Tag Archives: brother

Is This Cup Half Empty? (Dedicated to Ray North)

I’ve been struggling with a thought lately. Here’s my question: Am I living life to the fullest? What does that even mean? I hear people talk about it all the time, but who actually does it? I asked some of my friends and family what they thought.

I have a friend at work. Yeah, can you believe that? His name is Joe. He is a writer. Not only is he a genuinely nice person, but he makes me laugh every day. He’s one of those people that just makes the day better. You can give Joe the most boring topic and he will think of something clever to write about it. He self-published a children’s book, They Don’t Make Books About Uncles and he’s working on a play that I know will be successful…he’s just that kind of guy. Although I’ve only known Joe for a short time, I very much admire him and I know that he has changed my life for the better. He has inspired and encouraged me to write and create and try. That being said, I asked Joe what it means to live life to the fullest. We have the same job and it’s not always glamorous. Yes, we write and create, but there are rules and guidelines to follow and it can get monotonous and frustrating. It’s not always easy to be a creative type in the corporate world. Joe told me that it’s hard to live every moment to the fullest, but it’s what you make of the good things that happen. He said we have to fully enjoy the successes and the happy times. I happen to know that Joe’s family and friends are very important to him and he works to cultivate those relationships. Immerse yourself in the great moments and don’t worry about the small, mundane stuff. Maybe work is just what you have to do to get to the next great moment. I think Joe is on to something. He seems like a happy person to me.

Jeanne and Joe

I also discussed this topic with Steve. You all remember Steve; he’s my husband. You may remember him from such blogs as…you get it. I asked, “Steve, are you living life to the fullest?” He said, “Well, I sure am busy.” That’s not what I meant and I’m sure he knew that. Steve’s passion is music and sound. I believe that when he’s playing music or recording, he is doing what he loves most. In those moments, he is living life to the fullest. In our discussion, we talked about how it may be hard to live life to the fullest when you have to worry about bills and money. One cannot simply travel and take time out to write a novel or produce an album. How can a person be happy when he is hungry or homeless? Well, that’s an interesting thought. Is it only rich people who can really take advantage of a full life?

Jeanne and Steve

I have been listening to a book by Elizabeth Gilbert called Big Magic. In this book, Gilbert talks about living a creative life. It’s a choice one makes to pursue their creative endeavors in a responsible and mature way. She explains that creating is free. It’s for the rich and the poor. She mentions that if only the rich could create, the world would surely be a boring place. She cautions her listeners/readers to never make the artistic craft a burden. Work at it because you love it. Don’t do it to impress other people or even make a living. Do it for yourself; to make you happy. She describes a different way of thinking about being creative and talks about her path as a writer and novelist. She wrote Eat, Pray, Love for herself to work through her own life issues. It just happened to resound with millions of readers. (If you’re a creative type, I would highly recommend listening to or reading “Big Magic.”)

While I’m tossing all of these ideas around in my head, something sad happened. One of my brother’s best friends from high school, Ray North has been battling cancer for awhile. After a brave fight, Ray passed away on November 10th. My brother flew to Texas where Ray was getting treatment to be with him and to ultimately say goodbye. I hadn’t seen Ray since I was in high school. We went to the same school, but my brother and Ray graduated the year before I started. Basically, I knew Ray through Paul. Since I always thought my brother was pretty cool, I knew that Ray was cool, too. He was really cute, he could sing, he was in marching band and he had this killer smile. Oh, and he wasn’t rude to me, his friend’s stupid kid sister. Paul recently talked about when he walked into his new high school as a sophomore, he was very nervous. Ray was one of the first people to talk to Paul and made him feel welcome, including Paul in the “cool crowd.” That’s pretty powerful stuff. That’s a gift you never forget about.

At Ray’s wake and funeral I learned even more about him. He has a lovely family. A beautiful wife and four happy kids. Paul and his friend Eric, (also one of Ray’s good friends from high school,) made a slideshow about Ray. In every picture Ray’s smile shone. There were pictures of Ray goofing around with his family growing up and then enjoying happy moments with his wife and kids. I am not kidding, at Ray’s funeral, the church was packed. Not one empty seat. And it was a pretty big church. I was astounded at all of the lives Ray had touched at church, at work, through Scouting, or just within the community. Everyone in that huge room loved Ray. He wasn’t the type of guy you sorta liked. You could only love Ray. One quote from the homily stuck with me. It’s a quote from Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts.

“No one can pass through life, any more than he can pass through a bit of country, without leaving tracks behind, and those tracks may often be helpful to those coming after him in finding their way.”

Every person who spoke was touched by Ray. Ray enriched the lives of others just by being himself. He created a happy life for himself and for those around him. He wasn’t rich and he wasn’t famous, but without a doubt, he lived life to the fullest.

I’m not sure what got me thinking about living life to the fullest, but God or the cosmos, or whatever you believe in, brought me an example when I needed one. So, I’ll take a dash of Joe, a pinch of Steve, a generous portion of Elizabeth Gilbert and mix it all up with Ray to fashion my own life from now on. It’s probably not something I will be good at every day, but at least I have some wise and trustworthy guides to lead the way. I wish I could tell you exactly what it means to live life to the fullest, but I’m not still not entirely sure what it means. I think it’s a different story for all of us. It’s about finding contentment and creativity inside of yourself, loving everyone as hard as you can and ultimately leaving behind a legacy of infectious joy. Also, if you have a killer smile, that could really help.



Keep Your Pants On, It’s Going to be Alright!

One of the first things people ask when you get married is, “when are you going to have kids?” And then as time goes on people ask, “Why don’t you have any kids?” I’ve read several blogs about single or married women who don’t have kids. They come across as proud or belligerent about not having kids. Like they are taking some stance against society or something. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to not have children. Yep, it’s really okay. You may have guessed that I don’t have kids. I won’t bore you with the reasons why, but it’s not a decision I made lightly. Having a kid is a huge responsibility. It seems that many people aren’t up for the task. Leaving small children in a hot car or abusing them so badly that they are not able to function with other people ever again. It’s sad. You don’t have to be smart or rich or responsible to have one baby or ten babies.

That being said, I’d like to talk about love. If you’re a non-mom, you’ll be able to relate to this statement. “You just can’t understand what it’s like to love unless you have your own child.” Yes, people have said it to me and I’ve read it countless times. “You wouldn’t understand, you don’t have kids.” That’s another good one. People don’t necessarily mean any harm when they say this, they just aren’t thinking past their own lives. What I am proposing is that a person without children, including me, is more than capable of experiencing real and profound love. I’m talking about love that you feel deep within your core. Feelings that twist your stomach and fill your soul with buzzing currents of electricity. Oh, you want examples? Don’t worry, I’ve come prepared. Brace yourself for three tales of profound love.

My first story is about my brother Paul. Paul and I lived together in our 20s. I think we lived together for about 7 years. We lived in an awful place that wasn’t very safe. We didn’t have heat in the winter or AC in the summer. Oh, I forgot to mention the bathroom ceiling caved in and water just poured out of it for years. I’m not exaggerating here. Our landlord, John Not-Coola was a very awkward man who had no sense of humor and not a compassionate bone in his body. And he smelled funny. Anyway, we finally got our “shit” together and moved to a better place. Soon after, Paul got a great job…in South Carolina. What? So, we prepared for Paul to move away. Far away. We got a small group together and drove Paul to South Carolina in two cars. It’s about a 13-hour drive. We had fun getting Paul’s new apartment together, but then it was time for me to go home. Everyone else went down to the car and it was just me and Paul. My eyes filled with tears and I told Paul I was really sad to leave him there. He said he knew and we would be okay. It broke my heart to walk away, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Luckily, we spent a lot of time on the phone and still had a blast together. That was before Facebook and all that, so we still talked to people on the phone back then, kids. I still missed him every day. My best friend. A few years later, Paul moved back home. Yay! I’m sure it’s because he couldn’t stand to be without me. I’m pretty special, you know.

Grab a tissue, here’s the next one. You may remember from a previous post that I had major surgery about 5 years ago. I won’t gross you out with the details, because it is, in fact, pretty gross. I was scared out of my mind. I was pretty convinced that I was going to die. Spoiler alert: I made it. Anyway, Steve drove me to the hospital bright and early that day. He made sure to have some fun songs playing in the car to lighten the mood. My Mom met us at the hospital and I was soon led away to the “back” to prepare. Before I walked away, I handed Steve the ring he bought me and asked him to hang on to it. After waiting around for a torturous amount of time, it was finally time to be wheeled back into surgery. My Mom said something comforting to me about Jesus, which was nice, while the tears were just pouring out of my eyes…again. I thought that would be the last time I saw my Mom or Steve. I remember someone, (I later found out it was my doctor) saying that my turtle tattoo was really cute. “Count backwards from 99.” I thought, “99, 98…” and then I was waking up from surgery. Oh my gosh, I made it! The epidural didn’t take, so I was in a lot of pain. They wouldn’t release me to a hospital room until the pain subsided a bit. About two hours later, I was moved to a room. I was told my Mom and boyfriend were on their way up to see me. I didn’t realize they had actually been waiting for a total of about 8 hours. My Mom walked in the room first and I was so happy to see her! Steve walked in behind her and the tears started again. I was overwhelmed with relief and love. “I’m so happy to see you,” I said. He gave me a big smile and I saw his eyes fill up, too. That feeling was intense. It was happy, sad and almost too much to bear. I will never forget that moment and exactly what it felt like.IMG_0278

One more story to share with you. Of course it’s about my Mom. Several years ago, as I was going through a divorce, my Mom was going through cancer treatment. Mom wasn’t too thrilled with me at the time. Divorce is a sensitive topic in our family. It seems like more and more people are dealing with cancer lately, so maybe many of you can relate or have similar stories. I can still remember my Mom telling me over the phone that she had cancer. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My Mom can’t have cancer, that doesn’t make sense. First came surgery to remove the tumor. It was outpatient and she was pretty much fine. We even laughed together that day. At that time, she still looked like herself. She didn’t look sick at all. What really makes you sick is the chemo. That’s when your skin turns grey and your face is bloated and you lose your hair. Seeing my Mom look like that was heart-breaking. Definitely an image that is burned into my mind forever. You’re not supposed to drive yourself to chemo, so I drove my Mom. They would take her into a room where other people were receiving chemo, too. It took a couple of hours, so I would usually get some rest, as her appointments were early in the morning and I worked nights. Then I would pick her up afterwards. She would be okay and we’d go get some lunch. There was one time in particular I’d like to tell you about when she wasn’t okay. I dropped Mom off and went home to nap. I got a call to come back because Mom was really upset. I got there as fast as I could and found my poor Mom pale as a ghost and crying hysterically. She was in a little room by herself off of the main room. I remember the windows were up high and I could see the sun and some purple flowers someone had planted near a tree. I held my Mom’s hand and she told me a doctor told her what her chances for a full recovery would be. My stomach lurched as I waited for the number: 70%. I guess some doctors feel that full disclosure is a good idea, but maybe you wait until someone isn’t hooked up to poisonous chemicals and feeling as low as possible. Mom was already scared, but that just pushed her over the edge into terrified. I told her 70% seemed pretty good to me as we all have a 50/50 chance of making it through today. You just never know what life can bring on any given day. Plus, it’s just a number, not a representation of who she actually is. I told her I loved her and she wasn’t alone. A nice nurse brought her some crackers and juice and Mom calmed down. She told me she was glad I was there and that ignited my heart. As I mentioned, things were a little tense between us at the time, so hearing my Mom say that meant so much to me. “I’m glad I’m here too.” I think of this moment often as it was almost like time stopped during that 30 minute exchange. We were two women helping each other through a horrible moment with real love and compassion. It’s a memory I hold dear. After chemo and radiation, my Mom has been cancer-free. That’s a gift I never take for granted.IMG_0004

What I’m trying to say here is that we shouldn’t tell others what they can or cannot understand. Just because a woman or man doesn’t have kids doesn’t mean they don’t “get it.” Certainly, people with kids have a very different life experience that is filled with love, happiness, anger, chaos, total satisfaction and heavy disappointment. Oh, wait…that sounds like my life, too. And everyone else’s life. Bottom line: we’re all on this planet together and we are all capable of giving and receiving love no matter what sort of packaging it presents itself. A brother, a boyfriend, a Mom, a cat, a baby, an aunt or uncle…it’s all love and it can all be impactful and profound. And there aren’t any diapers to change, nor spaghetti in your hair.

A Dog with a Belly Button

typewriterIf you’re like me at the start of springtime, you’ve got your mind on Christmas. Okay, maybe you’re not like me, but today I’d like to share a story with you that is both inspired by and brought to you by, you guessed it, Christmas.

Oh boy, do kids love Christmas. Am I right? Even as an adult, it’s still kind of exciting. I don’t take part in many Christmas traditions, but I do look forward to seeing the big tree downtown at Daley Plaza with Steve. Then we walk to Macy’s and pick out some funny ornaments for our own Christmas tree. It’s not a Christmas vacation, but it’s always a day I treasure.

Enough about Steve, for Pete’s sake! Let’s talk about someone jolly who wears a velvet red suit. No, not Steve…it’s Santa Claus. If you’re a little kid, please skip the rest of this paragraph. Seriously, stop reading now, this isn’t for you. Okay, are the tykes gone? Good. I know as adults we don’t believe in Santa. We know Santa was Mom or Dad and even we play Santa these days. I am telling you, I met the real Santa Claus. Yeah, he’s real. The real Santa Claus was at the Kroger grocery store in Sterling, IL back in 198—ahem! Here’s how it all went down:

Alright, Kids! It’s okay to join us again! Here’s the story of how Jeanne met Santa Claus back in 198—ahem! If you grew up a poor kid, you know that Christmas can be rough. Heck, every day can be rough, but Christmas especially. I’ve mentioned before that my Mom was a single parent and funds were extremely tight. I would like to share though, I can’t remember having a bad Christmas. My Mom is a master craftswoman and she made us some pretty cool stuff. I don’t know how she managed it, but she did buy us some stuff, too. We always got something we wanted and never felt bad about it.

Paul and I would go to the mall and put our coins together to buy Mom something nice. If you are a fan of “The Andy Griffith Show” you may remember a scene when little Opie is trying to choose a gift for Aunt Bee’s birthday. He only has a dollar or two to spend and he wants to choose something nice. He is stuck between the salt-and-pepper shakers or the baseball hat. Both very thoughtful gifts. What did he choose? Well, you’ll have to watch the episode. (The Bed Jacket, Season 3, Episode 12)


Back in Sterling, Woolworth’s at the mall had everything. We could get Mom a goldfish! She’d like that! How ‘bout this hula-hoop? Nope, we decided on the coffee mug that plays Jingle Bells in a piercing digital tone. We were pretty excited about such a great gift. That mug played Jingle Bells for more than 20 years. A treasured gift, for sure. Once, I walked to buy Mom a Christmas gift all by myself. It was a small town, it was alright. I picked a wooden penguin ornament. It was probably 3-inches tall. Well, I was so excited about that penguin that I gave it to Mom as soon as I got home. Whoops. It still hangs on her tree. I knew she’d like it as much as I did.

Hey, I thought this was going to be a post about Santa! What gives? Alright, I’m getting there. I’m trying to paint a picture here. I can’t remember if Mom and I walked to the Kroger grocery store or drove. It was winter, so we probably drove. Before we left, I helped Mom roll coins into paper sleeves to pay for groceries. I guess I was old enough to know that paying with rolls of coins was horribly embarrassing. I was just a kid, I didn’t understand. My Mom went to the service counter to exchange coins for paper money and I got as far away as possible. I think oranges and apples appeared quite interesting to me at that moment. As I was waiting for Mom, guess who walked up to me? C’mon, guess! It was Santa!! Although I wasn’t afraid of Santa, he did make me a little tongue-tied…hard to believe, I know. I mean, this was an important person after all. Here was a person who I only saw once a year, but left presents at my house! You have to choose your words carefully with such a VIP. I looked up at Santa and he handed me the obligatory candy cane. It wasn’t even broken. You’ll never guess what he asked me. Ready for this? He asked me what I wanted for Christmas!! There was only one thing I wanted that year. Of course I had looked through both the Sears and JCPenney catalogs and circled dozens of things I’d never heard of before. Who didn’t do that? But what I really, really wanted was that plush dog sitting on the customer service counter right where my Mom was standing. I didn’t even know if that dog was for sale, but for some reason it spoke to me. Maybe it was the stitched-on belly button. Santa nodded, told me to be a good girl and we parted ways.

A couple of weeks went by and it was Christmas Day! A couple of weeks in a kid’s life are like an eternity. I didn’t do any research here, but I’m guessing a kid doesn’t remember much about 2 weeks ago, especially around the busy holiday season. That stuffed dog was not on my mind that morning. I was just excited to see what Santa had brought. Paul and I were pretty easy to please as far as that went. We got what was going on and accepted it. We weren’t totally stupid. (Well, I wasn’t.    C’mon! He’s my big brother; I have to call him stupid!) Paul and I waited at the top of the stairs for my Mom to get ready. The deal was we all went down the stairs together. Yeah, no one is calmly walking down the stairs on Christmas morning. Being the accident-prone child that I was, I probably already had huge band-aids on each knee to cushion my fall, but no one fell down that morning.

When I got to the tree the first thing I saw was that plush dog from Kroger! He was sitting under the tree with that cute half smile, waiting to hug me! Santa remembered! Santa remembered! I was thrilled. Not sure what else I got that year, it really didn’t matter. I totally bought into the Santa magic and believed for many more years. Even when I figured out Santa was Mom, I was convinced the “real” Santa was at Kroger.

Oh, no…that’s not the end of the story. Many years later, I asked my Mom about that dog and Santa. At first she didn’t know what I was talking about. She didn’t remember the dog, but she remembered Kroger Santa. As I mentioned earlier, Mom and I were not together when I talked with Santa. He didn’t know who my Mom was; he probably just figured I was another kid in the store. After he spoke with me, he continued on his way and eventually met Mom. This was after Mom had just turned in coins for paper money. She was feeling down, as you can imagine. Santa gave her a non-broken candy cane and asked her if she had been a good girl that year. Mom said she teared up right away, as she was trying so hard to provide for the 3 of us. Santa gave her a hug and made her smile. He was probably one of the few adults that had been nice to her in a long while. Being divorced in a small town in the 80s wasn’t easy. Everyone knew the story, or thought they knew the story. Santa never told Mom I wanted the dog, he was just nice to her for a moment when she needed it. See, I told you he’s the real Santa.

Mom saw the dog at a later time and thought I would like it, so she bought it for me. Again, it was probably the stitched-on belly button. She had no idea I had asked Santa. I have no idea who that man was in that Santa suit, but I know he was a good man. And I know my Mom is good, too. It’s really a story about all three of us: me, Santa and Mom. Three nice people who were at the right place at the right time. The proper ingredients for a Christmas miracle. I’m sure Santa has no idea how his casual actions all those years ago have stayed with me and Mom. What a beautiful thing he did for two strangers at the grocery store. I’m sure Santa doesn’t remember us, but I think of him every Christmas when I see those imposter Santas at the mall. I have met the genuine Santa Claus and my Mom did, too.

Do I still have the dog?? Don’t be ridiculous, of course I do! Here he is! Magical Santa Kroger Dog! Best Christmas gift ever!


My Buddy and Me

Over the years, many people have asked me who my musical influences are. I never have a good answer at the ready. Of course there are musicians I admire greatly, but as a singer, I can’t say I try to sound like any one particular person. Recently, I was thinking about this question again and I finally thought of a good answer. I would have to say that my first and most important musical influence in my life was my brother Paul.

Back when we were kids we shared a Fisher-Price plastic record player. It played the big records and the little records. It was a portable player that we could listen to upstairs in our own rooms. Most of the time the player resided in Paul’s room because he was older and could punch harder. (Of course my brother wasn’t punching a little kid; he waited until I got older.) We had a few records of our own like The Muppet Show, Pac-Man Fever and Strawberry Shortcake. Big surprise, Strawberry was my favorite. I used to practice my tap dancing to her rousing version of “New York, New York.” C’mon! I was a little kid!

The real treasures were my Mom’s albums. The first time I heard The Beatles was on that record player. My Mom also had the Broadway cast recording of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” By the time I was 10, I could sing that whole musical. We usually skipped over the death scenes though, as they are a bit much for a little kid. They still freak me out. (Happy Easter, Everybody!)

And then there was the red and white striped box. One of the best, most magical boxes in existence. This plastic coated box had a handle on the top and a hinged closure on the front and was full of 45’s. We played every record in that box from The Beatles to Elvis to The Doors to The Singing Nuns. There was even a version of “The Percolator” which always cracked me up. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, we would carefully carry the box into Paul’s room and look at them all. “Ooh, Paul! Play this one next!” And he would. On very special occasions, probably when Paul was bored out of his mind, he would tell me to gather my favorite stuffed animals and he would make my “friends” dance and sing to the records. Boy, was that cool. He could always make me laugh. Is it dusty in here? I think there’s something in my eye. Hold on.

Well, times, tastes and technology moved on as we grew. Pretty soon cassettes were all the rage. Paul got a cassette/radio boombox. I was not allowed to touch it. My brother, being the music lover that he is, amassed a large quantity of cassettes from Motley Crue to Prince and the Revolution to Missing Persons. He even had a Joe Piscopo comedy album that we thought was hilarious as young kids. (It’s not funny anymore, Joe. Write some new material!) By this time, Paul was a little too cool, or so he thought, to be hanging out with his little kid sister. Silver lining: I got the record player in my room. I would spend hours singing and dancing with Strawberry or The Muppets.

Even as an older kid, Paul would get bored and agree to hang out with me for the afternoon. We didn’t play Monopoly or Scrabble like the other kids, we played Star Search. For those of you not familiar with the 80’s TV show, Ed McMahon hosted a talent competition every week. Singers, dancers, comedians and “spokesmodels” would compete for the highest score of 4-stars. The winner would return week after week to defend their “champion” status. It was a pretty popular show. Here’s how you play the Paul and Jeanne home version: First, pick a song you’d like to perform. Weird Al was always a popular choice, but any song we owned would do. Next, take some time to cultivate your performance. As a dancer, I had a lot of dance costume remnants lying around, so it was easy to put together a unique, silly costume. The performer will also be judged on lip-sync and dance capabilities, so you’d better be good! I don’t remember anyone actually winning the competition, but we put on a good show.

As we got older, Paul and I spent less time together. We had busy lives with band, choir, theater shows, work, school and friends. Luckily, there was always time to watch TV. Maybe we couldn’t agree on a show or movie to watch, but MTV was an option everyone could agree on. We could watch videos for hours. It was so cool to see what our favorite bands looked like. Sometimes when I hear an 80’s song, I’ll ask Paul if he remembers watching the “World Premiere” of that video on MTV. Of course he remembers.

As we became adults we started to attend concerts together. We’ve seen some pretty great and weird shows. Here are a few: Prince, Billy Joel, Korn, Q101’s Twisted 8, Nine Inch Nails, Art of Noise, 311, The Stooges, Henry Rollins, Van Halen, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails again, Bauhaus, Moby…I’m sure there’s more. Ask Paul the next time you see him. Our next show together this June is Weird Al at the Chicago Theater. Anyway, even when we can’t attend a show together, we still share one song over the phone. When I went to see Duran Duran I asked Paul what song he’d like to hear. I can’t remember which song he picked, but he heard “Hungry Like the Wolf.” He didn’t really hear Duran Duran singing it, he heard me screaming the song with thousands of other people, through my phone. Whatever the show, Paul gets a call. We get a good laugh about it later.

Paul and I are still passionate about music. He is a very talented trumpet player and DJ and I am the singer of my band, Puddin’ Head. Music is a major part of both of our lives. If my car is running, there is music on at all times. I’m sure it’s the same in Paul’s car. Thank God for music devices that hold thousands of songs and albums. I’ve helped Paul move a few times and all those CDs are heavy! I’ve got a lot, too, but I’ll never have as much as Paul. He is a true celebrator of music. I would believe that he’s heard almost every song at least once. Okay, maybe not every song, but pretty close. I doubt I would be so passionate about music today if it weren’t for Paul. He and my Mom gave me an invaluable gift in the form of music and creativity all those years ago. I can’t imagine my life without that record player, that striped box of records…or my brother.

So, Paul….how ‘bout another game of Star Search?


10 Songs That Changed My Life

When I meet someone new I always ask them what kind of music they like. It shocks and troubles me when a person says, “I don’t know, I don’t really listen to music.” WHAT?? That two-second answer forces me to reevaluate this potential friendship. How does a person even get through their life without listening to music?? That just makes me sad. I have spent countless hours listening to music and discussing music. I suppose being a singer in a band forces one to talk about music, but so many friendships and memories have been made through music. I can’t imagine my life without it. Not even for a second.

One of my friends encouraged me to write a music blog as I’m always talking about my band or music in general. Ok, not “always”, but regularly. That got me thinking. What can I write about music? There are only a zillion topics to choose from. I decided to keep it simple and offer a list of 10 songs that have changed my life. You’d think this would be an easy task, but I must correct you there. Sure, it’s really easy to think of songs I love that are meaningful, but they may not have changed my life. Hmmm…this requires some thought. After much debate, here is my list. I hope you find it interesting and insightful. Perhaps it will encourage you to make your own list enabling you to revisit some important milestones in your life. I’d love to hear your list, too. Don’t be shy about sharing. Here goes!

These aren’t necessarily in any particular order.

1. “More Than A Feeling” by Boston. When CDs first became available, I didn’t have any. I was still marveling over the dual cassette option on my boombox. You mean I can make my own mixes and record songs off the radio? That’s so cool! My older brother Paul was a rabid music fan. I think he has listened to just about everything that’s out there at least once. Of course he had CDs. These were the early days when he only had 10 or 20. I’m sure he owns thousands of discs at this point. One of the first CDs my brother owned was the debut album from Boston. “More Than A Feeling” was track 1. I carefully placed a bookmark in my brother’s CD pile so I could put Boston back in the right place. Of course he would notice it was moved; he had a little sister. Can you hear the acoustic guitar fading in? I can. Tom Scholz wrote the song and played all of those harmonic guitars. And then Brad Delp came in with first a quiet pleasant-sounding voice to explode into those super-high notes that are nearly impossible to duplicate. My mind was blown. After spending my girlhood listening to The Muppets and Strawberry Shortcake, I finally heard real rock ‘n roll. I was never the same again. There’s a whole album after that song, too! “More Than A Feeling” taught me what rock ‘n roll sounded like. It’s an album I’ve never gotten tired of hearing and my brother never knew I frequently “borrowed” his CD. (Well, he does now.) He eventually made me a cassette copy, God bless him. I’m sure it wasn’t to be nice, but to keep me away from his stuff.

2. “Leave It” by Yes. I remember watching the world premiere of the video of this song on MTV. I thought Yes was a new 80’s band and “Owner of a Lonely Heart” was their first hit. Oh, the fun of being an ignorant kid. Being a girl who loved singing, “Leave It” was a jaw-dropping song in my book. Listen to all those harmonies! I didn’t know much about recording back then, so I assumed everyone sang the song all together at one time. One take. You practice until you get it right, right? Over the years I have tried to learn everyone’s part in case they need me to fill in. What a fun piece to learn! I listened to it over and over. “90125” is still one of my favorite albums. When I started hanging around with my husband, I told him I loved that song hoping he wouldn’t think I was a dork. He produced a surround sound version of the album with a version of “Leave It” featuring vocals only. Wow! That is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard. This song taught me about harmonizing and that singing with a group can be a rewarding challenge. How could I not be a singer after hearing that gem?

3. “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette. I know, I know…quit groaning. It’s not what you think. I know this is the 90’s anthem for girl power and the ultimate break-up song, but that’s not why it changed my life. When this song came out, I wasn’t particularly sad or depressed, but I really liked Alanis’s sound. She could sing quiet and pretty and then melodically yell some biting lyrics. That was pretty cool. Not a lot of chicks were doing that at that time. I seem to remember a lot of Shania Twain going around at that time. She has a beautiful voice, but not very rock ‘n roll. In my early 20’s I started hanging out at karaoke bars. You see, I loved to sing and wanted to try singing in front of people. Drunk people are pretty forgiving audiences. So, I decided to try, “You Oughta Know.” Why not? I had sung it in my bedroom a hundred times. Guess what? I totally rocked it out. My choir/musical theater training was doing me some good. When I finished hollering my song at a room full of strangers, they actually clapped. As I shyly walked back to my seat, people were stopping me to tell me how great I sounded. To quote Keanu Reeves, “Wo.” I loved the attention and I loved knowing that I had the power to do something great. Although I could never sing this song in front of my Mom, I did record it for my very first demo. (I changed the bad word so my Mom could listen to it.) So, Alanis Morissette in all of her anger and bitterness kindly ushered me into the spotlight. That was really nice of her.

4. “It’s Too Late” by Carole King. When I was in my 20’s a tribute to “Tapestry” was produced. Amy Grant sang “It’s Too Late” and I loved it. I loved her voice on the song and the arrangement was smooth. I don’t mean to dis the original as I enjoy that, too. I used to scour the newspapers for audition notices. This was a bit before the internet was a go-to resource. There was a local church putting on a big production. I guess they had been producing this show every year for several years. Not really knowing what it was, I went to audition. I sang, “White Christmas” for about ten people. They asked me to sing a Christmas song. I was selected to be a part of the show. I would be performing at the main attraction which was a live band. There would be a group of about 8 of us who would all perform a song. The rest of us would sing background vocals. The rest of the group already knew each other and I was the outsider. Being a church production, most of the folks were pretty nice to me. I chose “It’s Too Late” to sing for my solo song. We practiced for several weeks and then the big day arrived. This would be the first time that I would sing as myself, not as a theatrical character, with a band in front of a large group of people, including my family. After a few songs, it was my turn to perform. As I was introduced, I walked up to the microphone and looked out among the 100+ people in the room. Once I got going, it was great! What a rush! When the song was over, everyone clapped and yelled and no one threw rotten vegetables. “It’s Too Late” will always hold a very special place in my heart.

5. “Paper Airplane” by Willy Porter. This may be a song that you’ve never heard. That’s okay. I hadn’t heard the song or even heard of Willy Porter until I met my husband. The beginning of our relationship was well, interesting. It was really an uphill climb to be together, but I was willing to fight for it. Apparently he was too. In my quest to show my amorous feelings I did what any normal girl would do and made him a mix CD. Everybody does that, right? I wasn’t sure how he was going to take it, but he made me one in return. Is there anything better than receiving a mix tape/CD from someone else? Most of the songs on his first CD to me were just songs he liked and wanted to share. No real hidden meanings, although I really tried to look for them. As I was getting worried that perhaps my feelings were unreciprocated, “Paper Airplane” played. This song was written and performed by Willy Porter who, in my opinion, is a very underrated musician. His guitar playing is intricate and masterful while his sweet voice could quiet an entire auditorium. You should listen to it for yourself. It’s the live version. There’s a line in the song that goes, “People say I’ve lost my footing, they should look into your eyes.” When that song ended, I knew Steve “like liked me” and my heart swelled. Aww…

6. “Wild Sex in the Working Class” by Oingo Boingo. Oddly enough, this song reminds me of my brother. Alright, alright, before you start gagging, it’s not like that. When I was a kid I looked up to my big brother. I wanted to do what he did, like what he liked and be wherever he thought was a cool place to be. We actually lived together in our 20’s/30’s and really got to know each other as adults. It’s a time I treasure. My brother is not an emotional person, I’m the emotional one. (No kidding??!!) After many years of an estranged relationship with our Dad, he told us that he was moving to California. He did not make arrangements to say good-bye to us, so we went to see him. My Dad bought us dinner and that was it. I said good-bye and walked to the door. I let my brother have his own moment as they have always been closer. Paul came to meet me totally upset. He did not get the farewell that he had hoped for. Their parting was rather cold, actually. I have never seen my brother that upset. Ever. We got into the car and drove away and that’s when “Wild Sex” came on the radio. It’s weird how sometimes the perfect song comes on the radio precisely when you need to hear it. Paul is a huge Oingo Boingo fan, so we turned up the song, rolled the windows down and rocked out. We drove away from the past and into the future with our heads held high and smiles on our faces. It was a side of my brother I had never seen before and I feel like it was a major event in our lives that only we could understand. It was a moving moment, for sure.

7. “Sweet Emotion” by Aersomith. Ok, stay with me. I know this song seems strange, but it will make sense momentarily. I can’t really say that I like this song and I wouldn’t say I’m an Aerosmith fan. I used to be a singer in a local Chicago band called Ruckus. This was actually the first band I was in. I learned a lot with those guys and we had some great times together. I was the last singer to come in after a long line of talented men and women, so the band’s song list was pretty set. Of course they let me choose a few songs of my own. Singing with Ruckus was a wonderful opportunity that I will always be grateful for. They believed in me and made me a member of their family. That being said, I was looking for another band to work with where we would perform more modern songs. I was planning to be in two bands at the same time. I started looking at ads on craigslist to find a band looking for a singer. I came across an ad that looked interesting and set up an audition. Over the phone, I agreed on audition songs with some guy named, Karl. He didn’t sound too creepy so I decided to meet him. I drove about an hour from my house to a stranger’s house to audition. To be honest, I didn’t really care if they liked me or not, because I was already in a band. I met the guys and we got set up in the “band room.” The first song we performed together was…wait for it…”Sweet Emotion.” I was stunned and pleased at how good these guys were. After a few more songs, they offered me the job. So many little details had to come together to get me to that audition to meet my future husband. If you have time someday I’ll tell you the whole story. It’s nearly magical. (As a point of interest, that audition was recorded and I can be heard laughing and joking with Steve, my husband. Pretty cool to have that.)

8. “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel. Anyone who has known me for more than 10 minutes knows that Billy Joel is my all-time favorite musician. I have never wavered in my choice, even through New Kids on the Block, Madonna and N’Sync. When I was a little kid I suppose I knew who Billy Joel was because my Mom or Dad probably listened to him a bit. When I was about 9 years old, again I was watching MTV and saw the video for, “The Longest Time.” It was entertaining enough for a kid to watch, but the part that I loved was at the end of the video when Mark Goodman or Nina Blackwood told me that Billy Joel sang all of the parts himself. What??!! For some reason, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I had never heard of someone recording multiple vocal tracks. I didn’t think that was allowed. I assumed that Billy Joel had figured this out himself and was creating something brand new. I had to hear everything else this man sang. My Mom was joining Columbia House, if you remember that old mail-order music service, and she allowed my brother and me to choose a cassette or two. Here was my big chance to really dig into some Billy Joel. I picked “Innocent Man” and “Cold Spring Harbor.” I loved all of it. Kinda weird for a little kid, but I didn’t know that. I own every album on cassette and CD and I probably know those songs better than Billy does. His songbook has been the accompanying soundtrack to my life. Certain songs remind me of a time in my life or a certain event. I’m sure most people feel that way about an artist. When I visited New York, I carried around “Nylon Curtain” just in case I ran into Billy. I was hoping he would sign my CD. I never ran into him. I’m not even sure what I’d say to him, as he’s probably heard it all before. I hope I get the opportunity to meet him someday. “The Longest Time” is not my favorite song by Billy Joel, but it always reminds me of how I came to love his music. I’m still impressed that he did all of the vocals. In older brother style, Paul later told me that all artists do that, so that was nothing special. Way to poop on the magic, Paul. That’s okay; I still think it’s cool.

9. “Then” by Brad Paisley. Okay, it’s gonna get mushy here, so if that sort of stuff offends you, please proceed to number 10. If you’re still with me, I thank you. I’m not a country girl in the least bit. I can appreciate the country music world is full of talented musicians and songwriters, but it’s just not a style I can get with. My husband, then boyfriend, has a much higher tolerance for country. If there’s cool guitar playing, he’ll listen. Somehow he came across a special with Brad Paisley and heard the song “Then.” I was scheduled to have major surgery a few years ago, before we were married, and I was pretty scared. In fact, it was the scariest event in my life. I wasn’t sure if Steve was worried or concerned, as he is very good at keeping his feelings in-check. The night before my surgery, Steve told me that he wanted me to hear this great song he had heard. He plays a lot of cool songs for me, so I wasn’t expecting anything like “Then.” I was pleasantly surprised to hear Braid Paisley perform the song, followed by Steve telling me that’s how he feels about me. Basically, during the song Brad talks about meeting his wife. It’s kind of a timeline of their relationship. Paisley talks about events and ends each verse with, “I thought I loved you then,” meaning that he keeps loving her more and more as the years go by. This song was the first dance at our wedding a year after that surgery. It was the only country song played all night. I asked Steve to fade out the guitar solo, so we wouldn’t be dancing so long. As a guitar player, he found that idea to be rather disgusting. Being a non-dancer, he now regrets having to awkwardly sway back and forth during that long guitar solo. (I danced around him.) In any case, I still get choked up when I hear that song and it reminds me of how much Steve loves me. It’s a song that is near and dear to my heart.

10. “Wonderwall by Oasis. This is a tricky one. Although I do really like the Oasis version, it’s really my band’s (Puddin’ Head) version that’s special to me. This one is pretty simple. When the band first started playing this song, I always sang it with Steve in mind. “There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how,” and “Maybe you’re gonna be the one that saves me” are lines that are important to me. We eventually recorded this song and Steve and I had a great time recording it together. When we eventually got married a couple years later, I walked down the aisle to Puddin’ Head’s version of “Wonderwall.” It was a pretty cool experience to be hearing my own voice singing to me at my wedding. You can probably guess that this song changed my life, for it was the start of my wedding and married life. It’s still a song I love to sing and it’s even more special now.

Thanks for sticking with this blog. It did get rather long, didn’t it? I invite you to think about the songs that changed your life. I’ll bet you’ll remember happy and life-changing moments that will inspire you to listen to those songs again with fresh ears. I’ll bet you’ve changed and learned a lot since you first heard those songs. Are you a better person? Are you a different person? I’d like to think that I am both. Music and songs are experiences that are so individual, but universal as well. Have you ever been to a concert where the entire crowd was singing along? It’s pretty powerful. Why not get that CD Walkman out of the closet and drop in your favorite CD? Put on your headphones, close your eyes and really listen. What do you hear?