Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year in numbers (and photos)


"Blessed. Blessed, indeed."

That's the answer I would get every time I asked a woman I used to work with, "How are you?" I started to ask her that just so I could hear her response.

It's time to recall the blessings of 2009. There are so many. Thank you to
all who helped us live our dream every day. We couldn't cruise the country singing songs without your support.

And 2009 wasn't without its difficulties, sadness, and tears. We attended more funerals in the past six months than we have in the past three years. There are still gaping holes in our hearts from the passing of our dear friend and super-human Bongo Barry Bernstein (photo is from our show together in May), and from the equally sudden loss of Jeni's cousin Greg. Both are child-like spirits who continue to inspire.

Many thanks to those of you who hosted shows and opened up your homes to us this year and fed us and gave us a place to rest: The McLoones, Gjovigs, Skuces, Gogals, Christnagels, Eitzmans, Trices, Carters, Obamas (the Lincoln bed was really comfy), Sedenos, Leahys, Pizzos, Castenedas; Stotzers, Annette O'Connor, Diane Baryenbruch, and Kate Kopischke.

Here are some outstanding numbers from 2009:

13: Number of fish caught and kissed by Lyda while fishing for the first time in Wisconsin.

2: Number of times Jim was mistaken for Willa's grandfather. Number of teeth lost by Lyda in five week period. Number of kids who vomited during a Mr. Stinky Feet concert. Number of times in the same week Jeni saw Bon Jovi in concert.

126: Number of jars of peanut butter collected at shows in December for local food banks.

1: Number of hotel microwave ovens blown open by exploding eggs. Number of breweries toured (Leinenkugal in WI). (No correlation between these items.) Number of raisins removed by medical professionals from Willa's nose.

117: Number of episodes of The Brady Bunch in the complete five-season DVD box set. We've watched all of them.

3: Number of fingers Willa holds up when she tells people she's two.

25,000+: Number of people who attended Jiggle Jam 2009. (The grooviest family music fest in the country! Photo is backstage with Recess Monkey and Brady & Bridget Rymer)

24: Number of boyfriends Lyda collected on tour -- as of today. (Down from the mid-30s in September because she "dumped" some.)

49: Number of shows Jim played in July.

8: Number of days in a week -- Lyda and Willa are huge Beatles fans.

11: Number of requests for a photograph Grandpa Schmidt got while made up like Gene Simmons at the KISS concert.

14: Number of states in which we performed.

16: Number of times the girls rode the Wacky Worm roller coaster at Worlds of Fun.

240: Total number of Mr. Stinky Feet Concerts.

110: Number of times Lyda sang "Stinky Feet" on stage.

18,000+: Number of tour miles.

1.3 Bazillion: Number of hours Jeni spent on Facebook.

7.7 Gazillion: Number of times we'd like to say "Thank you" to you all for helping make this life so wonderful. And it still wouldn't adequately represent our gratitude.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lessons in Courage

Maddox and me

If I had to choose one thing that is most fulfilling about my career, I suppose it would be the amazing life lessons that I've learned from kids. And there's no shortage of those lessons -- they keep coming.

Last week I visited two spirited and courageous kids at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. The first was Maddox, an energetic three-year-old with a spine disorder. You'd never know the way this guy bounds around in his wheelchair that he also has a metal halo attached to his skull with multiple screws. It serves as a traction device to help straighten out his spine -- and it seems to be working. We laughed and sang songs and played instruments, and he hammed it up for the camera. Pure joy.

Maddox exemplifies one of my favorite things about kids: They're usually pretty good about living in the moment. You can see it in their cherub faces as you walk the halls of any pediatric ward. They're not worried about the past or the future. Their heads aren't full of the worldly stresses that weigh heavily on us adults. Their "carpe diem" attitudes seem to scream, "Forget about my bald head, let's play! So what if I'm strapped into this chair for a few months, I've got wheels! OK, so my body is like a pin cushion from all the needle pokes, but do you want to hear a knock-knock joke?"
I can't say I'd be very "present" (or pleasant) if I were in the same situation.

The next girl I visited was Elise. She's three, too, and is being treated for Leukemia. She'd been running a fever of about 105 for a few days. Yes, that's right, 105 degrees!! As you can imagine, she was a bit sluggish. She was asleep when I came in the room. When her mother woke her, she turned to me and grinned. We sang a few songs, and she asked for the "Slug Bug" song. Up went her hands, shaking them crazy everywhere, as she giggled! Then she rolled over and fell back to sleep. If I had a fever that high, I don't think I'd want to see some
goofy dude with a guitar. But, not Elise. Her mom said she's been talking about it ever since.

Please remember all those kids who will spend the holidays in the hospital. Remember, too, their parents who will be standing, sitting, pacing, and sleeping anxiously by their sides. And please remember their health care providers who skillfully and tenderly encourage their healing.

I'll leave you with a great quote that's on the wall of the lobby of Children's Mercy Hospital...

"Skill cannot take the place of sympathy and understanding, for science without heart is ugly and pitiless." Dr. Katherine Berry Richardson

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lessons in Grace

Lisa and son Josh at Arrowhead Stadium

The first time I saw Lisa was in the audience at one of my shows a couple of years ago. She wasn't just another mom with her kids in her lap. Clearly, she was different. For starters, she wore a bandanna that covered a very obviously bald head. But what really made her stand out was her bright eyes, her smile, and her enthusiasm. Not what I expected from someone slogging through the nausea of chemo-therapy.

Lisa and her kids -- Josh and Lilli -- became regulars, showing up at performances all over town. As Jeni and I got to know her, she shared more of her story. First the diagnosis, then the treatment -- 16 rounds of chemo, then the strain it put on her marriage, then the divorce, then the double mastectomy -- followed by 33 rounds of radiation, then the joy of re-emerging health and re-emerging hair. Through it all she showed patience, strength, and determination. Not that there weren't ever a few bitter words thrown it now and then, but almost always she beamed with confidence and enthusiastic presence. I'm pretty sure they call that "grace."

In August Funky Mama and I played a fundraiser for a man who was going through prostate cancer treatment. And here comes smiling Lisa bounding through the door, without her children. Her ex had the kids that weekend, so she came by herself, to "show support," she said.

Then her smile turned to a determined grimace and she said,"I got some bad news yesterday. The cancer is back, and it's in my brain. They found 60 little tumors."

Before I could respond, she took a deep breath and said, "But I start a new treatment on Monday and I'm gonna beat it, because Josh and Lilli need their mom."

As she was heading in to take a seat, she said, "I didn't know you did these kinds of fundraisers. Do you think you could do one for me and my family?"

"You bet I will. Anything to help," I said.

"Good. I want to do it in February."

That was the last time I saw Lisa. She was finally relieved of her pain and led home to paradise by the angels on Saturday morning.

The last time we corresponded via email, she requested that we do the concert whether she's there or not. So, for Josh and Lilli, we're on for February. Watch the calendar for details.

Peace to you, graceful Lisa.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Drug-free Road Tripping (Part 2)

Now we're cookin'! These are the kinds of discussions I like. Thank you for the great feedback on the last post about road trips -- and to those who submitted helpful tips to make family travel a bit less stressful and fully more enjoyable. And it seems I've struck a nerve with "anonymous".

For the record, let me make it clear that everything I state here is obviously my opinion -- take what you want and leave the rest. Those opinions may be...well...opinionated at times, but I have never claimed authority (or perfection) on anything. This is a forum to share ideas. After tens-of-thousands of miles of tears and tantrums, I have found what works for my traveling family. And, like all parents, I know that what works today may not work tomorrow. That's why I solicit other ideas. I need all the help I can get.

And I think most agree that it's best to utilize all possible strategies and tools before resorting to medicating the kids. I, for one, much prefer arguing and whining in the backseat from kids who are expressing emotions than passive indifference from a couple of slack-jawed zombies.

Here are a few of the other suggestions:

Lisa from Milwaukee:
"Don't forget audio books -- we've heard some great stories we wouldn't have read otherwise this way. Most public libraries have great selections."

Laura from Austin: "Yep--no drugging or vids! ...Bringing a potty chair (with bag liners) along when they were really young helped!"

Gwyneth from Atlanta: "Nuts are favorites for car food... And carschooling! The girls get so much work done in the car."

Andrea from St. Louis (I think):
"My mom used to bring little things for us that she held on to and let us open every hour or so, picture books, coloring pages, ball mazes, small surprises are something to look forward to and keep kids entertained."

My sister Ann chimed in, too, and reminded me that my mom used to slip us a half tablet of Dramamine on trips -- ostensibly to keep puking to a minimum (there were eight kids in the car -- so one small regurgitation could start a chain reaction), but she thinks it was to make us drowsy. So it goes -- I, too, was a child zombie.

And one last tip to calm a screaming baby -- Simulate soothing ocean surf with the radio.
Sounds strange, but I'm still amazed that this worked on Lyda for a while. Dial up some static on the car radio and, with the volume nob, turn up the static, then back down, then up, then down. Over and over. (It'll take a minute to get the right rhythm.) Before you know it, you're sitting on a virtual beach. It calmed her down and saved me several times when I thought I couldn't take it anymore.

Happy travels...Cheers!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Please, don't drug the kids!

Last week a Facebook friend posted a question about how to keep a toddler occupied and happy on a long road trip. A few of the responses were startling, but not at all surprising.

Two of the comments to the post recommended using Benadryl to sedate the child to ensure a peaceful journey. Another person suggested sugary snacks. And another gushed over the fact that their kid didn't make a peep the whole way because he had a DVD player with headphones to pacify him.

We travel thousands of miles every year with our five and two-year-old. The girls have been on the go since birth, and we've never had to resort to drugging them to keep things sane.

Think about this: How often do you get uninterrupted time in the same space with your kids? Think of the possibilities! You can actually talk to them and laugh with them and play games and sing and learn something about their personalities. This is a great "teaching moment".

Make a space in the back for one parent to comfortably sit with the kids. And you don't need to sit there the whole trip, but every once in a while climb back there and read. Sing. Color. Perform puppet shows. Play games. Ask them lots of questions. This may sound exhausting, and it is. But who said parenting should be a spec
tator sport?

And think about the memories you are creating. Do you think 20 years from now your kid is going to say, "I remember that trip to grandma's when I was five. That was the 23rd time I watched 'Little Mermaid'. I'll never forget it!"?

Things aren't always easy going, but here are a few other tips we've learned in the last five years that have worked for us:

Kids adapt to whatever schedule you adopt. Ease them into a long road trip by gett
ing them used to being in the car for extended stretches. Weeks before your big journey, take them on a couple hour-long drives in the country -- make them outings to a pumpkin patch or an apple orchard.

Break the trip into two hour chunks (unless they're sleeping, then plow ahead!). Stop every 90 minutes or so for a bathroom break. Stretch your legs. And realize that a seven-hour Map-Quested journey will take closer to nine. And give up the dream that you can make the kind of time you did when you were 20 and flying solo and peeing in a cup.

Offer healthy snacks. And I don't mean chips and pretzels -- those are carb heavy and quickly metabolize into sugar. Pumping a kid full of sugar and strapping them into a car seat for a couple of hours is child abuse. I'm befuddled by the parents who do this and then don't understand why their kid is cranky and can't sit still. "She ate a whole bag of Skittles! She should be happy." Balance carbs with protein like nuts and cheese and organic yogurt (no high fructose corn syrup, please!). Leave the candy and soda on the shelf at the store. Bring fruit instead.

Limit the video pacifier! You don't need it, really.
Kids are pretty resourceful and can learn to entertain themselves -- but it takes you to teach them how. OK, I admit we have a portable DVD player. We went three years without one and then sparingly introduced it when we were gifted one. On long days (five hours or more) we limit viewing to one DVD. On short trips under three hours, we don't use it.

Take care of yourself. If you're rested and well-fed, you're happy. And so the kids will be, too. When you're getting bleary-eyed, a roadside break and a brisk walk is better than a latte in the long run.

I'll blabber about this topic more, I'm sure. Please send your ideas about what works for healthy and happy road trips.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Self-serve Peace

Today is the International Day of Peace. If only every day were Peace Day. So, what are you going to do to be peaceful today?

I'm thinking that trust and respect are pretty reliable cornerstones upon which to build a peace-filled world. I discussed respect today with a hundred-or-so school kids from Spring Green, Wisconsin, and I asked for three examples of ways they can be respectful and promote peace.

"Do your homework," said a fourth-grader. And the other kids agreed that this would create some peace with teachers, parents, and themselves, because they just might learn something.

The next mischievous-looking kid said, "Don't chuck rocks at birds." Pretty much all were in support of refraining from chucking rocks at people, animals, windows, moving vehicles, (or an
ything for that matter) as a decent move towards respect.

The last suggestion was from a kindergartener
who simply said, "Type." After a bit of cross-examination she came out with, "Like on a computer." And the group decided that typing a letter to your grandma or typing a love note was a pretty good way to promote peace.

So we just need to round out these great suggestions for respect with an example of trust. And I found one -- a particularly impressive exercise in trust at a small farm on a gorgeous country road on the outskirts of Cumberland, WI.

Hustad's Sugar Bush make
s and sells 100% maple syrup. They've got a little gift shop right there on their property east of town. But when the Hustads aren't around, they have a self-serve window where you can grab some bottles or jugs of syrup and leave your check or cash.

I love this kind of trust. Just pull what you need off of the shelf and put your money in a slot in the wood. And, if you need it, there's a little plastic container with some one-dollar bills and some coins where you can make change.

I'm guessing that for the few times they've been ripped off, the Hustads have made up for it by the stream of customers who have left extra money just because they were impressed that they were shown respect enough to be trusted.

Wouldn't we all be better off with this kind of trust? I'm a strong believer that if you live a life of trust, you rarely -- if ever -- get burned. And even if you do, you can rest knowing that what goes around, comes around. Call it karma, call it what you will.

If only we all had the peace of mind and the trust of a Hustad.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Stinky Feet Ice Cream...Mmmmm...

Mr. Stinky Feet has now been immortalized as a creamy frozen confection. I feel like I've officially "made it." The generous and creative folks at eCreamery in Omaha have made, not one, but two flavors of ice cream in my honor. Who wudda thunk?

The Hiccups and I performed at Dundee Day in Omaha last weekend. Dundee is a groovy historic neighborhood in Nebraska's largest city -- lots of beautiful
old homes and cool shops. It's a great fest and we had beautiful weather. Many thanks to the folks at Dundee Bank for sponsoring our show.

To top it all off, Abby and Becky at the boutique ice cream parlor eCreamery (on the corner of 50th and Underwood) decided to honor our appearance by offering "Ooey Gooey Stinky Feet" as their special flavor of the day. It's vanilla with swirls of gooey caramel and fudge. Then they sent me home with my very own pint of "Stinky Feet - Special Edition," which is a lemon sorbet with coconut shavings (non-dairy for my discerning constitution).

These ice cream goddesses do most of their business online at You've got to check out this site where you can design your very own custom flavor and have it packaged with a custom label and shipped to your favorite ice cream lover as a super-thoughtful gift. What a cool idea! They are sweet culinary geniuses.

With a name like "Stinky Feet", it's got to be tasty! Ask for it by name.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bongo B: Keep on Drumming!

When Bongo Barry asked a crowd of a thousand people at the first Kansas City Jiggle Jam to start chanting the phrases "Charlie Parker plays jazz" and "Really great barbeque", I thought he was nuts. And he was nuts. That's why I loved him.

He was nuts about music. Nuts about people. And nuts about life. Bongo Barry could get anyone to sing or dance. He had the talent and the passion and, most important, the genuine love for his fellow humans.

Barry unexpectedly left his earthly body today to take on his next spiritual assignment. A shocking and devastating blow to all who love him, including the children's music family in Kansas City.

He was a truly beautiful, loving soul who included everyone in whatever he did. He was the only performer I know who would bring enough instruments to a
show so everyone in the audience could participate. Really! He had tubs and tubs loaded with oodles of drums, egg shakers, and film canisters full of beans.

And here's a classic example of the whimsy and love he sprinkled on our world...He recently made a road trip to western Kansas for some shows. Along the way he stopped at highway rest areas and left behind colorful plastic percussion egg shakers with his name and website printed on them. This was no marketing ploy, it was another example of Barry sharing the gift of rhythm with the world. And that's what he did best...share. He gave and gave and gave of himself, always. Including his sweat. He perspired more than anyone I've ever met. After every show -- soaked to the bone. I'll miss those sweaty hugs.

And I'll miss seeing him at the winter solstice party leading the singing in his Santa hat -- the only Jewish Sufi I know who also celebrated Christmas and solstice. He celebrated it all. Imagine the drum circle forming in heaven
right now! No doubt, Jerry Garcia is jammin' with him.

To you, my dear blessed Soul Brother, I send my love for a swift and rhythmic journey!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are you rich?

Kids ask a ton of questions. That's one of the reasons I think they're so cool. It's part of their drive to quench their insatiable thirst for learning.

Today kicked off the school assembly season for me. And, as always, I look forward to the barrage of questions from curious little minds...

Is that your real name? Do your feet really stink? Why don't you just take a bath? you really have bugs in your basement? Are you telling the truth about that dinosaur dancing in his underwear?
Have you met the president? Are you Miranda Cosgrove's dad? Are you famous?

Most of the time I just smile and nod vigorously like a well-oiled bobble-head. But there is one question that sends my noggin into overdrive every time I hear it...Are you rich?

Many kids assume that since I carry a guitar and have my name on some CDs that I must be rich. Anybody who has been interviewed on TV by the local weather personality has got to be famous.

"It depends on your definition of 'rich'," I tell them. "By my standards, I am very rich."

I do what I love, and I love what I do. I get up with my girls every morning and read them stories and cook them breakfast. I sometimes get to nap with them after lunch. I play for a living. I get to travel around this great country and sing with kids. I've got food in my belly and a roof over my head. My family is happy and healthy. I own an automobile that works and another that sometimes works. I pay taxes, and I had a dental appointment this year.

That may not sound very rich to some people, but it sounds pretty well-off to me.

(Here's an ironic aside... A financial planner has been hounding me for months to become his client. I finally agreed to meet with him, and once he found out how much money I make, he hasn't called me back! Now, that's rich.)

If I'm ever feeling down about money and or some perceived "lack", I just plug my seemingly meager salary into a world wealth calculator (check it out here -- you'll be amazed) to be reminded that I'm living like a king compared to most people on this planet. I'm among the richest 3 percent in the world, and I'm 55 times wealthier than a billion people.

Humbling indeed. Blessed indeed. I am livin' the dream.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Perspective on Life

Hug your loved ones tightly and often!

My veggie oil-powered Jetta died last week. Just wouldn't start. I've been very proud of that car and thrilled that I could drive to and from shows all over the Midwest and never pay for fuel. Perhaps my pride contributed to its demise.

The verdict is that it will cost about $2,000 to get it running again. That's after I put $2,500 into it last fall for a new tranny, a $1,000 a year earlier for a new timing belt, and about another $1,500 in various other ailments. Bottom line: I'm confident the universe will provide the money to fix it, but is it worth it? I could really use that money for new carpet in the basement, a real vacation, and Lyda's college fund.

This is a classic example of what my friend Kate would call a "Middle Class Drama." It goes like this:

If I were poor, I would have no car problems because I wouldn't have a car at all. And I would only dream of owning two. And if I were super "wealthy", also no car problems. I surely would own something other than a "clunker" or would simply buy a new one.

So, here I am in the middle. Blessed to have the means to own two cars (actually one, now, since the Jetta doesn't run -- which, oddly enough, makes it ineligible for "cash for clunkers.") And hog-tied because it'll take some creativity to pay to fix it.

While I'm wracking my brain trying to devise a solution and feeling sorry for myself and fretting whether or not I'll ever be able to afford college for my girls, life sends me a harsh and shocking reminder of my blessed existence.

Last Friday my former classmate Tom Murphy was killed instantly by a falling boulder that smashed through his windshield while he was driving home from a mountain vacation with his family. Bam -- just like that. No signs.
No warnings. Nothing he could have done to avoid it. His wife Jenny was able to prevent further tragedy by grabbing the wheel with one hand and applying the brakes with the other to bring the car to a stop. I can only imagine the utter shock and horror.

Tom brought such great joy and laughter to this world. His unexpected death reminds me to pray for peace and healing for his family and to approach life like he did.

All of a sudden my car drama doesn't seem so serious. In fact, cars and other things of this world now seem rather trivial. I'm blessed beyond belief with a healthy, beautiful family, and a fulfilling career. I'm hugging my wife a bit tighter today and loving on my girls a bit more enthusiastically.

Oh, and I'm riding my bike to fetch groceries more often -- with a smile.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

God. Love. Hate.

Pete Seeger's banjo

My apologies to the good people of Topeka, Kansas. You have been so good to me over the years, and today I'm choosing to give space to your (arguably) most nefarious and disturbed citizen.

The family and I recently visited Topeka for three truly moving performances. (See video here: More than 1,300 people over the course of the day! During one of our breaks we drove down a street in the state's capitol and saw a banner that read, "God hates America."

The banner was lashed to a tall fence that surrounded some property. A "compound" you might call it, and a sure indication that behind it lurks anarchists. Why is it that those who live on the violent edges of society live in compounds? No doubt, to protect themselves from backlash to their hate-filled existence.

The property and the sign belong to Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps is the self-proclaimed pastor and chief hater of America, Canada (all countries, really), US military personnel, homosexuals, Jews, non-whites, and, of course, Heath Ledger.

Now, I'm not sure what "god" his sign is referring to, but it isn't the God I know. God, by the very definition of "God," is incapable of hate. Love and hate simply can't co-exist -- one precludes the other. I'm pretty sure that God loves all the things that Phelps hates, and I'd bet God even loves Phelps.

So, here's what we do. We take a move from Pete Seeger's playbook and surround Phelps and other hate-mongers with love. Really. I know you'd rather inflict more painfully-satisfying things on him, but this is our best antidote to his kind of venom. A famous quote inscribed on the head of Seeger's banjo reads, "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender." I love that.

Our four-year-old daughter Lyda reminded me of something so simple the other day. We were making wishes on something and she asked me what I wished. I said, "World peace." And she said, "We've already got peace, because we've got God."

She's right, as always. We've already got peace right here; we just have to choose it, use it, mobilize it, and surround the planet with it.

Now, get out there and spread some love!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Noah's Scar

Noah (far left) with his family, my girls, and me.

Before we head into the thick of our super-charged July (49 shows in 31 days), I really want to tell you about our friend Noah who we saw on our annual tour through New Mexico this year.

Noah is five, lives in Albuquerque, and has seen my show every year for the past four years. He was a bit concerned he might miss this year's show. His parents told me that when Noah found out when I was scheduled to play, he got very upset because it was a mere two weeks after his open-heart surgery. Yes, heart surgery! He was more concerned that his docs wouldn't let him come to the show than he was about his healing.

Well, he showed up in spirited form!

"Hey, Mr. Stinky Feet, look at this," he said lifting up his shirt. There was his souvenir "zipper" from his surgery, running from his belly to the space between his collar bones. And sitting atop that scarred torso was a proud beaming face. You should have seen that grin. And the scar! Impressive.

"Is it still sore?" I asked.

"Nah...well...just a little," he admitted. But you'd never know it because he was cruising and bopping along with the rest of the crowd.

Aren't kids flat out amazing? Just think if that had been you or me. We'd be moping around, complaining about how the pain meds weren't doing the job, and milking as much sympathy as possible.

Kids don't have time for that. They're on to more important things, like singing and dancing,

Thanks for the reminder, Noah. You've got your priorities straight. Peace...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Calling all carnivores!

If this doesn't put you off beef for good, there's no hope.

No matter which way
the wind is blowing in Dalhart, Texas, you can smell it. The locals call it "the smell of money," when really it's just the smell of cow butt. I call it "the smell of death."

Twice a year for the past 20 y
ears I have driven through Dalhart on my way to and from New Mexico, and I have never grown accustomed to the stench and the sheer size of the dung heaps that lurk on the edge of town. As you head west out of Dalhart on Highway 54 you can literally see a murky dome of methane looming ahead. Warning: ROLL UP THE WINDOWS and PUT YOUR AC ON RECIRCULATE!!!

And as you get closer to the cloud, you'll start to see brown dots on the horizon. Those dots are cows -- tens of thousands of heads of cattle -- as far as the eye can see. They are crammed shoulder-to-shoulder into two massive feedlots on either side of the highway. You've never seen anything like this anywhere.

Regardless of my revulsion, this is an amazing vista. (The above picture doesn't do it justice, so I've added a Google Earth image of one of the lots.) These are huge bovine concentration camps the size of small towns where the cattle gorge themselves, poop a ton, eat some more, get fattened up, and then get loaded onto semis or box cars and transported up to Liberal, Kansas, where they're slaughtered and turned into Happy Meals.

And the frontage road leading to the larger Cargill feedlot is called "Farm to Market Road." Doesn't that sound quaint? As if these places can be considered "farms." How would you like to be the guy who drives around every day and picks up the dead cows who have keeled over in the heat? There's not a lick of shade for miles.

Bovine growth hormones! It's what's for dinner.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The sound of the sun!

Albuquerque, NM -- The sun sure is intense here. So, dude (or "vato" as they say here), WE'RE GOING SOLAR!!!

That's right, we're running the show on rays. And sunshine never sounded so good!

I can't think of a better place to kick off the new solar-powered show. The indigenous Zia people of New Mexico regard the sun as a sacred symbol. And with good reason. The sun regulates all life on our planet.

The Zia sun symbol is a red circle with groups of rays pointing in four directions, and it's so important to New Mexico, that you'll find it on the state flag.

My buddy Paul Pavlik who used to work with me on the Navajo reservation about 20 years ago designed a portable so
lar generator that consists of a 3.5 foot/80-watt solar panel and a large tool box housing a 12-volt battery, charge controller, and an inverter. Pretty slick little system, although the box weighs a ton.

In front of an energetic crowd of about 300 at the Lomas-Tramway Library last week, we set up our solar panel and plugged 'er in. All went smoothly.

We've used it three more times since then and it's been an instant hit with the fans. And I somehow feel a bit better about running on smog-free and cost-free energy.

I hope a few years from now we'll all look back, shake our heads and say, "Remember when 'going solar' was such a big deal and we all thought we were so cool? And, look at the size of those panels! I carry one in my wallet, now."

Look for more solar shows and my new solar-powered school assembly this fall.

Life lesson...

The other night we helplessly watched EMTs attempt to resuscitate a man who fell with a heart attack in the parking lot of our hotel in Albuquerque. They worked for nearly an hour, but could not revive him.

The whole scene played out just a couple hundred feet from where the girls were playing in the pool. Lyda was very concerned and we assured her that the paramedics would help him and take him to the hospital. But when the ambulance drove off with out him and his body lay in the parking lot for another hour with a sheet over it, we distracted her from the scene.

Terribly upsetting for all of us. We don't know who he was or where he was from. And the scene seemed so lonely, as there were no family or friends around him. We prayed the whole time for peace for him and his family.

It was a stark reminder of the fragility and temporary nature of our lives. We're all hugging a little tighter these days.

Tempus fugit. Carpe diem!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Anything Goes in Liberal

The Munchkin girls at the Land of Oz!

As a lover of words, I'm particularly fond of a good oxymoron now and then. Here's one of my favorites: Liberal, Kansas.

Now, that's not a di
g on this fair city. It's just the truth. You'd be hard-pressed to find many Obama-mamas in this agricultural hub of 20,000 in southwestern Kansas.

This is the home of International Pancake Day every Fat Tuesday, which includes a
friendly little competition between Liberal, and Olney, England, with women running down the streets of each town flipping pancakes. It's been going on for more than 60 years, and organizers say it's the only race of its kind on the planet.

Also, in Liberal you'll find the Land of Oz where a real-life "Dorothy" will take you on a tour of Auntie Em's farm house. (This was a big hit with Lyda and Willa and the big dude from Arkansas who was on the tour with us.) There's the Mid-America Air Museum (the fifth largest collection of civilian and military aircraft in the US), two massive cattle feedlots, and the National Beef Packing plant (the town's largest employer). Sorry, we ordered the vegetarian pasta.

And then today when I ordered two veggie burgers at the local Burger King, the guy at the counter asked, "So, are you a vegetarian?" But his bug-eyed face was screaming something like, "Wow, I've never seen one of you in real life!" When I acknowledged that I was, in fact, a functioning herbivore (actually pescatarian, 'cause I do like fish), he suspiciously asked, "Are you from around here?" When I told him I am from Kansas City, he sort of nodded as if that explained everything. And that ended our brief exchange.

I have driven through Liberal at least twice a year for the past 21 years. I've seen it add a few new hotels, but not change too drastically. That's why I like it. It's an oasis, and it's about half-way between Kansas City and Albuquerque -- two of my favorite places. And the kids here can rock with the best of them.

So, how did this glowing crimson beacon in a historically red state get it's blueish name? Legend has it that one of the early settlers, Seymour Rogers, was known to be "mighty liberal" with the water from his well to those passing through. (He sounds like a socialist to me.;)

Next stop: Hooker, Oklahoma -- Home of The Horny Toads. I'm not kidding!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Summer Tour Here We Come

The "Let's Stick Together Tour" is heading to New Mexico. As we prepare to depart on our annual Southwest summer tour, I thought it would be appropriate to mention some of the cool things we saw and did this spring.

Hershey's Chocolate Factory: Hershey, PA

Willa dons her hat to work
on the Kiss assembly line.

StinkFest 2009: Brooklyn, NY (Kindiefest from now on)

I think I frightened Stefan Shepherd when I gave him a big hug.

Jeni with Audra Rox and Marty Beller from TMBG.

World's Largest
Porch Swing: Hebron, Nebraska.

That's Jeni giving it a go. Does it really count as a "porch swing" if it's not on a porch?

Eitzman's Farm: On the Kansas/Nebraska border...

Here are the girls riding in a tractor with farmer Harlan.

And here is Jeni's favorite picture from our spring tour...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jiggle Jam 2009

So, did Jig
gle Jam live up to it's hype?? I may be a smidge biased, but...YOU BET! It absolutely rocked Kansas City.

The line-up alone was enough to blow a kid's Crocs off -- TMBG, Dan Zanes, Brady Rymer, Trout Fishing, Justin Roberts, Recess Monkey, Sugar Free All-Stars, and our local Kansas City musical family -- add in Crown Center's beautiful fest site, great weather, 25K smiling people, ecstatic children, smiling parents, some semi-healthy food choices, plenty of parking, and a place for kids to nap, and you've got the creation of the perfect musically-festive storm.

I'm still fumbling around in the fog of a pleasant post-jam coma. My muscles ache from dancing and hauling equipment. My spirit is swooning from all the good energy from the performers and the grateful families who stopped to say thanks. My voice is still raspy from singing and talking my throat off to everyone I saw. I must have effusively spewed "Thank you!" to a thousand people while smothering them with hugs.

We could not have pulled off this event without our dedicated board members and committee heads. And we had nearly 300 volunteers! They were checking tickets, hauling trash, dressing up like princesses, re-stocking water, and carrying strollers up and down the stairs.

Many thanks to all who made it happen and to all the families who supported this dream of
ours. I met people from throughout the Midwest, and from New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Alabama, and California. I'm told folks traveled from about 15 different states. You all rock!

Let's do it again next year. In the meantime, I'm going to get a little rest.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Look out, Hannah Montana!

The diva-producing storm has been brewing for months. If anyone has watched our groovy girl Lyda perform recently, you've seen a budding young drama queen upstage her old man regularly. She's now the star of the show! Not that I mind at all -- it takes some of the pressure off me. It's just one of those things that a father gets misty about as he watches his little girl grow up.

Early on there were a few stage-left exits after our duets when she would bawl and say, "They're laughing at me!" But once she figured out that the audience wasn't laughing AT her, but WITH her, she started to milk it.

Now she struts and preens and curtsies and rolls her eyes with such starlet confidence that you can't help but laugh. And we all know it's cute because she's four -- we also know there will come
that devastating day when she realizes that it's not so cute. Thankfully we still have a few years.

You should have seen her in Hebron, Nebraska, last week! After the show she was swarmed by a mob of mostly middle-schoolers who wanted photos and autographs. On the way home she said breathlessly, "It was crazy. There were so many cameras, I didn't know which one to look at first."

Then reality bit. Our little shooting star experienced a heart-breaking and humbling descent this past week after we performed at a roller rink in Marshall, Missouri. No one asked her for an autograph! She wa
s incredulous. And when one girl asked her to scoot out of a picture with me (Lyda's always beside me in photos), she said to me with welling tears, "Daddy, you're more popular than me now."

I didn't have the heart to tell her this: That's the way it goes in show-biz, darlin'. One minute they love you, the next minute you're a clod.

I'm grateful for the love when it flows and have become quite comfortable playing the clod.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Stickin' together

Children are miracles. From their conception to their birth, through their development, to their insight and intuition. And the people who help them heal -- the docs, the nurses, the therapists -- perform miracles every day. If you don't see the hand of the creator in all of this, then you're just not looking.

A few days ago we visited the Via Christi Regional Medical Center in Wichita, Kansas. It's the very same place where Willa healed from her bonk on the head nearly two years ago and where Lyda came up with the song "Let's Stick Together."

I stopped in to visit with a girl on the PICU, a few doors down from where Willa spent four days hooked up to tubes and monitors. We sang and chatted and I was able to coax a smile from her even as she winced in pain. Then Jeni and the girls joined me in singing with some kids in the play room on the pediatric floor.

It was a tad bit emotional for us to be roaming those halls again, but mostly it was cathartic and uplifting. There is nothing like the smiles and giggles of kids who are healing to help put things in perspective.

The Children's Miracle Network arranged the visit and a show later that day at a nearby elementary. CMN was there for us when we thought we were all alone in a strange city. They became our family when ours were so far away. I did a benefit concert for CMN several years ago, but never imagined I would be on the receiving end of their generosity.

And the kids at OK Elementary raised the most money in the "Change is Good" promotion for CMN. They won a concert! It was the ultimate honor to be there. Thank you all for a great time and the privilege of paying it forward!


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

No good children's music?? StinkFest 2009

Please, I never want to hear anyone say -- ever again -- that there is no good children's music out there. I've heard it. I've seen it. And, occasionally, I produce some of it. (At least I'd like to think so.)

Jeni and I are just getting our legs back from a whirlwind trip to Brooklyn for StinkFest 2009. (What a perfect fest for an odoriferous guy like me.) I have lovingly referred to StinkFest (kindiefest from here on) as a gathering of the family music "mafia" -- that is the growing familia that is this beautifully diverse genre. They came from the west, from the east, from the south -- and we represented the heartland. We discussed athe business and swapped stories about gigs and shared leads about venues. And, man, the positive energy was jolting.

Despite what a few panelists said, there is not a "glut" of family music. An implied glut might scare off those who are just testing the waters and suggest that resources are scarce. I find the opposite to be true. There is plenty of work out there for all of us -- if you're willing to work it and play to small groups and if you're willing to share the love.

That's how we've created the scene we've got in Kansas City. We've made a conscious effort to create a real family where we share our success and where we don't always agree. And that's what we're on the brink of on a national level. The more we give away our knowledge, our leads, our "secrets" (there are really very few of those) -- then the more we work. And the more we all work the stronger we are as a whole. Audra said it best from the stage during her set, "Let's all be happy for each other's success."

No room here for disingenuous players. No reason for competition. And no excuse for anything less than doing what we do for the love of kids, the love of families, and the love of music. The success will naturally follow.

The love was flowing in Brooklyn. And if I took nothing else away, it is that this community will do great things when we stick together.