The Value of Piano Lessons 


Sometimes it’s hard to believe the number of years I’ve actually been playing the piano, which is well over twenty because I started when I was just four and a half years old.  While I don’t remember the exact reason I wanted to learn the piano, I know it had to do with attending one of my sister’s piano recitals and the fact that my babysitter at the time also taught lessons. We had an old beat-up spinet piano in our basement and I used to bang around on it. I guess that was enough “natural inclination” for my mother to enroll me in lessons.   

My first lessons are a hazy memory of not really knowing what I was doing, but I remember loving the little dancing elf illustrations that accompanied the notes in my vintage secondhand John Thompson “Easiest Piano Course” book.  I remember that I was supposed to curve my fingers when I played and I wasn’t supposed to look at them, but I always did.  A lot of times I guessed at the notes and there was always a lot of going back to the beginning of a song and starting over.  For most of my lessons, I barely practiced and my poor, patient teacher, Linda, was a saint for continuing to teach me. 

The summer before I started third grade was the first my parents allowed my sister and me to stay home alone.  We spent a lot of time watching daytime television hosts, eating air-popped popcorn because we weren’t allowed to use the stove and swimming in our above-ground pool.  Out of sheer boredom I started playing the piano more.  One day I went through all of my old piano books and pretended to have a “recital.” I acted out different characters and had them announce their songs before playing them.  I even got up and bowed to a fake audience. My sister must have been outside and not heard me talking to myself or I’m sure she would have accused me of being a weirdo. But it was on that afternoon after almost five years of lessons that everything finally clicked.Suddenly, I knew what the notes were and how the songs were supposed to sound!  In just a few short years after that, I was playing actual classic music compositions and not the adaptations of these classical pieces that were often in the music lesson books I used.  When I graduated from high school, on a whim, I decided to take some music classes and eventually declared music as one of my majors. 


In my case, the advantages of taking piano lessons are obvious, since I went on to become a singer-songwriter, but there are countless advantages to taking lessons at a young age.  In fact, there are countless advantages to learning the piano at any ageand before you say, you’re too old, I can give you several examples of individuals I know who started learning in their thirties, forties and fifties who went on to become very good piano players! 

While there are various instruments one can learn, I think piano is the easiest because it does not require complex coordination the way learning guitar or a wind instrument does.  All it takes is getting your fingers to do what you ask them to, without having to worry about breath or developing callouses too!    

The obvious advantage is that when you learn to play the piano in a classical setting, you learn basic music theory.  This includes how to read musical notes, including their letter names and rhythm types.  Music theory is also how notes are put together to make up chords and encompasses the actual structure of songs (verses, choruses, bridges, etc.).  All of these are transferable when a person goes to learn another instrument and for many major artists, piano was their first instrument.  Learning piano can also help with learning how to sing because it trains the ear to hear how notes are put together.  

Besides the obvious advantage of learning music theory, learning music offers the following benefits: 

  • Improved small hand eye coordination 
  • Pattern recognition 
  • Counting and math skills 
  • Helps with language development and expression 
  • Focus 
  • Goal setting 
  • How to practice 
  • Dedication and commitment to a craft 

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have awesome teachers as I did who will let you explore different musical genres as you learn to play, you will develop a lifelong love of many different types of music too! 


         As we all know, nothing comes easy.  Learning anything takes time and patience and it takes practice.  Full disclosure: as a former piano teacher, I have to say there is nothing more annoying than students who show up week after week with bare minimum practice or no practice at all.  One simply can’t move forward if the proper steps aren’t taken and the proper foundations aren’t built.   

         Perhaps the ancient Latin statement Repetitio set mater studiorum (repetition is the mother of all learning) says it best.  If you want to get good at the piano (or anything for that matter), you have to continually show up, make the mistakes, correct those mistakes and build on your strengths.   

         What are the best ways to practice?  While there is no one-size-fits-all method to practice, these are my general guidelines to help make rehearsals go smoothly: 

  • Make it a point to work on the piano every day - even if it’s just for ten to  fifteen minutes at a time (a great way to accomplish this is by setting a                            timer before you sit down to practice). This helps to build consistency and prevents the feeling of starting all over every time you sit down to the                              piano 
  • Eliminate distractions - shut off televisions and radios, place cell phones on silent, ask others to leave the room if possible 
  • Always start slow and then work up to playing fast 
  • If you make a mistake in a certain spot in a piece of music, don’t go all the way back to the beginning of the song and start over - really focus on that                       part of the song where the mistake happened and fix that. Otherwise, you’re going to get really good at the parts you’re really good at and never                             get good at the parts with which you’re struggling.  If you’re really struggling, take a short break and come back to it.  When you can do that                           hard part really well several times in a row, call it quits for the day so that you end on a good note (pun intended). 
  • Lastly, Have FUN!  If you or your child are just starting to learn, don’t him expect him or you to be Mozart overnight. Just enjoy the journey and all of the little steps. Also, look for an enthusiastic teacher who is strict on the fundaments (i.e. doesn’t let anyone move on until they’re truly ready), but has an enjoyable, supportive teaching style that incorporates a spirit of play into the lessons. 


For me, learning to play the piano has been one of the most influential experiences in my life.  Not only is piano a major part of my career, it has become part of my spiritual practice as well.  I am grateful that on a bad day (or a good day), I can sit down at the keyboard, open myself up and just play and write music in way that for me sometimes actually feels divine.  I hope that you’ll consider learning the piano or encourage your children to do so!   

         I’d love to hear your thoughts on learning the piano - did you take lessons as a child?  What was your favorite part about it.  With what did you struggle?  What questions do you have about your child starting lessons?  Are you scared to learn and why? Be sure to leave a COMMENT!

A Day of Reflection  

Yesterday, was my grandmother’s wake and today is her funeral.  She was my last living grandparent - I never knew her husband, my Grandpa Rex, because he passed away before I was born.  My grandmother, Margaret Mausser, died in 1989 and my grandfather, Bill Mausser, died when I was 18.  Grandma Gertie lived to be 96.  She lived a full life, with plenty of adversity, but for the most part a positive attitude.  Her experiences were varied and looking at photos during the wake yesterday it was wonderful to see how broad and genuine her smile was.  When she was happy she was truly happy. 

I told my husband last night that when I find myself crying, it’s not only from a sense of sadness at losing my grandmother, but it also  is from a sense of loss of memories of an entire generation. These are the last of those that had the Old World values of their Turn-of-the-Century immigrant parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who came to this country and really built it during the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Opulence.  The Greatest Generation, as they’re known, had a Jack of All Trades of mentality.  They grew up in an age when many people still used real horses for farm labor and clothes were sewn as opposed to being bought from the store.  They knew how to grow their own food, prepare their own food and store their own food.  If something was broken, they knew how to repair it and didn’t just go to the store and buy a new one.  Their families were incredibly important - their children their greatest treasures - not a new house or cars.  God and church were an irrefutable part of life and I think there was a greater belief in something bigger than themselves and the material world we live in now. 

Life was a struggle, but everyone was in it together and the goal was to enjoy the little things and the things that truly mattered - relationships with others and meaningful experiences.  I’m not saying EVERYONE believed this or lived it (my Mausser grandparents, for example, definitely liked their stuff) but most of the people I know from this generation seemed to live by a code of simplicity that seems to be lost in our high-speed, high-expectation, high-strung society. 

As I reflect on my grandmother’s life, it reminds me to step aside now and then from the mad rush and make sure to develop strong relationships, both with others and my higher power.  I want to learn more practical skills so I can do more things for myself  and be of greater service, developing community as I do.  Perhaps most importantly, I want to be better about smiling through it all….

Turn This Year Around Blog Series 


I just returned home from a show and decided I really need to write since it is July 1 (it’s now 12:19 a.m.) and, as my husband Richard and I discussed yesterday afternoon, this represents the fact that the year is half over.  Have I accomplished anything I set out do????  The answer is no, but there is still a chance to “turn this year around” and that’s why I’m creating this blog series.  The purpose is to make some kind of public proclamation to move forward with the goals I set on January 1.  I say goals because I really do mean GOALS, not resolutions.  Resolutions don’t work, everybody knows that - but goals are another story.  So in order to “turn this year around” I have a number of tasks to undertake.  The first task is to actually find my goals (identify), review them, seem if they’re still relevant (evaluate) and if necessary, create new ones (change).  Then I need to figure out what is keeping me from moving forward with those I set and reset any that need to be modified.  After that, it’s just breaking these goals down into smaller projects and tasks (strategy). 

Without even reviewing anything, I can already admit that one of the biggest reasons I’m not completing my goals is because I don’t regularly review them.  I know this is something I need to do EVERY DAY because, well, out of sight out of mind.  A few years ago I read “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill and this was one of the biggest pieces of advice.  Paraphrased, it goes like this: create a written statement of how much wealth you want to create and your means of achieving it and read this statement every day.  I definitely have not been doing that. Most likely because I’m not doing this, I’m also allowing myself to become distracted.  It feels like forever since I completed an actual project and I don’t want to be one of those people who flits about from one thing to the next. 

I also lack routine.  As an artist, there is this part of me that is so completely scatterbrained and I use the excuse that I thrive on variety and I feel dead if things become too mundane, but this approach to life hasn’t exactly resulted in great results, so perhaps it’s time to create a different plan. 

Lastly, I’m just a messy person.  I have too much stuff and feel a strange compulsion to use things up rather than just getting rid of them or letting them sit right where they are.  For years, I’ve attempted to use up everything I have - by that I mean, go without buying a new pen or notebook until everything is used up and read every book I own before purchasing a new one or taking one out of the library but it hasn’t worked, so I want to figure out a way to let the compulsion go. The compulsion is the major reason I start a new project before finishing an old one.

It’s late.  I’m exhausted.  My 96 year old grandmother died this week and I have been doing a lot of reflection on her life and the lessons she passed along to me.  I hope to use these lessons in the next six months to grow and really make something of my ambitions that will make me proud and would have made her happy to know her influence resulted in something good.  The wake is tomorrow and I know it will be emotional, so I’d best get some rest…. 

A note to end on: 

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” - John F. Kennedy 

(read this tonight in Brendon Burchard’s The Motivation Manifesto) 

Being a nonconformist means not doing what everyone else does and for me right now, this means the mundane things that most people do that keeps them from their true dreams - things like watching television, eating bad food, spending too much time on social media (guilty as charged), and resisting exercise when I know it has such a positive impact both physically and mentally. 

This quote also makes me think of a Bible verse I read the other night: “. . . make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perserverance; and to perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.”  (2 Peter 5-7 NIV).  That’s a tall order, but I know it’s entirely possible with the right plan!

The most frustrating Hotel experience in a while would not let me put this entire review on their website, but I thought it was so clever that I needed to share… A few nights ago I was in a hotel room with construction going on below me! And as bad as that was, nothing is more frustrating than trying to get work done and not being able to because of terrible Internet service.  I'm not just trying to complain - I actually enjoyed writing the review and simply want to share it as a good creative writing exercise! I hope you enjoy it and if you see me and want to know which hotel it was I will be glad to tell you…


This is one of the most frustrating hotel stays I have ever had.  I am an independent touring musician so on my downtime I try to get work done which means I need good internet service (updating my websites, emailing venues etc.).  The internet service here is 1992 dial-up slow and even though I was told it would work GREAT in the lobby, I can't get the internet to work here either.  I have to use my phone as a hotspot instead, zapping into my data plan.  In fact, the internet is so bad here I can barely leave this review.  

The rooms are nice enough - they are comfortable and clean for the price, though I just heard someone complaining that there were no towels in their room. Most of the lower-priced hotels in Taos are a little 1972 which adds to their charm - unless you need internet access. This place could still use some work.  The tiles in their pool area are chipped and cracked, I overheard someone complaining that the ice machine was broken, and the landscaping looks like something from a Quentin Tarantino film.   

They offer a free breakfast in their cute little kachina cafe or whatever but I have been unable to eat there because of other commitments - namely going to a cafe where I can get internet access. 

Service here is okay.  Last night, I had to listen to two men on spring break get into an argument worthy of an episode of "Cops" about one guy leaving the other guy and going on the town without him while he was paying the bill all night.  The walls are thin: I heard the whole thing - and when I called the front desk to complain, the clerk said she'd "get right on it" but these two bozos continued their tirade for another forty-five minutes, ultimately ending with one guy exiting by slamming the door very angrily.  I later heard him in the parking lot complaining about how he could not get his anger management app to work because of the poor internet service. 

The Dreaded Hotel Breakfast 

Last summer while I was on the road I found myself writing several journal entries based on my experiences at the free continental breakfasts some hotels so gloriously pride themselves upon.  Just this morning, I was having a conversation with a fellow musician friend about why, in general, it is preferable to stay in a hotel when on the road. Among our reasons was the fact that  you can just relax and hang out (you can even go pants-less if you want - something you cannot do if you stay with other people).  Also, you don't have to entertain your hosts and your hosts don't have to entertain you. You don't have to worry about getting stuck on a couch with six dogs and three cats lying on top of you all night. Obviously, staying in a hotel is not always the most economical choice when you're on tour, so when you do stay in a hotel, you should be delighted to get a free meal, right?  Wrong - at least for me.

One of my absolute favorite things to do in the morning is get up and write.  As I wrote in my last blog, I make these crazy journal entries that probably wouldn't make sense to anyone else, but somehow this gets my day started in the right direction.  I enjoy a few moments of alone time, the opportunity to get out the mental cobwebs of sleep and have a good cup of coffee to stimulate me back into consciousness. Unfortunately, this is not possible at a hotel's free continental breakfast.

First of all, in the hotel breakfast lobby there is always a television.  Said hotel breakfast area is always blasting CNN or, worse yet, Fox News. For some reason, the hotel owner, always feels the need to hide the remote so that, even if you are the only person in the hotel breakfast eating area you can't turn it down. A blaring television is not conducive to starting your morning peacefully.

Secondly, people are just not that attractive in the morning and it blows my mind how many people decide to take advantage of the free hotel breakfast in their bare feet and ratty old pajama bottoms.  The worst of these offenders are those little creatures under the age of ten called children who show up all crusty-eyed and snotty-nosed crying about the cereal which they inevitably wind up spilling all over the floor.

Lastly, the food itself leaves much to be desired.  A few years ago I discovered that I have so many food allergies it's not even funny: peanuts, soy, eggs, gluten.  I really can't eat anything except meat, vegetables and fruit if I really want to be super-healthy. If you've ever eaten a free hotel breakfast, you know you're not going to get a single vegetable.  As for meat?  Occasionally, you might find a sausage link that's been sitting in some heater oven since 3:00 in the morning when the hotel owner started putting this spread together.  Even if I could eat eggs - the boiled ones they serve are seldom cooked in a way that makes them at all peal-friendly.  Worse yet: the waffle maker.  I can't tell you the number of times I have watched someone struggle with the waffle maker - unsure whether to fill it with batter, whether to turn it over, whether to use a spatula.  You would think a waffle maker is high-powered piece of machinery that it requires a PhD to use.  I have news for you: it does not.  All you have to do is follow the directions, people.

Because of my strange food allergies - thank you genetics - I mostly now carry a cooler, but occasionally I cheat when I stay with people so as not to hurt their feelings.  Still, after a great night's show I do enjoy a good hot breakfast - considering how awful of an experience the hotel breakfast is, it's worth it to splurge and go full-on at some local eatery.  Here's just a few of my more recent favorites: Tupelo Honey Cafe in Greenville South Carolina (BEST BREAKFAST OF MY ENTIRE LIFE - THE GRITS and BISCUIT)); Night Heron Coffee and Bookstore in Laramie, WY as well as Coal Creek Coffee (also in Laramie); Sarah's Table in Duluth MN (the salmon!); and Smokey Joe's Coffee in Des Moines.  How do you feel about the hotel breakfast?  DO YOU have a hotel breakfast horror story?  PLEASE SHARE!

Why I Still "Write" In a Journal 

It's true that I've been accused of being a dinosaur for my love of notebooks, pens, paper, pencils and all things "Staple's Office Supplies." I do realize that in the Twenty-First Century these things are kind of obsolete.  Who needs a notebook when you can chat into your phone and have it translate your words directly into typewritten text?   Frankly, for me and probably countless other artists there is magic in the act of physically writing down my ideas and thoughts.  In fact, one of my happiest moments in life is when I get to start a new notebook. Despite the countless technological advances that tell me there's no need to, I still prefer typing in a journal to any app. 

I am a little embarrassed to admit I have an entire steamer trunk full of unused notebooks (Hint: don't give me any blank notebooks as a gift - I don't need them.).  I'm certain the reason I love them so much is because of all they represent.  A new notebook offers the act of starting over and the freshness of a different perspective.  A new notebook is, after all no different than a blank canvas or a blank tape (well, what would now be a new ProTools session, but you get my point) and I generally have NO IDEA what will gradually be produced out of it.  Perhaps that's what's so beautiful about them.

My journals are like collages. One day I might chronicle a day's events - what I did, who I met, where I went.  The next day I might work on a short story.  Two days later, I start a poem that never gets finished.   Occasionally, I do a very casual review of a movie or a book. And, not surprisingly, the vast majority of my notebooks contain utter drivel! I'm not kidding - there's a lot of whining and stream of consciousness that goes in there.  I like to think this outlet keeps me from whining too much in the real world, though I often wonder if I should put a mandate in my will that the journals all be burned after I die or if I should let some curious stalker enjoy the journey of them long after I'm gone. 

Any outsider breaking the rules of privacy and delving into these journals would be a little disappointed, I'm afraid.  For starters, I'm a little vain - I tend to write about myself  - and they don't contain many juicy details on anyone else.  They're seldom dated and, because I sometimes temporarily lose a notebook, I'll start a new one or go back to an old, unfinished one. The history of these things gets a little muffled.  By the time I get to the last pages of a notebook, I am DESPERATE to move on to a new one. Still, I'm stubborn and, just like I will sit through an entire movie or read an entire book no matter how bad it is, I will not abandon a notebook before it's "finished." Despite the chaos of these notebooks, something always emerges and it blows my mind how I can go back and read one three or four or even ten years later and see where I was in my life then and how I've evolved.

I realize that apps provide convenience and the obvious lack of clutter. Your whole life can be stored in the amorphous cloud, but there is a side of me that likes to think said cloud will one day evaporate and my journals will be one of the only remaining archives of life in the twenty-first century.  Mine will be the Mayan Calendar and Dead Sea Scrolls of their day.  I also have to say it just doesn't feel the same to wake up in the morning;  brew a stiff cup of coffee, throw on some beautiful music (I generally listen to instrumentals so I'm not distracted by lyrics) and start voice-to-texting into my phone to journal.  Or worse yet, imagine having to type all of that on your phone.  For those of you about to argue that I could type on Pages or Word and keep a journal that way, I worked in way too many offices before becoming a singer-songwriter and this just makes me think of fluorescent lighting, water coolers and photocopy machines - not exactly inspiring.

So, moral of the story: if you see me (or anyone)  writing with an unsophisticated ballpoint pen and yet another journal with a motivational saying on the cover, please just walk on by. This is my process - this is what works for me. As we all know, different things work for different people.   If you don't like the way I do things - well, you can just kiss my apps!


Melanie Devaney's 8 Tips For Getting a Good Night's Sleep 

As a singer songwriter I endure a lot of late nights, but as a human I like to go to bed early. On nights I don't have shows, I am usually in bed by 10 p.m. and up at 5:15 a.m. - not exactly a "rockstar" lifestyle. As you can imagine, this makes getting a normal sleep a little difficult. Sometimes it's difficult to maintain a routine schedule, but I've learned that sleep is one of the key ingredients to overall good health. Over the years I've implemented some helpful tricks to getting a good night's sleep and I'd love to share them with you now. Here are eight helpful tips:  

#1: Turn off all of your electronic devices. This includes the television, your telephone, and a radio if you still listen to one. Studies have proven that the electromagnetic waves produced by electronic devices actually prevent people from getting normal sleep. This is true for electric blankets too. (Just pile on a couple of extra blankets if you get cold.) 

#2: Don't sleep with your pets. For some people, this might not be a problem.  Studies show that for some people letting their pets in bed with them actually gives them a sense of security and helps them rest; but if you have an animal that doesn't sleep through the night, you might consider sending him to the proverbial "doghouse." (Aside from sleep, another disadvantage of letting your pet sleep with you is all the cooties - worms, bacteria, etc. - they might bring into bed - ewwww!) 

#3: Take a hot bath or shower before you go to bed. There's something incredibly soothing about that hot water and steam.  Immersing your body in this warmth allows your muscles to relax and your mind to  slow down. This is especially nice in the winter.  

#4: Use a natural sleep aid. When I say natural sleep aid, I am referring to an herbal supplement, an essential oil, or other organic type of product. And while, alcohol is technically natural, it is actually known to reduce REM sleep.  My two personal favorite natural sleep aids are melatonin and a drink powder composed of calcium and magnesium called Natural Calm. 

#5: Make your room as much like a luxury hotel as possible. If you've ever stayed at a swanky hotel, you know what I'm talking about. They're always clean, uncluttered have super nice sheets and comforters, and give you an overall feeling of relaxation. To recreate this environment, spend the extra money on a great mattress, elegant bed linens and a good bed if you can. Keep your room clean and uncluttered - pick up your books and keep your clothes off the floor.  Leave the surfaces of dressers and nightstands clear as much as possible. Another reason these types of hotel rooms can be easy to sleep in is that they are often noiseproof.  While it may be hard to completely noise proof your own bedroom, you can run a fan, get a special white noise maker machine or you can download a white noise app onto your phone and use that.  

#6: Get prepared for the next day. Before you go to bed, make a list of the items that you know you need to do the next day. Set out any items that you know you need to take to work with you. Make your lunch for the next day after supper. All of these preparations help you to feel  confident that the following day will be a successful one. This kind of preparation prevents you from laying in bed all night thinking about all the things you should do the next day or the days to follow.  

#7: Practice relaxation techniques. Some simple deep breathing exercises and stretching can help you ready your body for a good night's rest. One of my favorite relaxation techniques to use as I'm falling asleep is to picture all four corners of the room. Once I fix it on all four corners of the room I then try to picture other corners of other rooms  in my house. If I get through all of the rooms in my house, I picture the block, the town, and just keep expanding out - usually I'm asleep by the time I get to the corners of my room though.  This technique gets you grounded and helps you to breathe deeply.   

#8: Watch what you eat and drink. Of course we all know that caffeine can really harm restful sleep. As someone who absolutely adores coffee this one is kind of hard for me. I haven't completely been able to give up coffee, but I do try not to drink it in the afternoon as much as possible. In addition to caffeine-laden drinks, there may be some other hidden food issues that are causing insomnia. Things like dairy and wheat intolerance can contribute. So can food additives and sugar.  If you suspect you have a food allergy you can do food testing with a qualified practitioner or simply try an elimination diet for several weeks. 

I hope these tips are helpful! Please let me know if you currently use any of them and how they work for you. If you have any additional tips, I'd love to hear them! Here's to getting a good night's sleep - because even rockstars occasionally need to get some Zzzzzzz's. 

Pros and Cons of Living In a Small Town 

If you grew up in a small town, then you may, like me, have experienced a love-hate relationship with the little hamlet where you were born.  Even though I have lived all over the country - Florida, Arizona, California, Tennessee - somehow I am always magically pulled back to the little village of 1,700 people where I'm from.  While it has its advantages, there are also some drawbacks.  After living in Los Angeles for six years and now spending more time in Iowa, here are some of the pros and cons of living in a small town I have noticed.

1. Pro: Fewer streets make it less likely for you to get lost
    Con:  If you do get lost, everyone knows about it

2. Pro: No police helicopters flying over your house at night waking you up
    Con:  It's so quiet here you can hear wild animals mating

3. Pro: Less smog increases your chance of growing a successful garden
    Con: In'N Out Burger is a three day drive away

4.  Pro: It's an easy walk to the post office
    Con:  You will spend forty-five minutes at the post office because you run into someone you know

5. Pro: No traffic jams
    Con:  People here don't drive fast because there's nothing to hurry for

6.  Pro:  People are less likely to judge you based on appearances
    Con:  Having fewer reasons to worry about your appearances causes you not to think twice before eating the cream cheese-based dessert

7.  Pro:  You are less likely get hit on by sleaze balls at the bar because everyone is watching
     Con:  You are distantly related to most of the eligible men in town

8. Pro:  Less smog makes it easier to breathe
    Con:  More manure smells make you not want to breathe

9. Pro:  People are more friendly
    Con: People are so friendly they would walk through your front door without knocking if you didn't keep it locked

10. Pro:  You know who your neighbors are
      Con:  Your neighbors know who YOU are

There you have it, a quick list of pros and cons of living in a small town.  In all seriousness, I am grateful of the experience of living in a place where I know my neighbors and where the streets are safe.  I would recommend everyone live pop. less than 2,000 for some length of time because it can definitely change your viewpoint of the world.  What about you?  Have you ever lived in a small town?  Do you live in one now?  Which of these pros and cons do you agree with?

Hug Your Mum 

Mother's day is right around the corner (May 10) and it's a good reminder that we often take our mums for granted.  I decide to sit down today and write mine a little love note to tell her how much I appreciate all she does for me.  Some of you have met my mother, Betty Mausser, and you can probably guess she's the real brains behind Kidder Valley Music.  She does so much to help me be successful, including filing my taxes and tracking some of my accounting, booking flights and travel accommodations and reminding me to do stuff that you'd be surprised I still forget to do: like pack my guitar in the car!  Among the very unique traits my mother has taught me are: 1.) Think things through before you act on new ideas  2.) If you want to get something done, sometimes you just have to do it yourself  3.) Willie Nelson is quite possibly the greatest singer-songwriter ever.

My note to my mom is below, along with a picture I found the other day of her playing guitar with a bunch of my hippie relatives.  Who knew? Perhaps she's even leading a protest song! I hope this letter inspires you to write your mom a letter and tell her how much you love and appreciate her.  Your real mother might no longer be a part of your life, but hopefully there is a woman in your life who has had a maternal influence on you - serving as a mentor and a comforter.  Be sure to tell that woman (or women) how much you appreciate her!  To all you mom's out there - Happy Mother's Day!


My mom playing the guitar long before I was around!

My 10 Step Plan to Save the Earth 

During the bleak winter months, it's kind of difficult to think of saving the planet because if you're anywhere there's snow and ice and rain and clouds, you kind of forget there is an earth under all of that "cover." But now it's April and Earth Day is fast approaching. I'm fortunate enough to be spending this month in rural Iowa, where a steady week of rain has turned the grass green; daffodils are starting to creep out of the ground; Canadian geese are honking as they fly over the roof; and squirrels chase each other in the backyard. Seeing all of this nature gives me a peaceful feeling, but just one quick drive to the city later today will remind me of how devastating an effect all of us humans, with our amazing technology, can have on the environment.  So I've put together a simple, 10-step plan to save the earth in my own little way . . . 


1. Stop buying plastic water bottles and use stainless steels bottles filled with filtered tap water instead.


Maybe I'm way behind on this, but only within the last year or so have I discovered that most of the bottled water we drink is actually just bottled tap water from various cities around the country.  If you look at the "source" label on the back of most water bottles, you'll actually see that it comes from some municipality - there is nothing that distinguishes most water from whatever you'd get from your tap anyway.  Here are some frightening facts from

    •    Bottles used to package water take over 1,000 years to bio-degrade and if incinerated, they produce toxic fumes. It is estimated that over 80% of all single-use water bottles used in the U.S. simply become 'litter.'

    •    Recycling is only feasible in limited circumstances because only PET bottles can be recycled.  All other bottles are discarded.  Only 1 out of bottles are sent to the recycle bin.

    •    U.S. landfills are overflowing with 2 million tons of discarded water bottles alone

    •    It takes over 1.5 million barrels of oil to meet the demand of U.S. water bottle manufacturing.

    •    It is estimated that actually 3 liters of water is used to package 1 liter of bottled water.

So my plan is to get a "six-pack" of stainless steel bottles and use a Brita pitcher.  As much as possible, I plan on "pre-packaging" my water before I go on long trips and then just filling up along the way from (gasp!) the tap.  A person could also get a Thermos-style water jug and take that - which is okay, as long as you use it over and over again.  Both the stainless steel and Thermos-style jugs keep water cold and are a great alternative.  If you think about this from an economics standpoint, when you buy bottled water, you are really throwing your money away because you're paying at least double for tap water!


2. Don't drive one day a week.


This step is a little challenging because no matter how hard you try some days not to drive, there is always something that comes up.  My plan is to launch "Two-Foot Tuesdays," which means that on Tuesdays if I have to leave the house, I will do my best to walk wherever I go (difficult because I live at least a mile out of town, BUT it's potentially good for my health and fitness plan).  If I HAVE to drive somewhere, then I want to make that trip as short as possible and perhaps trade-in no driving for another day.  Often, for me, if I'm not playing a show, this day is Sunday.  I do enough driving when I'm on tour, staying home every now and then is a good thing.


According to an article on  "Leaving your car at home just two days a week can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by an average of two tons annually."


If you could save two tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, think about how much money you'd save in gas itself by not driving just one day a week?  Other options for not driving would be to ride a bike or carpool one day a week.  Every little bit helps.


3. Grow a garden.

Dad, Sister and I in the big green veggie patch!

Growing up, my mother always grew an enormous patch of various vegetables in our yard and one of my fondest memories of summer is sitting out in it eating sugar snap peas straight off the vine.  One of the greatest advantages to being in Iowa again is the opportunity to dig in our black dirt and make something grow. I’m going to take every advantage I can of it this summer!


Gardens are GREAT on so many levels.  Here's just a few of the advantages of growing a garden

    •    Growing your own vegetables saves money at the grocery store (you can freeze and can extras at harvest-time and, as singer-songwriter Greg Brown says, "Taste a little of the summer" in the dead of winter)

    •    Most store-bought produce travels thousands of miles in  packaged in cardboard and plastic - growing your own garden potentially reduces carbon emissions and waste from packaging

    •    When you grow your own garden YOU control the amount of pesticides and chemicals that the produce contains

    •    Gardening is an EXCELLENT form of exercise and great mental therapy

4. Recycle


This one is kind of a no-brainer, but I often find myself randomly throwing stuff into garbage cans at gas stations when I’m traveling with little thought of where this
“stuff” is going once it is collected by the trash man. Obviously, not buying plastic bottles will help, but so will buying items with less packaging. If you’re not recycling these days, I’m sorry but you somehow managed to miss entering the twenty-first century.


5. Pick up litter


Yes, folks.  Once a month, I plan on donning a pair of plastic gloves, grabbing a garbage bag and doing some outdoor “cleaning.”  It appalls me as I take my little country walks, that there are still people ignorant and lazy enough to throw their trash out the window.  If you are littering - STOP IT.  You might have a “Smart” phone, but you are an idiot!  Here are  some disturbing statistics about littering from


    •    9 billion tons of litter ends up in the ocean every year

    •    $11.5 billion is spent every year to clean up litter (mostly by the government - i.e. YOUR tax dollars)

    •    The most common object found during litter clean-up is fast food litter. (no comment)

If someone you know is a litter bug, use this video to remind them that littering is bad: 
Litterbug Litterbug Shame On You



6. Buy thrifted clothes OR buy high-quality clothes.  Donate them back.

(Note: this step probably does not apply to men because you tend to wear the same thing OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER again until it is in

shreds or SO OLD it is stylish again)


I  have been a thrifter for most of my adult life - mostly because I LOVE vintage clothes and the thrill of the search.  I’ve also had excellent luck scoring really high-quality designer clothing at thrift stores for little next to nothing and these high-quality items have lasted a long, long time. You might think when you are buying “knock-off” fashion - cheaply made clothing that emulates designers top looks (from places like H&M, Target, Forever 21), you are making an impact, but really all you are doing is contributing to a global problem. Even though I don’t have a high clothing budget and I LOVE variety in my wardrobe, I am working really hard this year to only buy new clothes that I know are well-made - otherwise they have to come from the thrift store.  When I’m done with them, I don’t throw them away unless they are not wearable - I take them back to the thrift store to be “recycled.”  Even the unwearable clothes I recycle by using them for rags. Here’s some scary data about the damages “cheap fashion” causes (from: “Waste Couture Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry):


  • “The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and releasing emissions including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, all of which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease.”
  • Much of the cotton grown in the U.S. is exported to China where it is milled, woven into fabrics, cut, and assembled according to the fashion industry’s specifications.  Workers receive between twelve and eighteen cents an hour in poor working conditions.  These articles are then shipped across the ocean, back to the U.S. for sale. That’s a HUGE carbon footprint.
  • “According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year, and clothing and other textiles represent about 4% of the municipal solid waste. But this figure is rapidly growing.”





In addition to my vegetable garden this summer, I plan on having a little kitchen herb garden.  If I collect the water I use from washing dishes - i.e. the “grey” water - I can use this for the herb garden and other plants.  It is better than wasting good “fresh” water, especially when you think of droughts happening in places like California.  Again, every bit helps.


8. Use non-chemical cleaners and personal products.


There are a lot more options in this area than there used to be and one really great thing about using the non-chemical cleaners and personal products is that most often they’re locally made by individuals.  Vendors at farmers’ markets often sell items like handmade soaps, facial cleansers and even laundry detergents.  Not only are you not dousing yourself in a chemical bath when you use them, but you are supporting your local economy when you buy them.  If you can’t find non-chemical items for purchase, there are lots of websites devoted to the topic with “recipes” for cleaners and personal products you can make yourself.  Vinegar and baking soda, for example is a great cleaning agent; and, one of my favorite facial “masks” is just a combination of honey and avocado!


9. Plant a tree.


Perhaps says it best: “Trees are like the lungs of the planet. They breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Additionally, they provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.”  Other advantages of trees are that they help reduce runoff and soil erosion, the shade the provide lowers house temperatures in the summer  (according to the Arbor Day Foundation shade provided by just one tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners running 20 hours a day!)  Trees also can reduce noise pollution by absorbing sound.  My plan is to plant one tree this summer.  According to the average total cost of planting a tree is $164 and the average price goes down with each tree you plant.  It seems like a lot of money, yes, but I’m sure I have blown that much on a monthly electric bill running the air conditioner a time or two!


10. Unplug


As much as possible, I’m going to try to “unplug” from all of the technology that bombards me every day! This literally means unplugging things when I’m not using

them, but also just not using them.  I personally find it refreshing to work by natural light during the day  and not turn on the television (sometimes for days at a time).  Getting away from the computer and my phone also helps me focus on the outside world - practicing my instruments, writing things by hand, going for walks, doing yard work, and making handcrafted items.  There is a great amount of joy to be had from doing things by hand - such as chopping food or sweeping a floor, as opposed to “saving time” by having some gadget doing it.  Humans were made to move and to toil to some degree - doing “work” is good for us!  Of course, like most of the other items on this list, there is an economic advantage to making some changes. says that 5 to 10 % of your residential energy costs are spent on devices that are plugged in 24-hours a day.  Some good things to unplug include coffeemakers, lamps, toasters, televisions you don’t use every day.  Some items, like cable boxes and computers are harder to unplug - putting these on a power strip can ease the hassle of plugging and unplugging.

Well, there you have it, my ten steps to save the planet!  Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done! I’m going to don my 100% organic cotton cape, put on my recycled plastic tennis shoes, grab my stainless steel bottle and get to work as a new Eco SuperHero!  How about you?  What steps will you take to save the planet as we approach Earth Day?