Saturday, April 28, 2012

Julie K rocks the house for kids AND parents!

What's your idea of an exciting Friday night?

How about a little live music?
How about a little live music, some singing and dancing, clapping and random jumping around?
How about balloons and bubbles?

Wait. Balloons and bubbles? What kind of live music is this?

OK, I confess. Last night, I attended a concert by award-winning children's recording artist Julie K, who was debuting her new CD, "Family Love" at a free event at Peoria Christian School in Peoria.

Julie is an extremely talented local singer, songwriter and performer who children (and adults) absolutely ADORE. Running out onto the stage in hot pink jeans, bright yellow shirt and sequined pink tennis shoes, she had those kids rushing the stage like she was one of the original Beatles.

With a BA in Vocal Performance, Julie recorded her first CD, "A Sunny Day", in 2009, which received the 2010 Dr. Toy Best Vacation Product Award, 2010 Parents' Choice Award, the 2010 Creative Child Preferred Choice Award and the Dove Foundation Family Approved Seal. Her second CD, "Animal Party", was the 2011 Creative Child CD of the Year and 2011 Parents' Choice Award winner, among others.

On this night, though, it was all about "Family Love".

Bursting into her first song, "Celebration", she had those kids smiling, laughing, dancing and singing. Of course, the confetti bomb at the end didn't hurt, either.

Julie sang quite a few songs from her new "Family Love" CD, a collection of energetic, fun and meaningful tunes that tell the story of... well, family. She had kids grooving and adults smiling to "Groovy Grandma and Grandpa" (because who doesn't have one of those?) Before launching into "Vacation Destination", she showed photos of her as a child with the paneled station wagon in the background that had most parents there nodding their heads as they waxed nostalgic for the old days. And I have to say my own personal favorite was "Super Mom" - a shout-out to moms that had more than just this gal giving Julie a big thumbs up.

That's the thing. I liked listening to her music. This is the kids' music I wished I had when my children were young. The music that I can enjoy listening to as well - in the car, in the house... over and over and over if need be. She's kind of the anti-Barney, if you will.

Julie's songs are cute, fun and infectious, integrating positive messages that children can understand and adults appreciate, such as believing in yourself, doing your best, and sharing your gifts with others. The kids especially dug the interactive songs, like "Bubbles" (complete with bubble machine) and "Freeze Fun", which is, you guessed it, a song about freezing in place. Talk about working that kid crowd.

The concert was just under an hour long - perfect for a toddler's attention span and a parent's energy level. Julie maintained an upbeat pace to keep the enthusiasm high but not out of control. In fact, most of the kids hung out by the stage dancing, twirling, clapping and singing for the concert's entirety.

Anyone watching Julie on stage can tell she does this because she loves it, and has a true passion for teaching and bringing out the best in children as well as their parents. In fact, she is now offering Julie K's Music Together, family music classes that give families a chance to play, to make music, and to learn about their children's music development. The classes meet once a week for ten weeks consecutively during the school year and once a week for six weeks in the summer at three locations in Peoria and Morton.

I highly encourage parents to get in touch with Julie K - attend a concert, buy the CDs, or sign up for a class. In a world of so many negative images and messages, Julie K is truly a positive influence in a child's development and self-esteem, as well as a great opportunity for parents to connect with their kids through the power of music.

For information on Julie K's upcoming concerts, appearances and music classes, to schedule Julie K to come to your event or location, or to listen to/purchase her CDs, visit her website at

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I am renaming my kids...

...Veruca Salt. Remember her? If not, here's a hint:

I have had it with "I want..." "I need..." "Can I get..." "How come he gets..."

Don't get me wrong. It's not like they're asking for lunch, or shoes that fit, or a clean towel. They're asking for a bunch of expensive, unnecessary brain-cell killing, creativity-numbing, "he has it so I should get it too or at least something better" CRAP that my mother would have smacked me silly for even complaining that I didn't have. Or they hear of someone getting to do something cool. Instead of, "Wow - how cool that he got to do that!" I get, "Why can't WE do that???? Huh? Huh?"

This was not how I intended to bring these kids up. I'm not sure WHERE, at ages 10 and 14, they get the IDEA that they DESERVE anything more than the basic food, clothing and shelter that I provide to them. If I had it my way, they would have nothing that plugs in. No Wii. No DS. No Playstation. No freakin' CABLE.

"So take it all away!" you say. "It's just that easy!" Oh, how I would love to. But it's not that easy. Long ago, I caved to the pressure. Just a little. Enough to say OK, I'm hip to the latest fads, but not enough to go stand in line when the newest version rolls out (yes, I know parents who did this.) And I've certainly never given them something "just because they wanted it." It was a gift, or they payed for part of it.

Now I pay for the rest of it.

Here was my theory. When my kids were little and I had these ludicrous pipe dreams of raising them to be selfless, level-headed children, before society hit them up and let them know they were inexplicably living an Amish life, I took a Sunday School course at my church. Some video of some guy teaching you how to parent. He recommended, "If you want to know where your teenager is, make your house the coolest place to be." Made sense. And I did want to know where he was, and who is friends were. What I wasn't prepared for is what it would TAKE to make my house "the coolest place to be." Some of his friends had so much STUFF that there was NO WAY I could - or wanted to - compete. Flat screen TV in your room? Uh, NO. Computer with Internet access in your room? NOT ON YOUR LIFE. In fact, my son thinks we're living in the dark ages because I refuse to get WiFi. Well, what's the difference between NOT having a computer in your room but having a phone/iTouch with WiFi access? 

And video games? We have a PS2. But we don't have a PSwhateverthehellnumberthey'reonnow. Why? Because I can't keep up. And I am ignorant to the reasons why the PSwhateverthehellnumberthey'reonnow is so much better (and more expensive) than the one we have.

And speaking of games? Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, Halo.... NOT happening in my house. Sorry. Oh, the neighbor boy has them? Greeeeeat. There's nothing cooler than overhearing your son whisper to his friend on the phone, "Can I come over? My mom doesn't ALLOW shooting games."

I wonder if those moms bake homemade chocolate chip cookies and take them down to the basement where her kids are bloodletting the living crap out of each other on a seizure-inducing screen. How much you wanna bet that mom doesn't have a CLUE what they're playing, or the extent of the violence.If she did, how could she possibly let her sons even LOOK at that crap? My son says, "Mom, everybody does it. Everybody has those games. Everybody plays them." FINE, I say. I can't keep you from playing at your friend's house, but I can sure as HELL not propagate it in mine.

I'm off track now. My point is, it's garbage and they don't need it. Yes, they WANT it. And sometimes we have things we WANT but don't NEED. But to me, this crap isn't one of them. Freakin' GO OUTSIDE and have an adventure, for God's sake. The earth is still the same earth as it was when we were kids. Creeks still exist. Forts can still be made. Frogs can still be caught. When did sitting in front of a screen become MORE FUN than that? WHO STARTED THIS????? And WHY??????

Two things will happen here. The first is that I will have made these things so taboo that by the time they get out on their own they will do nothing more than go to work (hopefully) and come home and play video games. They will become pasty and fat and never get married or have children and will be known as "that creepy guy who never mows his lawn and never comes out of his house except to go to work." OR - and this is what I'm hoping for - they grow up and realize that some of life's new little technologies are HUGE TIME SUCKERS and that there's more to life. They'll get great jobs, marry great women, and have beautiful grandchildren who they will raise in a similar matter. And we'll sit around at Thanksgiving dinner and laugh at the stories of days like today, and they'll hug me and say, "You were so right, Mom. Thanks."

Like Veruca Salt, I want that. "I WANT IT NOW."

Yeah, right.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I know what I want to be when I grow up

When I was little, I never really thought much about the future. At least, I don't remember thinking about it. I do remember watching Mary Tyler Moore and wondering if I would ever be that independent, quirky, successful single woman who can throw her beret up in the middle of a busy intersection. How cool would that be, right? Plus she worked at a newspaper, and, well, everyone (but me) figured I'd grow up to be a writer.

I guess I just never really thought about my path. I figured I'd go to college, but never really thought it through, which is probably why I ended up visiting four fine institutions of higher learning in four years. I did that independent single woman with great job bit for a few years and thoroughly enjoyed it, but once I acquired a cat I wondered if something might be missing. I never thought I'd get married.

Once I was married, I never thought I would have kids. I was still career-driven woman - working by day and working out by night. But still... something was missing.

Two kids and nine years later I was back on the independent single woman list, but things were different. Not only was I juggling single parenting and a job (not feeling as if I could yet say "career" since I'd been out of the loop for so long), but the thought of REmarrying didn't occur to me. Who in the world would want to parent non-biological children - freely? My life was crazy enough as it was - living that "every other weekend" double life, desperately trying to juggle "being there" for the kids and "being there" for the job - and failing on more occasions than I'd care to admit at both. Though I struggle with this thought, I think I have resigned myself to the fact that it's just going to be the three of us until these little birds leave the nest.

Which brings me to Washington, DC, the city that breathed life into something I haven't had in a very long time - a dream. As attentive as I tried to be at the historical monuments, memorials and museums, I found myself more often watching the people. So many people - from all walks of life. All with stories. Why were they all here? Where were they from? What were their lives like? Riding the METRO alone was enough to make my palms sweaty at the prospect of sitting down, pencil in hand, and interviewing someone. I would make up stories about them: that girl with the scarf draped around her neck and the sullen expression just broke up with her boyfriend. The young man in the slightly unfitted suit is on his way to a grunt government job he's not sure he's qualified for. The woman wearing the pencil skirt and hair falling in her face is wishing she didn't wear her 3-inch heels since she's going to have to run to make her meeting. So many stories. So little time when the METRO gets you from Point A to Point B in minutes.

What I suddenly wished was that I could immerse myself in this culture. Not forever. Just for a couple of months. Or a summer. Or a year. Become one of those daily METRO travelers - the joggers on the Mall dodging the wandering tourists and street performers. The movers and shakers who are served late dinners at Charlie Palmer's by waitresses that know them by name. The protestors in front of the White House. The guy clinking his plastic cup full of change at me as I pass by. Not necessarily to BE these people, but to be one with them. Find out their stories. How they live. How they work. How they cope. What their dreams are. Then on to the next city - slowly discovering the differences in culture, in thought processes, in life speed.

Of course this dream sits until my kids are grown - assuming they become successful at being adults and only require my mothering skills on an as-needed basis. Since I will never be independently wealthy enough to retire and travel the country at my leisure, my dream now is to receive some amazing opportunity from a travel magazine who loves my writing so much that they insist on sending me to these places in order to gather information for their monthly publication - with the final destination of my excerpts being a down-to-earth travel guide for those that sight see, like me, for more than just inanimate objects.

For now, it's just a dream. But it's the first time since I can remember that I really have HAD one, so it should hold me for awhile. Until then, I'm sure there's plenty of interesting people right under my nose that I could use for training purposes until my big break comes along.