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Women and Horses  

The new CD "Ride a Wide Circle" was a labor of love from any way you look at it. There is love in the songs, love from fans who helped produce the music by pre-ordering, love from my husband, Brad, who helped produce the CD and love is now coming back to us from radio stations and excited fans.  I grin when somebody tells me what their favorite song is or that the CD hasn't left the CD player since it was put in.

Fall is asserting itself and I am more than happy to start wrapping my neck in wild rags and shaking out the sweaters from storage. Our horses, Lady and her colt, Bandit, are taking on a shaggy look as their Winter coats grow in. For the first time in our family, all the boys are grown and gone only coming home occasionally for a home-cooked meal and the girls and I have had to "cowgirl up" in our chores around the place. The full weight of training our mare and colt rests on our shoulders and we comprise a happy, giggling group of horse trainers. Our evening hours in the barnyard have become my favorite time of day. We call that magic hour "Barn O'Clock."

"Barn O'Clock" means getting outside just as the sunlight decides to be spectacular. It means that barn boots really do match anything and that everything must be right in the universe when you see all that orderly stacked hay.  "Barn O'Clock" means the chickens coming to visit as we clean out water troughs and proving they are not as dumb as their reputation holds as they wait for a few oats when we grain the horses. This time outside means our dinner inside may not be very fancy but that we've all had a chance to bury our noses in a brushed mane and felt ourselves drawn into our horses world which is infinitely more simple than ours. For these four youngest girls of ten children who have been babied and spared many of the harder work for many years and for me who has had the very legitimate excuse of being too busy or too pregnant to help with the horses, this is our moment.

I am including a song, "Women and Horses" with lyrics written by cowboy poet, Dale Page.  I composed the music and was deeply drawn to the song as soon as it was written. I would love to hear from you what your favorite songs are and why.  That's the real pay day for me as an artist!

Early Spring and a New CD! 


We're enjoying a rare early Spring here in our corner of the West. Our little girls held 
my hand and led me out to the flower beds where the first crocus are budding with bright purple and yellow. Even the chickens are confused and are giving us more eggs than normal in Winter and my sons horse, Finn, almost looks uncomfortable in his shaggy winter coat. All the ranching and farming families look up the mountains at the lack of snow pack and shake their heads. They know bare mountains in Winter mean no water in August. We recently had a community prayer and fast to enlist heavenly mercy for more moisture to our valley.

Thank goodness I've been enjoying a downpour of creativity as I work on finishing songs for my new CD. Songwriting is the best part of being a full-time performing artist. I love the effort, as well as the effortlessness of it. Most of all, I love that this music is really reflecting the love and respect that continues to grow in my soul for the wonderful people I meet on my tours throughout the West.

In an effort to make the process of producing this music available to all of our friends and fans, I will be launching a Crowdfunding Campaign starting March 20th and continuing for 30 days. Crowdfunding, or Fan Funding, is a trend that I've watched with interest, but never taken the plunge before now. With this new CD I wanted to share the creative experience with others.

Another important goal with this new approach to CD production is to be able to promote the music in a way we've not been able to do before. My husband, Brad and I do all we can to produce the very best music possible. However, we've not had the the funds to promote it on radio or to produce professional music videos. Western Music deserves to be promoted in a big way and we hope to raise the funds to do just that!

Lastly, I want to thank you for listening to my music and making a place in your lives for it. I love when a rancher shakes my hand after a concert and tells me my music is in his truck. That is sacred ground for a cowboy and a compliment I don't take lightly. I look forward to this next big musical adventure and hope you all will enjoy the ride right alongside me.
 

A Shift of Seasons  

This photograph was taken by my dear friend, Anita Crane, in our barnyard the day before Maria's wedding.  We are all here except my son, Luke, and my son, Charles and our daughter-in-law, Erica.

Summer seems to be making a quick exit this year and even as far away as Prescott, Arizona and Lewistown, Montana, the locals are all affirming the same. The down comforter is back on our bed and the children slip on hoodies before heading for school.  We are all feeling slightly resentful that school is starting even before the Sanpete county fair.  The tomato vines are heavy with home-grown goodness but just need a few hot days to finish them off to red perfection.  I just placed an ad on local radio to find homes for our latest litter of barn kittens.  We will miss their antics and wish barn cats had a 4-H category for we feel certain we would bring home some blue ribbons.  Clark is making calls to find hay for his gelding, wishing he had enough money to stack the bales to the rafters but knowing he will just have to get what he can.

In more ways than I would care to admit, this Summer was hard on me.  It wasn't the concert trips.  There were some really dandy trips to places like Dave Thompson Resort up in Canada where the Rocky Mountains go from majestic to suddenly epic.  The highlight of singing for the Cody Stampede in Wyoming was spending time with good friends at Robins Nest Bed and Breakfast.  We stayed with friends at Island Park, Idaho who took us out on their boat.  I screamed for the joy of it and the speed and wasn't embarrassed at all because I was surrounded by friends just as thrilled with life as I am.  Up in the sagebrush hills of Oregon I sang at the Oregon Trail Center and really poured out my heart in each performance.  It felt good and somehow important. I found myself singing one of my new songs at sunset at the rodeo grounds in Monticello, Utah and realizing just how special of a song it is. In Prescott, Arizona I took time to listen to as many of the poets and musicians as I could and found my respect growing for this group of ranch folks who are my artistic family.  That respect continued to grow as I headed up toward our Northern border across the vast grasslands of Central Montana to the Montana Cowboy Gathering.  I swapped stories with Bob Petermann and Owen Badgett...well, actually I mostly just listened to these two old Montana hands.  I am not only seeing the West, I am learning it's language and it's stories and it humbles me.

No, it wasn't the trips that made this Summer hard for me.  It was me that made this Summer hard for me.  

I have had what one friend calls, a "divine discontent" in which I have tried to figure myself out as an artist while at the same time try to hold my heart together as I watch my children grow up, marry and move away.  Just as I feel the bite of Fall in the air, I also feel a shift of seasons in my life.  Most of June was in the pursuit of planning a lovely wedding for our daughter, Maria and her new husband, Brenton.  Friends and family rallied around and it was a precious event.  The fact that our Maria was married and gone did not hit me until the morning after her wedding when I knocked on her door to wake her up for church and realized she was not there. I found myself mourning my days as a young mother when I was still foolish enough to think I was in charge.  I am learning that love is not proximity.  It's more like the wire strung tight on a well-built range fence.  It can stretch and go on for miles and yet still hold everything together.

As for my discontent with myself as an artist, I think of a quote I once heard, "It takes a village to raise a singer."  When confidence  lagged in myself, my husband, Brad, has been there to tell me to snap out of it, which was advice balanced out by my friends and children who took a more gentle approach to my whining.  Life has taught me that discontent is good.  Pain always has something to teach us so we can make corrections and get back to the business of being joyful. I wanted a 20-step to-do list of what I needed to do to keep moving forward as an artist, but ended up with only 2 things God has for me to do.  I'm sharing these two special things with you, because I think they just might help someone out there in a similar state of frenzy.

1. Be a quality person.

2. Write quality music.  (Sub in whatever you do...teach, train horses, drive truck, ect.)

There it is.  If you can smell the change of seasons in your life, I hope this simple to-do list helps you as it continues to help me.  Most of all I hope that my adventures in the West will bring me to a concert venue near you whether that be on a big fancy stage or out around a campfire, I have some quality western music I would like to share with you.
 

Wrangling Words. It's What I Do.  


The secret to writing is simple.  Just do it.  That's it.  It takes procrastinating whatever you should be doing, putting pen to paper, scrunching up your eyebrows and starting to scribble...or typing as is in this case.  I read enough history to know that the written word is the ultimate secret weapon.  In a world of OMG, LOL, Twitters and pithy Facebook posts, putting real thoughts to the page defies the barrage of the ordinary and creates something that will last longer than the meatloaf you make for dinner.

May is in full bloom of things for me to do.  I'm touring in Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Canada.  I also have a household and big property to manage not to mention my kids who keep me going with a flow of projects, appointments and important needs like frosting cookies for a  party, helping hunt for the new litter of barn kittens or preparing our 19 year old son to leave for a two year church mission.

With all that is going on, it's tremendously inconvenient and even rude for songs to keep wanting to be written.  Songs are real things.  They are little sets of music and words that have something to say.  They grow up and become bigger and better, or they don't.  Either way, I find that as a songwriter, if I don't write the idea's down, they are like a seed that just blows away never to know what it could be.  It's honestly frustrating, because sometimes I don't want to plant a radish seed, I would much rather plant a Big Boy tomato.  Everyone likes Big Boy tomatoes, but no, the seed I have is a radish, dang it.  You won't be hearing this song on top 40 radio.

I'm excited for my next CD.  I've talked to my manager, who happens to look an awful lot like my husband, and it looks like I will be back in the studio soon.  We are even tossing around the idea of launching a big, newfangled crowd funding campaign to include the fans in the wild ride and fun of a new CD.  The support and love we receive from friends and fans across the West is an amazing gift and one we don't take lightly.  I want my music to tell OUR story.  The story of the West that Nashville almost completely ignores. 

Following the overwhelming response from fans hearing our 13 year-old daughter, Millie sing with her incredible big voice, we will start preparing music for a CD of us as a family group as well.  I really love singing with my daughters and hope to get our two youngest daughters, CeCe and Adaline in the mix with Sophia, Millie and I soon.  We are on the hunt for a motor home that can accommodate five Cowgirl Diva's and one poor Daddy-Manager-Driver.

So, even as I write this blog, my oven is at 350 degrees waiting for me to do the baking I've putting off all afternoon, my girls are still waiting for me to help them find where our mama barn cat has hidden her new litter, but I am doing something important.  I'm wrangling words.  It's what I do.

For no reason I can think of, I'm including a track below of a cover song I love called "Til I Get it Right."  I hope you enjoy it.  It's from my CD "Beginnings."

"Cowgirl" is an Attitude  

I didn't grow up with horses, cows or long trips to Walmart over rural roads.  Even after I was married and moved to the West I spent a good 17 years having a baby every other year which was no small task but disqualified me from doing much riding.  I was always sending kids out to the barn for the chores while I worked in the house.  Cooking and cleaning and bossing little people around are skills that are now second nature to me.

 Recently I decided to invest more of my time to the saddle.  We are lucky enough to live in a place that you can climb on your horse and just ride up the mountain.  I ride with a young friend of mine named Emilie.  Recently, while she was throwing a saddle on her horse that had been to pasture all winter she smiled at me and said, "This is the only horse that scares me."  I asked her how she handles the fear.  She said, "I don't focus on the fear.  I focus on the purpose."  I smiled as I thought of all the brave women I know who throw their leg over whatever fear they may have and stay in the saddle because they have a purpose bigger than their fears.

 Emilie has been competing on horseback in long, grueling endurance races since she was eight.  If you ask her if she is a cowgirl, she would smile and say, "no."  I think she perceives that the term "cowgirl" technically should only apply to a girl who herds cows. I've spent the last few years traveling the West and meeting amazing men and women who may or may not work in the cattle industry but who I would definitely define as "cowboy" or "cowgirl."

To clear things I up, I'll refer to Dale Evans, the Queen of the Cowgirls, who defines a cowgirl in this way,

"Cowgirl is an attitude, really;  a pioneer spirit, a special American brand of courage. The cowgirl faces life head-on, lives by her own lights and makes no excuses.  Cowgirls take stands; they speak up.  They defend things they hold dear.  A cowgirl might be a rancher, or a barrel racer, or a bull-rider, or an actress.  But she is just as likely to be a checker at the local Winn-Dixie, a full-time mother, a banker, and attorney, or an astronaut."

If you are a cowgirl, you already know it in your heart.  If you are a cowboy, you walk tall whether you work at  the ranch, the mine or the state capital.  My music is for you.  I want to spend the rest of my life celebrating the western way of life and honoring the men and women who have purpose bigger than their fears.

So...Emilie, my friend, you ARE a cowgirl because COWGIRL IS AN ATTITUDE.

Box Step or Bust  

Clinton Attache's 1985

(I'm the one third from the left holding my friend.

 It looks like we were all just shown a picture of what we'll look like in our 40's)

 

 

I think that dancing is a skill that requires a special connection in the brain.  I suppose some people are born with it, but for me it was a hard-won battle to learn a box step.  Singing and writing music was always the easy part.  I was composing little songs on our family's upright piano when I was a 1st grader.  My mother thought I was a genius.  She still does.  My first vocal solo was in 4th grade.  My mom cut me some Daisy Duke shorts and I belted out, "They call it that good ol' Mountain Dew, Dew, Dew..."  I didn't know what Mountain Dew was until much later. Being a Mormon, that means much, much later.

 

Choirs all through Jr High taught me harmony and sight reading, but when my family moved to Clinton, Mississippi from Texas, I saw the show choir from the local high school perform for the first time.  They were called the Clinton Attache's (the dictionary says an attache is a person on the staff of an ambassador...I didn't know that till much later either.)  Here was singing and dancing combined, not to mention red lipstick, high-heeled shoes and cute boys in red sparkly vests.

 

I girded up my middle school loins and auditioned for the show choir.  I chose a quirky but cool song about Mormon Pioneers which was not a great choice for a Baptist teacher, but as I look at it now, I was already forging a penchant for quirky songs to sing for Baptists. Mrs Garner, the formidable teacher, seemed to like the song...or at least my voice, but then I was asked to do a box step.  A what step?  I sent the command to my brain but the connection just wasn't there.

 

The list of who would be the newest Attache's to wear the coveted red sparkly vests was put up in the hall. My name wasn't on it. I was listed way at the bottom under a category called "Alternate." I didn't cry.  My mom might have, but I was excited to be even an alternate part of that amazing choir that danced and wore fake eyelashes at the same time. I hovered off to the side of the stage and struggled to learn the choreography. At night I would close the door to my room and practice my new moves to the Flashdance soundtrack.

 

I had this thing I would do. Brace yourself, it will sound silly, but I swear it works even to this day. When I was on the stage I would pretend that God's light was shining right through me. I don't mean that metaphorically. I mean, I would imagine I was like a heavenly light bulb. Sure, I was a lousy dancer and yes, I was a skinny Mormon girl (oh, how I wish I could still say that) but I knew that God's light could shine through me in a way that was unique to me, like a stained glass window of adolescent ambition.

 

Eventually, I was put in as a bona-fide Attache when one of the other girls missed an important rehearsal. Over the next few turbulent high school years I learned not only the box step, but how to have presence on stage, how to love and respect my friends and Mrs Garner (Mrs Costello now), how to work hard (rehearsals were sometimes every night and Saturday as well), how to travel (our choir did a lot of that), and perhaps most importantly, how to wield a can of hair spray.  The Clinton Attache's is a nationally recognized show choir even to this day.

 

I have been asked to perform at the 2013 Attache Fundraising Dinner next week.  It will be my first time back in Mississippi for over 20 years. Yes, I'm nervous...and for a woman who has birthed 10 babies, that's saying something. I don't scare easy. Singing, as always, will be the easy part. Being back in the town that made the connection in my brain to the box step will be hard. It feels like I'm crossing a bridge that I thought was burned. Burned not for spite or bad memories, but burned by the busy life in the West that I made for myself. My parents moved to Tennessee shortly after I married Brad. Before Facebook, it seemed impossible to find my way back to old friends. Perhaps, much like dancing that requires a special connection in the brain, going back to where you began requires a special connection in the heart.



I've included a song called "Hit Me With a Hot Note" that I first recorded as a Senior in High School.  It's on my Beginnings CD. My special thanks goes to my teacher, Winona Costello for helping me to record this song all those years ago.  It was a big song for a young woman and it was my first time in a recording studio.

Lovely, Lovely, Lovely... 

 

 

 

Time at home is lovely, lovely, lovely.  I did my nails today, but other than that I am sporting my bag lady look. I think I might have forgotten how to apply mascara.

 

Brad and I celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary this week.  It was very romantic in a we've-been-married-a-long-time kind of way. We basically both forgot until the day before.  I had scheduled myself to sing for a local church group and then surprised him by driving out to where he works. We then spent the next day together doing something that Brad knows I dearly love and he loves less dearly...thrift store shopping.  Now if that's not true love, I don't know what is.

 

I've also gotten to spend some quality time with Taylor...my guitar.  Next month I will be in the studio to record my first Christmas CD.  It will be called "A Cowboy's Christmas."  Not very original, but it gets right to the point. I'm feeling prematurely festive as I work on new Christmas songs and arrangements of some old classics. There is no part of the music business I love more than to immerse myself in songwriting.  

 

Speaking of the music business, Brad and I will be heading to Nashville for the Americana Music Festival to learn all we can to bring home to the Western Music genre.  I told Brad that we are going to need bigger brains to be able to hold all the information we'll be getting from four days of classes.  

 

My manager (Brad) is keeping us busy with exciting new bookings and just when we think we've got more plates spinning that we can handle...there appears another plate spinning away.  We feel the momentum gathering underneath us and more importantly we see God's blessings helping us and our family.  

 

Yes, there are exciting things on the horizon but for this precious moment...being home is lovely, lovely, lovely.

We Are All Children In June 

Someone needs to invent a word similar to jet-lag that describes the haze one finds themselves in after an incredibly long road trip. Brad and I just returned home this week from a tour that took us across the border to our  Northern cowboy neighbors in Alberta, Canada to the Pincher Creek Gathering where we swapped tunes with old friends and made treasured new ones.  We then headed to our friends Merritt and Almeda Bradshaw at the M2B Bed and Breakfast in Montana.Our luminous friend, Francie Ganje, did a bang-up job putting together an event at the historic Homestake Opera House in Lead, South Dakota. Another tank of gas brought us to the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame where Brad and I stood all amazed at the community that came together to honor cowboys past and present. We threw some serendipity into the mix by stopping by Cody, Wyoming and making some new friends and then for the grand finale I sang my heart out in Huntley, Wyoming at the home of Alma and Stan Tussing at a concert we won't soon forget.

 

This tour will remain forever memorable for the fact that Brad and I found out we were new grandparents as we drove from Medora, North Dakota to Cody, Wyoming under a moon so surprisingly large and looming it was referred to as a "Super Moon."  Our son in law, David, shared the happy news that our oldest daughter, Alicia, had just had a baby girl.  Her name is Mary Kate...which makes me embarrassingly happy.

 

I am home now in the cradle of all I love and hold dear.  We are enjoying the last of the best days of summer in which the mosquitoes have yet to pester us and the flies have delayed their annoying flight patterns through the kitchen.  It's all wet hair, sunscreen, sleeping in and bare feet.  My friend, Teresa Berish, is here visiting from Nevada and my brother Michael and his wife Beth and their brown-eyed brood are also here for a visit from Nashville. June is my favorite summer month and now I have even more memories to make it so.  I wrote in my journal...."We are all children in June."

A Mom's Advice for Mother's Day  

When I meet folks and sign CD's after a show, I have a pretty picture of our whole family to show off to anyone who asks about our family.  One nice lady said, "You are such a beautiful family!"  I told her, "Well, we clean up nice."  It's not that I don't enjoy compliments or wish to put my best foot forward in nice pictures and dressing up, but with Mother's Day looming before us, I feel compelled to make an appeal to all mothers that for that one day especially, we have to be kind to ourselves. After all, as all mothers know, it literally takes weeks to plan a good family picture with clean and ironed outfits and making sure the boys have haircuts and no black eyes...

When we look at a perfect family photo or sit in church this Sunday and hear about how perpetually angelic all mothers are, we need to smile graciously and thank our loved ones for their efforts to honor us and repeat the mantra, "I will not compare myself to others, I will not compare myself to others..."  With all the photo-shop photos and glowing Facebook posts out there I feel there is a very real temptation to feel badly about our own lives when we hold them up to the edited and abridged versions of the digital world. 

The truth is that a mother is a powerful thing.  Not a perfect thing...but powerful thing.  The power comes not from what we can do, but for the connection we are between heaven and earth.  When we make ourselves more or less than this we get into trouble. 

 

There is a song on my new CD, The Dawn and The Dusk, that expresses what motherhood has taught me.  The song is called, "The Golden Thread."  I was working on the lyrics in my room this last Fall when the words came to me, "There is no place you can fall from my grace."  As I sang the words I had the most singular experience. I realized that in my efforts to write this song that expresses my forever-connection to my children, this same song was teaching me of God's forever-connection to me.  It was as if God was holding me and saying, "Now you understand how much I love you."

 

So...to all my fellow mothers I have this advice for this Mother's Day...Let your only expectation be the love and gratitude you feel for the chance to feel the way God feels about you.  Remember...your power is in your connection between heaven and earth, not in the perfect image of the perfect family.

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The Dawn and The Dusk  

 
Two things I can tell you for sure about producing a CD.  1.  It always takes longer than you think.  2.  It's completely and totally worth the extra time and effort.
 
There comes a point in any worthwhile endeavor that you have to buckle down and put in that last effort that pushes a project from "good" to "take-my-breath-away-good."  I had to have Brad remind me of this many times these last couple of weeks as we have been wrapping up my new CD "The Dawn and The Dusk."  He has been the Yin to my Yang and I'm getting all teary-eyed thinking of how lucky I am to have him by my side.
 
They say it takes a village to raise a singer and this proves true with the team of talented folks that came together to make "The Dawn and The Dusk" so special. There is our sound engineer, Mark Stephensen, who has some of the best sound in western music coming out of his MAS Studio.  Rich Dixon, Michael Dowdle and Ryan Shupe are all top-shelf musicians based in Utah. My friend and photographer, Anita Crane, came to the session that Ryan played in got these shots of him. 
 

 
 I can't even tell what a thrill it was to record at Allegro Studio in Texas with Dave Alexander.  When Rich O'Brien walked in to the session to do the guitar work I about wet my pants.  I wish you all could have heard Mustang Mikki doing her first studio work ever as the background vocals for Wyoming Woman, Montana man.  I can still hear Dave telling her, "Use your woman voice, honey."  And boy, did she.
 
I won't forget the day I was listening to "Git Along Little Dogies" and I thought, "Belinda Gail would be perfect for this song."  At the time I thought it was impossible, but Belinda made it happen and this is now my new favorite song on the CD.  Her yodel at the end of the song has me hitting the play button over and over.
 
So much of the music I wrote for this CD was inspired by the Southwest and there was no better artist to catch the Arizona light  than my friend and photographer, Lori Faith Merritt, who battled rain and one of the coldest days in Arizona to create the warm feeling for "The Dawn and The Dusk."  The graphic design is from a talented designer named John Stevens in Spring City who is now a permanent member of my "team."
 
Often I am asked what draws me as an artist to Western music. That's an easy answer. I am drawn to the folks who are drawn to this music that is as real and raw as they are. Western music is the last great frontier in American Roots music. It is as yet a largely undiscovered treasure that has been overshadowed by it's Nashville cousin. I'm proud to create my work on this frontier and see great things on the horizon.
 
I once read a bumper sticker that said, “I wasn't born in the West, but I got here as quick as I could.” The Dawn and The Dusk brings the West to you in all of it's diversity and depth. Thank you for all of you who already have your orders in. This Utah gal really appreciates your love and support.