The Music Mom: Eileen Carey

Thanksgiving is finally here. With it comes the fact that most of us will be reunited with our loved ones. Unfortunately, it also means that some of us will be reunited with our not-so-loved ones. 

Now, as someone who always prefers to keep the peace, I want to remind you that there are several ways by which you can maintain a friendly, joyful environment – even when encountering those friends or family members with whom you typically don’t get along.

One of the most effective ways to keep things nice and jolly is to simply avoid certain topics at the dinner table. You might not be able to control how some folks choose to conduct themselves, but you can usually have a say regarding which items are discussed during dinner.

As you’ve probably already noticed, there are certain topics that almost always lead to either a silent tension (best case scenario) or all-out fisticuffs (worst case scenario). If you’re looking for a drama-free Thanksgiving dinner in which the turkey is your sole source of indigestion, you will definitely want to avoid discussing these topics:

Long-standing family spats

It is time to face the facts: if you’ve yet to resolve things with that very special someone after ten years of hostility, you probably aren’t going to make peace during Thanksgiving dinner. I hope you do eventually work things out, but a crowded Turkey Day table is likely not where it’ll happen. So there’s really no point in bringing up the past. Be civil. Be polite. But remember that you are there to eat a dead turkey – not beat a dead horse. 

Recent divorces, separations, or affairs

Aside from a new engagement that you know everyone approves of, your best bet is to steer clear of relationship stuff at the dinner table. The potential for bitterness or hurt feelings is too high. But if you do feel the need to discuss such recent romantic developments, please do yourself and all your fellow revelers a huge favor: avoid any and all mentions of negative events.

So what types of romantic tragedies do I mean? I’m basically talking about divorces, separations, or affairs. Even if your purpose for bringing them up is to be supportive (“I’m so sorry that things didn’t work out between you and Kevin”), just leave them alone. This is the type of topic that can lead to a sea change in the mood at the dinner table. It can also cause a public rehashing of sad events for someone you care for. 

Money

A surefire way to bring about holiday hell is to talk about how much money someone borrowed from someone else or how little someone has. The truth is that money can be a very divisive issue. We all have different amounts of it and entire families have been destroyed over it, so tread very carefully when anything financial comes up. 

Physical appearance

According to some family members, commenting on the physical appearance of others is an entirely appropriate thing to do. The problem with that is that nobody can be 100% sure how someone else is going to respond to their observations. Even if we intend a comment to be a compliment, there’s a chance it might not be interpreted that way.

Oh, and you should be ready for someone else to offer up some unsolicited thoughts regarding your appearance. Perhaps you’ve put on a bit of weight this year. Or maybe you’ve lost some. Maybe your hair looks much different – even though you know you haven’t done a single thing to it. Some folks just love to comment on these types of things, so if it comes your way, be prepared. Simply grin, bear it, and move on. 

Religion

The only time it’s ever safe to discuss religion at the dinner table is when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you and your fellow diners share beliefs. If you have any inkling of a doubt, though, avoid discussing religion at all costs. Like money, it can ruin your time together and, in some cases, even tear apart your family. 

It doesn’t really matter which religion you grew up with; if your adult religious beliefs differ from those of your family members, stay away!

Politics

I don’t really have to convince you about this one, do I? 

You will meet countless people during your life, but few will ever come close to being as important to you as your family. Typically speaking, when everyone else has come and gone, your family will still be there. It is for this reason that you should invest in strengthening your relationships with family members.

One way to do this is to make family traditions that will last a lifetime. And now, with Thanksgiving just a few days away, you have the perfect opportunity to do just that.  

Here are four reasons why everyone should create (or continue) family traditions:

1. Traditions help make new memories. 

Always remember this: certain memories can last a lifetime. This means that the traditions we enjoy with our family today can be a source of joy and comfort in the future. Even better, we can pass these special moments on to future generations.

Some other really cool things about memories is that they create bonds between family members and strengthen our minds as we get older.

My favorite thing about the memories our traditions make, though, is how they are guaranteed to last longer than any material gift we give each other. 

2. Traditions give you something to look forward to.

Every Thanksgiving I look forward to gathering around the table to see and hear those who I haven’t seen in a year. As much as I enjoy their company, I’m aware that if this type of interaction happened every week, or even every month, it would lose its luster.

Having the opportunity to be with my family every year at Thanksgiving is something I look forward to with great anticipation. These types of traditions are incredibly important events to me, so much so that I spend the good part of the fall months looking forward to our next gathering.

In a world that often feels chaotic and unsure, knowing that I will sit down next to my loved ones, break bread, and share stories brings much comfort. 

3. Traditions help families grow closer.

My personal experience with traditions has shown me that they tend to bring family members closer to each other. Even though we are now more connected than ever, even Facebook posts and other forms of social media can’t match the positive impact of engaging in a tradition with those we love.

There’s an exceptionally unique bond that forms when we routinely engage in a fun or exciting activity with the same people over time. This bond alone makes traditions well worth the time and effort. 

4. Traditions bridge the gap between generations.

As I mentioned earlier, traditions have the uncanny ability to bridge the gap between generations. When a grandfather is playing a game with his son and grandson, there is an amazing continuity happening there that might not otherwise occur. A unique bond is formed, the type that has the potential to last a lifetime. 

Traditions bring about a number of healthy experiences that are good for individuals and families. Stories are told. Emotions are shared. Bridges are built, while walls come down. In short, nothing unites family members of different generations like tried and true traditions. 

A few weeks ago I was in a store when I was bombarded with all the Christmas music I could ever hope for. The merry tunes about snow, sleds, and Santa so perfectly matched the decorations that I temporarily thought I had somehow missed Thanksgiving.

I suddenly caught myself feeling a bit sad that folks are so quick to dive into Christmas when we haven’t even experienced Thanksgiving. Case in point is the fact that the city of Raleigh held their annual Christmas parade yesterday – a full five days before Thanksgiving! 

Now don’t get me wrong: I am perhaps the biggest fan of Christmas you’ll ever meet. I absolutely adore the lights, the trees, the songs, the giving of gifts, and the time spent with loved ones. It truly is a magical time of year that I thoroughly enjoy. 

With that said, I will not allow my passion for all things Christmas to cause me to skip over the blessings of Thanksgiving. Now a mere four days away (where did this year go?), Thanksgiving is the perfect precursor to Christmas.

Whereas Christmas tends to lead to a focus on gifts and other material things, Thanksgiving is all about time spent with our loved ones. It is a very special day during which we get to enjoy each other’s company without having to deal with some of the stresses (mainly financial) that accompany Christmas. 

Yes, Christmas is coming. It’ll be here before you know it. Just like you, I can hardly wait. But for now, let’s fully embrace the joy that is headed our way this Thursday.

This year, I hope you’ll join me as I slow down and smell the turkey. 

 

Being a musician can mean several different things. For some, it’s a full-time studio gig. For others, it’s a career filled with songwriting. The most iconic image of a musician, however, is that of the hardened road warrior, the travel-weary performer who is gone for weeks at a time, conquering a new city each and every night.

While this is true sometimes, most musicians will admit that life on the road is far more grueling than it appears. They’ll also acknowledge that without the support of those back home, it is incredibly easy to burn out. Life goes on at home – even when we musicians are not there. As with pretty much any career, we musicians have to strike a balance between work and home.

Here are four ways to maintain healthy relationships with your family and friends while you are on the road. 

Stay in touch – often! 

This sounds ridiculously obvious, but the most effective way to stay connected with your folks back home is to talk with them on a frequent basis. Yes, you are busy. Between gigs, interviews, and much needed rest, you have your hands full while on the road. But there is ALWAYS time during the day to make a quick call or send a thoughtful text.

With smartphones and such, instant (and more meaningful) communication is easier than ever. Don’t settle for mere texts when FaceTime and Skype are options. Show your loved ones where you are and what you are doing. This will make it feel as though you are shortening the distance between you. 

Reunite, and it’ll feel so good

One of the best things about touring is that it gives you a golden opportunity to catch up with friends and family who you might not otherwise see. Sometimes it takes a bit of planning, but the more of the world you visit, the better chance you have to reconnect with a distant loved one. 

Another suggestion is to arrange for those who are exceptionally close to you to meet you on the road. I know plenty of musicians who never go more than two weeks without seeing their spouses or children. Sometimes you have to get creative, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Keep an eye out for discounted flights. If you book your tour way in advance, you’ll increase your chances of having that very special road reunion.

Plan ahead so you don’t miss important dates

This one is important. There are certain dates that you simply do not want to miss. Do everything you can to avoid missing birthdays, anniversaries, and major holidays. These days mean a lot to your family and friends, so you being home for them says a lot about your priorities. 

There’s really no reason not to plan around these particular days if you give yourself enough time. If you think about it, touring properly includes at least a few months of promo time anyway. So schedule your tours with one eye on those special days when you really should be at home. 

Truly be home when you’re there

One of the more eye-opening scenes in the biopic I Walk the Line has Johnny Cash sitting in his armchair for days after returning from the road. His wife is frustrated and angry, and deservedly so. My advice to you: do NOT be that guy. If you are going to be home, really be home.

You need to put aside all the good and bad things you just encountered on the road so that you can be fully present. Don’t disconnect yourself from your family. Just as with any other job, the ability to leave work at work is absolutely essential to a healthy and productive home life. 

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”