Help Is On The Way

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay 

“Don’t give up the ship — even when you feel it sinking and you don’t know what to do…” writes David Friedman in his great song, “Help Is On The Way.”

I found myself thinking about this song when I heard Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer say “Help is on the way!” on TV after helping to pass the American Rescue Plan.

Although I have not been able to confirm this from searching the internet, I think David Friedman created this song during a previous plague — HIV/AIDS.

I wrote about David in a post three years ago which you can read if you are curious by clicking here.

Image by Plz from Pixabay

Some were willing and able to ignore the threat of HIV/AIDS when it appeared — as some are still attempting to do with COVID-19.

However, HIV/AIDS left a vast trail of shock and grief for many human beings — as COVID-19 is now doing…

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

I thought of this song again when I was listening to yet another medical expert pleading with us to continue to wear masks, wash our hands, and practice physical dustancing.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

“We have the football on the five-yard line,” he said, “and we’ve got to hang in there so that we don’t lose possession of the ball when we are so close to making a touchdown and winning the game.”

His football metaphor was inspired by the fact that many states in the USA are currently relaxing health measures even as new — more communicable and possibly more lethal —varieties of the COVID-19 virus are spreading exponentially around the country.

Apparently we are now in a contest to see if we can vaccinate enough people before we are overtaken by yet another tidal wave of infections due in part to these new genetic variations and in part to us human beings letting down our guard.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Image by Miroslava Chrienova from Pixabay

My heart goes out in particular to the health care workers who — amazingly — continue to care for people infected with Covid whether the infected people had chosen to take Covid seriously in the first place or not…

I’m not a healthcare worker or someone with a job that requires interaction with the public or a senior citizen.

So I’m wearing a mask when I go outside for my daily walks and waiting patiently — as I know many of us are — until I become eligible to get vaccinated.

Singer Bobbi Carrey, pianist Doug Hammer and I recorded this song many years ago as part of a musical program called IN GOOD COMPANY which explored working and business and capitalism using songs and stories.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

I consider it to be a quintessential “helps me get out of bed in the morning” song.

And I’ve been needing these sorts of songs in recent weeks — because I’ve been feeling rather crabby.

Maybe it’s the rising spring energy of the northern hemisphere as we struggle — like bulbs — to push our way through the thawing soil towards the sun.

Maybe it’s the fact that a pandemic which we all thought might last a month or two has now stretched past the one year mark…

Maybe it’s an at-times-overwhelming sense of empathy for all of the folks who have already died due to Covid-19 — AND for their grieving family + friends.

Maybe it’s a sense of frustration that we human beings seem to have done an extremely poor job of teaching one another about the formidable power of exponential growth.

One doubles and becomes two.

Two doubles and becomes four.

Four doubles and becomes eight.

Eight doubles and becomes sixteen.

Sixteen doubles and becomes thirty-two.

Thirty-two doubles and becomes sixty-four.

Sixty-four doubles and becomes one hundred-and-twenty eight.

And sooner than one might think possible, the total rises into the thousands, then millions, then billions…

Understanding exponential growth deepens one’s respect/humility/awe/terror for how a virus left un-checked spreads exponentially through a host population — and thus has vastly more opportunities to mutate into new varieties as a result…

This is why we need to be distributing COVID-19 vaccines to every country in the world — even countries such as Tanzania, led by a Covid-denying leader who recently died after an 18-day period of ill health…officially attributed to a heart condition and unofficially speculated to have been Covid-related.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Clearly it is a huge challenge to change anyone’s mind when they have very strong convictions about a particular topic.

Here in the USA the Covid-related death of a newly elected, incoming, 41-year-old congressman from Louisiana — Luke Letlow — has done little to change the mindset and behavior of some of his Republican colleagues regarding the severity of the risk of Covid infection.

Yet another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

I don’t entirely believe the message of this song — although I WANT to believe it because it gives me hope.

My favorite line is probably “from friends we may not have met yet.”

I feel that way about some of my fellow bloggers, and also about some of the photographers on Pixabay.

Now that I have started including their names underneath their beautiful photographs, I have begun noticing that certain photographers have taken a LOT of the photos I’ve used in past blog posts.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

David Mark is one of them.

Many of the images in this blog post were taken by him.

And he has thousands more at Pixabay.

I will end this blog post with several more of his lovely images.

Thank you to David Friedman for his wonderful songs and to Forbes Magazine for this great interview with him.

Thank you to Doug Hammer and to Bobbi Carrey for their heartful musicianship.

Thank you to all the “friends we may not have met yet” — who are growing our food, developing new vaccines, taking care of us in hospitals, working in grocery stores, delivering packages, etc. etc. etc.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Thank you to Pixabay and all of the photographers who generously share their images there — and allow me to travel far and wide around this extraordinary planet earth without leaving my living room.

Thank you to the cardinals who have been singing and singing and singing in my neighborhood in recent days.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Thank you for the return of spring here in New England.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.

One more deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

“Help is on the way…”

Say Moon, Say Stars, Say Love…

I am writing this blog post as I watch many inaugural events on TV.

So far everything has gone well.

For this I am deeply grateful.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

The song for this blog post, “New Words,” was written by Maury Yeston — a professor at Yale who also created beautiful songs for the Broadway musicals NINE and TITANIC.

I first heard it sung by a woman named Andrea Marcovicci at Town Hall in New York City.

She also recorded it, along with a bunch of other great songs by contemporary songwriters, on a CD called NEW WORDS.

I performed it as part of an evening of SONGS ABOUT PARENTS AND CHILDREN, and again as part of a cycle of songs I shared at my 25th high school reunion.

Then last year this version gracefully jumped out of my archives of past rehearsals with pianist Doug Hammer — and I decided I would wait until after our new president was inaugurated to release it.

After four years of a certain kind of leadership, I have been hungry for a new tone…

A new sense of respect…

A new vision for the future…

And new words…

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Ahhhhh….

Yes.

New words!

I have been told — and sometimes have experienced with my own eyes and ears — that underneath anger and acting out and conspiracy theories and doomsday scenarios and threatening comments and violence and all sorts of drama is simply…

Fear.

And pain.

Pain from past hurts…

Past losses…

Past disrespects…

Past disappointments…

Past abandonments…

Past abuses of trust…

Past unhappiness of all different shapes and sizes and colors and tastes and smells and densities…

Yes.

Pain.

And fear.

I breathe them in.

And then I breathe them out.

Ahhhhh….

Like many of us, I’ve experienced new pains and new fears during this past year.

I don’t need to go into any of the details, which I have so far chosen to keep private.

Suffice to say that some of them involve rites of passage related to families and health and time and aging which all of us inevitably experience in one form or another.

And some of them involve things which have happened locally, nationally, and globally.

I have a sense that our new president — who has himself experienced some of the most profound losses a human being can experience — and our new vice-president — who has experienced life as a child of immigrants, as a woman, as a person of color, as an attorney general, and as a US senator — may be able to offer us some new words of consolation.

And comfort.

And acknowledgement.

And justice.

And inspiration.

And healing.

We shall see…

Yet another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

As regular readers of my blog already know, in addition to writing postcards to potential voters in swing states and going for long walks in local cemeteries full of trees, I find refuge and inspiration in music.

The song “New Words” reminds me of the Music Together classes I lead each week — which give me much-needed infusions of joy and spontaneity and playfulness and creativity and connectedness and love.

We set aside the worries of the world for 45 precious minutes and are present with each other — having fun clapping and snapping and drumming and waving scarves and shaking rhythm eggs and singing and dancing together — even via Zoom.

Some families have stayed with me for many years — so I experience the happiness of bearing witness to their children’s new movements, new vocabulary, new ideas, new competencies, new stuffed animals, new Lego creations, and, yes, even new siblings!

Part of me is amazed that anyone would dare to bring a child into a world teetering on the brink of so many disasters.

Yet part of me also sees how these precious, blessed beings can awaken a profound sense of responsibility and interconnectedness in their parents.

I hear mothers who are breast-feeding begin to re-think what they are themselves eating — and start to become curious about how and where and by whom our food is grown and processed.

I bear enthusiastic witness to families’ participation in social justice marches, in political activism, in fighting for a more respectful and sustainable future here on planet earth.

And I feel hope.

I feel love.

I do not know if love really IS capable of overcoming systemic racism, economic inequality, environmental degradation, accelerating rates of extinction, ignorant non-mask-wearers, brain-washed insurrectionists, and the myriad other challenges facing us here in the USA.

A very brave man who was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee over 50 years ago once said:

“We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.” (1958)

“We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.” (1963)

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (1963)

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” (1963)

And “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” (1967)

Yet ANOTHER deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Ahhhhh….

This song inspires me to stick with love.

Thank you to Maury Yeston for writing it.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for playing such beautiful piano and then helping me to mix and master it via Zoom.

Thank you to the generous photographers at Pixabay for these glorious images.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.

If for some reason you want to listen to this song on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, YouTube, Amazon or Tidal, you can click here for a link to those digital music platforms.

ps: As I was doing my final proof-reading of this blog post, I received an email from one of my favorite former Music Together parents.

She wrote:

“We have been enjoying your music on Spotify! I started following you, and now new songs of yours come up on my new release playlist that Spotify sends out periodically.

Scarlet (her super-sensitive, fairy-like, delightful daughter) especially loves ‘New Words’ — she stopped what she was doing and came over and gave me a hug when it came up on my playlist. She found it so moving, and she didn’t even know it was yours.”

One more deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Ahhhhh…

This is why I do what I do.

It’s Not Over…

I’ve been feeling stunned and disheartened and — yes — terrified by the events unfolding recently here in the USA.

Maybe you have been feeling something similar.

And I have been wondering — yet again — how music might in some small way help to heal the soul of our country.

I shared a blog post 14 months ago which featured a song I co-wrote called “Let The Day Unfold” and which I recorded using Apple’s wonderful GarageBand program.

You can click here for a link to that blog post if you are curious.

The version I am sharing at the top of today’s blog post is a stripped down piano + vocal recording I made with the wonderful pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.

There are so many things one could write about recent events here in the USA that I find it hard to know where to begin.

Here are just a few thoughts that have jumped out at me…

Many white Americans I have seen on TV (and heard on the radio and read online) who have been attempting to make sense out of what recently transpired in our nation’s capital have said things like, “This is not who we are as a country.”

And many people of color have responded — respectfully and persistently — by saying, “Actually, this IS who we are as a country. This IS who we have been as a country for hundreds of years.”

I have found that when I listen to the news nowadays, all I want to hear is what people of color are saying, thinking, feeling and yes — for what must feel like the umpteenth time to them — explaining to the rest of us.

They have lived with violence and threats of violence and terrorist acts — such as public murders/lynchings — for generation after generation after generation.

And — as one woman’s extraordinarily articulate and passionate viral video this summer further explained — they are not (amazing to me…) seeking vengeance.

They are seeking justice.

In recent days I have heard several African-American college historians explain, and re-explain, and explain yet again how every advance made by people of color in this country has been met by a huge — and terrifying — backlash from unhappy (and extremely vengeful) white folks.

They have pointed to our recent election of the first African-American/South Asian-American woman as vice president as well as the election of the first African-American and Jewish-American US senators from the southern state of Georgia as being one of the precipitating factors in the white mob take-over of our Capital building last Wednesday.

Ashton Lattimore, in a recent Prism report explains:

“Any flex of political power by Black and brown people in the United States (is) followed by a reactionary white supremacist show of force. The pattern of racist white backlash to the barest hint of racial progress has persisted since the earliest days of the republic up until now, from antebellum white mobs attacking free Black people essentially just for existing, to the Civil War itself and post-Reconstruction violence punishing Black self-determination in Tulsa, to the violent resistance to the civil rights movement, and then the enraged, panicked genesis of the Tea Party and the Trump era immediately after the election of the first Black president. Against that historical backdrop, the white insurrectionist takeover of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was as predictable as a pendulum’s swing.”

You can read her entire article by clicking here.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

My brain now turns to is something I read earlier today.

A Republican congressman was explaining why many of his colleagues in the House of Representatives continue to support the charade of voter fraud even after an angry mob had burst into the Capitol building and sent them all into hiding.

According to him, they are scared about the safety of their family members.

That’s what terrorism does.

It makes people scared.

I empathize with these scared congressmen and congresswomen AND I want to say to them, “Do you get it now?! This is what people of color have been living with for hundreds of years! Do you get it now?!”

I wonder if any of them do or will.

I have certainly been slow to get it — or at least to begin to get it…

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

I chose photographs of sunrises for this blog post from the Pixabay website because I am guessing that most of us have already seen more than enough disturbing images from our nation’s capital.

I hope you are finding ways — going for a well-masked walk, stretching, visiting with loved ones via Zoom, singing, praying, writing, cooking, etc. — to keep well during this seemingly-ever-more-challenging time in our lives.

I offer my (perhaps now familiar) thanks for food, for shelter, for employment, for electricity, for internet access, for running water, for soap, for friends and family, for Doug Hammer, and for my fellow bloggers.

Let the day unfold… this life is wide open.

Every plan we make… can be broken.

We’ve got to find the strength to lose some of our cherished point of views…

We’ve got to have hope… it’s not over!

ps: I am aware that the correct grammar for the chorus of “Let The Day Unfold” is “cherished pointS of view,” but that didn’t rhyme as well.

pps: If you are wanting to hear even more music which might comfort and/or inspire your spirit, you are welcome to visit the mini-website which songwriter Barbara Baig and I have started to honor her (similarly titled) song “Let Me Be Strong.”

We’d love to hear from you there!

Let My Heart Be Open…

These are challenging times.

I’ve been reading a lot of posts — as well as the comments they elicit — by my fellow bloggers.

One theme that often emerges is Covid-fatigue.

This is not the fatigue that one experiences when one contracts the Covid-19 virus (although I have been told that fatigue is often a symptom of Covid-19 infection and can last much longer than one would like…)

This is being tired of wearing a mask outside and sometimes even inside if one is quarantining at home with others.

This is being tired of not seeing people’s faces — and smiles — while going to work or buying groceries or walking one’s dog.

This is being tired of feeling scared that one might contract the virus.

This is being tired of feeling upset by the folks who have been listening to a different stream of news — one in which mask-wearing is not necessary and the virus is nothing to fear.

This is — in some very sad cases — being heart-broken that one is unable to visit and comfort a loved one who is fighting for her or his life in a hospital.

This is being tired of not seeing one’s extended web of family and friends at Thanksgiving — and probably not seeing them for the winter holidays either…

This is being tired of not being able to do many of the things that some of us formerly took for granted — like BBQ-ing with friends, or seeing a movie in a theater, or going on a date, or eating in a restaurant, or attending a concert or…. you fill in the blank.

The list goes on and on.

The news of surprisingly robust results from many different vaccine trials gives me a shred of hope — a possible light at the end of a long tunnel.

But this will take time — more time than most of us want to acknowledge.

And we will probably need to wear our masks even AFTER we have been vaccinated because there is very little data — yet — about how infectious those who have been vaccinated may be to others who have not yet been vaccinated.

And not everyone — for a spectrum of reasons both historical and personal and political — may agree to be vaccinated…

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Then there is the fatigue — physical, emotional, spiritual — that our nurses and EMTs and doctors and others who help to take care of Covid-19 patients are experiencing.

In many cases it is beyond fatigue.

It is trauma.

We are going to emerge from this health crisis with a significant number of our caregivers having been traumatized and in need of all sorts of healing for THEIR bodies, minds and spirits.

Some of them may decide that they can no longer risk their lives taking care of others — especially others who minimize and/or deny the threat of Covid-19 (and thus help to worsen everyone’s collective health and the horrific burden being placed on our health care workers).

I learned recently that one of my friends — a former housemate with whom I lived after college (along with three other people) in a run-down but functional duplex apartment outside Central Square in Cambridge, MA — just spent five days in a hospital fighting to breathe with a Covid infection.

He posted on Facebook:

“I didn’t get the mild version. It was a grueling, terrifying experience. I would like to make a plea for any of you who doubt the danger of this bug to rethink that. If you are thinking, ‘I probably won’t get it’ or ‘it probably won’t kill me’ you’re in danger — and the people around you are as well. Please don’t let your guard down. You’ll never know what you’re missing.”

In another post he shared more details:

“When my COVID was at its worst I had a temperature of 103, and each breath only gave me a few teaspoons of air. I would get panicked, and I would cough and gasp, but there was no more room in my lungs. A nurse at the ER told me to try not to cough; so I started counting my breaths, trying to make it to 100 without coughing. I’d get to about 37 and involuntarily cough/gasp. And then came one of those moments when you realize you had something and never appreciated it and maybe it’s gone. I wanted a regular breath, nothing fancy, and if I could have it I wouldn’t take it for granted anymore. So today I am deeply thankful for my lungs. I’m sharing this hoping that, if you don’t already appreciate your lungs, you’ll take a nice deep breath and appreciate them right now…”

Deep breath in.

And out.

So how did my friend end up in the hospital?

“I got a flu shot the Wednesday of the week before Thanksgiving. Felt achy the next day. Not sure if it was the shot or COVID. By Saturday my chest was getting tight. On Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. I was going to the ER every evening (it gets bad in the evening — no one can tell me how the virus knows what time it is), struggling to breath, doing this sort of gasping/cough thing that just excited my lungs and made them more desperate. Fever kept getting worse — 103 degrees by Wednesday, (when) I went to a new hospital.”

They admitted my friend and started him on a 5 day course of Remdesivir.

At this point I didn’t know where this was going. The thing about the coughing/gasping is that they really didn’t have anything to stop it. I asked a doctor how concerned he was that I might die, and he said, “Not at all.” That was reassuring. Up until then I was worried about A) being on a ventilator and B) dying. They tell me that they don’t put people on ventilators as much now that they know more about treatment. Gradually, my symptoms receded. Very grateful.”

He was treated in the hospital with Remdesivir, oxygen, cough syrup, nebulizer treatments, and tylenol to control his fever.

He’s pretty sure he got Covid from his 18-year-old daughter, who had a fever for a couple of days and then was fine.

His final comment on Facebook was:

“(Covid infection) varies greatly and it can turn on a dime.”

Another deep breath in.

And out.

Paul is the second person I know who has been hospitalized due to Covid.

The other — as regular readers of this blog may remember — is a fellow singer who ended up on a ventilator for many weeks and then spent time in rehab for weeks after that.

Both friends are now at home and gradually recovering their strength.

There but for the grace of g-d — along with a few face masks, a lot of physical/social distancing, and regular handwashing — go I…

And ANOTHER deep breath in.

And out.

Yesterday morning I picked up a bunch of postcards for me and two friends to personalize and then mail to potential voters in Georgia.

I loved riding my bike — and not burning any fossil fuels — while picking up and then delivering postcards to my friends.

Climate change is a WHOLE OTHER CRISIS which many of us — similar to the Covid-downplayers and non-mask-wearers during our current Covid crisis — are in denial about.

But that’s a topic for another blog post…

I definitely experienced — and was grateful for — my lungs as I pedaled up a bridge and over the commuter railroad tracks that separate Cambridge from Somerville.

I was also grateful that yesterday’s rain waited until I was home from my postcard pickup and deliveries to begin its gentle precipitation.

And I am grateful to share that a song I recorded many years ago — “Let Me Be Strong” by Barbara Baig — now has its own mini-website.

You can click here to check it out (and you may recognize the names of a few fellow bloggers on the feedback page, bless them…)

I met Barbara when I was organizing open mics at the Cambridge Center For Adult Education in Harvard Square, where I worked for 16 years,

As you may also remember from a recent blog post about how modestly streaming platforms currently pay recording artists and songwriters, it is unlikely that we will make much money from distributing “Let Me Be Strong.”

But we have gotten such positive feedback that we decided — as a kind of mitzvah — to create this mini-website and devote some energy to sharing her song with the rest of the world (or at least those people who have access to digital music platforms…)

The chorus of her song says:

“Let me be strong and moving through fear.

When the truth is blinding, let me see it clear.

And when love comes, let me not hide.

Let my heart be open, let love inside.”

Easier said (or sung) than done, I know — but potentially helpful words for the days and weeks and months ahead…

We have begun reaching out to radio DJs, nurses, doctors, yoga instructors, hospital chaplains, ministers, rabbis, and anyone else whom we think might appreciate hearing the song — and possibly sharing it with others.

We would be honored if YOU, too, are moved to share “Let Me Be Strong” with anyone in your web of family and friends.

You can use the share option by clicking on the upper right corner of this page of our mini-website if the spirit moves you.

We also welcome any ideas about other people, DJs, yoga instructors, nurses, doctors, rabbis, ministers, chaplains, etc. to whom we might reach out — one heart to another.

Clearly a lot of our hearts in the USA are quite frozen with fear (and rage) these days.

And music is one way that we can thaw out and begin to feel/heal…

Deep breath in.

And out.

Let’s all keep singing and dancing and listening to music whenever we can muster the time and energy and heart in the weeks ahead!

In addition to my lungs, I am grateful for pianist/producer Doug Hammer, with whom I recorded “Let Me Be Strong” along with Gene Roma (drums) and Chris Rathbun (bass).

I am grateful that my two friends are recovering from Covid-19.

I am grateful for Barbara Baig, who wrote this song.

I am grateful to Pixabay for their wonderful images.

And I am grateful to YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.

Thank you!

I hope you remain well — and well-masked AND well-rested — as viral and political turmoil continue to swirl through our lives.

May our Covid fatigue diminish…

Let us continue to hope for brighter, wiser, happier days ahead

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

And maybe a refreshing shake!


Silver Bells


This year December arrived in Boston with rain and wind.

I had to lead my final Music Together class of the fall term via Zoom rather than outside in a local park — which is where, wearing masks and sitting in a circle on blankets set 10 feet apart from each other, we have been meeting weekly for the past two and a half months.

We have a two-week session featuring winter holiday songs starting next week, and then a few weeks of downtime.

I never imagined I’d be leading music classes out of doors in December, but if the sun is shining — and we wear enough layers of clothing — most families have been quite enthusiastic about making music outside.

2020 is a year full of surprises, and we are doing our best to remain flexible — and safe!

As regular readers of my blog posts know, during this pandemic I’ve begun distributing songs to digital music services such as Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music.

During the month of December I hope to release one winter holiday song per week.

You can click here to listen to “We Need A Little Christmas” and click here to listen to “Winter Wonderland” if you are curious.

I’ll also be sharing a few holiday songs in blog posts.

Jay Livingston and Ray Evans

Today’s song — “Silver Bells” — was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans for a 1950 movie, The Lemon Drop Kid, where it was sung by Marilyn Maxwell and Bob Hope.

Jay (who wrote the music) and Ray (who wrote the lyrics) were a famous songwriting team with many hits to their credit including “Mona Lisa” and “Que Sera Sera.”

They were also both Jewish.

Jay was born Jacob Harold Levison in 1915 in a small industrial suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, and Ray was born Raymond Bernard Evans the same year in Salamanca (not far from Buffalo) N.Y.

They met at the University of Pennsylvania when they both joined the university dance band, and their songwriting partnership endured until Livingston’s death in 2001.

As I have noted in previous blog posts, many of my most favorite winter holiday songs were written by Jewish songwriters.

This fact is an example (to me, at least) of the pluralism that the USA has occasionally been able to embrace — and model for others — during our ever-evolving history.

I love that “White Christmas,” “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “The Christmas Song” (among many others!) were written by Jewish songwriters — many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants.

I always associate “Silver Bells” with my mother’s mother — a hard-working private nurse who lived in the borough of Queens for most of her life and no doubt did a lot of her holiday shopping on “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks — decked in holiday style.”

In the movie The Lemon Drop Kid, Bob Hope’s character is involved with gambling and ends up owing $10,000 to a mobster.

His solution is to disguise himself as Santa Claus and raise money from holiday donations.

In some interviews Jay Livingston explained that the inspiration for the song came from the bells rung by Salvation Army volunteers during the holiday season.

However, in an interview on NPR after Livingston had died, Ray Evans said that they were inspired by an actual bell which one of them kept on his desk at Paramount Pictures, where they were under contract at the time.

Probably the song was inspired by both of these things…

Not every song has a great verse — which is often why they are not included in popular recordings.

But “Silver Bells” has a lovely verse:

“Christmas makes you feel emotional…

It may bring parties or thoughts devotional…

Whatever happens and what may be, here is what Christmas-time means to me.”

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

I hope we are able to consume fewer things this holiday season.

One of the reasons why I am excited about releasing songs via digital music platforms is that I no longer need to create a CD to share my music.

I found these rather stunning statistics on the web site of a waste disposal company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • To manufacture a pound of plastic (30 CDs per pound), it requires 300 cubic feet of natural gas, 2 cups of crude oil and 24 gallons of water.
  • It is estimated that it will take over 1 million years for a CD to completely decompose in a landfill.
  • People throw away millions of music CDs each year!
  • Every month approximately 100,000 pounds of CDs become obsolete (outdated, useless, or unwanted).

Yikes!

A New Jersey company called Back Thru The Future says, however, that “CDs can be recycled for use in new products. Specialized electronic recycling companies clean, grind, blend, and compound the discs into a high-quality plastic for a variety of uses, including: automotive industry parts, raw materials to make plastics, office equipment, alarm boxes and panels, street lights, and electrical cable insulation, and even jewel cases.”

And they offer a free recycling service if one pays to send one’s old CDs, DVDs and hard drives to them:

“CDs and hard drives are made of high value recyclable material – polycarbonate plastic and aluminum respectively. The recycling of CDs and hard drives saves substantial amounts of energy and prevents significant amounts of both air and water pollution attributed to the manufacturing of these items from virgin material.”

Maybe THAT will be one of my holiday projects this year… recycling CDs and DVDs that I will never listen to again.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

The news here in the USA seems to become simultaneously more hopeful (with the Biden-Harris team starting to build their administrative teams) and terrifying (with supporters of our current president calling for violence and even martial law) each day that we move closer to a graceless and belligerent transition of power.

So I will end this blog post with a bunch of lovely images from Pixabay which the song “Silver Bells” reminded me of.

Thank you to Jay and Ray for writing this song.

Thank you to the executives at Paramount who kept renewing Jay and Ray’s songwriting contracts.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for being such a terrific collaborator.

Thank you for the sun continuing to shine on our blue-green planet.

Thank you for the new, more energy efficient windows in our basement — with blown insulation in our walls on the horizon…

Thank you for the natural gas (energy collected by plants long ago from the sun) now fueling our furnace and kitchen stove.

Thank you for vegetables — which capture energy from the sun and convert it into delicious things for us to eat, such as bell peppers.

Thank you for all the families who have chosen to make music together with me during the past few years. I am grateful for our musical sessions, which serve — for me at least — as a much-needed respite from the unsettling news swirling through our lives these days.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post!

Happiness…


is a thing called Joe!

This song was composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by one of his top-three collaborators, Yip Harburg.

They wrote it for the great Ethel Waters to sing in a 1943 movie version of the musical Cabin In the Sky made by the Freed unit at MGM.

Ethel Waters

The film had a rather extraordinary cast — including Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Butterfly McQueen and Duke Ellington.

It was also the first movie directed by Liza Minnelli’s father, Vincente — who before that had been a successful designer and director on Broadway.

Ethel Waters had also starred in the original Broadway version of Cabin in The Sky, which was directed by the famous choreographer George Balanchine with music composed by fellow Russian Vernon Duke and lyrics by John Latouche.

I’m not sure when I first heard this song, but it was a natural to include in the very first program of music — featuring songs composed by Harold Arlen — which I put together with pianist Joe Reid.

Joe Reid

Joe had called me up and asked me if I would like to do an hour of music with him at a retirement community called Brookhaven (where his dad lives).

This was a few months after I had been laid off from a non-profit where I had worked for 16 years, and I said, “Yes, please!”

Joe has proved to be an excellent collaborator.

During the past seven years we have put together one-hour programs of music featuring songs by — and stories about — Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn, Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, the Gershwin Brothers, Oscar Hammerstein, Yip Harburg, Lorenz Hart, Jerome Kern, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Jule Styne, and Harry Warren as well as one-hour programs of songs written for Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, and Ethel Merman.

We also have assembled programs featuring Irish-American songs, songs in honor of Father’s Day, songs in honor of Mother’s Day, songs written for Disney movies made while Walt was still alive, and winter holiday songs written by Jewish songwriters.

Joe and Will

In addition to his agile musicality as a jazz pianist, Joe brings a reliable hybrid car and a level temperament to our collaboration.

He always shows up on time, and has only missed one gig in the past eight years due to an unusually bad cold.

He is also passionately involved with politics and recently installed solar panels on the roof of his house.

He is a musical mensch.

In addition to making music together, we have spent hundreds of hours driving to and from gigs in his Prius — discussing the current political climate, his extended family, how he transitioned from corporate lawyer to full-time pianist, and much more…

We were on track to perform over seventy five gigs together in 2020 before Covid-19 stopped us in our tracks.

In the past seven months we’ve performed together once — outside and well-masked — at one of our favorite retirement communities, Springhouse.

We watch the Covid case numbers rising again in Massachusetts and wonder when we will be able to perform together again…

This song also takes on a new resonance following the recent election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to lead our country for the next four years.

Joe Biden celebrating his 75th birthday

Many of us are very excited by this election.

I am also aware that there are many who are sad and angry that their candidate lost…

Deep breath out.

Deep breath in.

I remain very grateful to live in a country that holds presidential elections every four years.

I also am truly grateful to live in a country with a system of checks and balances between our president, our congress, our judicial system, and our investigative media.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

I am hopeful that our country can re-discover a sense of respect and inclusivity with different leadership in the White House.

In my Music Together classes I see on a weekly basis how strong the “monkey see, monkey do” effect is…

Not just on children, but on everyone!

One of the main ways we learn what is possible — and how to behave — is by seeing other human beings in action.

Joe Biden brings compassion and empathy — which he gained in part due to the heart-breaking losses of his first wife Neilia, baby daughter Amy, and grownup son Beau — to the White House.

He also brings a decades-long history of collaboration in the US Senate, working with Republican peers across the aisle on behalf of the residents of the USA (and also on behalf of many corporate donors and lobbyists…)

We shall see how he governs!

Joe and Jill Biden stepping off an Amtrak train…

I am also very curious to see who Joe and Kamala invite to join them as part of their cabinet and staff…

And as someone who loves to travel via trains, I like that Joe is a long-time commuter — from Washington, DC to Delaware — on Amtrak.

Thank you to Joe Reid for seven years of musical collaboration.

Thank you to all the poll workers who stepped up — some for the first time! — to run our recent national election.

Thank you to Wikimedia Commons and to Stephen Fischer for the photos in this blog post.

Thank you to pianist Doug Hammer for recording this song with me at his studio north of Boston (where I record all of my musical programs so that I have piano-only versions with which to practice…)

And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Dancing In The Dark…

I have long loved the song “Dancing In The Dark.”

It was originally written for a 1931 revue called The Band Wagon — which was notable for being one of the last times that Fred Astaire and his sister Adele performed together on Broadway.

The lyrics feel like an existential poem to me.

Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz

They were written by Howard Dietz — who also co-wrote the script for The Band Wagon with George S. Kaufman — plus music by Arthur Schwartz.

Dietz went on to become the head of public relations at MGM movie studios.

He is reputed to have chosen their lion logo as well as their motto: Ars Gratia Artis (art for art’s sake).

While based in MGM’s New York office, he wrote co-wrote songs for decades with Arthur Schwartz, including “That’s Entertainment” for MGM’s film version of The Band Wagon in 1953 — which again featured Fred Astaire, who performed with Cyd Charisse while…”Dancing In The Dark.”

Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse

The message of the song seems particularly appropriate in the days leading up to a very important national election here in the USA.

I have been limiting my exposure to radio and TV because most of the news is simply very high-octane speculation.

However, I was happy to learn that early voter turnout is very high.

People are engaged with the political process!

But I am also concerned that gun/ammunition sales are very high (although I have been told this often happens when gun-using folks in the USA fear a Democratic victory which might lead to future firearm regulations…)

The state of our democracy can seem very dark these days — with our president repeatedly saying that he may not honor the results of our upcoming election while simultaneously casting seeds of doubt about the voting process itself.

And he continues to hold large public rallies during a health pandemic — after one of which his ally (and former presidential candidate) Herman Cain died from COVID-19.

All the while hospitals in cities around the United States fill up to capacity…

And nurses, EMTs, and doctors — who are working 12 hour shifts day in and day out to save the lives of their fellow citizens — continue to plead with us to wear our face masks, wash our hands, and maintain our social distancing…

I am truly amazed by our health care workers’ dedication, selflessness, and love for their fellow human beings.

I am amazed that they show up for work — day after day and night after night — while putting their own lives AND the lives of their loved ones at risk for catching this virus.

I am amazed that they treat the folks who deny the threat of Covid-19 and refuse to wear a mask with as much compassion as they treat the folks who wore a mask and still got sick.

What they are doing is astounding.

I don’t have adjectives to describe how I feel about the virus-deniers.

Or at least adjectives that I want to put into print.

I do sometimes wonder if the extreme dysfunction unfolding in our country is a symptom of mother nature getting serious about reducing the number of human beings who now live on (and some might say over-run and infest) planet earth…

Denying the science of how a virus spreads and multiplies — exponentially! — is a form of madness which has already killed hundreds of thousands of people here in the USA…

I see it as being very similar to denying the science of climate change.

One can deny it all one wants…

Yet the scientific processes — such as the fact that a virus can spread exponentially if unchecked and will swiftly overwhelm the staff of your local hospital — will continue to unfold whether one denies the scientific realities or not.

The fact that our earth’s atmosphere is changing due to our human (mis)use of fossil fuels since the start of the industrial era is also undeniable.

In fact I recently saw a reprint of an article from the early 20th century in which scientists described and predicted how our increasing use of fossil fuels would alter the earth’s atmosphere.

Some people have been aware of this challenge for generations!

The fact that climate change is increasing the severity of storms, increasing the frequency of forest fires, and changing the patterns of how ecosystems around the planet do (or don’t) stay in balance is undeniable.

It’s all over the news in the USA.

It’s what hundreds if not thousands of scientists have been warning about for decades.

Will we as a species continue to deny it is happening?

Will we continue to live our lives as if nothing huge and profound is changing?

Continue to drive our SUVs and pickup trucks as many miles as we (or our credit cards) can afford?

Continue to travel as much as our budgets (or credit cards) will allow?

Continue to refuse to put solar arrays on our roofs?

Continue to consume more resources than can be sustainably grown/harvested/produced here on planet earth?

Fundamental patterns and cycles here on planet earth will continue to tip out of balance regardless of what our leaders may or may not be saying.

There are scientific processes and realities at work which can’t be denied or spun or ignored until they go away.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

It is indeed an extraordinary time to be alive…

I hope and trust that we will persevere.

That enough people will wake up to the realities of science.

That enough people will realize that wearing a mask and continuing to practice social distancing is in fact a very loving and respectful thing to do for one’s self, for one’s family, for one’s co-workers, for one’s neighborhood, and for all the folks who risk their lives working at one’s local hospital.

And that we can continue to dance through this period of darkness, keeping a sense of love and light and fairness and respect burning in our hearts as we cast our ballots.

Thank you to Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz for writing this song during another very challenging era in our country’s history…

Thank you to pianist Doug Hammer for making music and recording music with me for the past 20+ years AND then for fixing and mixing songs with me from his home studio via Zoom in recent months.

Thank you to all the photographers at Pixabay for these glorious images.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts!

I truly treasure our community of WordPress bloggers and readers and commenters…

Questions…

Questions…

“Questions” by Steve Sweeting and Will McMillan

I mentioned in my last blog post that I’ve been doing a lot of reading and watching educational videos about how the music industry works.

Today’s song — which I wrote with pianist/composer/songwriter Steve Sweeting many years ago — is perfectly themed for my current state of understanding (and lack thereof…)

In case you are the least bit curious, here’s a little of what I’ve been learning.

As a singer and songwriter, I am supposed to file for two types of copyright: sound recording (also known as the “master recording”) and song composition (of the actual song).

Song compositions generate payments to songwriters and music publishers — and sound recordings generate payments to recording artists and record labels.

So it turns out I need to learn how to wear four business hats: recording artist, record label, songwriter, and publisher.

Actually I also need to learn how to wear a publicist hat, a business manager hat, a booking agent hat, a social media/advertising hat — and the list goes on and on…

I have learned that sound recordings are given a unique ISRC code so that they can be tracked around the planet as they are downloaded, streamed, enjoyed via satellite radio, played in elevators as Muzak, etc.

In theory this tracking leads to various payment streams for the artist who recorded the song, their record company, the person (or team) who wrote the song, and their publishing company.

Also each original song composition is given a unique ISWC code for tracking purposes.

For example, Dolly Parton wrote and recorded “I Will Always Love You” when she made a very difficult decision to leave Porter Wagoner’s TV show.

This song has a unique ISWC code as a composition AND a unique ISRC code as her particular sound recording of it.

I loved reading in a 2012 interview about how Ms. Parton came to write this iconic song.

Porter and Dolly

“I was trying to get away on my own because I had promised to stay with Porter’s show for five years. I had been there for seven. And we fought a lot. We were very much alike. We were both stubborn. We both believed that we knew what was best for us. Well, he believed he knew what was best for me, too, and I believed that I knew more what was best for me at that time. So, needless to say, there was a lot of grief and heartache there, and he just wasn’t listening to my reasoning for my going.”

She continued, “I thought, ’He’s never going to listen. He’s just going to bitch every day that I go in to talk about this.’ So I thought, ’Well, why don’t you do what you do best? Why don’t you just write this song?’ Because I knew at that time I was going to go, no matter what. So I went home and out of a very emotional place in me at that time, I wrote the song, ’I Will Always Love You.'”

“It’s saying, ’Just because I’m going doesn’t mean I won’t love you. I appreciate you and I hope you do great and I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I’m out of here. And I took it in the next morning. I said, ’Sit down, Porter. I’ve written this song, and I want you to hear it.’ So I did sing it. And he was crying. He said, ’That’s the prettiest song I ever heard. And you can go, providing I get to produce that record.’ And he did, and the rest is history.”

Since then her song has been recorded by a lot of other singers — most famously by Whitney Houston.

And each recorded version has its own unique ISRC code as part of its metadata (plus Dolly’s ISWC code for writing the song) so that it can be monitored — and monetized — via unimaginably vast banks of computers keeping track of playlists, streams, downloads, broadcasts, Muzak services, etc.

Right now the music industry is in the middle of a paradigm shift which began when digital recording technology and CDs arrived in our lives.

When I was first making music as a young adult — performing with a jazz pianist, in a folk duo, and as part of an original five-person pop/rock band — I earned money from live gigs and from the sale of cassettes and CDs.

That era is over…

Music has gone from being sold on an analog object — such as a piano roll, wax cylinder, record, or cassette tape — to being sold as a long string of zeros and ones.

The zeros and ones which encoded music onto CDs allowed us to make copies of songs using our computers… and then share those copies with the rest of the world.

We could share them with our other devices (such as an iPod), with our friends and family, and eventually — via sites like Napster — with anyone else on the planet who also had a computer.

And no one got paid for any of this free file sharing!

Since then the music industry has continued to evolve — with streaming platforms such as Spotify entering our lives — but revenues for recorded music are still way down.

And now we also have COVID-19 reducing opportunities for musicians to earn money from live performances.

In fact many small music venues in the Boston area have already closed their doors…with more likely to succumb in upcoming months.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

It’s hard to know what’s coming next!

My current plan, since the wonderful Doug Hammer is not yet welcoming customers back into his recording studio in person, is to work with him remotely (using Zoom) and polish some songs we’ve recorded in past years.

And write a few more blog posts explaining what I am learning about the music industry.

And continue to wear a face mask when I leave my house.

And ride my bike and walk whenever possible.

And lead Music Together classes — both outside (wearing a new face shield + wireless headset) and inside via Zoom.

And give as much money as I can afford to various political candidates and non-profit organizations who are doing their best to prevent our country from lurching into an autocracy.

Another deep breath in.

And out.

Thank you to Pixabay for their lovely images.

Thank you to Steve Sweeting for writing songs with me and to Doug Hammer for helping us record a bunch of them.

And thank YOU for reading another blog post!

The Moon and Sand… and Seals!

The Moon and Sand… and Seals!

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As regular readers of this blog are well aware, I love spending time on Cape Cod.

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And I am not alone in this sentiment.

In recent years the population of seals on Cape Cod has risen significantly.

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According to the web site of the Center For Coastal Studies in Provincetown, two kinds of seals — harbor and gray — live on the Cape year-round.

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Three other species — harp, hooded, and ring seals — can also be spotted on Cape Cod, although they give birth in Canada and Greenland.

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I am pretty sure it is gray seals who share the beach in North Truro with us human beings.

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Head Of The Meadow beach, near where I camp with family members each summer, is home to hundreds of seals.

You can click here to read a recent story — with great photos — about this particular community of seals.

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It confirms what we have noticed — that within the past ten years, the number of seals sharing this beach has increased substantially!

At low tide they gather in large communities on the sandbars and soak up the sun.

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Then at high tide everyone is back in the water, swimming up and down the shoreline in search of food.

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When I am learning new songs, I usually record them as accurately as possible with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio in Lynn, MA.

Then I load piano-vocal and just-piano versions onto my iPod — and walk and sing for hours, memorizing lyrics while musing about the story being told in the song…

And beaches are great places to walk and sing.

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Seals often will swim along the shore while I am walking — their heads popping up through the surface of the water at regular intervals.

Sometimes a bunch of them will gather and watch/listen if I stop and sing in one place for a while.

They are curious beings.

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On clear nights, I sometimes leave the campground and head back to the beach in order to walk and sing and revel in a truly starry sky.

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Where I live — just outside of Boston — there’s a lot of light pollution.

But on the outer Cape — away from buildings and streetlights and cars — the skies remain awe-inspiring.

And song-inspiring!

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I wrote the song (in the player at the beginning of this blog post) a couple of summer ago… and recorded it with Doug a few weeks ago at his studio north of Boston.

It was an alternative pick for a Valentine’s-themed blog post.

But since February is not quite over, I have decided to share it in this seal-themed blog post instead.

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Since I burn easily, I almost never go to the beach during peak sun hours.

My routine is to stay at the campground during the day — when almost all of the humans have gone to the beach — and write songs.

I sit in a very large tent with my ukulele and a rhyming dictionary and a little digital recorder and a laptop computer and bags of song ideas which I have jotted down over the years.

I listen to the birds and the chipmunks and the crickets and the cicadas.

And write.

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Then in the late afternoon I walk down a long path through a wonderful pine forest to the beach.

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In addition to swimming in very shallow water along the shore — because the booming seal population has also encouraged a healthy population of great white sharks to visit the outer Cape — I sometimes stretch and do a little yoga.

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As do the seals…

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While we human beings dither about climate change — and carry viruses around the world due to our obsession with international travel — and vote for political candidates who may or may not care one iota for their constituents — I am strangely reassured to think about the seals.

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And the moon.

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And the stars.

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And the sea.

Thank you to all of the photographers who share their great photos at Pixabay.

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And to the seals and other wildlife who share the Cape with us human beings.

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And to the North Of Highland Campground for staying in business year after year.

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And to my family who choose to camp together for two weeks each summer.

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And to you for reading and listening to this blog post!

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Ode To Water

Ode To Water

 

We’ve been having an unusually warm January in New England this year…

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So far we have experienced as much rain as snow…

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I prefer rain to snow because I don’t have to shovel outside the karate studio where I lead Music Together classes three mornings each week.

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Most of us burn fewer fossil fuels as a result of warmer winter temperatures — and save a little money on our heating bills.

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One weekend the temperature hit 70 degrees Farenheit (21 degrees Celsius) — an all-time high for Boston in January!

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I don’t know if any of our local turtles dug their way out of the mud thinking it was spring…

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But there was a fair amount of spring-like frolicking in the greater Boston area — although maybe not quite as enthusiastically as these folks…

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I wrote this song several years ago while camping in North Truro on Cape Cod.

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As regular readers of my blog posts already know, I LOVE spending time at the North Of Highland camping area.

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One of my favorite parts of camping there is how everyone gains — or regains — a deep appreciation for the preciousness of water.

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All of the faucets in the bathrooms shut off after a second or two to encourage us not to waste water while brushing our teeth, washing our hands, or shaving.

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And we have to carry water — for drinking and cooking and washing dishes after our meals — in big plastic jugs from centrally located cabins (which have bathrooms, showers, and outdoor spigots) down to our camp sites.

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So we become very aware of how much water we use all day long — such as boiling pasta for dinner or rinsing a soapy pot afterwards.

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We are a short walk away from the Atlantic ocean, which is another mesmerizing manifestation of water on planet earth.

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I tend to go to the beach in the late afternoon, when the sun is less powerful and the beach starts to become less crowded with other human beings.

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And then there are clouds — another form of water…

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How weird and amazing that water molecules are constantly cycling around our planet — from the sky to the earth to plants (and the animals who consume plants) and then back into the sky!

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And water is such an important substance in our bodies…

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Blood is flowing through my arteries and veins as I sit and type this blog post — and through your arteries and veins as you are reading it…

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Water is an important component of all sort of secretions which our bodies produce — and which in some cases allow for the reproduction of our species.

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And plants, bless them, create delicious fruits — containing lots of water — as part of their reproductive cycles.

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The more I explored Pixabay, the more glorious images related to water I found…

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Ocean waves…

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Cups of tea…

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Whales…

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Rainbows…

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Rivers…

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Splashing hands…

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Waterfalls…

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Water slides…

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Ponds…

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Lakes…

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Glaciers…

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Rotini…

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Thunderstorms…

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Reflections…

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Tears…

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More waterfalls…

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Aquariums…

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Raindrops…

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Leaves…

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Jelly fish…

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More glaciers…

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Mountain tops…

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Impressionistic ripples…

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Otherworldly reflections…

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Libations…

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Waves…

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Hot springs…

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And ice crystals…

Thank you to Doug Hammer for playing piano and co-producing the version of “Ode To Water” featured at the start of this blog post.

Thank you to the photographers who share their glorious images with Pixabay.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts!