The last blog I wrote was about Will Smith taking a swing at Chris Rock at the Academy Awards. What year was that? Feels like ancient history, considering all that is happening in the world. In our heads. And hearts.

Well I’ve missed writing and connecting with you. The “music thing” has kind of taken over my life and this worker-bee loves to work.

I still do one gig a week, teaching beginning ukulele at a local retirement community. Our enthusiastic little band of strummers scat on Route 66 and go all country with Jambalaya. This is my Friday reminder, up close and personal, how music heals us. One strum at a time. Here and then gone.

The CC Strummers are busy and growing. It’s thrilling that our players, both local and totally not local, are forming their own groups, performing and teaching the stuff we learn in our Zoom classes. A few of them tell me they hear “my voice” in their head. Quick, call a shrink! But I hear the voices of my teachers too. Long gone, they are. Flawed, wonderful human beings who changed my life and didn’t always give me the best advice.

What a kaleidoscope of contradictions, this teaching business. I make mistakes. We all do. I don’t always get it right the first time. Do you? I change my mind and frequently ask “what do YOU think?” because I trust that we draw inspiration from the same well. We may scoop with different buckets and what happens next? Who knows… But aren’t we all students? And teachers? Elders? Elders-to-be?

Our windy rendition of “Sweet Caroline” at The WLA Farmers’ Market will blow you away.

The CC Strummers had an eventful November…The weather is supposed to be “breezy” but halfway through our last show of the year at The WLA Farmers’ Market, the wind suddenly whips up and sends various objects flying through the air including our song sheets, music stands, chairs, hats. But we soldier on and laugh through it. Maybe if this wind storm had been a tornado I would have yelled “RUN!” But shows can be about the ways we endure, too. It feels like we’re the band on the Titanic. We know how this is going to end, but we keep playing anyway. Because that’s what musicians do. Click here to watch.

I’m playing along with the bass and drum tracks to my song “Pony Ride” with Loki, the puppy-muse close by. Everyone should have a therapy dog on duty when they are recording!

And would you believe I’m recording again?

Over the years I’ve written several instrumentals on the ukulele with pretty melodies you can actually hum. But I’ve also had to “practice, practice, practice” as if I REALLY AM going to play at Carnegie Hall. Well MY Carnegie Hall is the spare room at my producer’s house. Together we’ve been working on my album, Looking Glass, for months. Soon my graphic artist will assemble the “gift wrapping” and while that’s happening, I’m preparing easier arrangements and video tutorials so YOU can learn to play these songs too. I’ll keep you in the loop as things progress. Please Click Here to watch.

Friday evening is date night with my sweet husband. There are meet-and-greets with friends, trips to Trader Joe’s because, when it comes to meal preparation, I need all the help I can get.

I am calling this “Ukulele Joy Around the World” and it was painted by one of our CC Strummers, Eve Myles.

Don’t laugh but this schedule is my idea of “cutting back” after I had a heart attack in the middle of the pandemic. Life is messy and complicated. When there is so much suffering and s-c-a-r-y in the world, it can be a slippery slope into the land of despair, but I’m so grateful that WE, you and me, are still here.

I send weekly newsy emails with class materials specifically to The CC Strummers. But when I send a blog, it goes to everyone on my master list…which means a lot of you haven’t heard from me for quite a while and may have thought I ran off to join the circus…

Please know I’ve missed this connection and hearing from you. I’ve missed the “ahh” feeling I get being part of our shared online ohana.

But if you would like to join The CC Strummers’ elist and receive my weekly missives (or unsubscribe), please email me. Our Zoom classes are on holiday break and will resume the second week in January, 2024.


“After all that we’ve been through in the world, I feel like we all want a place to be safe and connected to other human beings. Everyone has a thirst for community.” Beyonce.
From “Beyonce. Amen” by Michael Eric Dyson from The New York Times, December 3, 2023.


So here we are, on the cusp of the unknown…also called THE NEW YEAR! I’m girding myself for a BUMPY ride in 2024 and leaning into our community, and leaning into music, to uplift, reassure, embrace us in the fullness of this moment. May we flourish. May we endure. And may we strum happy…

“This will be our reply to violence:
To make music more intensely, 
more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” Leonard Bernstein


My relationship with time has always been a little wobbly but since the pandemic, wobbles have turned into free-falls and bumpy rides through the land of “what is time anyway?”

This is my way of saying I don’t remember when “that morning” happened. Was it spring, summer, fall, winter? I don’t know. But it’s easy to flash back to the moment.

There he is, one of our CC Strummers, a big teddy bear of a guy, gripping a giant coffee in one hand and his ukulele in the other. You can’t miss his mischievous Cheshire Cat smile because it kind of lights up the room.

Then he speaks.

“Cali, something wonderful happened to me this morning.”   Pause…pause…pause…   He leaves me dangling over the edge of this conversational cliff as I mentally scroll through the possibilities here.

“Okay, okay…so what happened?” I finally ask.


Well I hear this and burst into laughter, like snorting kind of laughter. (I thought he was going to say he got laid…)

This Morning Something Wonderful Happened To Me (I Woke Up) with Cali, Michael, Lyn, Debbie, Toni, Sheila-Sheila, Ethan, Tom, Nancy, Nomi, Doug, Chris, Lin and Marilyn. Click this picture to watch the video.

Please tell me how do we miss “the obvious?” That of course…we woke up this morning. But it doesn’t take long for my ha-ha-ha to level out and kerplop into the mortality thing.That IF we have the good fortune to wake up one more day, the rest is gravy. That we are renters in this apartment building of life and sooner or later we have to turn in the key.  So being here NOW is a pretty big deal.

These little flashes of whooo-whooo happen once in a while and I try to capture them for keepsies. When I was a kid growing up in Washington D.C. I loved to catch lighting bugs and slide them into an empty mayonnaise jar. My father used a screwdriver to poke air holes in the cap so they could breathe. The next morning I woke up. The bugs did not.

It’s taken a long time for that lesson to sink in. Once a flesh and blood moment of “aha” is snared in a net of words, well…poof.  It loses it’s electrical charge.  I still scribble in my journal anyway because I can’t help myself. But in this case, I decided to write that waking up thing into a song so I would remember.  Really remember.   And that’s how “This Morning Something Wonderful Happened to Me (I Woke Up)” came about.

When I started performing my song at gigs I noticed something very interesting. Other people had the same reaction that I did when I first heard the words. They laughed, like “oh yeah…right…” And then they didn’t.

But now they sing along. Every time. With joy!  Who can ask for more?

It’s the yin and yang of life, made visible. A little darkness in light; a little light in darkness. “And maybe all is well, even when it is not.” (Yep, I wrote that into the song).

With the help of Michael Kohan, The CC Strummers’ video-creator, editor-extraordinaire, the bass player too and several CC Strummers who cheerfully played in the sand box with us, we have come up with a marvelous visual expression of this deeply felt observation. CLICK HERE to watch and please share it with your peeps!

Here today, gone tomorrow! Whoop it up folks!

This Morning Something Wonderful Happened To Me (I Woke Up)
is from my ukulele CD, Smile, Smile, Smile.
Ask Alexa to play it for you or check out Amazon and Apple Music.


“Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That’s why it’s a comfort to go hand in hand.” Emily Kimbrough, author and broadcaster (1899-1989)

I am not familiar with Emily nor her work, but I sure like this quote and maybe you noticed she lived a really long life. Heads up to my introvert, extrovert and whatever-vert friends.  Even during these “don’t touch me, don’t breathe on me” times, our pals, our friends, our tribes, the online faces in little Zoom boxes, we are throwing lifelines to each other.

We are “walking each other home.” (Ram Dass)

I’m one lucky lady because I am living the creative life. Got the music thing happening and like my daddy, I love to write. It’s a party in my brain when the two go matchy-matchy.

Three years ago, I was working with a couple ukulele students on gospel tunes. I love songs with thumping rhythm that rolls in my belly.  But I’m not a “religious” person so for my daily dose of inspiration, I look to you, the beloved community*. Numberless hands and hearts, known and unknown, help me through each day, like invisible rings of warm.

And it hit me. Why don’t I try to write one of those rollicking hand-clapping songs but what will I talk about? Well of course, the beloved community. Just like that, the melody and words poured out. This rarely happens in my songwriting life, where the creative process is more like pro-wrestling than “a spell.” But with Brand New Day, the beloved community waved its magic wand.

I started playing the song at my gigs. Folks clapped and sang along on the easy-peasy chorus: “Oh hallelujah! Oh hallelujah! Oh hallelujah! It’s a brand new day.”

Then I did a ukulele arrangement for The CC Strummers. They loved it too and we performed the song at Fiesta La Ballona, which is Culver City’s equivalent to a county fair. Some people in the audience gave us a standing ovation and yelled “more…more…more.” As a songwriter, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Flash forward to here and now.

“May you live in interesting times.” Apparently this is an English expression that is based on an old Chinese curse. We are painfully aware of all the awful that is happening in the world.  How easy it is to miss the little flower growing through a crack in the sidewalk.  Or through a seemingly impenetrable wall that separates us?

A friend once told me that life is a mystery to be lived, not solved. So I look to the beloved community to sustain me. We are going through this together, like sentries, quietly and not-so-quietly, witnessing our shared humanity.  The joys, the sorrows.  The whole mess of it.

My ukulele group, The CC Strummers, has morphed into a global ohana online. I am gobsmacked and filled with gratitude that we have the technology to support this kind of work and that we have each other. This is where I have landed—at the intersection of music, technology and all that “it takes a village” stuff.

The CC Strummers’ tech master, Michael Kohan, has taken on this project—to turn Brand New Day into a marvelous Zoom mosaic. A musical partnership. Several of our players made their own videos and sing along on that catchy chorus. I hope you will sing along too. Watch the bouncing ball!

CLICK HERE to watch Brand New Day!

Thank you Michael for your extraordinary work! And thank you to our ohana who appear and sing on this video: Ellen B, Carole E, Lyn G, Nancy H, Bobbie H, Marilyn H, Lorri K, Sherry K, Michael K (editor and bass), Ethan K, Tom K, Donna N, Joyce P, Nomi R, Robert R, Bob S, Bonnie S, Lin Van G and Mollie W.

If this song is new to you and you’d like to learn it and/or share it with your peeps, Brand New Day is available as sheet music.

I’m going to sound like one of those late night infomercials… “For $5, yes only $5, the sheet music is yours AND there’s more! I will throw in the ukulele arrangement too. Whoo-Hoo!” If you are interested please CLICK HERE for more information.

Thank you for showing up, for yourself and others. Thank you for fighting the good fight, whatever that is, and for helping to make this brand new day a place we all want to share.


If you would like to Zoom with The CC Strummers on Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings please CLICK HERE to check out my Zoom classes. Thank you!

*The Beloved Community is a term that was first coined in the early 20th Century by the philosopher Josiah Royce and later popularized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

CLICK HERE to watch The CC Strummers perform Brand New Day at Fiesta La Ballona.


Doing my thing in concert at The Antelope Valley Ukulele Festival. Photo by Craig Brandau

I’ve been spinning a lot of plates in the air lately. Gigging, teaching, doing what we all do to stay connected with each other, sleeping (sometimes), celebrating a wedding anniversary and my husband’s birthday. Oh yes, I’ve been writing songs, practicing the uke and got to participate in not one, but two ukulele festivals the last three weeks.

I will share more about that in another blog but I just have to tell what happened at The Antelope Valley Ukulele Festival during the Friday evening concert. Not the part where the fire alarm went off, the police showed up, the building was evacuated and everyone huddled in the parking lot as we sang “Island Style” accompanied by some of the performers who remembered to skedaddle WITH their ukuleles…

Not that part.

The Naked Waiters perform at The Antelope Valley Ukulele Festival. Photo by Craig Brandau

This part: The three handsome, joy-infused fellows who are a delight for the eyes and ears. Whoo-hoo they can sing! In three-part harmony. They are very accomplished musicians and their arrangements are original and super cool. It’s yummy. It’s delicious. Uh-oh, I am suddenly besotted with food. Maybe it’s their name. The Naked Waiters. But they are not waiting tables. Nor are they naked. And they will leave the stage wearing clothes.

I mention this in passing because the action on stage then takes an abrupt turn. In my head. It’s all in my head.

I have a flashback:

My mother’s birthday is coming up. Crazy mom–who has been obsessed with sex since I can remember and is a poster child for the old adage: The ones who talk the most about it have gone the longest without it. And now she’s in her late seventies and still making casual conversation about men’s parts. I kid you not.

So for her B-Day I decide to take her to a matinee performance of the musical-comedy review, Naked Boys Singing. It’s playing in a very small West Hollywood theater. The boxy room is the entire stage. No stadium seating here because there are ONLY two rows. On the stage. As an audience person you are either sitting in the front row. Or the back row. One expects that the performers may get…um…um…real close. So the decision to sit in the front or back row is made with much consideration.

Mind you, this is a surprise for my normally talky-talky mother. She has no idea what’s going on, why we are in THIS place and if that marquee about naked boys on the front of the building is, like, for real.

It’s interesting what happens when reality collides with fantasy. The talkers get real quiet.

Guess what, mom and I sit in the front row and everybody gets quiet as the house lights dim, the musicians hit the downbeat and suddenly eight naked men are singing. Right in front of us. Okay, they are not quite naked. They’re are wearing headset mics. On their heads. That’s it. The stage lighting is…very good.

Oh God where do I look first? Well you know damned well where I look. I’m an only child. I didn’t grow up with brothers. I was never an Army Nurse. Of course I’ve seen “the package,” in person, but never more than one at a time. It’s like I’m in line at the Soup Plantation of Life here!

I have no idea what they are singing. I think they are dancing or something but I’m mesmerized by the sheer majesty and variety in the human species. Well at least eight of them. A few are more buff than others but the great equalizer is that they all appear to be having a really good time. I don’t even like to dance naked in my own house, with the curtains closed and the lights dimmed to almost nothing. But these guys are groovin’ and it’s kind of contagious.

Interestingly enough, after three songs I am just about done watching dingle-dangles and start focusing on, gasp, the music, the performance, the whole twisted fun of it. These guys are really good singers and dancers and actors. Maybe they are exhibitionists too. But whatever.

One of my friends, a brilliant comedy writer, wrote a song for the show called “The Bliss of The Bris.” It’s written from the point of view of the one getting the manicure. (Yes you can YouTube it). If you don’t know what a bris is please ask your nearest Jewish friend to explain. Because I’m not going there. But the truth is, all the songs and skits in the show are really ingenious and entertaining and, oh yeah, the guys are naked.

As I observed earlier, the nakedness thing gets kind of “ho-hum” after a while and that is both surprising and comforting. I think I’m settling down and that’s when I notice THE something that will become THE enduring, stand-out memory of THE whole day…

THE lower abs!

“Really,” you ask?

Really…and picture this: My singing teacher–my mentor–would stand us in front of a full-length mirror leaning front and center in her over-stuffed living room, place her hands on her lower abdominal muscles and implore me to do the same with my belly.  Mind you we are definitely wearing clothes. We inhale, exhale, tighten and loosen those things like we’re blowing up a balloon in our gut then letting the air out. Over and over. I’m thinking she’s freaking nuts. But you know what, if I do THAT when I’m singing (big IF), all at once I have this exquisite control of the sounds I make.  Singing becomes a whole body experience.  My legs and butt come online, the ribs expand, the multiple little mechanisms in my throat and mouth and nose relax and begin working together.  It feels really really good.

So back to West Hollywood… There is one naked guy who is doing it. Just ONE. Every time he takes a breath to sing he squeezes his abs. There it is! THAT’s what great singing technique looks like. Well, on a well-toned naked man body. The mental image is seared into my brain. This makes me so happy.

Another thing that makes me happy is that my mother has gone mute. It’s temporary of course and later that evening she will find her voice again and go all Mae West. In a few short years she’ll spiral out of control but this afternoon she’s had a close encounter with the real deal.  Happy Birthday Mom!

And ain’t that how music goes. When it’s just right–those words, those melodies—they can send us back in time. Or down a brand new road.


So who made up the rule that there are ONLY twenty-four hours in a day?  Because that isn’t enough time especially if you want to…like…sleep. Too.

I’ve been a busy missy and haven’t had a chance to write a blog for a while. But I think about you, my online family of fellow human beings, and hope you are doing okay. That you are slurping chicken soup as needed, smiling at a stranger at the grocery store, needed, and hopefully strumming your ukulele lots. NEEDED!

I’ve been writing lately, but not stories…


Instrumental music, of all things, and here’s the deal:

You can imagine my shock, as a singer-person, to learn that some people don’t want to sing. I hope you are laughing—a little—because fundamentally it’s kind of sweet. I know how good it feels to sing, to make a noise, and I figure everybody wants to feel good. But some of my ukulele students want to keep their mouths shut and play a cool melody on the uke instead.

So I’ve gone a-hunting for simple songs, knowing that I want folks to learn to read notes and come up with their own chord melodies. That’s the piano player in me talking. Give me a note, I can give you a chord.  Give me a chord and I can give you a song!

But I haven’t found any that flutter my heart. So I’ve written a bunch of ukulele-friendly songs myself and they are gorgeous and I’m putting them into a book. News Flash—this is going to take a while. I’m just copyrighting them now. My patient husband Craig is doing all that Sibelius computer stuff and abracadabra, we’ve got sheet music with tablature.

I had a chance to play one of my favorites, Whirligig Waltz, at the recent NAMM show in Anaheim, amidst the “whirl” of thrumming sounds and swirls of people.

Craig snagged a video as I balanced a really cool Tenor Fluke on my thigh and played in the Magic Fluke Co. booth on mellow Sunday (that’s a joke).

Some of you may know that I played in piano bars for twenty years and that’s where I learned to “tune out” distractions, to put on the metaphorical blinders so to speak, and make music. Distractions like…televisions blaring, fire alarms going off, the hostess calling out “Peterson, party of four, your table is ready” on the house PA; the couple having sex—or pretty close–in the corner booth; the crusty dude with the well-fed garter snake slung around his neck and a beer in his hand; the bagpipe player who isn’t wearing underwear; the personal conversations whispered around the piano and I CAN HEAR YOU; people saying snarky things about me; me picturing a puddle of poop on their heads.

So that’s how I can keep right on playing “Whirligig Waltz,” impervious to the maelstrom around me. It’s a gift! And you can watch by CLICKING HERE.

I’ll keep you posted how “da book” is evolving. I already play instrumentals when I do music therapy gigs and a pretty melody on the uke can soothe and comfort. Oh those four magnificent strings.

_ _ _ _ _ _

In the meantime, I’m singing too and wanted to tell you that I’m doing a Kanikapila—a Ukulele Strum Along and Workshop at Dave’s Island Instruments in Lakewood, California, Friday February 9, 2018 from 7:00 to 9:00 P.M.

Tickets are $20 and you get to keep my arrangements of the songs we play. See the flyer below. You can record the opening ceremony of the Olympics that night on your TV and join us for the real thing—people playing and singing and making music together. It is one of the sweetest pleasures in this precious life.



J.K. Simmons in his Academy Award winning role as the meanie-teacher in Whiplash.

Maybe you saw the movie Whiplash? About a mercurial music teacher who thrashes his young protégé into a drum-thumping master? I left the theater feeling like I’d been pummeled too.

Chocolate please…

Suzuki Roshi
Suzuki Roshi


I’m not sure what you would call this bombastic style of “getting your point across” but I prefer teaching with, shall we say, kindness. Love, even. Not gushy, but honest. The great Zen master, Suzuki Roshi, told his students “all of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement.”

The music teacher in Whiplash bullies his students, humiliates them. He sucks their spirits so dry their eyes go dead. Well that’s how it looks from my seat. In the mega-decibel finale his student performs an inspired drum solo, seemingly reaching the pinnacle of perfection and transcendence. One might conclude that the teacher, in all his mean-spirited bluster, is vindicated.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Zakir Hussain
Zakir Hussain

We’ve all had teachers. They stretch across the big bell curve of competence—from exceptional to “you-have-got-to-be-kidding.” Nobody has a corner on the truth, the immensity that is music or that is anything. “You’re just one little dot in the painting that is the music of the universe,” says Tabla master Zakir Hussain.

I tell my ukulele students that I am sharing my experience, the stuff I’ve learned first-hand as a working musician. My little “dot” in the painting. But they have to connect their own dots…

For years I studied with three teachers who were extraordinary mentors. They planted seeds, they cajoled, they got testy, they made me listen to songs and singers and music that were way outside my comfort zone. They lent me books and tapes that were subversive. They changed the trajectory of my life and for that I am deeply grateful.

I love them still. But there were “issues.” News Flash! There are always issues. Human beings are a roiling stew of pop-up emotions and contradictions. Eventually a sense of possession seeped into the teaching relationship. It was time for me to go. To take what I had learned and live it. To stand on my own two feet. When I finally left, it was messy and terribly sad. But I had to. I had to find my own way.

And I had to take a long hard look in the mirror.  Music continues to teach me. About a whole lot more than music…

Seymour Bernstein, from the documentary "Seymour: An Introduction"
Seymour Bernstein, from the documentary “Seymour: An Introduction”

88-year-old pianist Seymour Bernstein tells his students that music, like life, is about dissonances, harmonies and resolution. And then he adds “I never dreamt that with my own two hands, I could touch the sky.”

It’s a dance, this teacher thing. Always changing, always in motion. Each of us teacher AND student. I am honored that Ukulele Magazine has published my essay about teaching and “Why I Uke” in their Spring 2016 Issue.

Now go forth, teach something to somebody…and touch the sky.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Ukulele Magazine1

From Ukulele Magazine, Spring 2016, page 24

When I stand in front of one of my ukulele classes and see people who have never played an instrument before or have been told they can’t sing and here they are, strumming and singing and making music, I say to myself, “it doesn’t get any better than this…”

I began my career as a professional musician just after I bought my first car, a funky old VW Bug. I jettisoned the front passenger seat so there was room for my PA system. My musician friends and I learned early to “cobble” together a career, hustling for gigs, networking and practicing, practicing, practicing.

Working in piano bars taught me to be a good entertainer and to engage the audience so they feel like they are part of the show. Night after night I saw how music brings people together. Then a few years ago my husband, Craig Brandau, purchased a tenor Fluke and it changed the air pressure in our house. We both got real serious about learning to play.

I put the piano, guitar and banjo on hold and began my romance with the ukulele. It’s friendly and portable and turns spectators into participants. But I never expected to be a teacher. To LOVE teaching the ukulele and leading a group. I never realized that the skills I learned as a working musician and entertainer would come in so handy. But it’s all show biz, right? Learning to play the uke is not always easy but hey, let’s have a good time doing it.

Here’s what happened: On a whim I offered an eight-week beginners uke class at my local senior center in Culver City, California. Eight weeks has turned into five years. We named ourselves The CC Strummers and play together every Thursday morning. They challenge and inspire me to be a better teacher. I started another eight-week beginners class on Mondays and the same thing happened.

Suddenly I had two huge classes and we were sounding good so we decided to “take it to the streets” because we love sharing the music that makes us happy. One of my mentors said that the audience won’t remember what you play, but they will remember how you made them feel.

Today my “cobbling” continues. It’s a laundry list by golly. I teach four uke classes a week, lead The CC Strummers and do my own arrangements for our songbook. I teach private students, tool around Los Angeles doing gigs and music therapy with dementia patients. I perform at ukulele festivals and do workshops. I have two ukulele albums, write songs and blogs and of course, practice, practice, practice. I don’t cook. Or sleep much…

Maybe a few people get their “fifteen minutes” of fame and fortune, but I’m grateful that, after all these years, I’m still making a living doing what I love to do.


“Come here. Come here quick! YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS.” My husband is shouting from the other room.

At the moment I’m peeing. I AM p-e-e-e-e-e-ing. So thank you very much. And as far as I’m concerned, whatever it is, can wait…

So I’m not the picture of open-heartedness when I finally appear and turn my gaze toward the television set where my husband is pointing. “The banjo player,” he exclaims, “look at his left hand.”

First of all, I see a bluegrass band. Monster musicians, they are. Guitar, fiddle, mandolin, piano, upright bass. The banjo player is hot!

Wait a minute…

I lean into the T.V. for a closer look, so close I feel the heat emanating from the screen. The guy has a thumb and part of an index finger. That’s it for fingers. The rest are nubs, like little toes. But his left hand moves across the neck of the banjo in this crazy beautiful dance.

His name is Barry Abernathy and he has found a wondrous, unorthodox way to position his left hand so he can play. A quick Google search reveals that he gravitated towards players in his bluegrass neighborhood, asked them to show him a lick, then he figured out how to play it.

His way.

Barry Abernathy

Then there’s gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. His whole life changed when he was 18 years old and severely burned in a fire. The doctors said he would never play guitar again. But he developed a unique style, using the two good fingers on his right hand and the scarred ones on his left. His enormous talent and innovation resonate with players today.

Django Reinhardt

In his early thirties, Les Paul nearly died in an automobile accident. His right arm was crushed and it was bad, bad, bad. The doctors wanted to amputate. But they set the arm instead, at a permanent 90 degree angle, so he could still strum the guitar. It took him two years to recover AND adapt. But he did. And he continued to perform well into “elderhood.” And invent cool stuff like multi-track recording and the iconic Gibson Les Paul Guitar.

Les Paul performing in 2004
Les Paul performing in 2004

One of our CC Strummers, Betty Bryant, is a renowned jazz pianist and singer. She has made a living playing, recording and touring. With nine good fingers…

Betty Bryant

In my ukulele classes we do hand exercises. This little act of rubbing and stretching is a reminder that our body parts matter. They are precious. The exercises encourage me to get out of my head, where I usually live, and check in with my fingers and hands, my back and front, top and bottom. Yes that means accepting the truth that our bodies get tired, hurt, stiff, worn-out and out-of-whack, in one way or another.

But we find a way. That’s all. We find a way.

The CC Strummers at our 2014 Holiday Show

The CC Strummers and I are presenting our Ukulele Holiday Show Tuesday, December 22, 2015, from 1:00 to 2:00 P.M. at the Culver City Senior Center. If you live in Los Angeles and need a bolus of joy or an hour off from the holiday rushy-rushy , please join us. You will have a blast!



“…a new kind of engineer…who can think broadly across disciplines and consider the human dimensions that are at the heart of every design challenge.”

Holistic Engineering Education: Beyond Technology, pg. 234




1. A hair brush I bought at The 99 Cent Store

2. New fangled divining rod that finds water in Southern California or buried coins on the beach

3. Clandestine CIA reconnaissance device with built-in traffic Sigalert Function

4. 3-D weather barometer. “Pull my finger…oo…high pressure…”

5. Pacific Crest Trail built-in compass that also predicts the future

6. Your own personal cell phone tower


Have you figured it out?

This thing is the newest member of our family. It lives in my husband’s right wrist and Craig is playing heavy-metal ukulele these days whether he likes it or not. We have one final appointment with Dr. Kodi Azari, the hand surgeon, and it is the same routine one expects at a teaching hospital like U.C.L.A. First to appear is the new resident doing ortho rounds. She enters with a burst of warm exuberance and tells us that her name is Ro-Q-Something-Something… “But you can call me Rocky,” she exclaims.

“Well let’s see your wrist.” She is mightily impressed with Craig’s range of motion. My musician husband is very motivated… “I wish all our patients were doing this well. Let’s look at your X-Rays.” As she tappity-taps on the computer keyboard the newest films, taken ten minutes earlier, appear. She zooms in for a closer look. And so do we. Like what the hell is that? For the first time we get an IMAX view of the “thing” the surgeon cajoled into the bones of my husband’s wrist.

“Beautiful,” she exhales. “No, it’s genius!” She turns to Craig and says “I remember you. I observed your surgery and kept thinking to myself this surgeon is a genius, an artist.” Well who wouldn’t believe a woman named “Rocky.”

Xray3All smiles, Dr. Azari joins the party and announces that he’s very pleased with Craig’s progress. And relieved. Because the damage was so extensive. Now it’s on to physical therapy for the next few months. If his wrist appears in one of those fancy orthopedic journals, I’ll let you know. He is only the third patient to receive this metal sculpture. It goes without saying that we are extremely grateful that Craig has excellent medical insurance through his work and by sheer luck, we landed in Dr. Azari’s office.


May remind you that all this happened because Craig tripped on a plane-jane sidewalk in front of our busy post office in Culver City. Some sidewalks in Los Angeles arch upward like an A-frame roof on a ski chalet. In earthquake country… You see them coming and walk thoughtfully over the hills and valleys. But the sidewalk panel that is just a teeny-tiny bit displaced from its neighbor panel…that’s the one to stare down.

So here is a big shout-out to the scientists, future scientists and the insatiably curious people in the world who find a need and then find a way to fill it, build it, discover the cure, unlock the mystery.

I meet one of these people at The Los Angeles International Ukulele Festival at the merchandise booth. His name is Jason.

Teachers and performers who inform and entertain at festivals also want to sell stuff. Like our music…our DNA that we have spread onto a compact disc like butter. But we are off teaching or performing. What to do? Thank goodness high school kids in Los Angeles have to put in so many hours of volunteer work in order to graduate. A swarm of them from Torrance appear on the scene wearing matching blue shirts, bright morning smiles and are ready to do what needs to be done.

I’m getting the impression they take their work today very seriously. They emit an air of gravitas that I associate more with tired middle-aged folks with a 30-year mortgage, car payments and children.

About a half dozen oversee their slivers of space at the long merchandise tables and sell sell sell. They already have my undying admiration since the last thing I want to do on this planet is sell, sell, sell.

laengineer1After The CC Strummers and I open the festival on the big stage in the plaza, I run back to the merchandise table and that’s when I meet Jason. He is leaning into a stack of my “Smile, Smile, Smile” CD’s and arranging it in a beautiful swooping geometric form. Earlier I had plunked them down on the table and disappeared, but Jason, he fills the void. And with stunning attention to detail. I’m thinking he might pull out a tape measure any second to get the width, depth and height just right. This young man stands at the intersection of art AND science.

laengineer2“Are you an engineering student? I ask. The young ladies hovering close answer “ye-e-e-e-e-s” in surprising unison, like they are his back-up singers or something. This is a treasure of a moment. Oh the sheer beauty of it all and the gifts we bring “literally” to the table. Jason sells lots of CD’s and demonstrates my Rhythm Rings so ukulele players can “shake and play” at the same time.

And I miss the whole thing. But at the end of the day I do manage to scoop up the $$ Jason has neatly arranged (in order or denomination) in my Estee Lauder freebie cosmetic zip bag.

I am convinced that whatever we do, at any given moment, it takes a village. It may not seem that way sometimes, but… Sure I’m writing this blog on my computer. I’m all by myself. But what about the people who designed this computer and built it and the UPS guy who delivered it? What about the folks who keep the electricity running? What about my teachers—all of them—who are present and accounted for in every word I type? What about my husband who has my back?

Community is a marvel. A miracle of engineering.

Uke For Beginners flyer, fall 2015Attention Southern California Ukulele Lovers…

My next “Ukulele For Beginners” Class starts Saturday, October 17, 2015 in Culver City. Playing this marvelous instrument does the heart good.  Sign up at Boulevard Music.

The CC Strummers, Craig Chee, Sarah Maisel and myself at The Los Angeles International Ukulele Festival. 9/2015 Thank you Tammy for the picture.
The CC Strummers, Craig Chee, Sarah Maisel and myself at The Los Angeles International Ukulele Festival. September 2015. Thank you Tammy Martin Cobos for the picture.



Most of us have something that is, shall we say, a little off the bell curve. Some exquisite oddity that doesn’t quite jibe with the standard perceptions of conformity–whatever those perceptions happen to be today. And now, thanks to modern technology, our “interesting stuff” appears front and center on the flickering blue screens of our computer thingie-do’s. For all to see.

This sort of “show and tell” engenders a myriad of reactions. Snarky stuff, for sure. But on the flip side, there is also a sense of “relief.” Yes, relief… Because in a world of a few billion people, a hearty chunk of them got what we got. That’s good news in my book.

I found this out by writing songs—funny songs about my personal problems and I have slowly changed my attitude from “hiding out” and “covering up” to “oh what the hell, let’s celebrate.” Why? Because keeping secrets takes too much energy and I’m exhausted.

So I have big feet. Which would be fine if I was six feet tall. But you’ve seen the pictures. I need to stand on a fricking box to reach my husband’s neck. “Proportion” is not the word that comes to mind. But then again, I do have feet. And they work. So let’s make funny.

“Big Feet” are on the cover of my new CD “Smile, Smile, Smile” and the song is fast becoming an audience favorite. I recently did a house concert and sure enough folks want to hear the song about my feet. The podiatrist who is standing behind the sofa is especially thrilled and buys a copy for his office. Now that’s a marketing niche I hadn’t considered before…

But the best part happens later when one woman after another presses her foot against mine and we both giggle at the glorious “bigness” of our shoes. It’s a celebration.

A celebration…

My husband and I performed “Big Feet” at the Lake Anne Ukulele Festival this summer in Reston, Virginia. It was rainforest hot and humid that day. Good feet-growing weather.  CLICK HERE to watch.

You can also purchase the CD online at iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, Flea Market Music and on my website. Enjoy forty minutes of “cheer-me-up” in your day. The album is a great gift for your neighborhood foot doctor too!

And speaking of celebrations… You are invited to my CD Release Party and Concert Sunday September 29, 2013 at Boulevard Music in Culver City. So “get dem” feet to the door!

Here are the details…


Every few months I entertain at the monthly birthday party for a local retirement home. A few residents can move about on their own but most are in wheelchairs and need two hearty hands to push them to the party room. Still more arrive from “memory care” and often sit there glassy-eyed and motionless. Until the music starts. Then something happens that is kind of a miracle. Bodies come alive. Just a little. For a little while. I see a shimmer of life come into their eyes and maybe a foot tapping along. Some go all rock ‘n roll and start clapping and singing along. However this musical alchemy appears, I’m grateful to see it.

Then we acknowledge the birthday revelers. After all this celebration is for them. I read their names from a list as the sheet cake, decorated with swirls of green and pink icing, is hoisted before them and their picture is taken. The first on the list is Claire. Her name has a big “108” next to it. I am almost ready to introduce “Claire, in Room 108,” when the assistant, dizzy with excitement, proclaims that Claire is 108 years old!

Claire is the oldest person I have ever met. And I have met a lot of older people but she takes the cake. No pun. The only words I can muster after I learn 108 is NOT her room number are not especially inspired… “What vitamins do you take, darlin'”?  Because Claire is beautiful and doesn’t look a day over 75. Granted she is confined to a wheelchair where she lists to one side as an aid gently spoons birthday cake into her mouth. But she is still here, breathing and showing us what life looks like on this day, in this place, at this age.

I wrote a song about birthdays. These kind of birthdays…where we get more reflective than exhilarated. When the specter of time passing begins to weigh a little heavier on our hearts. We may celebrate “another spin around the sun” but as the years fly by, it strikes me that every day is a kind of birthday and good enough reason to say “thank you” in some way or another.

“And Happy Birthday To You” is one of the lucky thirteen tunes on my new ukulele CD, Smile, Smile, Smile.” My buddy, Craig Fundyga, adds just the right splash of drums AND vibes to give this song a sassy island vibe. And with the ukulele and bass, it’s a real “feel-good” ode to, shall we say, mortality.  Yes I’m adding one more song to the pantheon of birthday tunes but this one has an added caveat: “The more candles on your cake, the brighter you light shines.”

So shine on…

CD Progress Report:

The music and artwork are now at the CD processing plant in New Jersey. I think I love New Jersey. Hopefully I will have the album in hand by early July. “Smile, Smile, Smile” will be available for sale on my website and online stores like iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby later in the summer. I will keep you posted.




“There’s a little goodbye in ev’ry hello.” Now that’s a sobering thought. Who wants to think about “ending” just as we are “beginning” — a friendship, a love affair, a you-name-it relationship with a who or a what?

And this happens to be one of the songs on my new ukulele CD “Smile, Smile, Smile.” The idea for this tune begins the day I learn that one of my mentors has died. First there is “the phone call.” Then the rush of emotions that follows when “goodbye” smacks you in the face. And the heart.

And wouldn’t you know it, I also have a gig that day… “Happy Hour” at a fancy retirement home across town. Oh lovely. What I really want to do is crawl back into bed, pull the blanket over my head and wish the world away. Hanging out with slightly inebriated seniors and singing songs like “On the Sunny Side of the Street” is not my idea of happy. Well not today anyway.

But this mentor, along with my other teachers, taught me to “be a pro.” To show up at the gig, no matter how I’m feeling.  And on time. Prepared. Looking good. They drilled it into my bones and doing an ostrich dance is not an option. So I slap on the Maybelline, grab a colorful frock from the closet and go to work.

In fact I arrive so early there’s extra time to hang out and that’s when I find Francesca. Or maybe she finds me… “How are you dear?” she asks, looking up from the big yellow granny square she is crocheting. I tell her the truth. That I am not okay and then I launch into my story. She lays the nest of yarn in her lap and listens, really listens. The quality of her attention is an act of kindness that resonates with me. Still.

When I finally wear myself out, Francesca speaks. This ninety-three year old who has loved and lost and above all, is still here, turns into a Zen master, right before my eyes, and lays some wisdom on me that is akin to alchemy. I am transformed by her words.

A first at Sunburst Recording… 19 Ukuleles!

And I am determined to put these words into a song and that’s what “There’s A Little Goodbye in Ev’ry Hello” is all about. And what better way to explore hard human truth than to lay on a jaunty melody, lay off the sad minor chords and turn the whole thing into a sing-a-long.

I need help from my friends. Enter The CC Strummers, my ukulele ohana. So one sunny Saturday in February, nineteen hearty grandmas and grandpas join me at Sunburst Recording to perform on my CD. In return I provide all-you-can eat pizza, promise to put their names and group picture inside the album and deliver their complimentary CD with a hug.


During the session, I take a short video and you know what…it will make you smile. (Click here to watch). But you’ll have to listen to the whole song to find out what Francesca told me that day. The CD is coming soon!


Thanks to CC Strummer, Young C. for this picture.

Surprise! Surprise! That’s what happens last Thursday morning when a whole class of little ones from Farragut Elementary School in Culver City unexpectedly drop by my ukulele group, The CC Strummers, to sing a special song FOR US and leave a bundle of hand-made valentines on the table. It is Valentine’s Day after all! There are as many kids as ukulele players and they joyously squeeze into our already jam-packed room. With parents and teachers in tow.

When the kids finish, we applaud them heartily and they start to leave. Ah… Not so fast little ones! We have ukulele players here! The CC Strummers launch into a group kanikapila, singing “This Old Man.” In the key of C. By ear! The kids are thrilled. Their little eyes are big as pancakes and after we end the song at “This old man, he played seven, he played knick-knack up in heaven,” all of us — grandmas, grandpas, parents, tiny music makers — are cheering and frankly, glowing… From the inside-out.

In this life, you just don’t know what’s going to happen in the next five minutes! Giant meteors crashing from the sky… And unexpected visits from little valentines!

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