We call it a “working vacation” which I think, in retrospect, are two words that don’t belong in the same sentence. Hubby Craig and I embark on a whirly-windy ukulele tour that takes us from Modesto and Sacramento to San Jose where I re-discover, not for the first time, that I don’t really, REALLY, relax until the “gigs” are done. This leaves us a day and a half of “ahhhhh,” hunkered down in an oak-filled canyon somewhere near California’s only nuclear power plant.


So we are plenty exhausted when we roll into Culver City in our rented Hyundai Elantra. Before we get home I take a quick detour to our local post office to pick up the mail in my P.O. Box. I suppose I could have waited. And truth be told, I wish I had waited, but a prophet I am not…

I did a retirement home gig several months ago and they still haven’t paid me so I’m anxious to see if my money arrived. And pissed off. I hate chasing after checks–making the calls, sending the emails. Making more calls, sending more emails. I bring the subject up periodically on our working vacation. “Those bastards…” is usually how I start the conversation…

I send Craig into the post office as I wait in the idling car and a few seconds later he appears waving the check over his head. Elation turns to shock as he tumbles face down onto the sidewalk. I wait for him to get up. He always gets up.

He doesn’t get up.

I leap from the car and run to this sweet man, sprawled on the cement, unable to lift himself with his arms. A kind gentleman passing by helps me get my big 6’3” husband to his feet and back into the car. His right wrist is askew; his left arm is throbbing. My husband was a corpsman in the Navy. “It’s broken,” he moans.

We turn the car north and head to U.C.L.A. I have no idea where the emergency room is. U.C.L.A. is crazy big, like a little city. And it seems like they are always building some new building. I break my personal “don’t do it” decree and make a call on my cell phone while I’m driving. I punch in 911. It rings and rings but finally I am connected to a very nice fireman who gives me the address of the ER and adds that he has no idea where it is… All this as I am negotiating our rental car through some of the busiest intersections in the whole damned United States of America.

Right after I yell at a defenseless valet guy at the first wrong U.C.L.A. building I pull into, we find our way to the Emergency Room—during an afternoon lull. Before the rush hour bedlam begins. They take Craig in right away. I ask the admitting clerk if a lot of people come to the ER because they tripped on a sidewalk and she guffaws at her computer screen because, apparently, our crumbling pedestrian infrastructure in Los Angeles keeps the ER docs busy setting bones 24/7.

We are quickly escorted to a small examining room. The attending physician orders X-Rays and then we wait. And wait. What to do? Now here is where the story goes all baby-boomer weird. This is where we see, first-hand, how social media has reprogrammed our brain synapses.

Emergency Room at U.C.L.A. Cell phone attached to hand.

I take Craig’s fricking picture with my cell phone camera. “Post it on Facebook,” he says. And I do, like that’s the most normal thing in the world. What have we come to? My husband, a musician, facing the prospect of a broken wrist, another broken arm, wants to “report” our travails to our FB friends as they are unfolding. And me, I go—hey good idea!

Let me back up a little…

We don’t have kids. Craig’s parents are gone as is my father. My mother has dementia. So we reach out to our tiny circle of friends and far-away family. We don’t like to ask for help. (I bet most of us don’t.) So Craig and I, we rely on each other. But people text and call back–with good wishes, offers to bring food, to drive us, to do whatever. It’s a revelation.

Then the circle widens. Facebook. We have lots of FB “friends” because we are active in the ukulele cyber world. But most of these people–I will never meet them. Ever. Then again, I HAVE met a few of them, on this trip even. And they are kind and warm and have stories that are engaging and interesting. And almost immediately there begins a cascade of responses to the picture we posted. They offer support and good thoughts, prayers. The comments help us feel a whole lot better as we sit in this dreary, cheerless room… They make us feel not so alone.

Years ago I worked in an emergency room and those three years on the graveyard shift changed my life. The stuff, the bad stuff we see on the local news, it played out in the bowels of this place. I got it. Into the marrow of my bones. We are all just hanging by a thread? Do we really know what’s going to happen in the next ten seconds? For sure? Our lives can change in the time it takes to breathe in.

It’s scary to think about. And in all honesty, when I hear about someone else’s troubles, I feel badly for them, terrible sometimes. AND I’m grateful that it didn’t happen to me. AND I’m also afraid that someday it will. I feel a little tug of OMG in my stomach. Maybe I’m super neurotic. Or just human. Well…both. My husband has traipsed across the uneven sidewalk in front of the post office thousands of times. Up to last Thursday afternoon his record of safe passage was spotless.

The lyric from Monty Python’s “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” has been playing in my head as if the needle is stuck in an acetate groove.

You’ll see its all a show,
keep ’em laughin’ as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.  Ha ha ha…

In the big picture, none of us are on stage for very long… Things get goofy and awful, boring and beautiful. And if we are lucky, there are circles upon circles of dear ones, of friends, to share the whole mess of it.

Recovery Room after Craig's surgery.  Cell phone attached to hand.
Recovery Room after Craig’s surgery. Cell phone attached to hand.

Medical Post Script: Craig’s broken left elbow is healing quickly. Unfortunately my right-handed sweetheart crushed his right wrist and spent two hours in surgery. We are so lucky to have U.C.L.A.’s best hand guys “on hand.” Craig gave them both a copy of his new ukulele CD at our initial consultation. A not-so-subtle reminder that this is the wrist of a musician… We hear later that they played the CD in the operating room during his surgery. Ukulele is everywhere these days…

"Somewhere."  Craig's new ukulele instrumental CD.  A hit in operating rooms too...
“Somewhere.” Craig’s new ukulele instrumental CD. A hit in operating rooms too…



Oh dear. I know my semi-regular blogs have been, well, not… What can I say? It’s busy-busy here in Culver City. But then something happens that I  just have to write about.

I go to Costco for gas.

And my whole psychological spooky house loses a couple walls…


It’s early, before the big store rolls up the corrugated steel doors and a knot of eager shoppers push in with their giant carts. It’s when the gasoline station is usually, shall we say, mellow.

All the years I’ve been driving my Saturn (yes a Saturn…), I still have to look at the dash to remind myself which side the fuel tank is on. Oh yeah…the right. Plenty of times I pull into the “other” lane and have to thread the gasoline thingy behind the rear antenna across the trunk to reach the hole. As I stand there, babysitting the handle, making sure a passing car doesn’t squash my bottom, it’s obvious to me that I could have thought this through a little better.

So here I am one more time carefully weighing my options, remembering which side is which and divining which line of cars is the shortest. So I hesitate a little before taking aim at the “leftist” lane. JUST AS A GUY IN A BIG BLACK TRUCK RIPS OUT OF NOWHERE AND CUTS IN FRONT OF ME.

Yes in the scheme of things, in a world that is rife with despair and people doing awful things to each other, this burst of mean-spiritedness is a non-starter. But at the picnic of life, it’s not so much the bears that get me. It’s the ants…

Almost immediately he pulls up to a pump. MY PUMP. As I wait MY turn. I glare at him. I want to burn him up with my eyes. I am on fricking fire.

And he is glaring at me too. At ME! I watch him open his door…glare…walk to the pump…glare…do the credit card dance and gas up…glare. I watch my angry mind question his worthiness as a human being. His right to breathe air. But mostly I smash into the wall of my own psychology. My M.O. When I feel wronged, when I feel like someone has treated me in a rude, snarky way, I feel terrible. Terrible, terrible, terrible.

But here’s what usually happens: I back off. I want to make nice. I want everyone to get along. This is my M.O. too. I swallow that mouthful of anger and stuff it into my gut. As if getting it out of my face is my ticket to Happy Land.

Not this time…

I look the guy straight in the eyes and say “you cut in front of me and that was very unkind.”

“I disagree.” He retorts.


Uh-oh… Was he the star on his college debate team? Was he from a big family where it was dinnertime sport to argue your case over mom’s pot roast and mashed potatoes?

And he’s not done… Now he makes it about me. That I was hesitating and didn’t know which lane I was going to, so of course he drove around me. In other words, it is my fault.

Oh, he’s a spin doctor too? He’s off the hook, by golly, because I made him do it. By now my rational mind is missing in action. My head has turned into a drunk party.

One voice says “yeah, it’s all your fault…bad girl.”
Another interrupts “nuh-uh, he’s a jerk.”
Another chimes in “but the guy has a point.”
“Yeah…maybe…but he won’t even say ‘I’m sorry’.’”
“Shut up.”
“No, YOU shut up…”

The conversation blares on.

If it was possible to lean a microphone against our heads and broadcast the internal conversations we have with ourselves, I think most of us would all be in jail.

At least overnight…

I say nothing more to this man. Continuing our “discussion” would be an exercise in futility but I’m sure my face registers utter dismay. A poker player I am not. I watch him roar out of the parking lot and tear down the street. Maybe he’s late for work. Maybe his kid is in the hospital. Maybe he’s a horse’s ass. His left brake light is out and maybe he’ll get pulled over by a cop and get a ticket. A really expensive ticket…

Maybe today I am taking things too personally.

Towards the end of his life, philosopher Aldous Huxley wrote, “It’s a little embarrassing that after forty-five years of research & study, the best advice I can give people is to be a little kinder to each other.”

Mr. Huxley died in Los Angeles. In 1963. B.C. Before Costco.

How do I respond to this moment…and this one…and this one? How can I know until it happens? How can I know if the answer is kindness? Or fire? Or both? If only I can remember to check in with my heart FIRST.

If only I can remember where the fuel tank is…


PROGRAM NOTE for our California friends:

My husband Craig and I are doing a mini-ukulele tour (and mini-vacation) through Central California in mid-July:

Friday, July 17, 2015: Morning workshop with the super fun Funstrummers in Modesto. Everyone is welcome.


Saturday, July 18, 2015: Workshop and concert at the house of ukulele love,The Strum Shop, in Roseville.


Monday, July 20, 2015: Workshop and concert in San Jose at Atria Willow Glen. Workshop is 2:00 to 3:00 and Concert from 3:30 to 4:30 P.M. Everyone is welcome (Email me for details).

Please join us. We would LOVE to see you and make music together.


So I happen to glance at my horoscope for Wednesday, June 24, 2015 in the Los Angeles Times, just as I’m composing this blog and it’s like…really? The comedy just writes itself…








smilecover copy



Way back when, I remember mastering three chords on the ukulele–in the blessed key of C–so I could sing and play a few songs for the injured veterans at my local VA Hospital. I am in nursing school and my fellow students and I are doing our first semester clinical rotation, learning all we can about giving sponge baths to naked men…

During our lunch break I grab my little soprano what-ever-it-is ukulele and serenade a ward of guys, imprisoned in their hospital beds…maybe for the duration. The music is a lovely respite for them, albeit fleeting. And I like how I feel doing it.

Good-bye nursing school.

I cobble together a music career, playing piano and guitar, but never forget that sweet little ukulele. It has called to me over the years. Come back lady…come back.

Then one day my husband Craig adopts one and brings it home. Like a new puppy or something. Soon enough I get my own, strap on a leash and take it to my gigs. Just like that, Craig and I fall madly in love with the ukulele. What was once a curiosity, a passing fling, has become the hot spot in our lives.

What is it about the ukulele that makes it SO friendly, SO joyful to play? This humble little thing, with it’s plastic strings–only four of them–that can snap you out of a bad mood or give you a second wind when it feels like your life is grinding into the dirt. What is it about the ukulele that gets big people singing along and little people discovering they can sing along? Maybe for the first time.

funcoverI have asked myself this question over and over and finally decided the ukulele is a mystery to be played, not solved! So why not write a song about it? Put those feelings of “ahhh” into words and music. And here it is:


This tune is from my first ukulele album “Are You Having Any Fun?” A couple months ago I did an arrangement for my ukulele class, The CC Strummers. Thank God they liked it (I mean, you never know…) and we gleefully learned it together. Then I started getting reports from the grandmoms and granddads in our classes how they are singing the song and teaching it to their little ones…and big ones. Then they show me the home videos on their smart phones, the spontaneous duets, and my heart just goes “ahhh.”


The CC Strummers and I debuted “OO-KOO-LAY-LAY” at The Santa Monica Ukulele Festival last month. My husband Craig shot the video and I had more fun than is legal adding the lyrics so you can sing along, kind of like watching the bouncing ball. CLICK HERE to see the whole spectacle and to “put a smiley, smiley, smiley in your day-ay.”

I want you to learn this song and take it to the streets! So I’ve attached the ukulele chart below. It’s a gift that I hope will keep on giving.


Of course I’d love for you to download the song from iTunes, Amazon or CD Baby so I can make a whopping 70 cents! You know the old joke: How do you make a million dollars playing the ukulele? You start with two million dollars.

You may want to check out my album “Are You Having Any Fun?” too. Listening to it will make you feel mighty fine!

And a little of THAT goes a long way!





My first apartment!

It’s tiny—one room—eight blocks from the beach in Santa Monica. My own four walls. Literally. I climb the freshly painted white steps to the door that opens because I have the key. Oh-Oh! There is space enough for my piano, a sofa-bed, a desk, dresser and not much else. But it’s mine. Well for a price. I think the rent was $185 a month which in today’s market wouldn’t get you a floor. Or a roof.

I am SO happy. Now I can play the piano and sing and not have my mother yelling at me because she wants to watch T.V.

Free at last!

Until I meet my downstairs neighbor. Well I hear her first… Pounding a broomstick against her ceiling–my floor–as I play a cheery melody on the piano. The first time this happens it scares the hell out of me. I learn that she is a book editor and values silence–probably more than air.

I try to be respectful and considerate. Well as thoughtful as an emotionally stunted, immature twenty-one year old can be… I don’t play early. Or late. I cover the piano with a heavy blanket and weave strips of felt between the hammers and strings so the keys go thud, thud, thud. I play with the soft pedal. Always. But nothing satisfies her.

I like to sing in the shower too…until she starts banging a skillet against her wall. It is demoralizing. I want to be a professional musician. Well that’s my dream! But in reality I am floundering after graduating from college and take a job in a local emergency room. On the graveyard shift. As the admitting clerk. I don’t have a car so I ride my bicycle to work at 10:30 at night and back home through rush hour traffic in the morning.

I’m lucky to be alive. But that job… That job saves me. If you want to learn something profound about life itself, about…say…keeping things in perspective, then spend some quality time in an emergency room. It takes three years of real-world education to “right myself.” To move to another apartment in Santa Monica, on the ground floor, behind a tortilla factory, to leave my job in the ER and drop out of nursing school to sing in a seedy piano bar near downtown Los Angeles. It’s my first gig. The first of thousands…

I buy a car…

Santa Monica is only six miles from where I live now, but it seems a world away. The memories nibble at the edge of my thoughts as I drive west towards the ocean.

I’m making that sojourn Saturday, April 18th for the first ever Santa Monica Ukulele Festival located on the campus of Santa Monica High School. Just say “Samohi,” like the locals…

My ukulele group, The CC Strummers, perform a set of fun, sing-a-long songs in the outdoor Greek Amphitheater at 1:00 P.M. Later in the afternoon my husband Craig Brandau and I teach a strumming/fingerpicking workshop. Time for a pit stop as food trucks dish their goodies before the evening concert! A galaxy of ukulele performers (Craig and me too) play and share the stage with student musicians from Samohi. This festival is a fund-raiser for their music department. The audience is invited to bring their ukes and play along at the concert.

Please check out the Santa Monica Ukulele Festival Website for details and join us as we bring aloha spirit to Los Angeles.

I suspect my old neighbor—the one with the broomstick and skillet—is long gone. But she taught me something SO important. To hang in there. Even when no one is cheering you on. And because I did, this trip to Santa Monica will be especially sweet.

The CC Strummers. Monday Beginners Class as we practice for the show.
The CC Strummers, Thursday Intermediate Class play throughout our set list.


All the “kids” in my ukulele group, The CC Strummers, are living courageous and Technicolor lives, whether they (or we) know it. The truth is I could write a blog about every one of them. I could write a blog about YOU and I bet I’d be plenty inspired.

Well let me introduce you to Miss Isabelle.

She walks into our ukulele class and brings a swath of sunshine with her. This woman. Like two allowance-challenged teenagers, she and I commiserate about the latest colorful frock we snagged at The Goodwill. Just about everything she wears looks good on her.

Including her latest medal…

Isabelle ran in the L.A. Marathon this month. And Isabelle FINISHED the L.A. Marathon. Did I mention it was a thousand degrees that day. Okay I am exaggerating. It was in the 90’s. NOT marathon weather. People were falling over or at least stopping and staying “stopped.” Men and women who are much younger than Isabelle gave in and gave up.

Happy 80th Birthday Isabelle!

She was determined to finish the race. All 26.2 miles! It took her almost 9 hours. Yes she stopped and rested a few minutes here and there… After mile 17 she decided to walk instead of trot. She took her time and enjoyed the scenery.

Did I tell you that she has completed lots of marathons and has the hardware and ribbons to show for it? The class gave her a big round of applause.

I walk my “marathon” three times a week. That would be a mile and half or 25 minutes (whatever comes first) around my neighborhood. Then I sprint up four flights of stairs to our condo. I’m winded and pooped. A jock I am not. Never have been. And then I think of beautiful Isabelle and…I go back to sleep.

It’s treacherous waters, comparing ourselves with others, so I give myself a metaphorical pat on the back for just doing what I do. “Consistency” is good enough in my air space.

But Isabelle does more than run… She flies. She goes to places that I happily visit on the National Geographic Channel but know I will never see in person. Last year she and her tennis shoes explored Machu Picchu in Peru. A couple years back she made it to the base camp of Mt. Everest. 17,000 feet UP.

“Where do you go to the bathroom”? I ask her. Because I always ask that question. Because if I go anywhere, I need a bathroom that is fully furnished, functional and private with a toilet that flushes. End of story. Isabelle tells me she squats over a hole in the ground. She describes the scene with such equanimity that joy washes over her face.

I tried squatting over my toilet once, just for fun. Just to see if I could do it. I sure “felt it” in my thigh and calf muscles. And other places. “Wow, this is good exercise,” I groaned to myself, just before giving up.

Ah, exercise….

Which brings us back to running our own marathon–saying “yes” to a body that keeps us moving along the asphalt highways of our life. Thank you Isabelle for loving the scenery and for showing us what is possible. At any age!


I saw an article about a guy who entertains at retirement homes. Of course it catches my eye because I too rove from senior community to senior clubs shaking things up with familiar songs and sing-a-longs.

So this guy tells his airport story. The one where he sees Sir Paul McCartney in the crowd of travelers. THE Paul McCartney. This is a moment, the close-encounter-kind of moment you throw yourself at…or else you regret that you didn’t. For the rest your life.

I had a similar OMG moment many years ago when I saw my fantasy doll and secret love, Yul Brynner, picking out green beans in the canned vegetable aisle at a local grocery store. Suddenly I’m a little girl again, watching him dance Deborah Kerr across the movie screen in “The King And I.” A moment in time that is seared into my bones.

So there I stand. Frozen. Gripping the grocery cart so I won’t fall over. I can’t move. I can’t talk. Thankfully my body keeps breathing because I have forgotten how you do that. Yul Brynner squats low, snatches a can of beans from the bottom shelf, rises to his feet with the feline grace of a ballet dancer and walks away. The other way.

I’m kicking myself, still, for not saying something like “thank you, thank you Mr. Brynner for your work; it has meant the world to me…” But that same day I promise myself that if I ever have another opportunity to thank someone for their contribution to my overall well-being, I will jump on it!

So I am happy this guy in the airport grabs his brass-ring moment and thanks Sir Paul for all the great music. But the guy doesn’t stop there. He offers a “back-story” to the master songwriter, telling him that he plays for senior citizens and that they love to sing along with the Beatles’ tunes, especially “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

But…but…but…he has to change the words to “When I’m EIGHTY-FOUR.”

According to this fellow, Sir Paul laughs and says he probably should have written the song that way in the first place. Considering Mr. McCartney will turn 73 this year, you do the math.

So in the spirit of aging gracefully, I am sharing The CC Strummers’ ukulele version of “When I’m Sixty-Four” with you. This is our first Farmers’ Market gig and we have no idea what to expect. Will people sit for a while and listen? Will they throw organic tomatoes at us? We are pleasantly surprised when a crowd of mommies and daddies, little ones, grandmothers and grandfathers, Boomers, Millennials and Gen Xers gather around and applaud us through our hour-long show.

It’s all captured on this video including my irreverent comments along the way. What can I say…the comedy writes itself. CLICK HERE and enjoy.






Hubby Craig and I hope to see some of you at The Palm Strings Ukulele Festival this weekend, Friday, February 6th to Sunday, Feb 8th, 2015 in beautiful Palm Springs, California. We are going to party in the warm desert sun! All ages welcome.



Smack dab in the middle of frenetic December when I’m busy gigging and teaching and stressing out, as usual, I buy myself a front row mezzanine seat to see the Hershey Felder one-man show about Irving Berlin.

Over the years I’ve done my homework on Mr. Berlin since I often share anecdotes about the iconic songwriters and singers with my audience. I love to pull the curtains back and catch a glimpse of the real person behind the sparkly career. And honestly, being as self-centered as the next person, I want to find myself somewhere in that great artist’s story. I want to say “oh me too.”

Irving Berlin played the piano by ear. Me too! He dropped out of school in the 6th grade and busked on the street to support himself. A “real job,” as a singing waiter in a Chinese restaurant, set his trajectory for the rest of his life. Business is business and the owner wanted to get more Italians into the restaurant so Irving wrote “Marie From Sunny Italy,” his first published song, which he’d perform before delivering heaping plates of chop suey to the table. Later on he was identified in the press as “the singing waiter” even after he wrote his mega-hit Alexander’s Ragtime Band in 1911 and by age 23 was the most famous songwriter in the world.

Irving Berlin played in the key F# which is why his fingers are resting on the black notes.

If Irving Berlin couldn’t read or write music, how did his songs get from him to us? Today we have fancy recording devices to preserve our creative bursts of words and melody. Irving had musical secretaries who, like dictation ladies, wrote the music down as he played the piano and composed the tune.

And oh those songs… He was caught in the riptide of history, World War I, The Great Depression, World War II. But being a songwriter, he wrote songs about it. And he wrote about the death of his first wife, about his new wife and their children. He says, “I wrote for love. I wrote for my country. I wrote for you.”

The performance ends and Hershey Felder takes his final bow but doesn’t leave the stage. Uh… This is odd. He motions us to sit down, sit down, because there is a special guest in the audience and this is the first time she has seen the show.

About her father.

He introduces Linda Louise Emmet (Berlin), a spry eighty-two year old who bounds on stage and plops onto a prop chair ready to answer questions from the audience as if she is channeling Carol Burnett. I lean way forward in my seat which totally messes with the view of the man sitting behind me, but I don’t care. I’m witnessing lineage here.

Linda Louise Emmet (Berlin)

She’s funny and unaffected by this whole surrealistic scene. She tells us that George Gershwin had applied for the job of musical secretary, but her father turned him down saying he was too talented and should go write his own songs. She confirms that yes, her dad played the piano in only one key, F#, the black notes, because they stick out, and yes he had a transposing piano with a ratchet device so he could play in F# but still have it sound like another key, much like guitar players use a capo or synthesizer players push a little button… Click here to watch a short video of Irving Berlin demonstrating his transposing piano.

She says pianos came like that in those days. It wasn’t anything special. Irving Berlin bought it second-hand. His daughter added that he was a terrible piano player and her mother was tone deaf. Sounds like a marriage made in heaven.

What is the soundtrack of your life? Which songs define a moment, a shift in your world? Really it’s like a movie–our lives–and the music is humming in the background giving sound and meaning to those moments. Placeholders, they are. When I work with people with dementia, a song can bring them back to life. For a moment. Irving Berlin’s “Always” which he wrote for his beloved wife of 62 years, Ellin, the young socialite with 125 servants and the very rich daddy, the good Catholic daughter who was disowned by that daddy because she married a singing waiter. The songwriter. A Jew. That song is embedded in bones and sinewy tissue because when people hear it they remember. They remember the someone they loved.

That song…


Click here and listen to Billie Holiday’s swing version of this marvelous Irving Berlin tune.


Are you wondering “how’d the big Ukulele Holiday Show go and ho ho ho…yo?”






The audience plants their bottoms in chairs before The CC Strummers have a chance to find a landing strip of their own to set up ukulele and stand. It’s an average day of controlled chaos at your average senior center during the holiday season when folks are a little testy and oh-so-eager to find an oasis of feel good. Maybe at the same time.

We need a panorama picture to capture all the CC Strummers. This is a snapshot of our “hot middle.”

Here we are, sixty ukulele players arriving early to make jolly, an exhausted maintenance guy scrambling to set up enough chairs for everyone and then there’s that “territorial thing” we human beings just don’t seem to outgrow. It’s like we pee on a bush and exclaim to the world “this is mine!” Our enthusiastic audience rushes to the front of the room, lock their butts onto a chair and fasten their imaginary seatbelts. That’s when I realize we have to push the first three rows back. W-a-a-a-y back. Why? Because we have line dancers in the show. They LINE dance. They do not LAP dance, which is where they will end up if we don’t move the audience away. You can imagine how all that “furniture moving” goes over…

Line dancing to “This Little Light of Mine”







Everyone gets “Happy” here–The CC Strummers, the line dancers and our audience.








But finally we tune our ukuleles, do our hand exercises and invite the audience to stretch the tendons in their wrists along with us. And they do!

We are warming up our precious hands for the big show!

We take a deep breath then launch into Jingle Bells. Our new U-bass player thrums a nifty “bottom.” Our percussionist with her array of ringers and whistles and shakers adds fun and sparkle to each song and just like that, the audience sings and claps along and dances in the aisles. The very elderly woman to my right who could barely stand in her walker before the show is suddenly swinging her hips like a happy salsa dancer. How quickly things change…

Our audience is shaking their booties wherever they can.

The music, the rhythm, the sheer number of ukuleles creates an energy that builds and swirls around the room. Music gives us a break from our lives—from our troubles and what ails us, from the stories we tell ourselves, from believing we don’t belong or have someone to love, or to love us. We get to watch this glorious transformation unfold before our eyes. In each other and in ourselves.


Lore, a friend of The CC Strummers, clamors to the back of the room with her iPhone and captures the entire group singing the clever Tom Lehrer song “Hanukah in Santa Monica.” And since Santa Monica is about five miles away, this song is almost a hometown treasure for us.CLICK HERE to watch the video on YouTube.

Thanks to Juanita, Cris and Lore for the pictures.

So enjoy the pictures and thanks for taking this ride with us, no matter where you live and what you celebrate. Joy is joy! And make some happy in 2015!



Mike K. borrowed the design from my website and created this cool banner for The CC Strummers. Lights up your retinas.


‘Tis the season’ for fruit cake, warm hugs, hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with hugs, gifting and re-gifting, making resolutions that won’t last ten minutes past New Years Day, cursing traffic crazies and hanging out with people we don’t usually hang out with. So let’s get real. These holidays can be really stressful. For a lot of people. For a lot of reasons. Can we admit that? Please…

Rehearsing the big show in our Thursday CC Strummers Class.

Well The CC Strummers and I are going to make it all better. Next week at our Ukulele Holiday Show. Sure we sing Jingle Bells and Mele Kalikimaka and I’m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica but we also include what I lovingly call “The Dysfunctional Family Corner.” I admit this is my idea because it’s a subject I know well—both personally and professionally.

Come holiday time my emotional radar is exquisitely tuned to “trouble.” For example, when I’m doing a restaurant gig I put my mouth and fingers on automatic and scan the room for toasty pockets of drama. Like the family at Table 5. They are the very picture of “suffering made visible.” Even the best service and tastiest comfort food, like gooey anything, will not elicit a smile. Then there is the house party in the upscale hilly neighborhood. The happy couple are this close to duking it out as the sushi chefs are setting up in the living room, I’m spreading Christmas sing-a-long books on the piano and “Joy to The World” is wafting through the stereo speakers.

And Happy Holidays to you too!

Tom K on U-Bass. He gives our music “a bottom.” We all need a bottom.

So The CC Strummers are taking on relationship angst and revenge with our holiday version of These Boots Were Made For Walkin’. Tom, our new U-bass player, has been woodshedding mightily with his teacher to learn those iconic bass lines. It’s so cool. And SO cathartic! I feel positively purged of yuk by the time we finish the song. Yes Silent Night is gorgeous. Winter Wonderland a joy. Silver Bells, ding-a-ling fun. But we also want to tell world that “you keep lyin’ when you oughta be truthin’…” Okay?

If you live near Culver City, California, please join us for our big family-friendly (believe it or not) Ukulele Holiday Show. It’s free, fun and fabulous. Tuesday, December 9, 1:00 to 2:00 P.M. at the Culver City Senior Center. 4095 Overland Avenue, Culver City, CA 90232. Free parking across the street. Permit parking in the adjoining lot. Come early, grab a seat, some good ukulele vibes and get ready to sing, clap and dance along.


However your holidays unfold, enjoy the ride!

Another time, another place, another “house party.”



There’s a lot of nasty stuff happening in the world these days. Or maybe in your neighborhood or with your family or to you.  Each day, a mixed bag — some weighty stuff and some fluff.

Here’s some fluff.

It’s about hair. My hair. Which grows like bamboo and sometimes looks like bamboo. First of all, I have embraced my big hair even when it begins to resemble Medusa’s coiffure as it measures wind speed and direction. I clamp it in curls or hide it under a hat and go blithely on my way.

Which brings me to my destination last Tuesday, just before Thanksgiving. It’s desert hot and dry this afternoon and frankly I have had better hair days. Gravity is pulling the split ends south, albeit not in the way you would see in a Pantene shampoo commercial. It looks more like the sprays of dried chaparral you find at a hobby store. But I think my hair looks swell enough.

I’m setting up for the birthday party at an assisted living facility. Residents are wheeled in by the hard-working staff and “That Guy,” who usually hides in the back of the room, is front row center with his wheelchair parked right next to “That Lady.” I think they are an item as they eat their birthday cake and steal googly-eye glances at each other during the show. Aw how sweet is that?

“Who’s got a birthday this month?” I ask. A couple weary folks raise their hands as we launch into songs by Johnny Mercer and Tina Turner because they were born in November too. I announce that November 3, 1914 is the birthday of the modern bra. That news stirs some moans of excitement so we sing “Ain’t She Sweet.”

But back to my hair…

I finish with a rousing “Happy Birthday” and begin packing up my gear. Folks are swiftly wheeled away except for “That Guy” and “That Lady” in the front row. He leans over to her and speaks:

Guy: “Her hair looks awful today.”
Lady: “Yeah.”
Guy: “That’s the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
Lady: “Yeah.”

Sounds like love to me…

My back is to them but I have really good hearing (or else the acoustics in the room are favoring criticism today). I wonder if they are talking about me. About MY hair. I surreptitiously look around and realize there is no one else in the room but them and me.

Has it been…like…nine months since I’ve seen Maria, my hairdresser? I remember the day I met her. It’s another desperate hair day and I need someone to do something quick. I’m taking my chances at Fantastic Sam’s, sifting through the hair books in the waiting area knowing damned well none of those sleeky looks apply to me. I thank my lucky stars that it is Maria who calls my name that morning and we have forged a trusty relationship ever since. She knows I vanish for months at a time and then suddenly I appear at her door like a fidgety overgrown poodle.

Maria has her own shop now and is busy with pre-Thanksgiving perms and tints, but she squeezes me in probably because I sound that desperate on the phone. I slide onto the chair and watch dry wisps of orange scatter to the floor. She cuts off A LOT. Then she does something I NEVER DO. Maria gives me a blowout. Almost like magic my hair is straight and shiny and probably would look really good with a wind machine. And it will not look like this again until my next haircut.

In my world, this recent incident at the assisted living is not terribly unusual. I hear folks whisper stuff like “her hair is so messy” or “does she ever brush her hair?” Whether it is long, short or in-between. There’s no winning this game. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

But I prefer this saying: “If you spot it, you got it.”

Frizzy, curly and a whole lot shorter…
Happy Birthday Tina Turner. Rocking 75. And I LOVE the hair.




Here is my favorite Thanksgiving Day Joke:

How do you tell a male turkey from a female turkey?

Wait for it…
Wait for it…

The male turkey is holding the “remote control.”

Ha! Ha! Ha!

So we have arrived at the official day of “thanksgiving.” I’m so grateful to have opposable thumbs. On BOTH hands. To work the remote control (when I can wrestle it from my husband). To play the ukulele and type these words on the computer. To give someone a hug. I’m so glad you have opposable thumbs too. To do what you do.

All in all, it’s a good day to wake up! Enjoy every precious moment.







Talk about being w-a-y behind…

I just posted a video of The CC Strummers performing “Simple Gifts” on YouTube. We did this song last year at our Holiday Show, which explains my Santa hat. It was written in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett, JUNIOR, for his fellow Shakers to dance and sing along. It remained largely unknown until almost a hundred years later when Aaron Copeland featured the melody in his ballet, Appalachian Spring. Then it morphed into a television theme for the show “The Twentieth Century,” narrated by Walter Cronkite on CBS. That’s where I first heard it. (Remember the Prudential Insurance “Rock of Gibraltar,” kids?). This beautiful piece of music reminds me that gratitude is timeless. Click here to watch the video. And have a lovely Thanksgiving!


PALM STRINGS UKULELE FESTIVAL — Come For The Music. Stay For The Weather.

A road warrior I am not! Once upon a time I had fantasies that I was, or could be, but they are annihilated when I actually do my first road gig. My agent tells the folks at the “XYZ Motel” in Riverside, California, which is about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, that I am a really good piano player and singer and “just perfect for your room.” The truth is I have never met the XYZ people, they’ve never met me and that’s not a good way to start a four-week engagement.

Long story short, I could have been a chimpanzee in a yellow dress playing “You Picked A Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille” at the piano bar and no one would have noticed. Or cared. Nope, this establishment is really about ladies meeting guys.

For a drink and a few laughs. Then they leave together, all smiley and stuff. Later (not much later…) the nice lady returns by herself, makes a new friend and starts over.

I thought I was so worldly at the time. After all I had worked in an emergency room for three years. On the graveyard shift. Where life lessons proliferate with stunning regularity. But I am not prepared for this. Nor are they prepared for me. Miss Goody Two-Shoes. After a couple weeks the manager pulls me aside.

“You’re fired.”

“Wa-Why?” I stutter.

“You don’t fit in.”

I should be relieved, but I’m not. I remember making that lonely trip back to Los Angeles in my red VW Bug, mortified and convinced I will never work again. “Look, I can’t even keep a job in a…well…fancy meeting place…in Riverside,” I mutter to the big gray void.

When I get home that night, I throw my bags on the floor, collapse on the bed and turn on the television for the Eleven O’clock News. They begin with breaking news, of course, about a big prostitution bust in Riverside. Live. OMG!

I watch the police lead a couple ladies (who look oh so familiar) out the front door of the piano bar. They are wearing handcuffs and bustiers. Mercifully the management has removed my name from the marquee, which is featured in the report. It HAD said “Cali Rose – Cheap Rooms.” But tonight it just says Cheap Rooms, which does seem appropriate…

Now you see why I get a little shiver when someone offers me a road gig. But in this grand adventure of life, I still say “yes.”

And a great big YES! to Palm Springs! Friday, February 6 through Sunday, February 8, 2015, when it is warm and beautiful in the California desert, ukuleles are taking over the town at the very first PALM STRINGS UKULELE FESTIVAL. My handsome talented husband, Craig Brandau, is also joining the party. We will teach separate workshops and appear together in the Saturday Night Ukulele All-Stars Concert. For more information, CLICK HERE.

Artists teaching and performing in Palm Springs

All this good ukulele stuff is happening at the splendid and sprawling Hilton Palm Springs, nestled in the heart of downtown, where all the action is. Multiple options are available from full festival passes to Saturday-only passes to Nifty VIP Packages. This is going to sell out. And quickly. Here is the link for group rates at The Hilton. Or find other digs nearby.

Hilton, Palm Springs

The festival “daddy,” Doug Reynolds, is offering newbies the coolest deal in town. It includes a starter ukulele, tuner and a workshop with someone who loves beginners. That would be me!

I’ll teach two more classes: “Let’s Arrange A Song” and “Keys to Happiness, C-D-F-G-A, Marvelous Modulation” (or how to find the right key for you to sing and play a song…) Craig, my chord-melody loving guy, teaches fingerpicking and basic chord melody techniques.

If you have never attended a ukulele festival, it’s inspiring and sometimes a little intense. But you can do as much or as little as you want. A plethora of vendors offer eye-popping assortments of ukes and accessories. Folks gather in circles, spontaneous and otherwise, to make music together. The air is sparkling with good ukulele vibes. You really get a sense of connection, of ohana, because the sweetest people in the world play this wonderful instrument.

And I will leave the piano home…

Hello Riverside!


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