Under construction

Work in transition
The landscaping is finally finished and the fake grass looks so green and beautiful
There are even plastic picnic tables on the lawn so you can eat your lunch there
But nobody does.

Inside the building, the hallways are unfinished, with cardboard lining the floor
The walls are painted gray and the painter painted right over the mezuzah
The bathroom has new tiles, lots of black and white tiles, but no mirror
The new paper towel holder is very shiny

Inside our office, most of the staff is gone, there are only three of us left
What once felt like a family now feels like survivors hanging on
Not knowing how long we will stay adrift
Will we reach the flourishing oasis
Or we will drown before we reach the promised land?

Home in transition
After a refrigerator leak, a team came and knocked out a few feet of the wall
separating our living room and kitchen
Plus a couple of cabinets
Pots, pans and assorted appliances sit on the counter
Boxes and bags and cans of food are stacked in bigger boxes on the floor
In the next few weeks, we will need to pack up the kitchen and our living room
And relocate the furniture to our garage
To make room for new flooring

Life in transition
When so many parts of life feel like they are under construction
Is it a sign that it’s time to move on to the next chapter of our life?

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A traveling companion

Before I left on my 10-day trip to Israel earlier this month, my 6-year-old approached me with one of his stuffed bears and told me that I should bring it wherever I go on my trip. It was a little large, so we compromised on his little dog Max instead. Max hung out in my backpack and/or purse and throughout the trip, I’d snap pictures of Max seeing the sites and send them to my son, via my husband’s email. Here is Max’s journey:

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Ready for the trip!

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Ready to leave Phoenix

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On the plane to Newark

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Ready to fly to Tel Aviv!

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First night in Tiberias

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A tank at a kibbutz

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A visit with Ron’s aunt in Tel Aviv

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A historical moment at Independence Hall

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Back on the bus in Tel Aviv

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The ocean in Tel Aviv

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The old and the new in Tel Aviv

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A kosher McDonalds on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem

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Overlooking the Kotel

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A visit with my aunt in Har Nof

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The Dead Sea

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Right before a camel ride

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Hanging out in “Abraham’s Tent”

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At the Knesset

 

Sometimes the universe is small

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After my husband and I started watching the 2015 movie “Straight Outta Compton” on DVD last month, we found out that one of the characters portrayed in the movie – Jerry Heller – died that week. We finally got back to finishing the movie tonight, more than a month later, and when I went to find out if the actor who portrayed Ice Cube was his son – because he looked so much like him – I found out that earlier this morning Dr. Dre and Ice Cube were in the news this morning because they were dismissed from a lawsuit.

So weird.

Great movie, by the way. I’ve never really listened to gangsta rap before so didn’t know much about it, but it was really interesting to learn about it.

Oh, and the actor is Ice Cube’s son.

A Pixelated World

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One of the things holding me back about publicizing my songs on YouTube is that I’m hesitant to make a video. I not all that tech savvy about making videos and I don’t want to just have one of me sitting in my living room playing guitar.

Then it dawned on me that I don’t really like most pictures of me in general and maybe that’s holding me back in other ways, too. If I wanted to be a Vine or Snapshat or Instagram celebrity (I don’t), you can’t really do that if you don’t like pictures of yourself. And today’s society is all about the pictures – it wasn’t as much of an issue 20 years ago when I was in my 20s. I’ve read some articles recently about how those “candid” snapshots of people often take a lot of work to set up and so it’s not really all that real at all.

I know with myself, when I’m posting pictures of our family trip, I tend to select the best one out of the dozen “candid” shots and avoid the ones that remind me that I was yelling, “Just look at the camera! NO silly faces, NO bunny ears, put your shirt down, put your tongue in your mouth – just look at the camera and smile!!” Sometimes I remember to tell them that we can do a silly one after the photo shoot but I just want one GOOD picture. (And often it’s the silly ones that bring back the best memories anyway.)

Anyway, that’s what I had in mind when I wrote this song, “A Pixelated World.” That in this world where everybody is constantly sharing photos of their life, it’s often more the photos of how they’d like their life to be rather than how it actually is. And how these “sunny snapshots” are mixed in my Facebook timeline with the distressing news stories of the day.

 

Stronger together

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After hearing Donald Trump speak last week, I turned off the television feeling depressed and pessimistic about the future of our country. Tonight, I felt a surge of optimism after hearing Hillary Clinton speak.

Although I don’t agree with some of her past work or some of her future plans, I feel inspired by her message. I didn’t have the same reaction to Barack Obama’s hope and change platform, as I was tired of hearing the same rhetoric in many areas of my life where I wasn’t seeing action backing up words.

But the news has been so dark lately and the future so dreary, that the light of Hillary’s message warmed me. The message of us all working together to get through this  was inspiring – and in sharp contrast to the message of “I will take care of all these bastards ruining our country,” which by judging faiths and ethnic groups collectively rather than as individuals has a dangerous precedent.

Of course the dark forces looming both within and outside our borders still exist and scenes from “The Apprentice” and “House of Cards” swirl in my mind alongside the campaign speeches and it’s a challenge to keep track of what is real, but for tonight, I’m happy for that one spark of inspiration.

 

Music first

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When I write songs, I usually write the lyrics and melodies first and then write the music afterward. Since my guitar chord ability is limited, this often causes many of my songs to have similar sounds. So I thought I’d try something new and start with the music this time and then add the lyrics. I even learned a new chord – C, which used to be a big challenge for me but somehow I’m able to stretch my fingers to play it now.

So here it is – I started playing the C, came up with chords that sounded like it went with it then the first line came to me “I never knew what you believed in” and went from there. I finished the first version of the song the same evening – once I had that first line – and a recent news headline in mind – it almost wrote itself. In the following week, I tweaked a few of the lyrics as I sang/played it over and over certain parts needed to be smoothed out.

One thing that took awhile was the bridge.  I never purposely wrote a bridge into a song before. I knew songs are supposed to have one, but was never really clear on what it was. I tried to grasp it and it took several days to come up with one, both the music and the lyrics. Still not sure if I got it right.

But here’s my newest song, “Evening News.”

Click here for the lyrics.

Technical stuff

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Tonight’s studio recording class at the community college was VERY technical. A look at how Pro Tools works.

My husband went with me to this one, as he’s interested in helping me record my songs. I’m very grateful for that because this aspect of the process makes my head spin. Or in tonight’s case, my eyes close because I was so tired and was having trouble staying awake. No reflection on the instructor, as he was energetic and funny and really knew his stuff. It had just been a long day of work and kids on not much sleep.

But it was interesting to learn about how this part of the recording process works, even if I didn’t understand much of it. I typically learn something better when I’m actually doing it, rather than listening to how to do it, so maybe if we get the interface needed to connect the instruments to the computer and we get ProTools, then I’ll get a chance to play around with it with my songs. Maybe use the metronome click to keep my tempo the same throughout the song and do some compression and EQ and use a gate to control the thresh.

Did you notice some of the technical terms there in the last paragraph?

Anyway, I have newfound respect for all the sound guys and producers and whoever else is involved in making songs sound good. Very impressive work.

One interesting piece of advice I heard tonight, too, is to listen to other songs in the genre that you want to work in and pay close attention to those that are successful to see how they are made. That seems like it should be obvious, but I’ve never thought of my songs in that way. I usually just get an idea or a melody or a first line and then go from there until I feel like it’s done – changing lyrics along the way, but not really planning which direction to go in.

So I’m going to try doing that – maybe actually trying to craft a song from the start and see what happens.

 

A song is a short story

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Tonight in my songwriting quest, I went to a song-in-progress workshop hosted by the local songwriters’ association. Guests are invited to bring one song – either recorded or playing it live – and songwriting experts and other participants critique it.

I brought a recording of my most recent song, “Among the Shadows,” which my husband and I recorded in our living room last night. I’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks now and my husband added his guitar, which added a whole other dimension in my opinion. This was the first time playing one of my songs with somebody else so that in itself was fun.

Back to tonight. As I expected, the group as very supportive and it was cool to hear everybody else’s song-in-progress.

Here were the critiques/compliments about my song:

The main critique of my song was that the chorus and the verses sound too similar and need some more differences between the two. Not a big surprise as I used the same chords throughout, although I tried to switch the order in different places.

One person really liked the lyrics and the message behind them.

One person said he liked my singing voice and that the song had a Pretenders sound to it, but he was waiting for the big chorus, which never came.

Some tips that I found really helpful:

A song is a short story – it should have a beginning, middle and end (especially in the singer-songwriter and country genres.)

When writing a song, decide what the goal of the song is – is it for commercial purposes? If so, what kind? A specific genre?  To get picked up by radio? (If radio, it should be about 2 1/2-3 minutes long, which pretty much all of my songs are.)

Who is the singer singing to?

Definitely things to think about when reworking my songs and rewriting new ones.

Here’s the song I played tonight: