Books, Music and eZines: My Creative Friends and Family Were Productive in 2022

I’m blessed to be surrounded by a lot of creative people. 2022 was a highly productive year among my circle of acquaintances — so much so that I’m still trying to work my way through everything they produced. It’s a good problem to have. Here’s a sampling:

Marley’s Ghost by Brian Katcher:

“Marley was dead, to begin with.” That would be Uncle Marley to his teenage nephews Aaron and Kyler — cousins to each other. Marley was the wild one in the family, but always loving to his kin. When the two boys find what appears to be a treasure map in Marley’s fishing cabin, they decide they could both use a little adventure, along with money. Of course, it might be drug money and there might be some bad guys who are also tracking it down, and the boys might accidentally involve two girls they like and they might not actually make it to the church camp which is the cover for their road trip.


Talk Smack to a Hurricane by Lynne Jensen Lampe

In these poems, Lampe grapples with the life-long effects of growing up with a mother who was mentally ill. There’s compassion and pain and laughter and sparks of joy, with a good dollop of love throughout. Many of the pieces examine not only her relationship with her mom, but her mom’s relationship with a society that didn’t listen to women, but tried to control them.


Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir by Barbara Harris Leonhard

The first selections in this memoir are poems reflecting on the author’s childhood experiences with encephalitis, an illness that was debilitating for quite some time, requiring intense care from her mother. As the book progresses, the roles reverse and Leonhard finds herself caring for a mother afflicted by dementia. The complexities of the mother-daughter relationship are explored in-depth.


Shivah by Lisa Solod

Fiction that’s on my to-read list for January. From the inside cover of the novel: “When Leah’s mother is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s it becomes clear that there will be no reconciliation with the woman who has played a big and dangerous role in her life. As Leah chronicles her mother’s descent into nothingness, she both mourns and recreates the life her mother might have led. In the process, she paints the portrait of a wife and mother who struggled to raise a family, who had contentious mother-daughter relationships with her children, and a woman who struggled with mental health and addiction: A complicated human being who was loved.”


You Don’t Fall Out of the Universe: Surviving the loss of our son by B.J. Jewett

Another memoir with poetry. This is an intimate look at grief, healing, and survival after devastating loss. You can read an excerpt in the “Compassionate Friends” newsletter.


Glass Awash by Ken Gierke

I confess I haven’t started reading this poetry collection yet. But I have heard Ken Gierke read a number of times and find his poems both insightful and enjoyable.


“Tiny Frights” a horror ezine published by Carl Bettis.

A new horror zine published by my brother. It features “Horror-themed poetry, fiction, artwork, visual poetry, etc., in small bites. Horror reviews in larger gulps.”


Mirage by Samantha Fierke (music)

A delightful jazz album from someone with a load of both talent and skill, along with a terrific voice.


I can’t wait to see what my friends and family accomplish in 2023. Happy New Year to all!

Focus on Indie Arts: Triflemore

One of the great blessings in my life is that somehow I have become acquainted with a number of accomplished writers, artists, craftspeople, and musicians. I try to save most of my book, art and music budget for those independently producing their own work, or who are just starting out — folks who have worked hard to produce something great, but haven’t already amassed a huge amount of money doing so. It’s important at all times to support independent artists, but even more so currently.

I wondered what I could do to help promote this. And then it came to me. Aha! I’m a blogger. I can at least let my few readers know about some artistic delights of which they might be as yet unaware. I’m going to try to do this semi-regularly.

First up is Triflemore, touring musicians who describe their sound as zenfolk. I met them first as good and caring neighbors, discovering later they’re excellent musicians as well.

I’m not expert enough in musical parlance to write in-depth reviews. What I can say is that the feel of their music often makes me envision rolling green hills and groups of people sitting around fires, visiting after a long day of productive work. Definite Celtic vibes, with contemplative lyrics that somehow pull off the paradox of feeling grounded while simultaneously taking flight.

One of my favorites among their song library is Regarding Shoes, from their album, The Astonishingly Disruptive Nature of Kindness (and Other Worthwhile Pursuits.)

How I’ve Kind of Sort of Taught Myself to Play Piano Just a Little



“Do you play an instrument?”

When this question comes up in conversation, I usually answer it with “No, not really. Well, sort of. I mean, I’m not good, but I can kind of play piano about this much.” I hold my thumb and forefinger an inch apart to demonstrate how small my musical accomplishment really is.

When I was in grade school I became fascinated with the two pianos in our school – one in the auditorium and one in the music classroom. I remember the day the music teacher let each of us in turn practice a middle C scale. And that’s about all I recall from music class in my elementary years. Mostly, I remember daydreaming about playing the piano in the auditorium when we were stuck in a boring assembly. A couple of times in fifth grade, when my class was supposed to be working on sets for a class play, I snuck over to the piano and started pressing keys simply to hear the sounds. I don’t know why, growing up in a house where Hank Williams was considered a deity, I developed a liking for the sound of the black and white keys. Maybe it was a form of rebellion, since a keyboard is seldom used in country music, or at least not the country music my parents favored.

I’m not claiming to be high-brow in my musical tastes. I like me some pop music. But especially when that pop music heavily features keyboard of some kind: Elton John, Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Hornsby, Coldplay, Lady Gaga (yes, even though I’m thoroughly ensconced in my middle-aged years; I try to concentrate on the music and not the meat dress or whatever.) I’ve always kind of wished I knew more about music, but didn’t know how to go about learning. My dad had a guitar and a fiddle that he’d picked up used somewhere, and he taught himself to play. But he wasn’t one to let kids mess with his stuff. And paid music lessons in my childhood were as realistic a possibility as a trip to the Antarctic.

I signed up for band class when I went to junior high. I played clarinet because I had to use a school instrument and took what was available. I did learn some about reading music and my ear got trained a little, but let’s just say clarinet was not my destiny. For years I stuck with playing the radio, the daydream of piano hovering in the back of my mind, surfacing occasionally. It wasn’t so much that I felt deprived over it not happening in real life, but that I enjoyed having a fun little fantasy sometimes.

Then my kids came along and my husband’s sister had their childhood piano sitting in her house, unused. The soundboard was slightly cracked, but it would do for the kids to start learning. When my daughter was nine and my son six, we acquired the instrument and I signed my kids up for piano lessons. For the first little bit, I sat in the teacher’s living room, petting her dog, and listening to the instructions she gave the kids.  Following along at home, using the lesson books, I’d practice the same things they were learning. I used to spur the children to practice by pretending to compete with them, saying things like “You don’t want me to get better than you, do you?”

My daughter stuck with lessons for six months, then decided to pursue other interests. But my son – let’s just say piano does seem to be his destiny.  After a couple of years’ time, he’d passed me right up. I couldn’t keep pace with him. When he was 10, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law pooled their money to buy us a new piano, and he was in heaven, using an instrument that sounded the way it was supposed to. By the time he was 11, he was choosing Philip Glass pieces to play in recital. He’s 15 now and not only still plays, but also owns a MIDI keyboard he keeps plugged into the computer so he can compose and record his own original music.

Meanwhile, I’m still plugging along, inch by inch, through children’s lesson books, supplemented with YouTube tutorials. My practice has fallen by the wayside a couple of times, for periods of a few months, but I keep coming back to it. When I say inch by inch, I mean my progress is soooo slow, and by slow I mean think in terms of those drops of pitch that hung suspended for many years before finally falling in that Australian study. For one thing, I can only squeeze in 20 minutes or so of playing, about three or four days a week. After nine years, off and on, I’m finally at the end of the fourth instruction book.

I no longer have any pretense that my playing has anything to do with encouraging or assisting my children in any way. I know I’ll never be good, really, and I have no desire to try to perform for anyone else. My fingerwork is too staccato, and unlike my father and my son, I don’t possess an innate ear for the notes . But I’ve learned more about music, which means I get more out of the music I listen to. Plus, playing an instrument is supposed to help your brain function. My brain will take all the help it can get. And I enjoy it so much, those little 20-minute sessions of daydream fulfillment.

So yeah, I play piano now. Kind of. A little.




Come Healing – the Power of Music and Poetry

Like everyone else, I’m processing the school shooting that happened in Newtown, CT last Friday. Like everyone else, I can’t fathom the pain experienced by the parents of the slain children. I felt devastated more than 1,100 miles away, with no connection to the families, other than being a parent who knows what it is to love a child.

At work today, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I surreptitiously checked it, only to see a text alert from the local public school district, the one where my son is enrolled. All schools were on modified lock-down. Students safe. Wha-? ALL schools? Were they being threatened? What was going on? I had a hard time maintaining my composure as I waited on library patrons, because all I wanted to do was check the web for local news to try to find out what was going on. Thank goodness for the “students safe” part of the text. Turns out there was a wide-ranging car chase going on, and the driver had been identified as having an ex-wife who was employed by the district. Before too long, a second text arrived stating the lockdown was ended.

And that was when I had to excuse myself to go wipe my eyes in the bathroom. Because I’d had the tiniest of tiny tastes of what the Newtown parents had experienced. And it brought the tragedy to the forefront of my mind again.

Many people, myself no exception, have taken to social networking with opinions and activism of one sort or another in the wake of the tragedy. One thing I’ve noticed in between impassioned debates about gun control and mental health care, is that folks have been posting many links to music and poetry.

Only last week, I discovered the Leonard Cohen song, “Come Healing.” Somehow it seems perfect for the time. I can’t stop listening to it. I can’t even explain why it helps, but it helps. That’s the magic of music. It doesn’t make the grief go away, but it gets us through.

Many of my facebook friends have posted the link to the children’s choir singing “Silent Night” on Saturday Night Live. For the couple of minutes the song lasts, you’re given the feeling that somehow the world might be worth living in again some day. A few more friends have posted this Kahlil Gibran poem.

Now I see. Music and poetry are more than arts. They’re human instincts.

What songs and poems get you through?