of those who have the courage to do so.

These are troubling times, no doubt. Tension is everywhere. Everything we do and say currently feels highly flammable. But I strongly believe that America has what it takes to overcome the suffocatingly negative climate of this year’s election. God knows we have encountered worse. Much worse.

I take comfort in knowing that even an election this intensely divisive, this wrought with fear and loathing, cannot completely destroy the bonds which have united us for centuries.

 

 

Sweet, Spooky & Safe: A Trick-or-Treat Safety Guide

For kids of all ages, Halloween is one of the most exciting times of the year. Nothing can match the spooky night’s magical suspense, intrigue, and fun. If your children are planning to trick-or-treat, you’ll want to make sure that they are as safe as possible. The following are 5 simple steps to guarantee a fun Halloween night that won’t include any health scares. I hope you and your young ones have a sweet, spooky, and safe Halloween!

1. Plan your route before you head out.

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A little bit of preparation will go a long way towards a safe Halloween. By mapping out your route beforehand, you won’t have to worry about unexpectedly crossing streets and encountering unwanted foot traffic. If you’re familiar with your neighborhood, even better. Nobody gives better candy than familiar and friendly neighbors.

2. Prevent tripping by wearing costumes that are short.

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You’d be amazed at the number of Halloween injuries that happen due to excessively long costumes. Kids can get so excited while trick-or-treating that they don’t really pay attention to things like, you know, their feet. It’s quite easy for them to trip and fall while hurrying from house to house, and with their hands full of plastic pumpkins and bags of delicious candy, they usually don’t have their hands free to break their fall. Make it easier on your kids by dressing them in costumes that are short and, as a result, safe.

3. Bring a flashlight.

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In addition to attaching reflective tape to your child’s costume, be sure to bring a flashlight when you head out on your trick-or-treat adventure. The mysterious darkness is one of the best things about Halloween, but it can also present unwanted risks. There is always a ton of foot and car traffic while trick-or-treating, so your best bet for ensuring a safe night is to stay well lit.

4. Wear face makeup instead of a mask.

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Even the safest masks can lead to visibility issues for your kids. The best – and most creative – way to get around this problem is to spend some time painting your child’s face. The best costumes are usually the ones that take some time and preparation, so go for it. You’ll find a fun outlet for your artistic skills while also ensuring your child’s safety.

5. Carefully inspect all of your child’s candy.

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This is probably the most obvious step you can take to keep your kids safe this Halloween. While the chances of someone pulling a trick instead of providing a treat are slim, you can never be 100% sure. There are some sick folks out there, so carefully inspect every single wrapped piece of candy to make sure it has not been tampered with. Halloween is perhaps the most appropriate time to practice the always necessary parenting skill of being safe so that you and your kids won’t be sorry.

I’d love to hear any other suggestions for keeping kids safe while trick-or-treating. Feel free to leave tips in the comments. Happy Halloween!

Fun & Frightening Film Faves: 5 Halloween Movies for Your Entire Family

One of my favorite holidays is just around the corner, and I could not be more excited. As someone who loves the creative process, Halloween offers the opportunity to show off our super scary creative skills. Whether it is decorating your front porch with witches and ghouls, or designing the perfect costume for the year’s most sugary soirees, Halloween allows all of us to make the most of our imagination.

One way I love celebrating the creative spirit of Halloween is by watching some of my favorite fun and frightening films with my family. You won’t find Carrie or The Exorcist on this list, but that’s okay. These age-appropriate classics display all the gasps – but none of the gore – you and your kids could ever want. Happy Halloween!

1. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

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If you are a kid, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is pretty much a childhood rite of passage. One of the best things about watching this classic with your kids is seeing them react to Charlie Brown and his gang with the same joy you felt the first time you saw it. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a must-see movie this Halloween, so it’s definitely #1 on my list.

2. Corpse Bride (2005)

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Tim Burton is one of the best at producing cinematic gasps and screams intended for younger viewers. His 2005 hit Corpse Bride is no exception. The shy Victor (Johnny Depp) accidentally marries a corpse (Helena Bonham Carter). This unique gothic love story is a fascinating Halloween tale that fully embraces its Victorian setting.

3. James and the Giant Peach (1996)

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James and the Giant Peach tells the story of a brave young orphan boy who travels to New York City inside a massive peach just to get away from his mean and frightful aunt. This classic is the rare Halloween film that features themes of friendship, courage, and the fight to make one’s dreams come true. In other words, it’s the perfect movie for your entire family.

4. Coraline (2009)

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If you’re looking for the most creative and unique movie on this list, you found it. Coraline is an incredibly captivating piece of animated cinema. In addition to boasting some of film’s most impactful visuals, Coraline also teaches a very important lesson for family members of all ages: the things in life that appear too good to be true very often are.

5. Frankenweenie (2012)

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Children of all ages will relate to young Victor Frankenstein, the main character in Frankenweenie who takes extreme measures to bring his beloved dog back to life. This darkly humorous film by Tim Burton is the rare Halloween favorite that manages to be both creepy and sweet.

I hope you and your entire family will enjoy watching these scary – and oftentimes sweet – movies. What are some of your Halloween favorites? Feel free to comment with some suggestions.

 

Wise, Young & Fun: Teen Singer Madison McWilliams Reminds Us to Live Life to Fullest in “Smell the Roses” Video

Youthful energy and exuberance is infectious and quite often inspiring. That’s one reason why I love discovering young new musicians like rising teen pop singer Madison McWilliams. The Austin-based 14-year-old performer, multi-instrumentalist, and actress first enchanted listeners in 2015 with her cover of Nina Simone’s iconic “Feeling Good,” generating over 1 million views on Facebook. She has also been featured in Paste Magazine, The CW, Fox, and Austin Woman Magazine.

Madison now offers us a wise and timely reminder to live life to the fullest as she and her fun-loving friends frolic in her new video for “Smell the Roses.”    

Directed by LA based Nayip Ramos and filmed in Madison’s hometown, the video for “Smell the Roses” is an ode to Austin and self-expression: “One of my favorite things about this video was shooting it in my hometown. It was so fun because I could express myself in an environment that I love. I had such an amazing time working with Nayip on this video. He has incredible talent and vision.”

Sounds to me like this kid has her head – and her heart – in the right place! Check out Madison on her official site

Falling for Autumn: 5 Fun-Filled Fall Activities for You and Your Family

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The leaves are turning. The nights are crisp and clear. The sweaters and light coats are being taken out of storage. The entire world looks and feels more vibrant. Fall is on its way, and along with our most colorful season comes tons of fun-filled activities that you can enjoy with your entire family. I’m so excited about the arrival of fall that I’ve compiled a list of five must-do fall favorites. I hope you enjoy!

Take a fall foliage road trip. Road trips are always fun, but when you add in fall foliage and cooler temperatures, the fun doubles. Try to find a heavily treed area near where you live, and set out sometime in the early evening as the sun is going down. The autumn colors at this time of day seem to explode – as will your affection for this wonderful time of the year.

Decorate your house and porch. As you know, I fully support all forms of creative expression. One of my favorite ways to show creativity is by adding some fun fall flash to my house and porch. This is perhaps the best time of year to use nature’s gifts as decor. With pumpkins, gourds, and more leaves than you’ll ever need, you have a full menu of natural items to choose from.

Go apple-picking. The apple orchard is always a favorite destination for those of us hungry for some fall fun. The home of the apple can be a wonderful place to visit, and if you have a bountiful experience chock full of apple-filled baskets, it can also be a healthy outing. Load up on one of fall’s most popular food items while being sure to soak in what it sure to be a lovely environment.

Go for a late evening walk or bike ride. If you are fortunate enough to live a wooded area, the aforementioned car ride isn’t even necessary. All you have to do is take a walk around your neighborhood. You’ll get plenty of exercise while breathing in perhaps the most refreshing air of the year. Bring a sweater with you, though, just in case the temperature drops during your

Bake, bake, and bake! If you are a fan of the tastes and scents of fall, you are in luck. The fall baking possibilities are almost endless. These are just some of the delicious items that you and family can feast on during autumn: apple muffins, soft pumpkin cookies, cinnamon roll cake, pecan pie, apple pie, and walnut pumpkin pie. Baking can be a great opportunity to spend quality time with your young ones, too, so warm up the oven and begin the baking bliss.

There are countless other things to do during this time of year, so I’m sure you’ll never run out of fun fall festivities. Happy fall, y’all!

 

Beat the Blockage: 5 Steps to Removing Your Writer’s Block

writers-block

If you are a writer who has experienced writer’s block, you know how frustrating it can be. The inability to express yourself when you really want to can feel overwhelming. Whether you are a songwriter trying to pen the perfect lyric, or a novelist in search of the ultimate ending to your plot, writer’s block can sometimes make you feel like ditching the entire creative process.

But fear not: I have compiled a list of several simple things you can do to break the dam that is blocking your word flow. Try one of them, or try them all. I’ve been there before, and I can vouch for each and every one of these as effective tools for ending the dreaded writer’s block. Good luck!

1.  Write something entirely different. Sometimes stepping outside of your comfort zone can free your creativity. Experiment with content or a perspective that is unique to your genre or typical subject matter. The same old themes, characters, and stylings can cause you to grow tired of the entire writing process. Once this happens, you might be a step away from unintentionally walking into a long and exhausting bout with writer’s block.

Explore new genres or sub-genres. Examine new trends in your chosen field. Discover one or more experts in your field who is doing something interesting, and mimic their approach. Variety is the spice of life. It is also key to keeping your content fresh and intriguing – both to you and those who enjoy your writing.

2. Write in a different setting and at a different time. A change of scenery can be the perfect antidote for what’s ailing the blocked writer. If you typically write from home, venture to the great outdoors. If you have a favorite table at your local Starbucks, perhaps it’s time you move on to a different venue.

Likewise, if you are a morning bird, spend a week holding off on your writing until after lunch. If you tend to write at night, flip things around and grab your tools of the writing trade first thing in the morning. Mix things up a bit.

3. Hang out at a bookstore. As a writer, there is something inherently inspiring about being surrounded by books and the people who read them. I very often find myself inspired by the mere sights and sounds of bookstores.

While most any bookstore will usually do the trick, I feel a distinct sense of creative motivation in older used bookstores. There is something about these hip storehouses of old and new ideas that unleashes my inner wordsmith. If there happens to be a used vinyl record shop in or near the bookstore, even better.

4. “Borrow” from somebody else. You have heard the saying that “there is nothing new under the sun,” right? Well, it is true. Even the most talented writers tend to recycle previously used themes, styles, and phrases. The trick is to borrow from the best while somehow making your new product entirely yours.

If you are a songwriter, find some of your favorite lyrics and use them as a starting point by paraphrasing the lines. If you write short stories, discover a character from another story and create a mirror image of that character. Or better yet, create a character that is the exact opposite.

The goal is to use the inspiration of other people’s work as a springboard for your own masterpiece. If all goes well, your song, book, short story, or blog post could very well end up inspiring another frustrated writer.

 

5. Stop writing for other people, and start writing for you. One of the biggest causes of my occasional word blockage is my tendency to write for other people. What do I mean by that? Well, sometimes I wonder to myself what a particular person or audience would want to hear in my writing. I then shape my writing based on that.

The problem with this method is that it can cause you to overthink your writing. Creativity ought to be relatively spontaneous and inspired by pure and unfiltered thoughts and emotions. Trying to figure out what a specific audience wants encourages the exact opposite of that. It can lead to forced writing that puts pressure on you. And if we were to break down writer’s block to its simplest form, it would probably have a lot to do with pressure, be it external or internal.

So relax. Write something you want to read or hear. If you genuinely enjoy your topic, you will be much more inclined to enjoy the process. Once you begin enjoying the process, you will very likely be on the verge of ending your writer’s block.

The Kids Are Alright: Comforting Thoughts for Parents Sending Kids to School

saying-goodbye-to-kids

September has arrived and, like the first bell of the school day, a new school year is now upon us. With it comes the excitement and apprehension that comes from sending our little loved ones off into the world.

As parents, we are filled with an anxiety that can only come from handing over our kids to complete strangers in a completely strange world.

As difficult as it seems, I find that the best way to handle the uncertainty of sending our children off into the world is to keep in mind the big picture.

When they go to school, our children are encountering the people and ideas that will help shape their future. Every skill our kids learn from their teachers and their peers will help them in the long run, and will equip them with the tools necessary for future success.

Keep in mind that it often takes a village to raise a child. I take much comfort in knowing that our children’s school environment is filled with those who are often as committed to the village as we are.

The uneasy feelings we experience as parents during this time of year remind us of the special and enduring nature of the relationship between parent and child. The bond we share is unique, and is meant to survive time spent apart.

Our young ones might spend countless hours with other adults and children throughout the school year, but they will always be ours.

They might learn valuable information and life lessons from unknown teachers, but they will always carry with them the core values that we have instilled in them.

They might spend numerous hours in strange classrooms and crowded buses, but they will always return home to us.

Knowing this makes our kids’ departure for the new school year a much more pleasant experience.

Good luck to you and your kids this school year!

5 Tips for a Most Spectacular School Year

Young child holding stack of books and back to school written on

Somehow, someway, school is once again upon us. Millions of students all around the world are starting to feel the butterflies associated with the rapidly approaching school year.

The start of school can also be a stressful time for us as parents, but it doesn’t have to be. There are several things we can do to make the transition from summer fun to autumn studies a smooth one. I have compiled a list of five helpful tips that will ensure a successful school year for you and your child.

Develop an organized nighttime routine: Sleep. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of sleep in your child’s school success. A tired child is a tired student. A tired student is typically an unsuccessful student. By establishing a sensible nighttime routine, you can put your son or daughter in a position to succeed.

The most obvious element of this routine is an early bedtime that allows for at least eight hours of sleep. Some other things you’ll want to do include deciding on the next day’s outfit the night before, limiting the amount of sugar and caffeine your child ingests after a certain time, and participating in a brief winding down activity before bedtime.

Establish an organized morning routine: Just as important as your nightly routine is a daily routine, one that is simple, organized, and efficient. Mornings can be hectic and, as a result, can be the source of much anxiety. The good part is that they don’t need to be. Having a plan from the time your kid wakes up until he walks out the door is the key to a smooth – and stress-free – morning.

Before school even starts is when you will want to establish the order of events. Be sure to leave no stone unturned, as you will want to map out each and every activity of your morning well before you encounter them. These activities include waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, grabbing backpacks and other belongings, and leaving for the bus.

Kick off each day with a healthy breakfast: God only knows what your kids will eat throughout the day when they are away from you, but you can get them off to a great start by feeding them well before they leave.You want them to feel energized, both mentally and physically, so a nutritious meal packed with protein is an essential part of a breakfast that puts your kid in a position to succeed.

Label everything your child wears, uses, eats, etc.: Kids lose things. It’s simply a fact of life. As much as you teach, preach, and practice responsibility for their personal items, you should expect your kids to lose at least one item of theirs during the school year. It might be a sweater. Or it might be a binder. Worst case scenario, your child loses a backpack containing both their sweater and their binder.

Since you already know that your kid will lose something, your best defense is to label the heck out of everything. And yes, I mean everything. This includes socks, shoes, shirts, pants, sweaters, coats, textbooks, pencils, pencil cases, individual food items, and the backpack that carries them all. Seriously. Label all of it. You will feel much better knowing that these items will eventually make their way back to you once they are inevitably lost.

Set aside one-on-one time to discuss daily goals and expectations: A friendly morning reminder of the day’s plans, goals, and expectations is always a good idea. Having a brief face-to-face before your child leaves for school is an excellent way to reassure him that there really is a plan for the entire day – and that you believe in his ability to successfully maneuver his way through that plan.

Discuss any big items that might be a source of stress, including upcoming tests, project due dates, and altered plans for after school. Also, the morning is a great time to nudge a kid in the right direction as it pertains to behavior, manners, and the like. Most of all, remind your child that you are his biggest fan. After all, once school is over and summer makes its triumphant return, you will still be there.

The start of the school year can be stressful, but following the above tips will make things much more tolerable. Feel free to comment with any suggestions you have for parents. And most of all, I hope you and your kids have a great school year!

 

 

Fantastically Fun Family-Friendly Film: Based on Real-Life Case, “Ace the Case: Manhattan Mystery” Tells Thrilling Story of 10-Year-Old Super Detective Girl

Television and movies nowadays can sometimes be sketchy. If you’re like me, you are always searching for family-friendly entertainment. One of my favorite things to do is to take the kids to see some action-packed fun on the big screen, so I was very excited to hear that the suspenseful New York City mystery and family comedy caper Ace the Case: Manhattan Mystery will hit theaters on August 26.

Created by writer, director, and producer Kevin Kaufman (The Perfect Murder, I Married a Mobster), Ace the Case: Manhattan Mystery tells the story of a real-life NYPD case in which a brave and resourceful kid puts herself in danger to solve a crime.

Check out the exciting trailer to get a sneak peek and get to know the multi-talented star of Ace the Case: Manhattan Mystery as Ripley Sobo sings and dances her heart out in the film’s inspiring and action-packed music video for “Aim High.” 

According to the movie’s press release, kids and adults will both have plenty to enjoy while watching Ace the Case: Manhattan Mystery:

The movie revolves around 10-year-old Olivia Haden (Ripley Sobo), whose mother goes on a business trip for the weekend, leaving Olivia home alone with her 17-year-old brother Miles (Aaron Sauter). While walking her dog on their first night alone, Olivia witnesses a young woman being kidnapped on the empty New York City streets.

Olivia runs home and tells Miles, who doesn’t believe her. The next morning, she explains what happened to local cops, who also do not believe her. Only a cynical female detective named Dottie (Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon) listens to Olivia, but she too is skeptical.

Undaunted, Olivia bravely launches her own investigation, putting herself in numerous perilous situations. Olivia crisscrosses lower Manhattan in an exciting family-oriented thriller sure to delight viewers of all ages.

According to Kaufman, Ace the Case: Manhattan Mystery is “suspenseful, full of adventure, and something that the whole family can enjoy together.” He adds that “most importantly, the main character is a resourceful young girl.” 

The Final Countdown: 10 Things to Do before Summer Ends

summer-fun

With the calendar now turning to August, I am reminded that there is less than half of our precious summer left. Like most things in life, I have little doubt that the next 4-6 weeks will fly by.

As a result, I thought I should jot down a list of 10 things you should definitely do before summer ends. I hope it helps you get the most out of everyone’s favorite season. Enjoy!

1. Watch a movie at the drive-in. Expect the lovely twangs of nostalgia to hit you as you enjoy the type of outdoor cinema you loved as a child.

2. Attend a music festival. Live music + warm weather = one of the joys of summer. Nowadays there are literally thousands of festivals featuring all genres of music, and they’re happening all over the place. Hunt one down and go for it.

3. Invite your loved ones over for a BBQ. Food, friends, and family. I don’t really need to add much to that, right? Summer is the perfect time to meet and eat, so plan an outdoor BBQ today.

4. Go hiking on your own. Nature and some quality alone time are always a good combo. You will experience the ultimate source of relaxation as you enjoy the great outdoors with the one person you usually don’t get to spend time with: you.

5. Sip wine somewhere outside as the sun goes down. If you liked the previous suggestion for its ability to help you wind down, you’ll love this one. Nothing says summer relaxation like slowly sipping a tall glass of your favorite red or white wine as the sun starts its descent.

6. Roast s’mores over a fire – preferably with kids. This simple – and delicious – summer favorite can be enjoyed right in your own backyard.

7. Go swimming at your favorite beach. What would summer be without a dip at your preferred beach? By now, the water has probably reached the perfect temperature for you to dive right in, so go for it.

8. Go for a long walk. You might want to aim for early morning or evening to do this, as things can get a bit hot during August and the early part of September. But taking a long walk during the summer can be excellent for your mind and your body.

9. Take your family camping. If you’re like me, you love making memories that last a lifetime. Camping is one surefire way to do that. Whether it’s in the woods or on the beach, your kids will never forget the summer you took them camping.

10. Take a short road trip. Summer is the perfect time to gas up your car and hit the road. Keep in mind how the winter weather can make you feel trapped, and then take full advantage of the sunny skies and superb road conditions. Sometime you don’t have to go far to feel like you’re getting away. Safe travels!

Live and So Alive: Why I Love Performing Live

Eileen Carey

This Friday I’ll be performing at the Orange County Fair in Sacramento, CA. As I prepare for the show, I am reminded of why I love performing live so much. Aside from the addicting adrenaline rush that every performer feels as they take the stage, there are several reasons why one of my favorite things to do as a musician is to perform my songs in a live setting.

I am fortunate enough to have fans who know my songs. I never take this for granted, as I am fully aware that not every musician can say the same. I’ve been blessed to see so many familiar faces at different shows. I have come to know many of these music lovers, and I am genuinely overwhelmed by their support.

I cannot describe the appreciation I feel for those who join me in singing my songs. These songs of mine were never intended to be kept to myself, so part of the pleasure of playing live is having the opportunity to sing them with those who know them. There is a sense of camaraderie that grows from singing songs with audiences. When the songs are yours, the entire process is even more satisfying.

Of course, as I belt out my songs tomorrow, there will be audience members who have yet to hear my tunes. Their presence is also a blessing. I love the feeling of meeting new people and trying to turn them into future fans. Some will become friends, too, which is even better.

I recognize that in today’s digital age, there are now more musical options than ever before. As a result, I do consider it a worthwhile challenge to win over those who are seeing and hearing me for the first time. The challenge is to connect with new audiences, to make them feel what I’m feeling as I sing and perform these little pieces of my heart and soul.

One of the best parts of being a musician is having the opportunity to perform my songs in front of both familiar and unfamiliar faces. The live show is the lifeblood of most performers. On a night like this, as I prepare for tomorrow’s big show, I am lucky to feel this alive.

 

This Place, This Hour: Why Your Dog Is Happier than You

Dog happiness

The above cartoon says so much about why we, as humans, struggle to find, and then keep, happiness. We often lose sight of the present by focusing so much on the past and future. Very often, the things we think about are negative in nature, or are sources of anxiety and fear.

In contrast, dogs are completely content in the here and now. They enjoy the moment for exactly what it is. There is no yesterday, and there is no tomorrow. There is only the present. They see and hear what is in front of them, and that is all they need. If you’ve ever watched a dog spend time with his owner, you know that it is impossible for that dog to be mentally anywhere else.

I’m not denying the fact that humans have a plethora of things to care for that other species don’t. There are bills to pay. There are relationships to tend to. There is the planning for the future that every responsible person must do. We certainly have our hands full juggling the ups and downs of everyday life.

With that said, it is possible to push all those things to the side. It is possible to be completely present in the here and during the now. It is not easy, but it can be done. Like most good things in life, being content takes some effort and usually requires some practice.

Walt Whitman eloquently summed up the determined approach we must take when trying to mimic the life approach of our canine friends:

“Happiness, not in another place, but in this place. Not for another hour, but this hour.”

Love Is the Answer

Fear and love

In my last post, I attributed many of the problems we’re currently facing in America to fear:

I used to think that racism, disdain for the “other,” and disregard for each other’s lives were causes of the type of societal turmoil we’re currently seeing in America. Recently, though, I’ve realized that those things are effects, not causes. They are the effects of fear. It is the fear of those who are different, a paranoia caused by unknown races, faces, cultures, and lifestyles, that is leading to the words and actions that threaten to tear us apart.

Instead of fearing those who are different from us, I suggested we embrace the very things that make us different:

These problems will only be solved when we, a wonderfully diverse and beautifully complicated people, learn to not fear others, but instead, to find the good and the great in those who are not like us.

So if what we need is less fear, the question becomes, “How do we fear less?” Well, there is no shortcut. Several religions and philosophies wisely teach that love pushes aside all forms of fear. Love is the only thing that allows us to embrace, rather than be afraid of, our differences. Racism, fear of the “other,” and acceptance of violence are effects of a lack of love. Simply put, to get rid of fear, we need to love each other.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the type of love we feel when we see that very special someone, the one who brings knots to our stomach and dizziness to our head. No, that’s an easy kind of love. The kind of love that allows us to hold in high regard those we don’t know and aren’t familiar with is a tough kind of love, one that takes a whole lot of effort.

This love takes forcing ourselves to realize, and then focus on, the fact that beneath that skin, behind that veil, and beyond that wall is a valuable human being, one who deserves as much love and respect as we want for ourselves and our loved ones.

Again, seeing as we are taught from a young age to fear those who are different from us, thinking this way, and then acting on it, will not be easy. But it must be done if we are to become peacemakers and champions of what is just, kind, and right.

John Lennon was by no means a saint, but he should be credited with offering an extremely simple – if not easy – solution to the difficult problems we now face as Americans. In his 1973 hit song “Mind Games,” Lennon summed up what it takes to defeat the fear that currently divides us and threatens to eventually tear us apart:

Love is the answer.

Countering the Culture of Fear: Why Americans Should Embrace Unknown Faces

mixed-race

I’ve spent a lot of time recently trying to figure out why America feels like it’s on the verge of a complete breakdown. Among other things, there is a never-ending stream of violent acts, a ton of angry and hateful rhetoric, and a strong undercurrent of racism. All this negativity often feels suffocating, as if we are drowning in a wave of our worst impulses. So why are these things happening?

I used to think that racism, disdain for the “other,” and disregard for each other’s lives were causes of the type of societal turmoil we’re currently seeing in America. Recently, though, I’ve realized that those things are effects, not causes. They are the effects of fear. It is the fear of those who are different, a paranoia caused by unknown races, faces, cultures, and lifestyles, that is leading to the words and actions that threaten to tear us apart.

There are two ways in which we can respond to those who are different from us. We can welcome them with the knowledge that part of what makes humanity so amazing is the fact that we are all extremely different. Even those of us who share a skin color, or a language, or a religion, are different from each other in countless ways.

It is this appreciation for the unique ways in which we’ve been created that leads to peace, love, and the betterment of society as a whole. God knows we can use each of those right about now.

In contrast, when we react to each other’s differences with fear, trepidation, and condescension, we create an atmosphere that allows for the type of mistrust, violence, and hate that is all too rampant in America at the moment.

These problems won’t be solved by our government. They won’t be solved by continued separation of people by race, religion, and world-view. They will only be solved when we, a wonderfully diverse and beautifully complicated people, learn to not fear others, but instead, to find the good and the great in those who are not like us.