Father’s Day!

Grandpa Tom

Andrew Thomas McMillan

This Sunday is Father’s Day in the USA.

My father (pictured above) died a year and a half ago.

He was a loving man who sang to me and my siblings at bedtime when we were young.

He didn’t teach me much about business or money — unless it was to inspire me to make different decisions than he did regarding concepts like saving…

But he was always willing to talk and listen.

At one point when he needed to stop driving, sell a trailer home he owned which was costing him money, and do some strategic planning regarding his declining health, two of my siblings and I and he met with a mediator.

It was not easy or fun to meet with a mediator, but we emerged with an agreed-upon list of things that needed to be accomplished.

And bless him, he accomplished everything on the list (with significant help from my older sister, with whom he lived for many years…)

As his health declined and he became less and less mobile, the sweetest way to spend time with him was sitting by his bed and playing the ukulele.

He loved to sing — even when his face was more and more disfigured by the cancer which eventually wore him out — and knew lots of standards from the 1920s – 1970s.

The wonderful team of David Shire (composer) and Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyricist) wrote a song called “If I Sing” which always touches my heart.

It was inspired by a visit which David Shire made to his father who was living in a retirement community/nursing home.

When I perform “If I Sing,” I am very grateful that my dad shared his love of music with me.

And I think of several male voice teachers who have nurtured me over the past couple of decades.

And I think of my step father, who was a professional flautist for many years — and  is now a passionate music educator who loves his students and continues to teach in his 80s.

A heartful Father’s Day to you, dear reader.

I am well aware that not everyone is blessed with a loving and functional father — or even a father at all…

However, I hope you are able to feel grateful for something your dad — or a trustworthy male teacher, or minister, or rabbi, or mentor — has given you.

Thank you for reading and watching and listening to this blog post.

Thank you, too, to Maltby & Shire for writing such a terrific song.

And thank you to Mike Callahan — himself now an enthusiastic and loving father! — for creating this great orchestration, for inviting me to sing with the Timberlane pops orchestra, and for conducting the orchestra so tenderly and skillfully.

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Catch Me…

Catch Me…

 

Recently I read a small but devastating article in The New Yorker about what our new Secretary of the Interior has already accomplished in the first year of his service.

It immediately reminded me of the song “Catch Me” (which opens with a few seconds of silence after you hit the play icon at the top of this page…)

“Catch Me” is another song by David Friedman (about whom I wrote recently) which Bobbi Carrey and I recorded with pianist, arranger, and engineer Doug Hammer for our If I Loved You CD.

Although Ryan Zinke held much more conservationist views when he was a Montana state senator — acknowledging climate change as a significant threat to US national security, for example — now that he is Secretary of the Interior, he is working hard to remove burdensome regulations to industry on public land and in our coastal waters.

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He even reversed a recent ban on lead ammunition in wildlife refuges designed to protect birds that eat carrion.

The article concluded by saying that — while it is possible future elections will nudge our leadership back in more sustainable and respectful directions — the damage already being done to our public lands and wildlife will take decades to re-balance or repair (which, of course, is not even possible when a plant or animal becomes extinct…)

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Somehow this article has thrown me into what I trust is a temporary tailspin of depression and hopelessness.

As lyricist Fran Landesman once noted, spring can really hang you up the most…

Obviously there is SO MUCH that we human beings need to do to reduce and re-balance our patterns of consumption and destruction as soon as humanly possible.

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And yet so many of us — me included — are unable to change a lifetime of habits and assumptions and behaviors in order seriously to address the coming environmental challenges/catastrophes/opportunities.

For example, many of us who are blessed to live in countries such as the United States continue to think, “Of course I deserve to travel as much as I can afford.”

Yet according to a recent article on The Conversation web site, “no other human activity pushes individual emission levels as fast and as high as air travel.”

Yikes!!!

And even if we can’t afford a plane trip to someplace warm (or intriguing or affordable or colorful) we are strongly urged by our morally bankrupt financial institutions to pay for it using a credit card…or two…or three.

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How many of us are basically indentured servants to our credit card companies, making minimum payments yet never paying off all our accumulated debt?

Another assumption I find odd is that most of us continue to think that we deserve to have one — or more — cars.

Of course, this is often related to the fact that many of us think that we deserve to live wherever we like — places which may not be located anywhere near public transportation, for example — so, of course, we have to have a car in order to get to work, to shop, to visit friends and family, to drive to the gym (the practice of which I truly don’t understand… why not ride your bike or walk to the gym? Or ride your bike/walk/run instead of joining a gym and donate what you used to pay for your gym membership to a deserving non-profit group?) etc.

And how about those of us who feel that we deserve to own vacation homes — sometimes built in very unwise locations?

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Many of these structures sit uninhabited for weeks or months at a time, consuming fuel/electricity so that the pipes don’t freeze, or so that the house doesn’t get too humid, or so that the burglar alarms are functioning…

The list of possessions and privileges to which many of us aspire is loooong — and has been extremely well-marketed for at least a couple of generations here in the USA.

Yet so few of us seem to be able or willing to pause and ponder the consequences of our consumption…

And global greenhouse gas levels continue to rise.

And weather becomes more erratic — affecting wildlife habitats as well as human agriculture (and thus the ability of more and more countries to feed their citizens).

And plastic — some of it visible and some of it in tiny fibers — continues to pollute the waters of planet earth and contaminate aquatic life on all levels of the food chain.

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Sadly — depressingly — tragically — hubristically — the list of human pollution, deforestation, and environmental degradation goes on and on and on…

I often feel — as I watch TV or listen to the radio or use the internet — that I have entered a frantic cocoon created solely so that we human beings can hide (for couple of hours or for an entire lifetime) from the terrifying realities of the larger patterns/feedback loops which are unfolding/unraveling right now on planet earth.

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And I want to say — to myself and to most of my fellow human beings here in the USA — WAKE UP!!!

Often this is when I catch a cold.

And I stay home and write a blog post like this…

I am aware that I am extremely blessed to live a life where I can moan about larger environmental challenges because my basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, employment, love, and respect have already been met.

And I have a job — leading Music Together classes — to which I can walk or bike or take the bus.

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However, I am also aware that anyone writing or reading a blog post is using electricity and some sort of magical electronic device which contains metals mined all over the planet by human beings under inhumane conditions as well as plastic from fossil fuels — and which have most likely been assembled by human beings working under inhumane conditions.

And my other job — sharing one-hour programs of beloved standards at retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and public libraries — involves driving many miles per month in a trusty, high mileage Prius belonging to the jazz pianist Joe Reid, with whom I do 50+ gigs per year.

So I am utterly complicit.

And I wonder what the f–k I am doing with my one precious life here on planet earth.

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Yet I also know that music matters in some way — that it can touch our hearts and even inspire us to do unimaginably courageous things.

A documentary I watched recently about James Baldwin reminded me that there was a lot of singing by heroic non-violent protestors as they were marching… and as they were being beaten… and as they were being thrown into police vehicles.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

What do you think/feel about any of this, dear reader?

What do you think/feel about the sad news that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain — two people who have achieved international success, wealth, fame, influence, celebrity, and in theory the happiness which success/wealth/fame/influence/celebrity are alleged to bring — have taken their own lives during this past week?

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Thank you to David Friedman for writing such compelling songs.

Thank you to Bobbi Carrey for her musical collaboration over the past 15 years.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his piano playing, engineering, production wizardry, patience, and humor.

Thank you to Mike Callahan for his vocal arrangements.

Thank you to Pixabay for the images in this blog post.

And thank YOU for making time so that you could read and listen to another blog post.

Daisy-Pier

 

If I Loved You…

If I Loved You…

 

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Today’s post is inspired by the act of collaboration.

Theater is all about collaboration — as are many forms of music.

I have been part of a musical collaboration with singer Bobbi Carrey for almost 20 years.

The song at the beginning of this blog post — “If I Loved You” — was written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers for their musical Carousel.

Both Hammerstein and Rodgers had achieved tremendous success working with other collaborators before they joined forces during WWII to create the musical Oklahoma! 

Following the triumph of Oklahoma! they rose to new heights, co-creating a new musical every couple of years — interspersed with producing plays and musicals (such as Annie Get Your Gun) created by others.

And as their extraordinary list of hit shows — including South Pacific, The King and I, Flower Drum Song and The Sound of Music — expanded, they also devoted a considerable amount of time to overseeing touring companies, movie adaptations, and revivals of their work.

It was an extraordinary creative and business collaboration — the fruits of which will continue to be harvested  and celebrated for decades to come!

Collaboration can be a mysterious process — and theirs was not without its challenges.

But they persevered, remained respectful of each other’s gifts, and left an astounding body of work for the rest of us to savor for decades to come.

Pianist/composer/engineer/producer Doug Hammer, singer Bobbi Carrey and I recorded “If I Loved You” — one of their most beautiful ballads — for a CD we put together with exquisite arrangement input (both vocal and instrumental) from Michael Callahan.

Mike wrote the cello part on this recording of “If I Loved You,” for example.

My collaboration with Bobbi, too, has included a variety of challenges — and we have also respectfully persevered

Right now, due to a variety of factors, our collaboration is in a fallow period.

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Mike is busy being a music professor at Michigan State as well as an enthusiastic husband and father.

Doug’s career as a composer, producer and touring musician — in addition to being a devoted husband and father of two terrific sons — has meant that he is less available to perform with singers (although regular readers/listeners of this blog know that he is still willing to make music together in his wonderful home studio on the north shore of Boston).

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Bobbi was working for a while in various parts of Asia — with a home base in Kuala Lumpur.

And I — now that I am making a very modest living as a singer, songwriter and teacher — am (somewhat paradoxically) less available to collaborate with Bobbi than when I had a full-time, non-musical day job.

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Blessedly, recording technology exists so that all of the collaboration we did together has not evaporated without a trace.

 

Here’s a version of “The Little Things You Do Together” that we recorded with Doug playing piano plus a playful string arrangement by Mike.

Stephen Sondheim wrote it for the musical Company, and it paints a slightly different picture of love and marriage (another type of collaboration) than one might find in a Rodgers & Hammerstein show.

I have loved this song ever since my parents bought the cast album — which I listened to again and again and again as a child.

Sondheim knew both Rodgers and Hammerstein very well, having been unofficially adopted into the Hammerstein family when he was a teenager.

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Hammerstein became a role model and mentor for Sondheim as he, too, devoted himself to musical theater and songwriting.

And after Hammerstein died, Sondheim even collaborated as a lyricist with Richard Rodgers on a show called Do I Hear A Waltz? — along with one of Sondheim’s collaborators from West Side Story, librettist Arthur Laurents.

As someone who writes songs, I am always curious to learn more about the lives, practices, and habits of other songwriters.

I forget where I read it (maybe in one of Laurents’ great memoirs? or one of Sondheim’s terrific books about his own creative process?) but I was surprised to learn that Sondheim — with Laurents’ approval and support — transformed chunks of the dialogue  which Laurents wrote for early drafts of the West Side Story libretto into lyrics for certain songs in West Side Story.

And Laurents did not ask for co-credit on the lyrics for these songs,

It was simply part of their generous and respectful collaborative process.

Now Sondheim continues to support, nurture, encourage and inspire new generations of musical-theater-lovers. librettists, songwriters, and performers.

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Thank you to Sondheim and Laurents and Rodgers and Hammerstein — and all of their scenic, costuming, choreographic, lighting, casting, directorial, production, and performance collaborators — for leaving us an extraordinary body of songs and shows and ideas.

Thank you to Bobbi Carrey, Doug Hammer, Mike Callahan, Jon Lupfer (who did the final mix of our CD at Q Division), Jonathan Wyner (who mastered our CD at M Works), and the musicians who played on it — Mark Carlsen (bass), Jane Hemenway (violin), Mike Monaghan (tenor sax and flute), Gene Roma (drums, percussion), Johann Soults (cello), and Kenny Wenzel (trombone).

Thank you to the internet for the photos of Rodgers, Hammerstein, Sondheim, Callahan, and Hammer.

Thank you to Paul Forlenza for the photos of Bobbi and me.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to this post!

What have YOUR experiences with collaboration taught you?

Can We Slow It Down?

Can We Slow It Down?

 

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Although spring is just arriving here in the greater Boston area, I am deeply aware of how quickly it will pass.

Yesterday I was celebrating the 22 crocus flowers in my front yard.

And today there are only 9…

Someone nibbled the rest of them down to the ground overnight!

I do not begrudge anyone (rabbit? skunk? possum? squirrel? raccoon? rat?) an early spring feast.

But it was a reminder of how life changes… and sometimes much too quickly.

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A couple of weeks ago I was asked by the pianist/songwriter Molly Ruggles to share a few songs during a Sunday morning service at the Unitarian Universalist church in Medford, MA.

It’s a beautiful building — with lots of stained glass windows and gently curving pews — and the congregation is very welcoming.

One of the longstanding members of the church is someone I worked with at my very first job after dropping out of college. He and I have reconnected a little bit in recent years due to a shared interest in music and poetry — and it was a pleasure to see him before and after the service.

The minister, Reverend Marta Valentin, was planning a sermon about the value of observing some sort of Sabbath in one’s life.

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I immediately started thinking about standards which might fit this theme, such as “Up A Lazy River” by Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin or “Bidin’ My Time” by the Gershwin Brothers.

But it also occurred to me that a couple of my original songs might fit the theme, too.

With some shyness, I sent them — “Can We Slow It Down” and “The Beauty All Around” — to Molly for consideration.

Much to my delight, she liked them and forwarded them to Reverend Marta, who also liked them.

In fact, Reverend Marta visited my blog and found another original song, “May Your Life Be Blessed,” which she asked us to include in the service.

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Needless to say, I found this entire experience to be a much-needed affirmation that my original songs can be meaningful to people other than myself…

It was also exciting because I had been thinking that I could only perform my original songs in public with Doug Hammer (who is playing in the recording at the top of this page) at the piano with me.

I write songs using a ukulele — which I play very rudimentarily — and then flesh them out with Doug at his recording studio north of Boston. And Doug has performed many of them with me in different showcases during the past few years.

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So it was a revelation that another pianist would be able to bring them to life as well as Molly did (with very little rehearsal)!

The service itself was very satisfying, too.

My songs — especially “Can We Slow It Down?” — almost seemed as though they had been written to complement the Reverend Marta’s sermon.

Hurrah!

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As I have probably noted in previous blog posts, there is a thriving ukulele Meetup community in the greater Boston area.

I attend a group which meets the 2nd and 4th Wednesday night of each month and another which meets the 1st and 3rd Wednesday afternoon of each month.

Most ukulele Meetup groups include a humble — and very supportive — open-mic period where attendees can share a song they’ve been working on.

This is the main place I have dared to share my original songs during the past few years.

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After I played “Can We Slow It Down?” two weeks ago, a couple of fellow ukulele attendees asked me if I might post it somewhere.

So this post is created for them!

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Thank you to Molly Ruggles, Reverend Marta, Doug Hammer, and my ukulele-playing peers for their enthusiastic support and encouragement.

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Thank you to Pixabay for some lovely images.

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

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I welcome any thoughts/feelings you might have about the pace of life these days…

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When Did Snowflakes Fall So Sweet?

When Did Snowflakes Fall So Sweet?

At last winter is melting away.

The piles of snow between our sidewalk and the street are getting smaller.

Tiny green fingers are pushing out of the earth…

And today the first crocus bloomed in our front yard!

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I planted a bunch of bulbs in November, right before the ground began to freeze.

And it appears that the squirrels did not dig all of them up — because crocus leaves are popping up everywhere.

Hurrah!

Several years ago I wrote a very simple song about spring and colored blossoms falling down to the ground.

 

This was before I started playing the ukulele — so I just sang into my lap top computer using the wonderful Apple program GarageBand.

Then I fooled around with a lot of the sounds and loops that are included with Garageband.

And then I took my laptop to my friend Doug Hammer’s studio, where he added a few more layers of sound — including spring peepers! — and I recorded (I think) a few more vocal tracks.

After Doug mixed it, I spent time at the Apple store on Boylston Street in Boston, getting help in terrific “one to one” training sessions (which Apple used to offer) about how to make a video to accompany my song.

The final product is pasted above.

Here are more crocus photos to savor…

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There is a yard at the top of a hill between Harvard Square and Central Square in Cambridge.

I go there every spring because their front yard is PACKED with crocus, snowdrops, and miniature iris.

It is very similar to this photo except much smaller in total square footage.

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I wonder how many years of planting bulbs it takes to create a field like this!

I am waiting to see my first pollinator of the season.

It is amazing that bees can survive our New England winters — and then they appear as soon as the first blossoms open their petals to the sun.

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There are so many important causes to which one can devote time and care and love and money these days.

I am a fan of environmental advocacy — because without functioning ecosystems, the human species will collapse.

Just like our populations of pollinators (bats, butterflies, bees, etc.) have been collapsing in recent years…

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All sorts of factors may be causing this collapse — including our human use of pesticides and herbicides.

So I no longer use any products like RoundUp or wasp spray.

And I pay extra money to buy organic produce and meat — mostly because it is healthier for the people who plant the food, who cultivate the food, who harvest the food, who clean the food, who package the food, who ship the food, and who handle it in our stores.

I also support organic farming because the hedgerows and bacteria and trees and streams and animals who co-exist with — and in the case of pollinators are partially responsible for — our food crops are not being poisoned either!

May all beings bloom and grow and flourish in an ever-changing balance…

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Thank you to Mother Nature for inspiration.

Thank you to Apple engineers for creating laptop computers and Garageband.

Thank you to the former “one to one” teaching team at the Apple store in Boston.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his musical and engineering expertise.

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Thank you to Pixabay for beautiful images of crocii.

And thank YOU for reading and watching and listening to another blog post.

I welcome your comments and/or feedback.

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

It’s the end of another year.

And the beginning of another winter.

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Although the days are getting longer, many months of cold and icy weather lie ahead…

Today I am visiting my sisters and nephews in upstate NY, where a flow of air from the Arctic has lowered the temperature to the single digits.

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At least once a day we bundle up and tromp with the dogs through fields and woods, observing nature in a somewhat frozen, dormant state.

Ponds are covered with ice and snow.

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Creeks are mostly a cascade of ice, with an occasional hint of water still flowing underneath.

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Crows fly overhead.

We see many animal tracks in the snow — rabbits and deer and something very large (a bear?) which is stepped on by one of the dogs before we can correctly identify it.

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Woodpeckers and blue jays and cardinals and chickadees and sparrows and finches visit the bird feeder.

How any animal manages to stay alive during the long winter months amazes me.

The nights are SO COLD with a breeze to make it feel even colder.

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I made this recording of “Winter Wonderland” with Doug Hammer at his studio in Lynn, MA, many summers ago.

It is another great winter holiday song written or co-written by a Jewish lyricist or composer.

In this case the composer, Felix Bernard, was Jewish.

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Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1897, his father was a violinist from Germany while his mother was Russian. His family spoke Yiddish at home.

Felix worked as a pianist on the American vaudeville circuits, and also performed in Europe. Like many other composers (including Jerome Kern and George Gershwin) he worked at one point for a music publishing company, and eventually formed his own dance band.

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According to historian Nate Bloom, he also “wrote special musical programs for leading singers of his day, including Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, and Nora Bayes (all of whom were Jewish).”

Unfortunately he died when he was only 47 years old.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

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Wikipedia tells us that Richard Smith — an Episcopalian — was inspired to write the lyrics for “Winter Wonderland” after seeing the Central Park in Honesdale, PA (his hometown) covered in snow.

He contracted tuberculosis in 1931 and died at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC in 1935 — just a year after “Winter Wonderland” was published and recorded.

He was only 34 years old.

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Another deep breath in.

And out.

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I love the melody of “Winter Wonderland” and agree with the lyrics — winter IS a great time for hoping and dreaming about the future.

What will 2018 hold for the astounding and intricate web of life on our planet — of which we humans are only one thread?

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Sometimes it seems like we human beings are an enormously successful invasive species — ignorant of our place in the web of life and daily ignoring the balances which must remain in effect between plants, animals, decomposers, microbes, etc. for all to flourish.

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Why do we human beings devote hours and hours and hours of our lives to watching (or listening to) seemingly endless amounts of news, commentary and speculation — as well as entertainment in the form of sports contests, TV shows, movies, web-videos, etc?

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Why do so many of us choose to live so many hours of our precious lives transfixed by an electricity-powered, screen-delivered deluge of images and words and ideas and stories and opinions and advertisements?

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There are so many more important things we could be doing — or NOT doing — which would actually be helping re-balance some part of life on planet earth which is currently out of balance.

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We could be sitting still and breathing.

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We could be helping someone else learn a new language or a new skill.

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We could be singing or dancing or maybe even making music with friends and family.

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We could be walking outside in a winter wonderland, gazing at trees and sky and earth.

Perhaps in 2018 more of us can choose to put down our phones, ignore our Facebook feeds, turn off our devices, and simply be with ourselves — and with the natural world — on a regular basis.

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As 2017 fades away…

Here’s to a sense of flow!

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Here’s to singing!

Here’s to consuming fewer natural resources!

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Here’s to health!

Here’s to friends!

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Here’s to family — human, animal, plant, fungal, microbial!

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Here’s to hope and faith and patience and perseverance!

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Here’s to life!

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Here’s to love!

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And here’s to you for reading and listening to another blog post!

Thank you for your participation with my blog in 2017.

Thank you, too, to my sister Christianne for letting me use a few of her lovely photographs — taken during current and past winter walks.

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A healthy, happy, well-balanced, low-impact, music-filled, surprisingly-satisfied New Year to you!