Reasons to take up SMOKING

Reason #1: Wardrobe.  You get a swell looking jacket and cravat, plus a jaunty hat!

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THE SMOKING JACKETS are (from left) Daniel Ward, Heidi Swedberg, Craig McClelland and John Bartlit. Craig is gigging in WI this summer, and will join us in November

The Smoking Jackets are hitting the road in trio formation- John Bartlit, Daniel Ward and I will presenting the first Rocky Mountain Ukulele Festival in Durango, Colorado.  We have a great day of workshops planned, starting Friday July 10th with our “song of the year”, Silly Love Songs.  The next day will be filled with classes: 3 sessions of 3 classes, offering a beginning, intermediate and advanced class each session. (I wish I could take John’s ukulele percussion class!)

Reason #2: Smoking is good for you.  When you are doing it on an instrument, that is.

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At the end of summer John will be coming out our way and we three will head up to the Wine Country Ukulele Festival together for four days of ukulele fun, September 10-13. We will be teaching, performing and doing all things ukulele, including a public show at Velo Vino on Sunday afternoon, September 13. The festival in Wine Country is everyone’s favorite because, well…wine.  Ukulele.  ‘Nuff said!

We are working out details for a show or two in Los Angeles before John flies back to New Mexico, and will update the schedule with that soon.

Reason #3: It makes you seem sophisticated.  That’s our motto- “Sophisticated, Educated, Medicated”.

All the beautiful photos in this post are by Allison Shallert, Allisonphoto.com

All the beautiful photos in this post are by Allison Shallert, Allisonphoto.com

In November all four of us will come together in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico for the New Uke-Culinary Fiesta. Highlights of this event include two public shows, one for the Smoking Jackets and a full-on flamenco show.  There will be great workshops in a beautiful setting, plus we will be teaching cooking classes focusing on combining New Mexican and classic European dishes.  Old world meets new- or as we like to call it, Nuevo Mundo.  And there will be big-time BBQ- our other favorite way to SMOKE!

(For the record, none of us are smokers, nor do we endorse the use of tobacco.  We’re just in it for the costumes.)

‘Tis A Gift

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All the beautiful photos in this post are by Stewart Dean, imagovitae.org, CR 2015

“And when we find ourselves in a place just right….”

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I believe in the power of art to improve lives- music, dance, performance arts, visual arts… all forms of art are humanity’s conduit of connection, and every person has the need and ability to express through art. Stepping away from entertainment into engagement is the most healing thing I know.

Although it seems like a lifetime ago, just last month I was upstate New York at Ashokan Center teaching at their ukulele camp.  A balm to the soul: beautiful place, beautiful people, beautiful music.

It always starts from the top down- Jay Ungar is a most welcoming host.  Playing with him and Molly was a privelege.

It always starts from the top- Jay Ungar is a most gracious host. Playing with him and Molly was a privilege.

This time around I taught a class in overcoming stage fright through improvisation. Beginning improvisation is about getting out of your own way- letting go of the idea that you need to be funnier or smarter, thinner or younger, betterer. We focused on freeing ourselves from judgment and shame, knowing that we are all good enough as we are, giving ourselves permission to fail and to not waste time worrying about what other people might think. I believe I have earned an honorary Doctorate on this subject.

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Newly fearless and completely shameless!

Working alongside people you love, and people who love you is a reward of it’s own.

I esteem and revere Gerald Ross and Marcy Marxer

Gerald Ross and Marcy Marxer- beautiful musicians!

Old pal Joel Ekhaus and new friend Ruthy Ungar

Old pal Joel Ekhaus and new friend Ruthy Ungar

From left: Paul Hemmings, Marcy Marxer, Gaku Takanashi, Yours Truly, Joel Ekhaus, Gerald Ross, Ben Hassinger, Ruthy Ungar

From left: Paul Hemmings, Marcy Marxer, Gaku Takanashi, Yours Truly, Joel Ekhaus, Gerald Ross, Ben Hassinger, Ruthy Ungar

This past week was more than a bit surreal. Returning to Hollywood from the sheltering paradise of Ashokan was abrupt and rude. I have an even greater perspective of how fortunate I am to be in a place where I am confident, happy and valued and I am thrilled to be doing work I consider meaningful and necessary.

I sang “Simple Gifts” a few days ago at one of the pre-schools where I do a music program. Wise, beautiful “Q”, a boy of 5, commented “Valley of delight?  We don’t need to find somewhere else- we are already there!”

Yes, we are.

(Thank you for the images, Stewart Dean, imagovitae.org, CR 2015)