Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Peace out" in the New Year!

Why is it that I always think of peace this time of year? Maybe it's the turning of the calendar. Maybe it's the sappy, sentimental songs that romanticize change. Or maybe it's because I really enjoy change, and I happen to think the biggest change we can affect is peace.

Whatever the reason, this arbitrary, self-imposed turning-of-the-clock has afforded us time to "start anew." And every time I wipe the slate clean I think, "OK, maybe now I can start being less judgmental and start living as an instrument of peace in my family, on my street, in my town, in the world, as a representative of the human race. Maybe now we can learn how to love and forget how to hate." (Help me, I'm quoting Ozzy!)

World peace! That's a tall order. Yet, it can be won -- step by step. And it starts with one simple word and one simple act -- Love. All the great world religions espouse it. All the great spiritual leaders teach it. Christ, Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the mystics, the saints -- they all lived it. So, what don't we get about it?

It's the loving of people that matters most, not merely loving the idea of peace. Thomas Merton, the monk and poet, said it so simply:

"Instead of loving what you think is peace,
Love other women and men and love God above all else.
Instead of hating all the people you think are warmongers,
Hate the appetites and disorders in your own soul which are the causes of war.

May you sing peace. May you dance peace. May you be peace in this new year. Now, go out and love on somebody.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Angels shop at Target

Lyda told me an amazing story tonight about how when she was an angel in heaven, she picked Jeni and me to be her parents.

Lyda went shopping one day at the heavenly Target. It was August 13th. She remembers the date because it "felt like August, and it smelled like August. And, well, it really tasted like August."

She found Jeni on the "girl" shelf and me on the "boy" shelf. She picked me first, she said, because she loves me as big as the world. And Jeni and I were kind of like statues, just "heads and shirts."

"You had on a blue shirt and mom had on a purple shirt." (Naturally – our favorite colors.)

Then Lyda went shopping for the rest of our body parts.

"I picked out your bones, and your arms, and legs, and hair, and paint to color your eyes, and some peach-colored stretchy, flopppy stuff for your skin. I even picked out your toes," she said proudly.

"How come you didn’t get me some more hair?" I interrupted.

"Well, sorry," she said, "we were kind of in a hurry and we were really hungry. It was about 5:30 and we had to get back to God’s house to get something to eat."

"What did God serve for dinner?"

"Noodles, of course. We had noodles pretty much every night."

"Did you ever get sick of eating noodles every night?"

"No! God had lots of Parmesan cheese and parsley. And we had milk, but that’s about it."

"You said 'we.' Who else was with you?" I asked.

"There were other angels with me to help me pick you out. Your dad helped me pick you out," she said. "He was the only boy helping me. But, there were about 12 girl angels who helped me pick out mom."

"My dad helped you pick me out?" I asked. "That must have been a long time ago."

"Oh yeah, it was before you and mom were babies. Because you’ve got to start as babies, you know. We took all the parts over to God’s house and he put you together. I helped him a little, maybe this much," she said, holding her thumb and index fingers about an inch apart. "And then God put you in your mommy’s tummy and he put mom in her mommy’s tummy. And then I helped God get you and mom together, but that took a long time."

A long time, indeed, but it seems like we’ve always been together. Now I know why it "seems" that way, because we have been together -- always.

I must say I am comforted knowing that someone as wise and loving as Lyda helped put me together and helped Jeni and me find each other. How cool that she picked us! No need to worry about anything, because it's all part of the master plan.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I can breathe in a small town.

Our loyal fans in Moberly, Missouri, are part of the reason The Hiccups and I love playing in small towns. Of the 14,000 people (26,000 metro) who live in Moberly, about 400 of them came out for the show last Friday night. Pretty impressive, considering that about 100 turned up at our last show in Denver (Pop: 588,349 and 2.4 million metro).

Thank you Moberly! And thanks to the good folks with Parents as Teachers whose hard work is to remind us that we are the best teachers in the world! And a shout-out to the very loud student body at North Park Elementary! Salute!

With the hospitable good will of small towns, comes the challenge of finding a vegetarian meal. There is usually a Subway sandwich or a BK veggie burger or a Taco Bell bean burrito to fall back on, but we can only ingest so much of that stuff. Vegetarians like variety, too.

So, typically while in Moberly we visit Rick's Americana Grill for some veggie pasta or grilled fish (Jeni and I both eat fish for various reasons I’ll explain some other time). Because it’s one of the few full-service restaurants in town, it usually takes a bit longer than we have for a pre-show meal. We branched out and tried the Santa Fe Mexican Restaurant this time and we were pleased. What do we eat at Mexican restaurants? Lots of beans (that is, those not prepared with lard) and Jeni goes for the chile rellenos. Great service, good prices, and hearty beans and rice. Our waiter was from Mexico City and the guy who cashed us out was from Playa del Carmen. When asked how they managed to end up in Moberly, they both answered, "The job."

Since Moberly is called "The Magic City," it sure would be nice if we could -- POOF!!-- hocus-pocus ourselves a good vegetarian meal sometime. We'll wave our wands on the next go round.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kid's Grammy nods are in!

OK, so I’m a bit late in acknowledging the Grammy nominations for the Best Musical Album for Children for 2008. There are some fabulous entries this year. And although my Upside Down album was on the ballot, it didn’t make it. So it goes.

First of all, I’m thrilled that there were no puppets or cartoon characters nominated this year – only humans. That’s progress. And only one big label nomination!

The nominees are:

Beethoven’s Wig for “Beethoven’s Wig 4: Dance Along Symphonies.”

Brady Rymer and The Little Band That Could for "Here Come Brady Rymer and The Little Band That Could."

They Might be Giants for “Here Come the 123s.”

Trout Fishing in America for “Big Round World.”

Gerard Schwarz conducting the Seattle Symphony for “The Shoe Bird.”

Without going into great depth, here are my two cents…

Beethoven’s Wig 4: Dance Along Symphonies: About the cleverest lyrics you’re going to find anywhere, paired with, well, some of the best classical music ever written. It’s a great shtick and well-executed. The compositions have great adult appeal because of the classical connection, and we get the overall wittiness. However, most of that is lost on the kids, and, at least in our van, it becomes tiresome pretty quickly for their young ears. Give them a couple of years and they’ll dig it.

Here come Brady Rymer and The Little band That Could: Hands down one of the best albums of the year (duh, it got nominated) in our house. Excellent song writing and bright compositions make for a winning combo. Even after about 86 spins in our player, this upbeat music never grows tiring for the adults or the kids. Brady’s got a pleasing earthy voice that reminds me of Arlo Guthrie on a good day. (I’m not sure if that’s translates well). All around an awesome entry!

Here Come the 123s: It’s zany and kooky – what more could we expect from the Giants? They were in Kansas City this year for the Jiggle Jam and they rocked the place. Great musicianship and funky lyrics are perfect for kids who are used to that kind of stuff from 80's-influenced parents. I like the quirkiness of it, but a little goes a long way. And some of it is just plain weird. We all know weird sells.

Big Round World: We love Trout in our house! And you won’t find two nicer dudes (other than me) in kid’s music. The consensus here is that it's a hit, even though it's not our favorite TFA album -- yet. Keith and Ezra are stellar musicians and seasoned song-writers who rarely, if ever, miss. And there are some songs on here that came from their student song writing workshops. An all-around fun album that gets plenty of air time on our road trips.

The Shoe Bird: This is a gorgeous reading of Eudora Welty’s fanciful children’s story about how a flock of bird buddies went from winging about to walking about – in shoes! It’s artfully narrated by Jim Dale who does the Harry Potter audio books and backed by the Seattle Symphony and a stellar children’s chorus. Whereas this is a beautiful piece of art, it really belongs in the Spoken Word category and not the Musical Album category, but, hey, I’m not on the selection committee. Great for kids who dig great storytelling.

So, for me and my girls, it’s a toss between Brady Rymer and Trout Fishing – both of whom will be at Jiggle Jam 2009 over Memorial Day weekend!

Brady and his crew, being the newcomers, might not be given much benefit, thus giving an edge to the seasoned Trout duo who have been generating clever, fun music for families for more than 30 years. I’ve never been too lucky on selecting winning horses, so I’ll leave it at that. Either way, we win!!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Heavenly Challah

Every week Ray bakes bread in the kitchen of Congregation Beth Shalom in Overland Park, Kansas. He bakes lots of bread. Forty-eight loves this week – 64 last week. And it’s not just any bread. It’s “heavenly challah” sent to him as a gift by his lovely departed wife Frieda – in a literal and spiritual sort of way.

“For fifty years I was married to the most wonderful woman in the world,” says the 85-year-old Ray with a glint in his eye. “Every Friday she would make fresh challah for our evening meal, and every week the kids would tell her, ‘Mom, this is the best challah you’ve ever made.’ This went on for 30 or 40 years.”

Twelve years ago Frieda passed away and left Ray broken-hearted. He shuffled around for the next several months grieving and feeling sorry for himself, until the day he decided to do something about it. He looked around and spotted her recipe box in the kitchen.

“I wondered if there was something in there that I could make that would help me feel close to her,” says Ray. “I came across her challah recipe and thought, ‘This is it.’”

He knew how to cook, but had never baked anything, not even a box cake. He went to the store, gathered all the ingredients, and gave it a go. The bread turned out perfectly.

“So, I started to bake. And I felt like she was right there helping me.”

Ray was active in his synagogue in St. Louis where the challah was delivered each week at increasingly exorbitant prices. He volunteered to start baking it for the congregation. The bread was a hit and people started asking him to bake bread for their families. A woman in the congregation offered to buy a commercial mixer, and Ray increased his output.

Fortunately for the folks at Beth Shalom, Ray moved to Overland Park earlier this year. And now he dons his oven mitts every week and embarks on his volunteer labor of love. The challah is used in services every week and is sold as a fund raiser for the congregation preschool.

“If it weren’t for this bread, I’d be a tottering old man,” he laughs as he leans over and pulls another four loves out of the oven.

After it cools, the bread is sealed in bags and labeled with a sticker that proudly reads, “Frieda’s Heavenly Challah”.

And it tastes like heaven. I got a warm sample right out of the oven, and I brought a loaf home for lunch. Between Jeni and me, we ate more than half of it. If you’re in the neighborhood, drop by and buy some for yourself. Ray will thank you and Frieda will bless you.

Footnote: Many thanks to Judy Jacks Berman (the groovin’ director) and the awesome staff and rockin’ kids at Beth Shalom's Rose Family Early Childhood Education Center. It’s always an honor and a treat performing there.

Monday, December 1, 2008

An antidote for a crazy world.

I'm sorry, but I just have to take a moment to digress from the generally easy-breeziness of this page and pause...

Like many of you, I found last week's news disturbing and infuriating. The insanity of hatred staining the beauty of life in Mumbai and Congo, and the gluttony of our consumer culture scraping new lows on the blackest of Fridays has left me profoundly sad.

But even amid the sadness there is hope and good news -- if we let it in. We can triumph over hatred and evil. All it takes are overwhelming acts of love and good will. I think we've got it in us...

One of my musical idols Pete Seger has a banjo inscribed with his motto, "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender." I love that. It's simple and doable. For those who roll their eyes and think this pollyannish, I challenge the effectiveness of smart bombs and preemptive strikes to the overwhelming power of truth and nonviolence. Even though they're dead, I'll stand on the side of King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Jesus any day, rather than with the saber-rattling ideological hawks of any era.

"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it." Martin Luther King, Jr.

And I find sad and twisted irony in Friday's tragedy on Long Island. A truly bleak and ugly picture of our collective selves squeezing and clawing our way through the doors of a mega-box store, for what? A $9 Incredible Hulk DVD? I can't imagine pitching a fit if a guard asked me to leave because someone lost his life in the mayhem. I can't help but hurt for that man's family and send nonstop prayers. A dark day, indeed. And it happened at Wal Mart. Need I say more?

There was something far more positive and compelling observed last Friday -- National Listening Day. And Lyda participated. It was a very cool and meaningful new tradition. Instead of shopping, we practiced our interviewing skills and then sat down with Grandma Bobbie and Grandpa Joe to ask questions and listen.

Lyda started with the basic "favorite color" and "hobbies" questions, which opened the door for stories from her grandparents' childhoods. The sessions were brief, yet at times laborious due to her copious note-taking, letter-by-letter (How do you spell blue?). It was beautiful and a peaceful respite from the news of the day.

Read more. Play more. And listen more.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks, thanks, and more thanks on this "Save the turkeys" Day.

Gratitude is really at the heart of how we attempt to live every day in our house. Some days we're better at it than others. Today I'm thankful. I'm thankful for a God and a universe that embraces dreams and sends angels to whisper lyrics of encouragement into my sometimes clueless and sometimes stubborn heart.

I'm thankful for you and all those who support us in our mission to bring smiles and fun music to families. And I'm so very grateful that my fans have made it possible for my family to do what we do -- to leave the starch-collared cubicles of corporate America and follow my dreams.

I'm grateful for my beautiful and supportive bride/agent/partner/manager Jeni and her sometimes wacky vision of life, and for our very groovy girls who I can't seem to hug and hold enough.

I'm thankful for my brother Dan who has supported my dream from day one and has selflessly given countless hours of tedious number-crunching, form-filling, phone calls, and trips to the post office for little or no pay. He's waiting for a sizable treasure chest off the ship that's about to come in.

I'm in constant gratitude for my family and close friends who buy CDs and share them with others. And for our close family of children's musicians right here in Kansas City -- Funky Mama; Dino; Doo Dad Mike and Matt and Ken and Joe; Bongo Barry; Dean; and Mark. I'm thankful for our mentors out there like Keith and Ezra from Trout, John McCutcheon, and Cathy Fink.

I thank God for painted toe nails from my daughter Lyda, reading princess stories first thing in the morning, bananas, fresh-baked cookies, a new president, steamed veggies, soy cheese that actually melts and tastes good, store clerks who make eye-contact, our Jetta which runs on vegetable oil (our car is vegetarian, too!), The Gaf (where I get my grease), the curry dishes at The Thai Place, people who understand why someone wouldn't want to eat meat and are OK with it, Tim who gave one of his kidneys to his good friend John a few months ago (reminding us all what it really means to be a friend), Father Matt and his passion for the truth of Christ's message of love even when it's uncomfortable, diapers to change, leaves to rake, clothes to wash, dishes to dry, and beds to make.

I'm overjoyed with health and wealth and love and joy and laughter and a song in my heart.

For what and/or whom are you thankful?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thank you, Topeka and Ichabods!

Every time I think of Topeka, Kansas, the first thing that should come to mind is that it's the birth place of my beautiful bride. Sorry Jeni, but that's not the first thing. And it's not Brown vs. The Board of Education. And it's not the state capitol connection. The first thing that comes to my mind is that scene from Almost Famous where the band Stillwater has just finished a show in Topeka and a "band aide" invites the boys back to a house party where the lead singer Russell Hammond commences to get trippy, then stands on the roof poised to belly-flop into the swimming pool.

For better or for worse that's what I get.

Yesterday on the campus of Washburn University (home of the mighty Ichabods!) the kids of Topeka rocked out. We had two high-energy sold out Christmas shows thanks to the good work of the volunteers at Topeka Performing Arts for Children. More than 400 at each show (shhh--don't tell the fire marshal). And not one person invited the Hiccups and me back to their house for a pool party. OK, maybe it was a bit chilly for that. But we did get some slammin' vittles.

A big hearty MUCHOS GRACIAS to Tracy and Paul Wagner for fixing a scrumptious spread -- a veritable smorgasbord -- for lunch. We chowed so heavily between shows that I was a bit sluggish by the start of the second. Looking forward to more great meals in Topeka. Thanks, too, to our handy stage hands Brenda and Andy for taking care of us.

And we just found out that the Topeka library has booked three (3) shows for next summer. We had close to 1,000 people in two shows this past summer and they had to turn people away. Can't wait to see you all then.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Happy Birthday Mickey! Our Disney greatest hits...

Mickey turned 80 this week! In honor of our favorite Mouse and for everything plush, plastic, and princess he has become, four-year-old Lyda offers you her overall advice and favorite picks from Disney World.

If squeals are an indicator of happiness and approval, then our squeal-meter was off-the-charts ecstatic. The past few weeks I’ve heard almost daily, “I miss Disney World.” And, “How old do you have to be to work there?”

Lyda’s Picks...

Overall approval phrase: “Let’s ride that again.”

Overall criticism: “That was waaaayyyy too short.”

Favorite Ride: Carousel of Progress. (OK, not what most four-year-olds would go for, but Lyda’s not typical – she’s an old soul.) This doesn’t really even classify as a “ride.” It’s more of a "grandma" attraction. Not many pre-schoolers (or forty-something dads) would have the patience for it. Once through was interesting (and enough) for me. Lyda went twice.

Favorite Character Autograph: Stepsisters and Stepmother from Cinderella!! (Lyda practiced how she was going to confront the characters about how mean they are to Cinderella. The actors were a hoot! Great interaction.)

Favorite non-rides: Story time with Alice (one of the best characters on the property! Book through AAA travel). Story time with Belle in the Fairytale Garden (interactive and engaging). The "Dreams Come True Parade" is way cool -- all the characters in one place.

Other Favorites:

Character Meals: Splurge for at least one of these. The thrill is worth it.

Character Autographs: Buck up for an autograph book – a souvenir for life.

The live performances at Hollywood Studios: (Ariel & Beauty in the Beast) Short and amazing production quality. Great for kids who dig live theater and cool costumes and good music.

Thumbs way up: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan’s Flight, Haunted Mansion, Mad Tea Party (brief ride, long line), Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Toy Story Ride (Hollywood Studios), Beauty and the Beast Show (Hollywood Studios), Ariel’s show (Hollywood Studios); Figment ride (Epcot), Buzz Lightyear’s Spin (except Lyda’s gun didn’t work one of the two times we rode it),

Shoulder Shrug: Tomorrowland Transit Authority, It’s a Small World, Astro Orbiter, Pirates of the Caribbean (she’s a girl).

Thumbs down: Finding Nemo ride (Epcot) (I agree with Lyda. Hands down the lamest ride in the whole place. Cool graphics, but that’s about it. Fortunately there was no line, and it still took us about four minutes to walk through the labyrinthine waiting area), Dumbo ride (actually was OK with the ride, but said, “That was waaaaayyy too short.” According to Disney’s website, it lasts only a minute and a half. Not much when you wait in line for a half hour!)

Please post your favorites and not so favorites!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Livin' on Tulsa Time

Tulsa rocks! We just returned home from two fantastic shows at Connor's Cove Children's Theater at the Hardesty Regional Library -- it's part of Tulsa Public. An amazingly beautiful theater. Truly one of the coolest venues I've played in a long time. I hope you Tulsa folks know how fortunate you are. We'll be back there in February. See you then!
Also, we had another interesting experience in using Priceline (subject for a future post). We arrived at the Double Tree where we had secured a $59 room, only to find that they had us in a "smoking king." Unacceptable for us asthmatic singer types. So, it helps to have a cute 18-month-old in your arms when you're talking to the manager about how to fit us in when the hotel is sold out.

My thanks to the Doubletree staff for accommodating us, even when they didn't have to. The very understanding manager put is in a "party suite" on the executive level that was humongous -- big enough to have a serious game of hide-and-seek. It had a fold-out couch, a beautiful 12-foot long wood dining table, bar, sitting area, but no bed. So, they brought in a queen "aero bed" that was comfy, and they gave us coupons for free breakfast in the restaurant. Not bad.

Let me know if anybody else uses Priceline regularly. And do the desk clerks treat you differently than if you were a full-paying guest?

Monday, November 10, 2008

The wonderful world of Disney!

As I put Lyda to bed last night she said. “Daddy, Disney World is the best. But you know what would make it way more cooler? If Ariel could be at the beach and you could see her in the water and we could meet Flounder and Sebastian.”

That does sound cool. So, with that, here are some thoughts about last month's trip to Disney World…

My idea of a vacation is a hike in the mountains or lounging on the beach. The litmus test of inspiring awe is a sunrise over the Grand Canyon or snorkeling with sea turtles. But I must say that, although I rolled my eyes a bit at the thought of a trip to the Magic Kingdom, it was truly awe-inspiring and breathtaking. If only you considered the creative genius of Walt Disney, or his marketing genius, or the coordination and organization it takes just to open the gates every morning, or the sheer volume of fireworks, or the fact that you’re never more than 30 steps from a trash can, or the impeccable craftsmanship in the design – any one of those things is enough to warrant respect. But the real awe and magic is in the eyes of each of those children – young and old – who skip through the turnstiles and marvel at the wonder that is Disney.

To hear Lyda squeal when she saw her favorite characters live in person made it all worthwhile. Even 17-month-old Willa would break into her own version of song whenever she saw a princess, and she fell in love with Pooh.


Get a meal plan. Even if you think you’re paying too much, it’s nothing compared to what you’d actually pay without a plan, and it saves major hassles. And I think the food was fabulous. Jeni and I are vegetarian, and there were plenty of healthy options.

Bring snacks from home. Pack some extra granola bars, fruit, and juice boxes to save some cash and avoid over-dosing on junk food.

Avoid sugar and plan a nap. Talk about over-stimulation! I saw more parents screaming at their kids to calm down (how ironic) or to quit crying toward the end of each day. Well, duh…you just pumped the kid full of sugar all day, ran him from ride to ride, bribed him to smile for a jillion pictures, and now you expect him to hold back the tears? We went back to the hotel (The Contemporary) for a nap all but one of the five days (they both napped in the strollers that day.) It helped make everyone much more pleasant – especially me.

Plan a character meal. If your kids are at all into the Disney characters, check out one of the special meals. They’re pricey, but worth getting a private audience with and autograph from one of the princesses or Mickey or Donald or Pooh.

Include the grandparents (and get them to pay for everything!). Whatever you may give up in control over gift shop purchases and surgery snack intake is well worth having an extended family experience and extra help with child care. Jeni and I even got a date night at Epcot.

Highlight of the trip…

The princess lunch in the castle. I’m pretty cynical, but even crusty ones like me will be a bit mushy by the time it’s over. Lyda was nearly delirious with excitement. We met Cinderella, Snow White, Jasmine, Belle, and Aurora. And the food was excellent. Again, like everything at Disney, it cost a chunk of change, but it helped create a priceless childhood memory.

Tune in next time for a list of Lyda’s favorite and not-so-favorite Disney attractions!! You’ll get the scoop from one insightful four-year-old.

What Disney tips do you have? Please share them by clicking on "comments." Cheers!

Monday, November 3, 2008

I do!! Now, where are the turtles?

This past weekend Jeni and I celebrated six years of blissful wedded awesomeness! What more can I say about a woman who proudly and enthusiastically embraces the title “Mrs. Stinky Feet”? That’s the way it’s been since the first minute of our lawfully wedded life. Our pastor turned to the congregation at the end of our wedding ceremony and said, “I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. Stinky Feet.”

Jeni has been my rock and my conduit to the earth. She’s got a mountain of faith even when she claims to not know much about it (personally I think the secret to faith and wisdom is in the “not knowing.”) And she seems to get an adrenaline rush of that simple wisdom in times of stress. She couldn’t be a more perfect partner, booking agent, life manager, and caring mom.

So, we celebrated this weekend. We had a quasi-date together out on the town. And we had an actual, relatively-normal family outing on Saturday that didn’t involve playing a show. We do so many cool things together as a family – we travel, attend festivals, go to zoos, go to parks, go to amusement parks, go to carnivals – and it always seems to be in conjunction with “work” – that is if you can call what I do “work.”

We were headed to the Kansas City Zoo the other day when we got pleasantly sidetracked at a fabulous kid-friendly attraction nearby. You folks from the Kansas City area take note of this! The Lakeside Nature Center ( in Swope Park, near the south entrance of the zoo, is so amazingly cool! If you haven’t been, please do your family a favor and check it out.

We love the zoo, but some days it’s nice to do something more mellow and less crowded. This is the place – and it's gorgeous.

First off, it’s free (donations recommended and enthusiastically accepted)! And every Saturday morning they have a story time hosted by “mother nature” and a related craft. This week it was a bat story and the construction of a way-cool “bat hat.”

There is a rabbit hutch where kids can pet the soft, cuddly “Gretel.” They’ve got a volunteer-maintained animal rehabilitation facility where injured animals are nursed back to health and released back into nature. You’ll find hawks, owls, two bald eagles, and loads of aquariums with snakes, frogs, tarantulas, and fish. Nothing beats the up-close view of a bald eagle, but one of the center's coolest creatures is the Alligator Snapping Turtle. I’ve never seen anything like it, although they’re the largest freshwater turtle in North America and among the largest in the world. This gnarly, spiny rock-looking guy is about the size of a man-hole cover and floats in a 600-gallon aquarium waiting to lure in fish for his lunch. At first we thought he was too huge to be real, but then his mouth slowly dropped open and his worm-like tongue inched out – that’s what he uses to lure his prey.

It’s simple entertainment, and the kids loved it – especially the hands-on table where you can inspect bones, feathers, turtle shells, horns, and freshly shed snake skin.

The center is surrounded by easy walking trails that feature limestone and shale out-croppings that look out over the railroad tracks and the Blue River valley. We brought a picnic lunch and spent a very easy and fuss-free two-and-a-half hours.

Friday, October 31, 2008


It’s so cool when the kids finally get into Halloween. Last year was Willa’s first and the first that Lyda understood what was going on -- sort of.

Early in the evening we were making the final adjustments to her kite costume (see entry below) and getting ready to head out for some trick-or-treating. Lyda ran back into her room and came out with a dollar that she’d fished out of her piggy bank. She held it up to me rather importantly.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

“It’s for the candy.”

When she got a puzzled look from her mother and me, she added, “We need some money to buy candy from the neighbors.”

After some suppressed giggles, we explained how trick-or-treating works.

“You mean they give it to us for FREE!!??” she squealed. She was sooooo pumped.

We met her friends on the sidewalk and started ringing door bells on the block. After a handful of houses, Lyda said, “My legs are getting tired. How many more houses do we have to go to?”

Then after a couple of more houses she said something that is music to the ears of a sugar-wary parent like me, “Look at all this candy. There is way too much for me.” Realizing that’s something we will never here again as parents, Jeni and I took advantage of the moment and marched merrily back up the hill toward home.

Everyone was happy. Lyda had a whopping nine houses-worth of candy (that lasted about three months!!) and we were thrilled that she was thrilled. I love those rare moments when everyone wins.

Here is Cinderella and her sidekick Bop Bop Dinosaur. Happy Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween Costumes

The best Halloween costumes are home made, with a little ingenuity and creativity. I love this time of year. Even if we piece together something from the basement to make traditional ghost or witch costumes, it’s the creative challenge I love best.

I saw the coolest one the other day at a show I was playing. I don’t have a pic, but it was an alien inside a flying saucer. This kid had covered two big pieces of round cardboard with aluminum foil, taped the edges, and then “poofed” them apart in the middle to make a saucer. Through a hole cut in the middle, he poked his head that was covered with what looked like a clear plastic ice bucket. His face was painted green. Awesome!

Here’s a pic of Lyda’s costume last year. She went as a kite. Totally cute. It was her own brilliant idea; she just asked me to help build it. So, I taped together two pieces of kite-shaped poster board and cut a hole in one piece for her face to peek through. She colored it herself and we made a tail out of string and fabric. We attached some twine to it and wrapped several feet of it around a wood spool. Her friend Kiera “flew” her down the street as they went trick-or-treating.

So with all of that, this year I’ve lost out to the Disney marketing machine. Cinderella rules in our house. She’s a nearly totally store-bought princess except for the head band and her grandma’s velvet and faux-pearl choker. She is thrilled beyond words. And sooooo very cute, and she knows she looks fine – that’s the best and most important part.

Happy costuming!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Daddy, I have to go to the potty.

Please humor me as I go spiritual on you for a moment…something happened with my little
girl that I’ve got to share with you.

Early this morning I woke, as I often do, to the sweetest of sounds. My groovy little four-year-old angel Lyda calling out to me in her sing-song sweetness, “Da-ddy…Da-ddy…Da-ddy…Daddy…” I was stone cold asleep, so it took me a second to register the voice. I stumbled into her room in the pre-dawn darkness and she whispered, “I have to go to the potty.”

We shuffled together into the bathroom, and I waited with her in the dark. When she finished, I carried her back to bed and lay her down and she whispered, “I love you, daddy.” Then she disappeared under the sheets and fell right back to sleep.

I, on the other hand, was pretty much awake, so I decided to take advantage of the quiet and the stillness and do something for me. I wasn’t sure what that was, so I paced around for awhile and looked out the windows on the sleeping world, when suddenly something semi-profound dawned on me – what just happened between Lyda and me is exactly what happens when we pray.

It goes something like this…When we call out to whomever it is we call out to in times of need or times of ecstatic gratitude, we do so like a little child calls out to her daddy. Whether your God is a He or a She or Something-in-between, you call out in complete certainty that you will be heard and that your God will come running to whisk you off to the potty or meet whatever need you have. Sometimes it takes persistence and repetition, or even constant nagging, but if we don’t let up and never waiver in our faith that there will be an answer, our God shuffles into our lives and embraces us and says “My dear child, what is it? I’ll do anything for you.”

This morning I knew what I was called to do. I sat on the couch and creaked into a quasi-lotus. Just sit. Be still and know God. Then, as I breathed deeply in and out, I called out in a whispy sing-song voice, “Daddy…Daddy…Daddy…Daddy.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

Upside Down is a winner!

My latest release
Upside Down recently received a 2008 Parents' Choice Award! And it's on the Grammy nomination ballot. If you know anyone who is a voting member of the "academy" please let them know that they'll find my CD on the ballot in Field 18, Category 77, #102.

Here's what the Parents' Choice review said...

"Jim Cosgrove crafts his silly and fun music for y
ounger children with solid musicianship and a genial voice...Overall Upside Down is a pleasant and wholesome kid-friendly CD."

Also check out our other good friends who won this year:

Trout Fishing in America for Big Round World

And Grammy consideration for...

Here Comes Brady Rymer and The Little Band That Could (

This is currently our favorite driving-in-the-car CD. Brady's music has a bit of Woody Guthrie and whole lot of groove. It really rocks, is easy for adults to listen to, and Brady is a great guy.

Let me know what you're listening to these days.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Living the Dream!

Greetings from a hotel room in Salina, Kansas, and welcome to my blog.

Usually Jeni and the girls are with me on tour, but this week they're home -- Lyda's first soccer games! Since they're not here, I posted their pic instead.

Two great shows this week in small towns in North Central Kansas. Many thanks to the good folks in Beloit and Salina who turned out in big numbers and who totally rocked the house! And a HUGE thank you to Gayle at Solomon Valley Transmissions who looked at my ailing Jetta only to discover that it needs a new tranny! Such is life on the road.

And that's what this blog is about -- traveling and having a blast.

I love what I do!

I get to travel around this great country and sing with kids and their parents. What could be better? And how else would I ever get to experience cool places like the rolling green hills of the Solomon Valley, or the Flint Hills at harvest time, or the fog-draped Appalachians, or the pink-tinted Sandias at sunset, or the south lawn of the White House on a rainy day, or a rockin' school gymnasium in rural Mississippi, or Graceland through the eyes of a two-year-old, or the sand-blasted edges of the Navajo reservation? What makes each of these places even better are the people we've met there.

Please check in here frequently and I'll take you to these places, and I'll introduce you to the many angels and occasional crusty characters we meet along the way. Join in on discussions about traveling with kids. And add your suggestions and tips about better parenting and cool kid music and other stuff.

Stay tuned for my entry on Disney World tips -- and the "Lyda Meter" (a four-year-old's favorites and not-so-favorites.)

Thank you to those who have made these ten amazing years possible. Cheer