Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Magical Moment 55, "Free to Chat"

My older sister, Regina, and I have a special bond. We’re close in age and grew up as each other’s built-in-best-friend and playmate. My mother dressed us in matching outfits and we often were mistaken for twins. We played barbies in the basement, pioneer girls outside, board games at the kitchen table, and Regina made up a game called, queen and slave (I always had to be the slave, but I was ok with it). At Christmas, we set up an ornament-making factory downstairs where we created decorations with orange juice cans, yarn, glitter, and cut up Hallmark cards. We spent Sunday mornings giggling uncontrollably in church, eventually having to be separated after getting the evil eye from our mom. Yes, we fought like any siblings. I have a scratch on my chin in my 2nd grade school picture to prove it, but we were always there for each other.

We remember the really “old days,” living in my grandparents basement, playing with Grandma’s big blue curlers under the dining room table, finding a snake in our parents closet, and being babysat by Grandpa and Stan, the neighbor. We remember the kinda “old days,” when our parents were extremely strict, dad didn’t vacuum, and mom was exhausted from working and trying to keep up with us. Of course, by the time our little sister, Erica, arrived, the parents had mellowed out and Regina and I were grown and out of the house before she hit her teens. Our history has created a special relationship of closeness, honesty, support, and friendship.

Even though we haven’t lived in the same state for 7 years, we’re as close as we ever were. We talk on the phone every day and text about a billion times a day. I know I can ask her for any favor, and she’ll blindly oblige. We listen to each other drone on and on about our problems and do our best to offer advice, knowing we’re not really qualified to do so.

Our new goal is to hold each other accountable to eating healthy. We made a rule to tell the other everything we eat, like weight watchers. Since that can be a little taxing for me, who is not an expert texter (ooh, that’s a lot of “x”s), we discovered a new plan. Yahoo chat. We leave our yahoo chat window open all day long and can type anything anytime, anywhere (thanks to internet on phones). It’s the closest thing I have to someone else being in my house. I’m gonna take a bubble bath, I tell Gina about it. I don’t know what I’m gonna eat for supper, I just type a little message to Gina. I have to run errands, tell Gina. I’m working on my computer and up pops a little message from Gina. All throughout the day, we’re free to chat to each other. It’s the simplest thing, and so very comforting to know that the other is right there on the other side of our computer.

I explained all that to connect to this metephor, cheesy as it may be. But it is even more simple to chat with God. The line is always open. You can tell Him the most menial things about your day. You can ask His advice on things you don’t think anyone else will care about. You can tell Him you’re bored, frustrated, sad, nervous, or that you regret eating that last handful of Doritos. And you don’t even have to put in the effort of typing. Or talking. You can just think it and He hears. He is always free to chat. He never sleeps. He never says, "be right back." He never has to go to work. He is never not-available. Technology is wonderful, but it doesn’t come close to matching the measures that God has put in place since the dawn of time to be close to His children.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Magical Moment 54, "The Creation of a Song"

Like painting a work of art, writing a book, or constructing a house, there is a process in creating a song. Everyone does it a little bit different, but this is how I do it.

First, an idea will hit me. It may be a word, a sentence, or an idea that needs to articulated into a rhyme later. I have about a million of them written down in a spiral notebook and a small pad I keep in my purse for just that reason. Some get written into songs, others will remain in that notebook for all time. I've found the ones that become the best songs in the end, are the ones that seem to overflow onto paper without me even thinking about it. Or when I can’t move my pen fast enough to get the words down. All of my songs are personal for some reason. Not that I’ve personally experienced what I describe in all of my songs, but they’re personally inspired in some way, shape, or form.

I try to put music with the lyrics as I write. I find that if I do lyrics and music separate, the lyrics almost always have to be adjusted to fit the music later. I write with either a piano or guitar. Sometimes both. Because I know the piano better, I find I can be more creative and risky than with guitar.

Usually I end up with a verse, chorus, verse, bridge song, but sometimes it doesn’t turn out that nice and neat and there is no chorus, just my thoughts set to music. Once I sent a no-chorus song into an evaluator and they wrote back the criticism, “This song is just a poem set to music.” I thought, Thank you, even though they meant it in a bad way. But I know my style is not everyone’s favorite. I’ve written some sad and emotional songs. I believe songs are thoughts, set to music. You can’t edit your thoughts, so why should I edit my songs to make other people feel better about them? After all, they’re my thoughts and my songs. Even the Psalmist wrote verses of pain and sorrow (Ps 22: 1-2 “…I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.”).

Of course, a song for me is not complete until I have musically arranged it and recorded it on some format. I can’t bear to leave a song with only a skeleton outline of melody and chords. Whether I simply record in Garage Band with a bass, drums, piano, and voice, or go all out in Pro Tools with sound effects and background vocals, I feel I must get something down so that others can hear it the way I hear it in my head. No song I’ve ever written or recorded has ever been “finished.” I am constantly tweaking, adjusting, re-wording, and re-recording. It can be a bit of a frustration because I hate moving onto something new without finishing the old.

So I guess for me the creation of a song is an on-going process. The day I ever say, “This song is complete, it’s perfect” is the day you better listen to that song, because it would be a good one. Until then, I’ll just continue with the process. The frustration of never feeling finished is nothing compared to hearing the handiwork of my little “works in progress.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Magical Moment 53, "The Cure for the Blues, the Blues!"

I spent my weekend googling, practicing, and memorizing blues standards. Although I have a repertoire full of jazz and boogie-woogie, I have only a couple genuine blues songs and next week I’m booked playing an entire blues set for hour and a half straight. I’ll be impressed if I keep the crowd entertained that long, considering blues is the same 3 chords played in the same format over and over again.

I began with the basics, Ray Charles, Jimmy Rogers, Ottis Redding, even some Bo Diddley. And soon my fears of monotony were put at ease when I discovered the full spectrum of the blues genre. I even found several new lines to add to my “greatest lyrics ever” list:

“If you don’t think you’ll come home soon, I’m gonna drown in my own tears” -Ray Charles
“You aint nothing but a hound dog, been snoopin round my door. You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feedjya no mo.” –Etta James
“Put you down in a ditch with a great long spade.
Wish to God that you hadn't never been made.” –Eddie James House Jr.

These are miserably sad lyrics, but I must admit that I smiled when I heard them. I know the blues are meant to be heart-wrenching, but now I know why so many people love to play and listen to them. The emotion, the freedom of musical improvisation, and the driving rhythm can cause even the most musically illiterate person to stomp their foot, bob their head, smile, or cry.

But I find it even more ironic, that such melancholy lyrics and “tear-in-my beer” melodies make me so happy and eager to learn and play more. I always felt the same way about those old classic country songs, the cheatin’ and leavin’ ones. The real “twangy” ones as my mother would say. I always thought, the sadder the better.

I think the 2 genres are related, 2nd or 3rd cousins I’d say. After all, Ray Charles recorded an entire country album. Willie Nelson recorded several of Ray Charles’ songs. Elvis, who was first a country and Gospel artist, derived his mainstream brand of rock ‘n roll from the early blues hits, “That’s Alright, Mamma” and “You Ain’t Nothin But a Hound Dog.” Bob Wills and the Texas Play Boys recorded, “Kansas City,” a straight up 12-bar blues song. The list goes on.

So the next time I feel a bit “blue,” maybe I’ll put some blues on and sing my heart out. Because for me, one truth will always remain the same when it comes to good song writing. There is just something about a really sad song that makes me so happy.

"Hound Dog" by Etta James

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Magical Moment 52, "A Mass-ively Wrong Stereotype"

Mass transportation in this area can be a horrible experience. The buses are rarely on time, the drivers are usually cranky, and the other passengers are either rude, smelly, or a little creepy. And anyone can completely transform into the Hulk if all the unspoken “mass-transit courtesy” rules are not followed. I’ve seen drivers throw tantrums like 2-year olds when a tourist doesn’t pay with exact change. I’ve seen passengers practically break out into a fistfight because the reading light was on and no one was reading. I even saw a bus driver stop the bus, get up from his drivers seat, walk back to a seated passenger, and yell at them for accidently hitting the stop button. And it doesn’t end with the buses. The subways have their rules too. When you get on, you go to the back or middle to make room for the next group boarding. You don’t talk to anyone, or look at anyone unless you want to get hit on or start a fight. Overall, the experience can be cold and intimidating.

I began to feel jaded, calloused from all the rude and icy behavior. In Nebraska and North Carolina, there is a level of hospitality and politeness I had apparently taken for granted. And because I had grown tired of strangers telling me, “Well clearly, you’re not from around here,” I decided maybe I would just go with the flow and become one of them. No more thanking the driver and wishing him a good night on my way off the bus. No more greeting the passenger who took their seat next to me. And no more “bless you” when they sneezed.

I was even more determined to do this after I saw a giant, angry, Russian bus driver scream at a mentally-challenged passenger because his bus ticket was slightly torn. And with all the dozens of people on the bus and waiting to get on the bus, no one stepped in to defend him. It was actually one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever seen.

I told my sister that story as I stood at the bus stop, waiting for yet another bus to take me into the city. I ranted about how everyone here is rude and awful. No sooner did the words leave my mouth than the bus pulled up. As I got on board I was greeted by a charming, polite driver who didn’t rush me or didn’t jerk the bus forward, knocking me off my feet while I was still walking to my seat. I was impressed. Then at the next stop, a woman and her 3 young kids boarded the bus and she realized she was short on bus fare. Rather than throwing them off the bus, he smiled and winked, “I gotcha covered, take a seat.” And at the last stop, he said goodbye to everyone as we filed off the bus one by one, wishing us all good day and take care. I texted my sister immediately and told her I had to eat my words because a driver just proved me wrong.

I guess that’s the thing about grouping everyone into the same category. You can’t, because they don’t all belong there. It’s the same with any group of people and any stereotype. Republicans, Democrats, men, women, race, or religion... I was reminded to look at the individual, not the group. What a simple reminder that God does the same with us. After all, humans are generally horrible people, aren’t we? But He looks at the individual. And thank goodness. I’ll do my best to offer the same respect to others.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Magical Moment 51, "Jungle of Stone"

I walked through a jungle made of stone
With steal mountains high as I could see.
I walked through the jungle all alone
Though predators had their eye on me.

If unprovoked, they won’t attack
So calm I must remain.
I look to the front, not the side or back
Traveling through rough terrain.

A snake, a tiger, creatures unknown,
Spiders, lizards, and bears
Are lurking about this jungle of stone
So I must pass through with care.

My feet are blistered, my muscles are sore
I’m dirty, scared, and tired.
I fear that I can walk no more
But if I stop, I’ll surely expire.

I look up above and what’s that I see?
The sun is peeking through,
High above the cement canopy
I don’t have much left to do.

A few more steps and I’ll be safe
Inside my secure, warm home.
A few more steps, I’ve made it now.
Out of this jungle of stone.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Magical Moment 50, "A Moment of Pride"

My little sister is officially a grown up and officially in the Air Force. She just graduated Air Force Tech School and before that, the 8 grueling weeks of basic training. Her entire family is beaming with pride today as we stare at the picture of her in the neatly tailored dress uniform and blue beret.

People say that the military forces you to grow up and although I have seen many military personnel who will never grow up, I think the statement is true for Erica. It was true for me as well. I understand the feeling of pride and accomplishment, and doing something so rare among your circle of friends who are working as managers in the mall, handling fast food, or don’t know what they’re going to do yet. Wasn’t it only a few years ago we were the same?

During my senior year of high school, the thought never entered my mind, but a year and a half later there I was. In ROTC, and then airborne school, where the military became real to me for the first time. Airborne school was the first experience I had doing the Army thing 24 hours a day. Before that, it was only one class and lab a week. Not to mention, I was 20, naïve, painfully shy, and everything around me scared me. You think I get shy and nervous now? I was a basket case back then. Needless to say I was absolutely terrified
at the thought of jumping out of airplanes. In addition, it was the first time UNL sent only females to Airborne school that year and I was the first of the 3 to go. Unfortunately, many of the upper class, male cadets made it clear that they hated the idea of me going, claiming it would be “wasted training” (ironic, considering I was the only one who ended up at Ft Bragg to ever use the training). One cadet even said he hoped I broke my leg while I was there. Classy, I know, but it totally got into my head. I was completely psyched out when they told me the horror stories of how difficult the runs were and how many people got sent home because they couldn’t hack the runs. As a result, I over-trained and ran 6 miles, 5 days a week, for several months. While I was in Airborne school, I was probably one of the most cautious, aware, prepared, and attentive soldiers in the entire school.

Of course, now that I’ve made it through and went on to Fort Bragg to continue to jump, I look back at those who said I couldn’t do it, roll my eyes, and think, what a bunch of idiots. It’s too bad that I doubted myself to that extent. I was more afraid of failing a run, or something simple that would keep me from graduation and having to face all my non-believers, than I was afraid of actually jumping out of the airplane. I know thousands of people complete Airborne school every year, but to me, at that time in my life, it was one of the most difficult journeys I ever went through. And because of that, it was one of the proudest moments of my life when I graduated and got my wings pinned on.

Someone’s personal journey can never be judged by anyone else, even if they’ve gone through something similar. Because everyone’s circumstances are different and unique. I know this journey was difficult for Erica. I’m sure I don’t know how difficult, but I can appreciate the struggle, the sadness, the fear, the accomplishment, the courage, and the pride. I hope she, like her family, is beaming with happiness and pride today and takes a moment to realize she is capable of far more than she ever thought possible.

*Top, Erica on graduation day
*Below, my 5th jump at Airborne School

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Magical Moment 49, "A Well Earned Prize"

My puppy, Joy, and I walked outside on a windy, spring evening. Still clumsy and a poor judge of distance, Joy often stumbles and trips over herself. Walking downstairs sometimes causes her to tumble head over feet, exposing her pink, puppy tummy while she lets out a startled yelp.

Now that spring is here and the critters of the neighborhood are finding the courage to emerge from the safety and warmth of their homes, Joy is discovering that it might be fun to chase and bark at squirrels and birds. Which she does quite well now. I don’t mind it though. She rummaged through the leaves on the ground with her nose pressed deep in the grass and dirt, smelling all the new scents that now filled her world since the snow disappeared. Soon she found something that fascinated and amazed her on such a level, she had to have it. She must not let this treasure get away. She would carry it and protect it with her life. It was a big stick.

She clamped her teeth around the stick only to find that the weight was uneven on either side and she couldn’t carry her trophy. She re-adjusted, gripping only one end this time, and dragged it back towards the house. I thought about the mess it would make inside the apartment when she chewed it to bits and left a pile of crumbled bark on my rug, but I couldn’t bear to burst her bubble. So I watched as she lugged it up the stairs, step by step, losing hold of it several times but determined to make it all the way with her prize. Her awkward clumsiness and small size compared to the large branch made me laugh as I watched her struggle upstairs.

Once she victoriously reached her destination, she curled up in her corner and began to chew. She wanted it, she worked for it, she got it. I understand. So I let her chew it. I’ll vacuum later.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Magical Moment 48, "A Rain Haiku"

Wet, dark came the rain.
Just when I thought it would cease,
The rain starts again.

Tears fall. Hope fading.
There! The sun through angry clouds.
The trick is waiting!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Magical Moment 47, "My Albums of Memories"

When we moved from our 4-bedroom house with storage space, closets, washer/dryer, yard, and cabinets into a tiny apartment with none of the above, I had to get rid of a lot of stuff. I sorted through, item by item, letting go of things I kept with me for years for no real reason. One of the more difficult things to say farewell to was over half of my record collection. All of my music is now on my computer and ipod and I realized that I scarcely, if ever, listened to records anymore. Furthermore, many of them were scratched or broken and they take up a lot of room.

While doing housework yesterday, I decided to dig out and listen to the records that “made the cut.” I soon found it very interesting that those who know me the best could probably guess every single album I kept. Because they’re my influences, they’ve become part of who I am, and each one holds a memory that is to me, as clear and vivid as a color photograph.

First I listened to my favorite record, autographed by the man himself, Randy Travis (pause for swooning). Charlie Rich, Johnny Horton, and the Statler Brothers all represent my undying love for classic country. My family will tell you, I probably know more useless trivia about classic country songs and artists than anyone else – old or young (thanks to Rick Jackson’s Country Hall of Fame radio show!).

I’ve got SSG Barry Sadler singing the Ballad of the Green Beret, among other military focused songs. I purchased this my first year in ROTC as a wide-eyed, idealistic cadet burning with an obsessive fire for all things military.

I found the “Terms of Endearment” soundtrack, which I’ve mentioned several times that both my grandparents were in the movie. Shirley McClain even scowled at my grandpa, thank you very much.
I’ve got My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and Fiddler on the Roof. Still love musicals. I’ve got Nat King Cole, The Best of Glenn Miller, Elvis, Gershwin, Sinatra, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington. Thanks for teaching me those standards. They sure got me a lot of tips in my day.

Before I played each one, I cleaned it with a soft cloth and some very old record cleaner I thought I had trashed years ago. Goodness knows the last time they were wiped down properly. I put each one back in their cardboard case with care and they’re now displayed for all to see in a prominent position on my living room bookshelf.

I wished I could go to Wal-Mart and by a frame so that I could nail them to the wall like my other memories. Or that I could chronilogically organize them and stuff them into a leather bound book for people to look through when they come over. But it felt good to get the dust off them and remember why I bought them, why I kept them, and why I still listen to them. I hope I never forget. After all, that’s why we have albums, to remember.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Magical Moment 46, "How I Got a Free 8 x 10"

I loved my wedding day. It was filled with beautiful details that represented Eddie and I from the flowers to the guests to the location. I’ve held off writing about my wedding day because although it’s clearly a huge part of who I am, I don’t want it to come off sounding cliché or cheesy. So rather than writing about the moment we “became husband and wife,” or said our vows, or had our first dance as a married couple, I’ll tell you the story of how we got a free 8 x 10 wedding photo.

Let me start by explaining some of the wedding planning. We had 4 months to plan the whole thing. It would take place in July while I was on mid-tour leave from the Army Soldier Show. Eddie would take leave as well from Fort Bragg, although he still had to be kind of sneaky about it (Read the Frog and the Owl Valentines Day, Moment 10). In short, the Army has a policy against fraternization and we were breaking it by getting married. It was a bit of a juggling act. Eddie was in North Carolina, I was all over the United States, and the wedding would take place in Nebraska. Not to mention, Eddie’s whole family lives in Texas and my sister and wedding planner lived in Hawaii. She offered to put the whole thing together since every second of my time was occupied by the Soldier Show. I trusted her completely and she didn’t let me down.

I wanted to keep it small and beautiful. We had about 20 guests – siblings, parents, and grandparents only (and my best friend Deb, who I just call a sibling). It took place at Pioneers Park in Lincoln, NE, a gorgeous park where I grew up having fond family memories. It’s also where I had my graduation/commissioning party. I always knew I wanted to get married there. My sister and Eddie hunted the globe high and low to find the flowers I wanted, lilacs. We had a mix of silk and real flowers as lilacs are impossible to find in July.

The bridesmaids wore whatever dress they wanted (they all have impeccable taste). The groomsmen wore whatever suit they had in their closet. Eddie wore a killer tux and cowboy boots picked out by my mother (I also trust her completely). And I wore a simple, elegant dress that I found at a store in a Virginia mall the one day I had off from the show (I was dropped off and picked up by a government van and had only 2 hours to tear through the entire mall to find a dress). I found my shoes at Macy’s and amazingly enough, they cost more than the dress. Deb sang a gorgeous song, “Lullaby” by the Dixie Chicks, as I walked down the aisle with my dad. We had the reception at Lee’s, where I used to play the piano in college, and we ate apple pie instead of wedding cake.

Eddie’s family traveled up from Texas. My childhood pastor, long time family friend, and role model, Pastor Brooks, drove from Iowa to officiate the ceremony. Every detail of the day was exactly what I wanted. What I dreamed about.

The ceremony was of course beautiful and emotional. I didn’t feel nervous at all. I felt amazing. Beautiful. Confident. Eddie looked nervous. But soon all the elements of the day came together; family, the gorgeous day, the pond behind us, my pretty shoes, the music playing, walking arm and arm with my dad then joining hands with Eddie. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house...or park.

This included our photographer, Frank Ekeler, who approached me after the ceremony, still slightly choked up. “I have a policy that if any wedding makes me cry, I throw in a free 8 x 10.” Our wedding was perfect, beautiful, genuine, original, and meaningful. And that’s how I got a free 8 x 10.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Magical Moment 45, "Pearls from Joanna"

How is it that I know so many things in my head, but when it comes to applying them in life, I suddenly forget them, don’t believe them, or just ignore them? It isn’t until someone or something completely unexpected comes along and puts them in a different perspective – a way I can relate to – that the light bulb comes on. Two plus two equals four.

Yesterday, I went to a musical theatre workshop taught by Joanna Gleason, an accomplished TV, movie, and theatre actress. I had no idea what to expect and suddenly became very nervous when I arrived and the other students were buzzing about how star struck they would be when she entered. Because, to be totally honest, I wasn’t exactly sure who she was. I’m from Nebraska, okay? Sometimes it’s like living under a rock. In addition, I had never heard most of the songs that the other students brought to work on. The criteria said to bring two Broadway standards. To me, that means Cats, Evita, or Chicago. Again people, Nebraska…rock…you understand.

So I sat waiting, suddenly terrified in my folding chair, shaking behind my binder when Joanna walked in. Thankfully, I immediately recognized her (among other, more complex roles, she plays the lush mother in The Wedding Planner with J-lo).

She immediately put the entire class at ease with her authoritative, but approachable demeanor. I was amazed at her insight and ability to verbalize ideas in such an intellectual yet understandable way. I found myself soaking in every word she spoke. She was, of course beautiful, tall, thin, dark hair, creamy light skin, and casually yet stylishly dressed. Her presence suddenly made the tiny classroom into an atmosphere of comfort, honesty, education, and safety.

If you’ve read any of this blog, you know that I struggle with stage fright, nervousness, and generally worrying myself into a physically sick and twisted mess before a performance of any kind. I thought that might be a concern to address when she opened the class up for Q and A. That’s when she let so many jewels of wisdom fly out of her mouth, I could barely write them down fast enough.

One thing she said was, “You have a 50/50 chance of getting any job you try out for.” At first I didn’t understand what that meant, but that just shows you how wrapped up I get in comparing myself to others. It’s either gonna be a yes, or a no. It’s that simple. So I don’t need to think about the 20 other people who applied for the same gig and stress myself out wondering where I might rank among them. What a stunningly simple way to make me understand something that I should already know.

As we went on with the class, each person singing their song, she went through with an amazingly accurate perceptiveness about what that performer needed to hear and learn. She knew what key the song should be sung in. She knew what insecurities we were hiding behind. She knew the difference between genuine emotion and acting. In between performances, she gave her views on family, friends, and her distain for the word “like.” And long after I would have called it quits if I were her, she was still going strong. Flowing with a wealth of experience, advice, and tools that connected individually with each student.

When I squeaked out the first line of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” she stopped me cold, telling me I sounded like a 5 year old girl. Sensing that she wouldn’t put up with my usual protests of not being able to use my belt voice for more than a note or two, and then being scolded for accidently saying “like,” I decided to just go for it. Suddenly, I found myself on the second verse, the second chorus, the tag, finished! I sang the whole song using my belt voice. I have NEVER done that before. I was completely stunned, amazed, grateful, hopeful. That’s when she said something else, “People type cast you. You’re the girl who sings quiet and pretty, but you have a big voice.” She encouraged me to find a vocal trainer to help me learn proper technique.

When the class ended, a few students stayed after to network, meet, and congratulate each other on our individual successes during the class. I left that day feeling optimistic and triumphant. I thought a victory walk through Central Park might be in order where I could digest everything that had been taught and learned that day. I felt things were working out, moving just as they should. I felt this new life was slowly starting to click for me. I felt that I was growing, like, as a musician, a performer, and a person. I mean – growing AS a musician, performer, and person. Another pearl from Joanna.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Magical Moment 44, "A Turn of Events"

Last night, I expected to perform a song in a crowded banquet hall for a video taped tribute to Haiti to be later aired on PBS. It didn’t quite turn out that way.

In preparation for the evening, I practiced for 2 days singing and playing the song, “Imagine” by John Lennon. I wanted the beauty of the original song, but with a unique flare to the arrangement. I tried on every dress and skirt ensemble in my closet trying to match the definition of the attire for the evening – Elegant, Comfortable. (???!!!?) I finally decided on a simple, but sophisticated chocolate brown dress, a chunky necklace, and Ninewest strappy heels (which later tried to kill me that night as I got lost in Time Square heading back to Port Authority).

However, when I arrived at the show, the woman in charge met me with some bad news. The host backed out at the last second and the show would be canceled, but dinner would be served to whoever chose to stay. Although disappointed, I volunteered to play while people ate. After all, I hated to waste a bus ride and I did practice that song all day. I might as well get some exposure.

The photographer who was hired for the event also decided to stay. He graciously took photos for me and offered to edit and send them to me for free. I was thrilled because my website is a bit sad right now and I could use some decent photos for it. We talked on and off all night and I was grateful to have made a friend.

I spent the next hour pulling songs out of my memory that the dwindling crowd might find entertaining. I played every jazz standard and Billy Joel song I could recall without having my list to choose from or my fake book of chords. I ended up playing almost exclusively to a lady who worked there. She clapped after every song and I could feel that she was only person in the room studying me as I played. Each time I looked up, I saw her smile and nod her head at me. I was happy to have at least one fan.

At the end of the night, my “fan” and I talked for a long time and exchanged information. She told me she was going to make all her friends listen to my CD and I just smiled and thanked her. The woman in charge decided to pay me double for the night, which I happily accepted but didn’t expect. And after griping just the other day about how I had so few friends who lived in the city, I made one last night in the photographer! So the night didn’t go as planned, but I actually think it turned out better.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Magical Moment 43, "Harry Will Be Home"

She gently knocked on the door, unsure of what to expect on her first day of work. It was only for a few hours, but the responsibility was great and she hoped to get along well and make a good first impression.
“Come in,” she heard an older lady’s shaky voice call. Slowly she opened the door, first poking in her head then cautiously entering. She smiled warmly at the old lady and in her happiest, most energetic voice she said, “Hello! It’s nice to meet you. You have a lovely home.”

Suddenly, she was terribly relieved that the first encounter had gone well. What a sweet old lady, talkative and active. They found plenty to keep them busy that afternoon. First they walked down the block to a garage sale. Then the old lady explained her collection of thimbles – one from every place she and Harry visited in their 63 years of marriage. They even played a hand of cards at the kitchen table.
“Well ma’am,” she began, “Why don’t you take your medication and I’ll make us some supper?”

The old lady nodded in agreement and in a short while, they were enjoying a simple meal of spaghetti and bread and butter while discussing the weather and what might be a good supper for tomorrow. Feeling quite proud that this first day had gone so well, she began to clear the table and putting the leftover food into tupperware and ziplocs.“Oh dear,” the old lady said with some worry in her voice, “Make sure you leave some out for Harry. He’ll be home soon.”

A chill ran up her arm. She froze at the kitchen sink, staring back at the old lady, unsure of how to react. “Uh…ok. I’ll leave it right here on the counter.” She watched the old lady walk into the living room, sit on the couch, and turn on the six o’ clock news.
“I don’t know what’s keeping him,” she said as she turned up the volume, “He’s usually home to watch the news with me. It must be the traffic.”

Suddenly tears formed in her eyes and a lump hung in her throat as she scooped the last of the spaghetti into the container and sealed the lid. She cleaned the rest of the kitchen, tidied the living room, and set out the medications for the next morning. After the old lady had gone to bed, she put the remainder of the spaghetti into the refrigerator and left a note for the morning worker that the spaghetti might be good for tomorrow’s lunch.

She drove home with no radio on that night, thinking about the old lady and Harry. She wondered what kind of world the lady lived in now. Suddenly she was very thankful for everything in her life and the moment she walked in the door of her home, she hugged her husband for a long time.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Magical Moment 42, "An Air Defense Coincidence"

Things like grocery shopping, laundry, and eating are big disruptions of my day. I complete them in as little time possible so that I can get back to finishing whatever outlandish goal I’ve set for myself that day. They’re all distractions until I can get back to my real life of music.

It’s like my last year in the Army when I really began to set my sights on a music career. Instead of eating at lunch, I would run to my car and speed all the way home. Once I was home, I would spend 20 minutes or so frantically recording one of my songs, then get in the car and speed all the way back to work. Later I would grab some chips and a soda out of the vending machine. Since I’ve moved here, I’ve basically had a one-track mind. Everything that’s not music related is a distraction, even a hindrance.

I tore through the grocery store the other day, stalking up on bare essentials (Lean Cuisines, cereal, and eggs) so I wouldn’t have to come back to that awful place for as long as possible. At the check out, I hung all the filled plastic bags up and down my arms so I wouldn’t have to waste time taking a cart back inside. As I sped walked to my car, out of my left ear, I heard the words “Air Defense Artillery.” That happened to be my branch in the Army. In fact, I was the first female ADA officer to ever be stationed at Fort Bragg, NC in 3-4 ADA. So I stopped dead in my tracks and turned towards the man who said it. He was wearing a Vet baseball cap and talking to another older woman. “I was Air Defense too!” I said, accidently interrupting the lady out of disbelief and excitement. He looked at me in surprise. And as if we were old Army buddies, we began to swap our stories.

And although the plastic bag with the gallon of milk was nearly breaking my fingers off, and although I might not finish my goal of recording a promotional video to put on my sellaband website, I stood there and talked with him for a long time. And I enjoyed it. Sometimes a one-track mind needs a distraction and sometimes the smallest coincidences can be the appreciated the most.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Magical Moment 41, "Spring, is that you?"

I don’t remember what the ground hog said in February. There's one in Punxsutawney and one on Long Island and they often disagree. I know there are branches, even entire trees still laid across the sidewalk and residents without power from the storm last weekend. But, I think spring might be here today. Today is the first day I’ve ever taken my dog, Joy, outside without my big, heavy black coat. It’s the first day since I’ve moved here that I feel like the sky is blue, the sun is shining, and the birds are chirping.

It’s difficult moving to a brand new area, especially New York City, in the freezing cold. I’ve only known the city covered in snow or in bitterly cold temperatures. I’ve only walked its’ streets while shivering uncontrollably. I’ve only worn my “night-out-best” outfits covered with a bulky coat and hair-flattening hat.

I’m eager to visit the city and see it the way it’s meant to be seen; festivals, Central Park, the Zoo, and I’m really excited to go on a running tour of the city. The shopping, the museums, the ferries – all better when you’re not trying to keep hypothermia from setting in.
Today is the picture of spring. I just hope the picture lasts!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Magical Moment 40, "Another Train"

Last summer, I was in my hometown of Lincoln, NE eating lunch with my mother and grandma at the Lincoln Foundation Garden – a cozy downtown garden square where during the summer, local artist perform at lunch hour. Employees pack a brown bag lunch and emerge from their offices in suits and skirts to enjoy the music and scenery. It’s also where my mom used to take my older sister and I after swimming lessons at the YWCA and the library to buy us rainbow popcorn when we were little girls.

That particular day, we were in for a treat. A charming acapella group called the Baby Needs Shoes Trio was performing energetic renditions of the Andrew Sisters songs as well as some quirky, comedic songs about the ups and downs of womanhood, making the audience smile and keeping us happily entertained. They began a slower, more serious song and it soon caught my attention. In fact, I suddenly hung on every word and could not take my eyes off them.

They were slightly older ladies, one even made several mentions of her granddaughter. They were all in matching costumes and it was very apparent how much thought and effort went into their hours of practice. I had a feeling the song was special and personal to each of them and they portrayed that emotion to the audience. The song is now special and personal to me as well. The chorus gave me chills,
There's another train, there always is
Maybe the next one is yours
Get up and climb aboard another train
It may be because I've always had a fascination with train songs or maybe because the acapella harmonies cast an enchanting spell over the audience, suddenly hushed with attentiveness. But something made me systematically think about all the women in my life and how this song might mean something special to them as well.

First I thought about my Grandma V., sitting next to me. I probably inherited much of my stubbornness and passion for music from her. I certainly got her incredibly detailed ear for music. She’s the only other person I know who hears those little things in a song that no one else pays any attention to. I thought about how she had to unexpectedly start again in her life with five children to raise. Independent and strong, she didn’t allow herself to stay down. In a situation when many give up, she “climbed aboard another train,” carried on, and still pursues her passion for music, art, and poetry while keeping her family at the forefront of her priorities.

My Grandma D. experienced the worst kind of pain imaginable. Twice. Losing a loved one can paralyze people for the rest of their lives. But not my grandma. She is still the glue that holds her family together. The reason we have happy Christmases and Sunday picnics. Her house will always feel like a home as long as she is there. And in her late 60s, she fulfilled her life-long dream and learned how to play the piano. I couldn’t be more proud.

My mother, who spent the last 28 years raising her 3 daughters and only working factory jobs when necessary, set a goal for herself. She found a career field she loved, senior medical care, and took it a step further earning her CNA license. With nearly 30 years since her last day in school, she completed the course, top in her class and is most certainly one of the best employees at her new job.

My older sister, my role model, and playmate since the day I was born, is watching her train ride away without her on it. Experiencing a wound so deep can cause people to give up. But she is picking up the pieces, fighting for the betterment of her and her children’s lives. With mountains of potential, I know she will find the opportunity and the train meant for her, and with commitment and support, she can accomplish anything.

My little sister, so young with thousands of railroad tracks laid out before her spanning all directions and her pick of trains to board. Any road is open for the choosing and it is my earnest prayer than she never passes up a presented opportunity or has any regrets about her chosen path.

I thought about my own path, how my mind tells me I missed my chance or I’m starting too late or that time is a tickin’ and I’m running behind everyone else. I didn’t know much about the ladies on that stage, but I had the feeling they didn’t start their group in their 20s. They worked hard, saw an opportunity, and made it work. It is never too late to fulfill a dream. There is always another train. Maybe the next one is YOURS. All you have to do is climb aboard.

**Click here to hear a recording by the Poozies. Select "Another Train" in the right hand box.

“Another Train” by Pete Morton

The beginning is now and will always be
You say you lost your chance, then fate brought you defeat
but that means nothing, you look so sad
You've been listening to those who say you missed your chance

There's another train, there always is
Maybe the next one is yours
Get up and climb aboard another train

You feel you're done there's no such thing
although you're standing on your own your own breath is king
The beginning is now don't turn around
Regrets of bad mistakes will only drain you

There's another train, there always is
Maybe the next one is yours
Get up and climb aboard another train

We crawl in the dark sometimes and think too much
Then we fill our heads with crazy things that only break our hearts
and I know you've seen what the earth can do
When it's dragging down another load of worrisome fools

There's another train, there always is
Maybe the next one is yours
Get up and climb aboard another train

I know it's hard when you feel confused
You can crown yourself with fear now you feel you cannot move
You're building worlds that don't exist
Imagination plays the worst tricks

There's another train, there always is
Maybe the next one is yours
Get up and climb aboard another train

Monday, March 15, 2010

Magical Moment 39, "Belt It"

I've started the process to complete a lifelong dream. I know it will be a long time before it's finished, as well as challenging and expensive. I am recording an album. I have dozens of my songs recorded on my Mac with me playing the part of every instrument on my midi keyboard, but I know that if I want this album to be a true success, it must be the highest level of professional.

Because the average cost of recording a full length album at the industry standard is on average about $30,000, my first step is obviously to raise funds. Thankfully, I was introduced to a website ( where people from all over the world can search artists who they believe have true potential and can support them financially. I have no romantic ideas about how this will work. I know years may pass before I reach my financial goal and even after it is reached, I know that a CD release is a gamble. But I’m optimistic. So many doors have been opened to lead me to this point and I truly believe this is a path I can and should walk.

I have begun to record my first single on my first album, “Sick and Tired.” It seems to be a favorite among those who have heard my music. Because my first time in a real recording studio was several months ago when I recorded a jingle for Nickelodean (which they never even used), I was a little unsure of the process when I walked into the state of the art studio in downtown New York City. Consoles, screens, buttons, plexi-glass, and microphones. I was overwhelmed to say the least.

LeeAnn, who is producing most of this track (and probably the future tracks as well), coached me through the ins and outs of the recording process. I was slightly bashful at the thought of singing such a personal and emotional song with her listening intently for any microscopic flaws in my voice, but I was soon became comfortable in the booth.

She kept demanding more and more power in my voice and I kept telling I don’t have anymore! My voice has been described as sweet, soft, lovely, but NEVER powerful. However, she continued to push and I decided we were never going to get through this session if I didn’t just cowboy up and do it.

I mustered up every ounce of power I could squeeze out of my abdomen, took a deep breath, and let ‘er rip. Out came a completely different voice. I didn’t even sound like me. I remember using my belt voice as a child, singing when no one was around to hear me, but I figured it was long lost because I never honed the skill. I used it last year in a production of the musical, “The Full Monty” for my two line solo. But I have never been able to sing that high or loud than when I did that night in the studio with LeeAnn. We looked at each other, amazed.

Now that I know I have all the tools to make this song sound incredible, (the belt voice, the producer, the equipment), I am feeling more inspired than ever about this project. I can’t wait to get back in the studio and finish the song. I feel so blessed to be able to work on this. I am doing what I love and learning by the truckload how this business works. I’ll keep you posted on the progress!

"Sick and Tired" words and music by Elizabeth Grimes Copyright 2009

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Magical Moment 38, "One Rose"

"One Rose" is a song I wrote about my grandma and grandpa after my grandpa passed away. This is a true story that my grandma told me. Sorry, there is no recording available on line to listen to, but I hope you enjoy the lyrics. 
One Rose by Elizabeth Grimes Copyright 2009

I know a man, quiet as can be.
Rake and a rambler once was he.
I know a girl so patient and smart,
beautiful and sweet, she softened his stone heart.

After working one long day, she greeted him.
And he said to her, his bride through thick and thin,
He began softly for he seldom spoke.
Then from behind his back, he handed her a rose.

“One rose means one true love.
And Shirley, you’re mine.” Was all he said with love in his eyes.

The church bells rang one fall Sunday.
And the man fought hard, but he slipped away.
She wept in her garden for her man,
Then kissed his cheek and placed a rose in his hand.

“One rose means one true love.
And surely, you’re mine.” Was all she said with tears in her eyes.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Magical Moment 37, "Randy Forever and Ever Amen"

Last night was surreal. One of the few times in my life where I was in the presence of someone who to me, is larger than life. Randy Travis – one of 2 voices on the planet that can melt me into a puddle by singing one note, one word, it doesn’t even have to be a real song. He could hum and I would be smitten (the other one is Bing Crosby if you’re wondering). Last night I was happy to hear that he sounded just as wonderful as he ever did.

I first stalked Randy – I mean, met Randy several years ago in Lincoln, NE when he did a radio interview on a local station. I waited for hours in a parking lot across the street from the building where I had a view of all the exits. In hand was my “Storms of Life” record, a sharpie, and a disposable camera. I knew he would have to come out eventually and when he did, I got an autograph and a picture. Yesterday I bought a poster board, blew up that old picture of the 2 of us, and wrote in huge block letters, “Randy, I’ll love you forever and ever amen!” I was hoping he would autograph it before or after the show, however all my craftiness and hard work was in vain when security wouldn’t even allow the sign inside.

Aside from that initial disappointment, the rest of the night was a magical success. I couldn’t control myself as I sang along with the lyrics and bounced up and down in my seat (the older couple sitting next to me probably didn’t appreciate that too much). I thought maybe if the main spot light lifted from Randy’s eyes for a moment, he would be able to see me, his most excited fan, unable to take my eyes off him for a second.

I used to play many of his songs on the out of tune upright piano at Lee’s Chicken years ago. Once after playing, “On the Other Hand,” and honky-tonkin it up a little more than usual, a small, polite, older lady walked up to the piano and said, “That song made me order a beer!” Randy sang through his other all time favorite hits. When he sang “No Hands,” I actually remembered when that song came out on the radio. I was probably 7, but I was entranced by that man’s voice. And last night as he sang in his signature low, baritone, practically un-human octaves, I thought how lucky I was to be there in person.

Although I didn’t get my second autograph from Randy, I’m sure I’ll get one in the future. After all, if I’m one of the few who care enough to stalk – I mean, come see him twice, then certainly a third and fourth time is bound to happen in the future.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Magical Moment 36, "Goose"

She plays piano, sings, and taught herself how to strum chords on the guitar. Not me, my cousin-in-law, Sarah. We call her Goose. I still have no idea why. She, her sister, and her parents were the nearest family to Eddie and I for three years. On weekends, we drove up to stay with them and many holidays were spent together as well. It was nice having such wonderful people so close, able to just hop in the car and be there in a few short hours.

Over the years, Goose and I have discovered we are super-naturally alike. We haven’t quite figured out the cause yet, but we think it has something to do with the star's alignment when we were born. She and I were strangers only 3 short years ago, yet continue to discover that we have the same unique taste in music, movies, clothes, food, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

Our favorite song is Sentimental Journey. First of all, who under the age of 50 even knows that song? We have the same in depth discussion about the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes.” Is Mrs. Threadgood Idgy Threadgood? Or did she just marry into the family? Then what about her mysterious smile at the end? Most people haven't even seen that movie, let alone care so passionately about the family tree of the fictional characters. The movie, “Only You” inspired us both to visit Italy one day. We’re both on a “clear liquid” kick because we have some hang up that it’s healthier. And at a small town craft show, we both reached for a single pair of hand-knitted wrist warmers. Wrist warmers?! I let her have them because I was just so happy that someone else in the universe had my odd taste.

We used to be surprised when we discovered a new, outrageously random similarity between us. A few years ago, when Goose had long, luscious, red Julia Roberts hair and I finally managed to grow mine out just past my shoulders (an incredible feat for me considering I haven’t had my hair that long since 2nd grade), she came for a visit. Just before she arrived, I had the urge to chop my hair off completely. When she knocked on our front door, I prepared to defend myself once she saw that I had irrationally destroyed all my hard work for the past year. I opened the door, shocked to see her long hair cut to her ears as well. Come to find out that we probably hacked our hair off the same day.

We’re no longer surprised when we show up wearing the same shoes or adorable big buttoned denim jacket. We don’t blink anymore when we order the same thing off the menu. It doesn’t phase us when we break out in the exact same song in the exact same key. The shock wore off quickly when we found out that I ordered a “Teach yourself Tap Dance” video and she ordered a “Teach yourself Ballet” video online, again probably the same day. We're alike right down the brand of heat defense hair products we use.

Lately I’ve decided maybe it’s not so complicated as the cosmic galaxy aligned at birth or the moon and the tides in tune with us. It just may be that she is my friend away from my friends. My family away from my family. My sister away from my sisters.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Magical Moment 35, "The Line Between Dedicated and Crazy"

I’m running like a mad woman down a mountainside in sweatpants, t-shirt, slippers, and wet hair in 40-degree weather, through mud puddles, gravel, and overgrown brush. Why, you ask? Let me tell you.

About once a month, I drive down to the North Carolina Smoky Mountains to visit my husband as he finishes up school. While I’m here, I do much of my correspondence with the New York City music scene by e-mail and phone. I send out resumes, headshots, musical recordings, and videos to possible employers and all but beg them to hire me for an advertised gig that I’ve found online. It’s a taxing life, with little stability, but one that I am willing to give up job security, our four-bedroom house with a yard and a pool, and any sense of a normal life for. Dedicated, or crazy?

I applied for an internship several weeks ago with a large New York City record company. I thought, Here is my chance to learn all the ins and outs of the business, make some contacts, and maybe get some discounted studio time. I worked hard on the resume and carefully crafted the cover letter that I sent hoping for a call back, interview, and eventual hired position. Weeks later, however, after still not hearing from them, I pretty much gave up. Such is life. Such is the business. I packed up the Hyundai, loaded up the dog, and again drove the 12 hour distance to Franklin, NC to see my husband.

While I am here in Franklin and waiting for him to return from class, I have no TV, no cell phone signal, no dependable landline, and a 25-minute drive down a mountain to get to any kind of civilization. The neighbors are few and far in between, mostly consisting of trailer homes or small log cabins with confederate flags mounted on the mailboxes and overgrown with the thick woods of the surrounding area. The road is not paved, only dirt, one lane, and very rough.

I sat on the bed, watching Friends DVDs on our trusty laptop computer when I was shocked to hear my cell phone ring (Walkin After Midnight by Patsy Cline happens to be my current ring tone). The area code was NYC. I answered, “Hello?”
“Hello Elizabeth, I am calling about your recent application for our internship.”
“Oh!” I said, “Great! Just one thing, I get very poor signal here so I might cut –“ AH! My phone lost signal. I panicked and tried to call him back. Nothing. I tried the landline. Nothing. Are you kidding me? What if I was having a heart attack or something? How do these people live like this? I threw on the first pair of shoes I could find which happened to be a pair of my husband’s slippers with an automated foot massaging system built into the soles and took off out the front door with my cell phone.

I ran as fast as the battery operated slippers would allow while obsessively hitting the redial button on my phone, hoping the clouds would miraculously part and that satellite in outer space would smile upon me for just a moment. I began to slow down, out of breath and cautious of an upcoming neighbor’s home. The best piece of advice I’ve heard from a local in this town is, “Mountain people just wanna be left alone.” You don't have to tell me twice. I began to walk, not wanting to draw attention to the psycho looking stranger tearing through their front yard, when something stopped me dead in my tracks. A huge, black rottweiler looked up from its napping position on the front porch. Okay, I thought. Cesar Millan says be the pack leader. Don’t be afraid. I’m the pack leader. The dog stood up, tensed, and growled. It took a few steps toward me. That’s when I noticed, no leash, no fence. I couldn’t retreat fast enough. I did a 180 and worked my hamstrings harder than they’ve ever worked before, booking it up that practically vertical mountainside. I could see the headlines now, "Out of Town Yank Mauled to Death by Trusty Guard Dog; Body not Found for Days."

After a few minutes of adrenaline fueled sprinting, I was far enough away from the monster to slow down. I consoled myself about the lost phone call over and over, What will be, will be. You can’t change what’s meant to happen – or not happen. Despite my positive affirmations I grew more and more annoyed and angry as I trudged back up the hill. I was angry at this town, angry at the dog, angry at the slippers whose “on” switch had been inadvertently flicked and were now buzzing at my feet, and angry at t-mobile for not putting a cell phone tower nearby. I continued to flip open my phone, hoping in vain for the signal emblem to reappear.

That opportunity has long vanished. Since then however, another window has opened – another internship with endless possibilities if I dedicate myself. My goal is to record an album with the help of the talented contacts I’ve made. Then again, who knows what the future may hold for me. Plans don’t always work out the way you think they should. But no matter how committed I may be to my goals, it turns out that for me, the line between dedicated and crazy is an unrestrained, mountain man's rottweiler guard dog.

To view more about the studio I am interning with, view: